|Preface||Chapter 9||Chapter 11|
The fall of 1943 had marked the final determined effort of the enemy to maintain himself in the Solomons, keeping Rabaul, his strongest base south of Truk and originally planned as the keystone of the expanding arch that would bring Australia into the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere", safe behind an outer line. How tenaciously he clung to Rabaul is attested by the fact that, although the campaign to neutralize the capital city of the Bismarck Archipelago officially ended in July, 1944, even in 1945 crews from the Far East Air Force Replacement Training Center at Nadzab, New Guinea, were getting their first taste of combat on missions to Rabaul. These officially were training missions, but training of a very realistic sort, for the anti-aircraft gunners still showed no signs of running out of ammunition.
The Allied offensive against Rabaul, if an exact opening date can be fixed, really got under way with the coordinated strike against shipping in Simpson Harbor and Blanche Bay on Armistice Day, 1943. It was a combined effort of the Fifth and Thirteenth Air Forces and the Navy carrier force. Carrier groups from the U. S. S. Saratoga, Princeton, Essex, Bunker Hill, and Independence began the attack at 0800, followed at 0930 by four squadrons of heavies and 75 Mitchells from the Fifth in waves. It was a successful strike although very little could be observed of results because of cloud cover. From then on, in a crescendo that must have driven Tojo to distraction, heavies and mediums struck, dropping a mounting tonnage.
For the Group, however, the battle of Rabaul started in earnest when Stirling strip was completed on January 6, 1944, and our planes could stage through Stirling before we moved there. On January 1, the 106th Reconnaissance Squadron, soon to become the 100th Bombardment Squadron and to play a prominent, courageous, and altogether fitting part in our activities, had been assigned to Group.
As the 106th, or we might better begin to call it the 100th--for it is as the 100th that this fighting organization's name looms large in the Group's accomplishmentsis about to go into combat with us, it is appropriate that we digress for a moment to recite briefly the history of the unit before it joined our family.
SIMPSON HARBOR AND RABAUL
The chronicle of the 106th dates back to World War 1; precisely, to the formation of the 106th Observation Squadron at Kelly Field on August 27, 1917, and of the 135th Aero Squadron (OBSN) at Rockwell Field, San Diego, in the same month. The 106th sailed for France on December 17, 1917, and after a somewhat uncertain period, was redesignated the 800th Repair Squadron and finished the war as such. The Squadron did not get a chance to go into combat, but served well until the Armistice, returned to the United States, and was demobilized in July, 1919. The 135th also crossed the pond and took the front as the original "Liberty Squadron". Unfortunately, few details of its actions survive in the record.
The nucleus of the 106th Observation Squadron, which, as an Alabama National Guard unit was officially recognized in January, 1922, as the 135th Aero Squadron (Obsn), was the "Birmingham Escadrille", a civilian flying club of ex-Army flyers from that city. The organization's first commander, as well as early guiding genius, was Maj. James A. Meissner, an ace of the days of the Nieuport and Spad. Through 1922-1937, the Squadron struggled with all the problems of civilian as well as military aviation of the time: poor, inadequate facilities and funds, official and public apathy. But thanks to the unflagging enthusiasm of its members, it gradually improved its equipment and earned a fine reputation in both military and civilian circles. Among its accomplishments of the twenties we note that the Squadron carried on photo-mapping flights over a large portion of Alabama, pioneered early air mail flying, and received high commendation for its flood relief duty in March, 1929.
