|Preface||Chapter 11||Chapter 13|
It appears to the researcher of pertinent documents in the Group files that Public Relations, Private Hargrove's old pasture, began to thrive and grow green in March. Your editor was faced with the not entirely pleasant necessity of culling a few representative items from many interesting, descriptive, and frequently amusing pieces. We print herewith and increasingly hereafter, our selections, and are particularly glad to have the opportunity of reprinting those which deal with ground phases of Group life. Without the care and skill and the sometimes amazing ingenuity of the Group's maintenance workers, the flying and bombing accomplishments narrated in this book would never have been possible. Remember the 390th's Queenle?
AT AN ADVANCED 13TH AAF BASE IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC, March 27--Queenie, queen of them all. This saying certainly holds true in the case of Queenie II, the 'old dependable' in this hard flying Billy Mitchell medium bombardment squadron of the 13th AAF.
Flown to the South Pacific theatre in March of 1943 by Capt. Joe Wheeler she has been on a total of 77 combat missions. When Captain Wheeler picked her up in Sacramento, he named her Queenie II after a sister warbird he had flown in the Alaskan theatre and named for the celebrated burlesque queen. On the ensuing trip to this area it looked as if Queenie II would turn out to be a lemon, but she seemed to take heart in these sunny climes and really hit her stride in the opening of the Northern Solomons campaign. On her first mission Queenie helped sink a large enemy cargo ship at Baeroko Harbor on New Georgia Island in a low-level skip-bombing and strafing attack. As the battle for the enemy stronghold at Munda, New Georgia, increased in fury, Queenie and her sister ships flew many low level bombing and strafing sorties in support of the ground forces. So effective was this firepower that a grateful infantryman came up and kissed one of the B-25 pilots. During this period Queenie and a flight of seven other Mitchells flushed a Japanese cruiser off the coast of Choiseul and immediately swooped down for a mast-head attack. The cruiser exploded and sank within two minutes after a dozen bombs penetrated her vitals. For this exploit, Captain Wheeler received the Silver Star. As time went on and the enemy retreated, Queenie was chosen as lead ship to crack Kahili, the strongest enemy bastion in the Solomons. After a few short weeks of terrific pounding, Bougainville Island became more of a liability than an asset to the Japanese, and once again the B-25's had to look further afield for targets. The Bismarck Archipelago, with its city of Rabaul, was earmarked for destruction. Though many of the older ships were weeded out and replaced with newer models in preparation for this onslaught, Queenie II remained and is still flying with the best of them. It is indeed a tribute to sound engineering and excellent maintenance that Queenie has over 580 hours of combat flying without so much as an engine change. T/Sgt. George C. Hester was Queenie's crew chief.
* * *
Always putting a gay face on trouble, the 70th's PRO takes up a couple of constant problems--tent improvement and horse-trading
HEADQUARTERS, 13th AAF, SOUTH PACIFIC
If Johnny's in a bomber base in the South Pacific, don't send him money. Send him a handful of nails and a saw.
At home Johnny may be mechanically ten-thumbed, but when be gets down here and faces Hobson's choice of doing without or making it himself, you'd never know him. His ingenuity flowers like jungle foliage, and in two weeks he can hit a nail with either hand from a standing start.
When he first got here he slept in a tent, generally with a tree root or a chunk of coral where his tenth vertebra protruded. The average American likes a house. With floors. He'll sleep in a tent if he must; on the ground, if he must--but he doesn't have to like it.
Give him a day off, or an evening away from the line, and he goes into the construction business. With a hatchet, a saw and a pocketknife. With scrap lumber, felled trees and limbs of same. The same canvas that gives him and his tentmates a 10-foot square tent will furnish 15 or 16 feet of roof and an overhang. So he puts up four corner posts, frames them around the top, puts a joist across the middle, raises his center pole to the top of the joist, puts down a floor, uses screening sewed to canvas for walls, and whadya know! Johnny's got the snuggest air-conditioned tent in the area. With a house and a floor, he can thumb his nose at the lizards and insects.
He's not finished. Before he's through Johnny will have a cupboard with shelves, a table, chairs, a bookcase, and a bed lamp. Soon all he lacks is a bathroom. But that's not Johnny's fault. There just isn't ample water.
"Give him sufficient water," marvels Col. (Light Horse) Harry Wilson, Commanding Officer of a medium bomber group on a South Pacific island, "and I'll be doggoned if he won't have me subscribing to a Sewer Bond Issue. What a guy!"
THESE MEN WORKED ON THE GROUND . . .
TO KEEP THESE MEN FLYING . . .
