|Preface||Chapter 19||Chapter 21|
The new combat year opened with rapid action, and tragedy. Lieut. H. E. Adams and R. E. Gardner of the 69th made a prize strike. On a Ceram shipping sweep they got a 60-foot two-masted ship near Oki Village, Boeroe; two similar boats under construction at West Jaloen River, Cape Salia; three 100-ton SD's in a camouflaged shelter on Ambelau Island. On the third pass at the last target the bombs hit squarely, wrapping the boats in flame and smoke. Lieut. J. R. Sathern, radar ferreter, dropped on Koebi Island. Lieut. V. H. Olson took eight of the 75th over Namlea, incidentally getting two Jap gunners. The 100th with Capt. J. J. Burnett in the lead, the 70th with Lt. Col. Joe R. Brabson, Deputy Group Commander, in the lead of eight, and Captain Dana with eight of the 390th's, hit Haroekoe.
The strike was successful; its aftermath disastrous. Lieut. Edwin L. Haals of the 70th, late at the retirement rendezvous, climbed to catch up. The first 70th element of three, led by Colonel Brabson, flew north across Ceram through weather, with the second element, led by Lt. Robert C. Hausler, following 4000 feet higher. Haals was nearly at the level of the second element. At 9900 foot Mt. Binaija, the highest peak on Ceram, crews in the top element saw three below them, flying formation, emerge from a cloud lying almost against the mountain, hit, and explode. Seventeen men, the crews of Colonel Brabson's plane, F/0 Walter C. Gillette's, and Lt. Michael E. Miles', were lost. Lieutenant Miles' plane failed to clear the rise by a bare 15 feet. The five surviving planes landed at base with tragedy reflected in their crews' eyes. There could be no interruption in the schedule, of course. The regular targets were rehashed.
The fifth saw a notable five squadron strike on Manado, and more trouble. Lt. E. M. Eastburn led the 69th; Capt. Sherod A. Santos, the 70th; Lt. R. A. Plympton, the 75th; Lt. H. B. Shields, the 100th; Capt. J. E. Robison, the 390th. An occupied group of barracks was almost totally destroyed, as was a radio station. Fires spread through the supply area.
Lieutenant Shields, on his 73rd mission, received several AA hits ten miles before reaching the target. He knew a crash was inevitable, but with coolness and skill he kept on, determined to do as much damage as possible before going down. More fire came up, hitting the right engine and causing it to run wild since it could not be feathered, and shooting away the lower half of the right rudder. Shields gave the plane full right aileron and full left rudder to compensate for the right engine's being out. A minute later the left engine was hit; the hydraulic system went out, the left wheel dropped, and the oil pouring over the engine caught fire. The left landing gear and upper wing were on fire. Slipping off course, his right wing pulling him to the ground, Shields got his bombs away over the target. With a slight ridge looming just ahead, his left engine began to run away. With tall trees coming up in his face, Shields feathered the left engine, leveled off, and just managed to climb over the trees and ridge. Dead ahead lay open water. Shields yelled into the phone "Prepare to ditch", leveled off again and hit the drink at 130 MPH. The tail struck first and as the ship skidded along the wheels were torn off, the left engine fell out, the rudders broke off and part of the elevator, halfway into the fuselage, was torn away. The plane came to rest 1200 feet from the south shore of Manado Bay. It still--good old Mitchell, a bright day the factory turned this one out--remained afloat for approximately two minutes, enabling the crew to get clear, and into the raft. They paddled toward the center of the bay to get away from the shore guns. Lieut. R. E. Niever and Lieut. Wilbur L. Coats detached themselves from the formation on retirement to fly cover for Shields and his crew. This pair strafed the shoreline to keep the guns out of action until Dumbo appeared on the scene and picked up the ditchers.
Meantime, Lieut. E. C. Beaumont of the 75th also got it in the right engine on the approach. He had to pull up immediately and get out of the formation, heading for the sea and a water landing. Lieut. J. B. Wheeler saw his companion go down and also Lieutenant Shields ahead of him, and noted that they were within easy range of the Jap shore guns. Disregarding shortage of fuel and ammo and the fact that he had no bombs, Wheeler also went down to circle until the 'Cat arrived. While the rescue was in progress the Jap gunners opened up on the helpless crews and the flying boat. When Dumbo began to take off with shells pinging past its tall, Wheeler also made two passes on the offending shore batteries, silencing them on the second attack. Lieut. R. C. Dean of this crew was lost.