The Squadron was called into Federal service on November 23, 1940, went into intensive training, and a week after the outbreak of World War II, left Birmingham for Miami, where it flew coastal patrol, later moving its base to Jacksonville. Additional training with stations at Savannah and Tullahoma, Tennessee, followed, including coordinated air support flights during the 1942 Tennessee maneuvers. Then more training at Charlotte, N. C., Fort Myers, Florida, and Greenville, S. C., where the 106th received its first B-25s. Important training-problem-flying in the 1943 Tennessee maneuvers followed, then Chatham Field, Georgia. On October 1, 1943, the CO, Maj. James B. Henson, whose affable bulk was to become a familiar sight to all Groupers, told the Squadron what it was impatiently awaiting--warning orders had been received. The Flight Echelon went to Hunter Field, Georgia, to receive new aircraft while the ground men took the familiar route to Camp Stoneman, thence overseas on the Navy transport U. S S. Wharton, disembarking at Guadalcanal on November 15, 1943. The Flight Echelon took the equally well-trodden air route, and reached the 'Canal in December. After January, 1944, the story of the 100th is the story of its brilliant part in the Group's record. Key officers and enlisted men of the 106th at this time included the following:
Commanding Officer, Maj. James B. Henson
Adjutant, Capt. Earl L. Chapman
Executive Officer, Maj. Joseph J. Stevens
Operations Officer, Capt. Robert E. Shanks; T/Sgt. Horace M. Gray
Intelligence, Capt. Arthur G. Taylor; T/Sgt. Daniel E. Campbell
Engineering Officer, Capt. Arthur H. Deeters; M/Sgt. William P. Slaughter
Tech Supply, CWO John F. Pettigrew; T/Sgt. Robert E. Parker
Armament, Lieut. George S. Good; M/Sgt. John 0. Spinks
Ordnance, Lieut. Joseph A. Taylor; T/Sgt. Leo E. Graham
Flight Surgeon, Capt. Joseph Melancon; Sgt. John Hodakowski
Mess, T/Sgt. Wesley D. Stricklin
First Sergeant, 1st Sgt. Jack D. Manasco
Communications, Capt. Wesley Correll; M/Sgt. William D. Norris
From January 6 on, with increasing force until the law of diminishing returns set it, the Group's striking force, augmented by the new Fifth Squadron, was directed to the neutralization of Rabaul and its obliteration as an obstacle in the path of the Allied Forces. From this date forward it is possible to tell the story of our activities almost entirely by extracts from mission reports, public relations, intelligence summaries, and other records available to the authors, and it is felt that this record will gain in meaning and value for you, its actors and readers, because of the personal items and incidents that memory will supply as you look again upon the pages of military history that you helped to write.
The early part of the month saw flights hitting Chabai Village, Mut Mut, the Shortlands, and Buka's Chinatown, from minimum altitude as well as medium altitude. On the 13th, Captains W. M. and R. E. Shanks, Lieutenant Wolfendale and Lieutenant Elliott of the 106th flew as co-pilots with the 390th, hitting Bonis supply area from the Russells. This marked the baptism in combat of the new member of the Group family. It was the second mission of that day, as Capt. M. W. Longwill of the 75th had led the first, a dawn attack on Lakunai airdrome in the Rabaul area, staging through Stirling. As the third plane of the formation took off, Condition Red (impending air attack) was sounded. The leader contacted the ground defenses and was assured that they would stay their fire until the formation was air-borne and clear.
There was a slight misunderstanding of "clear," for while the formation was still over Stirling the ground guns broke loose, sending up a curtain through which the Mitchells had to fly. Weather conditions forced the formation to split up, and secondary and tertiary targets were hit by elements of two and three aircraft. Describing this unfortunate scramble afterward, Captain Longwill said: "The take-off blanket was worse than the fire over the target." But there was more than just a mixup at take-off time, for an uninvited guest drew a hand in the night's proceedings.
Colonel Wilson had gone up to Stirling from the Russells on some necessary business relative to the movement of our Ground Echelons, and had taken with him on his short jaunt a co-pilot from the 390th, one Lieut. James E. Cook, Upon arrival there, Lieutenant Cook was asked by Maj. George Hundt, at that time the 75th C. O., whether he wanted to fly co-pilot on one of his Squadron's planes for the Lakunai mission as the scheduled co-pilot had become ill. Cook answered in the affirmative and was briefed for the mission along with the regular crews. Several hours prior to take-off there was an enemy air-raid, and Major Hundt in diving for a foxhole wrenched his knee so seriously as to eliminate him from any forthcoming festivities. Hundt ordered his co-pilot to replace Cook, and one less plane would go on the mission. As a result, at take-off time eleven Mitchells lined up for take-off which was accomplished in the previously-explained Condition Red. But no sooner did the eleventh plane clear the ground than a 12th plane roared down the runway, and Cook's one-man show was on the road! We give you the story as the Associated Press gave it to Mr. and Mrs. America.
