Repost: That Saga-Writing Kavieng Cat Crew

Seventy-five years ago today, a PBY Catalina pilot performed a series of daring rescues. His bravery was the subject of a post back in June 2014 and is being reposted today.

Meet Lt. (J.G.) Nathan Gordon. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing three aircrews near Kavieng on February 15, 1944. His crew received  high praise for the daring rescues made that day. Admiral Halsey sent a telegram saying, “Please pass my admiration on to that saga writing Kavieng Cat crew.”

Here’s a short video of Gordon talking about how he saved the men. One of the crews that was rescued by the men on his Catalina was the subject of the previous post. Don’t forget to read their story after you watch the video.

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Medium Bombardment Attack and Aviation

We’re always glad to see how much video footage from World War II is so easily accessible to us more than 70 years after it was first taken. This film is no exception. It was meant to introduce life in the Pacific Theater to the men who were transferring over from the European Theater. The film focuses on a familiar bomb group: the 345th. After covering some of the basics in the Pacific, there’s some great footage taken from bombing missions that you won’t want to miss.

When Plans Go Awry: A Mission to Palau

It had been more than a month since the 22nd Bomb Group last encountered fighter opposition on a mission. With an eye on the Palau Islands, the Red Raiders were sent to disrupt the Japanese airfields and destroy installations on June 9, 1944, prior to the invasion of the Marianas island chain in the central Pacific later in the month.

The plan was for 26 B-24s to fly from Hollandia to Wakde Island, where their fuel tanks would be topped off, and then they would continue to their target of Peleliu Island. Much to the annoyance of the crews, Murphy’s Law struck several times over the course of the mission and only 11 aircraft completed the mission. Bad weather forced several crews to turn around, others made navigational errors that led them to miss the target completely (they made it back to Wakde safely) and others were unable to make it to the target due to mechanical problems.

As 1/Lt. Dwaine E. Harry of the 408th Squadron approached Peleliu with the other B-24s in his squadron, weather became enough of an issue that Harry had to separate from the formation. He was jumped by several Zeros three miles out from the island. The lone B-24, ISLAND QUEEN, went into a dive, pulling up 20 feet above the water. Aboard the lead Zero, the pilot dropped his wing tanks in hopes of hitting the B-24 below. He missed. A second Zero made a pass at ISLAND QUEEN and the the gunners promptly returned fire, severely damaging the tail section of the Zero. The fight lasted for 25 minutes, then ISLAND QUEEN turned for Hollandia, landing without further incident.

408th Personnel at Nadzab

Two survivors from the B-24 ditched by the Barley crew off the coast of New Guinea on June 9th were photographed shortly after their return to Nadzab. In front of the Squadron intelligence hut were at left, Capt. John N. Barley, pilot; center is Maj. Glenn E. Cole, 408th Squadron C.O., and at right is T/Sgt. Frederick E. Pelegrin, engineer and top turret gunner. (John N. Barley Collection)

Approaching the target area, the remaining B-24s were met by several Zeros. Along with the usual attacks on the B-24s, the Zero pilots dropped phosphorus bombs and something that looked like heavy chains in front of the 22nd’s formation. Every plane was damaged in the fight. Captain John N. Barley’s aircraft was hit in the right inboard wing tanks, the fuselage and the #3 engine. A fire that started in an ammunition box burned some crewmen but it was quickly extinguished. Both waist gunners were wounded by gunfire, and one of them was dead 30 minutes after he had been hit in the forehead and stomach. A cloud bank provided enough cover to duck into and end the fight.

The crews managed to drop their bombs and began the long trip back home through more bad weather. Barley’s plane made a startling dive toward the sea when it was caught in a downdraft, but he and his co-pilot managed to level out before they hit the water. They flew on at a lower altitude, though they were now unsure of their exact position. Keeping an eye out for familiar landmarks, the crew flew along the New Guinea coastline until the B-24’s fuel supply dwindled and daylight waned. Captain Barley made a water landing about a mile and a half from Sissano Lagoon, located about 25 miles up the coast from Tadji. The tail broke off in the ditching, and nine crewmen exited the plane with new injuries from the ditching.

