|Preface||Chapter 13||Chapter 15|
To 80 replacemnts who disembarked from the Navy transport Pinckney in May, 1944, the tiny coral island was not the promised land, but it would jolly well do for the time being. They were one of the early groups of ground men received as replacements when the old timers who had come over on the Maui were beginning to find their thoughts turning endlessly on the fact that their second year of overseas duty was well under way, and that the prospects of rotation, like the proverbial weather, were weidly discussed but little acted upon. We print their story here because it reflects the activities that had succeeded ours on New Caledonia and Guadalcanal, and because its general features are the common ground not only of their recollections but of the experiences of many men who followed them overseas. Their story also presents a picture of life on Stirling and Banika that perhaps benefits from the fact that fresh eyes, might have noticed things that the old-timers had ceased to notice through familiarity.
These replacements had been assembled at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri--old J. B. that everyone who was ever there remembers for two things: its concentration camp atmosphere and its proximity to St. Louis--and Kearns Field, Utah, Joined with several thousand other replacements at Camp Stoneman, and transported overseas in just two weeks on the Army Transport General J. B. Brook. The Brook was originally built as a Matson Liner to ply between San Francisco and Hawaii, but was taken over by the Army before a carefree tourist ever stepped aboard her. While she was modern and comfortable compared to the Maui, she was still an Army transport, and a night in her hold, on the third or fourth level down, was very much like a night in a Turkish bath with the exception that you couldn't, unfortunately, get up and leave. The original sogginess of the food was helped along by the perspiration that streamed down your face and dripped from your chin into your tray as you ate. In other words their trip over was the standard Transport story, complete with the rumors that an epidemic had broken out and the bodies were being buried at sea off the stern in the dark hours, that the course had been changed because three Jap subs had been discovered operating in those waters, that all Air Force ground troops were being converted to Infantry as soon as they landed. The whole catalog was meaningless and soon forgotten.
In early April they had staggered down the gangplank at Noumea, up the pier, and onto a string of trucks. The first truck was filled, then the second and so on, and the units last off the beat had to plod half a mile to the end of the truck convoy. Why the first trucks couldn't move up a bit is a mystery that remains unsolved--just the old story of the three ways of doing things, the right, the wrong, and the Army.
The fact that they had not breakfasted was soon forgotten as the convoy pulled out, past the nickel smelter and the Tonkinese barracks and up the tortuous and hilly road that wound North for 26 miles to the Sixth Replacement Depot. There was little talking as eyes surfeited with battleship gray and Pacific blue drank in the lush and moist green of Caledonia in the cool of early morning. Those who could read French were pleased at their ability to translate the signs on the little groceries and estaminets along the route.
From the trucks, the 80 staggered another half mile to the tents assigned them and made their first acquaintance with the omnipresent red dust that got into everything. That hadn't changed any. They were allowed to rest for the balance of the day and explorers found the PX, the beach, the shower, and the river where clothes could be washed. Army chow and field-baked bread tasted very good in the bracing air, and oddly enough, while they were treated to Australian mutton on their first day and dried eggs on the second, they escaped Spam for several weeks.
In a week at this camp, muscles slackened from a fortnight of enforced inactivity on the transport soon got into shape, for the powers that presided there as at casual camps everywhere, hated nothing so much as the thought of Joe with an idle hour on his hands. Some built artillery targets on a mountainside, some hauled rations, some peeled and scrubbed the week away in the kitchen, some built roads, but all were cheerful about it and enjoyed their well earned steep when the pleasantly cool night fell. They stood three formations a day and loud was the cursing when someone putting oil a fresh suit of khakis for retreat carelessly let a trouser leg drag in that treacherous red dust. First overseas mail call was a memorable moment and kind words were spoken for the Army Postal System.