* * *
Not that occasional ludicrous incidents of combat were overlooked. This one is an absent-minded professor item to end all A-M-P items.
AT A 13th AAF ADVANCED BASE IN THE SOUTH
PACIFIC, March 22-1st Lieut. Ben C. Speer, Jr., bombardier of a 13th AAF medium bomber, completed his fiftieth combat mission in this theatre by participating in a recent raid on the most strongly defended Japanese base in the South Pacific, Rabaul. This was the Lieutenant's 15th time over that target. The other 35 missions were flown in the bitter campaigns which destroyed the Japanese air base of Rekata Bay, Munda, Vila Lavella, Ballale, Kahili, Kara, Bonis, and Buka. These 50 missions have given the Lieutenant many memorable experiences, but on this incident his comrades are still prone to rib him. His plane was hit and fire broke out near his station. He searched for his fire extinguisher but could not find it. He was using his hat against the flames with some success when the engineer brought up an extinguisher and put out the fire. As the Lieutenant stood up he saw that lie had been sitting on the extinguisher. So did the others. A casual remark to "hide this extinguisher for use in a real emergency" still embarrasses the bombardier.
* * *
April got off to a roaring start with two dozen Mitchells hitting the Vunapope supply area, Lakunai runway, and the northwest part of Rabaul town on the first three days, for a total of 711 assorted bombs dropped on the unhappy Jappies. On the 4th of the month, bad weather that persisted through the balance of the month diverted 11 planes from Rabaul to Buka, where their centuries walked down the runway and across the revetment area. On this same day, Lieut. Walter W. Remspecher took Queenie II into the air on a search for a missing B-24 crew, and never returned from his mission of mercy. The B-24 had been badly shot up on a raid on Truk, a target that only six days previously had come into the sphere of operations of our heavy groups of the 13th AAF.
From the 5th through the 11th formations of 23 or 24 aircraft socked the Rabaul targets daily. Lieut. Andrew J. Dudas Jr., F/0 Alton V. Watson and T/Sgt. Norman R. Krogel, crew chief, of the 70th, did not return to base from a test hop on the 11th. The 12th brought another score for Dumbo and the exciting story is best told from a PRO release of the 69th:
HEADQUARTERS, 13TH AAF, SOUTH PACIFIC
The crew of "El Croco", a 13th AAF Mitchell bomber, will never recall exactly how they lived through that morning of April 12.
Alone on a photo mission to Rabaul, the Mitchell dove from 9000 to 4000 feet to start its run. When it came out of a cloud the bomber was traveling 360 miles per hour over the center of the big Jap base. It seemed that every anti-aircraft battery in the city from machine guns to 90 MM had been waiting for the plane to break out of that cloud.
Straight ahead loomed a black mass of bursting shells and tracers. Too late to avoid the barrage, the Mitchell traveled straight on into it.
Half of one engine was torn off: the other engine spouted oil and burst into flames. The nose, tall, wings, and bomb bay were peppered. Bomb bay doors, hatch covers, parts of the turret, and a large piece of the tall section were sheared off. The aileron controls were gone, but the damaged rudder and elevator controls remained. Two men were wounded when a shell blast took most of the floor out within a foot of where they were standing and left only the metal ribs. The airstream poured in through large gaping holes in the roof and side.
All that was left was a crippled wing, a burning engine, with a runaway propeller, a few controls, and a questionable fuselage to carry them from the center of Rabaul.
Another barrage and the plane dropped 2500 feet towards Simpson Harbor. The wing banked through 80 degrees and the pilot was certain the plane was spinning into Lakunai Airdrome.
It was nothing but muscle power on the shredded controls that forced the plane away from the city and out to sea.
The bomber hit the water 20 miles from Rabaul without a bounce. The landing was so smooth that the four men in back escaped injury even though they didn't have time to brace themselves. The landing was made on swells 15 feet high. The punctured plane leaked like a sieve and in less than a minute it was under water.
They had been flying parallel to the shore and the copilot said they landed so close he could "clearly see the cocoanuts on the palm trees!"
Jap coastal batteries immediately opened up. A formation of passing Allied fighter planes observed the crew's predicament and immediately came down to strafe the enemy guns. The guns stopped firing.
A formation of bombers returning from a mission sent a plane down to circle their location and radio for help.
A Navy PBY picked up the message and went to their aid. Within an hour after the water landing the crew of the "El Croco" was homeward bound.
