|Preface||Chapter 22||Chapter 24|
Moving from Morotai was a welcome but ill-favoured business. Plenty of C-47s were available, but loading had for the most part to be done at night and in a lashing rain. You looked 40 minutes to an hour for the plane you were supposed to load, in the rain, and then perhaps a load-nervous pilot who did not figure his capacity the -ay the tech order calculated it would not accept the full load intended for his plane. You couldn't blame him in a way-jettisoning a jeep from a C-47 in trouble isn't exactly simple. With grunts and groans and curses, the heavy crates, jeeps, and water trailers were loaded and sent on their way, and then on a welcome morning, the last of the personnel climbed aboard in the pre-dawn drizzle and lay down on boxes and floors in weariness to sleep off the nightmare. The sturdy Douglases lifted their noses from Wama and took wing for Palawan. Organization aircraft went ahead. Beyond the permanent Morotai-Mindanao front, the sky cleared at once and the Celebes and Sulu seas sparkled in the sunshine.
Seen from the air, Puerto Princessa strip and its surroundings looked extremely attractive to the muddled Air Echeloners, and the new station lived up to its promise. It was a common slight to see an arrival from Morotai step from a 47, kneel and pick up a handful of good dry sand and run it through his fingers with obvious pleastire. At Morotai, you could almost forget there was dry earth.
The really pleasant surprise for the air travelers came with their first glimpse of the new camp area. For the 42nd Group, it couldn't be believed at first. To one coming from Morotai it was another world. Here was a symmetrical, sunny, sandy, cocoanut grove along a stretch of milk-white beach, dazzling in brilliant sunlight and swept by the Sulu breezes.
This time there were no taunts about having it easy. The Ground Echeloners had heard about Morotai from the first air arrivals. Not that they had not had plenty of work to do to get the camp areas into shape. The cocoanut grove, long neglected tinder the Jap's domination of Palawan, had become knee deep in fallen cocoanuts, fronds, and sprouting nuts when the first ground parties reached the site on March 12th. Puerto Princessa, where the LSTs scraped ashore, was a sad sight-the shell of a once attractive Philippine community. Buildings that bad once been the Dominican Seminary, the Palacio Municipal, the large and comfortable homes of traders and prosperous
SOUTH SEA ISLAND PARADISE
"As he turned his head from side to side, he could see the white sands stretching to the distant curve of the island. The bright heat of the tropic sun was tempered by a soft breeze that blew in from offshore, cooling him and whispering among the palm fronds overhead. In the distance an azure sky leaned down to a lapis lazuli sea, broken here and there with the vari-colored sails of graceful native craft."
That is NOT a travel brochure. Palawan, b'gosh, and we never had it so good. Nowhere had the Crusaders been stationed in such a lovely locale. A cocoanut plantation where each tree was 24 feet from its neighbor, and each row 24 feet apart. The only thing missing was Times Square and the Top of the Mark. Oh, well, you can't have everything.
Filipinos were reduced by bombs, and naval bombardment, if they stood at all, to four insecure walls gaping toward the sky. Piles of debris were all that remained of once polished mahogany and lauan floors and furniture.
While camp building was as arduous as ever, and it got just as hot on Palawan as in New Guinea or the Solomons, the work went on with a high degree of good cheer, even though this was the fifth and sixth go at the task for many old Crusaders, now two long years away from home.