One night at retreat they were told to be packed and ready to get on trucks at 0730 the following morning. Swimming trunks and moccasins bought by the fortunate who had beaten the cadre to the PX when these supplies were unboxed, made barracks bags bulkier and heavier than ever, but few were late, as all were anxious to get into the next phase. They retraced the route to Noumea, this time downhill, and unloaded themselves from the convoy at the Alert casual camp about two miles out of downtown Noumea along the Anse Vata Road, not far from the site of old Camp Barnes. This was an interesting camp because it was pitched on terraces scraped out of a long ridge and looking for all the world like school book illustrations of early cave-dwelling life in New Mexico and Arizona. Fortunate they who drew the lower tiers of tents, for the others had a steep climb up the irregular walkways. Chow time meant sweating out a terrific line to get up to the serving board of the kitchen shack, then squatting on the sand to eat and sweating another line to wash mess kits.
The quartermaster outfits around Noumea really knew the story on labor details. For a week or better the 80 shifted full gasoline drums from one dump to another, filled and unfilled reefers, stacked and restacked cased goods, unloaded a Liberty ship, loaded another, and sailed into other jobs too numerous to mention.
It became a game trying to pick the right spot in the line-up at morning work call so that you would land with the 15 or 20 who pulled a detail downtown or one that involved a truck ride over a new route. One of your scribes drew one that stands out in his recollections as a honey. After days and nights on the lumber piles (remember them?) and at the gas dumps (where did the empty drums go, anyhow?) three of us, who had hung together since we shared a Pullman section from Jefferson Barracks to Stoneman, landed on the downtown truck one morning and to our utter astonishment and delight found ourselves a squad of three detailed to the Red Cross for the day. After doughnuts and coffee at the invitation of a genial corporal in charge of details at the Red Cross, (That guy had a job!) a pleasant morning was passed showering in the first hot water since the boat, writing letters, and then lunch on the house. In the afternoon we did shift a few boxes around, then some cold fruit juice and ice cream and that remarkable and unusual day was over.
Those who got into Noumea--strictly taboo for casuals--did not find a great deal, but the civilian clothes and the leisurely town life were a welcome change from canvas, khaki, and Gl's. The casual camp CO's warning not to tamper with the local distillates was tested and found to be good advice, as even we older ones who grew up toward the end of Prohibition and could remember the good old scraped-off-the-boat rye of 1920-32 gagged at the fearsome and reeking bottled lightning called Butterfly Rum, that flowed over Noumea's numerous hole-inthe-wall bars. A few who overrated their capacity got into trouble and MPs were not looked upon as brothers.
An evening came two weeks later when shipment orders went up on the board, and an afternoon of mid-April found our 80 boarding the scow that would take them out to the Tryon (sister ship of the Pinckney) for a short run to Guadalcanal.
By that time if you found a genuine scrap of Jap material on the 'Canal you were the guy who used to find four-leaf clovers, because the former battleground was then a hot, dirty, dusty dump. The four-score got their fill of details on a swing shift deal that had them wondering what the Army thought they were made of. Seven to four-thirty, four to eleven, ten to seven--one shift or another found them at the gas dumps, the ammo dumps, or the lumber pile--sleep in the steaming day if you could. All were glad to board the Pinckney one rainy afternoon, at last headed for our tac' outfit.
A stop at the Russells to let off other passengers ticketed for outfits there and then next mid-day, the coral bluffs of Stirling and Mono.
Two sun-bronzed New Zealanders in their wide felt hats watched casually as the 80 men faltered down the gangplank. The brilliant sun glared back from the plasterwhite coral roads, but apart from the New Zealanders, little life was visible. After a short wait on the tiny pier, trucks drew up and the 80 soldiers, no longer trainees or casuals, climbed aboard. On the short ride to Group Headquarters a section of the truck road passed through the revetment area and all eyes focused upon the planes parked there--a few P-38's dazzling in the sun, and then the Mitchells. Some were dirty, some torn down for engine changes. Mechanics on the trucks were especially interested as they wondered which ship and what part of it they would be working on a day or two later. All were tired but elated, for while few if any soldiers ever want to go to war, once in uniform most feel that they want to get on with it and to get the worst over as soon as possible.
