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Marion’s Shoes


   IMG0083 nara 57 marion carl Marion Carl grew up in the tiny village of Hubbard, Oregon, a few dozen miles southwest of Portland.  After graduating from high school, he enrolled at Oregon State University.  While studying engineering, he also joined the Corps of Engineers and  ROTC.  In the fall of 1937, during his senior year, Carl learned to fly on a Piper J-2 Cub at an airport just outside of Corvallis.  In May, 1938, Carl went up to Fort Lewis, Washington tried to enlist in the Army Air Corps .  The Air Corps turned him down, citing unspecified physical reasons.  Later, Carl discovered that the recruiter had filled his quota for the month and had rejected him for that reason.

            He graduated from OSU in June, 1938 and spent the summer up at Fort Lewis as a second lieutenant in the Army.  Despite the Air Corps’ reject, Marion was determined to find a way into the air. He went to see a Navy recruiter and was accepted into the naval aviation cadet program. In August, he reported for duty in the Navy.  In one day, he went from a second lieutenant in the Army to a Seaman Second Class in the Navy to a Private First Class in the Marine Corps!  Years later, Marion Carl would become one of the rarest of officers–one who worked his way up from private to general in the course of a most distinguished military career.

            Carl recalled in a 1992 interview that he chose the Marine Corps for two reasons, “I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about being at sea so much.  The other was, of the eight of us  there, I was the only one who qualified for the Corps.  I was the only one with a college degree.  The Navy was taking men with two years, but the Marines weren’t.  You had to have a college degree.  On top of that, I got to Pensacola a month ahead of the others.”

            Of the eight other young men Carl joined up with that summer, three washed out of flight school. The other five became Navy pilots.

            When the war began, Carl was serving with VMF-221, a fighter squadron equipped with the squat, barrel-shaped Brewster F2A Buffalo.  Just after Pearl Harbor, Carl and the squadron boarded the U.S.S. Saratoga as part of the Wake Island relief expedition.  VMF-221 was supposed to be launched from the Saratoga, fly to Wake and help defend the atoll with the remnants of VMF-211, the Wildcat squadron already there.

            Just before the Saratoga came into range of Wake, the operation was canceled.  The frustration the Marines felt was palpable, and on the bridge of the Sara, officers talked openly of disregarding these orders.  Nevertheless, the task force turned around and aborted their mission.  A short time later, the gallant defenders of Wake Island surrendered to overwhelming Japanese forces.

            Instead of going to Wake, Marion Carl and VMF-221 went to Midway Atoll.  There, amongst the gooney birds, the men wallowed in boredom for nearly six months, flying training missions but never sighting the Japanese.

Another shot of Midway Atoll. This is Sand Island.

Midway Atoll. This is Sand Island.

            At the end of May, 1942, Midway received a sudden influx of reinforcements.  They came in drips and dribbles– a few B-17s, a quartet of Marauders from the 22nd Bomb Group, and six TBF Avengers from Torpedo Eight. Having broken the Japanese naval code, JN-25, the Americans knew the Japanese would soon be attacking Midway.  Every available airplane was rushed to the Atoll.

            That attack came on the morning of June 4, 1942.  VMF-221 took to the air in defense of Wake Atoll.  Carl took off with the squadron flying a Grumman F4F Wildcat, one of six the squadron now possessed.  Together with the Buffalos, the Marines were able to put up twenty-five fighters to meet over a hundred Japanese aircraft, all flown by crack veterans of the China Incident, Pearl Harbor and the Ceylon Raid.   The result was a slaughter.  The Zeroes flying cover for the Nakajima B5N Kates and Aichi D3A Vals had  placed themselves too high and too far behind their chargees to prevent the Marines from making one unhindered pass.  The Americans took advantage of the mistake and managed to claw down a couple of bombers before the Zeroes descended upon them in all their fury.  The Brewsters, unmaneuverable and slow, were chopped to pieces by the expert Japanese pilots.

           

One of the surviving F4F-3 Wildcats at Midway, seen after the battle.

One of the surviving F4F-3 Wildcats at Midway, seen after the battle.

Marine Carl not only held his own, he damaged a bomber before the Zeroes swarmed all over his division.  Climbing out of the fight, he went looking for trouble at 20,000 feet.  In 1992, he recalled to me, “The next thing I knew, I had a Zero on my tail.  I didn’t know he was there until these tracers started going by.  I racked it into a tightest turn I could.  He followed me and made it look easy!  So, I headed for the nearest cloud.  He hit me eight times.”

            Just inside the cloud, Marion cut his throttle and skidded the Wildcat.  When he popped out the other side, he caught sight of the Zero scuttling along below. Marion shoved the stick forward and opened fire at the same time.  The sudden dive jammed all his guns, allowing the Zero to escape.

            After clearing three of his guns, he returned to Midway to discover a trio of Zeroes lagging behind the rest of the strike group.  Carl followed the three Japanese fighters, waiting for his opportunity to strike.  Finally, as one of the three Zeroes began falling behind the others, the Oregonian attacked.  He dove down behind the Zero and opened fire from dead astern.  The Mitsubishi crashed into the water  off the reef that surrounded the atoll.