1st Lieut. Richard W. Reed was the pilot responsible for the miraculous escape. Before the plane had time to stop Lieutenant Reed was pulling open the canopy escape hatch out of which climbed the co-pilot, the navigator, the radio operator, and himself. He had to climb back to release the raft and was in the water inflating it when the crew came out.
Co-pilot 2nd Lieut. William W. Carlisle had his foot jammed between the seat and the control column. It came free at the last minute. He then dived back in to tow the radio operator to the life raft.
Navigator 1st Lieut. Patrick H. Watts tried to warn the crew in the back of the water landing. The plane was losing altitude rapidly; the interphone system had been shot out. The only solution was to crawl back over the narrow passage-way on top of the bomb bay. He squeezed his 190 pounds through the passage, told the crew to prepare for a water landing, turned around and crawled back to the Navigator's compartment. He also helped the co-pilot tow the radio operator to the raft.
The Mitchell, not designed as a camera ship and without a camera mount, had been assigned a large camera to be operated from the side window. It took two men to operate it. S/Sgt. August C. Valentin, a non-flying administrative clerk, was the only extra man available at the time to help the engineer operate the camera. Sergeant Valentin had already finished taking a roll of pictures of another target before they began their run on the second objective, Rabaul. A blast of shrapnel caught both Cameraman Valentin and the engineer from behind as they were busy taking pictures of the city. Sergeant Valentin was hit in the shoulder-most of the floor near him had been blasted away and he could look straight down into Simpson Harbor. Although painfully wounded he swam out of the bottom escape hatch (already blasted off by anti-aircraft fire) and floated until the raft was inflated and the crew safely assembled before he asked for help. Throughout the rescue and the probing for shrapnel after the rescue, the doctor and the crew said "he took it like a veteran."
S/Sgt. William S. Price, engineer, was helping Sergeant Valentin with the camera when he was hit through both legs. The engineer calmly sat down, twisted a turniquet around his own leg, and administered his own first aid. He slid out of the escape hatch unassisted and swam to the raft.
Cpl. Carl A. Cook, radio operator, continued to send out calls for the rescue plane giving details of location, time, and damage. He stayed until the rising water in the plane ruined his radio set and then crawled over the narrow bomb bay out the front escape hatch.
Cpl. Warren G. Johnson, turret gunner, felt the shock of the bursting anti-aircraft and jumped down to see if anyone had been hurt. A second later a shell exploded just above the turret tearing big pieces out of it and the turret gun. Disregarding his narrow escape he began to administer first aid to the wounded cameraman and was so busy he forgot to brace himself for the landing.
A current started to carry the raft towards the Jap-filled shoreline. The wounded men were placed in the raft while the uninjured crew swam it out to sea, and subsequent rescue.
* * *
On the 14th and 15th, the two-dozen took it up again, hitting Rataval and Talili Supply areas and incidentally getting the balance of that stored ammunition. Then the weather thickened again, but on the 17th the flight found an opening at Rapopo and neatly undid the repairs that had been accomplished since our previous visit. And thus it continued throughout the balance of April with the final score showing these results:
1,644,300 pounds of bombs dropped
50,100 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition expended on enemy targets.
344 x 75MM shells spent for good cause.
A sad note crept into the symphony of destruction when Maj. "Jimmy" Yeoman, who had assumed command of the 75th only a short while previously, was shot down while making a low level attack against enemy shipping off of New Ireland on the 28th. With him were the Flight Surgeon, Lieut. William C. Craig, and the Squadron Bombardier, Lieut. Howard A. Goldstone, in addition to S/Sgt. Charles D. McKinley, engineer, T/Sgt. James C. Kiker, radio operator, and S/Sgt. Robert M. Duvall, gunner.
Squadron Leaders on most of the missions during the first four months of 1944 included the following:
69th: Captains Oscar Vordahl, Charles W. Brown, Charles T. Everett, Robert D. Reiman, Rolf N. Romstad.
Lieutenants Roy D. Burkhart, John J. Eddington, Vernon W. Fisher, Lynn A. Ferguson, Walter R. H. Berger.
In addition Lt. Colonel Ecklund and Major Barlow led many missions for this organization. During this period, Lieutenant Burkhart was promoted to Captain, and Captain Romstad was promoted to Major.
70th: Captains Robert J. Morris, Wilmot E. Y. Paxton, William S. Southern.
Lieutenants Ross B. Lemmon (lost on Jan. 14th), Paul 0. Nadler, Paul L. Ryder, John H. Van Schaick, F/0 Edward J. Brisick.
In addition, Maj. Jean H. Daugherty flew as Squadron Leader on more of these missions than he probably cares to remember.
