|Preface||Chapter 1||Chapter 7|
Nineteen forty-two opened for the Group with another change of station, this time to McChord Field, Washington, which many an early Group man thinks of as the Group's original home. It was not our original station, but it was in many respects our most important base in the United States, for it was here that the Group gained its first field experience in coastal patrol and shaped itself for the day that all knew was coming alert for overseas.
For the first time the squadrons were not all based together. Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron and the 76th were at McChord Field. The 75th went to Portland, Oregon, and the 16th Reconnaissance, by then a part of our family, to Paine Field at Everett, Washington. Our task was to provide patrols for the Northwest Pacific Coast, and it was for this reason that we operated from multiple bases. The ramifications were extended still further with the organization of satellite detachments at smaller fields and with the removal of the Command Section to Seattle, from which headquarters all activities were directed for a time.
From this Command Section grew the Advance Echelon of the Fourth Bomber Command, which later controlled much of the Air Forces' anti-submarine patrol for the West Coast. Leaving Boise on January 10, Group Commander Col. John V. Hart, Group Operations Officer Maj. Holcombe, Capt. Melvin R. Hansen, S/Sgt. Earl T. Nicholson and Sgt. Frank Gall had exactly a day and a half in which to open their office in the County City Building in Seattle, take over from the Second Air Force, and commence operations. It was from this office that Colonel Gilger, who succeeded Major Holcombe as A-3, set out on his pioneering flight to Alaska in an effort to establish a ferrying route to our Alaskan and Aleutian bases. How successful this flight was is reflected in the first Army Airways Communications Chart and Guide Book which quoted almost verbatim Colonel Gilger's report of his findings and recommendations.
An amusing feature of the first days at McChord was that, owing to overcrowded conditions at the field, a squadron or similar group of men was crowded into one barracks instead of the standard four allotted to a squadron. Not only did the full personnel of the squadron (fortunately under T/O at the time) sleep in this barracks, but the small end bedrooms usually reserved for top non-coms served as the C.O.'s office and Orderly Room. Entering the barracks after lights out was a matter of cautious groping and probing to get past the row of double-deck bunks that ran down the center aisle, over footlockers to your own bunk, where by edging and folding yourself in you could finally take a deep breath again. Only eight inches of space separated the bunks in the side rows. This condition lasted for about two weeks, until the 12th Group moved from McChord and we took over their space.
At this time A-29's were being flown on patrol, and Operations and Intelligence were officed in hangars on the line.
As the patrol schedule progressed, individual units operated under Navy direction at times, the closest coordination being vital in those days when the Nipponese war dragon, the blood of Pearl Harbor still in its nostrils, was deemed capable of rearing its head off our northwest shores. The 16th Reconnaissance, and later the 75th, operated directly under Navy command for a considerable period. Although we had been operating directly with the 16th for some time previously, it was not until March that this unit was officially assigned to the Group, and, by the same order, was converted into a Bombardment Squadron (M), with its Photographic Section becoming a part of Group Headquarters. The 16th also acquired a new name in the process, the 406th Bombardment Squadron (M).
Another important development came in March, 1942 -one which some readers may well consider the beginning of the narrative for them-when on the 20th, the 390th Bombardment Squadron (M) was activated, drawing its cadre of 21 officers and 166 enlisted men mainly from Headquarters Squadron. Major Nall assumed command and the 390th became a going concern, ready to take its part in the patrols. S/Sgt. Hubert E. Hall, who later received an in-the-field commission and who rose to the rank of Captain as adjutant of the 70th, came in as first sergeant. Capt. John W. Osborne was the first Engineering Officer and Capt. jean H. Daugherty, of whom there will be more later, was the first Operations Officer. 1st Lieut. Lewis E. Tiffany was the Adjutant, but was soon succeeded by Capt. Theron H. Whitneybell. 1st Lieut. Robert M. Clark succeeded Captain Whitneybell, who went to Group, and was in turn succeeded by then 1st Lieut., now Major, Roy Harris. On the line we find Donald E. Holloway, then a technical sergeant and later a warrant officer and Assistant Group Engineering Officer. M/Sgt. John E. Hodgin was Line Chief at the time, but afterward left the squadron and Group to accept a direct commission as a first lieutenant and assignment as Base Engineering Officer at Tonopah Bombing Range in Nevada. Another master sergeant from this line also left us, Squadron Technical Inspector John Watson, later a warrant officer (j. g.) and Engineering Officer at the Edmonton, Alberta, ferrying stop on the Alaskan fly-way.
A disaster struck the 390th on May 24th when their beloved commander, who had been promoted to lieutenant colonel only six days earlier, was instantly killed in a take-off accident at McChord Field. To their death with Colonel Nall went the Line Chief of Headquarters Squadron, Master Sergeant Shepherd, and Corporal Guinn N. Murdock.
Capt. John W. Osborne assumed command on Colonel Nall's passing, but was soon succeeded by Maj. Strother 13. Hardwick, Jr., who was to lead the squadron overseas.
In May the 76th Squadron departed McChord in its aircraft to join an Anti-Submarine Command at Miami, and continued its patrol activities under the command of Maj. Woodrow W. Dunlop.
After the 76th had left the lovely northwest spring for the semi-tropical luxury of Florida, the 406th too was not long delayed in leaving McChord and Paine Field, but its direction was north. Commanded by Maj. Harold D. Courtney, the former reconnaissance unit proceeded to Anchorage, Alaska, for temporary duty with the Eleventh Air Force. Its ground echelon moved to a temporary station at Portland Army Air Base and remained there through the summer and fall, before joining the air element in Alaska.
In July the Group Commander, Col. John V. Hart, was ordered to foreign duty as Chief of Staff of the Eleventh Air Force in Alaska, and shortly thereafter Col. Harry Wilson assumed command of the Group for the first time.
Colonel Wilson was commissioned in 1928 from the United States Military Academy it West Point where he was an All-American football star in 1927-28. Prior to that he was graduated from Pennsylvania State where his exploits on the gridiron came to the attention of sportswriters throughout America. He was nicknamed "Light-Horse Harry," a name that remained with him and followed him overseas. He won his wings at Kelly Field at about the time of the stock market crash in '29, and was checked out in just about everything with wings that the Air Forces possessed. He was a fighter pilot, reconnaissance pilot, bomber pilot, and we'll venture to say he's toted the mail on more than one occasion He calls Sharon, Pa., his home.
Through the summer and fall months regular patrols were flown daily, and at McChord training went on in B-18s, B-26s, A-29s, and the early B-25s. The Group at that time also had some PT-17s which are chiefly remembered for the headaches they brought to operations officers every time an enthusiastic pilot buzzed a farm-house or train. These attentions were not appreciated by the good householders and railroaders, but they were good experience for pilots later to strafe Jap airfields and supply bases.
During this period alerts were very frequent, and many oldtimers will well remember the occasion when subs were reported leaving Midway, and everyone started for his station at 4 a. m. in a fog so thick that jeep piloting was next to impossible.
While some units were on patrol duty, others were under rigorous training with new combat crews being assembled for the Alaskan Defense Command. Several crews with ground maintenance personnel were sent to the Fleet Torpedo School at San Diego for training in that weapon, and the 390th Squadron was busy testing incendiary bombs and bombing techniques at the Las Vegas, Nevada, Bombing and Gunnery Range.
In October, 1942, Capt. Jean H. Daugherty flew a submarine patrol that made Group history. Flying an A-29, the old Lockheed Hudson, on the first day that the 390th took over the patrol from the 75th, which had been relentlessly searching the coastal waters for enemy subs for months without making a single sighting, Captain Daugherty had not been on search for more than an hour when he spotted a sub. It was typical of the good hunting luck that the small Texan with the fighting heart was to enjoy throughout his career with the Group; it was also an all-time record for colossal snafus. Captain Daugherty made a two-mile run, opened his bomb bay and released his bombs. All were near misses which would probably have decided the issue permanently, but, unfortunately, in the excitement of the chase, he had forgotten to arm them. Returning to strafe, he swooped in again and the gunner, Sgt. Robert Strempeck, strapped in his turret, got his bead and was set to squeeze his triggers when he discovered that there were no barrels in the guns! The sub crash-dived, and the utterly exasperated and crestfallen Captain Daugherty flew back to base. The royal "chewing-out" he received was a trifle compared with his own disappointment.
On November 20, 1st Lieut. William S. Southern made what is believed to be the Group's first water landing, when an engine cut out on him five or six miles off-shore on the way home from a patrol mission. Sgt. Robert E. Pierce, the gunner, hit the silk and his fate was never learned. The radio operator, Sgt. Albert Povodnick, climbed out onto the tall and jumped, but his chute fouled in the empennage and he was dragged down to his death. His body drifted in several days later and was found at the mouth of the Columbia River. Lieut. Leroy Kline, the navigator, was killed when the plane struck the water, but Lieutenant Southern and the engineer-gunner S/Sgt. William R. Dart, got clear of the plane, swam approximately half a mile and walked out onto the beach.
The 14th of December brought orders for Colonel Wilson to proceed to an overseas replacement pool, and he said a regretful goodbye to the Group for the first time, handing over command to Maj. Edwin J. Latosewski. The latter was not with the Group long, for the months of December, 1942, iiid January, 1943, were marked by many changes in the administrative and command personnel. By the end of January, however, the following officers were established in their duties, in some cases to continue them through the entire period of the war:
Lieutenant Colonel Guy L. Hudson-Commanding Officer.
Lieutenant Colonel Bourne Adkison-Operations Officer.
Major T. H. Whitneybell-Executive Officer.
Captain Ray Hamilton-S-2.
Captain Robert M. Clark-Adjutant.
Major Claude C. Sturgis, Jr.-S-4 (Succeeded overseas by Major Charles H. Porter).
Second Lieutenant Willis R. Garber-Communications Officer.
Second Lieutenant John E. Morrison-Assistant S-3.
Second Lieutenant Frank W. Gilliam-Statistical Officer.
Second Lieutenant Carlyle W. McClelland-Special Service Officer.
Warrant Officer (J. G.) Raymond L. Proctor-Photographic Officer.
The Sergeant-Major was Wayne J. Guidry, who was commissioned overseas and left the fold shortly thereafter. M/Sgt. Earl T. Nicholson was Section Chief of Group Operations and M/Sgt. Malcolm McLeod was Section Chief in S-4.
By this time some changes were taking place in the 75th. Private Lundeen, an administrative clerk, had risen to first sergeant, succeeding Lowell P. Kolaks, who was transferred out of the Group, S/Sgt. Richard J. Corr was well established in Tech Supply, and a former private in that section, William H. Paschal, had by now become a staff sergeant, the chief administrative NCO.
It is interesting to note the name Truman A. Spencer, Jr., a newly-made captain who was destined to command this squadron in its overseas trek. The adjutant was Capt. Clifford M. Barrow, who later became a major and Executive Officer of the 70th. In Operations we find Capt. George Hundt with S/Sgt. Gordon Hartford as section chief. Capt. Linwood T. Fleming, then a first lieutenant, was the S-2. Communications listed M/Sgt. Charles Cunningham, section chief, and 2nd Lieut. Harold Zahrndt, Officer-in-charge. In the all-important post of Engineering Officer was 1st Lieut. Arthur Bohnhoff, and M/Sgt. Fred O'Toole was line chief. Armament and Ordnance were run by 2nd Lieut. John Brownell and 2nd Lieut. Richard Grabenborst, assisted capably by M/Sgt. Hector Handry and T/Sgt. Stanley Quader, in that order. The man responsible for feeding the boys was T/Sgt. Harry Barkowsponski.
Of the 390th gang in office at this time, Capt. Roy Harris was adjutant; 1st Lieut. Charles D. Bergman and 2nd Lieut. John J. Schirp were in armament and ordnance in that order, and 1st Lieut. Matthias Little handled the duties of the "smart department," alias, Intelligence. Capt. Johnny D. Lee was Operations Officer and Capt. Charles Porter the engineering boss. Richard Eliasen was a master sergeant and line chief, and Charlie E. Gibson, a staff sergeant, took care of the chow details.