ONE-MAN RAID HITS RABAUL; BRINGS CONFLICTING OPINIONS
AN ADVANCED SOUTH PACIFIC AIR BASE, March 5--(AP)--An almost incredible one-man air raid by a young Army flier against the Japanese base at Rabaul on New Britain was disclosed here amid conflicting expressions of official pride over the young man's daring and disapproval of his judgment.
The flier was 2nd Lieut. James E. Cook, 24, University of Iowa graduate of Williamsburg, Iowa.
He took a B-25 bomber, without authorization, on a night attack against the big base at Rabaul six weeks ago, when it was much better defended than now. His take-off was made during a Japanese plane attack on his own air strip, and he flew to Rabaul through a tropical storm that caused five other bombers to turn back.
Arriving over Rabaul alone, he finally located a break in the clouds over Keravat airdrome. He tried a theory of his own, making a glide bombing run on the airdrome, released all his bombs, and headed homeward over the water.
His plane took a Japanese anti-aircraft shell hit which riddled the vacant co-pilot's seat. The hit knocked out all his flying instruments. Then he had to hedgehop over New Ireland and the Bougainville coastline to find his way home through the heavy weather.
Intelligence officers at first refused to believe his report. Then they saw the shell hole in his plane.
His group commander, Col. Harry Wilson, temporarily grounded Cook and sent him to the flight surgeon, Capt. Carl Wagner, of Cincinnati, for examination.
Afterward Lieutenant Cook smilingly said:
"The doc psychoanalyzed me and said I wasn't crazy."
Maj. Gen. Hubert R. Harmon, commander of the 13th Army Air Force in the Solomons, said that "in one brief mission, this young officer has set for us both a very bad example and a most brilliant one."
Months later, after Cook had gone home, a casual reader of that staple of the GI library, the comic supplement, looked up from his homework and said to a tentmate: "Hey, here's a story about a guy who raided Rabaul all by himself. You were in on that, did you know this bird?" And so the story of Jimmy Cook started the rounds of a new overseas generation via the comic strip.
The first of the long series of raids against Rabaul hit Vunakanau at dawn January 12. Two formations took off from Stirling for a rendezvous with Torokina based flighters. Capt. Robert (Red) Morris, St. Louis, Missouri, led the 70th, the second element. Weather caused the first squadron to turn back, and Red, after waiting ten minutes in vain for the fighters to join him, went on alone.
Swinging low over the water until they came to the Wanaanga river, the 13 ships (one of the 390th planes had latched on to the formation) swung wide into a company front at the initial point and swept over the airfield. Tactical surprise was complete, and full advantage was taken of it.
In results it was one of the most devastating B-25 raids ever pulled. Jap planes were lined up along the runways and in revetments, wingtip to wingtip. About 25 fighters, some of them with engines turning over, were caught on the north apron. In the mission report only those planes seen to burn or explode were assumed destroyed, but at 250 miles per hour complete observation is impossible.
Seven Bettys were seen to explode or burn from strafing and parafrag bursts. Sixteen more bombers and some 30 fighters were thoroughly worked over. Parafrags were seen to drop among dozens of parked aircraft and explode, although no damage assessment was possible.
Besides the destruction in planes, four bombs were dropped into a heavy gun position, a machine gun nest was knocked out, bivouac and engineering tents were strafed, a DF station and two control towers were seived, 15 or 20 barges in Karavia Bay were strafed, and five bombs were loosed into a gun position in the Karavia area.
The mission was over before the enemy was able to put a plane into the air, and the only AA fire received followed the retirement. The action was so successful that it brought the following commendation from Mai. Gen. H. R. Harmon, CG, 13th AirForce:
SUBJECT: LETTER OF COMMENDATION
TO: CAPTAIN ROBERT J. MORRIS, AIR CORPS
1. It has come to my attention that on the early morning of January 12, 1944, you were commander of a formation of B-25s of the 70th Bombardment Squadron, and that your squadron was one of two medium bomber squadrons charged with a combat mission in the vicinity of Rabaul. It appears that for various reasons the leader of the squadron, who was in fact in command of the entire expedition, deemed it advisable to abandon the mission and return with his squadron to its base.