First meals were eaten in al fresco dining rooms under the palm arches. There was a slightly misplaced element of picnic atmosphere about it at moments. It was a picnic after some of the camps we had built. Tents were thrown up on the ground and despite the medics' dire predictions, you could sleep the night through without so much as a single mosquito bite. A few centipedes got into shoes and nipped the owner when he -pulled them on in the morning, but after New Guinea, this was an insectless island, comparatively speaking. Details, of course, were as bard as ever-latrine digging became a matter of blasting after you got down four feet. The topsoil was powdered so fine that a footstep raised a small cloud, and a passing truck or prop-wash drove the brown and red dust right through clothes. Camp areas shaped up rapidly, however, and soon meals were eaten in new, airy mess halls; showers and their tanks rose; and tent after tent acquired and installed its floor. Whether it was due to new rotation policies which took the combat men off flying missions at the fifty mark or thereabouts, or whether it was due to the challenge for tent improvement presented by the new and attractive area is a question that can be argued. Perhaps it was a combination of both circumstances, but after the first weeks at Palawan some of the fanciest tent finishing-bar none-in the whole damned Army or Seabees could be seen in Crusader squadrons. It was even rumored that some perfectionists carried the matter of home improvement to the point of installing flush plumbing. This could never be proved but inside running water for wash stands became common, and one crew of the famed Golden Mission Club carried off top honors with a job that included bamboo wainscoting, blue frame trim, a double end porch, built-in double decker bunks, enclosed cabinets, running water, fountain Coca-Colas, and indirect lighting. just cocktail lounge proprietors, these boys.
Beyond argument the laurels for an official structure went to Maj. Charles Humble's "Palawan Pentagon" which housed the 75th's Orderly Room, C. 0., Operations Intelligence, Medics, and Supply. This War Department annex of the Southern Philippines had to be seen to be believed.
A photo, taken in March, 1945, of the strip and beach near Puerto Princessa. Our camp was in the cocoanut grove along the beach, about a half mile or so beyond the strip.
At Palawan the 886th Chemical was again with us and enjoying the same break in camp locations after nearly two years in the Solomons and New Guinea.
As soon as camp was set up, the outfit got right to work, for fire bombs were needed in greater number than ever before and the intensive smoke screening operations that were to come with Tarakan were to give the Company some busy days and nights. The 886th was to share, too, in the commendations received from the Commanding Generals of Air Force and Fighter Command for the efficient bombing and smoke work soon to follow.
It I's possible to show in a wealth of pictures the various stages of camp building, and a word of appreciation is in order for the able and productive Group Photo Lab staff: Lieut. Raymond Proctor; T/Sgt. Leonard F. Jung, section chief-, S/Sgt. T. J. McCadden and Sgt. Irvin
P. King, who snapped their lenses at everything and everybody of interest; T/Sgt. Alvin T. Sharp and his gang who did the developing and printing, and the many other skilled and hard-working men who handled the Group's combat, technical, historical, and public relations work. Working at all hours and building their own laboratories, sometimes under dismaying conditions, these men did an extraordinarily fine job, and to their efforts must go credit for a great measure of the interest of this book.
The move to Palawan is remembered for one other thing: the sudden increase in the importance of Public Relations to the 13th Air Force. During the Solomons days, Crusader strikes frequently were referred to in the newspapers as "attacks by Admiral Halsey's land-based bombers." Photos taken by Crusader gunners appeared as "Official Navy Photographs."
Group S-2, the War Room, and S-3 in the process of construction.
Tents under construction. Cocoanut logs cut in our own sawmill furnished lumber for framing.
The Commanding Officer's office and quarters. Lt. Col. Harvey, Col. Helmick, and Col. Champion lived here.
Squadron PRO's were untrained, for the most part, and had untrained personnel. They did heroic work, but were unable to make much of a show against the magnificent output of the European outfits with their professional publicity men.
When the Aussies went ashore in the first Borneo landing at Tarakan, there was a Crusader camera plane flying off shore photographing the landing and the smoke-laying B-25s. These pictures were processed and flown to Leyte the next morning. Several of these shots were radiophotoed from Manila to the States 20 hours before news services were able to make it. This was repeated at Brunei Bay and Balikpapan.
One of the first of the new Public Relations Section's longer releases voiced the Group's plaint against anonymity. The "MacArthur's Secret Weapon" yarn received some widespread attention. Because several dramatic and humorous incidents are mentioned in the yarn that have not appeared elsewhere in this book, we are carrying excerpts from it:
HEADQUARTERS THIRTEENTH AIR FORCE, PHILIPPINES-Out in the Southwest Pacific there are numerous men, the exact number being a military secret since it is roughly equivalent to the military strength of the outfit, who are in varying stages of irritation over their apparent anonymity. They are very fed up with getting letters from home plaintively inquiring, "Why don't we read in the papers about your outfit?"