On February 14, 1943, St. Valentine's Day, we received a very important and long-awaited Valentine greeting, our overseas alert. Previous busy periods paled in comparison with the fever of preparation that immediately ensued. S-1 and S-4 were requisitioning and acquiring new personnel and supplies of all kinds. S-2 and S-3 went into intensified training for six weeks. At this time we were assigned the first of the planes with which we were to make our name, the fighting-hearted Mitchell B-25s-not the largest, not the fastest, but thoroughbreds.
With the alert for overseas came the separation from the Group of the 406th, in Alaska, and the 76th, in Florida. On February 15, twenty-two combat crews from the 75th and 390th, together with ground and additional flight personnel, proceeded to Hammer Field, Fresno, California, for their final polishing. Organized as a training detachment, this segment was supplied with five old B-25s, models A, B, and C, from the 41st Bombardment Group. The training program included skip bombing, aerial gunnery, using towed targets, ground gunnery with turret and flexible guns, night navigational flights and formation flying, and was designed to get the crews as ready as possible for what was to come, short of the lessons which only combat itself could teach. Maj. Frank B. Harding was in command of this detachment and came overseas with the water echelon as Assistant Group operations Officer. He later transferred to the Fifth Bombardment Group (H), also stationed at Guadalcanal at the time of the Crusaders' tenure there. With the Fifth he assumed command of a squadron of B-24s, and distinguished himself as a Squadron Leader over the tough Jap targets of Truk, Yap, and Woleai.
During the Hammer Field period, combat crews from the 75th and 390th were ordered to McClellan Field, Sacramento, California, for some additional training, and there received ten new B-25Cs, which they flew to Hamilton Field. Shortly thereafter, on March 6 to be exact, this contingent took off for Hickam Field, Hawaii. Thus to these crews belongs the honor of having been the vanguard of the U. S.-joined 42nd Bombardment Group (M) to set off for the front. One of these planes fell victim to weather and fuel exhaustion and went down just 100 miles short of its goal. Fortunately the crew were rescued, and all but the pilot were able to carry on with us later. The crew consisted of 1st Lieut. C. F. Smith, pilot, 2nd Lieut. Rex Workman, co-pilot, 2nd Lieut. Clarence D. Shinn, navigator, and S/Sgts. D. J. Stiles, F. W. Berens, Jr., and George Rice. Other Crusaders who ferried these first planes across included Captains jean H. Daugherty Joe D. Wheeler, James J. Yeomen, Lieutenants David C. Organ, Alto F. Dolan, Oscar Vordahl, Hugh G. Blackwell, Glenn A. Pebles, Willard 0. Johnson, Raymond F. Johnson, William S. Southern, and Martin M. Boswell. All of these men were first pilots. In the co-pilot seats were Lieutenants William J. Moore, Charles E. Laird, Lloyd Wattenbarger, James R. Halstead, Charles Post', Roland C. Shaw, William H. Brokate, Jr., Otto R. Hartwig, Robert A. Meister, Robert B. Brown, and Rudolph Matlock. The navigators included Lieutenants Melvin B. Cobb, Harold Campbell, Ermine D. Lewis, Morris A. Rossiter, Arthur F. Humphry, John S. Swain, William H. Powell, and Bernhardt Thal.
On March 15th the entire ground organization of the 390th and Group Headquarters said farewell to McChord Field and Tacoma, and with numerous tender good-byes to wives and sweethearts were on their way to the staging area at Camp Stoneman, Pittsburgh, California. We doubt that anyone who made this trip can forget the assembly in front of McChord's spacious hangars. With the 390th in ranks and accounted for, Group Headquarters in rank and accounted for, Colonel Hudson marched us to a nearby railroad siding where a troop train was waiting. Without further ado, we loaded aboard and were on our way. Somewhere along the line the train stopped and more coaches loaded with personnel were hooked on, and once more the monotonous clacking of the wheels on the rails reverberated through the swiftly falling dusk.
The added coaches, it was soon discovered, were those carrying the water echelon of the 75th, which had started their overseas trek from Portland, Oregon, under the command of Captain Spencer. At Camp Stoneman the training detachment from Hammer Field rejoined, and attention was turned to final orientation, rounding out personnel requirements, and obtaining the last items of supply. Here, too, was given the first of many ship discipline lectures, encompassing talks, practice in abandoning ships enacted on dummy constructions strung along an entire avenue of Camp Stoneman, and instructions in the use of the life-belt.
Loading of equipment had gone on for several days at San Francisco, but only a relative handful of men of the organization had been concerned in that. The rest of us were at Stoneman, busy and impatiently idle by turns while the Army mills ground at their seemingly unhurried pace.
Some visited Pittsburgh. In normal times a progressive California town, proud of the industries that gave it its name, Pittsburgh was a little overwhelmed by the prominence into which it found itself thrust by the fortunes of war as the last foot-hold on the land of their birth of so many thousands of Americans. Uniform crowded uniform on its tidy streets. Many of them were new, and, true to Army tailoring tradition, too large or too small; the town's tailors were rushed as never before by those who still had a preference for neat fit. Beer passed over Pittsburgh's bars as fast as the harried barmen and barmaids could open it, and flowed down thirsty throats in unprecedented volume. But all was good-natured. The joshing and the jostling had their place, but beneath it all, young minds were on the serious business ahead.
Then came March 27th. Even for those of us who lived it and thought at the time that no detail of that day, however trivial, could ever be forgotten, it is difficult to reconstruct. A crisp March day in northern California, a little nippy in the early dawn hours for the first risers, warming at noon, and during the march down to the river piers of Pittsburgh and the inevitable Army wait before boarding the S.S. Catalina, definitely hot. No sooner were we aboard than a fleet of trucks moved onto the piers and disgorged themselves of countless colored troops. An Army band struck up the tune of the southland, "Dixie," and for 40 minutes thereafter we were serenaded by this band with tunes from the cowboy country, stirring marches from the pen of John Phillip Sousa, ragtime, and jazz from modern contemporaries, songs of the last war and so on. Everyone crowded the port rail, the side of the boat facing the pier, until the Catalina was in danger of capsizing before the trip even got started. Upon receiving orders and warnings from the bridge the men were quietly, but speedily, dispersed to less dangerous vantage points. At last the whistle blew and the veteran ship, a once famous excursion craft now bedecked in battle gray, backed off from the pier and started towards San Francisco, where our troop transport was awaiting us.
We didn't see much of Frisco, just a long stretch of covered pier, down one gang plank, up another, down a hatch, out on a deck, down another hatch and into the hold, which was to be our home for the long crossing.
The S.S. Maul, with 105 officers and 568 enlisted men of the Group, cleared the Golden Gate the following morning, March 28th, at nine-thirty. We were traveling in company with the S.S. Sea Witch and one destroyer until we reached the Farrollon Islands, just beyond the Golden Gate, at which point our destroyer left us and the Sea Witch took up another bearing. Although at, the time we didn't know it, our first port of call was to be Noumea, New Caledonia, and our final destination was to be Guadalcanal. From this point on, until 24 hours out of New Caledonia, we traveled through sub-infested waters, unescorted and alone.
The vast and incredibly blue Pacific! The enchanting South Sea Islands! How many writers have portrayed both so well, but alas, not from Army transports. But that too has been written and re-written. We lived through it, so we'll remember what we choose and stick to the record.
During 16 days outward bound, innumerable alerts and abandon ship drills always seemed to come just when you had found a comfortable seat, or shall we say a place to squat. Some of the alerts were the real thing, but we escaped actual trouble, and on April 15th, Land-Ho! proved a welcome reality.
For most of us Noumea was but a prospect glimpsed from the decks of the Maui and from the trucks that whisked us away from the docks, past the Nickel smelter and up the island to Camp Barnes, our first overseas Casual Camp. Few who were there will ever entirely forget the omnipresent red dust that got into everything and onto everything, but we had little time for sightseeing.
We were presented for the first time with the problems that Armies encounter in the field, with the exception that we did not have to start entirely from scratch. Some tents had been pitched before our arrival. We set about pitching others and generally getting into shape for our first night ashore. Two difficulties were notable. Owing to a jam-up in the unloading of the Maui, our rations did not reach us until the next day, and eating that first day ashore was a matter of cadging a meal from neighboring outfits. The neighbors were more neighborly about this than about the matter of latrines. It was hard digging in that soil once you got below the dust, and when we began digging our own the next day we understood their attitude. The first night quite a number of men took French leave to go into Noumea. The attraction was as much the showers at the Red Cross as anything else.
The tents at Camp Barnes were set on semi-terraces of a loaf-shaped hill. This was an oddity in camps which proved a very serious disadvantage when the first heavy rains came a few days later. The water sluiced down the hill and collected in pools at the foot, reaching knee-depth in the mess tent on one historic night. To one accustomed to the rigid anti-malaria S.O.P. of the Pacific of later periods, it is incredible to learn that no mosquito bars were available on the first night at Caledonia. A few experiments in sleeping inside mattress covers to escape the pests, resulted in near asphyxiation. This situation was promptly remedied the following morning, as was the feeding situation. No official record exists of what the first meal served by the Group messes at Caledonia was, but it is a very safe assumption that it was some form of C ration, the first of literally hundreds of such meals to follow.
Two days after our arrival the 75th went to Plaines des Gaiacs, (P. D. G. for short) for temporary duty and further training with B-25s. On the 22nd the Air Echelons of Headquarters and of the 390th Squadron flew to Nandi, Fiji, there to be joined by the nine crews who had flown from Hamilton to Hawaii on March 6th and thence on to Fiji.
Already at Fiji were the 70th Bombardment Squadron (M), back in the rest area from its first tour of action in the Solomons, but flying search missions for the Second Island Command, and the Air Echelon of the 69th Bombardment Squadron (M). These two squadrons, the 69th partially equipped with B-25s and B-26s and under the command of Major Leroy L. Stefonowicz, were assigned to the Group, bringing our strength to four squadrons, with the air echelons of three then together at Fiji.
Both the 69th and 70th had made starts on the brilliant war record they were to contribute to the Group's accomplishments before the), joined us. Both had begun their careers as units of the 38th Bombardment Group (M). Both were activated at Langley Field, Virginia, on January 15, 1941. The 70th Squadron consisted of one officer, Lieut. Leroy L. Stefonowicz, a name that is part and parcel of the 70th's early history, and 19 enlisted men. With this complement of 20 men the squadron functioned as an embryonic skeleton that finally attained distinguishable proportions four months later.
The early history and achievements of both the 69th and 70th were, unfortunately for a history of this type, not documented and recorded in detail. Between the fact that these two organizations were moved around the world so rapidly and hectically in the pell-mell rush that followed Pearl Harbor, and the inevitable loss of shipments and boxes, many of which contained the only documentary proof of their exploits and deeds, the records at our disposal leave much to be desired in an accurate account of the 42nd and its family. What information is available and is used in this account we owe to the patience and untiring effort of an early Intelligence Officer, Lieut. Walter H. Pleiss, Jr., who took it upon himself to examine existing records and rosters of the 69th Squadron, and who spent many days poring over details given him by the officers and men who lived those early days. His minute search for corroboration of even the smallest details lends authenticity to his story, written in July of '43, which became the official early history of the 69th Squadron now stored in the Archives of Washington. From him we learn that the story of the present 69th really begins with the acquisition of B-26 airplanes in November, 1941, although it had been an original member of the 38th Bombardment Group (M) like its sister squadron the 70th.
The Public Relations Officer of the Group in 1945 and assistant Intelligence Officer of the 70th in 1944, attempted the seemingly impossible task of reconstructing the early history of the 70th. Aided immeasurably by the early writing of Lieut. Okey Snodgrass, Squadron navigator who excavated and compiled the facts, names, and dates, the official history of the old 70th was completed for the records.