Over Mapanget on the following day, Capt. R. W. Thorndyke, Commanding Officer of the 75th, leading his squadron, was hit and forced down into the water off the northeast tip of Celebes in what was described by witnesses as not a water landing, but an explosion just before his plane bit the water. Somehow three men were picked up, Captain Thorndyke, Lieut. James M. Dowling, navigator, and T/Sgt., William R. Sewell. Lieut. E. F. Fuller, co-pilot; T/Sgt., E. J. Sinitierre, engineer and S/Sgt., F. S. Nelson, gunner, were lost with the plane. Corp. Fred J. Lanzaro, engineer on another 75th plane, lost his left arm from shrapnel wounds received on this raid. Lieutenant Dowling died 48 hours later in a Morotai hospital from internal injuries. It was the end of the road for a Crusader who had seen service in the African Theatre prior to his arrival in the SWPA. Then the 10th opened a frenetic three-day sub-chapter in the Group's history which might be entitled "The Kendari Strafes." They will be well remembered by those who flew over the Celebes target.
This three-day jam session--and the frivolous term is used to denote the tight formations and indicate how little room there was to spare over the target--was opened by Lieut. Jay W. Bishop and six from the 69th, Capt. W. W. Short for the 70th, Capt. R. D. Smith for the 75th, Major Henson for the 100th, and Lieut. R. S. Moyna for the 390th. Taking off Mar, Lieut. Hal W. Townsend, 70th, got 20 miles from Sansapor when his right engine cut out. Turning back, he found he could not clear the trees to set down at Mar, tried for Middleburg, and went into the water. In the impact of landing, Lieutenant Townsend's forehead struck the gunsight and he went down with his plane.
At Kendari the formations went across the target on the trees line abreast at 260 mph. Hell broke loose over Kendari, with bombs exploding and the sky thick with bullets. The bombs walked through the target area, demolishing Personnel Target No. 1 and gun positions at the radio station. Among the more important objects strafed were ordnance trucks, the tower, the radio station, four trailers, an amphibious truck, and a parked motor roller. All the AA positions caught it, and some ceased firing. Moderate, heavy, medium, and intense light fire came up on the approach during the attack and on the retirement. Many aircraft were holed, windows were shattered and elevators riddled. Two unidentified single-engine fighters trailed from Boeroe, but did not close.
The strafers RON'd at Morotai, and repeated the performance the following day. Capt. J. W. Thomason was the leader of the 69th; Capt. R. J. Weston, the 70th; Lieut. John M. Erdman, the 75th; Lieut. Tom J. Brown, the 100th; and Capt. Gordon M. Dana, the 390th. It was another knockout punch; 300-pound demos exploded inside at least ten buildings, sending debris up to the level of the planes, and tracers went everywhere, wiping out AA gun crews and personnel who had run to cover. But still the AA did its damage. Lieut. J. R. Sathern was hit and had to crash-land wheels-up at Morotai. All the crew walked away. Hit in the right engine just after releasing, Lieut. John W. Mangum of the 100th crashed into a 6000 foot ridge west of the target, with no possibility of escape for the crew.
The job was finished on the 12th. Formation leaders for the finale, reading up the list of squadrons were: Lieut. A. C. Redding, Lieut. Gordon F. Brown, Capt. R. D. Smith, Captain Wolfendale, Lieut. Bob Moyna. The attack was pressed abreast again, over the target at 1133. Bombs blanketed assigned targets and the radio station. At least four more buildings were seen demolished and another six fired. Tracers went through everything in their path--houses, a new medium gun position, and the known automatic and medium positions, both active and inactive. Ten Mitchell fuselages were holed, oil lines severed, even package guns were bent and perforated. Lieut. James R. Hartt of the 390th was one whose oil line was hit, forcing him to single-engine to Morotai, where he suffered tire blowouts on landing. A new lieutenant in 390th S-2, William P. Hurley, who held an observer's rating, did plenty of sweating as well as observing as Hartt's passenger. S/Sgt. Ralph A. Taylor in Flight Officer McCreary's 69th ship, suffered a broken ankle, so sharp was the evasive action taken on retirement. Lieut. Philip T. Kilian of the 75th received a direct hit on the bottom of his left engine and had to put down in the water. The landing was accomplished skillfully, but the three enlisted crew members, Corp. Clair A. Gray, engineer, Corp. Ralph W. LeDrew, radioman, and Corp. James L. Goldfinch, gunner, could not be found when the plane came to rest.