75th: Captains Merrill W. Longwell, Raymond Johnson, L. J. Davidson and Charles Rocks, and Lieutenant Routh.
Major Yeoman led the Squadron both in the capacity of Operations Officer and later as Squadron Commander. 100th: Major J. B. Henson, Squadron Commander, Cap
tain R. E. Shanks, Operations Officer, Captains Bryce Hedlund, Edwin M. Shanks, Lieutenants Vernon R. Fetnet, Charles W. Wolfendale, Andrew Elliott, and Herbert Sunderman.
390th: Major Joe D. Wheeler, Squadron Commander, Captain Richard Carmody, Operations Officer, Captains Austin E. Eivers, William Short, Lieutenants Alto F. Dolan, Hugh Blackwell, William Dermody, Lorin Trubachenck, Raymond Kahl, Lawrence McLaughlin, Rex Workman, and a man who served only a short while in the Squadron, Maj. Richard "Dickie" Jones, ex-aide to General Hubert Harmon, who was in the group to pick up some combat experience.
Again we turn to the 70th's public relations file to recapture the Rabaul days, but it's good reading and brings back nostalgic memories of the days "when it was rough."
Headquarters 13th AAF, South Pacific-With his hands injured by flak fragments, with his plane blown off its bombing run and out to sea by a bursting shell, 1st Lieut. John R. Campbell stuck to his bombsight today, brought his plane back over the target and toggled out his bombs.
Lieutenant Campbell, flight bombardier of a Solomons based Mitchell squadron, was taking his flight in on the right flank of the formation on a strike over Rabaul when a Jap anti-aircraft shell burst beneath the ship. Fragments struck the nose and rudder just as the pilot approached his bomb release point.
Despite the efforts of the pilot, Lieut. Paul. L. Ryder, to hold the ship steady, it swerved, and the entire flight swerved with it.
Cursing softly into the interphone, and wringing his numbed and bleeding hands Lieutenant Campbell guided his pilot back into the target run. For the second time the entire flight leveled off. This time there was no interruption. Cluster after cluster of white hot incendiaries blossomed over the target.
Before today a cocoanut plantation a few miles west of Rabaul was the cover for ton after ton of Supplies piled up when the town was still a major Jap threat in the Pacific. When it was last seen today, it was a Mass of roaring flames and billowing smoke. All planes returned safely to base.
* * *
FROM THE 69TH PRO'S FILES:
Headquarters 13th AAF, South Pacific-John W. Malpass has recently been promoted from First Lieutenant to Captain.
Captain Malpass, better known as "The Little Rebel" is bombardiering officer in a squadron of Billy Mitchell medium bombers of the 13th AAF. As squadron bombardier he has been instrumental in the destruction of many enemy strongholds, and has flown as lead bombardier on low level strafing and skip-bombing attacks on Jap shipping. Captain Malpass was a member of a crew which was shot down during a low level raid on the Jap-held Kahili Airdrome on Bougainville. After four days of fruitless search the crew was given up as lost, but on the fifth day word was received that they were all safe and on their way back to the base. Malpass gave proof of his devotion to duty by returning to the sinking plane to rescue one of his injured comrades.
Since his arrival in this theatre in March, 1943, Captain Malpass has flown on 50 combat missions over every enemy installation in this area.
* * *
HEADQUARTERS 13TH AAF, SOUTH PACIFIC
In one part of the South Pacific the Japs are learning that it doesn't pay to play with fire ... at least not when 2nd Lieut. Frank J. Clark and his Mitchell "flying cannon" are around.
Lieutenant Clark was piloting his 13th AAF bomber on a routine shipping search of a large Jap-held area. Turning home with negative results Clark sighted a column of smoke arising from a small island. Curious, he dove down to circle the island-his plane was met by a volley of crossfire. One anti-aircraft shell ripped a three inch hole in his wing, 10 slugs poured into the engine, and nine machine gun bullets traced a pattern in the fuselage--one bullet even pierced the bombardier's briefcase as it lay in his desk. No one was hurt and Lieutenant Clark turned the bomber around to make another check on the island before he began the attack.
Sure enough, there were clothes hanging on a line. A little further observation disclosed a group of long buildings, an airplane, and finally a pill-box-the concrete type the Japanese forces used to defend key points.
In three passes the Mitchell dropped three high explosive bombs in the building area, poured over 1000 rounds of machine gun fire into the airplane and pillbox, and, coming in just over the water, lobbed 20 75MM cannon shells into the strongpoint. At least one direct hit was made on a large building and on the pillbox. Clark said that "Japs poured out of the buildings and pillbox and flung themselves on the ground--it seemed that we could almost see arms and legs flying through the air." At least a few Japs in the South Pacific will hereafter try to make their meals without such a large fire and a telltale column of smoke.
