World War II in the Pacific

MAG-45’s War in the Pacific Backwaters

The strip at Falalop Island, Ulithi Atoll, home to Marine Air Group-45. This photo was taken at the end of April 1945. In the photo can be seen several F6F-5N night fighters, a line of TBM Avengers, a few SBD Dauntless dive bombers, an SB2C Helldiver, and an unusual array of Culver TD2C Turkey target drones (at right)

The strip at Falalop Island, Ulithi Atoll, home to Marine Air Group-45. This photo was taken at the end of April 1945. In the photo can be seen several F6F-5N night fighters, a line of TBM Avengers, a few SBD Dauntless dive bombers, an SB2C Helldiver, and an unusual array of Culver TD2C Turkey target drones (at right)

In the fall of 1944, Marine Air Group-45 set up shop at Ulithi Atoll and received the task of suppressing the bypassed Japanese bases in the Carolines. MAG-45’s biggest and most important target was Yap, which included a large airfield capable of handling twin-engine bombers. The air group’s Avenger squadron, initially VMTB-232 and later VMSB-245, also provided anti-submarine patrols around the fleet anchorage at Ulithi. In November, two Japanese submarines launched five midget subs which succeeded in sinking a U.S. Navy oiler. Marine Avengers sank two of the midget subs.

In the months that followed, the air group flew night intercept operations with VMF (N)-542’s F6F-5N Hellcats, carried out ceaseless attacks on Yap, Fais and Sorol Islands. Though they encountered only occasional Japanese aircraft, the flak over these targets was often intense and so dangerous the crews were told not to drop below six thousand feet during their attack runs.

USMC Series WWII MAG-45 vmsb-245 ii Ulithi Atoll 040445 -1

VMSB-245’s parking area in May 1945. ‘245 arrived at Ulithi in March and flew until the end of the war. It had previously flown a tour from Midway and a second in the Marshall Islands prior to arriving at Ulithi. TBM Avengers, SB2C Helldivers, F6F-5N Hellcats can be seen along with what looks like a USN variant of the Beech 18 and an air rescue float plane.

MAG-45’s job was a thankless one, their efforts and missions lost to the American people as the tide of war advanced ever closer to the shores of the Japanese Homeland. Yet, it was in these grinding, attritional missions that the Marine aviators demonstrated a supreme level of dedication to their craft and cause. Day in and day out, the struck the same targets to ensure the strips at Yap could not be used to launch surprise raids against the U.S. warships at anchor in Ulithi, which had become a key forward replenishing base for the fast carrier task forces. There was little chance to participate in a major battle that could make headlines and history, and almost no opportunity for the fighter pilots to score aerial kills. Yet they were steadfast and carried out their missions with deadly effectiveness until the Japanese surrender in August 1945.

In honor of their all-but unknown efforts, here are some photographs from that backwater campaign.

VMSB-245 crews receive a target briefing prior to a mission against Yap Island on May 1, 1945.

VMSB-245 crews receive a target briefing prior to a mission against Yap Island on May 1, 1945.

USMC Series WWII MAG-45 Pilots Mangrum Ulithi Atoll 042845-1

LT. Col. Hurst and Colonel Robert Mangum chat with and congratulate two young fighter pilots, Lt. Hill and Lt. Hungtington, after they shot down a Japanese plane. April 28, 1945.


Categories: World War II in the Pacific | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ulithi Interlude

USMC Series WWII MAG-45 gunners and monkey vmsb-245 Ulithi Atoll 05145-1

Memo: Before bombing Yap Island, always remember to feed your monkey.


Categories: World War II in the Pacific | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Fate of the Oklahoma

raising the oklahoma257

Righting the Oklahoma took almost 3 months. At bottom of the photo is the wreck of the Arizona, still leaking fuel. May 1943

During the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, Japanese B5N “Kate” bombers scored five torpedo hits on the USS Oklahoma’s port side. The massive damage to this aged battleship prompted her to begin listing to port. Within minutes, she had turned turtle, trapping hundreds of sailors in her hull. In the hours and days after the attack, civilian shipyard workers and other sailors worked furiously to cut openings in the Oklahoma’s exposed keel in order to rescue the men still alive inside the ship. The effort saved thirty-two men. Stephen Young, one of those rescued, later wrote a gripping account of what he and his fellow sailors endured during those horrific hours after the ship turned turtle. Find his book here:

raising the oklahoma249

The cable system employed to right the Oklahoma had to be reset every few days as the ship began to roll. It was slow work and took months to complete.