Kendari was a costly engagement for the Group, but as Intelligence reports stated: "The terrific pounding to which this target was subjected undoubtedly eliminated it as a major threat for many months to come."
One man's idea of pre-dawn war doings came to hand very opportunely
And it came to pass in those days that an edict came down from the seat of the brass that many men would be called out into the dawn to pour death and destruction upon their enemies from a low altitude.
And the men went forth among themselves and bolstered up their courage by saying, "Am I listed among those who go?" And "Holy Smoke!" and divers other phrases. For there were those among them who liketh it not to get below half a score of thousands of feet when over the territory of the Rising Sun.
390TH ARMAMENT SECTION, JULY 1944
COMMUNICATIONS SECTION, JULY 1944
There were men there also who had flown the allotted two score and ten missions, and these were cheerful and passing gay, saying one among another, "Thou shouldest have been with me over Vunakanau and one, a burly Boer known as He of the Soft Voice, spake as follows, "Have no fear of minimum altitude. For where ye go, I shall be with thee--from the Tower."
It came to pass that before the sun was risen the C.Q. went forth from his place of watch to the abode of the birdmen and roused them, each in his turn, saying, "'Tis the fourth hour and the briefing comes before the dawn." And he retreated in haste for he was wise in the ways of the birdmen. And the birdmen cursed him in a loud voice for his tidings were not joyful.
For the strike cometh they knew and only the beavers were glad. And the beavers were few and grew less eager at the fourth hour of each day. There was much weeping and walling and gnashing of teeth and great unhappiness in that place. But a fear for their commissions was in them. And they went forth.
And as they went forth there cometh up to them he of the great intellect who was known as the Intelligence Officer. He was known by other names also.
And one of the birdmen said unto him, "What has thou done unto us? Wherefore beguileth thou us?"
And the I.O. sayeth unto him, "Thus is it done in our country." And he hold in his hands ribbons of many colors and spake thus: "Fulfill us this day and a score of other days and we will give thee this for the service which thou shall render another seven years."
And one of the birdmen sayeth to another: "What manner of poppycock is this that he speaketh? Knoweth he not of the law of averages?" And the other said, "Verily. Amen."
For they were nervous in the service that day and the pouches of their eyes gave witness. And they went unto the Holy of Holies called the Briefing Room. And each as he entered looketh upon the handwriting upon the wall. And each as he looketh sayeth unto another, "Say unto me that it is not so."
But one cometh among them known as Elliott who sayeth, "Yea, it is so. Best we calleth the roll." And there was quiet in the tomb of the prophets.
And he who was called Elliott spake with a tongue of sounding brass. He spake of headings and formations and of times and of D for Ditching and Dumbo and Dinghy.
And they looketh at him with heads of ivory and comprehendeth him not.
And there came another who was called Trone and he spake of restrictions, and of communications and of the fire known as the AA.
And they looketh at him with heads of wood and comprehendeth him not.
But he is wise in their ways and full of understanding of them all. He pointeth to a map and to a photograph and spake: "Behold, I speak not with a tongue of two tails. I telleth thee not that there are only two guns that can bear on thee going in, and two going out. Lo, I telleth thee that men will throw much lead at thee. Be sure that thou ziggest not when thou should zag. Many there are of the enemy who wouldst do thee harm. They come with forked lightning, and with bombs of phosphorous and hammers of the 20 millimeter. Yea and verily, pulleth not up thy nose, for the Lord turneth his face away from him who giveth the enemy no-deflection shots."
Then did the Elliott send forth to know of the men of the Lightnings. "Forsooth," sayeth he, "mayhap the 8 and 30's will be welcome ere the sun setteth." And there were those among them who waggled their heads and said, "It is so."