Gathering in front of Group S-1, the 80 heard M/Sgt. Robert Blackney, then Sergeant Major, read off their assignments. They were split among five squadrons and those who were assigned to the 390th and 75th, then at the Russells, were disappointed because for them the trek was not over--they would have to retrace their steps to the Russells they had passed 48 hours earlier, and they wondered whether it meant another boat ride. These men were temporarily quartered with the 69th and we shall pick them up in a few lines after they have been ferried to the Russells in two and threes on our Mitchells' administrative hops.
Those who joined the 69th, 70th, and 100th got right to work finding quarters and setting themselves up, at last freed of the uncertainty of the next trip. Within a few days they had been interviewed and assigned (and it may truthfully be said, usually assigned to the work they were qualified for) and had started on their jobs. Wheeling by in jeeps and trucks, running to and from the line, they shouted taunts at their old shipmates waiting listlessly for word on when they would be moved to the Russells. The waiters' morale was helped by the fact that they did not have to start in again on the muscle pulling details they had grown accustomed to, and they discovered the swimming hole for themselves.
That pretty cove with its underwater coral clusters looking like shrubs and flower beds in the crystal clear water, was a high spot of life on Stirling. Ten minutes' walk or three minutes' jeep ride from the bivouac areas, it could be and was visited for an invigorating dip between work and evening meal. Yes, when you had become acclimated and ceased to think of home so urgently, Stirling more than most others of the Group's campsites had a number of charming aspects. The majestic mahogany and teak trees, unseen and untouched by man and his axe and saw for centuries before our arrival, reached up a hundred and more feet straight and sturdy before unfurling their branches to the sun. You did not cease to marvel that the forest giants could maintain themselves on their shallow though flaring roots. As one turned the corner of "Broadway and Pennsylvania Avenue" and looked down through the 70th's area in the early morning or took an eye-opening shower at the open platform that stood on one side of this crossroads, the lovely baby blues and pinks of daybreak formed a picture that remains in one's memory. Of less aesthetic attractions, Stirling also had a limited number. The large Group theater in the center of the area was as comfortable as bomb fin crate seating will ever make a theater, and thanks to our own Special Service and various trades engineered with other outfits, films--and quite often recent ones--were shown every night. The Group Day Room was large and well lighted, and on a few occasions was the scene of volunteer entertainment and music that was pretty good stuff for a lot of guys on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean. The Officer's Club was a Quonset Hut with the sides extended and could boast two antiquated refrigerators. The 82nd and 87th Seabees who had cleared the island, built the strip and a good part of the Group's area were encamped a couple of hundred yards away and had a theater of their own, a very good barber shop, and a store where you could buy T-shirts (an item the QM definitely flubbed) and some other things.
At that time Fat-Cats made occasional runs back to the 'Canal and brought back fresh meat, vegetables, and eggs. The new men were amazed to find fresh eggs at the mess halls on Stirling on fairly frequent occasions, and beef liver (yes, beef as well as sheep) about as often. A gastronomic high spot was steak, good and passed out in reasonably sized-portions, on a few occasions. All in all, if one had to be in the Army and on an islet in the middle of nowhere, and although it was hotter than the hinges of hell on the Strip in the early afternoon--150 degrees inside the planes--life on Stirling was not the worst by a long shot.
As has been noted before, Stirling was only 45 miles from the Jap-held Shortlands. When our 80 men were unfolding their cots for their first night on Stirling the old timers did not fail to give the greenhorns a very artistically painted prospect of what they could expect from Charlie on moonlight nights, and many a tenderfoot saw to it that his tin hat was handy. Actually the alerts on Stirling had ended in April.
Now let us drop back for just a few moments to the balance of our far-from-home 80 who were awaiting transportation to the Russells.