2. I am informed that you on the other hand led your squadron to the objective and delivered a successful attack. Whether or not you were aware that the other squadron had turned back is beside the point. The essential fact is that you carried out your assigned mission with courage, determination, and high devotion to duty. I desire to commend you on your fine leadership and aggressive spirit. We need plenty of both in the winning of this war.
H. R. Harmon
Major General, U. S. Army,
Red Morris could fly an airplane with hands or reins, and he liked nothing better than to lead a formation or flight anytime, over any target that could be dug up. It is further noteworthy that when he led, there wasn't a man in the Squadron who wouldn't have followed him through hell and the downtown section of Tokyo. His comments on this raid, an addendum to the Squadron Mission Report, are among the Group's classic examples of understatement:
. . . "We circled rendezvous twice endeavoring to latch on to the lead squadron but were unable to do so...
Took a direct route as planned, cruising at high speed to make up for late departure ... Arrived over target two minutes late ... Entire area thoroughly strafed and peppered with well-placed bombs . . . Only apparent fire we drew was as we retired over the water, previous to reforming. . . . Several of our escort were mistaken for bogies, so we retired at a higher speed than we normally would have . . . Balance of mission uneventful . . . Fighter escort deserves a lot of credit for the way they covered us, and despite the fact that for a while we could not see them, we were sure they were there, and we depended upon them . . . Weather to and over the target was ideal."
The 14th saw a double-header staged against Vunakanau and Lakunai. Vunakanau was hit, but Lakunai had to be passed up, and the bombs intended for it were dropped on New Ireland and Buka. Lieut. Ross B. Lemmons, Jr., and crew, of the 70th failed to return from this mission. On the 18th the 70th, 75th, and 390th, strafing Tobera, got a Zeke warming up on the taxiway, and in an engagement with six Zekes after retirement, Capt. Joe D. Wheeler's turret gunner scored a probable and Lieutenant Shaw's tall gunner a definite. Lieut. Carter Williamson, Jr., and crew, of the 75th, were lost in a water crash after a direct hit on their left engine.
Dusk missions at this time encountered searchlights, and pilots became very adept as desynchronizing props and alternate climbing-diving turns to frustrate the probers. Oldtimers of this period will also recall a few missions cancelled when word came in from the Navy to "keep the Horses stabled."
The 70th and 390th flew one of the last missions staged through Stirling when on January 20 they hit the Vunakanau airdrome near Rabaul from minimum altitude. This mission carried with it 54 Torokina-based fighters and produced the most intensive and sustained AA fire ever encountered by the Group to that time. From the time landfall was reached until the formation retired over the water, intense automatic, medium, and heavy fire streaked up in sheets. In addition to this, what was believed to be a mortar barrage was also thrown at us. These projectiles exploded just above the tree-tops and threw out phosphorus streamers that sparkled for several minutes. They were very different from the previously encountered phosphorus bombs dropped from enemy planes. The AA fire came from all around the proverbial clock--from Warangoi River, Tobera's guns, Karavia Bay shoreline and the knolls to the west. Ralabang Plantation even threw in its four-bits, tracking the formation for a mile over water on retirement. The fighters ran into an afternoon's work, too. The enemy took off from Tobera to meet the 25s as they came in from the water. Lieut. Paul Nadler's plane was intercepted near Karavia Bay by five Zeros, who closed to about 1000 yards before being dispersed by our fighter cover. Flight Officer Ed Brisick was also attacked as he was retiring near Tobera.
Four Zeros were seen milling around at 1000 feet and three dove for the attack. Two of them closed to 500 yards at 5 and 6 o'clock and followed directly behind the plane. The turret gunner got some good hits with 100 rounds and the tall gunner peppered another 200 rounds, all of which were seen to hit home. The actual crash of the enemy plane was unobserved, so no official credit was allowed for what was felt to have been a certain victory.
Dogfights were in progress throughout the period of our attack and retirement. Although the record is not clear on the point, it appears that at least two of our escorting P-40's were shot down, one over Tobera and one into the water off the target. The plane of Lieut. Earl Swartzfager of the 390th was hit in the tall on retiring and its right rudder was shot away. The plane did a half roll, went into an inverted flat spin and crashed into trees, exploding a few minutes later. It was a severe blow to the 390th to lose Swartzfager, one of its outstanding figures on every count, an exceptional man, and a superb pilot.