It took four hours for two of Barley’s crewmen to swim to the beach. One man was pushing the other because he was too injured to swim on his own. They met up with pilot and co-pilot, but the other five men were nowhere to be found. A constable from a nearby village found the airmen stranded on the shore. Barley knew he needed to get help for his crew, and asked if there were any American units nearby. The officer was willing to lead him to the nearest Allied presence, which turned out to be about a day’s walk away. They arrived at an Australian outpost, where the American base was contacted and help was promptly dispatched. The waiting crewmembers were rescued. What happened to the other five remains a mystery, although it’s possible that they were captured by the Japanese.

 

This story can be found in our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.

The Disappearance of Capt Kizzire’s Crew

On the night of November 26th, 1943, the 345th Bomb Group was assigned a raid against Boram Airdrome. Expecting heavy antiaircraft fire, Captain William L. Kizzire and his fellow 498th Bomb Squadron pilot Lt. Melvin Best debated how best to handle a shot-out engine. A B-25 could fly on a single engine if the propeller was feathered, but if it couldn’t be feathered, the drag created by a windmilling prop would keep the B-25 from flying for very long. They decided the best strategy was to fly out to sea and wait for an Allied submarine to pick them up.

The next day, the 498th took the worst of the ack-ack. They were the last over the target, so the antiaircraft gunners had the most time to prepare. As Kizzire led his flight to the Boram coastline, he spotted a wooden ship in the harbor to strafe. A well-aimed shell from a nearby freighter took out the right engine on Kizzire’s B-25 IMPATIENT VIRGIN. Over the radio, Best, his left wingman, heard “God-a-mighty, I can’t feather it.” The oil reservoir used for feathering the propeller was damaged.

In the heat of the moment, Kizzire deviated from the prepared strategy, and instead flew about 35 miles down the coast to a suitable spot to ditch the B-25. He landed in Murik Lake, a lagoon about five feet deep at the mouth of the Sepik River. Everyone climbed out of the aircraft and fellow aircrews circling above dropped supplies to the downed airmen. Back at Bomber Command, Col. Jarred V. Crabb tried to get a Navy Catalina out to rescue the crew. He was unsuccessful.

B-25 Impatient Virgin takes off

B-25D-5 #41-30046, IMPATIENT VIRGIN, seen here taking off, was hit by antiaircraft fire near Wewak on November 27, 1943 and crash-landed into the shallow water of Murik Lagood about 35 miles east of the target. Captain William L. Kizzire of the 498th Bomb Squadron, 345th Bomb Group and his crew reached shore safely but eventually fell into the hands of the Japanese. (Clifford C. Cottam Collection)

Lieutenant Ralph Robinette took off on a search for the crew the next morning with clothes and boots for each man as well as survival items to hold them over until they could be rescued. Kizzire’s navigator, 1/Lt. Joseph W. Carroll, and another crewmember were spotted near the lagoon and the supplies were dropped nearby. Robinette wrote a note telling them to wait by the lagoon for a Catalina and handed it to his co-pilot to drop from the flare shoot, but, in all the excitement, he forgot to do so. After Robinette flew back to Port Moresby, he secured a Catalina and headed back to the lagoon with the crew. Approaching the area, they spotted three flares west of the lagoon. Above the Catalina flew an unwelcome visitor, a Japanese Betty bomber.

Reluctantly, the pilot called off the search in case the pilot of the Betty called in some fighters to attack the Catalina. Around sunrise the next morning, the Catalina returned, the crew aboard fruitlessly searching the area for an hour and a half. About an hour later, another Catalina showed up with a fighter escort, also searching for the downed crew. They were never found. It wasn’t until March 1944 when three names from Kizzire’s crew were mentioned over an unofficial shortwave broadcast in English. These three men were alive and safe after being captured in Wewak. It was the last thing anyone ever heard about the crew.