Within two weeks all had been flown down, many taking their first airplane ride. That was something to write home about, a two and a half hour jaunt over the blue, island-dotted Pacific in a Mitchell that perhaps only yesterday had unleashed a ton and a half of packaged fury on Rabaul. Arriving at Banika they found the strip impressive, but frankly the island was a let-down after Stirling. It was largely a cocoanut grove, and hilly, with winding roads. The 75th area was fairly flat, but the 390th at that time was encamped in old Marine tents on a hilltop--whence they had removed when the opportunity presented itself, because their original campsite was low and muddy. It was a long haul from camp to the line and the boys used to leave their mess gear hung on the trees and wire fence around the mess hall, coming down the hill for breakfast and catching the line truck from the mess hall. Returning at noon, they picked up their mess kits and then, after rehanging them on individual nails or a stretch of wire fence, trudged up the hill afoot to hit the sack until the line truck started back at one o'clock. All this was rather strange, but our men were at last assigned and joined to their outfits, and when the strangeness had worn off, life on Banika wasn't too bad.
A bad feature was that it was about eight miles to the only beach, the Navy Recreation Area at Lingatu. For a considerable time trucks made daily trips to the beach, and you didn't have to worry about transportation for a swim on your day off. The 390th theater site at Banika, operated by Sixth Service Group-good old Sixth Service, without a few words of praise for whom your narrators would be very remiss-was a steep hillside and, apart from a few cocoanut trees, the old showman's gag of "Every Seat Ringside" was almost true. The films unfortunately weren't quite so new.
When floored, the tents among the cocoanuts were fairly comfortable, and the water supply was good, so the daily shower was welcome and pleasant. Some entrenchments remained from the time of the occupation of Banika by the Marines and a few Nip helmets and other gear were recovered and sent home. Banika, however, must rank very high on the list, if one exists, of rat population density. The red and gray--and doubtless white and black--rodents, whether they came with their brothers the Nips, or had always lived there on a diet of fallen cocoanuts before we arrived, were everywhere and ate everything not encased in wood or steel. When the lights went out the rats came out to play, and their rustling and scurrying across floors cost collectively enough manhours of sleep to clear New Guinea of timber. Many and varied were the devices contrived to rid tents of the pests--hot wires, tubs and helmets baited on string, wire, and roll-strips to drown them--these flank attacks were in addition to the unrelenting warfare waged on the vermin by the Medics with their Lucrezia Borgia pastes and powders. Of the cocoanuts: well, the gag about finally getting to the point where you found yourself going Dress Right Dress with them is believed to have originated on the 'Canal, but it might well have applied to the Russells. At the super soda fountain of the future, many a former Pacific warrior will be making up for lost time with a super-dooper, triple pistachio scoop, banana split, topped with cherry and pineapple, pecans and cashews, but please, soda bar cowboy, put that shredded cocoanut out of sight.
It is noteworthy that in the opening phases of these men's service with the Group, our combat operations did not enter very dominantly into their daily activities. That is not to say that those who daily went to the line, whether at Stirling or at Banika, or any other member of the Group, didn't know that there was a war on. This impression meant, rather, two things: that we had by that time become so smooth-running an organization that the daily business of a medium bombardment group in action was taken in stride, and that the Rabaul campaign was entering its last stage, so far as we were concerned.
June opened with the 69th, 75th, and 100th in combat at Stirling and the 70th and 390th in the Russells.
Lieut. Bert F. Grantham and crew of the 75th were lost to weather on the 5th, last seen in a cloud bank 20 miles from Motupina Point, Bougainville. On the 7th, Lieut. Albert J. Phillips, and crew, of the 69th were also victims of the same impenetrable front. Taking off on the 8th, Lieut. S. F. Slotterback of the 75th had a tire blowout. The plane was damaged beyond repair but all members of the crew fortunately escaped without injury.
Throughout the month Rabaul continued to be the main theme, but Talili and Borpop were also given attention, and the supply areas of Rabaul took a continual pasting, the Nordup and Milim depots in particular. The mission scheduled for Tobera on June 28th had to postpone its takeoff from 0755 until 1004 because of a downpour, but hit the target, encountering meager, heavy caliber fire that was low and trailing. On a second strike the same day, 22 Mitchells of the 100th and 390th smacked Erventa Island with 132 quarter-tonners. Each squadron laid a nicely placed string on the island, one northwest-southeast and one east-west. Rock fragments flew up to 600 feet. Captain Eivers led the 390th formation with Lieut. Walter Kloc, a squadron bombardier, sending the eggs away, while Capt. Charles Wolfendale led the 100th with Lieut. Frank Unetic on the Norden bombsight.