And it came to pass whereof he spoke.
And thus they goeth in their chariots to the dispersals.
But first some goeth to the small house in panic. And many goeth behind a tree.
And some there are who are called lead and some are called wing and the lead goeth to share his coffee with the wing saying, "The Lord watch between thee and me when we are absent one from the other, or when thee gettest too close to my tail."
Then each of the birdmen went forth to his bird, counting each part with great care.
But at the hour of pushing of the throttles one of the winged monsters thundereth not. And the birdmen there beateth it with their hands and kicketh it with their feet. But it availeth them naught. In vain the pilot calleth forth his way with the bird, but it lacked revs and putteth not out forty and four inches. Woe betide him who attempteth to take off without revs and inches, for his children and children's children will curse him, and he will curse himself. But they springeth to the back of another bird and take off.
And it came to pass that they went upon their journey and peeleth off into formation above the tree tops, and the area that was called target was before them and their enemies heaped upon them fire and brimstone and there were some whose hands were damp, and some whose faces were damp, and some whose pants were damp. There were many who bent the throttles. And there were some who goeth off from the formation and were called on Channel A. The leader asketh them "Whither goest thou?" and they replied "I go to fly for myself for the heat in that path is passing great." And the leader curseth them and telleth them to come back to the formation.
But they have turned to Channel B and hear him not. And all goeth home by diverse routes to his roost and his ounce and a half of the drip of the corn.
When again they gather in the Holy of Holies, the leader calleth out upon the wanderers and cheweth mightily upon their posteriors and telleth them of a bad show. But though he giveth them Hell in general they are happy to be back upon the ground and make haste to enter their sacks until the call of chow.
* * *
With the Philippines campaign well under way, the Crusaders surged into the ruckus, quietly but most efficiently. Of our January 15th strikes, the 13th Air Force had this to say:
"Our medium bombers were active over Philippines targets during the period'. as 23 Mitchells of the 42nd Group split into three flights to hit enemy air facilities in the Mindanao area. Eight B-25's attacked Buayan supplies with 48 x 300-pounders, starting several fires, a second flight of seven aircraft hit Malabang supplies, dropping 36 x 300-pounders, results generally unobserved, and the third flight of 8 mediums dropped 48 x 300-pounders on Cotabato airdrome, bits covering the runway and adjacent dispersal area. One aircraft of the third flight ditched, cause unknown, 8 miles west of Bongo Island. All crew members were observed safe in life rafts."
The ditcher was Lieut. J. B. Wheeler of the 75th, who collided with a tree on the strafing run, almost demolishing his left wing. The water landing was accomplished smoothly and all six crewmen made the raft. Due to communications difficulties at Morotai the rescue could not be made that day and the popular Wheeler and his crew spent about 24 hours in the water within five miles of the enemy-held Mindanao coast before their deliverer arrived.
On the 19th, Lieutenant Plympton, leading the 75th, and Captain Jim Robison, the 390th, got through to La Carlota on Negros Island to fire a Tony and two Zekes on the ground and score direct hits on houses and guns with five tons of bombs and 27,000 rounds.
Reports of enemy activity on Waigeo continued to drift in, and on the 21st, a formation from the 69th led by Lieut. E. M. Eastburn dropped 72 centuries and strafed 9000 rounds as an alternate to the planned attack on Haroekoe. Another loss cast gloom on the 70th when Lieut. Wallace 0. Roever and crew did not return from their Ceram photo mission of January 20th. A fragmentary radio message ending in the word "Wait--" gave no clew as to the trouble, and after unrevealing searches, it was presumed that this crew were still other victims of the treachery of Pacific weather.
January 24th brought another adventure for doughty and wiry Capt. C. W. Wolfendale of the 100th. On course to Cape Dore to conduct a shipping sweep of Ceram, be sighted a Type A (Navy) Jap barge making for shore about a half mile off the coast of the Vogelkop. Coming in from land side at 400 feet, the Captain had sprayed about 300 rounds from his nose guns when the barge exploded, sending debris 600 feet into the air. The violence of the explosion and the dense, fuliginous smoke indicated that the Captain's tracers had found their way into a load of ammunition or explosive. Flying timbers and hardware from the barge damaged the nose, wing, and tail of Wolfendale's plane, and bits of bloody bone and flesh came through the nose. Lieutenant Dietzler, bombardier-navigator, was cut about the face and arms and escaped more serious injury only by ducking behind the bomb sight. That was the extent of the injuries received, but all members of the crew were feeling pretty rocky from the stench of burning bodies and powder that filled the plane after the foray.