They call themselves "MacArthur's Secret Weapon."
They don't fly rocket ships or jet propulsion craft; they've never dropped a bomb down the smokestack of a Jap battle ship or radioed to base "Scratch one flat top," although their roster of destruct-Ion includes every type of Nip war craft except a battleship.
They are The Crusaders, the medium bombardment group of the 13th Air Force.
When finally in 1945, The Crusaders shook the mud and gloom of three years in the Solomons, New Guinea, and the Netherlands East Indies out of their hair, arrived at a travel brochure beach in the Philippines, and were told that it was their new home, teeth fell like hall on the steel deck of the LST they were riding.
Crusader pilots call themselves B-25 drivers; they are so affected by being the Group Nobody Knows that it crops up in all their reports. They're ultraconservative even when reporting damage. Once during the Guadalcanal days, a pilot returning from a shipping sweep of Vella Gulf admitted under close questioning that he had skip-bombed and exploded "a helluva big boat, a big destroyer or something: I think the gunner got a picture of it sinking." The ,gunner had. It was a "helluva big boat" all rightone of the Japs newest cruisers.
Lieut. Kenneth Lattie, Mattapan, Mass., drove his Mitchell off a Rabaul target one cloudless day in February, 1944, trying madly to shake loose five quarter-ton bombs that refused to release, and which were interfering with his desire to go someplace else at the greatest possible speed. Jap anti-aircraft in Simpson Harbor and on the shores around it were throwing up everything but Tojo's spectacles. Lieutenant Lattie had dropped behind the formation and was very conscious of being the center of too damned much attention.
He began his own little series of evasive turns. One leg of it took him in the direction of Simpson Harbor, at the time the nest of several Jap warships. He leveled off and gave one last despairing punch at the Salvo button. The bombs wobbled out of the bomb bay and like bosom companions trying to make a lamp post, drifted down and ahead. Lattie paid no attention to them. As long as he got that 2500 pounds out of his airplane they could go any place the law of gravity took them.
A half minute or so later the interphone came alive with excited yips from the "back room." A gunner, with the placid curiosity that pervades all gunners once they're out of danger, had been idly following the falling bombs with his eyes. "Migod, Lieutenant," he yelled into the interphone. "You
hit a boat. I didn't get a chance to see what it was. The bombs kept going down, and all of a sudden this boat blows up. I got a picture of it, but I don't think I got much."
Lieutenant Lattie is credited with "something." The photo showed a cloud of smoke and flame and the indistinct bow of an almost perpendicular ship. Officially, inasmuch as no one could tell what was in the middle of that pall of smoke, Lattie got credit for nothing at all. A nice conservative point of someone's view. He'd give a month's pay if the Japs would tell him what he sank that day.
Another time Capt. L. E. Whitley, High Point,
N. C., loaded with 500-pounders, caught a column of three ships of the Tokyo Express off New Georgia. The Nips were trying desperately to reinforce their Guadalcanal garrison. We just as desperately were trying to stop them. In this section of the express were two warships and a transport. "Whit" came up on them from the rear through the proverbial hall of flak, popped a bomb at the last one, hopped up and over, popped another bomb at the next one, hopped up and over, and popped another bomb at the first in line. He stopped two for three, a Jap cruiser and a destroyer, dead in the water to be finished by following planes. The transport also was sunk.
Captain Whitley and his crew arrived at their base several days later, courtesy of the Navy's PBY rescue service. His plane was so badly shot up by the time he dropped his last bomb that he had to land in the Pacific, paddle to Canongga Island in the New Georgia Group, and wait for someone to come and take him off. His first inquiry is recorded, "Did I get that little boat riding third?"
