|Preface||Chapter 17||Chapter 19|
November at Sansapor was not marked by increasing crispness in the air, the first snowfall, or the cheering crowds in the Stadium. The nights were cool and damp and the days were the same sun-flooded days that October, or January, brought. The Crusaders went into action promptly on the first. Although a major alert for Jap shipping had been in the air for some time, the call came suddenly--0400 on the first. By 1130 planes of all squadrons had staged at Morotai and were over the water of Mindanao in search of the elusive Jap fleet, reported out again. As usual the fleet failed to put in an appearance, so we went to work on a trio of Jap airfields. During November 1-2 the 69th, led by Lieut. V. R. Fetner, hit Matina airdrome; the 70th socked Davao runway with Capt. Andrew Elliott flying in front; Captain Thorndyke signalled the release on Licanan for the 75th after an unfruitful search of the Sulu Sea; the 100th hit Daliao, with Capt. Charles W. Wolfendale in the lead returning from a Mindanao sea sweep, Major Carmody and the 390th bombed Sasa runway. These were all successfully executed missions. They were the Group's first appearance in the Phillippines. After this initial excitement things went back to normal for a few days, with the unending Ambon-Boeroe-Ceram and Halmahera-Celebes shipping sweeps and snoops again, strikes against Kaoe, Tanamon, Namlea, and night heckling of other Jap installations.
At 07301 on the 5th, Lieut. J. G. McClure and W. L. Blair of the 70th, out inspecting weather and "policing the area," were flying at 2000 feet over Misool Island. Seeing three men on a tiny white beach, they came downstairs to investigate. The three appeared to be lightcolored natives, one wearing a fatigue jacket and waving a Dutch flag. McClure and Blair went on about their business. After they had strafed a Tess parked in a clearing north of Tidore Town and a barge near Sidangoli, they flew home, reporting their sighting. On the 6th Lieutenant Bour bird-dogged a Cat to the spot, which picked up the trio and brought them to Sansapor. Later interrogation brought out that they were Javanese, former N. E. I. army soldiers captured by the Japs and pushed into a labor battalion. They had worked in Ambon Town and later on Ceram for their captors, and were able to supply a good deal of valuable information about the enemy's situation on Ceram, some of which was later used as the basis for planning an attack on a supply area and personnel headquarters north of Piroe.
From November 11th through the 20th, two tiny groups of minuscule islands, on most maps mere specks in a wide expanse of the Pacific, were added to the necklace of atolls, islets, islands, large islands, small islands, and sub-continents that was rapidly becoming Nippon's choker-collar. Victory in the Pacific would have been gained without the Asia and Mapia Islands no doubt, but their capture served several useful purposes and is of particular interest because, with no detail lacking, it is a perfect miniature of a 1944 Pacific island operation. In its air aspect, it was almost entirely a Crusader show. Lieutenant R. L. Smith, careful historian of the 100th Squadron, and his amanuensis, S/Sgt. George Crout, recorded this short, snappy, and successful campaign with painstaking attention to minutiae. By adding only certain details of the other squadrons' part in the activity, we give you the gist of Lieutenant Smith's account.
A bit of background on the two island groups is interesting. Pacific Gazetteer doesn't list them. Pegun Island of the Mapia Group (00'-50'N, 130'-15'E) was occupied by 7th Company, 223rd Infantry Regiment, 36th Division, Japanese Imperial Army, composed of 188 officers and men, probably reinforced by a labor battalion. The Asia Group (01'-15'N, 134'-20'E) was also Jap-held. The two groups lay strategically athwart our sea and air lanes between New Guinea--Morotai, and New Guinea--Palau, and were valuable observation and listening posts for the enemy, who thus obtained too clear a picture of our actual and probable operations affecting the Philippines. In our hands, they would be valuable weather-radio stations.
D-Day for the miniature invasion was set up by GHQ for November 15, 0600 as H-hour. The defenses of Pegun, the most fortified and concentrated enemy position, were estimated at 12 grenade dischargers, 12 light and 2 to 4 heavy machine guns. Enemy capabilities of reinforcement were nil; submarine and air harassing attack was possible but unlikely. Our invading force comprised the 2nd Battalion, 167th Infantry, 6th Division; 4 LCI''s, 14 LCM's, and a covey of Ducks and Alligators. The Group would furnish both the pre-invasion softening-up and co-ordinated air support during the landings. The plan called for neutralizing the southeast coast of Pegun, which was expected to result in driving the enemy north to Bras Island which would then be treated separately. The plan for the Asia Group was similar, with D-Day as the 20th and Igi Island scheduled to receive the first bombing.
