|Preface||Chapter 7||Chapter 9|
The fall of Munda soon placed previously remote targets within striking distance of the Crusaders' bombs and guns. By staging through Munda, the bases at Kahili, Kara, Buka, and Bonis were now within easy striking radius of the Mitchells. The heavies turned inquiring eyes towards the Jap fortress of Rabaul, but GHQ knew that the first business at band was to pound Kahili into submission and neutralize all of the enemy bastions in, on, and near the southern tip of Bougainville. From the beginning of August until the middle of December Kahili received far more than its share of American made explosives. The Crusaders ran frequent medium altitude and low level strafing missions against these targets, one in particular which will be long remembered by those who participated in it. It was the dusk bombing and strafing attack of October 6th with Kahili the target. The story of that raid is told in an article written by Capt. Robert Cohn and released through Public Relations channels:
HEADQUARTERS, 13th AAF, South Pacific--And yet still another story of breath-taking thrills, adventure, and war successes comes out of the Allied Gibraltar of the South Pacific--Guadalcanal. The curtain rises on this aviation episode in a 13th Air Force Operations and Intelligence shack. It is the briefing prior to a mission that is aimed at the Japanese air base at Kahili, which lies on the island of Bougainville, the last stronghold of the enemy In the Solomons. The mission calls for a tree-top level bombing and strafing attack, and the mission must succeed.
On this particular mission a bomb and style of release just recently devised was to be used. The bomb was supposed to leave the aircraft at slightly above the tree-tops level, and attached to each bomb was a miniature parachute. Instead of the bomb hurtling forward and downward, the 'chute was to open and check the forward momentum to such an extent that the aircraft could safely get beyond the explosion's destructive area. This then, was the reason for the air of excitement in the crowded briefing shack.
The plan was simply for several squadrons of Billy Mitchell medium bombers to sneak in at dusk, drop their bombs, strafing the parked planes in the area simultaneously, and then sneak out again under the protection of nightfall. But to do this called for the most exact timing imaginable. It was only 300 miles to the target and though all of the distance was over water, it was within view of the myriad of islands that seem to dot this sector of the globe--any one of which might conceal a Japanese outpost that could warn the enemy airdrome of the impending attack. The target had to be reached after sunset, but while there still remained enough light to distinguish objects on the ground. The run to Kahili had to be made almost water level, so that the flight would be less discernable to unfriendly eyes. To arrive too late would mean that the bombing would be inaccurate, for at tree-top level you cannot hit what you cannot see. To arrive too soon, would mean that, although the bombing would be more accurate, enemy fighter planes from the Kara Airdrome less than 8 miles from Kahili, Could rise to meet our formation. Actually the attack had been timed for that split moment when night sets in. This show had to arrive and leave within a three-minute period.
The route to and from the target was carefully gone over. The spacing between the formations as the various waves or elements swept across Kahili was discussed and agreed upon. Emergency procedures in the event of a forced landing in the water near the target area were also reviewed. Even though the element of surprise were attained, it was felt that the last two waves of Mitchells would still be subjected to some intense fire from automatic weapons. If the surprise element were lacking, the whole formation would have to run a veritable gauntlet of steel, for the planes would be within effective range of even pistols. It promised to be a good show. If successful, it was anticipated that enemy air opposition in the Solomons would be depleted quite some bit, and the last stronghold of the Japs in the Solomons would get a thorough plastering.
The planes all took off without incident and were soon winging along to one of the small islands which had been agreed upon as a rendezvous point. When all Squadrons had arrived over the island, the Formation Commander, Capt. Charles W. Brown, 26-year-old flier from Waldo, Arkansas, signalled for the formation to proceed on course to the target. They dropped down to water level and were soon skimming along the waves on their way to Kahili. Three hundred miles of "water-buzzing" is no picnic even for the most experienced pilot, and after about 30 minutes the strain of such low flying was beginning to show on many of their faces. Another hour to go.
Many thoughts went flashing through the minds of the men as they continued steadily forward. Lieut. Alto F. Dolan, 22-year-old Superior, Wisconsin, Flight Commander, sat tensely crouched over the controls wondering if they had been sighted yet. And little Sgt. "Tony" Moreno, an aerial gunner from Los Angeles, California, was thinking, would they be too early or too late? Moreno, though he was unaware of it at the time, was riding to a date with destiny and was not to come back alive from this one. Back in the navigator's compartment, busy checking maps and navigational instruments, rode Lieut. Donald C. Grant, a Rochester, New York, lad who was attending Princeton University when he heard his country's call. As navigator-bombardier, his thoughts were whether this new-fangled bomb would really work as they had been told it would. Other men were wondering if enemy fighter planes would come hurtling down from above to intercept them. Would the last two waves get through? These thoughts and many others came to mind as the formation passed another check-point on the route to the target, and right on schedule. So far, so good.