Captain Whitley got a medal of some sort for that. Sheer tradition would have got him a Cluster to his Air Medal, or maybe a can of warm beer from his C.O. However, the records show it was a Silver Star; that happened before the more important things like beer got out to Guadalcanal. Only one time did a pilot fall to be conservative, and he got called up on the carpet for it. Headquarters had finally got a bit fed tip with the constant understatement of bombing formation reports, "Stop," they said, "radioing that the bombing was 'fair.' We decide from that the target I's still active and set up another strike, then we find the target destroyed. Let's not be so modest."
The next mission bombed Buka just north of Bougainville Island. The leader looked back as the last string of bombs exploded on the runway. He then jotted a note to the radio operator. "Bombing good. Island sinking slowly."
It's surprising, and not a little embarrassing to learn how few people know who is primarily responsible for the destruction of Rabaul, who blasted Truk, who knocked out Wolai, which Air Force paved the way for the ultimate wrecking of Balikpapan's refineries so thoroughly that we could capture Jap
planes and tanks in the Philippines intact save for their lack of fuel. It's embarrassing to members of the 13th AAF that not one person In 10 knows they handled these little chores. In fact over Truk and Wolai no other land-based planes ever appeared, until their tactical destruction was complete.
Even fewer people know that after a couple of early raids by the Fifth in late 1943, the B-25s of The Crusaders took over the destruction of Rabaul, the destruction of its airfields, and the destruction of any aircraft that might interfere with Army and Navy plans in the Solomons. They started on January 12, 1944, with a bombing and strafing attack led by Capt. Robert J. Morris, St. Louis, Mo., that caught 66 Jap planes on Vunakanau Airdrome. Continned attacks worked over each of the strips. By the middle of February there were no Jap planes left, even if they had had a runway to take off front.
By March 15, Rabaul was reduced from a city of 1400 buildings to a heap of rubble in which less than 20 buildings had roofs or walls. Its five satellite airfields were daily pocked with bomb craters which the Japs nightly filled for planes that never came in, that never took off. Their laborious shovel work was scattered indiscriminately about the area the following day by more quarter-ton bombs. The 13th's heavies during this period had moved on to hit Truk and Wolai, leaving the whole job in the Crusaders' capable hands. That the job was done thoroughly is history.
The Nips ran out of fighters, but they never ran out of anti-aircraft guns and ammunition. Their shooting was good and they were able to polka-dot the sky as heavily in June of 1944 as they were in December, 1943.
The Crusaders, after Rabaul ceased to exist, leapfrogged to Western New Guinea, where they were for a time the westernmost troops in the Pacific, 300 miles west of Tokyo. From Sansapor they worked over the Netherland East Indies.
The Boela oilfield, tanks, and satellite strips went up in flames, smoke, and bomb bursts. Ambon Town and its great airbase at Laha, the headquarters of the Jap airforce in the South Pacific, ceased to be. Namlea, Boeroe Island, had five strips, and the town itself was a huge storehouse. The Crusaders gave it the Rabaul massage. For three days Nanlea got the Crusader "bombing good." Then there was no Namlea. The Japs had built strips on every level spot in the Halmaheras, it appeared. For all the good it did them, they might as well have stood in Tokyo. Galela was the biggest. A week after the Crusaders started to work, you couldn't have taxied a jeep on Galela.
Meanwhile The Crusaders also had the job of keeping the entire area free of Jap shipping. This they did by sinking everything in the area. Finally the water around Ceram and the Halmaheras con
Distinguished Service Crosses, Silver Stars, Distinguished Flying Crosses, Air Me
tained more hulks than the islands contained Japs. The Japs resorted to submarines, and Lieut. John P. Mogan, Norwood, Mass., can guarantee that at least one of them is still there. He can tell you, furthermore, what the sub carried. After his four 500-pounders went off under it, boxes, barrels, crates, Japs, and fuel oil formed a maelstrom of cascading debris. His wingman helped him annotate the wreckage. True to Crusader tradition, he asked the Intelligence Officer who interrogated him, "Do I get credit for a submarine?" Someone will probably get busted for it, but he did. His DFC citation read, "Lieutenant Mogan ... for sinking an enemy submarine .......