The 70th's Lieut. J. E. Warner was also hit by ack-ack as he made an evasive turn after leaving the target. Lieutenant Nadler, flying his left wing, reports that the aircraft lurched and leveled off in its line of flight, causing all ships to the left of it to alter their turn as well and necessarilyy making them fly nearly over Karavia Bay.
Rallying under such conditions was somewhat delayed, and the stricken aircraft was observed leaving the coast near Warangol River mouth somewhat behind the main body of the formation. Smoke was seen coming from one of its engines, and it apparently was having considerable trouble holding air speed and altitude. Dogfights were progressing in the area and as it left the coast, several bursts of machine gun bullets were seen hitting the water dangerously close to the plane. It is not known whether any of the attacks caused the aircraft to make what was described as a "good" water landing at 1350 ten miles, due south of Cape St. George. No one reported seeing the crew climbing out of the plane; however, two additional passes by Jap fighters were made after the aircraft was in the water. Six "blue" fighter planes were left hovering and protecting the area. Flight Officer Brisick was instructed by his Flight Commander, Captain Paxton, to proceed to Torokina to arrange Dumbo rescue. This was done and the crew was successfully rescued about three hours later.
In commenting on the AA fire met on this mission, the report states: "There 'Is no question about the quality of fighting men the Japanese have in this area. This is definitely their first team and its shooting is accurate. They lead the planes with their AA and they throw up a lot of it. Strafing their positions does not seem to silence them as easily as it did in the Solomons. There was absolutely no element of surprise in our favor, and although the formation flew at treetop all the way into and out of New Britain, we never for a moment escaped drawing AA from the enemy. Our fighter cover unquestionably saved our formation from being subjected to some very rough interception as well."
January 22 was a sad day for the 75th Squadron. Lieut. Thomas O. Thompson and crew were lost on a medium altitude morning strike on Lakunai. Four members of this crew were seen to ball out over Rabaul; the others went down with the plane in Simpson Harbor. Lieut. William E. Eastwood, Jr., and Flight Officer William A. Snyder and crews failed to return from a minimum level attack on Rabaul that evening. On the 24th, Lieut. Willam L. Armstrong and Joseph D. Jones, also of the 75th, were lost as the result of a crash during a training flight from the Russells. Sgt. W. J. Sobolewski was rescued.
An evening strafe of Tobera on the 28th fired a gasoline dump and half a dozen Zekes and Tonics on the ground. Flight Officer Leslie D. Gilliland and crew of the 70th did not return from this mission.
A typical mission of later January flown after the Renard-Stirling staging business was a thing of the past, found CAVU weather over Lakunai and spread 792 bombs over the western two-thirds of the runway. Intense and accurate medium and heavy fire came up from the target, and for a touch, a destroyer lying-to about a mile offshore between Mother and South Daughter craters threw up additional lead. This knocked down a covering P-40. Thirty Jap fighters were in the air and dropped phosphorus bombs into the formation. Some hot gun-play took place as the Zekes made their passes, and most of the Mitchells had some holes to show for the day, but our gunners and the fighters drove them off without collecting any serious damage. Evasive action in the form of a violent diving turn to the left was credited in the report with having withdrawn our ships from the expected line of fire. This was the first full-strength mission for the 100th.
With additional daily raids at medium and minimum altitudes, the month of January wound up in tidy style. By February 30, the Ground Echelons of the 69th and 70th arrived at Stirling from PDG and Fiji, respectively, and the 100th arrived from Guadalcanal, while Group Headquarters also moved up from the Russells to the forward area. The Ground Echelons of the three Stirling based squadrons serviced and cared for the Flight Echelons of the entire group, until some 425 replacements arrived in March and the war-weary veterans of the 69th and 70th went home. The Ground Echelons of the 75th and 390th remained at the Russells, caring for and servicing all Flight Echelons of the Group that were not in the forward zone.
|Preface||Chapter 9||Chapter 11|