After about 75 minutes, when the sun was setting very low in the sky, the island of Bougainville appeared on the horizon. The home-stretch has been reached. The next fifteen minutes would tell the story. Eager eyes searched the heavens above for enemy fighters. And now, just ahead of them lay Ran Tan Island, the last check-point on the schedule and only five miles from Kahili.
Between Ran Tan Island and the target, there was a small mountain of some 1700 feet that had to be crossed. The formation appeared actually to crawl up the side of that mountain, gaining altitude steeply as the mountain became more precipitous. At last the summit was reached, and down in the valley below was Kahili, still visible in the fast gathering gloom. They were here on time. The curtain on the second act was going up.
The throttles were gently eased forward, and the aircraft noses pointed down, heading straight for the treetops. Faster and faster the speedy Billy Mitchells dove, and the wind made a whistling sound whose notes kept mounting higher and higher as the planes kept gathering more and more speed. Now the first wave carried over the target area in a hell-breaking crescendo of sound, as the wind and reverberations of loosened guns and bombs shattered the stillness of the dusk. The element of surprise had been achieved-but only momentarily.
Figures sprang to instant alertness on the ground and rushed to prepared gun positions. And almost before the second wave had crossed the target, angry enemy machine guns spit out long, loud stacatto bursts at the Mitchells. The parachute bombs were working admirably, as witnessed by the number of enemy aircraft exploding and burning on the runway and in the revetment area.
But now the last two waves were over the summit and on the way. There was no surprise element in their favor, and guns opened up even before they had levelled out for the bombing run. Planes were purposely pointed at enemy gun positions that were still firing, and burst after burst poured into them. The bombs were released and still more explosions rent the air over Kahili. As the Billy Mitchells sped out of the target area gathering the folds of darkness ever closer around their sturdy wings, the Formation Leader called Flight Commanders on the radio for a hasty check-up on who might be missing.
With bated breath he waited for the reports to filter through and heaved a sigh of relief when all but one plane were accounted for and in formation on their way home. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Lt. Lloyd D. Spies and crew were lost on this one when their plane was shot down 300 feet off the target, cartwheeling into the water. There were no survivors.) Three aircraft had been hit by AA exceptionally hard, and reported they would land at Munda, the recently wrested Jap airdrome on New Georgia, rather than continue on to Guadalcanal. In addition to that, one man had been killed outright when an enemy 20-millimeter cannon shell exploded inside the plane. It was "Tony" Moreno. But the third act of the drama was still to be played, even though Kahili lay behind them.
Lieut. Willard "Swede" Johnson, big, affable, tow-headed farm boy from Sebeka, Minnesota, was flying in the last wave and on the right wing of Lieut. Austin W. Eivers of Portland, Oregon. Suddenly, "The Swede" heard a tremendous roar over the din of his own motors and saw a huge flame come belching out of Eivers' right engine. Almost instantly, the latter's plane slid down beyond Johnson's view. "The Swede" himself was having his hands full, for his horizontal elevators had received several accurate bursts and at the moment looked more like refuse from the city dump than an integral part of a plane's tall assembly.
In Eivers' doomed plane, busy hands worked speedily. Lieut. William E. Eliason, young co-pilot from Trenton, New Jersey, flying his first combat mission, had been intently staring at the phosphorescent needle of the oil pressure indicator. It had been fluctuating ever since they had left the target. When the motor roared, be realized with a start that the "prop" bad run away. He pushed the feathering switch in an attempt to halt the wild wind-milling of the propeller, but to no avail. The oil system had been shot out and the needed pressure for "feathering" was lacking. A situation such as this is dangerous even at high altitudes, but at low-level, and in the dark, it is almost hopeless. The best that could be wished for was a Dearly perfect emergency water landing.
Lieut. Johnny W. Malpass, 23-year-old navigator-bombardier from Clinton, South Carolina, quickly sizing up the situation, had the rest of the crew prepare themselves for an immediate crash landing. He then opened the emergency top hatch so they could crawl out of the plane when it settled in the water.