AGAIN FROM THE 70TH
Headquarters 13th AAF, South Pacific--Maj. jean H. Daugherty, Commanding Officer of a medium bombardment squadron, returned recently from his fiftieth mission against the Japanese.
He sat quietly in the cockpit of his two-engine Mitchell while a grinning crew chief painted another bomb on the side of it. Fifty missions in these waters indicate hundreds of hours flown through sun, rain, and storm, over tens of thousands of trackless miles of the South Seas.
It means that the plane and its crew have faced death from thousands of rounds of all-caliber ammunition fired from machine guns, automatic cannon, and from huge four and five-inch anti-aircraft guns that throw bursting death 30,000 feet into the air. Interception by Jap fighters has been a daily commonplace.
It means that a man has grown older in the business of killing and destroying, without letting that business destroy any part of him. It means that he has kept his superb health and quickness of perception and reaction, for it has been said that in combat there are only two types of men: the quick and the dead.
It means months spent away from all the things that lie once knew: his wife, his family, his home, his friends, his dog, and the corner drugstore. It means a kind of culmination of additional months of work and study and discipline spent learning to pilot these tons of destruction through the sky.
It means hundreds of nights spent either in the air or on the ground, when life on the ground was worse than in the air. The danger on the ground is secondary to its boredom. A man can see a few hundred yards of black earth or white coral hacked out of the jungle. What he can see is utilitarian and elemental. Bulldozers have grunted, draglines have rattled, men have sweated, and a runway has appeared. The process was repeated endlessly to get roads, space to stack supplies, clearings for tents and administrative buildings-and in just about that order.
It means, penultimately, that he can take it. Finally, it means that he has been very, very lucky.
Headquarters, 13th AAF, South Pacific, April 7, 1944. Jap barges were still busy supplying troops stranded in the South Pacific when 2nd Lieut. William W. Carlisle, pilot of a 13th AAF bomber, recently arrived from the U. S. A.
The barges, self-propelled and well armed, were traveling from island to island under cover of darkness. During the day they were camouflaged along jangle shore lines well hidden from snooping 13th AAF airmen.
It was Lieutenant Carlisle's first assignment to hunt out and destroy them. He flew his search just over the top of the water, weaving in and out of bays and river mouths, pulling up only to avoid tree tops.
He found his first barge on his first day of search--a 65-footer tucked deep in the undergrowth overhanging the shore.
Before the bomber closed on the attack Lieutenant Carlisle liberally sprayed the surrounding jungle with machine gun fire to discourage enemy anti-aircraft fire. From a distance the bomber lobbed three 75MM cannon shells into the target, but the plane was maneuvering too fast to observe the results. Zooming in on the bombing run, two high explosive 500-pounders dropped just short of the barge. The only retaliation was four bullet holes in the tail of Lieutenant Carlisle's plane.
On the next run the only remaining bomb scored a direct hit--the plane soared upward quickly to avoid a barrage of flying metal barge plates and assorted machinery! 500 rounds of ammunition were poured into the wreckage for good measure.
HEADQUARTERS, 13th AAF, SOUTH PACIFIC
On the morning of April 8th the Japs had only one completely serviceable airfield left in the South Pacific. By the afternoon of April 8th there were none--thanks to the perseverance of 1st Lieut. Vernon W. Fisher, Morgan Hill, California, pilot of a 13th AAF bomber and the skill of his bombardier 1st Lieut. Carl A. Warnock, Detroit, Michigan.
Lieutenant Fisher led a large formation of bombers to the airfield. Although the sky had been clear on take-off, tropical cloud formations gathered on the outward trip to the target. As the formation approached the enemy strip, clouds began to form rapidly; nevertheless the bombing run was completed amid a barrage of heavy caliber anti-aircraft fire. Turret gunners reported more than 200 black bursts trailing the planes.
But bombs were not dropped; a large cloud had floated over the target completely blotting out all signs of the airfield.
Rather than drop their bombs on a secondary target Bombardier Warnock decided to wait--and, as he had hoped, the clouds momentarily opened.
The formation made its second run over the airfield and again the ugly black puffs of anti-aircraft trailed along behind. This time all bombs scored direct hits--the formation's bombs paraded down the center of the runway ending their march in a revetment area.
The next day was Happy Easter--but not for the Japs.