The spirit of genial comeraderie carried over into the flyer's daily lives. For example, there's the time on Stirling Island someone drove broad head nails through the seats of the Group's briefing room benches, and then carefully wired the protruding lower ends to a switch at Col. Truman Spencer's desk.
At the end of that day's briefing, the Group C. 0., Col. Harry Wilson, arose. Colonel Spencer closed the switch at the same moment. Every man in the room left his seat, and not all of them landed on their feet.
Immensely pleased with the results, Colonel Spencer wired his desk the same way to discourage friends from leaning against it, or sitting on it. It was a huge success until the day some unknown culprit closed the switch while Colonel Wilson was perched on the desk. The Colonel turned out to be a positive genius at dismantling electrical equipment.
Crusader crews are convinced they fly the best, safest, most versatile airplanes in the world, and that if Washington were smart, only three kinds of planes would be built: Superforts for long range targets, Lightenings for fighter support when needed, and Mitchells for any other odd chores that might crop up.
For effectiveness at bombing above 10,.000 feet, they point to airdromes and to towns throughout the Pacific. For low level attacks and strafing missions they point to the twelve .50 caliber machine guns that jut forward from the plane, and the swaths of destruction they have cut through Jap installations. For attacks on shipping they point to their skipbombing record. For safety they point to their potential speed, the number of Mitchells that have returned to base on one engine, and the enormous number of men who have returned to their squadrons to fly again after landing in the Pacific ocean. In a minimum altitude mission supporting the in
, and Purple Hearts were distributed in Awards Ceremonies from the Russells to the Philippines.
vasions of Zamboanga, three planes were shot down by enemy flak. All three made the ocean, and all three were ditched so safely that 17 out of the 18 men on board were saved. This record is very close to the all-over average for B-25 ditching.
That the Crusaders are not unknown among their confreres in the South and Southwest Pacific is evinced by the heavy sheaf of commendations they have received from higher headquarters of units with whom they have cooperated. They received Admiral Halsey's highest accolade, a radioed "Well done" for their work in the Solomons. A roster of names signed to the commendations in their files would read like a roster of the general officers in the Pacific. For their close support of the Zamboanga invasion they picked up three in three days. A week later they had another for similar support of the Cebu landings where they used their skip-bombing technique to destroy Jap gun positions dug into hillside caves.
Recently a flight of B-25s was seen over French Indo-China. On their rudders the Cross of Lorraine was painted. In the lead ship was Maj. Harry C. Harvey of Mount Kisko, New York, West Point, and various Pacific way stations.
Major Harvey is the new Crusader Commanding Officer. MacArthur's secret weapon is still moving west.
The combat picture from Palawan was at first a continuation, almost without break, of ground support activity, this time over Cebu City. The first significant mission, however, was not to Cebu, but a bombing and strafing of mortar gun positions on Pandanan Island south of Palawan, flown by the 69th under the lead of Major Harvey. Then it was right into high blower for the Cebu operation, with a night heckler by Captain Dana and two from the 390th on the 25th, strikes by the 69th under Lieut. T. C. Mahl, Jr., the 70th behind Lieut. W. A. Hathaway, the 75th led by Lieut. R. M. Stratton, and the 100th with Lieut. Remauld Sawicki.
Hathaway, after dropping his bombs and strafing the target at Cebu, racked his plane up to 900 feet to observe the effects of his attack. He was at this altitude when he crossed the still Jap-held airdrome of Opon across from Cebu City. There was one 20 mm AA gun on Opon. Two bursts from it left him over Bohol Strait with his right engine on fire. His co-pilot was Lieut. Perry Berg, already the victim of a mid-air collision, and who was later forced to ditch off Tarakan in another flaming plane.
Hathaway took off for the open water in a long glide and managed to set his plane down with only minor
bruises to Sgt. William F. Odim, radio operator, and Sgt. Salvator Salina, tall gunner. Rescue was effected within a few minutes, not by Dumbo, for a change, but by an American destroyer.