Staff Sergeant Adams of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the aerial engineer of this crew, sat on the floor of the navigator's compartment with his feet braced against the forward bulkhead. He had been wounded in the face, by shrapnel and the smeared blood made him look for all the world like an Indian on the warpath. The gunner, S/Sgt. Earl T. Oliphant from Plymouth, Michigan, a veteran of a previous water landing, and S/Sgt. Lloyd D. Johnson, radio operator from Julian, Nebraska, were at their places in the tall-end of the plane.
Lieutenant Eivers kept full power going on his good engine in order to keep the plane under some semblance of control until the aircraft touched the water, and then, holding the nose up, he cut the throttles and let her hit solid, tall first. The bomber shuddered, skipped about 50 yards, and then skipped yet again before settling. In the meantime, Adams, who was on the floor, jumped to his feet after the plane hit the water the first time, and when it hit the second time, it catapulted the hapless engineer clean out the open top-hatch and landed him in the water about 100 feet behind the spot where the aircraft finally settled.
The men quickly scrambled out of the hatches, fore and aft, and got their Rickenbacker rubber life boat inflated and launched. The bomber sank in less than a minute, but the men were in the life raft and clear by that time.
They paddled towards the spot where Adams was, and found him bleeding profusely and thrashing about in the water. The luck of this doughty crew held out, for just as they pulled him into the boat, three sharks broke water next to the life boat. The scent of blood had brought them there, and had the crew arrived there 30 seconds later, the engineer would surely have been ripped to shreds.
Lieutenant Malpass estimated their position to be about 20 miles from Vella Lavella, an island in the New Georgia Group that still contained pockets of enemy resistance. They paddled in that direction, arriving there just as dawn was breaking the next morning. An Allied infantry patrol operating in that sector found the men about one hour later, and eventually had them returned to Guadalcanal.
And so the curtain dropped on another story of another raid. The score was two planes lost with the crew of one safely recovered, and one additional man killed in action. The results of the raid are best shown by quoting from an official document mailed to all members of the 13th Air Force that participated on the mission. It read:
HEADQUARTERS COMAIRSOLS Office of the Commanding General
APO 709 October 9, 1943
SUBJECT: Commendation for Bombing and Strafing Attack on the Kahili Airdrome on October 6, 1943.
TO: Commanding Officer, 42nd Bombardment Group.
(Thru Commanding Officer, XIII Bomber Command, APO 709.)
As Commander Aircraft Solomons, I take great pleasure in commending the 42nd Bombardment Group for the excellent results of the parachute bombing and strafing attack on Kahili Airdrome at dusk on October 6, 1943.
This well-timed and devastating attack prevented enemy air operations against our forces during the next two days. The curtailment of his air operations in the New Georgia area was of inestimable value to our forces, as it permitted our crippled destroyers to withdraw safely from the night action of October 6, 1943, made possible the unrestricted rescue operations by motor torpedo boats and Dumbos off the island of Vella Lavella, and enabled the large convoy of cargo ships to safely unload personnel and cargo at Barakoma; all accomplished without enemy air attacks, indicating complete success of the bombardment mission.
The outstanding leadership exhibited and the superb ability of the pilots and crews participating in this highly successful low-level attack, coupled with the courageous spirit shown by all, is exemplary of the highest traditions of the military service.
It is directed that this commendation be presented to all members of your command.
N. F. Twining Major General, U. S. A.
Pilots of Crusader planes participating on this famous mission were Captains Brown of the 69th, Wheeler and Carmody of the 390th, Lieutenants Christian, Burkhart, Corrie, Eddington, Ferguson, Everett, Doty, Lamkin, Spies, Ernest, and Nordahl from the 69th, and Lieutenants Holstein, Moore, Kuhl, Workman, Dolan, Blackwell, Pebles, Eivers, Johnson, and Dermody of the 390th.
Right after this mission was flown, and before the infantry reported him safe several search missions were run in an effort to locate Lieutenant Eivers. Lieutenant Dermody of the 390th finally located some debris in the water. Upon closer examination he discovered a wheel floating in the water with a man clinging to it. He dropped a raft to the survivor, meanwhile calling for a Dumbo to rush to the rescue. After circling for two hours Lieutenant Dermody spied the rescue plane chugging towards the scene. As soon as he had informed the Dumbo pilot of the location and so forth, Dermody headed for home because his fuel was running low. The rescue was accomplished successfully, but to the everlasting chagrin of one Dermody, the rescued turned out to be a Jap who had just had his plane shot out from under him 30 minutes before the Crusader so graciously arrived on the scene and set the well-oiled American rescue service in motion.