            It was the first of eighteen kills Marion Carl would claim in two years of combat.

            When he returned to Midway, he discovered that fully half his squadron had been killed in the fight.  In fact, besides his own Wildcat, only one other fighter was operational.  It was a grim introduction to combat.

            Two months later, Carl and VMF-223, his new unit, landed at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal.  Throughout August and September, the gritty Marines fought a desperate battle of attrition in their daily encounters with the Japanese. On August 24, 1942, in the middle of the Battle of Eastern Solomons, Carl and his division intercepted an inbound strike from the Japanese carrier Ryujo.  In the dogfight that followed, the young Oregonian gained credit for downing two Zeroes and two B5N Kates, making him the first U.S. Marine Corps ace.

            Only a few weeks later, the hunter became the hunted.

         

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Henderson Field, Guadalcanal seen August 22, 1942.

                                                                   

MAS077 F4F Scramble Guadalcanal

An F4F scrambles at Henderson Field.

September 9, 1942 was a typical day for the beleaguered American Marines on Guadalcanal. Shortly after 11:00, Australian coastwatchers reported a major Japanese raid headed for Henderson Field (code-named Cactus), the airfield the Marines were doggedly trying to defend. Cactus Control ordered a full-scale scramble as soon as it received news of the impending attack. The pilots of VMF-223 and -224 raced to their fighters, which had been warmed up and ready to go since dawn. Captain Marion E. Carl  was one of the sixteen Wildcat pilots in the cockpit that day. He climbed into his F4F-4, strapped in, and taxied out of the dispersal area. With his stubby fighter now on the runway, he opened the throttle. The Wildcat careened down Henderson Field and bounded into the cloudy skies above Guadalcanal. After Carl took off, one pilot from VMF-224 did not quite make it. He stalled just as he got airborne, and his Wildcat smacked into the ground at the end of the runway. Now there were fifteen Grummans to meet the Japanese attack.

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John L. Smith, Bob Galer (Medal of Honor) and Marion Carl at Guadalcanal.

Though Carl had only been on the island since August 20th, he had already carved a niche for himself in aviation history. Six days after arriving at Henderson Field he had shot down his fifth Japanese plane. In doing so, he became the first U.S. Marine to ever reach acehood. He had continued to add to his score, and only his squadron’s commander, John L. Smith, had any chance of catching his tally. Smith and Carl enjoyed a friendly rivalry, each one determined to leave Guadalcanal with the laurels of top ace status. Carl to this point had remained comfortably in the lead, but the September 9th mission would alter the balance between the two aces.

The Wildcats pointed northward and labored for altitude. For once the Marines had received enough warning to climb above the Japanese bombers. Often, word of an impending attack came too late for the F4F’s to get to a proper intercept altitude. The frustrated pilots would watch the Mitsubishi G4M Betties pass serenely overhead while their Wildcats struggled for altitude thousands of feet below. This time, though, the Marines managed to get to about 23,000 feet before the noontime raid arrived. The raid consisted of two formations; one Vee of G4Ms, and another of escorting A6M2 Zekes. The Zekes trailed behind the bombers, keeping watch over their charges as they shepherded them to the target area.

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A formation of G4M Betty bombers seen later in the war at Okinawa. This is a still image from gun camera film taken by an F6F Hellcat belonging to VF-17.

On this day, the Marines had the altitude advantage. Like the intercept over Midway,  the escorting Zekes were again caught slightly out of position.  Carl led his men to a point about a mile ahead and off to one side of the Vee of Betties. In column formation, the Marines executed 180 degree turns and dropped down on the bombers. With his nose pointed almost vertical, Marion’s Wildcat accelerated to over four hundred miles per hour. He had just enough time to give a Betty a long burst  from his six fifty caliber machine guns as his Wildcat howled through the formation. The fifties stitched the bomber from nose to tail, tearing apart the crew positions.  It fell earthward, mortally wounded.

f4f usmc ii031Engine roaring, Carl swept under the stricken plane, ready to make another  attack on the formation. Using the speed he had gained during his first pass, he zoomed back up above the Japanese and turned to make another overhead run on them. Down he went again, his Wildcat whining furiously as he pushed the nose towards the vertical again.  Guns chattered, tracers flew.  Another Betty dropped out of the formation, victimized by the sharpshooting Oregonian, its engines coughing up great spumes of smoke.

Then, Marion got reckless.

g4m betty over water gsap color 4x6

Another gun camera still from VF-17’s Okinawa dogfight. This Betty was carrying a rocket-powered suicide stand-off bomb called a Yokosuka MXY7 Ohka. It is just visible under the Betty’s centerline.

Carl had limited himself to only one or two passes at the bombers on his previous  intercept missions. After two runs, the Japanese fighter escort usually had enough time to intervene. After his second pass, he would roll inverted and dive for the deck. No Zero could keep up with a Wildcat in a steep dive above 10,000 feet, so the maneuver ensured he would make it back to Henderson to fight another day.