* * *
HEADQUARTERS, 13th AAF, South Pacific, June 4, 1944--The "Alpine Milkman," a 13th AAF B-25 Mitchell bomber, is being made ready to fly the Pacific for the second time. It recently finished 15 months of faithful service in combat in the South Pacific.
Flown from the United States by Capt. Roy D. Burkhart, Del Nort, Colorado, it landed on Guadalcanal as the last few Japs were being driven from that island. Since then it has flown every important mission in the South Pacific, ranging from Rekata Bay, southernmost enemy naval base in the Solomons, to the big supply center at Rabaul. Bombs representing 165 bombing missions have been painted on the nose of the bomber, but Sgt. Nathan Leizerowitz, the bomber's crew chief, claims, "It has flown twice that many missions. The ship flew so many the painters just couldn't keep track of all of them."
* * *
HEADQUARTERS, 13th AAF, South Pacific, June 6, 1944--One of the longest personal histories of combat in the Pacific is held by a modest 13th AAF gunner. S/Sgt. Harold Axt is still flying an almost daily schedule of bombing missions over Rabaul.
Sergeant Axt left the United States in December of 1941 as a mechanic--his destination, the Philippine Islands.
Enroute news was received that his air echelon, flying ahead of the ground crews, had been almost wiped out during the bombing of Pearl Harbor December 7th. His boat swung south and continued on to Brisbane, Australia, instead.
From there that part of the squadron which survived the Pearl Harbor attack was sent on to a new organization in India. Sergeant Axt decided there was more action in the Southwest Pacific. He jumped at the chance to be a gunner on an A-24 and in less than a month after he had arrived in Brisbane he was flying his first missions from Java. A week later the Squadron was staging out of Davao to hit the Jap troops approaching Manila. With most of the planes shot down during the Battle for the Philippines, the squadron returned to Java. Things were getting warm in Java too; with only a handful of attack planes left, the Squadron was again forced to move, this time only a few days ahead of Jap ground troops moving down the coast. Sergeant Axt spent the next seven weeks helping patrol the Australian coast around Darwin. When no invasion came he was sent to Sydney to rest and study to be a radio operator. While there he married, but it's been almost two years now since Sergeant Axt last saw his wife.
As soon as the Japs began to push across the Owen Stanley mountains, Sergeant Axt, in May of 1942, was assigned as a gunner on a B-25 Mitchell bomber and sent to New Guinea.
"In those days," Sergeant Axt recalls, "The Japs had the upper hand. We had no fighter cover. Pursuit planes were too scarce even then, and they were left behind to guard our bases. Even so, Zeros sneaked in to strafe our airfield near Port Moresby every morning. Some of them followed us back from Lae once, and as we were taxiing our planes to their revetments, the Zeros made several passes. The crew jumped out of the plane in the middle of the taxi strip. I felt safer behind the armor-plate of my gun turret-so I stayed there and fought it out with the little ammunition I had left.
"Our squadron preferred to make strafing and low-level bombing attacks rather than medium altitude attacks on the Jap airfields. Anti-aircraft fire was more intense and accurate, but we met less interception at the lower altitude. I saw six bombers go down in flames over Lae, but on one mission I partly made up for it by shooting down two out of eight Zeros that tried to intercept us, and got a probable on a third."
He also was in on the Bismarck and Coral Sea battles. During that time he participated in sinking a transport and a freighter.
With 16 months of combat in New Guinea behind him, Gunner Axt was ordered to duty in the United States. He returned to combat in the South Pacific just after Christmas Day of last year. He has 80 bombing missions to his credit and is still going strong.
* * *
Maj. C. W. Wolfendale, successively S-3 and C. 0. of the 100th Sq., and Group S-3, later amassed a mission record of 95--an all time high.)