A highlight of the month was the retirement straight down Ambon Bay on which Capt. William W. Short, 70th Commanding Officer, led his boys. Past Halong, Ambon, Laha, and Noesanive, crews following forgot their own hot spot in amusement as tracers from both sides of the bay threw up spurts in the water. Without knowing he was the target, Captain Short was jinking from time to time, alternately losing and gaining altitude. As he left the deck, the water spurts would meet under him, and as he lost altitude the tracers would time after time meet in an "X" overhead. By some quirk of good fortune, his plane was hit only once and that a small caliber shell. "I would have bet it couldn't have been done" expressed the sentiment of most of the flight--then they realized they had been along, too.
There were many noteworthy features of January on the ground. . . First it was a damned tough maintenance month. You don't fill up holes in a Mitchell with plastic wood, and they don't pull home on one engine unless that one is in good shape. That was the crux of the engineering problem that resulted from the exclusively low level work. Coconut fronds and logs collected on bomb bay doors ad empennage sometimes required exhaustive re-checks of repairs to make sure that everything was back in balance. It is also a tribute to ground maintenance crews that although there were very, very few Mitchells in the Group in January, 1945, that had not passed their normal performance peak with age and service, there was no organization in the Pacific at the time that was giving its planes the beating that the Crusaders were.
Not only did the strafing attacks take everything the planes could give, but they had to be accomplished with 1100 and 1300-mile round trips to reach the target and get back home.
Yet the month's flying was done without a single accident or loss due to mechanical failure. Other sections were doing a good job too, of feeding men and bomb bays and ammo boxes that invariably came back empty, of keeping antiquated jeeps and trucks rolling. Typical was the 75th's Transportation Section, where S/Sgt. M. E. Martin and his gang earned a Superior rating for the month on their beaverish efforts.
During the month the 886th Chemical lost a well-liked and respected officer who had done much for the Company when Lieut. John Grahamer, Jr., left for duty elsewhere. Among Lieutenant Grahamer's memorable accomplishments were the acquisition of an ice machine and the homemade laundry machine. Further personnel changes in the Company resulted in Sergt. John Groff's becoming Supply Sergeant, Sgt. Don Hintz, Motor Sergeant, and Sherron A. Cossaboon, Tony Mansrantuone, and Joe Maciekowich, Platoon Sergeants.
Another highlight was the improved situation on rest leaves to Mackay, Australia, for ground men, Rockhampton for officers.
Mackay and Rockhampton, the "poor-man's Sydney," came as a delightful surprise to many weary ground officers and men. For some unknown reason, Sydney was considered off-limits to the "men-behind-the-men-in-the-air"; nonetheless, Rockhampton was a virtual Paradise compared to the humid jungle air of Sansapor. The ever efficient Red Cross had built a rest home for enlisted personnel at Mackay in Queensland. Steak and eggs, fresh milk, creamery butter, and leafy vegetables replaced Spam and C-rations for a 10-day period. Regularly scheduled dances (properly chaperoned) supplied the femininity so necessary to the rejuvenation of one's morale. And the never failing "Pub-call" was a delight shared by many vacationing Crusaders.
At Rockhampton, the officers spent some leave on their own, for the only Army representation there was Sergt. Lloyd Lilly, a Crusader who had been installed there for several months as a buyer of fresh food for the commuting Fat-Cats. Here, too, the chief attraction was good food, a real honest-to-goodness bed, and the perennial "pub-crawls." A wide-awake drinker could spend as much as six hours a day in these establishments by the simple expedient of routing himself through the town at the proper time, for pubs would open at various times for short periods during the day. Unfortunately, the accommodations were such that only a very small and lucky percentage of the Crusader roster could get the trip, but for those who did make it down there, it was something to remember for many a month to come.
|Preface||Chapter 19||Chapter 21|