 

This isn’t the only story from the November 27th raid at Boram. Read another one here.

Targeting Formosa

Throughout the campaign to drive the Japanese back to Japan during World War II, bomb groups would be ordered to fly ground support missions. This typically meant targeting ammo dumps, Japanese troops and supplies, antiaircraft gun locations and flying night harassment missions.The A-20 was an effective tool for these missions due to its ability to pack a punch and its light, maneuverable design.

At the beginning of April 1945, the 312th Bomb Group carried out missions to support Filipino guerrillas as well as the 33rd and 37th Infantry Divisions. In Formosa, the list of prime targets included rail yards and alcohol plants, which produced some dramatic photography. Compared to the earlier missions flown by the 312th, there was relatively little interception from Japanese pilots. As a result, the American pilots attacked various targets with gusto, destroying warehouses, repair facilities and other buildings, and damaging rail yards and alcohol plants. They used 250-pound parafrags and 100-pound napalm bombs, which started large fires that were still smoking when the 312th was 20 miles out from the target area.

Their results caught the eye of General Kenney, who awarded the 312th with a Distinguished Unit Citation for an “outstanding performance” over the cities of Kyoshito, Eiko, Saiatau, Shinei, Banshiden, Tamazato and Suan Tau. Long distance missions like these pushed the A-20 fuel range to its limits and Kenney praised all those involved in the preparation and execution of the missions. He also commended the pilots and gunners for their target accuracy “at roof-top level with a suddenness and fierceness that prevented the Japanese from offering more than feeble opposition to the devastation bombing and strafing runs…”

Rail yards at Shinei, Formosa

The 388th and 389th Squadrons flew the 312th Bomb Group’s fifth mission to Formosa on April 2, 1945. Their targets were the rail yards and the alcohol plant at Shinei, 45 miles northeast of Kyoshito, and 20 miles southeast of Eiko. Major Joseph B. Bilitzke, C.O. of the 388th, led the mission. Nine planes from each unit carried 250-pound parademos and 100-pound napalm bombs. Shinei was a key target for two reasons: the alcohol plant, and the fact that Japanese military supplies entered and exited Shinei by rail.

 

Attack on the Shinei alcohol plant

The 312th Bomb Group’s unsparing attack left the Shinei alcohol plant enshrouded in a thick smoke. (Selmon W. Wells Collection)

 

Attack on the Suan Tau sugar factory

The 312th returned to Formosa on April 4, 1945. This time the target was the Suan Tau sugar factory, west of Kagi. When the 387th, 388th and 389th Squadrons left Suan Tau, the entire factory area was ablaze.

IHRA’s Top 7 Posts of 2018

This week, we’re listing our most popular posts published this year as determined by the number of views. Did your favorite post make the list?

Thank you for your continued support by subscribing, reading and sharing our work, and buying our books. If there’s anything you’d like to see more of, let us know in the comments. We’ll be back next year with more great content. And now, without further ado, our most popular posts of 2018.

 

B-24 Petty Gal 1. Remember the 15  The 65th Squadron suffers a terrible loss on a mission to Tainan Airdrome.

 

 

389th Squadron officers 2. Mickey The profile history of a 389th Squadron, 312th Bomb Group A-20, coming straight to you from our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

 

 

3. How Phosphorus was Used in the Pacific Theater During World War II After writing this post, we wanted to dive into the use of phosphorus and how it impacted air missions.

 

B-24 Crash at Lipa 4. Lady Luck’s Unlucky Day LADY LUCK‘s pilots were having an inexplicably hard time taking off from Lipa Airdrome.

 

5. Your Army in the Making: The Carolina Maneuvers 1941 This video goes into some of the Stateside training done in 1941.