On September 9th, Carl saw no Zeroes, heard no warning calls. He decided to attack the bombers one more time. He climbed back over the Betties, selected one and rolled in on his target.

As he started his run, his F4F suddenly shuddered. Cannon and machine gun strikes rocked the Wildcat, and Carl had no chance to react. A Zero had somehow slipped behind him. In seconds, Carl’s engine exploded in flames. Smoke poured into the cockpit, stinging his eyes and disorienting him. The smoke forced him to open the canopy, which added such drag to the Wildcat that Carl knew he was now a “dead pigeon” for the Japanese pilot behind him.

With the smoke came an intense wave of heat. Later he would recall, “The one way I didn’t want to go was to get burnt, to get fried. I don’t take long to make up my mind on something like that. So I just rolled the [Wildcat] over and out I went.”

Carl had bailed out at about 20,000 feet. By the time his parachute opened, the air battle had passed him by. Not a single aircraft remained in sight. He spiraled downwards in his chute, enjoying a birds-eye view of Guadalcanal and its environs. He landed in the water about a mile off shore.

For several hours, he floated in his Mae West, treading water and trying to prevent the current from dragging him away from shore. He kept his flying shoes on, and held onto his Colt .45, figuring he’d need them when he got ashore. Still, the weight of these burdens tired him out, and he began to lose headway against the current. Before he had bailed out, his face had been slightly burned by the heat in the cockpit, and the wound began to ache.

1st marine div patrol guadalcanal 8x10

A Marine patrol on Guadalcanal in the fall of 1942. After Carl ended up in the water, he faced a challenging trip to get back through Japanese lines to reach the Marine perimeter around Henderson Field.

Fours hours later, a native canoe cut through the choppy waves towards him. Exalted that help had arrived, Carl began to shout out, “American! American! American!” The native wasn’t completely convinced, however, and circled the downed aviator for several minutes before concluding he indeed was an American. He helped Marion climb into the canoe, introduced himself as Stephen, then began to paddle towards shore. He brought Carl to a small native encampment, where he was introduced to a native from Fiji who had been serving as a doctor for the local inhabitants. Corporal Eroni spoke good English, and proved more than willing to help the American get back to Henderson Field.

After trying unsuccessfully to get  back to the perimeter overland, Carl and Eroni decided to go by sea in an  eighteen foot skiff. The small boat was powered by an ancient single cylinder engine which at the moment did not work. Fortunately the resourceful Marine had plenty of experience with small engines, as he had purchased a scooter some months before that had demanded constant mechanical attention. He managed to get the skiff’s engine working after tinkering with it for most of an evening.

That morning, around 4:00 A.M., Carl, Eroni and two other natives set out for Henderson Field. The boat weaved its way along the coast, the two men keeping a sharp watch for any Japanese troops. By 0700, they had reached Lunga Point, where the Oregon Marine splashed ashore to report back for duty.

When Brigadier General Roy Geiger, the commander of the air striking force on Guadalcanal, heard of Marion’s return, he sent for the intrepid Marine immediately. Moments later, Carl stood before him, saluting happily. The two men chatted amiably for a while, then Geiger mentioned that Smith had just shot down his sixteenth plane. With the two Betties he got on the ninth, Carl had only twelve. “What are we going to do about that?” demanded Geiger playfully.

Gdl209 Carl-Smith-Mangrum_

John L. Smith, Dick Mangrum and Marion Carl.

“Goddamnit General, ground Smitty for five days!” Carl replied.

Smith finished the war with 19 kills and the Congressional Medal of Honor. Carl ended his WWII combat career with 18.5 victories.

Word spread quickly throughout VMF-223 that Carl had returned. His comrades were overjoyed to see him, though some were also a little embarrassed. After he went missing, the pilots figured he was gone for good and divided up his possessions. Marion had to spend the day rounding up his personal belongings. Finally, he managed to recover his scooter, his short wave radio and all his other nick-knacks except for a pair of shower shoes. He had kept them carefully under his cot, his name carefully marked on their soles in black, indelible ink. Carl searched high and low, but found no trace of them.

In the late 1950’s Carl was stationed in Headquarters, Marine Corps in Washington D.C. as part of the Commandant’s staff. He’d become a colonel by then and was on track to get his brigadier’s star.

One day, the Marine Corps Commandant, General David M. Shoup, took him aside after a meeting and said to him, “By the way, Marion, I’ve gotta pair of shoes of yours.”

MAS057 Foxhole Henderson Mar43

A Marine dug out at Henderson Field.

Puzzled, the Oregonian asked, “What do you mean you’ve got a pair of my shoes?”

Shoup explained that he’d been serving with a Marine line unit defending Henderson Field that fall. After Marion had gone missing in action, Japanese warships shelled the Marine perimeter. The onslaught had flatted Shoup’s quarters, along with many other tents and structures around the airfield. After the Japanese ships steamed back up the slot, Shoup crawled out of his foxhole and went looking for a place to sleep. He came across Carl’s tent, learned that the Oregonian had been posted missing, and decided to curl up on his cot. In the morning, as he headed back to his regiment, he caught sight of the shower shoes under the cot. He scooped them up, figuring a dead man didn’t need them, and disappeared.