Four hundred and twenty-nine men died aboard the Oklahoma. Only the Arizona‘s destruction cost more American lives on December 7th. Most of those sailors died within her hull, and as salvage work began on her in mid-1942, one of the first tasks was to recover those remains. For the sailors, divers and civilian contractors assigned to the vessel, the work was gruesome, dangerous and emotionally taxing to the utmost.



raising the oklahoma258

From the spring of 1942 to the summer of 1943, the salvage operation continued. Patches needed to be welded to the hull to cover the torpedo damage and make the ship watertight again. Teams of divers and workers cleared out ammunition, cut away damage and pumped out the thousands of gallons of fuel still remaining in the battleship’s tanks. As that work continued, other teams emplaced twenty-one massive winches on Ford Island. The salvage team rigged cables between the ship and the winches, and these were used to gradually pull the Oklahoma upright. It was a slow task that required intricate engineering work. After three agonizing months, the winches finally righted the wrecked battleship.

Hawaiian Female Salvage Worker Pearl Harbor 43 943

A civilian salvage worker aboard the Oklahoma in 1943. This was grueling, dangerous work which included having to recover the remains of hundreds of fallen sailors who’d been trapped aboard the battleship when she turned turtle.

Oklahoma Salvage May 43 941

Almost righted, May 1943.

Once back on an even keel, the work to make her watertight was finished. Machinery, the rest of her ammunition and weaponry were pulled off and she was basically stripped to await scrapping. She was eventually towed to drydock where the work was finished. She spent the rest of the war moored in the harbor as a silent reminder of that terrible day in December 1941.Oklahoma Salvage May 43 937raising the oklahoma252

She was sold for scrap after the war, but while under tow to San Francisco in May 1947, she and her two tugs encountered a heavy storm. The battered old battlewagon couldn’t take the rough seas. She began to take on water, and a dangerous list developed. As she began to sink, the Oklahoma nearly dragged both tugs down with her. Fortunately, quick action on the part of the tugs’ crews prevented such a disaster. Oklahoma went to the bottom some five hundred miles east of Pearl Harbor. Her hull may lay in an anonymous Pacific grave, but her heart was torn out on Battleship Row in 1941.

raising the oklahoma254



Categories: World War II in the Pacific | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Remember Wake Island!

wake island under attack 4x6

Smoke rises over Wake Atoll after a U.S. Navy raid against the Japanese garrison there in 1944.

Wake003 Propaganda

The wrecked remains of VMF-211’s F4F Wildcats. VMF-211’s epic, outnumbered campaign against the Japanese earned it distinction, and after the last of the Wildcats was destroyed, the pilots served as infantry and fought on the beaches of Wake during the final invasion on December 23, 1941.

December 11, 1941, the USMC, Navy and civilian construction workers on Wake Atoll held off a Japanese amphibious landing attempt in what became the Pacific War’s only successful defense against such an assault. Wake held out for another two weeks until the Japanese effected a night landing and got ashore in force.


moh henry elrod721 8x10

Henry “Hank” Elrod, one of VMF-211’s F4F pilots, earned the Marine Corps’ first Medal of Honor for an aviator during WWII. He was credited with sinking a Japanese warship on December 11, 1941, then later fought as infantry during the night amphibious landing on Wake. He was killed in action during the fight on one of the landing beaches.

The garrison surrendered on December 23, 1941 after having inflicting between 700-1,000 casualties on the Japanese. The defenders also sank two destroyers, two transports and a submarine during their desperate stand in the Central Pacific. The December 11, 1941 victory galvanized a dispirited American home front and led to considerable press. “Remember Wake Island,” became a propaganda slogan for months after the atoll’s surrender.

Categories: World War II in the Pacific | Leave a comment

Warrior Adversary: Saburo Horita’s Story


The Imperial Japanese Navy heavy cruiser Tone. Saburo Horita was assigned to a 25mm anti-aircraft gun crew located near the ship’s bridge.