In January, 1942, both squadrons were ordered to leave Jackson, Mississippi, where they had been stationed for several months, and the personnel departed in sections on January 17th, 18th, and 19th, for San Francisco and overseas duty. At this point we print verbatim from Lieutenant Pleiss' story of the 69th.
"The enlisted men of the Ground Echelons were housed upon their arrival in San Francisco, in the Livestock Pavillion, or "Cow Palace," and Lieut. Walter Howard, who became an Engineering Officer of the 69th, was the Officer of the Day the first day, January 23rd.
The weather was inclement, and considerable unpleasantness was encountered while erecting the cook tent and setting up the mess facilities.
"On January 29th the Ground Echelon of the 38th Group (M) boarded the Army Transport Bliss, formerly the President Cleveland. The Bliss left in convoy from San Francisco on the 31st and arrived at Brisbane, Australia, on February 25, 1942. The Group then transhipped to Melbourne and thence by rail to Ballarat, where the troops were quartered in private homes for one week. They returned to Brisbane by rail, staying one day at Camp Dumbdon, and then proceeded by truck convoy to Amberley Field, Ipswich, Australia. On May 17 the 69th Ground Echelon returned to Brisbane and departed on a Dutch steamer for Noumea, New Caledonia. From Noumea they went directly by truck convoy to Tontouta, arriving there on May 20, 1942. They remained at Tontouta until June 23, when they traveled to Plaines des Gaiacs, after joining the Air echelon and forming the complete 69th Bombardment Squadron (M) for the first time. It was then that the 69th was detached from the 38th Group, for during their stay at New Caledonia they were operating under the direction of Colonel Rich, Air Commander of New Caledonia, who in turn received instructions directly from ComAirSoPac, an abbreviation denoting the Commander of Air for the South Pacific.
"In the meantime the Air Echelon of the 38th Group stayed at Fort McDowell, California, until March 8th, when the air officers and crew chiefs departed for Patterson Field near Dayton, Ohio. The remainder of the Echelon left Oakland on April 2nd, arriving at Patterson Field four days later.
"At Patterson Field the pilots, crews, and ground men received further instruction on B-26 airplanes, and it was in May, 1942, that the 38th Group was equipped with B-26s.
"During this period the first officers' promotions came through. Lincoln E. Behling and James F. Collins were promoted to Captain, while Second Lieutenants Clifford A. Johnston, Charles F. Lingamfelter, Lewis C. Long, and Fred C. Wright, Jr., became First Lieutenants.
"On May 19th the 69th, under the command of Capt. John L. Burhus, received orders to proceed overseas, and the first flight of three planes piloted by Captain Collins, Lieutenant Long, and Lieutenant Watson left immediately for Hamilton Field, California, and Hawaii.
"It is necessary to recapitulate at this point. Hitherto the Air Echelon personnel of the 69th had been actually the 71st Squadron, but when the order was issued, the 71st was assigned to the 69th Ground Echelon overseas, while the original 69th became the 71st and stayed at Patterson Field. Hence the officers and men of the 69th changed the number of their squadron.
"Shortly thereafter, 45 officers and 28 enlisted men left in B-26B planes, while a few traveled by American Airlines to the West Coast. The planes left Patterson Field for Fort Wayne, Indiana, to re-load with gas for their cross-country trip. There the pilots and crews named their ships and started for California.
"'Henry' was piloted by 2nd Lieut. Robert E. Wilmarth with 2nd Lieut. James B. Story and Paul E. Tibbetts as co-pilot and navigator respectively. 1st Lieut. Clifford E. Johnson with 2nd Lieuts. John S. Tkac and Joseph V. Seefried, Jr., flew the 'Yap Trap'; 1st Lieut. Lewis C. Long, 2nd Lieut. Lee H. Wagner, and navigator 2nd Lieut. Thomas N. Weems, Jr., were in the 'Hattie M.'; 1st Lieut. Thomas R. Waddleton, 2nd Lieut. Girard Dumas, and 2nd Lieut. Chalmers W. Gustafson rode the 'Peedoff Patootie'; while 1st Lieut. Fred C. Wright, Jr., with 2nd Lieuts. Joseph H. Moore and Samuel J. Chambers were flying the 'Arkansas Traveler.'
"Capt. Lincoln E. Schling with 2nd Lieuts. Elaine E. Wiesner and Mitchell S. Spadone left in the 'Mormon Meteor'; 2nd Lieuts. Lloyd B. Field, Edwin J. Scharman, and Thomas A. Riles, Jr., flew in 'Judy'; Capt. James F. Collins, Jr., 2nd Lieuts. Colin 0. Villines, and 2nd Lieut. Frederick A. McNutt, Jr., rode the 'Winsockie'; Capt. John L. Burhus with 2nd Lieuts. James H. Doolittle, Jr., and Daniel M. Feeley took 'Little John'; 2nd Lieuts. Stephen H. Howbert, Donald White, and Frank A. Morris were in the 'Kansas City Kitty'; while two unnamed planes were flown by 2nd Lieuts. Lloyd E. Whitley, Enders Dickinson, III, and Eugene J. English, Jr.; and 2nd Lieuts. William S. Watson, Leonard H. Whittington, and John P. Schuman. Along with the above crew were nine bombardiers; 2nd Lieuts. James W. Magers, Anthony D. Korumpas, Louis A. Bartha, Irving Kemp, Dayton T. Kert, Robert H. Hudson, John J. Bartos, Oscar F. McDaniels, Lawrence H. Krogh, Charles C. Hughes, and Jerome F. Goldstein. Pilot 2nd Lieut. Vernon P. Martin, Armament Officer William H. Rosar, and Engineering Officer jasper W. Howard were included.
"Before reaching New Caledonia two planes were lost and two more were damaged and replaced. The first to go was Lieutenant Whitley's, the second was Lieutenant Long's, and the other two, Captain Collins' and Lieutenant Watson's, were lost in the battle of Midway.
"Ordered to take off from Baer Field, Ft. Wayne, Indiana, at 0530 on May 19th for the Sacramento Air Depot without maps or briefing, Lieutenant Whitley and crew were lost over Nebraska in a storm when the radio compass ceased to function. The fuel transfer pump also failed to operate, so despite Lieut. English's successful navigation by use of the Airways Facilities' Chart, Lieutenant Whitley was compelled to land the B26B in a tiny civilian airfield near Fremont, Nebraska. Two rural citizens present at the landing, seeing a medium bomber for the first time, asked if it were a training ship, while another spectator was positive that Lt. Whitley and his men were recruiting.
"After the weather had cleared and the plane had been lightened, Lieutenant Whitley attempted a take off
from the short grassy strip. Taking off the wet, slippery field proved hazardous enough in a B-26, and the plane cleared a telegraph pole only after crumpling the plane's port bomb bay door. Lieuts. Whitley and Dickinson brought the plane safely into Omaha, where it was replaced by another B-26B from the Glenn L. Martin plant of that city. Several days later the whole crew in a new plane departed for Sacramento and arrived there without further difficulty.
"At the Sacramento Air Depot the planes were stripped of armor plate, machine guns, and other equipment, while extra gas tanks were fitted into the bomb bays. From there they proceeded to Hamilton Field, where the planes were given a final check by the crew chiefs. They were then refueled, and the first flight left for Hickam Field, Oahu, Hawaii on May 22, 1942. The flight lasted 13 hours and was the first time in history that this particular 2,200-mile hop was negotiated by a medium bomber. Captain Collins, Lieutenant Long, and Lieutenant Watson piloted the three planes.
"From May 22nd to June 10th, the 69th and 70th ferried 26 Martin medium bombers from California to Hickam Field without a single mishap.
"The guns, armor plate, and other equipment which had been removed from the squadron's planes at the Sacramento Air Depot, were shipped from Hamilton Field in two LB-30s, as well as some of the combat crews of the 70th and 69th with their luggage. The first plane reached its destination safely, but two engines on the second one failed shortly after the take off. The pilot's attempt to turn the ship was unsuccessful and it crashed into the mountains, killing some employees of the Consolidated Aircraft Company and 10 enlisted men of the 69th and 70th Squadrons. The men from the 69th who lost their lives were T/Sgt. Clyde Tweedy, T/Sgt. Loren Van Kirk, T/Sgt. Floyd Gerald, and Privates Polk and Constantopoleous.
"During the last ten days of May at Hickam Field Captain Collins' flight had practiced torpedo bombing with their B-26's, and it was not long after that their ability was tested. Having arrived at Midway Island two days before, Captain Collins and Lieutenant Watson with their planes and crews were ordered to participate in the Midway battle, while Lieutenant Long and his navigator, Lieutenant Weems, who had gone along as spare crews, were ordered to stand by.
"Four B-26 crews took off to become the first landbased bombers ever to engage in fleet action with torpedoes. This battle was the pay-off on the weeks of training. Two of the planes were flown by Captain Collins and Lieutenant Watson, while the remaining two were flown by crews of the 22nd Bomb Group who had been left at Midway when the 22nd passed through on their way south. Lieut. James Murl flew one of these; an unnamed pilot flew the other.
"First to take off was a flight of six Marine TBDS. The Martins easily caught and outran the relatively slow Douglases. When they arrived in sight of the Jap fleet, they were the only American planes in the vicinity. Four Martin B-26's against the entire Jap fleet!
"Collins formed his formation and started in. He and Murl chose a carrier deep inside the ring of destroyers and cruisers; Watson and the fourth pilot chose another. All were certain they would be lost in the battle. Half Four Martin B-26s against the entire Jap fleet!
"Watson was hit on the peel-off and crashed into the ocean. His wingman bored in, released, pulled up over his target, then crashed straight into the water. Collins and Muri went in on the deck with everything forward. Collins' torpedo went into his target and exploded; Muri's followed almost through the same hole. Both pulled up and over. and jinking violently, set a screaming course for base. Behind them, the carrier flamed, rocked with internal explosions, and disintegrated in one final belch of smoke and flame.
With Lieutenant Watson the squadron lost Lieutenants Whittington and Schuman, co-pilot and navigator respectively; Corporal Owen, radio operator; Sergeant Decker, engineer; and Corporal Seitz, gunner. Collins' plane returned with more than 160 bullet holes, and a crash landing was necessary, for the hydraulic system had been completely shot away. None of the crew was seriously injured, though the radio operator sustained facial lacerations from flying glass.
"Captain Collins, his co-pilot, Lieut. Colin 0. Villines, navigator, Lieut. Thomas N. Weems, Jr., engineer, Sgt. Jack D. Dunn, and radio operator, T/Sgt. Raymond S. White all subsequently received the Distinguished Service Cross for their exploit, the sinking of an aircraft carrier, as well as accounting for three Zero fighters. Lieutenant Watson and his crew were all awarded the same decoration, and the Purple Heart, posthumously. This action is historically important as the first time in history that land-based aircraft were used for torpedo attacks against surface vessels.
"On June 13 the 69th received orders to proceed to New Caledonia, and the first flight of four planes, piloted by Captains Behling and Collins, Lieutenant Waddleton, and Lieutenant Field, left Hickam at 0700 on June 15. The two other flights departed on June 16 and 18. The planes went to Christmas Island, thence to Canton, Fiji, and Tontouta, New Caledonia. The second flight, for observation purposes passed over Jarvis Island en route from Christmas to Canton. On June 20 the rest of the air echelon, except for Lieutenant Rosar and a few enlisted men, took off in an LB30. Lieutenant Long and crew were left behind awaiting another plane to replace their damaged B-26.
"By June 23 all of the air echelon except Lieutenant Long and crew had joined the ground echelon at Tontouta. On that day a mass movement by air and truck convoy was made to Plaines des Gaiac, 130 miles north of Noumea, on the west coast of New Caledonia.
"It is here that the saga of the 69th, if it may be so called, really began. The 69th Bombardment Squadron at New Caledonia was the first medium bombardment outfit in the South Pacific, and along with the 70th Bombardment Squadron, which arrived at Fiji one week later, was the sole air striking force available for use against the Japanese fleet in the South Pacific during those crucial months before we had taken Guadalcanal and entrenched ourselves there. The flying officers were hailed by the ground forces on New Caledonia as saviors, and miracles were expected from this lone squadron at the time when the Japanese fleet was loose in that part of the Pacific, and when a landing attack was expected daily.