Shoup finished his tale by telling Carl he wasn’t going to give them back. “They’re the luckiest pair of shoes I’ve ever had,” he told Carl. “I credit them for keeping me alive during the war.”

at the waters edge 300 dpi bw

Betio Island, Tarawa, November 1943.

They must have been truly lucky shoes. Shoup carried them in his pack when he hit Beach Red at Betio with the first Marine waves in November, 1943. In the first desperate hours of the invasion, he took command of the Marines clinging to the waterline and led the push inland. His actions that day earned him a Medal of Honor. Later, though assigned as a divisional staff officer, he found his way to the front lines during the Battle of Saipan, where he was trapped in a forward observer’s position for several hours. He later received a Legion of Merit for his role in the Marianas campaign.

 

 

 

David Shoup receives the Medal of Honor at the Navy Department in Washington D.C. on January 22, 1945.

David Shoup, with his family looking on, receives the Medal of Honor at the Navy Department in Washington D.C. on January 22, 1945.

 

            Marion Carl stayed in the Corps after the Japanese surrender.  As a Marine test pilot, he earned numerous “firsts” in his illustrious career.  Besides being the first Marine ace, he was the first pilot in the Corps to land a jet fighter on an aircraft carrier, and he set a world’s speed record in 1947, going 650.6 mph in a Douglas Skystreak.  Later, he commanded the first jet aerobatics team, was the first military pilot to wear a full pressure suit and in 1986, he became the first living Marine to be enshrined in the Naval Aviation Hall of Honor.  Brigadier General Marion Carl retired on June 1, 1973, with over 14,000 hours in some 250 different plane types, ranging from experimental rocket propelled aircraft to canvas-covered puddle jumpers.  In the course of his thirty-four year career, he earned two Navy Crosses, five DFCs, four Legions of Merit, and fourteen Air Medals.  Not bad for a  small town farm kid.

            In June of 1998, a 19 year old drug addict broke into Marion’s ranch house east of Roseburg, Oregon.  Wielding a shotgun, the intruder wounded Marion’s wife, Edna, with a blast of gunfire.  Hearing the racket, Carl burst out of his bedroom and flung himself in front of his wife, just as the addict pulled the trigger again.  Carl was killed instantly.  He died as he had lived—a true hero whose measure lay not in his many accomplishments, but rather in the size of his enormous heart.f4f usmc airborne034

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

The Curious Case of the Ohio National Guard’s 147th Infantry

147th inf Regt Japanese MMG with M1917 30 cal MMG on range at New Caledonia 112444 (1 of 1)

Men of the 147th on a heavy weapons range learning how to fire a captured Japanese Nambu machine gun. The photo was taken on New Caledonia Island in November 1944.

During the Second World War, the Ohio National Guard’s division, the 37th, served in the 1943 Solomons campaign before playing a key role in the liberation of Manila during the 1945 battle for Luzon. The division was one of the only National Guard units to be commanded by the same general through the entire war.

The 37th Infantry Division’s service was exemplary, and its courageous Soldiers earned seven Medal of Honors and a hundred and sixteen Distinguished Service Crosses during its two years in island combat.

Men of the 147th capture a Japanese hold out on Iwo Jima during their three month long ordeal on the volcanic island.

Men of the 147th capture two Japanese hold outs on Iwo Jima during their three month long ordeal on the volcanic island.

 

37th Inf Div M-4 Sherman and GI's Drive on Manila Luzon Philippines Campaign 01--45 no cap-1

While the 147th Infantry battled against the Japanese on Iwo Jima, the rest of the Ohio National Guard was fighting to liberate Luzon during the 1945 Philippines campaign.

This post is about the division’s lost regiment, the 147th Infantry.  The 37th had been organized as a square division during World War I which meant it had four infantry regiments. The 147th became the odd unit out when the Army reorganized to the triangular division.  In 1942, the 147th was pulled from the 37th. It spent the entire Pacific War as an independent regiment, bouncing from campaign to campaign and doing heavy fighting that has been all but forgotten to history.

To clear the caves and tunnels, the 147th's infantry platoons went into action with an exceptional level of firepower, including extra BAR's, bazookas and flame throwers.

To clear Iwo Jima’s caves and tunnels, the 147th’s infantry platoons went into action with an exceptional level of firepower, including extra BAR’s, bazookas and flame throwers.

The 147th first saw combat on Guadalcanal in 1942-43, taking part in the U.S. Army’s bloody counter-offensive that ultimately forced the Japanese to abandon the island in February 1943. The regiment then pulled garrison duty on Emiru, later serving on Saipan and Tinian in the wake of the Marine Corps’ landings.

147th Inf Regt Flame Thrower Attack on Japanese Cave Iwo Jima Bonin Islands 040845 (1 of 1)

An infantry platoon from the 147th attacking a Japanese-held cave with a flame thrower during a firefight on April 8, 1945–months after Iwo had been declared secure.