* * *
Here is a 69th Public Relations story that showed to what depths Rabaul had fallen as a target for our daily strikes.
HEADQUARTERS, 13th AAF Southwest Pacific--The fighting spirit of the Japanese forces at Rabaul is rapidly going to pieces under repeated aerial bombardment, according to 2nd Lieut. Tom J. Wintersole, who has himself flown 50 bombing missions against the Japanese forces in the Southwest Pacific, most of them over Rabaul.
He flew his first mission to Rabaul three months ago. Then he claims his crew regularly reported several hundred black anti-aircraft bursts so close the crack of the exploding shells could be heard above the roar of the engines, and bombardiers would sometimes have to wait until the smoke from a burst disappeared from the line of vision before they dropped their bombs.
"I haven't seen a single burst of anti-aircraft fire in the past couple weeks I've flown over Rabaul," said Pilot Wintersole recently. "One day my gunner said he saw a single burst far behind and low, but I couldn't find anyone else who had seen it."
* * *
The fertile and whimsical pen of "J. B." (Lieut. Jack Blake) of the 69th contributed some Southwest Pacific foot-notes to history in June that deserve a place in these pages.
HEADQUARTERS, 13th AAF, South Pacific--The little black natives so abundant on South Pacific Islands are a constant worry to American negro troops who think they may be confused with them. Several 13th AAF personnel will verify this story:
A curious Melanesian clothed only in a scrap of cloth and carrying a hefty knife approached a negro soldier on guard. The guard paid no attention until the tiny man began to stare enviously at his shiny rifle. When the native showed signs of trying to begin friendlier relations the negro guard could stand it no longer.
"Keep away from me, black boy," the negro growled. "Can't you see I'se intelligent!"
The little native grinned and walked hurriedly away.
* * *
HEADQUARTERS, 13th AF, Southwest Pacific--To soldiers waiting patiently in Southwest Pacific mess hall lines, the "chow hound" is as popular as a Jap.
At one 13th AAF medium bombardment squadron mess hall, two hard boiled sergeants continually bluffed their way to the head of the line. Shortly a neatly written notice was posted on the mess hall door:
"Rushing to the head of the chow line, Sergeant Brown was lately trampled to death by several of his mates, including T/Sgt. Smith who was also hospitalized from an attempt to head off Sergeant Brown.
"We regret the loss of both of these sergeants; however, three full-sized meals a day will be served henceforth due to the abundance accumulated since the exodus of both men."
The suggestion worked.
* * *
HEADQUARTERS, 13th AAF, Southwest Pacific--Forever popular with fliers in the Southwest Pacific are the jingles made up by some line chief, gunner, pilot, or other long forgotten composer. They are passed along in the squadron from the old to the new combat crews.
Typical are the lines sung to war weary pilots in a 13th AAF medium bombardment squadron who are endlessly telling their troubles to new crews. The "Pilot's Lament" carries much the same tune as "Bless 'Em All:"
"I don't want to fly
I want to go home
I don't want to fly over Rabaul anymore,
Those B-25s they zoom and they roar.
Take me home to my mom,
Where the Jappies they can't get at me.
Oh my--I'm too young to die.
I just want to go home."
* * *
HEADQUARTERS, 13th AAF, South Pacific--At a South Pacific forward base 13th AAF men were pleasantly sunning themselves. Suddenly they looked up and ran. Bathers still lathered with soap deserted open air showers and ran towards shelters. Clothed soldiers gazed in amazement. From the scramble some anticipated another Jap bombing raid.
In another minute the disturbance was over. The two newly arrived nurses continued down the camp street as though nothing had happened.
* * *
HEADQUARTERS, 13th AAF, Southwest Pacific--Long used to dehydrated potatoes, a 13th AAF squadron sat down to their first fresh boiled potatoes shipped direct from the United States.
One pilot was busy eating a potato, skin and all, when an officer nearby asked him if he had noticed the small particles of mud that still clung to the hurriedly cleaned potatoes.