Saburo Horita grew up on a five acre plot of land his father farmed in Toyama prefecture on the west coast of Honshu. They were a poor family that included three sons (Saburo was the youngest). When Saburo was fourteen, his oldest brother died. Not long after, his mother died as well. He and remaining brother, who had been a porter in a Tokyo bath house until their mom’s death, worked the land together, raising vegetables and rice.

japanese cadet training652 4x6

Japanese pre-war flight training was among the most rigorous in the world, but as the war continued and losses mounted, the Japanese were forced to cut their program short in order to get pilots into the field as quickly as possible.

In June, 1939, Saburo joined the Imperial Japanese Navy, and after six months of training at Yokosuka, joined the complement of the heavy cruiser Tone. He served as a 25mm anti-aircraft gunner and part of the deck crew for the next year. In January 1941, he decided to try and become a naval aviator, hoping he’d be able to fly bombers someday. He passed his physical and all the necessary exams, and received orders sending him to flight school Kasumigaura. He learned to fly on the venerable Type 93 “Willow” biplane, and then later got stick time in a Type 95 “Dave” two-seat biplane.

After he graduated from flight training, the Imperial Navy sent Saburo to Takao, Formosa, where he joined the 3rd Air Group as a reserve pilot. He’d had no time in advanced fighters, so the group put him through an intensive, crash course on the Mitsubishi A6M2 “Zero” fighter they had been flying in combat against the USAAF units in the Philippines. Horita arrived in January 1942, just as air campaign over Luzon was drawing to a close.

Japanese Air Cadets Training 2

Saburo Horita trained on Type 93 and 95 biplanes before graduating to the legendary A6M2 Zero fighter, which he first flew when he arrived on Formosa in early 1942.

After ground instruction, he and his fellow replacement pilots were strapped into Zeroes and sent aloft to get familiar with the aircraft. On those early training flights, the fledglings were told to leave the landing gear down, as none had ever flown a craft with a retractable undercarriage. Saburo and others found the Zero tricky to land, and often they would “kangaroo” across the strip at Takao, bouncing the Zero on and off the runway as they tried to execute a touch-and-go.

Zero over Mt Fuji 8x10

A Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter with Mt. Fuji in the background. When questioned on the Zero’s performance, Saburo told his Japanese-American interrogator that its top speed was 340 mph and could climb at 3,000 feet a minute.

After they worked through getting his Zero back on the ground consistently, Saburo underwent formation flying and aerobatics instruction with more senior 3rd Air Group pilots. But all too soon, the pressing need for combat pilots forced this first contingent of replacement pilots into battle. Along with six other aviators, Horita boarded a Type 96 “Nell” bomber in February 1942 and flew down to Mindanao. From there, they made the jump to Kendari Airdrome on the Celebes Island in the Dutch East Indies. From there, the 3rd Attack Group had been operating against the Allied air units fighting in the Java campaign. Once Java fell to the Japanese, the 3rd Air Group, based now on Timor, escorted G4M “Betty” bomber raids against northern Australia.

It was during those attacks that Saburo Horita first flew in combat. He took part in at least one raid on Port Darwin in June 1942 before being transferred to Rabaul in November 1942. At Rabaul, he joined the freshly redesignated 582nd Kokutai, which had been the 2nd Air Group up until that time. Before he had a chance to fly in the Guadalcanal campaign, he was stricken with malaria and spent about six weeks recovering. While in the hospital, some of his comrades were posted at Lae and thrown into the fight against the 5th Air Force while others stayed at Rabaul to fly missions against the Allies in the Southern Solomons.

After returning to flight status, Horita had between 300-400 hours in Zeroes, Type 93’s and 95’s. He’d been promoted to lead a three-plane formation, known as a Shotai. It was as a Shotai leader that he flew his final combat mission on January 31, 1943.

Sec 4 IC F A translated document detailing the Japannese side of the sinking of the USS Chicago in January 1943

A translated intercept of a Japanese message detailing the loss of the Chicago during the Battle of Rennell Island.

On that day, the 582nd received orders to escort a squadron of bombers against Allied warships at Tulagi Harbor. The previous two days had been furious ones over the Southern Solomons. Japanese airstrikes had sunk a destroyer and the heavy cruiser Chicago in a debacle later known as the “Battle of Rennell Island.” On the 31st, IJN reconnaissance had detected three warships near Tulagi, and they would be the raid’s primary targets.

nick philippines596

During his interrogation, Horita was shown a drawing of a new Japanese twin-engine fighter that the Allies knew little about. This was probably either the Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu (Nick) (pictured here), or the Nakajima Gekko (Irving) night fighter. Horita had known nothing about the new plane, and while admiring the sketch he muttered that he would have liked to have had a chance to fly it.