In the spring of 1945, the 147th landed on Iwo Jima, ostensibly to perform more garrison duty. Instead, they found themselves locked in a bitter and thankless battle with thousands of Japanese hold-outs waging a desperate guerrilla campaign against the Americans on the island from well-supplied caves and tunnels.

For three months, the regiment slogged across the island, digging out these Japanese with explosives, flame throwers and satchel charges. Some sources credit the regiment with killing at least six thousand Japanese soldiers in those anonymous and merciless small unit actions.

Always serving in the wake of the Marines, the regiment’s service in the Pacific has been virtually lost to history, yet this National Guard unit was the only one in the Army to fighting in the Solomons, the Marianas and Iwo Jima.

I first came across the 147th while scanning photos at the National Archives a few years back. I came across these combat scenes from Iwo Jima and was absolutely stunned to learn the Ohio National Guard had taken part in what is remembered as the quintessential Marine Corps battle.

If anyone has further information about this regiment, please feel free to post. These men need some recognition for what they did during WWII.

147th Inf regt Soldiers Exhausted on March in Burma CBI 120444 (1 of 1)

If being overlooked by history is not painful enough, the Signal Corps also misidentified this group of GI’s in Burma as being part of the regiment. The combat cameraman’s caption says these men belonged to 2nd Battalion, 147th Infantry, and the shot was taken 30 miles behind Japanese lines in Burma following a night patrol on December 4, 1944.

 

Categories: National Guard, World War II in the Pacific | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Beer Bombing in B-17’s

b17 buzzing base late 1942 swpa099 5x7Over the years, I’ve come across interesting things American air crews have thrown out of their planes during bombing missions. One of the more famous was a donkey that was a B-17 group’s mascot. They’d picked the donkey up in North Africa and brought it back to England, where the local kids were given rides on it. The donkey kicked the bucket one day, so the guys in the bomb group somehow put it in an NCO’s uniform, gave it a set of dogtags and dropped it over Germany during their next mission. You know that somewhere, in some archive, is a report of finding a flattened, uniformed donkey in some poor German farmer’s field.

In 2010, while I was with TF Brawler at FOB Shank, Afghanistan, I was on a Chinook that was near-missed by an RPG as we were coming into land at COP Tangi. The village by the COP was pretty hostile, and aircraft often took fire getting into that outpost. I wanted to take pee-filled Gatorade bottles and drop them on that village the next time we had to get out to Tangi Valley. Unfortunately, the prudent Chinook company’s commander nixed that idea. Apparently, raining pee down on the populace doesn’t really lend itself to the whole hearts-and-minds thing. Still, it would have been good for morale.IMG_7484

Anyway, I was reminded of that suggestion today while reading through a Boeing tech rep’s report from the SWPA.  He’d been hanging out with the 43rd Bomb Group “Ken’s Men” in Australia and New Guinea, and had written a report home on how the B-17’s were holding up in the tropics. The author of the report, R.L. Stith took detailed notes on what was one of the largest heavy bomber raids launched in the Pacific to date.

On February 13, 1943, the 43rd Bomb Group put aloft thirty-five B-17’s so heavily laden that Stith remarked, “How can one talk balance when they get away with this and worse?” The main force of thirty-three Forts carried sixteen three hundred pound demolition bombs that had been wrapped with wire to create more shrapnel when they detonated. Alongside those three hundred pounders, the ground crews stuffed the bays with sixty incendiary clusters each weighing twelve pounds. In the radio compartments of each plane, four twenty-two pound flares were stashed. And just forward of the waist guns, the Forts carried more than a dozen twenty pound fragmentation bombs. Somehow, another three hundred pounds of emergency gear was stashed throughout the fuselage of each aircraft as well.

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Rabaul and Simpson Harbor.

The plan called for a night attack on Rabaul with the intent of setting parts of the town afire with the incendiary bombs. The main force would hit the target area sometime after 0300 on February 14th. Two other B-17’s had been assigned to go in ahead of the main force, and it was their load-out that got my attention.

The two B-17s were supposed to keep the Japanese awake and in their slit trenches for hours so that by the time the main effort reached Rabaul, they would be worn out and demoralized. To do this, Stith noted they had been loaded with a mix of incendiary clusters, fragmentation bombs–and beer bottles.5th af b17 at port morebsy 1943 4x6

Americans. Piss us off, and we’ll rain our empties down upon you without remorse. Go us.

5th af series swpa b17 rabaul raid january 43 374I did a double take when I saw that in an official report. Beer bottles? They seriously dropped Coors Light on the Japanese at Rabual?  Then it dawned on me: an empty bottle dropped from 6,000 feet has got to make the mother of all whistling sounds. That kept with the mission profile for those those B-17’s–keep the Japanese awake and in their trenches. The beer bottles were a cheap, field expedient noise maker that didn’t take up much space or weight and could be hurled out of the waist positions at the crew’s leisure. In a theater known for its innovation, this small one was nothing short of brilliant.