* * *
HEADQUARTERS, 13TH AAF, SOUTH PACIFIC
The crew of a 13th AAF Mitchell bomber are today thankful that the flying skill of 1st Lieut. Walter R. H. Berger, their pilot, was much better than the marksmanship of one Japanese sniper.
On the afternoon of April 11, the crew spotted two well-concealed Jap supply barges along a South Pacific shore. Pilot Berger dove down, just clearing the surface of the water, and opened up with a volley of machine gun fire. He poured bullets into the two barges as long as he could and then pulled up over the tree tops.
The Mitchell climbed to 400 feet in preparation for the bombing run on the target. But one of the two engines seemed to lack power--Lieutenant Berger glanced at the engine to find a fountain of oil spurting out. As often happened on these low level attacks, a sentry on the shore had fired his rifle at them. The bullet bad severed the oil line.
Lieutenant Berger feathered the prop of the nearly powerless engine to avoid further trouble. In a few minutes the bomber dropped from 400 to 300 feet.
He salvoed the bomb load in the water and instructed his radio operator to ask for a rescue plane. Overboard went heavy machine guns, ammunition, valuable cameras--two of the crew even crawled into the nose of the dropping bomber to get rid of the nose armament. Parts of the Mitchell were distributed along the water for a distance of 50 miles.
But Pilot Berger not only kept the bomber out of the sea--he managed to jockey the plane over 100 more miles of enemy territory and also climb to 1,000 feet on the single engine.
The surprised rescue planes met the crippled bomber half way back. There were four fighter planes, a Catalina flying boat, a Navy search plane, and another bomber to escort Lieutenant Berger and crew to a safe landing at an Allied Base.
* * *
HEADQUARTERS, 13TH AAF, SOUTH PACIFIC
Although a veteran of 40 hazardous missions 1st Lieut. Samuel A. Beatty, 13th AAF pilot, has brought his bomber through many barrages of Jap anti-aircraft with scarcely a scratch in his year overseas. Or had until recently.
It all began with a few shrapnel holes in the tail assembly. On the next mission a crew member was barely nicked in the elbow by another piece of passing shrapnel. Then a near miss over the top of the bomber split the turret dome of the top gunner while other shrapnel came within four inches of the gunner's head, glanced off his gun and shattered what was left of the turrent dome. Crew members were jittery but unharmed.
Perhaps it was the big wooden cat pendant Lieutenant Beatty wore on his cap fastened pertly above his ear that gave them all their charmed lives.
On his latest mission Pilot Beatty felt something whiz by his leg. A flight book he had laid on the cockpit floor between himself and the co-pilot was cleanly pierced through its geometrical center by a bullet-like slug of shrapnel. It had pierced the belly of the plane, passed through the floor, made a neat rip in Lieutenant Beatty's trouser leg, came within a foot of his cat charm, and continned on harmlessly.
Lieutenant Beatty may soon be looking for another wooden cat to fasten on his cap above the other ear.
* * *
HEADQUARTERS 13TH AAF, SOUTH PACIFIC, April 13, 1945--Flying over Rabaul at 2300 feet isn't the most pleasant way to spend the afternoon, but that is exactly what Lieut. Patrick B. Houser, Flushing, Long Island, did on a photographic mission.
Houser, pilot on a speedy Billy Mitchell bomber of the 13th AAF was requested by higher headquarters to take the day off from bombing Japs, and bring back some pictures. Not stipulating the target, this mission had all the earmarks of a "milk run", so it came as quite a shock when he was given last minute instructions for a low level reconnaissance flight over Rabaul, especially as this was the first time such a flight had ever been attempted. Although Rabaul has been receiving a terrific battering for the past few months, it still remains the strongest base in this theatre, and at 2500 feet its defenders can throw up every type of anti-aircraft from small arms fire to coastal guns.
Speeding in at full throttle, which, incidently, the crew claims wasn't fast enough, he followed a flight of dive bombers as they attacked the town, and got a closeup of the damage they did. Upon returning to his base, he found that he had to make a repeat performance, only this time following a flight of sister B-25s. This mission was a duplicate of the first one, and he successfully got the pictures, evaded the anti-aircraft and returned safely to his base.
T/Sgt. Ben Linden was Houser's radio operator on this flight. Linden, a versatile Boston sportswear manufacturer, is also an artist of considerable ability. Many of his pen and ink sketches of friends are cherished mementos. Although over 30 when he was the unlucky victim of an automobile accident in the States that put him into the hospital for three months, Linden successfully insisted on going overseas and into combat. Radio business was quiet during the two photo run so, lacking a camera, Linden calmly sketched his impressions of the bomb results.