"This squadron was the first to arrive at Plaines des Gaiacs, and with the exception of two galvanized huts housing members of the Hawaiian Construction Co., there was absolutely nothing on the field. Only one runway had been completed, and the north-south strip was still under construction. It was necessary to establish a camp under the most adverse conditions, and quickly, for the squadron was called upon to perform its first mission only two days later, on June 26th. Lieutenant Howbert and co-pilot Lieutenant White patrolled, circling the island of New Caledonia and the Isle of Pines.
"A camp in the woods was set up off the northeast end of the field. Sleeping in tents with only one blanket per man for the first week, the men wrapped themselves at night in flight jackets and built small fires inside the tents to keel) warm. The nearest running water was two miles from camp, and often both enlisted men and officers had to hitch-hike to the stream for water since there were no vehicles assigned to the squadron as yet. Crude sanitary facilities were constructed, and mess facilities were also inadequate. Contact with Noumea was poor by road and infrequent by air. Food and supplies were often lacking those first few weeks, and the mess was unavoidably poor. For fresh meat, the squadron depended upon the accurate aim of various officers and enlisted men who returned from hunting forays with large buck deer. Speaking of living conditions, one of the bombardiers quipped, 'It's a vicious circle that has no end, and a horrible fate awaits us all.'
"At that time Captain Burhus was Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Waddleton, Operations Officer; Lieut. Clyde Nichols, Adjutant; Capt. Santo Cuppola, Flight Surgeon; Lieutenant Howard, Engineering Officer; Lieutenant Rosar, Armament Officer, and A, B and C Flight Leaders were Lieutenant Johnston, Captain Collins, tiid Lieutenant Lingamfelter respectively. The squadron had by this time lost all contact with the 38th Group and operated under ComAirSoPac through the Island Air Commander, Colonel Rich.
"On June 26th, 1942, there were attached to the squadron 80 officers and men from the aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Lexington. These survivors of the torpedoed flattop remained at Plaines des Gaiacs with the 69th until the middle of August, 1942.
"On June 28 the Squadron lost its next plane. Lieutenant Wilmarth, his co-pilot, Lieutenant Story, navigator, Lieutenant Tibbetts, and bombardier, Lieutenant Magers, were about to take off when the bomb bay burst into flames. The officers and men hastily escaped through side and top hatches, by which time the plane was burning furiously. The bomb bay tanks had been filled with the doors closed, and fumes were ignited by a spark. In a few minutes the plane and its contents were charred, twisted metal.
"By June 30 the Squadron was receiving instruction from the Navy in torpedo bombing. It might be noted here that at that time the 69th and 70th Bombardment Squadrons were the only medium bombers that were being trained to carry torpedoes and to use them against surface craft.
"On July 1 came the first alert, and the ships stood by with bombs and torpedoes. The cause: an unidentified ship which later proved friendly. A day or so later three planes were sent out to find a Japanese submarine. They sighted only a whale in the given location.
"On July 3 the squadron navigator, Lieut. Daniel M. Feeley, went with Lieutenant Stephenhagen, a TBD pilot from the Lexington, to confer with Colonel Rich and Admiral McCain aboard the seaplane tender U.S.S. Curtis in the Noumea Harbor, on Navy procedure in patrolling sectors that were to be assigned to the 69th. It was necessary at that time to arrange for weather service, code agreements, and methods of communication. The squadron had no Intelligence section, and lacked maps, charts, and recognition signal procedure. At one time, in fact, the navigators were compelled to make their own charts when given patrol sectors extending toward Guadalcanal.
"On the morning of July 6 all 12 planes, each carrying four quarter-ton bombs, were ordered to the northwest tip of New Caledonia to intercept the Japanese fleet, which was reported headed for the island. Fortunately the fleet failed to appear. The next day the squadron continued practicing torpedo runs.
"On July 11 an alert was called when an enemy submarine was sighted, and also on that day the last B-26, piloted by Lieutenant Long, arrived from Hawaii. On the 15th Burhus with Lieutenants Martin and Gustafson landed the first bomber on the runway at Efate, New Hebrides. They picked up Brig. Gen. W. I. Rose, Island Commander, and flew over Espiritu Santo, the first army plane to do so. General Rose pointed out a field of stumps that was to become strip number One. Leaving the General at Efate, the plane returned to Plaines des Gaiacs, where the next two days were spent on gas consumption tests to determine whether flights to Guadalcanal and return were possible.
"It was at this time, July 17, that the first list of squadron promotions overseas came through. Lieutenants Waddleton, Wright, Long, Johnston, Glover, Lingemfelter, Nichols, and Saunders became captains; and Dickinson, Story, Whitley, Doolittle, Reardon, Schuman, Tkac, White, Weisner, Field, Wagner, Villines, Howbert, Wilmarth, and Martin were promoted to the rank of first lieutenants. (EDITOR'S NOTE: It may be of interest to note that the Doolittle referred to above is the first cousin of Glen Doolittle, and the son of General Jimmy Doolittle of "Tokyo Raid" fame. Young Doolittle remained with the 69th until August 4, 1943, when he was rotated to the States. Shortly thereafter he received his Captaincy and was ordered to duty in the European Theatre of Operations.)
"On July 19 Captain Burhus with Lieutenant Howbert escorted the first four P-39's to Efate and returned with three F4F's-and 30 cases of beer, to everyone's joy.
"At this time a plan to have the 69th take off from Efate, carrying two 1000-pound bombs or one torpedo, fly to Guadalcanal, and return was projected. Captain Burhus insisted the runway at Efate was too short for a B-26 to take off with that load and that it was impossible to carry enough gas to make the round trip non-stop he refused to send his men out on what he considered a suicide mission, although he did offer to go himself. The following day he was relieved and assigned to the 65th Materiel Squadron at Tontouta. Captain Collins became the commanding officer and Captain Benling was appointed 'B' flight leader.
"Several days before, on July 15, when nine B-26's, six with torpedoes and three with six 100-pound bombs, were practicing coordinated torpedo runs with the destroyer, U. S. S. MacFarland, off Noumea Harbor, an enemy submarine surfaced in their midst and immediately crash-dived. One plane, piloted by Captain Wright and Lieutenant Howbert, with navigator Lieutenant Chambers and bombardier Lieutenant Kemp, dropped their bombs as the destroyer released depth charges. The submarine was destroyed, and the B-26 was credited with an assist.
"On August 2 and for six days thereafter, the Squadron sent four B-26s to patrol a sector that covered 167,000 square miles. Their missions were air cover for an 'important task force' headed for the Solomon Islands.
"On August 5th and thereafter for approximately six weeks, the 69th sent six B-26s on a daily anti-submarine patrol south and west of Noumea. The day before, four B-26's had searched south of the Isle of Pines for two lost Navy planes.
"On August 8 and 12, ships of our fleet were escorted into the Noumea Harbor by the 69th and on the 13th the squadron conducted a search for the crippled cruiser, U.S.S. Chicago. On the 11 a new patrol of three planes daily toward the Solomons area was inaugurated.
"On August 16 six planes conducted a search over a 3,000 mile area for the survivors of the destroyer, U.S.S. Jarvis, and on the 22nd the three planes on daily patrol toward the Solomons were called off, while six planes with torpedoes were ordered to stand by.
"Five days later the squadron's former commanding officer, Captain Burhus, was killed. A P-400 (English version of the P-39) which Captain Burhus was test flying at Tontouta burst into flames shortly after the take off. On September I the 69th, with a nine plane formation, flew over the U.S, Military Cemetery to pay honor to Captain Burhus at his burial. The 69th's former commander had achieved the respect and love of every man in his organization. Both his officers and men knew that he showed no favoritism, and they knew that he never demanded anything of them that he would not require of himself.
"On September 5, Generals Harmon and Patch with Colonel Rich came to Plaines de Gaiac to present Captain Collins and his crew with the Distinguished Service Cross for their part in the Battle of Midway. Technical Sergeant White, Technical Sergeant Dunn, and Lieutenant Weems were present, but the co-pilot, Lieutenant Villines, was in the hospital.
"On September 7, Lieutenants Field, Wilmarth, Weems, and Feeley were the first officers to go to Australia on what was to be the only vacation the 69th had been granted in its 13 months overseas. On the 15th nine planes carrying torpedoes left for Efate on an alert. The Japanese fleet again was reported headed southward toward New Caledonia.
"It was the night before that two members of the 69th figured in another incident that helps to highlight the history of the outfit. On September 13th, a crashed B-17E was sighted on a reef 135 miles north of Plaines des Gaiacs, off the shore of Belop Island. Several survivors on the beach were apparently in distress. Captain Lingamfelter, acting Operations Officer, prepared the OS2U-3, which had been assigned to the squadron by ComAirSoPac as liaison plane and crash boat, for take off. Lieut. James W. Magers, a bombardier who was adept at first aid, offered to accompany him.
"Packing medical supplies, food, and water into the plane, they took off and located the survivors late that afternoon. Lieutenant Magers rowed the supplies ashore and attended to two men, finding it unwise to move them. He then returned to the OS2U, which by this time was drifting seaward, for the small anchor would not hold in the coral bottom. The starter switch failed to function, and after 30 minutes effort the officers abandoned the plane, paddling two miles back to shore. After an hour and half struggle against a choppy sea, they joined the survivors on the beach. The next two days were trying ones without sufficient food or water, but on the 15th a PBY-5 landed, taxied into shore, and rescued them.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: The rescue of these men by PBY becomes the first rescue of men by Dumbo plane in Group history, a forerunner of events yet to come.)
"Several days later on September 18th the 69th lost its next B-26 when Lieutenant Wilmarth, with Lieutenants Field and Tibbetts and six enlisted men, on a flight to Efate from Plaines des Gaiacs were lost in bad weather. The radio compass was out and after turning the plane around and heading back for what fortunately was land, the crew was forced to bail out over Espiritu Santo. All men landed safely on or near the shore, except one man, Pfc Edwin R. Wilkening, who was lost in the sea.
"On the 21st the nine planes at Efate returned to Plaines des Gaiacs. The alert was off, and the Japanese fleet again had failed to appear. On the 23rd the squadron was supposed to leave for Guadalcanal, but the runway at Henderson Field was not long enough to accommodate a B-26. The following day the squadron learned for the first time that it was to receive B-25s. On September 30 the squadron continued practicing torpedo runs.
"On September 24th the squadron received its first pilot replacement from the States, Lieut. Matthew W. Glossinger, the first man who had been trained in a twin engine school. All the other pilots, without exception, had been trained in pursuit or attack tactics.
"Two weeks later the officers celebrated the completion of their new club, the result of four weeks' hard work. The 26 by 60-foot building was erected using native materials entirely, except for a cement floor. Hard wood uprights, split bamboo sidings lashed with strips of bark, and a bark roof made this structure original enough to warrant an article about it in February, 1943, issue of Air Force magazine. The club was unique in one respect at least. The manual labor required for its erection was done entirely by the officers themselves. A case of whiskey was donated by Colonel Rich for the club's opening, and the celebration included the presentation of a cow bell to the squadron navigator.
"On October 9 Captain Lingamfelter had escorted a squadron of P-39s to Efate and Espiritu Santo. On the 11th, at the direction of General Harmon, the 69th commenced navigation instruction for air transport men in New Caledonia, and in the nine following days several 69th officers navigated C-47s to Guadalcanal, Fiji, and Espiritu Santo.
"On the 17th a P-39K was assigned to the Squadron, while from the 13th to the 21st the 69th was again on alert, standing by with 1000-pound bombs and torpedoes. It was at this time that General H. H. Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces, stopped at Plaines des Gaiacs where be personally commended the men of the 69th Bombardment Squadron for their unstinting labor, excellent morale, and hard work. Specifically he praised the ingenuity of the commanding officer, Captain Collins, and the armament officer, Lieutenant Rosar, for the construction of the improvised forward gun installation made of welded sections of oil drums.