The Group's operation really began with a plane from the 390th (Lieut. N. H. Traverso and Lieut. G. E. Philipp) photographing Mapia and Asia, respectively, with verticals and obliques on November 9th. Lieut. Raymond Proctor, Group Photo Officer, flew with Lieutenant Traverso, personally checking the photo work. Next came a reconnaissance and leaflet-dropping flight by Colonel Kegelman and Major Henson on the 11th. The 500 leaflets dropped warned the natives to evacuate Pegun. The first strike was made on D-Day minus 3, the 12th. It was home-for-lunch and back-to-the-links from then on, as the following schedule shows:
Date: 12 November
Squadron Formation Leader Target
69th AM 8 Capt. R. E. Shanks Igi
69th PM 9 Lieut. R. E. Overmyer Pegun
70th AM 9 Capt. Andrew Elliott Pegun
100th AM 9 Colonel Kegelman, Major Henson Pegun
100th PM 9 Colonel Kegelman,
390th AM 8 Lieut. Patrick B. Houser
390th PM 9 Capt. Gordon M. Dana Pegun
Date: 13 November
69th AM 9 Lieut. J. W. Weaver
PM 9 Lieut. George P. Manuche
70th AM 9 Lieut. W. B. Spicer
PM 9 Colonel Kegelman
75th AM 5 Lieut. V. H. Olson
PM 8 Capt. R. W. Thorndyke
100th AM - Lieut. Donald C. Robertson "
PM Lieut. Kenneth E. Frick "
Date: 14 November
70th AM 3 Lieut. Robert Weston
PM 6 Lieut. Sherod Santos
75th AM 9 Colonel Kegelman
PM 9 Lieut. V. H. Olson Pegun
100th AM 9 Lieut. George P. Pitcher
PM 9 Colonel Kegelman
Date: 15 November
100th Ground Support Lieut. Kenneth E. Miller
D-Day, H-Hour minus 30, four-plane shifts from the 100th were over the islands for air support, rendezvousing at 0530 with the convoy 3000 yards southwest of Pegun at 4000 feet. The naval bombardment began on the dot of 0530, and for half an hour Red Beach was red indeed with bursting shells. The first troops hit the beach at 0600-0630, using flame throwers. At 0700 supply Ducks pushed ashore. At 0745 the ground commander from the control ship requested one plane to bomb and strafe Bras Village on Bras Island. Colonel Kegelman attacked, dropping all his bombs and strafing 1500 rounds. The Navy then shelled Bras, and the remaining three of the Colonel's flight followed in to bomb at 1015.
By H-Hour plus 6, Ducks and Alligators were using the east and west beaches for half the length of Pegun. At 1700 the entire island had been occupied, troops were in swimming off the north shore, and clothes lines could be seen from the air.
There you have the capture of Pegun Island, Mapia group: a perfect example of coordinated air-ground war in the Pacific, 1944--small to be sure, but complete. The operation continued on the same pattern through the mopping up of Bras and Fanildo of the Mapia Group; reconnaissance, bombing, air cover for the landings on Igi, Fani, and Mairin of the Asia Group on November 17-20. All squadrons participated with the same leaders in front, augmented by Lieut. Harry W. Devlin, Hal W. Townsend, Donald R. Smith, and Robert L. Hausler for the 70th, and with Colonel Kegelman leading a flight a day. On the last mission, led by Lieut. Wilbur L. Coats of the 100th, the planes were dismissed by the ground station now in operation on Pegun: "No targets. Mission completed. Cancel Support."
The entire ground operation was carried out with the loss of one infantryman killed and several wounded. The Ground Commander gave the Group credit and his thanks for the splendid support, adding that the first troops ashore found the two heavy gun positions at Red Beach completely demolished.
Unfortunately the Group's losses were more severe. Lieut. J. H. Carroll, young Portland, Oregon, pilot, and his crew perished in the opening strafing attack of November 12th. Precise facts of the crash could not be determined. Carroll's plane was seen on fire, flames licking along the fuselage with bomb bay doors open; the plane rolled to the right and crashed on its back on the east coast of Pegun. Apart from minor damage to planes from machine gun fire, this was our only loss in the operation.