* * *
1st Lieut. John E. Warner of Flourton, Pennsylvania, a veteran of 35 missions and 2 ditchings, went home on rotation during April. The send-off story dispatched by the 70th PRO quotes Warner in an original compliment to the Catalinas that twice pulled him from the drink:
"It's just like calling a taxi," said Lieutenant Warner. "They'll pick a crew out of Tojo's hip pocket."
* * *
Another good Dumbo yarn is related in the going home story of T/Sgt. Millard V. Bills, 70th, which dates back to Kahili.
Sergeant Bills, radio-gunner, was a participant in the first daylight strafing run made on Kahili airfield on Bougainville Island. The plane in which he was flying was bracketed by anti-aircraft fire from the field and from three surrounding islands. The port engine caught fire, and another shell cut the gas lines in the bomb bay setting it afire. Gliding out as near the center of the enemy triangle as possible, the pilot ditched the plane--less than 8 miles from each island. After the other members of the crew were in the life rafts, they began the task of "sweating out" the Dumbo, the awkward Navy PBY flying boat that comes "anywhere, anytime" to pick up stranded crews.
It came. Amid a hall of flak from the nearby shore batteries, the rescued men got aboard. "Let's get the hell out of here," cried the last man through Dumbo's forward hatch. But the navy pilot was not to be hurried. Trained to "check out" each position aboard the plane before it took off, he calmly began his check. Each time his question was all but drowned by the nearby explosion of another shell.
"Radio operator--you all right?" BOOM!
"Yes, Sir. Let's get the hell out of here"
"Waist gunner--you all right?" BOOM!
"Yes, Sir. Let's get the hell out of here"
"Navigator--you all right?" BOOM!
"Yes, Sir. Let's get the hell out of here"
"You new men on board--all right?" BOOM!
"Yes, Sir. Let's get the hell out of here"
Unperturbed, the pilot started taxiing and took off amid a hall of shells.
Ask Sergeant Bills about it. He can laugh, too.
* * *
HEADQUARTERS, 13TH AAF, SOUTH PACIFIC, April 26, 1944--"A pinch of salt, a dash of oil, and a smidgen of pepper."
Before cookery became an exact science that was the way your grandmother turned out some pretty fair victuals.
Bombing enemy airfields from great altitudes is now probably one of the most exact sciences in the world. But when the chips are down, it's the men who can apply rules of thumb methods and still get hits who count.
1st Lieut. Paul A. Dillon was lead bombardier recently on a strike over Rapopo Airfield, near Rabaul, when his whole flight was thrown out of their bombing run by an unforseen incident. His pilot was forced to swing wide, come in on a new heading, at a new altitude, and with his airspeed not the one planned. There was no time for Lieutenant Dillon to go into the intricate mathematics of all these new figures. His bomb bay doors were open. He had to get cooking with what he had.
He took a pinch of airspeed, a dash of drift, and a smidgen of altitude and salvoed his six 500-pound bombs. On either side of him his wing planes did the same thing. Photographs showed that the bombs could not have made a better pattern on the runway if they had been dropped from a helicopter.
HEADQUARTERS, 13TH AAF, SOUTHWEST PACIFIC--S/Sgt. Lewis H. Spikes, radio operator and veteran of 64 bombing missions over Jap-held bases, recently made a single cash purchase of $2,000 in war bonds.
Not satisfied, Sergeant Spikes three days later bought an additional $2,500 in war bonds.
The patriotic Sergeant saved much of the money during 15 months of combat. Stationed on isolated bases in the Southwest Pacific, he explained it was the wisest way he could possibly use his monthly income.
HEADQUARTERS, 13TH AAF, SOUTH PACIFIC Not a combat flyer, Pfc. Clifford M. Atwood, a 13th AAF parachute maintenance man, long hoped for some excitement to break the monotony of his quiet South Pacific Island. He got his wish.
But Private Atwood never expected to be dive bombed. At least not by a giant flying fox.
To pass the time be casually fired his Garand at a large bat flying a few hundred feet overhead. Instead of continuing on to the nearest tree the bat unexpectedly turned back and dove straight for Private Atwood.
A few seconds after Gunner Atwood began to run the flying fox hit the ground a few feet behind him. It lunged--Private Atwood claims he could clearly see a full half inch of fangs.
It took six bullets before the big bat gave up the chase.
Private Atwood proudly measured five feet of leathery wingspread and called it a day.