"For months the lack of supplies had made the maintenance of the airplanes a serious problem, and it was only the ingenuity of the officers and men of the engineering and armament sections that kept the B-26s in the air. Oil drum sections replaced cracked exhaust stacks, common fence wire was used for welding rods. The 69th truly operated on a shoe-string.
"On October 25 supplies and food were dropped from B-26s to the survivors of a C-47 sighted on a reef off northwest New Caledonia. During the last weeks of October, Captain Collins, the commanding officer, was promoted to major, and on the 28th the first two B-25s were assigned to the squadron. By November 10 there were three more.
"On November 10, 1942, the Air Echelon went to Espiritu Santo, and four B-26s made a round trip flight to Guadalcanal, returning the next day. Again there was no place for the 69th at Guadalcanal, for at that time gasoline was so scarce there it was being ferried in by plane.
"On December 2, 1942, the Air Echelon arrived at McDonald Field, Efate, carrying crews, equipment, and fresh meat in the form of live pigs, chickens, as well as some stray dogs and cats. Five days later the Ground Echelon arrived from New Caledonia aboard the Irving McDowell. The officers fell to, and for a day or two they turned truck driver, stevedore, and deckhand. The Ground Echelon was disembarked in record time.
"A few days previously Major Collins bad departed for Australia to obtain the first modified B-25 at Amberley Field, so when the 69th proceeded to Guadalcanal on December 31, Captain Behling, "B" Flight Leader, was acting Commanding Officer. Upon arrival they were put on an immediate alert, and in less than two hours they took off to bomb Munda. Upon returning from the raid late in the afternoon, they were assigned a campsite. Down in a hollow which had been used as a garbage dump, the squadron crawled in under salvaged Marine tents. With the stench of garbage strong in their noses, the men and officers of the 69th spent their first night on Guadalcanal.
"The next day bombs were dropped on Rekata Bay from 7000 feet, and contact was made with nine enemy float planes. Rekata Bay was to be a fateful place for the 69th. During the next week five more raids were made on Munda, Rekata Bay, and Japanese positions on Guadalcanal. It was during this week that the 69th received replacements, who joined the ground echelon at Efate. They were: pilots, Lieut. Lloyd D. Spies, Lieut. Henry A. Schmidt, Lieut. Albert M. Burbank, Jr., Lieut. Wirt M. Corrie; navigator, Lieut. Edward L. Ostrove; and bombardier, Lieut. Elmer H. Steege.
"On January 7, 1943, Captain Behling and his crew were shot down over Rekata Bay while leading a flight of six planes. The other pilots were; Captain Long, Captain Lingamfelter, Captain Wright, Lieutenant Howbert, and Lieutenant Field. From 300 feet, 100-pound fragmentation bombs were dropped on the Japs bivouac area, and converging automatic AA fire scored direct hits on Captain Behling's plane. Lost with him were Lieutenants Wiesner, Spadone, and Hughes, along with radio operator S/Sgt. Otis L. Sharp, tall gunner Pfc Robert Pietroluengo, and engineer Sgt. Daniel Mulcahy.
"Lieutenant Fields' plane had 37 bullet holes in it, while Lieutenant Howbert's ship was perforated in 64 places. Captain Wright escaped unscathed, but Captain Lingamfelter's ship lost the hydraulic system and gas lines, and his whole crew was forced to bail out over Guadalcanal. This included co-pilot Lieutenant Reardon, navigator Lieutenant McNutt, bombardier Lieutenant Goldstein, engineer Staff Sergeant Governale, radio operator Technical Sergeant Clark, and gunner Staff Sergeant Ritnour.
"With the possible exception of their former Commanding Officer, Captain Burhus, the loss of Captain Behling was the greatest shock sustained by the men in the squadron. Aside from being a superb pilot, Captain Behling was a natural leader and the guiding light in the squadron. A tall, handsome officer with ability and considerable personal charm, be was beloved by the officers and almost adored by the enlisted men. Captain Waddleton, the Operations Officer, became acting Commanding Officer. The squadron had made 11 strikes during this tour at Guadalcanal, and for wounds received in the Rekata Bay attack bombardier Lieut. Robert H. Hudson received the Purple Heart.
"On January 12th the flying personnel rejoined the Ground Echelon at Efate. Here sickness and disease caught up with the squadron, and many men were confined to the hospital with malaria, dysentery, dengue, and a few with psycho-neuroses. Discharged from the hospital at Efate, Lieutenants Field, Weems, Schurman, and Krogh were sent back to the States.
"During the last two weeks in January there were only six navigators for 12 ships, and they did their own jobs as well as that of the bombardiers; occasionally they even rode as co-pilots. For three days from January 27th to 30th the 69th searched for the downed B-17 which had carried General Twining and Colonel Jamison from Guadalcanal to Espiritu Santo.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Maj. Gen. Nathan Twining, Commanding General of the Thirteenth Air Force, and later of the 15th and 20th Air Force, and Colonel Jamison, later Brigadier General commanding the XIII Bomber Command, were forced down at sea. They spent six days afloat in their rubber rafts before they were rescued.)
"And it was during the last week in January, 1943, that more pilot replacements arrived. They were: Capt. Charles W. Brown, Lieut. Civa Kivipelto, Lieut. Frank P. Jensen, and Lt. Arthur M. Wright, Jr. Major Collins returned from Australia that week and resumed command.
"On January 26th, ground echelon left on the transport Hunter Liggett for Guadalcanal, and they arrived on February 9th, after stopping at Espiritu Santo. On the 7th, while they were still unloading, orders came for the ship to leave Guadalcanal, as an invasion force was expected. The ship returned two days later, and the ground echelon set up camp 100 yards from the military cemetery.
"It was then that the squadron's morale sank to its lowest. Officers and men collapsed from sickness and strain; a whole crew had been lost at Rekata Bay, and despite the new additions to the squadron, the announcement of the 69th's return to Guadalcanal, after having been promised relief and return to the States, was sufficient to discourage the most optimistic members of the Squadron. However, there was still some hope, for Major Collins asserted that be bad been assured the 69th would return to the States after its next tour at the Canal.
"On January 30, 1943, the crews returned to Guadalcanal, with the rest of the air echelon arriving on February 5. They learned that Major Collins had been assigned to Thirteenth Air Force Headquarters and that Lieut. Col. Francis L. Rivard was their new Commanding Officer. During this second stay in the Solomons the 69th had only four navigators for eight ships, and during two weeks period there they ran six missions.
"On February 9, the 69th bombed Vila for the first time, and three days later during an attack on the same target, bombardier Lieut. Anthony Korumpas was wounded. On the 15th another attack on Vila was made from medium altitude, and five planes were hit with AA fire.
"Three men in Lieutenant Wilmarth's plane were injured, and along with that goes another little story illustrating the morale of the 69th. Shortly after his plane was hit, Lieutenant Wilmarth called back to radio operator Technical Sergeant Murchison and engineer Staff Sergeant Hamilton; both admitted they had received slight cuts. Pfc. Robert Lawrence, the tail gunner, replied that he was "all right." However, when the navigator, Lieutenant Tibbetts, attended to the first two men and then went to the tail of the ship, Lawrence admitted he couldn't come forward. An inspection of his foot showed that a piece of shrapnel had severed one toe and that another hung only by a thread of flesh.
"On February 19, 1943, the 69th air echelon left for Nandi, Fiji, and Captain Lingamfelter was made Commanding Officer. Captain Waddleton was ordered back to the States, as were Captain Wright, Lieutenant Chambers, and Lieutenant Bartos after sojourns in the hospital.
"On February 27 all the B-26 airplanes were transfered to the 70th Bomb Squadron (M), and new B-25s with crews began to arrive in March.
"On March 22, 1943, by order of the Thirteenth Air Force, the 69th and 70th Squadrons were assigned to the 42nd Bombardment Group (M), commanded by Col. Harry E. Wilson. At this time the B-25s were being modified at Eagle Farms, Australia, and at the 13th Air Depot, Tontouta, New Caledonia, with eight fixed forward firing .50 caliber machine guns. The squadron began a three month training program of strafing and low altitude bombing.
"On the night of March 27th during a Japanese bombing raid on Guadalcanal, the following 69th Ground Echelon men were wounded when bombs landed in the bivouac area: Pfc. David Brabrock, S/Sgt. Julius Balm, Sgt. Clifford Humphrey, T/Sgt. John Kilgore, S/Sgt. Daniel Nenish, and Cpl. Amos Moore.
"In March Captain Lingamfelter went to the hospital with malaria, and Captain Johnston acted as Commanding Officer until April 11, 1943, when Capt. John F. Sharp of the 70th was appointed Commanding Officer by Colonel Wilson. During April and May the 69th received more replacements to compensate for its losses from sickness, men lost in action, and others relieved.
"On March 12 the squadron had learned from Colonel McCormick of Thirteenth Air Force Headquarters that the promotions of 10 officers, who had been recommended for the second time, would be refused, that no leaves would be forthcoming, and that the 69th would be the first squadron to return to Guadalcanal-for the third time. So the continued practice of skip bombing left no doubt in anyone's mind where the next move would be."
At this point, we pick up the history of the 70th. To the Crusaders who arrived overseas with the 42nd Headquarters, much of this may appear ancient and even meaningless, but to the men who preceded us these pages will bring back nostalgic, possibly even bitter, memories of their lives overseas.
On the 15th day of May, seven flying officers bearing the rank of Lieutenants (Sharp, Eddy, Larson, Boden, Hawkins, Jones, and Griffith), plus two flying cadets, Sage and Brown, were assigned to the squadron. Cadets Sage and Brown were the squadron's first navigators.
On June 1, the Squadron was ordered to Jackson Air Base, Jackson, Mississippi. In this new air base, the squadron strength was increased, and two B-18s were assigned for training purposes. It was only a matter of a little more than a month before one of them was sent on detached service to New Orleans. Flight training was carried on then, in the "Reluctant Dragon", sometimes referred to as the "Bucket of Bolts."
During this hot summer month, Maj. Flint Garrison took over the command of the unit, and three non-flying officers were added to the list of personnel. They were Lieutenants Wilburn, Bancom, and Glover. They were assigned as Mess Officer, A &R Officer, and Adjutant, respectively. On the 25th, 50 draftees were assigned to duty with the squadron, part of the first group of selective service men to be assigned to a tactical Air Force unit. For the succeeding two months, routine training was carried on in the B-18.
About the middle of October, Lieutenants Morrison, Sherlock, Sethness, Treat, Martin, Miller, Smith, Evans, Durbin, and Washingtom were assigned to the squadron, followed shortly by cadet navigators Viens and Schaper. Soon after this 18 other officers arrived. They were: Lieutenants Otis, Saul, Haynes, O'Connor, Ray, Rudolph, Thorburn, Van Story, Hahlen, Perry, Reardon, Cushing, Quinn, Lindsay, Huggs, Neeld, Mitchell, and Paterson. Such rapid expansion of the squadron was augmented by the assignment of B-26 airplanes to the Group. Some of the more seasoned pilots began to master the eccentricities of these new craft. Initial training in the B-26s was conducted during the month.
A hectic period of activity resulting from the treacherous Jap attack on the 7th, marks this as probably the most memorable month in the history of the Squadron. Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Squadron assumed full military status, and activities were conducted with new wartime grimness. On December 8th the airplanes and crews were ordered to Savannah, Georgia, to conduct patrol missions along the Atlantic Coast. After six days of patrols and alerts, danger from that quarter was removed, and the planes and their crews returned to Jackson. All, that is, except the "Reluctant Dragon", which remained in Georgia. Additional changes in officer personnel also took place during the month. Lieutenants Wilburn, Baucom, and Glover left the Squadron, and were replaced by Lieutenants Palmieri and Shockley, Flight Surgeon and Adjutant, respectively. To add to the confusion of this trying period, the group had received orders to pack up in preparation for moving at some uncertain date to some undisclosed destination.
just one year after its activation we find the 70th Bombardment Squadron (M) weighted down with problems befitting a veteran organization. On January 10, 53 men were transferred from Keesler Field, Biloxi, Mississippi, into the Squadron, and on the 12th, ten more came in from McDlll Field. Orders to complete packing for movement were received, and on the 19th, the Squadron, along with the rest of the 38th Bombardment Group, was moved to Port of Embarkation, San Francisco, California.