Over the target area, the Japanese strike failed to locate any Allied ships. Without radios in their Zero fighters, the 582nd could not converse with the bomber crews, so they simply stayed with them and followed wherever they went. In this case, they began searching to the south of Tulagi and Guadalcanal. The search yielded results: two destroyers were soon sighted, and the bombers dove to the attack.

f4f usmc airborne 4037

F4F Wildcats airborne over the Southern Solomon Islands. The F4F was the primary air defense aircraft during the bitter struggle for Guadalcanal 42-43.

A squadron of F4F Wildcats was overhead that day, protecting the Allied vessels. The 582nd locked horns with the American fighters, and a dogfight raged over the ships.  At fifteen hundred feet, Saburo’s Zero was attacked by four Wildcats and shot up. He turned north and limped his crippled Zero for home, but over Russell Island, his engine seized. He ditched the Mitsubishi in shallow water right off the beach and waded ashore. Five foot four, one hundred and twenty pounds, Saburo Horita was now hundreds of miles from home, with no way to get back to Japanese lines.

He thought through his situation, and concluded his only hope lay in trying to steal a boat or canoe from the local natives. Exactly what he hoped to do with it is unknown, but perhaps he thought he could paddle the 30 miles to Guadalcanal where he could link up with the Japanese garrison there before it was evacuated.

IMG0077 a6m zero cockpit from recovered from pearl harbor raid  8x10

Saburo Horita’s office–the cockpit of an A6M2 Zero. On long flights, he and his fellow pilots would carry a lunch composed of rice balls wrapped in seaweed.

Whatever his intent, he acquired a canoe from the natives at gunpoint, which earned him no friends. The natives eventually got the drop on him and took him prisoner. He was quickly delivered to Allied authorities, where he was interrogated by Colonel Sidney Mashbir’s  Allied Translator and Interpreter Section, SWPA (ATIS/SWPA). The Japanese-American who conducted the interrogation found Saburo Horita to be intelligent but poorly educated. His answers were cautious, and unlike many other POW’s, he was security conscious and did not reveal a lot of information. However, what he did say generally was believed to be accurate.







Categories: World War II in the Pacific | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Wartime Anniversaries

am frst 300 cDecember 7, 1941 transformed the lives of every American even more completely than the September 11, 2001 attacks did two generations later. Young Americans from all corners of the United States suddenly saw the scope of their world change radically. For most, their lives consisted of all the Depression Era travails of trying to establish a foothold in the job market, or somehow finding a way to get an education. Most had not traveled, few had been overseas. They lived in quiet small towns, on farms or in cities still reeling from the labor unrest and high unemployment rates that had become hallmarks of the previous decade.

127th inf regiment 600 yards buna mission dec 28 42  4x6

December 1942: Soldiers of the 127th Infantry Regiment fighting at Buna, New Guinea. So far from Wisconsin, where this National Guard unit hailed from before it was Federalized.

The Pearl Harbor attack scattered the Greatest Generation across the globe. Kids from small town America found themselves fighting and bleeding in places they had never heard of before December 7, 1941. Yet, those far flung places would forever be pivotal moments in their lives, and the memories the “lucky” ones carried home would haunt them for their remaining years.

There were three wartime anniversaries of the Pearl Harbor attack. Each one was exploited for its propaganda and political value by the domestic media, but for the individual Soldier, Sailor, Aviator and Marine, these anniversaries had profound personal meaning. For them, it marked the end of their peaceful lives and the start of a new arc that would test their mental, spiritual and physical endurance.

11th AF FAW4  PBY Catalina  Amchitka Island Aleutians 120743 (1 of 1)

Refueling a USN PBY Catalina at Amchitka, Island. December 7, 1943. Fleet Air Wing Four. Few Americans had ever set foot on Amchitka prior to Pearl Harbor. Few have visited since VJ-Day.



5th army Soldierd on patrol  in winter gear Pracchia italy 120744 ii (1 of 1)

An America patrol moves through the snowy Italian countryside near Pracchia, December 7, 1944.

They were caught up in a high tide of events far beyond their control, but ultimately each played a part in reshaping the world through the victories they secured.