The succeeding week saw Crusader planes over Cebu at all hours of the day and night, and some notable work was accomplished.
The 70th calls one of the best at Cebu its mission of the 28th of March. Six led by Lieut. W. E. Scott dropped 60 bombs for clean hits which utterly demolished six Nip trucks, fired three tanks, and got away without damage despite accurate MG fire.
Another first for B-25s was written into the record at Cebu, so far as is known, the destruction of caves by skipbombing. The 70th claimed two as a part of its bag of trucks, gun positions, road blocks, and many heavy MG's demolished by direct bomb hits.
Remembering that in this theater of war there were no such juicy targets as congested industrial centers, railroad terminals, ponderous convoys, aircraft factories, or Hamburg Docks, our results can be considered very good.
Of March 25th missions, the pilot of the Liberator that directed and covered the attack was inspired to say that it was the best example of air Support he had ever seen. Results were also good enough to bring repeated commendations from the commanders receiving the support. From A-2 at XIII Fighter Command, under whose tactical direction we were again operating, came the following teletype message: 42ND BOMB GROUP (M) COMAF THIRTEEN QUOTE ALL REPORTS INDICATE 42ND BOMB GROUP DOING SUPERIOR JOB ON CEBU.
As March ended, new faces and voices again pervaded Group and squadrons.
Maj. W. W. Short became Deputy Commander, Mai. C. W. Wolfendale, S-3, and Maj. Roy B. Harris, S-4.
While April, 1945, in Paris found the French lifting their heads for the first time since the black days of 1941, and American armament and uniforms streaming through the beautiful city's broad boulevards in pursuit
of the retreating Hun, the unchanging Pacific tropical season brought an equally glorious recapture of a city. To the north of our station-air, sea, and ground forces closed in and the battle to recover Manila was joined. Ultimately the proud old city by the Pasig River, once the architectural gem of the Orient and now a blackened, burning heap of rubble, was in the hands of American troops led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. "I shall return" had been made good. Dewey Boulevard, Taft and Rizal Avenues again echoed to the march of American feet, and some of the most joyful moments in all history were recorded as the American prisoners of Bilibid and Santo Tomas cast off their chains.
As these milestones of history were emplaced, the Group quietly pursued its essential, if less spectacular, business. The opening days of April continued the Cebu air campaign, the last large missions being flown on April 2nd and 3rd by the 75th with Colonel Harvey in front, the 69th with Lieut. C. S. Rankin leading, the 75th with Lieutenants Taylor and Tanner, the 100th with Lieutenants Florance, Cockrell, and Abbott, and the 390th with Traverso, Niederauer, and Hanna.
The 3rd brought the month's first combat casualty to the 100th. Lieut. L. E. Orcutt, leader of the first element, and his crew were lost over the Cebu target under unknown circumstances. This was the last mission of the series to this target, although a return visit was paid on April Ilth to mop up some guns.
An operational misfortune had marred the opening of April for the 7Sth. Lieut. J. B. Wheeler, landing at Labo runway, overshot and crashed, catching fire. ONIN by the quick action of injured T/Sgt. Fred E. Davis, engineer, was Lieut. Morris A. Ross, navigator, rescued. Lieutenant Wheeler and Major Thorndyke, co-pilot, were similarly helped from the plane by several men, among whom was Lieut. Charles C. Cressy, Jr., a passenger. With the exception of this regrettable crack-up, the 75th finished the month with only one plane damaged and Sergt. J. E. Rathjen, engineer, slightly wounded.
April 2 brought another outstanding first. Flights led by Lieut. T. C. Mahl, Jr., of the 69th, Lieut. H. K.
Off the Indo-China coast, the B-25s found this Sugar Dog. 4 glide bombing effort resulted in some near misses, but strafing had the ship smoking and listing. Meanwhile one of the accompanying P-38 cover tossed a very ripe egg at the Mitchells by peeling off in a screaming dive and planting a 500-pounder under the captain's bunk. The explosion made kindling of the SD.