Prior to moving, however, Lieutenants McMurdy, Lindsay, Quinn, Neeld, Perry, Cushing, Mitchell, Hahlem, and Paterson were transferred out. Colonel Upthegrove relieved Colonel Knapp as Commanding Officer of the 38th. On January 24, Colonel Garrison was relieved of his command, and Lieutenant Stefonowicz became the Squadron's Commanding Officer again. On January 23, after a four-day journey by train, the Squadron camped in the "Cow Palace" at San Francisco. Six days later the Ground Echelon, composed of three officers, Captain Schockley, Lieutenants Palmieri and Schmedes, and 204 enlisted men, boarded the U. S. A. T. Tasker H. Bliss. The Bliss set sail January 31 for destination "unknown". Meanwhile, the Air Echelon remained behind, pending further orders.
At about this time Lieutenant Reardon was transferred to the 71st Bombardment Squadron (M) and six navigators were acquired by the organization: Lieutenants Rux, Soles, Ryder, R. W. Koch, Hufstedler, and Lundquist. The rest of the Squadron enjoyed an extended furlough and put in their flying time in BT's at Moffett Field.
From January 31 to February 25 this portion of the Squadron sailed across the blue Pacific in defiance of lurking enemy subs. Life on the boat was marked by undulating stomachs, endless chow lines, P. X. lines, barber lines, water lines, and worry lines. Finally, they disembarked at Brisbane, Australia.
On the 2nd of March the Air Echelon of the 38th Bombardment Group (M) received orders to report to Patterson Field for further training in B-26s. During the five-day journey by train the men were elated at the prospect of being permitted to remain in the States for training, but were still skeptical about their new planes. Arriving at Patterson, their elation was soon dampened by unexpected confusion resulting from poor accommodations and unreliable equipment. The officers were housed in a ramshackle gymnasium where confusion reigned from dawn to dusk. The enlisted men were more fortunate in being placed in tents or barracks. On the evening of March 20, the Squadron's first major accident occurred. Lieutenant Hawkins, Lieutenant Hux, Lieutenant Van Story, and Sergeant Morgan were killed in the crash of a B-26 during a navigational flight. Next day the second calamity occurred. On a ferry mission from Patterson field to Jackson, Mississippi, Lieutenant Jones and Sergeant Gemein were killed and Lieutenant Huggs injured in the crash of the plane on which they were passengers.
After being set up under canvas on the Dumbdon Race Track about five miles from downtown Brisbane for a period of six days, the Ground Echelon once again was herded aboard the Tasker H. Bliss. On March 3 they departed for a five-day voyage to Melbourne. On the 8th they debarked at this second largest city in Australia, but there was no time in which to tour the city, for the trains were waiting to transfer the men to the Gold City of Ballarat. Arriving at Ballarat on the evening of the same day, all men were soon billeted in homes of hospitable citizens. After eight most pleasant days of living in private homes, all were moved into a recently established tent camp beside the Royal Australian Air Force field, about five miles from town, The rest of the month was occupied in improving the camp facilities. At this time we acquired two new flying officers, Lieutenant Glasser and Hearrick.
Training in B-26s continued and the command of the 38th Group again changed from Colonel Upthegrove to Colonel Lewis. On the 21st, seven more navigators were taken into the Squadron. They were: Lieutenants Burns, Drewyours, Honett, Lewis, Snodgrass, Sullivan, and Winemiller.
By way of training, the Ground Echelon received several lectures on Japanese tactics and rifle practice. On Sunday the 19th, most of the squadron, with the exception of the motor convoy which left the night before, boarded a train for Wagga Wagga. After traveling half way, it was necessary to change trains at Albury because of a different gauge track from that point northward.
On the 8th, twelve bombardiers were assigned to the Squadron. They were all second lieutenants and recent graduates of bombardiers' school. They were Lieutenants Coon, Deblitz, Cooke, Douglas, Ellis, Feldberg, Feldman, Frederick, Gillis, Golden, Schuster, and Wilensky. In addition, Lieutenant Henry Dulac was assigned as Armament Officer. On May 20 the Squadron became a separate Squadron because of the breaking up of the 38th Group. In this new status, Captain Stefonowicz was still in command, with Captains Sharp, Eddy, and Callaham in command of A, B, and C flights, respectively. Captain Callaham, incidentally, along with Lieutenant J. D. Ryder and McNeese, was transferred into the 70th at about the same time the bombardiers were acquired. Also on May 20th, in compliance with orders, the Air Echelon flew from Patterson Field to McClellan Field on the first leg of their journey to the Fiji Islands. In Sacramento, ten days were spent in preparing the planes for the overwater hop to Hickam Field. When the planes were finally ready, they proceeded in flights to Hamilton Field for final refueling and briefing before the 2200 mile flight. Lieutenants Lundquist and Styler, because of illness, were unable to accompany the Squadron from Patterson and were exchanged for Lieutenants Brinskelle and Weldy, who served as navigators for subsequent flights.
The Ground Echelon spent nearly a month in the town of Wagga Wagga. During this time some of the mechanics assisted the local depot in repairing airplanes, while the rest carried on essential squadron duties and sharpened their social wits. At 0400 on May 16, after only 12 hours of preparation, all boarded a train for an overland journey back to Brisbane. Very little time was lost in transferring equipment from train to boat. On the same day, together with the 69th Bombardment Squadron (M), they set sail for New Caledonia on a small, unimposing Dutch steamer the Cremer. On the evening of the 20th the Cremer stopped at Noumea, where the 69th was put ashore. The next day found the 70th at sea again, still heading east on the last leg of their overseas journey. On the evening of May 23 they dropped anchor at Suva Harbor, Fiji, for the night and the next day proceeded to Lautoka. At Lautoka, the men and equipment were Put ashore on trucks and transported to Nandi Air Base, their first permanent base in the Combat Zone.
On June 2 the B-26s, with a minimum crew of pilots, co-pilots, navigators and radio operators, took to the air on a feat never before attempted in this type of plane, an over-water flight of 2200 miles in a land-based medium bomber. The indomitable courage of these aerial pioneers brought each of the 13 planes across the wide expanses of the Pacific to Hickam Field without mishap. The crew chiefs, extra personnel and equipment, were sent to the same destination by Ferry Command. The crash of an LB-30 on take-off at Hamilton Field caused the death of Sergeants Mazeikas Pilareik, Haynes, and Kulis. The B-26s and crews, having arrived at Hickam, underwent additional training in high altitude bombing and torpedo runs. At this time the Battle of Midway was in progress and, although none of the 70th Bombardment Squadron took part in the battle, they were required to maintain an alert.
Having successfully weathered the trials of constant movement since leaving the States, the Ground Echelon now proceeded to build a substantial camp in a secluded spot along a Fiji river bank. The camp was unusually well concealed by natural camouflage. However, it was not immune to the ravages of Mother Nature. On June 13, following persistent downpours, the river overflowed its banks and the camp site was inundated. The water rose so rapidly that the camp was destroyed and much of the equipment was lost. Fortunately, there was no loss in personnel. Pyramidal tents were set up on a hilltop for temporary refuge.
During this month the Air Echelon completed its lengthy trip to the Fiji Islands. One incident marred the total success of this pioneering venture. On July 3 Lieutenant Durbin's plane crashed when taking-off from Hickam for Christmas Island. Lieutenant Winemiller and Sergeant Arnold were killed and Lieutenants Durbin and Evans suffered serious Injuries. In defiance of such misfortune, the flights proceeded on successive days from Hickam to Christmas Island, Canton Island, and finally Nandi Air Base. The last planes completed the journey on July 9.
Here the Air Echelon and the Ground Echelon were united. During the latter part of the month, the Squadron again changed camp sites. This time they moved into a renovated native village which proved to be an ideal location for Squadron activities. On July third, 19 torpedo maintenance men from the ill-fated carrier Lexington were attached to the Squadron.
The Squadron, having finally become oriented at its permanent base, proceeded to carry on training by conducting transition flights for co-pilots, making torpedo runs, and practicing skip bombing. In addition, co-ordinated missions were carried out in conjunction with the R. N. Z. A. F. On August 12, Lieutenant Morrison's plane No. 64, taxied into a ditch when Sergeant Schwartz was being checked-out in taxiing. This accident cut the strength down to eleven planes. On the 29th, Captain Stefonowicz, still the Commanding Officer, was promoted to Major.
Training of combat crews continued throughout the month, with occasional time out to maintain alerts because of enemy threats. By the way of social diversions, the officers put on a vaudeville show for the enlisted men. The latter reciprocated with a similar presentation. By this time, facilities for a Squadron theatre were installed and then more modern form of entertainment started.
On Friday, October 13, a P-39 collided in mid-air with plane No. 90, killing all members of the crew: Lieutenants O'Conner, Otis, Douglas, Drewyours, and enlisted men Ramsey, Spencer, and Howard. This left 10 planes in the Squadron. Just prior to the crash Lieutenant Smith and his crew took off for Australia. He returned three weeks later with equipment for increasing the airplanes' fire power.
This month marked the initiation of the 70th in actual combat maneuvers. On November 13 General Harmon's headquarters ordered the Squadron airplanes to Espiritu Santo. Next day, loaded with torpedoes, they took off in flight order and arrived without incident. At Santo the torpedoes of four planes were replaced by two 1000-pound bombs. Orders were soon given for the Squadron to take off for Guadalcanal. At 1600 of the same day, the planes took off, arriving at the 'Canal at dusk. The night was spent near various fox-holes while a naval battle raged off the coast. On the 16th the Squadron saw its first action in an attack on four transports and their landing parties. Lieutenant Griffith's plane, No. 50, was credited with a direct hit on one of the transports, while the other planes caused considerable damage to personnel and equipment. At noon orders to return to "Buttons" were received and by 1400 all planes except Lieutenant Boden's and Captain Eddy's took-off. A tropical front was encountered and the planes were separated. Captain Callaham's plane, No. 58, developed engine trouble and went down off the coast of San Cristobal Islands. His crew consisted of Lieutenants McNeese, Hufstedler, and Feldman, Sergeant House, Pfc. R. Gray and Private Lawler. The rest of the planes arrived safely at "Santos." On the 17th, just two days later, the Squadron was again ordered to the 'Canal to prepare for a raid on Bougainville Island in coordination with B-17s and P-39s. Unfortunately, only three planes were able to return to the 'Canal. These were: Major Stefonowicz's, Lieutenant Morrison's, and Lieutenant Cressy's. These three, plus the two that were still there from the former visit, were to form the flight for the impending raid. However, Lieutenant Cressy's ship developed engine trouble and couldn't participate. On the morning of the 18th, the four ships took off on the raid, the primary target, a tanker, located in Friendship Harbor. While over the target, several float bi-planes intercepted, two of which were shot down by our flight, one by tall-gunner Kittle in Lieutenant Boden's ship and the other by turret-gunner Doerr in Captain Eddy's ship. All four planes returned to the 'Canal. There they were serviced, flown to Santos, and back to their home base at Nandi.
Just one year after the beginning of this maelstrom, the 70th Bombardment Squadron (M) found itself thousands of miles from the States, better trained than ever before, and "still confident that an early settlement of this international dispute will be realized." On Christmas Eve, Lieutenant Morrison took off on a practice bombing mission. Upon landing, his main gear collapsed, and the plane crashed, caught fire, and was completely destroyed. The crew escaped. This accident decreased the plane strength to eight. On December 25 three planes were ordered to report to the 'Canal on temporary duty with the 69th Squadron. Captain Eddy volunteered to take his flight. On the same morning Lieutenant Griffith received orders transferring him to the 68th Fighter Squadron. His plane, No. 50, was taken by Lieutenant Treat with Lieutenant John D. Ryder as co-pilot, and they became the third plane of Captain Eddy's flight. On December 31st "B" flight arrived at the 'Canal, and ran their first bombing mission over Munda Point.