 

Low Altitude Bombsight 6. Working With the Low Altitude Bombsight This technology was used by a few heavy bomber squadrons to attack shipping targets at night.

 

The Old Man’s Ordeal a B-17 painting by Jack Fellows 7. The Old Man’s Ordeal A 65th Squadron B-17 crew is in the middle of a harrowing mission in this painting by Jack Fellows from our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume I.

Caught Offguard: Attacking the Manila Airbases

Some months prior to December 1941, Major Lester Maitland thought it would be a good idea to prepare for an enemy attack on Nichols Field in Manila, Philippines by digging trenches. Although this task was carried out, his idea was mocked and given the nickname of “Maitland’s folly.” Around the base and Manila as a whole, the idea of the Japanese attacking this island seemed to be incomprehensible.

By late November 1941, members of the 27th Bomb Group had arrived in Manila and noticed the peculiar attitude toward defense and cautionary measures. Lieutenant Harry Mangan of the 27th observed that “A strange sense of impending war was evident in small personal ways, but not in military ways that I could easily see…Dependents of military and certain civilian personnel had been sent to the United States…but there were no air raid shelters, gun emplacements, nor revetments at Fort McKinley, or at Nichols Field that I could see. There was a strange mixture of awareness, but still an attitude on the impossibility of war. Military dress was expected in the Officer’s Club after 5:00 p.m., and we actually got a lecture from the Fort McKinley Post Commander on his distaste for our airmen wearing Flight Line clothing during the day…”

News of the attack on Pearl Harbor came quickly on December 8th (the other side of the International Date Line) and Group C.O. Col. John H. Davies roused his men to give them the news. No one knew what to do, or had the planes to fly in the event of an attack, so they just went back to bed, where sleep would soon be hard to come by: several false alarms woke them up, and was eventually followed by a real attack on Nichols Field. It sent men running for the trenches. Others were given jobs as radio operators, antiaircraft gunners and whatever else was needed during the chaos. Eight hours later, Fort McKinley was attacked as well. With so few antiaircraft guns at the bases, there was very little that the U.S. troops could do to fend off the Japanese.

 

Water-cooled machine gun

Lieutenant Harry Roth sits with a .30-caliber water-cooled machine gun. With this type of light weaponry to serve as their air defenses, the Allied airfields and installations around Manila were all but helpless against the heavy Japanese attacks beginning on December 8, 1941. (Harry Mangan Collection)

 

“In morning found Japs had hit Nichols Field and destroyed hangars. Also hit the PAA radio station near McKinley. Was issued a service type gas mask. Had two more raids near us at 1045. Ibea, a small pursuit field, has been completely wiped out. Japs dropped tons of bombs on it. At noon bombs hit in officer’s mess—killed lots. Some of the men are now assigned to our group—they’re all bomb happy. Almost everyone has moved and is living in the jungle at the edge of post.” Dick Birnn wrote.

About half the available B-17s and P-40s at Manila were destroyed. Men were left reeling from the ferocity of the Japanese attacks. The 27th suffered its first casualty, PFC. Jackson P. Chitwood, who had been manning a machine gun at Nichols Field when a bomb burst nearby. These raids wound up being the first of many on the bases at Manila and Clark Field, which was located to the northwest of Manila.

A Stopover at Randwick

After disembarking from the Queen Mary on March 28, 1942, the 43rd Bomb Group marched through heavy rain to their temporary home at Randwick Racecourse, now known as Royal Randwick, located in Sydney, Australia. These last-minute accommodations required some efforts on the part of the men to make buildings more suitable for sleeping, and the enlisted men were chosen to clear out the straw and feed. They were given large gunny sacks to stuff with hay and subsequently use as mattresses. Unfortunately, most of the men woke up with red, itchy welts from bites they had received overnight from the critters living in the hay. As proper cots came in, they burned the straw to reduce the infestation.