HEADQUARTERS, 13TH AAF, SOUTHWEST PACIFIC--It took a war and five years to reunite Father Cyril R. Kavanagh, S. J., with his former student of the University of Santa Clara. They recently met on a small island in the Southwest Pacific more than 9,000 miles from the University.
In 1939 student James D. Barlow graduated with a degree in philosophy. Today Father Kavanagh is chaplain of a navy Seabee unit. His former student is now Major Barlow, commander of a 13th AAF medium bombardment squadron based on Father Kavanagh's island.
Major Barlow, veteran formation leader of 26 bombing missions over Rabaul, was well known for his four years on the University of Santa Clara football team, two games of which he played in the Sugar Bowl.
HEADQUARTERS, 13TH AAF, SOUTH PACIFIC--Even after two years of combat as a radio operator on a 13th AAF bomber, S/Sgt. Charles E. Cowan says lie will never recover from his most thrilling experience in the South Pacific.
Recently his bomber was shot down near a Jap-held island. Sergeant Cowan was severely injured and was surprised to wake up alive in a nearby base hospital.
Like almost all the soldiers in the South Pacific it had been a long time since he had seen a woman--white or black, But there she stood--at the foot of his bed! The cutest and most curvaceous little blonde in the world.
The "angel" smiled, talked to him. Next she opened a box containing the Purple Heart, read the citation, and gently pinned the medal on his pajamas. Then she kissed him. She talked some more.
It was Mary Elliott, screen actress and USO entertainer, who happened to be touring the island at the time.
Modest Radio Operator Cowan was stunned. His only comment: "She really kissed me!"
HEADQUARTERS, 13TH AAF, SOUTH PACIFIC--Members of the crew of the 13th AAF Bomber "Sweet Pea" recently spent an afternoon entertaining Mr. John Warner of the Australian News Bureau.
Mr. Warner's hosts were: 1st Lieut. Samuel A. Beatty, pilot; 2nd Lieut. George J. Manuche, co-pilot; S/Sgt. James W. Anderson, engineer; S/Sgt. Lewis H. Spikes, radio operator; S/Sgt. Thomas L. Hartley, turret gunner.
Hosts and guests came dressed in Mae West life vests, parachutes, and flak vests for protection from anti-aircraft shrapnel.
The crew pointed out spots of interest to their guest during an aerial trip over part of the South Pacific. Highlight of the afternoon was a few minutes spent over the Jap-held city of Rabaul, where the crew entertained by dropping a ton and a half of bombs onto the dock and wharf area of the city. Mr. Warner was highly attentive to the explosions and resulting fires. The Japs showed their appreciation by contributing a thick barrage of antiaircraft, one chunk of which pierced the tall.
A community sing was held over the interphone system in the bomber. The bombing mission began with, "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder." Over the target the party sang: "I'm only a Bird in a Gilded Cage," followed immediately by, "I wanna Go Home." Turret Gunner Hartley was off key several times over the target, having been nicked by anti-aircraft fire on a previous mission over the same place.
Mr. Warner thanked the crew for an enjoyable afternoon.
HEADQUARTERS, 13TH AAF, SOUTH PACIFIC--S/Sgt. John P. Shea, 13th AAF gunner, returned from his 26th bombing mission in the South Pacific and casually skimmed over the squadron bulletin board before putting away his parachute.
He glanced at one formal typewritten piece of paper then looked again. It was true. The notice:
"TO: S/Sgt. John P. Shea
FROM: Island Communications Center
1. Message just cabled and radioed in reads, DOCTOR SENDS CONGRATULATIONS MOTHER AND BABY BOTH DOING WELL."
* * *
Headquarters 13th AAF, South Pacific--If it will make meat rationing any easier to bear for the average citizen, those sides of beef that have disappeared from the butcher's are turning up at mess tables at forward bases in the Pacific area.
With a bomb bay for a market basket, mess officers are flying to rear supply bases to bring fresh meat--and even fresh eggs--to the plane crews.
"My wife should have my shopping list", remarks Lieut. Herbert M. Bender, Brooklyn, mess officer with a medium bombardment squadron in the Solomons. "The same plane that one day carries a ton and a half of bombs will carry a ton and a half of food the following day. Our refrigeration facilities are limited, so that about one ton of meat is all we can handle at one time. If it weren't for plane supplies we wouldn't have much fresh food; ships don't come up to us often enough."
S/Sgt. Joseph Brunner sees to it that not an ounce of the meat is wasted. "Wasting meat here is like spilling water in a desert. We start with roasts and end tip with stews and hamburgers, but so long as it's fresh meat the men don't leave a scrap."
|Preface||Chapter 11||Chapter 13|