"B" flight began the New Year by bombing Munda Point again. On January 2, while leading a six-plane formation over Munda, Captain Eddy's ship was set on fire by a burst of AA in the right engine. The pilot headed his burning plane toward Rendova Island and after an attempt to extinguish the fire, held his plane in a glide while his crew balled out. Captain Eddy left his plane at a very low altitude and luckily parachuted to safety. All members of the crew reached the Jap-infested Rendova with the exception of Lieutenant Hendrick, who was presumably killed in jumping. These survivors hid out on Rendova for three days. Supplies were dropped by Lockheed Hudsons on the second day. On the third night a raiding sub surfaced and took the men on board. The sub was on its way to a two-week raid on Jap shipping in Friendship Harbor. The crew accompanied the sub on its foray and weeks later were finally set ashore at the sub's home port in Australia.
At Henderson Field the remaining two planes under Lieutenant Martin carried on bombing attacks with the 69th. On January 7th Captain Behling of the 69th led two elements in a low altitude bombing attack. Being without a plane, Captain Behling borrowed Lieutenant Treat's plane, No. 50, for the mission. There was no element of surprise in this raid and the entire flight encountered heavy ground fire. Captain Behling was shot down shortly after releasing his bombs. Two other planes were badly damaged, one completely destroyed when the crew balled out over Henderson Field. On January 9 the 69th moved back to Efate.
On January 9 Major Stefonowicz, Captain Sharp, Lieutenants Morrison, and Miller took off in planes No. 62, 47, 76, and 69 for the 'Canal. Upon their arrival they made their first raid on Munda Point in a five-plane formation led by Lieutenant Martin, On January 12, Lieutenant Martin became temporary leader of "B" flight. In the meantime a strenuous schedule of bombing was continued.
On January 20 Major Stefonowicz and Lieutenant Smith initiated a new tactic, raiding Jap shipping at night off Bougainville. During full moon these tactics proved highly successful. On one of these strikes the Major's crew attacked and sank a Jap destroyer off Bougainville. These raids continued as long as the weather and the moon permitted.
On January 23, Captain Larson, with Lieutenants Boden and Cressy and crews, arrived at the 'Canal on a C-47. These crews had previously been left behind due to the shortage of planes. Upon arrival, Captain Larson took over as Operations Officer, and acted as Major Stefonowicz's co-pilot. On the same day the camp area was moved from the hollow to a more sanitary spot near the Communications tunnels. Bombing raids were carried on one or two times daily for the balance of the month without a casualty.
On February 2 four planes were ordered to search north of Guadalcanal. While on this search Captain Sharp's plane engaged a Mavis, four-engine Kawanishi Flying Boat, in a lop-sided dog fight. With a large hole in one wing Captain Sharp withdrew, leaving the Jap plane with one burning engine and one shot out. A coast watcher later reported the plane crashed off Santa Isobel Island. Due to a shortage of ground crew and equipment it became increasingly difficult to keep the planes in commission.
On February 4 when orders came through for the Squadron to return to Fiji, only two planes were fit for combat. On the 6th the squadron landed at Fiji.
While the Air Echelon was at Guadalcanal, the Ground Crews moved the camp area to Nandi Air Base. On February 11 Lieutenants Boden, Treat, and J. D. Ryder were given orders to take three planes to Tontouta for repairs. While waiting for the planes, the three crews were given orders to go to Auckland, New Zealand, on detached service. These were the first of the 70th crews to go on rest leave. While in Auckland the officers were billeted in the famed Red Cross rest home, "Kia Ora." The enlisted men stayed downtown in one of the hotels. Three weeks were spent in New Zealand and to coin a phrase, were highly enjoyed by all.
During this month the 70th Bombardment Squadron (M) and the 69th Bombardment Squadron (M) were incorporated into the 42nd Bombardment Group (M) under the command of Col. Harry E. Wilson.
With the formation of the new Group, 70th tactics were again centered on low level bombing and strafing. All the B-26's of the 69th were turned over to the 70th when the 69th received new B-25s. New schooling was instituted by the Group, stepping up the schedule to a nine hour day.
Another early narrative written by a staff sergeant in the 70th Intelligence Section, Meyer Bernstein, deserves a place in this book, if it is to be an all revealing report on the Crusaders.
"The 70th was one of the first tactical outfits ordered to the war zones. The convoy carrying it to Australia was the earliest to make the non-stop run across the Pacific. Leaving San Francisco 30 January 1942 when the enemy was rapidly advancing south and eastward, their ship was pitifully under-protected. The original destination was Rangoon-railhead to the Burma Road-but that city came under close attack while the 70th was at sea, and the Squadron disembarked at Brisbane, Australia, instead.
"The Yanks were a novelty "Down Under." If a 'dogface' entered a dance hall, the band immediately struck up the Star Spangled Banner. He had his pick of any partner in the room. The squadron spent four months in the land of the koalas, the wombat, and the platypus.
"The 70th will recall nostalgically the delights of Australia: the beer, the beautiful and endearing women, steak-and-eggs dinners, wholesome milk, the kindness of the country folk. They will remember all the more because for the next 21 months they were on unrelieved duty deep in the tropics.
"The Japs had taken the Solomons, the Gilberts, and the Ellice Islands, and were heading south to cut the Allied supply lines to Australia. The 70th, therefore, was sent to the Fiji Islands, just below the limit of the Nip advance. A fighter squadron was already there, and the Infantry arrived a few weeks later. All the forces coordinated to defend the Archipelago. Allied possession of the Fiji's was one of the "musts" of the Pacific war. Not only did the islands command convoy routes to the South-west Pacific, but the Nandi Airdrome was a stepping stone on the ferry bomber run westward. Without Nandi, General MacArthur could never have got the planes that blasted the Japs out of New Guinea and the Bismarcks. It was at this strategic base that the 70th was stationed.
"Patrolling daily to the fringes of enemy territory on the lookout for submarine and invasion forces, the Squadron played an important part in the struggle to turn the tide of battle in the Pacific.
"Viti Levu, the largest island in the Fijis, is a typical, lovely tropic island, with lofty mountains, high plateaus, jagged volcanic peaks, rolling plains, meandering rivers, mangrove swamps, retreating deltas, coconut groves, and bush country. It is fringed by coral and numerous bays and bars. Half of the natives-the original stock-are Melanesian, a people amiably indolent, generous, and tactful. The other half are descendants of Indian coolies imported by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company to work its sugar mills and plantations.
"The 70th acquired its first camp site in Fiji by offering the owners tobacco and chewing gum. After the natives better understood foreign exchange, a similar quantity of smokes and candy would not have paid for a single G. I.'s laundry.
"The Finance Department was slow in getting set up, and as a result the boys received their first pay in Fijian and New Zealand currency. Change was made in matches and shaving cream.
"The Indians are a clannish lot, and the soldiers had few dealings with them other than getting laundry done and haggling over the prices of their exquisite handmade jewelry.
"The Fijians lived in native villages governed by a Turanga, or chief. They held Meke's ceremonial dances; tra-la-las, social dances; and celebrations of various sorts in the Army's honor. They made gifts of fruits and vegetables: bananas, guava, mango, papaya, pandanus, breadfruit, sago palm, taro, tapioca, sugar cane, pineapple, and uvi or yams. Acceptance was to a toast of Kava, a beverage that tastes like the dregs of concentrated torpedo bilge. Sometimes they would also give a whale's tooth, signifying abiding friendship, and a woven mat to the Commanding Officer. In exchange he would raid the canteen for the goods they most desired; cigarettes, bonbons, and juices.
"Fijians are natural singers, and they have a song of the islands that puts Hollywood to shame. It is called "Isa Lei", and hearing it sung by a group of natives is an experience never to be forgotten. There is scarcely a man in the Squadron who doesn't know at least the opening Fijian words:
Isa, Isa, vulangi lasa dina Nomu la ko au na rarawa kina (Isa, Isa, you are my only treasure Must you leave me so lonely and forsaken?)
"The girls are in their own way homely; the American movie has sadly misrepresented the type. The Fijians have the high moral tone of first and second generation converts to Christianity. Besides, native Tabus (pronounced Tamboo) strictly control and limit the social lives of the people. The result is that native girls keep their distance. Soon, native villages were off-limits for army personnel.
"There was only one city (pop. 15,000, one sixth European) and that out of reach on the other side of the island. Recreation, in the sense of getting away from Army routine, was out of the question. Nor, for the first year or so, was there any beer or coca cola. It became a pretty dull life for an outfit largely composed of unwilling celibates and reluctant tee-totalers. Fiji was no paradise."
THE WORLD IS
FULL OF NATIVES . . .
Algiers, Rome, London, Paris, Brussels had their natives ... and so did Guadalcanal, Banika, Mono, Moresby, Nadzab, Hollandia, and Sansapor. Oh well, we didn't have to put up with cold weather.
It is at this point that we attempt again to weave the pattern that will depict truly and accurately the story of the Crusaders. Although it was quite a shock to the men of the 69th and 70th to learn that they were not going home, all men dug in at the business at hand. The combat men perfected skip-bombing tactics, low level attack work, and formation flying, while the ground personnel of the 69th made themselves ready for the move to PDG, the place that was to find them when their rotation orders arrived, 25 months from the day they sailed from San Francisco.
The Air Echelons of Headquarters and of the 69th flew to the 'Canal on June 6th, the latter under the command of Captain Sharp. The Air Echelon of the 390th, with liaison officers of the Group, remained at Fiji to complete plane modifications, as did the 70th, which was still awaiting B-25s to replace their 26s. By June 23rd the 390th Flight Echelon, modifications completed, had reached the 'Canal ready for combat assignments.
While most of the combat personnel brought their own planes from Fiji to the 'Canal, there were some men who were ferried via SCAT airlines, a Marine-operated fleet of C-47s. One of these 47s carrying a dozen of our men came to an unhappy end just short of Guadalcanal, landing in the water off the shores of San Cristobal. Luckily there were no lives lost. This plane ran into adverse weather conditions and attempted to fly non-stop from Fiji to Guadalcanal without benefit of a re-fueling stop at Espiritu Santo. Gas almost exhausted, the stricken plane's radio operator sent the following message. "Am going down before dark. Gas almost gone. Am over water at a position 65 miles south of the southern tip of San Cristobal." The landing was a good one, but only one five-man raft was launched. The men alternated sitting in the raft and hanging on to the side of it dangling in the water. By much laborious effort, they managed to get to shore some three hours later. They spent the night on San Cristobal, and early the next morning three Navy Catalinas effected the rescue. In addition to the C-47 crew, whose names are unknown, the combat men involved in this unexpected initiation to the combat zone included: Lieuts. Austin Eivers, John J. Balfour and William A. Dermody, S/Sgts. James C. Houston, Earl T. Oliphant, Henry 0. Brucks, Gilbert H. Elchert, Robert E. Floyd, and John R. Eads, Jr., Sgt. Leo Thibodeau and Pvt. Gerald F. Ansel, plus the 390th Squadron Bombardiering Officer, Lieut. Nathan Ginsburg.
As we pause for a moment upon the threshold of the entrance of the Group, as a Group, into combat, it may perhaps be of interest to review briefly the tactical situation as it existed in the Solomons in June, 1943. Between the initial landing on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942, and February 8, 1943, when organized resistance finally ended, the Marines and doughty members of the Americal and 25th Divisions did a job of jungle warfare that will live forever in the annals of American history. That ground engagement was ably reported and covered in a best-seller written by Dick Tregaskis entitled Guadalcanal Diary and your compilers and narrators have no intention of attempting to reconstruct for you old Crusaders the goings and comings of the Allied Forces during that period. Suffice it for us to touch upon some of the high spots that were born in that period and which became part of the language of the Solomons veteran. Phrases such as "The Tokyo Express," "Washing-Machine Charlie," "The Slot," "Shipping Sweeps," "Condition Red ... .. Coastwatchers," "Dumbos," "Horses," "Box-cars," and "Streetcars," had rich meanings to our Group and will probably be well remembered.