May we be grateful for all they gave up for that victory, and may we strive to ensure that no generation, from any nation, endure such a crucible again.  Peace to all of you, and best wishes for this holiday season.




lt grover c blissard usaaf with dsc 3 pairs of wings wia McCloakey General Hospital Temple Texas 120743  (1 of 1)

December 7, 1943. Lt. Grover C. Blissard receives a DSC. From small town Texas, Blissard entered the USAAF and became a B-17 co-pilot in the 12th Air Force during the 1942-43 Torch campaign. During a mission to Italy, his Fort was hit repeatedly by flak and fighters. The attacks killed his ball turret gunner, but they stayed in formation. Then a cannon shell hit the cockpit and blew off his right leg at the knee. “My right leg was dangling there on the floor, held by a piece of flesh an inch wide,” he told his hometown paper later. He applied a tourniquet made from a torn piece of his shirt, and continued mission. His crew did not turn for home until after they had released their bombs on the target area.


b26 boneyard landsberg germany dec 7 454 4x6

December 7, 1945. Landsberg, Germany. The end of the line for 9th Air Force’s B-26’s. They were blown up here and scrapped.


Categories: World War II in Europe, World War II in the Pacific | Leave a comment

December 7, 1941



NAS Pearl 7Dec41Pearl012 Ewa Field

pearl Harbor 300 dpi c

Pearl009 Ewa Field

Pearl Harbor 4


Pearl Harbor 3


Arizona explodes at pearl harbor color 4x6


















Categories: World War II in the Pacific | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Last Jump: Task Force Gypsy at Aparri

Gen Kruger with 511th PIR 11th Airborne 45 4x6

General Walter Krueger with men of the 511th Parachute Infantry, seen in the Philippines 1945.


During the bitter fighting for Northern Luzon, Philippines in the final months of World War II, the 37th Infantry Division (Ohio National Guard) was tasked flanking the main Japanese positions and seizing the coastal town of Aparri. This was the scene of one of the first Japanese amphibious landings in the 1941-42 campaign.  General Walter Krueger decided to commit elements of the 11th Airborne Division to the attack, which he hoped would ultimately surround one of the last major Japanese army formations on the island (Shobu Group with about 50,000 men).

11th Airborne Div 503rd PIR Landing on Corregidor Aerial View Philippines 021645 ix (1 of 1)

The 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 11th Airborne, landing on Corregidor, February 16, 1945.

The storied 11th Airborne Division was the only air assault unit available to General MacArthur’s Sixth and Eighth Armies. The men of the 11th had executed airborne landings at Nadzab, New Guinea, Noemfoor, New Guinea and had dropped on Corregidor Island right atop a garrison that significantly outnumbered them. Elements of the division at taken part in the Los Banos Raid, the liberation of Manila and had fought on Leyte and Negros Islands as well.

The 1st Battalion, 511th Parachute Infantry formed the core of the task force assembled for this new mission, but men from the 187th Infantry, the 127th Engineers and the 457th Parachute Field Artillery also joined what would be known as TF-Gypsy. The plan called for a drop and glider landing on an airfield just out side of Appari. Once on the ground, the task force would push south while the Ohio National Guard advanced north to effect the link up.

The operation began on June 21, 1945 when a small group of Pathfinders air assaulted onto Camalaniugan Airfield to prep the LZ. Two days later, on the morning of June 23rd, the men of Task Force Gypsy climbed into sixty-seven C-47’s and C-46 transports for the short flight to the LZ. As the aircraft arrived overhead, the Pathfinders on the group popped colored smoke to mark the drop zones.

11th airborne division airborne assault on aparri field 1945948 5x7

Four of the six Waco CG-4’s that took part in the Aparri landing are seen here in the LZ. June 23, 1945.

Heavy winds hampered the parachutists. Two were killed and at least another seventy suffered injuries as they were buffeted by the winds and thrown into trees or other terrain features on the ground. The airfield itself was poorly developed and the uneven ground proved treacherous.

A half dozen Waco CG-4 gliders landed after the parachutists got on the ground. They carried the task force’s heavy weapons and jeeps, giving Gypsy a bit of mobility.