"Listen," came the reply, "I've been in the Southwest Pacific for half a year. This is the first American soil I've seen since I've been over here and it tastes delicious!"
HEADQUARTERS, 13th AAF, Southwest Pacific--Soldiers in the Southwest Pacific are constantly warned to take every precaution against being bitten by the malaria-carrying anopheles mosquito.
At a 13th AAF theater area, a medical officer recently explained how extremely unpleasant the effects of malaria could be.
The evening's entertainment, a horror movie, followed the lecture. Dracula in the form of a vampire bat was about to plunge his fangs into the frightened hero.
Then just as the ghostly music reached a climatic patch and the audience was supposed to be held breathless, a skeptical voice loudly commented:
"The fool doesn't know how darn lucky he is--that thing might have been an anopheles mosquito."
* * *
The daily missions through the first three weeks of July were both important and effective, but the edge was off; knowledge that the important chapter in the Group's history entitled Rabaul was drawing to a close was general. At 0700 on the 22nd, a scheduled 24 planes from the 390th and 70th took off Stirling to attack Rabaul target No. 1 from medium altitude at 0900. Lieutenant McDowell of the 390th led the formation, with Lieut. J. H. Short as lead bombardier. Lieut. Paul 0. Nadler led the 70th with Lieut. R. H. Petrucka doing the bombing.
Major Clark dispatched the following teletype message, prepared by Major Little, summarizing our final strike on Rabaul.
FROM: 42ND BOMBARDMENT GROUP (M)
TO: COMAIR, STIRLING.
TWENTY-THREE MITCHELLS PLANTED 142 MAGNESIUM BOMBS AT 0900 FROM 10500 FEET ON COMAIRSOLS TARGET ONE RABAUL X FORTY FIVE PERCENT HIT NORTHERN HALF CMA TEN PERCENT IN DEEP SOUTH CMA BALANCE NORTH AND WEST X NUMEROUS FIRES X TWO SENT SMOKE TO 500 FEET X ONE JUST SOUTH OF TOBOI WHARF UP TO 1500 FEET INCREASED AS PLANES WITHDREW X MEAGER INACCURATE HEAVY ABLE ABLE FROM SULPHUR CREEK X ONE MITCHELL TURNED BACK NEAR TOROKINA X TARGET CAVU X ALL HOME XXX
It was the end of an epoch for the Group.
At the opening of 1944, the Rabaul district, including the five splendid air strips at Vunakanau, Lakunai, Tobera, Rapopo, and Keravat, had been garrisoned by an estimated 75,000 well armed and supplied troops and protected by 300 operational aircraft. During the six month campaign, another 300 airplanes had been flown in to replace losses. At the end of July, Rabaul had been eliminated from the Pacific scene as a Japanese base. Its Nipponese population had been reduced to 20,000, and these troops had been completely separated from supplies and reinforcements and forced to devote their efforts largely to a growing problem of subsistence. Incapable of harassing Allied forces now streaming by the once impregnable bastion with its magnificent harbor, the squat and cocksure would-be world rulers ate humble pie indeed as their structures and their program alike crashed upon their heads.
In retrospect, our Rabaul effort resolves itself into four reasonably well-defined phases; January--minimum altitude strafing and bombing of grounded aircraft and airdrome installations. February--medium level bombing of the air strips to keep them unserviceable and deny their use as staging areas for aerial task forces which might attack our growing positions within the Bougainville perimeter and on the Treasuries and Green. March to mid-May--medium altitude attacks to destroy food and arms stores. From mid-May to the end of July--medium attacks on supply and personnel areas and anti-aircraft positions, and further attention to the wrecking of the air strips. To summarize the statistics of the campaign: A total of 256 missions bad been flown, involving 4378 sorties, and 8,065,200 pounds of bombs of various types had been released over the target. Unfortunately we do not have any figures on ammunition expended.
The Group and its personnel can justly be proud of their work in the Rabaul campaign.
|Preface||Chapter 13||Chapter 15|