Prior to the invasion of Mindanao, 42nd planes ranged the roads destroying communications, bombing road junctions. This Jap truck, photographed at the time one bomb exploded under it, is an example of results.
The presence of two planes on Koronadal Iirdrome, Mindanao, was a surprise to everyone including the two sharp-eyed pilots who found these camouflaged planes hidden under trees east of the strip. Both were destroyed by bombs and bullets.
Unruh of the 70th, Lieut. J. W. Robinson of the 75th, Capt. R. D. Smith of the 100th, and Col. Harvey reached French Indo-China. They were navigating P-38s and searching for shipping. They swept along the French Indo-China coast near Cape St. Jacques, gatepost, at the Mekong River delta, of the important, storied city of Saigon, 830 miles from home base. The flight to Indo-China was publicly acclaimed:
"HEADQUARTERS 13th AAF, PHILIPPINES-"On
April 2 for the first time in the history of World War II, the Cross of Lorraine, symbol of General Charles de Gaulle's Free French, flew above Jap-oppressed French Indo-China when 13th AAF Crusaders roared over the coastal regions of France-in-China.
"On each vertical fin of the 42nd Bombardment Group's B-25s, the emblem of Lorraine, cross of St. Joan of Arc, soared over the countryside and in and out of coastal waters, seeking remnants of the once vast Japanese merchant fleet that now hugged the coast as they attempted to sneak north to the Empire past the Allied blockade.
"Leading this first armed reconnaissance was the Crusader Commander Maj. Harry C. Harvey, Mount Kisko, N. Y., whose usually short-legged Mitchells remained aloft for nine and a half hours on the flight. Scores of people waved to the low flying planes, and watched from the beach as the planes, accompanied by jungle Air Force P-38s sank a small Jap cargo ship west of Cape St. Jacques.
"This interdiction of the South China Sea, flown from Philippine bases, cuts once again across Japan's last remaining sea route from Singapore to Tokyo.
"Although two planes were holed, and a navigator injured slightly by anti-aircraft fire, all planes returned safely to base."
For the record, these flights marked the Group's 1186th mission since the maiden attack launched against Vila airfield in June, 1943. From this date onward, navigating P-38s to China or the "Pathfinder" mission as it was
termed, became a regular chore, and thus Crusaders became some of the first medium pilots to strike at the Jap on the Asiatic coast from Southwest Pacific bases.
The next missions of April were a mixed lot-photorecons, a strike on Tarakan on April 4th, led by Colonel Harvey, Captain Dana, and Lieutenant Winston; shipping sweeps of northeast and northwest Borneo which netted, among other prizes, a jackpot for Major Hedlund, Lieut. R. S. McNeil, Lieut. W. L. Love and F/0 R. A. Gill of the 69th. They bagged a 1000-ton freighter and one slightly smaller, a 60-foot lugger, two oil barges, and an apparently well stocked warehouse at Brunei Bay. 70th pilots got the radar station off southwest Tarakan and several SDs; barges and small river craft were sent to the bottom by all squadrons.
It will be remembered that this was not the Group's first Tarakan fray, for as far back as November, 1944, five of our Mitchells had raided the oil island, sinking a gunboat and damaging three SC's and a barge.
Other flights were an observer mission to Jolo flown by Lieut. Branko T. Popovich of the 69th on April 7; a single ship photo-recon of Balikpapan, flown from Morotai on the 8th by Lieut. Richard Marron, which drew a commendation from the Second Photo Charting Unit, who ought to know pictures; and additional pathfinders and shipping sweeps. During one of the latter, while attacking at minimum over Brunei Town on the 6th, Lieut. Ward D. Rae of the 100th struck a tree and ditched in the water off the target. F/0 Robert E. Strong, T/Sgt. Harold T. Crawford and S/Sgt. Norbert W. Heitz went down with the plane; the others were rescued by Dumbo. Rescue cover was flown by Lieut. S. B. Hunt of the 390th and Capt. E. M. Eastburn of the 69th.