Asia and Mapia did not entirely monopolize our attention for these ten days, however. Lieut. L. E. Davis led a pair of successful 69th medium strikes against Tanamon and Kairatoe on the 15th and 18th. Lieut. Sherod Santos led the 70th's element of the Namlea raid, Lieut. Harry W. Devlin following up on the 18th. The 75th's Soela shipping sweep on November 18th destroyed a 125-foot schooner and four canoes. The same day Captain Thorndyke took five Mitchells to search for shipping within 50 miles of Tarakan, Borneo, another target that was ear-marked for the Group's later attention.
On this raid Captain Thorndyke bagged one tug, three Sugar Charlies, and a barge.
The 100th's Haroekoe medium strike of the 29th brought a rating of Superior for the bomb patterns laid down by Lieut. Joseph E. Stodola and Lieut. Kenneth 0. Vincent, element bombardiers.
This was the day that Capt. William W. Short of the 70th took "Son of Mesa", a New Guinea native chieftain, with him to strafe Asbokin, 55 miles west of Sansapor. where the chief's scouts had reported a bivouac of 400 Japs. Captain Short dropped four magnesium clusters and strafed with 2000 rounds. Results delighted Son of Mesa, a colorful character who had killed many Japs himself and was on his first ride in a "Steel Angel." Undisputed chief of scattered native platoons, the black warrior amused ordnance officers of NICA (Netherlands Indies Civil Administration) when he complained at the old style gun issued to him. Given one of the newest automatics, he smiled happily. "Shoot more bullets, kill more Japs," he said.
On November 16th Colonel Wilson bade adieu to the Crusaders as he was ordered back to the United States. Colonel Kegelman assumed command, but unlike his predecessor, he had a well knit fighting organization with which to commence operations. To Colonel Wilson must go much of the credit for moulding this team, for it was under his leadership that the 42nd Bomb Group became a combat team.
Lieut. Col. Joe R. Brabson, a recent Crusader arrival from the 312th Bomb Group (L) became Deputy Commander, while Major Henson took over Group Operations, replacing Lieut. Col. Jean H. Daugherty, who also left for a well earned rest in the United States.
For the final third of the month general results were good. Captain Dana's 390th weather mission on the 21st, to northeast Celebes, administered a thorough strafing to a 50-foot and two 100-foot Nip craft; Lieut. William W. Carlisle's sextet from the 69th delivered a smashing blow to the Halong Seaplane Base together with an octet of the 75th led by Lieut. Robert A. Plympton. The 75th's Soela shipping sweep on the 22nd bagged a 150-foot two-masted schooner with quarter-tonners. Lieut. Willard R. Horne led seven of the 390th's to Laha on the 27th to lay 500-pounders across the service aprons, meeting moderate, heavy AA fire. On this day the 390th bade good-bye to Maj. Richard J. Carmody. It was the end of a long and winding trail for the one-time Second Lieutenant nicknamed "Radar Dick" for his many calibrating missions hops out to sea from McChord Field. Sixty-four missions, among them some of the Group's hottest, most daring, and most productive, were on the record that placed him at the top of the rotation list.
Capt. Gordon M. Dana, another Iowan transplanted to Indiana, took over from Carmody.
The 100th records as one of its outstanding successes for the month the afternoon shipping sweep, flown in "Dog" weather by Lieut. Thomas S. Zimmerman and Lieut. Theophilus Wright, Jr., on November 29th. At 1515 at Asloeloe, Ambon, they came across three 70 to 80-foot two-masted schooners, and six 50-foot single stickers. In five bombing and strafing runs, 500-pounders were dropped and 6000 rounds strafed. Debris scattered and flew up 150 feet and Sgt. Walter Bejeski, tall gunner, fired a hut for good measure. Lima Village and Bagbela Bay returned slight, light, and inaccurate fire.
To close the month, Lieut. R. E. Overmyer and Lieut. R. J. Weston led two dozen Crusaders of the 69th and 70th over Galela personnel and revetment areas, dropping parafrags and strafing 50,000 rounds. Medium, intense, inaccurate AA was encountered at the beginning of the run. Small arms and automatic AA put as many as five holes into one ship. Lieut. Lynwood C. Smith and Lieut. Harold R. Hatfield swept Waigeo and Ajoe Islands and the Halmaheras during the afternoon with negative results and no ordnance expenditures. Lieut. Juston C. Amato, with eight of the 75th, hit Hatetabako from medium, dust and smoke obscuring their results.
Major Wilmot E. Y. Paxton of the 70th received his "Uncle-Sugar-Able" orders and Capt. William W. Short assumed command of the Squadron.
|Preface||Chapter 17||Chapter 19|