11th airborne paradrop june 45 Luzon 8x10

Task Force Gypsy jumps at Appari, 0900 June 23, 1945

The task force quickly assembled and began patrolling south of the airfield, where the paratroops ran into determined resistance. For three days, the men of the 511th and 457th Parachute Field Artillery Bn (attacked to TF Gypsy), burned out bunkers with flame throwers, destroyed pillboxes with 75mm pack howitzer fire and waited for the 37th to reach them. It took until June 26th for the two American elements to link up, but when they did, the Shobu Group’s escape route to the coast had been cut off. The Japanese troops faced a grim fate: starvation, death or surrender.

5th af series swpa appari drop 560 4x6

TF Gypsy forming up and moving south from the LZ, June 23, 1945.

The Aparri operation was the last American combat air assault operation of WWII. A number of combat cameramen joined the mission, taking extensive film and photographs while in the LZ. Below is one reel of uncut, unedited footage shot by one of those men on June 23, 1945.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Everett “Smitty” Smith, 187th Infantry, who was part of TF-Gypsy that June. His son has a fantastic blog that chronicles his father’s experience during the war. Find it at:






Categories: World War II in the Pacific | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Saipan Beach H-Hour, in Color

USMC Series WWII Saipan 1st wave hits beach LVT 061544  (1 of 1)In just two hours on June 15, 1944, three hundred amphibious tractors (LVT’s) carried over eight thousand heavily armed U.S. Marines onto Saipan Island in the Marianas Chain. It was a masterful display of amphibious warfare tactics and doctrine, but it also set the stage for a brutal, close range battle for control of Saipan’s sandy west coast. In places, the Marines found themselves pinned down by intense mortar, artillery and automatic weapons fire, and it took hours just to claw a foothold ashore. But by nightfall, the Marines had established themselves enough to repel the first of many Japanese counter-attacks.Marines struggling on the beach at saipan 5x7

This short film clip is raw footage shot by one of the Marine combat cameramen who went ashore with one of the first waves. It is silent, as was most of the footage shot, but that only adds to the poignancy of these scenes. The images are striking, not only for the chaos and carnage they reveal, but also for the film’s clarity. Much of the Marine Corps color footage has deteriorated over the years so that they are predominately reddish or blue. It makes for muddy looking scenes, and in many cases the more common black & white film has stood up better over the years. This clip is stark, clear and the colors have survived the decades in remarkably good shape.




Categories: World War II in the Pacific | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Day the U.S. Navy Bombed a Russian Tanker

A VB-136 PV-1 Ventura takes off from Casco Field, Attu Island in the fall of 1944.

The morning of August 27, 1944 was a cold one (they all were) on Attu Island in the Aleutian chain. There on the edge of nowhere, Fleet Air Wing Four’s Lockheed PV-1 Ventura bombers carried on a fitful war against Japan’s northernmost bases in the Kurile Island group. Whenever the weather cooperated, the Ventura crews would sortie forth to hunt for shipping to bomb and land bases to attack.

Lt. Everett Price and his crew from VB-136 took off that morning just after 0700, bound for Otomari Zaki, one of the islands in the Kuriles. Price had orders to strike at any Japanese shipping encountered, or supplies discovered on the island there. It would be a long flight, and the Venture carried one thousand four hundred and fifty gallons of fuel to feed its twin Pratt & Whitney R-2800 radial engines.

FAW4 VB136 PV1 Ventura Airborne 304

A VB-136 Ventura on mission.

At four thousand feet, Price tried to gauge the wind speed that day by looking down at the waves below. After studying the water, he concluded that the breeze was about half as intense as the 30 knots they had been told to expect earlier that morning. He told his navigator, Ensign George Campbell, to factor that change into his calculations. Not long after, Campbell fixed their position with a sunline and LORAN and he concluded they were 450 miles from their target area and about 175 minutes out. They were also off course to the north of their intended flight path. Campbell made some corrections and passed them to Price.

Later that morning, they spotted the Kamchatka Peninsula, watching it pass by on their starboard side. Flying in and out of clouds, they finally sighted a tall volcanic mountain that they thought was Araido To. A few minutes later, after four hours in the air, somebody called out two vessels off to starboard. Price made them out, perhaps twenty-five miles away. Towering clouds loomed in the distance to the south, and a fog bank hugged the wave tops near the two ships. They were close to the coastline of one of the Kurile Islands, which the aviators thought was Onekotan.