That night, the first two Flying Forts reached Rabaul and began trolling back and forth over the target area. Searchlights speared the sky around them, anti-aircraft fire peppered the night’s sky, and the the American pilots changed the pitch on their propellers to maximize their noise signature. They gradually released their bombs. Between them, the beer bottles came shrieking down on the Japanese.

At 0340,  main effort arrived in four waves, flying at altitudes ranging from four to nine thousand feet. Over the next several hours, the 43rd Bomb Group dropped sixty-nine tons of bombs on Rabaul, sparking a massive conflagration among known supply dumps around Rabaul, destroying searchlights, food stockpiles, oil tanks and grounded aircraft. The 3,700 incendiaries dropped on the target created a sea of fire a half mile long and a quarter mile wide. The flames were estimated to be two hundred feet tall, and the plume of smoke from the attack towered ten thousand feet over the target area. The conflagration could be seen from the air for a hundred miles.5th af series swpa rabaul367

Surviving Japanese documents describe the attack as a costly one and very damaging. Some fifteen aircraft were destroyed, as were ammunition dumps and other installations. Total casualties have been lost to history, but the Japanese sources mention a heavy loss of life.

There is no record of their response to the beer bottle barrage, but the attack (and another one the following night) clearly had an impact on the garrison’s morale. Bruce Gamble, in his outstanding work, Fortress Rabual,  notes that one illness-plagued petty officer assigned to Air Group 705 later wrote, “I felt beaten physically and emotionally. I tossed and turned to ease the suffering, but the nightmares kept possessing me with no break.”

One has to wonder if he heard those beer bottles shrieking earthward in his nightmares.
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve heard about dropped during a bombing raid?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Afghanistan, World War II in the Pacific | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Toy Salesman

JS 7 Chinese Troops

Chinese troops in action against the Japanese Army. The fighting had raged in China for almost five years when Prisoner 529 joined his cavalry brigade there.

On July 7, 1944, an emaciated, fever-wracked twenty-three year old Japanese aviator crept into an Allied camp near Maffin, New Guinea in search of food.  He’d been part of about three thousand survivors of the 6th Flying Division, based at Hollandia who had tried to escape the Allied cordon through a torturous overland retreat to Sarmi. For most who set out on this desperate bid for survival, the trek became a death march. Disease, starvation and hostile New Guineans thinned the ranks, and the weak were left behind.

Though his name has been lost to history–we’ll call him Prisoner #529, the five foot four native of Okayama-Ken was one of the lucky few who fell into American hands and survived that crucible in the jungle.

Grateful for food and decent treatment, he spoke freely to the Japanese-Americans who interrogated him after his capture. 529 had been fortunate to have finished twelve years of education, the last three at a commercial school that proved to be a stepping-stone to his first career. He became a wholesale toy salesman until he was conscripted into the Japanese Army at age 20. AS he was leaving to report for duty, his mother wished him farewell with one final order: at all costs, do not allow yourself to be captured.

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Chinese troops man a .30 caliber machine gun.

He was called up at Osaka, where with several hundred other conscripts, he was put on a ship and sent to Korea. From there, they were put on trains to northern China and assigned to the Sakuma Cavalry school for basic training. The cavalry was considered one of the elite arms of the Japanese Army, and Prisoner #529’s intelligence and education probably earned him that coveted slot.

It was hard transition going from the toy business to the cavalry, to say the least. The training was brutal and very intense. He was beaten almost every day, and once his jaw was so badly injured he could barely move it for a week. Another time, three of his squad mates were caught violating rules and the entire squad was assembled and forced to beat each other. Prisoner #529 was slapped by officers, hammered across the back with a wooden cane, whipped with belts and beaten with shoes. Most of the time, 529 felt the punishments were wanton, cruel and unjust. He and his fellow recruits were beaten whether they had did anything wrong or not. Sometimes, infractions were fabricated to justify otherwise inexcusable beatings.

After he told his interrogators about the physical abuse, he added that at times it did work. After all, it “knocked the sloppiness” of the men.

Later that spring, he was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Brigade’s Koike Regiment. One day, #529 and twenty-four other fresh-faced replacements reported for bayonet training near Kitoku, China. When they assembled, five Chinese prisoners were led out to the training ground. Hands bound and blindfolded, their Japanese guards gave them each a drink of water and a cigarette.

Then Colonel Koike ordered the new recruits to bayonet the prisoners.

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Bayonet training with live Chinese POW’s was not uncommon during the war. Some twelve million Chinese were killed between 1937-45.

529 had never killed before. He watched as his fellow replacements took turns bayoneting the Chinese prisoners and was deeply moved by the stoic calm of their victims. They didn’t scream, and remained steady and courageous until the end. And the end was not always very fast. Those who survived the initial bayonetings were stabbed repeatedly as each replacement took his turn. The Toy Salesman took his turn with the bayonet, too. Later, he told his interrogators that no Japanese Soldier could have match the quiet resolve of the five Chinese prisoners killed that day.

That moment in Kitoku was a turning point for 529. His quiet life back home spent trying to bring a little happiness into the lives of children was forever behind him. In the months ahead, he watched as his unit and others beheaded and bayoneted Chinese prisoners and those suspected of anti-Japanese activities. Such episodes were common.