The term "Tokyo Express" was a name informally applied to the convoys with which the Japs attempted to reinforce their Solomon Island positions. Through 1942 and the spring and summer of 1943 these convoys of eight or ten destroyers and a number of transports came down the chain of islands at intervals of every two weeks or so. Guadalcanal was the southern terminus of the "Tokyo Express." At the time of our entry into this area as a Group, the "Express" was the vital and then flourishing Japanese supply line of craft that, with the regularity the railroading term implies, made their way along the northern coast of New Guinea and thence south of New Britain to Buka, there splitting into the two "limited express" lines that ran northward to Truk and southward through "The Slot." The latter phrase was an expression all used to denote the body of water that ran through the heart of the Solomon Island group, running some 300 miles from the 'Canal to Bougainville in the northwest-southeast direction and about 50 miles north and south, bordered on the north by the islands of Choiseul and Santa Isobel, and on the south by Vella Lavella, Kolombangara, New Georgia, the Russells, and Guadalcanal. Missions were flown up "The Slot," or north of "The Slot" or south of "The Slot," never over the Solomon Sea, the true name for this particular body of water that saw so many of the Crusaders' flights during the second half of 1943.
The Japanese strip on Guadalcanal that was the scene of such a bloody battle in 1942 had been named Henderson Field, and a new bomber strip had been installed nearby and named Carney Field. The latter field was home both for our aircraft and our bivouac areas, which were situated in the jungles surrounding the strip.
On May 5 the 390th Ground Echelon boarded the naval transport George Clymer and arrived at Guadalcanal on May 11. Unloading of the boat was started immediately, but four hours later the George Clymer's skipper halted operations and took his ship out of the harbor for a night of constant moving in open waters that provided more maneuverability in case of attack. On the 12th, unloading operations were completed and some dense jungle along the side of a road was pointed out as the living area of the Group's new home. The 75th Ground Echelon were ferried in by a fleet of C-47s, arriving on May 26.
Clearing brush and trees was the order of the day, for a camp had to be hewn out of the jungle. The line area was identical with the camp area insofar as jungle growth was concerned. Here too, trees had to be felled, and brush burned by daylight hours only, for the Japs were still raiding the 'Canal by night as well as by day. The back-breaking and sweat-streaked toll of building a home was to be repeated at least four more times before the ground men of the Crusaders were to go back to the States and the routine was to become familiar. There were supply office, and living tents to be erected, mess-halls to be built, latrines and showers to be installed, a theatre area to be cleared, chapels to be erected, dispensaries and hospital ward tents to go up. But all of these, and more, are a part of the story of the 42nd, a part of the lore that will live with us forever and always, a part of the tradition of the jungle Air Force, as the 13th AAF was later named.
Within two days, the first of hundreds of Condition Reds that were to be our lot for many, many months to come, was sounded. Sirens were whining, all over, as each squadron, each service unit, each company, spread the alarm of an impending raid. Two lonely Jap bombers came over about 1400 that afternoon, up in the stratosphere some 25 or 30,000 feet. No sooner were they sighted than our protecting guns let go! The booming of our 90 millimeter AA guns were far more terrifying to us than the threat the enemy bombers represented. Needless to say, everyone hit a fox-hole, of which there were plenty. Each of us had made certain that we had a hole to dive into at the first sign of trouble. Nothing came of this raid, and to this day we don't know whether they ever got in close enough to "lay eggs" or not, but at least we were blooded to air raids. We had survived our first Condition Red.
Targets for us in those days were plentiful, for in addition to the Tokyo Express, there were enemy air-strips that had to be kept inoperational, such as Munda, on New Georgia; Vila, on Kolombangara; Kahili and Kara on south Bougainville; Kieta on the north side of that island; and the Buka and Bonis air-dromes on each side of famous Buka passage, plus the Ballale airdrome on a small island between the Shortland Islands and Bougainville. Those were the immediate strips that threatened our foothold in the Solomons. To the west of us some 75 miles, the Marines had seized and succeeded in holding Banika Island in the Russell Group and were operating fighter aircraft off Sunlight Field there. Rekata Bay on Santa Isobel Island, Gizo Island to the south and west of New Georgia, and the Shortland and Fauro Islands all were infested with nests of seaplane bases from whence the Jap sent Jakes and Rufes, enemy float planes, out against our nightly torpedo boat patrols. With our closest base for supplies over 800 miles away, Guadalcanal for some time was a land to itself. The daring, patience, ingenuity, and stick-to-it-iveness that has always characterized the American serviceman, was never more clearly needed than at our first bastion on the Road to Tokyo Guadalcanal!
Saw mills, such as they were, were quickly set up, and lumber needed for building up our installations was garnered from the surrounding forests. Trees of rich wood--mahogany and teak-wood--were felled and used where and when needed. It was said that a little bridge, hastily constructed across the Malibu River between Henderson and Carney Fields, and which at that point was no more than 30 feet in width, contained enough mahogany, in its green state, to have a cured value of $2,000,000. But be that as it may, wood was necessary to feed our war machine, and whether it be rich timbers, or trunks of palm trees, it all went into the mills as fast as it could be hewn down.
Gas drums, the 55-gallon size, were always in demand. From these drums were made the washing apparatus for cleaning and sterilizing mess kits, kitchenware, pots and pans. Batteries of these drums cut lengthwise through the middle were in front of each mess hall, and streaming raw gas served as the heating units for keeping the water at boiling temperatures. Gas drums became tanks for showers, as did fighter belly-tanks or anything else that could hold water. Gas drums were ingeniously devised and rigged to make laundries, just as efficient as our machines back home, but without the spit and polish that characterized such civilian time-saving implements.
On the line--the all-important line where the sturdy Billy Mitchells were fondled and cared for as cautiously as new-born babies--more inventiveness was needed. Bomb hoists had to be modified to stand the rigors of field duty, time-saving elements devised for quicker, smoother, and more efficient operations, and all were forthcoming. Not the first month, nor the first three months, but before 1943 had run its course progress to that acme of efficiency so necessary a part of a winning team had been made, and by members of the Crusaders.
In April and May, Ballale, Kahili, and other targets had received their first strikes by air from B-17s of the 5th and 307th Bomb Groups who were the heavy duty babies of the 13th Air Force. On June 9 they bombed the strip at Munda in a high altitude daylight raid. Vila Airdrome, located just across the Kula Gulf from Munda, was similarly hit the following day. Night missions against Kahili and Ballale with as many as 20 planes had become standard operating procedure.
On June 14th, 18 B-25s of the 69th Squadron, led by Capt. John F. Sharp, with 24 Corsairs as fighter cover, took off from Carney Field at 0658. The flight dropped 124 hundred-pounders on the barracks and bivouac area of Vila. Damage assessment credited the Mitchells with 94 bombs in the assigned target, 75 well-bunched west of the north end of the runway. Heavy AA came from Vila Point and light AA from Stanmore plantation. Neither scored. And, with that strike the Crusaders' offensive was on.
Until June 25, the 69th carried the ball for the Group, successively sweeping New Georgia by day and night, hunting for Jap barges, bombing Ballale from 12,000 feet and meeting heavy but inaccurate AA, and strafing the north tip of Gannonga. On June 23, the Crusaders suffered their first loss when Lieut. Eugene R. Brogan and crew failed to return from a mission. On board was a cameraman, 2nd Lieut. Harold C. Moran, formerly of the Universal Picture Studios who was assigned to the 13th Air Force Combat Camera Unit under the command of Maj. Frank Lloyd, the man who directed such outstanding pictures as Cavalcade, Mutiny on the Bounty, The Sea Hawk and The Spoilers. Many of our missions during the Solomon days carried Major Lloyd or one of his men who were busily engaged in filming the war in the Solomon Islands.
On the 25th the 390th took up the cudgels. Twelve B-25s escorted by 16 P-40s dropped 144 incendiary clusters on Vila, meeting no aerial opposition and only moderate, inaccurate AA fire. A copy of someone's letter to a friend on a newspaper at home catches the spirit of that first mission.
Somewhere in the S. Pacific
June 25, 1943
Well, it's our turn at bat now. Yes, we are now in combat. Hard-bitten veteran bomber crews of one raid. Gosh, you can't imagine how much it means to be able to take a sock at those Japs after all of the training and waiting we have been through. A year and a half of sweating, watching, working, and learning, all of it for the day when we would become members of an Army Air Force Squadron in a combat zone.
After coming out of the different technical schools we thought we were ready to get into the war. But the powers that be were peeping through sights from another rifle, because instead of shipping us across the seas, they sent us across a California desert and made us fly so many practice missions, I quit counting them long ago.
Then came more ground schools, classes in first aid, enemy tactics, how to live off the jungle, and all the while getting us acquainted with living and working in hot weather. Then some more missions. Aerial gunnery, more dropping of bombs, more formation flying, more this, more that-hell, wasn't it ever going to end? We began to wonder Ourselves whether we were destined to spend the rest of the war training. As a matter of fact, our morale was commencing to come apart at the seams. But the order finally arrived sending us over-seas. We were a cocky, confident lot.
But still we didn't get into combat. They dumped us off on an island two thousand miles from the nearest fighting and started our training all over again. We didn't know it at the time, but that was really a review of our lessons for what you might aptly call our final exams. We practically went through the whole rigmarole over again. Again the practice missions, again the ground school, but now they interspersed in our program some lectures given by fellows who had just come out of combat. We hung onto every word they said, and they were just young fellows like us, 22 and 24 years old, but majors and lieutenant colonels. Most of the stuff they said had been told us time after time back in the "techschools" and out in the desert. But it seemed altogether different in these surroundings. We stayed on that island four months before we joined the 13th Air Force and came up to this base.
Well, we were only here one day when the word came that we were going on our first raid. Talk about excitement! You couldn't have caused greater stir by telling us the war was over. Early the next day everybody was down puttering around the ships. Bombs were loaded and checked over and over again. Guns were fondled and caressed as the belts were shoved home and made ready for immediate action. Parachutes and Mae West life jackets came in for their share of attention. Nothing was over-looked in this check-up. We wanted everything to be letter perfect for the scheduled take-off at 2 P. M. The intelligence briefing was set for I P. M., but the Squadron Intelligence Officer did a land office business all morning, because after looking at the ships, we all seemed to drift over to his tent.
We saw pictures of our target, maps, pamphlets, bulletins, and I don't know what all. We were supposed to hit an enemy bivouac area, and long before the official briefing everyone knew just what the job was.
Well, Harry, the take-off was on schedule and we were in the air with the rest of the gang in just a few minutes. Our formation was quickly formed and off we started. We picked up our fighter cover on the way to the target, and all eyes started straining in all directions looking for possible enemy fighter interception. Then before you know it, we saw the target away off in the distance, There was no mistaking it, for it was just exactly as the photographs had shown it. In less time than it takes to draw your breath we started our bomb-run, and in a few seconds came the yell "Bombs Away!" Hell, it was just like all the practice missions we had flown back in the desert. It all came to us so easily and mechanically. I guess that is when I first realized how all the training was starting to pay off.
You know, Harry, I promised you I would get some Japs, and I can safely say that I have now made good on my promise. Because we later found out the mission was very successful, and the target pretty well plastered. It sure gives a guy a super feeling, too.
Of course, I know we have just started functioning as a combat squadron, and we will have some tough missions before this is all over, but I also know that we have been taught our lessons carefully and most thoroughly and we are ready for everything.
Until later then, write soon and remember your pal, Johnny.
|Preface||Chapter 1||Chapter 7|