Their sudden arrival disrupted race schedules, and it took about a month for Radwick to get their races back on track. While the men were living at the racetrack, they exercised, practiced plane identification and attended battle simulations and classes on Australian customs as well as hygiene and jungle warfare. During their downtime, they explored the city of Sydney. The 43rd’s squadrons began trickling out of Randwick in May and June, heading for bases in the northern parts of the country.

43rd at Randwick Racecourse

The ground echelon of the 63rd is shown assembled at Randwick Racecourse, Sydney, in early 1942. The men of the 43rd Bomb Group and others aboard the Queen Mary interrupted races at Randwick to camp there after they disembarked. In late May 1942, races resumed, even though many units were still quartered there. The 63rd, 65th and HQ Squadrons were among these units, while the 64th had left at the beginning of the month for Daly Waters, in north-central Australia. (Gerald R. Egger Collection)

 

On June 26, 1943, Charles Jones, a member of the 90th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group was likely on leave in Sydney and attended some races at Randwick. He took a program with him, kept it through his service in the Pacific Theater and gave it to us years later. Now, we’re sharing some scans from that program with you.

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Celebrating Thanksgiving in the Southwest Pacific

As the men in the Southwest Pacific fought the Japanese during World War II, they spent major holidays and birthdays far away from their families and friends. These holidays weren’t always a break from routine missions, but they were a brief respite from the bland food typically served in the mess hall. We’ve gathered some diary entries from Thanksgiving Day in 1943 and 1944. Happy Thanksgiving!

Harry E. Terrell, 405/38
11/23/44, Morotai, clear.
“Today is Thanksgiving! I got up at 9:00 and Stanley, Shrout, Zombie and I started laying the rest of the floor. We put up the uprights and knocked off for chow. We finished the tent in the afternoon and cleaned up in time for Thanksgiving dinner! We had turkey, spuds, peas, buns, fruit salad, pumpkin pie and coffee – it was “The nuts” with a white table-cloth, candles and ferns! We’re observing blackouts at sunset now. The 71st lost a ship and we had two shot up with one man injured today.”

11/24/44 John “Hank” Henry, 405/38
“…November 24…I’m writing this on our way home from a strike [mission].

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, we flew all day and it was a rough one. When we landed, I tossed down my two jiggers of bourbon, then went to the mess hall for turkey, dehydrated potatoes, green peas, and pumpkin pie. I loaded up my plate, but couldn’t eat a thing. I hope some of the bastards met their honorable ancestors today.

Well — Land Ho — I’d best get to work…

Upon our return to Morotai, we learned the Bombardier in the first element had left his extended vision knob rolled out after he used it to search for the target through his sight, and consequently his bombs had released prematurely. The Bombardier cried like a baby as he caught hell from our C.O. When the photos came back from group, I was highly congratulated on my run over the target.

It was also on this date the first strikes were made against Japan from the S.W.P.A. This was the start of the devastating B-29 attacks on Tokio from the Marianas.”

 

408th Thanksgiving

It was a little late, but the units back at Reid River were treated to a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings on December 3, 1942. This photo layout shows various aspects of the 408th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group’s celebration. (Samuel Schifren Collection)

 

11/25/43
Joseph C. Cox, 64/43
“Thanksgiving chow.”

11/25/43
Francis G. Sickinger, 64/43
“We were put on alert today and would have taken off except that the news got to town, and so the mission was called off. We’ll probably go out tomorrow afternoon. The 30th ground echelon is still around. Thanksgiving today and I guess I’m plenty thankful to be alive yet.”

11/25/43
Robert W. White, 65/43
“Had detail today. We had a good dinner – turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, string beans, yaws (native food), gravy potatoes and pumpkin pie. Eddie Rickenbach sent some Camels down to us. We went up the club and then down to Bryan’s tent. I got a card from Mom that read: ‘To Robert W. White – My Xmas gift to you is part of my self. I have given a pint of my blood at the Red Cross Blood Donation Center. May it prove a real gift to bring someone back home…’ That’s about the best thing I ever received.”