In January 1943, he transferred out of the cavalry brigade and joined the 41st Division at Soken (still in Northern China). He remained there for only a short time before being ordered to New Guinea.  On May 1, 1943, he reached Wewak in the Zuisho Maru (which would be torpedoed and sunk a few months later off the Borneo coast by the American submarine Ray).

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A Kawasaki Ki-48 “Lilly” found at Clark Field, Philippines, spring 1945.

From the cavalry to the infantry and now in New Guinea, Prisoner 529 became an aerial gunner. He went through a crash, ten week course at Hollandia before joined the 208th Sentai, a Kawasaki Ki-48 “Lilly” medium bomber regiment.

It was at Hollandia he came to realize the hopelessness of Japan’s situation in New Guinea. He’d gone to China, an eager and willing recruit. who viewed the war as a titanic clash between races. He was anxious to prove himself and serve his country in this epochal moment in history. Even the atrocities to which he bore witness and participated in during his time in China did not diminish that sentiment. When he received orders to the Southwest Pacific Area, he looked forward to carrying his nation’s flag to new, exciting and distant places.

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The nose gun mount in a Ki-48. Prisoner 529 told his interrogator that the mount was so restrictive that it only had a 45 degree field of fire.

In New Guinea, the constant air attacks, the lack of supplies and rare mail deliveries drove that eagerness out of him. The war devolved into a bitter struggle for survival on an alien island while increasingly surrounded by Allied forces. Disease became an ever present enemy. The men cleared brush from around their quarters in hopes of deterring insects and slept under mosquito nets at night. During Allied air raids, they would take to their bomb shelters wearing nets over their heads and gloves. To stave off malaria, the men took daily doses of both quinine and atebrin. Despite their best efforts, the men were plagued by tropical infections and fungus. By early 1944, almost everyone in 529’s squadron suffered from ringworm and other skin diseases.

529’s squadron included fifteen Ki-48 Lilly’s, fifteen pilots and radio operators, sixty gunners and about a hundred and twenty ground crewmen. The regiment had forty planes total, half of which were destroyed in a series of Allied raids in the spring of 1944 at both Wewak and Hollandia.

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The dorsal gunner’s position in a Ki-48.

While other Ki-48 units had new models with heavier armament, the 208th’s planes were equipped with only five machine guns–one 7.9mm in the nose, another in the ventral position, a pair of 7.7mm waist guns and a single 13mm for the dorsal gunner. That latter position was a tricky one, and the gunners had gone through extra training for it since it was very easy to accidentally shoot the tail off. Prisoner 529 had been told cautionary tales of dorsal gunners who sawed their vertical fins and rudders off in their eagerness to hit an incoming enemy fighter. The result was usually fatal.

During daylight missions, the 208th flew with five men in each aircraft: a pilot (who also doubled as navigator), a radio operator, waist gunner, nose and dorsal gunners. The radioman also manned the ventral gun. At night, they left the waist gunner on the airfield and flew with four. They had no trained bombardiers ala the USAAF. Usually, either the pilot or the nose gunner would toggle the aircraft’s six 50 kg bombs that composed its normal load out. Exactly who did that was left to the individual crews to decide, but usually the senior or more experienced man got the job.

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A 5th Air Force P-39’s gun camera film records the final moments of a KI-48. The radio operator’s ventral gun position can be seen under the fuselage.

To increase the Lilly’s range, the 208th Sentai’s bombers had an additional fuel tank mounted inside the fuselage in front of the radio operator’s seat. Three feet long, three feet high and about twenty inches wide, it was not armored and not self-sealing. This meant a single bullet strike could have ignited the tank, bathing the radio operator in flaming gasoline.

On missions, the 208th carried out most of its attacks at between ten and twelve thousand feet. On a few knuckle-biting ones, however, the crews used their Ki-48’s like dive bombers, nosing over and making steep angle descents to three thousand feet before pickling their loads.

Mission briefings were far more informal than in the USAAF. Usually, the squadron commander would select the aircraft and crews the night before the attack. In the morning, just before take-off, the aviators would be given the target, the approach to it and any special instructions specific to the mission. When they returned, each plane captain would give an oral report to the squadron commander.

Intelligence on the Allies was minimal and very restricted. Prisoner #529 rarely even saw a map while he was in New Guinea, as those were reserved for the officers. Most of the time, they did not even know what their targets looked like.

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Ki-48’s under parafrag attack by 5th Air Force B-25’s. Hollandia, spring 1944.

To #529, defeat looked inevitable. Yet, he also believed that no matter what followed, the Japanese people would fight to the last man, and woman.

During the spring of 1944, Allied air attacks repeatedly struck the 208th airfields at both Hollandia and Wewak. At Hollandia, the raids seemed particularly accurate, as if the Allies knew the exact location of every building, revetment and aircraft. (Thanks to the 5th Air Force’s reconnaissance efforts, they did). By April, every facility on the strip at Hollandia had been bombed to splinters, though the 208th did not lose many men in these attacks thanks to the many shelters and slit trenches constructed for them.