The 69th's two-plane shipping search on October 12th, flown by Captain Everett and Lieutenant Schweikert, found rich meat for the pot--two 8 to 10,000-ton AKs on the east side of Toiokh Island. Twelve bombs and 500 rounds away for the pair on two runs each produced a score later verified as a definite for Captain Everett and a probable for Lieutenant Schweikert.
In October the group made the first move north when the 390th, 75th, and Group Headquarters moved to the Russell Islands. The base was Renard Field, with a pretty coral runway running through the heart of a coconut plantation belonging to Lever Brothers. The Russells were a group of several islands; Banika, the largest, being the new home for the 42nd. A Marine Air Group flying Corsairs had been stationed here, but with the arrival of the Group they moved on to other pastures and hunting grounds.
At first sight, the Russells were thought the best possible spot to be stationed. It was cooler than the 'Canal, and there was no jungle growth to clear in setting up line areas and camp sites. The latter were in the plantation proper and our boys soon discovered that a falling coconut could do as much bodily harm as a well placed Jap personnel bomb. Then, too, there was the problem of coconut rats. They scampered across the tent tops, disturbing one's sleep at night, ate up the soap on the wash stands, and left dung in every possible spot. But still the Russells were quite an improvement over the 'Canal.
Meanwhile there were some notable changes taking place within the ranks of the Crusaders. Capt. George R. Hundt became the Commanding Officer of the 69th, relieving John Sharp, who had been promoted to Major and was being ordered back to the U. S. with several other officers of the squadron to form the cadre for a new organization. Soon after, Lieut. Col. Harold S. Ecklund, who was Base Commander at Carney Field and a former airline pilot, came into the Group and relieved Captain Hundt, who went to the Bomber Command to supervise a special training school for B-25 crews just sent over from the States. Captain jean H. Daugherty, who had been "A" Flight Commander in the 390th, took over command of the 70th Bomb Squadron and was soon promoted to Major. Hardwick, C. 0. of the 390th, became a Lieut. Col. and was shortly thereafter evacuated to America for medical reasons. He was succeeded by Lieut. Col. George H. Bosch.
A roster of the key men of the 70th at this time, as far as can be ascertained from records available to the writers, went as follows:
SECTION HEAD SECTION CHIEF
Commanding Officer, Maj. jean Daugherty
Operations Officer, Capt. Savell L. Sharp, S/Sgt. Abe Prensky
Intelligence Officer, Lieut. William Trone; S/Sgt. Meyer Bernstein
Engineering Officer, Lieut. Homer H. Noar; M/Sgt. Arthur jolly
Executive Officer, Capt. Harley Kabrud.
Ordnance Officer, Lieut. Walter Beam; T/Sgt. Chas. M. Williamson
Armament Officer, Capt. Henry Dulac; M/Sgt. Darel Snyder
Communications Officer, Lieut. Wm. D. Davis; S/Sgt. David W. Lynch
Flight Surgeon, Capt. George Sifert; S/Sgt. Melvin C. Ogden
Adjutant, Capt. Howard N. Merritt
First Sergeant, Richard A. Day
Mess Sergeant, S/Sgt. Frederick C. Westbrook.
The 69th Ground Echelon were still at P. D. G. and their line-up at this time looked something like this:
Commanding Officer, Lieut. Col. Harold S. Ecklund
Operations Officer, Capt. Charles W. Brown; T/Sgt. Doyle R. Smith.
Executive Officer, Capt. Charles W. Humble
Adjutant, Capt. Roy B. Harris
Intelligence, Lieut. Reginald Hayes; M/Sgt. Wendell E. Elliot
Engineering, Capt. jasper W. Howard; M/Sgt. Clark H. Curtis
Armament, Capt. Wm. Rosar; M/Sgt. Carl E. Seibert
Ordnance, Lieut. Chas. W. Hagon; T/Sgt. Kenneth E. Karraker.
Communications, Capt. Harry W. Stockoff; M/Sgt.
First Sergeant, Joseph R. Zwiste
Mess Sergeant, Sgt. Eugene Robertson
Flight Surgeon, Lieut. John W. Anderson
|Preface||Chapter 7||Chapter 9|