Price and his copilot, Ensign Francis Praete, banked the PV-1 toward the two vessels while the crew studied them with binoculars. One looked like a Japanese picket ship. The other was a tanker–a prime target for the Navy crews.

faw 4 after action reports621

One of Gavin’s photographs that he shot with the K-20 while crouched between Price and Phaete. Here, the PV-1 crew is making their attack on the tanker.

Game on. Price pushed the yoke forward and dove to the attack. They dropped down to seventy-five feet and leveled off. The tanker seemed to be making about ten knots on a northeasterly course, and Price positioned the PV-1 for a beam attack.

Four thousand feet from the target, Price opened fire with the Ventura’s bow guns. He two second burst fell wide of the ship, chewing up the swells just forward of the tanker’s bow. He corrected, and hammered the vessel with a long, eight to ten second burst. The plane’s five .50 caliber machine guns spewed out about five hundred rounds, tearing through the bridge and superstructure, puncturing the hull and causing extensive damage.

Closing at 240 knots, Price kept firing, walking the nose back and forth with rudder inputs to try and suppress the anti-aircraft fire that was now directed against them. Several guns were located fore and aft on the tanker, and while they were not using tracers, the crew could see their muzzle flashes and feel near-misses buffet their aircraft.

This was the critical moment. Price remained laser-focused on executing their bomb run, Praete next to him on the controls as well. Between them crouched Paul Gavin, the radioman. He held a K-20 camera in hand and was shooting photographs of the attack.

The final seconds of Price’s bomb run. Photo again taken by Gavin.

The intercom suddenly lit up with chatter, but Price was so focused he couldn’t make out what was being said. Then Gavin suddenly pounded on his shoulder. Price ignored him. The tanker swelled before them, its masts well above the PV-1. One mistake now, and they’d careen into the ship and all be killed.

Lieutenant Price triggered the bomb release. Three bombs were supposed to fall out of the bay at hundred foot intervals. The first, an incendiary, failed to arm. The second, a 500lb General Purpose bomb, hung on the rack and failed drop. The third, another incendiary, released perfectly. It struck the tanker directly amidships and punctured a meter square hole in the hull about six feet above the waterline.

Price pulled up at the last possible moment, narrowly missing the tanker’s mast. As they cleared the area, Gavin snapped photos of the vessel burning, smoke boiling from the direct hit. It was a masterful masthead level bombing run, the sort perfected by the 5th Air Force, then passed on to the U.S. Navy’s bomber squadrons.

Except that the tanker was the Russian USSR Emba, a Suamico class fleet oiler built in Portland, Oregon. Completed in May 1944  she was handed over to the Russians as part of our Lend-Lease program at the end of June. The Russians had crewed it for only two months when Price’s crew put a hole in her hull.

Moment of impact. Price’s third bomb strikes Emba amidship. Emba survived the war and the Soviet Union turned her back over the United States in 1948. She was renamed Shawnee Trail, AO-142 and served through the 1960s in both the USN and the merchant fleet. She was sold for scrap in 1973.


It turned out that the chatter on the intercom during the bomb run came from the plane captain, Paul Knoop, who had spotted “USSR” written on the Emba’s side. Gavin also spotted Russian markings, which was why he started hitting Price’s shoulder.

When the PV-1 returned to Casco Field on Attu, Price found himself in the middle of an international incident. It turned out the crew had erred in their navigation and had wandered over the Russian sealane between the U.S. and Vladivostok. This sealane accounted for 50% of all the material sent by the United States to the Soviet Union during the war. Gasoline, oil, trucks, raw materials, railway cars and locomotives were all delivered via the Pacific Route. Armaments, aircraft, ammunition were all prohibited due to the touchy neutrality issues between Russia and Japan, so everything carried through Japanese waters had to be non-combat related.

An investigation commenced almost at once. A U.S. Navy inspection team examined the Emba on September 2, 1944, counting over a hundred and fifty bullet holes on the bridge alone. Other rounds pierced the hull and narrowly missed the ship’s doctor. Fortunately, the bomb hit did not compromise the Emba’s watertight integrity and caused no casualties.

Price and Phaete were disciplined for their mistake, though what that discipline was is lost to history now. Fleet Air Wing Four redoubled its ship identification efforts, and went over the recognition signal procedures with all air crew.

The message that no squadron commander wants to receive. Ever.




Categories: World War II in the Pacific | 6 Comments

Blog at