Additional -pilots to reach China included Lieut. H. W. Platt, 75th; 390th Operations Officer C. J. Niederauer; Lieut. Wilbur M. Mechwart, 69th; Major Hedlund, whose flight got through to Cape Pandaran and Cape Varella; and Lieut. Harold A. Peeler of the 75th.
Rendezvousing with the fighters over Saigon at 10,000
teet, Lieutenant Peeler saw seven assorted Nip planes, later identified by the fighters as Franks and Hamps, rising to meet him. Two passed in close enough for tall gunner S/Sgt. William N. Outlaw to get a shot at them before the fighters took over, getting four out of the covey.
On April 8 Lieut. Perry L. Berg of the 70th, already a victim of an air collision and one ditching, took off from Palawan with two others for a shipping search of east Borneo. Probing south of Tarakan, he was hit in the right engine by AA and was again forced to land his plane in the Pacific. S/Sgt. Wayne L. Holmes, and S/Sgt. Stanley Kuzma of the crew were slightly injured in the landing. Lieut. Peter A. Turner, together with a passing B-34, circled the ditchers until fuel supply ordered a return. At dusk Lieut. C. E. Rich arrived on the scene and took up the cover. Twelve shots from the same guns that claimed Lieutenant Berg's ship were fired at him, but caused no damage. Berg and his crew spent the night on the open water under intermittent rain, at times within 150 yards of the Jap sub-pens on South Tarakan.
Lieutenant Turner found the crewmen at 0700 the following morning. Recalling, he said: "Coming in, I could see them paddling desperately to keep away from shore. When they saw me they stopped paddling and raised their sail. It wasn't funny, but their obvious relief made us laugh from where we sat."
At 0900 a PBY landed to make the rescue. The Cat received a gaping hole in its wing and tall from the same guns that shot Berg down, and accomplished the pick up under a hall of MG fire that put 150 holes into the PBY, and injured two of the crew.
On this day the 100th suffered another grievous loss. Capt. R. D. Smith and his entire crew went down into the Sulu Sea while engaged in a routine instruction flight from Leyte.
Then at mid-month an important series of missions turned northeast. Roads, trucks, and enemy concentrations of all kinds were to be the targets in highway interdiction flights in the Malambang-Perang-Cotobato district of Central Mindanao. It was another typical job for us-to harass, cut off, and destroy retreating Japs, pocketing them for the final kill by the ground soldiers. Mission bags ran: "A tractor, two bulldozers, an automobile, a steamroller." "Five trucks, a road-side fuel cache." "Three road-blocks, and possible gun emplacements." Major Robison gleefully remembers one of his hits, a bomb laid neatly onto a truck just as the vehicle entered a cave. Another bit of humor:
"HEADQUARTERS 13th AAF, PHILIPPINES-A
red faced B-25 pilot of the Crusaders, 13th AAF medium outfit, is convinced that someone on Mindanao has a sense of humor, exercised at the pilot's expense.
Before the recent invasion of western Mindanao, Jap communications lines were slashed daily by Crusader planes. The anonymous pilot speeding at tree-top height along National Route Five spotted a steam roller, knocked it out of commission by strafing, and dropped a bomb at it, but missed. Two days later, at the same spot he dropped another bomb and again missed. On the morning of the invasion he passed the same steam roller again. It had been painted a bright yellow."
Contrary to arm-chair strategic pronouncements that the Philippines had been taken at this time, we knew only too well the true score. The 100th's Lieut. Daniel Fischer and crew paid the price on the Mindanao targets-of-opportunity strike of the 14th, being seen last near Koronadel.
This work, too, elicited praise from high quarters, and also revived an argument begun at Sansapor when "The Crusaders" was officially adopted as the Group's nom de guerre. Department of Sanitation, Street Cleaners, Cleaner-Uppers, and other similar, and equally ill-favored, names had been submitted then. They certainly applied to the Mindanao job.
|Preface||Chapter 22||Chapter 24|