The B-25 Mitchell was particularly feared.  Racing in at low altitude with their nose guns blazing, dropping parafrags in their wake, these American bombers destroyed fuel dumps, blew up grounded aircraft, wiped out anti-aircraft positions and terrified all those exposed to their strafing. With eight to twelve .50 caliber machine guns in the nose of each B-25, the gunships were devastating weapons.

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Another Ki-48, along with the wrecks of Ki-21 “Sally” bombers at Hollandia.

The 5th Air Force’s B-24’s were also greatly feared. Though they made their attacks from higher altitudes, their accuracy astonished the Japanese. The 208th concluded that the Liberators had to have had bomb sights far superior to what Japan had produced.

In April 1944, the Allies launched a surprise amphibious invasion at Hollandia. The  Oregon and Washington National Guard division, the 41st, quickly stormed ashore and secured the airfields there. There were few Japanese combat troops in the area, and Prisoner 529 fled into the jungle with the rest of his unit when the landings began.

Chased by American patrols, without food or good weapons or supplies of any kind, the three thousand survivors from 529’s air division attempted to make it to Sarmi, a small Japanese outpost on the coast, some one hundred fifty miles west of Hollandia. For months, the survivors plodded through the jungle, only to discover the Americans had outflanked them again at Wakde and Maffin Bay. The altogether, there were probably about twenty thousand Japanese on this trek for survival, including the remains of the 224th Infantry Regiment.

In mid-June, a battle raged for almost two weeks around a six thousand foot tall mountain overlooking Maffin Bay. Known as the Battle of Lone Tree Hill, the Japanese lost over a thousand men in direct combat with the Americans—and at least another eleven thousand to starvation. Afterwards, the Japanese retreating from Hollandia had little hope left. With Americans behind them, the ocean to their right flank, the inhospitable mountains on their left, they’d come through the jungle only to find the path ahead firmly in American hands.

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The 5th Air Force raids on Wewak and Hollandia between August 1943 and the spring of 1944 broke the back of the Japanese Army Air Force. Most of its units in the SWPA were completely wiped out, with few of the air or ground crews escaping to fight another day.

The survivors scattered, breaking into small groups to forage for food and try to find some friendly garrison to join. Most died of disease or starvation. Some resorted to cannibalism, preying on other Japanese or on local New Guinea natives.

Prisoner #529 remained in the Maffin Bay area after Lone Tree Hill ended, hoping to steal food from an American encampment. Instead, he was caught and captured, a source of utter humiliation to him. He felt he’d let his mother down, and that if he were to ever return to Japan, he would be court-martialed for allowing himself to become a prisoner. To his surprise, he found Americans to be jovial and mostly friendly toward him. In training, he had been told the Americans would kill him if he ever surrendered. Instead, he found them “outgoing, liberal and happy.”

After reconciling himself with his situation, his sense of humiliation at his capture gradually drained away. He began to dream of life post-war, and he hoped that he could settle in Australia and become a farmer.

Of the 250,000 Japanese troops, aviators and sailors sent to New Guinea during the war, less than 15,000 survived the war and returned to Japan. In 1949, eight Japanese hold-outs were discovered living in a village a hundred miles from Madang, New Guinea. They surrendered and returned to Japan in February 1950, possibly the last survivors from the New Guinea campaign to do so.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: America's Opponents; The View from the Other Side, World War II in the Pacific | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

348th Fighter Group Air-to-Air Kills Over New Britain 1943

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An Aichi D3A Val under the guns of a 348th Fighter Group P-47 pilot over Arawe, New Britain, December 27, 1943.

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Robert Sutcliffe, a Thunderbolt pilot assigned to the 348th Fighter Group, makes a pass on a formation of Japanese bombers over Cape Gloucester, New Britain on Boxing Day 1943.

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Sutcliffe cripples a Japanese Army Air Force Ki-43 over Cape Gloucester on December 26, 1943.

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Lawrence O’Neil, another 348th Fighter Group P-47 pilot, making a low side pass on the same bomber formation Sutcliffe attacked on December 26, 1943.

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George Orr, 348th FG, making a stern attack on a Japanese bomber over Cape Gloucester, December 26, 1943.

 

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The Cumberland Clerk of Clark Field

Confession: Part of the perils of conducting archival research far from home is that I get easily distracted. I’ll be plowing through piles of government documents looking for nuggets relevant to my next book, then I’ll stumble across an insanely cool story that I can’t help but to track down. This was the case this week while working at the MacArthur Memorial archives in search of material related to Paul “Pappy” Gunn. There I was, digging around in the collection when I came across a debriefing document related to a clerk named Corporal Joseph Boyland. So I love stories about unlikely folks who step up in moments of great turmoil and crisis to become bigger characters than their rank and role might lead you to believe. In Afghanistan in 2010, I met a quartermaster named Captain Andrew Alvord–who happened to be out commanding an air assault platoon composed of support troops like fuelers and clerks. He led the platoon on many patrols, fought several sharp engagements during Taliban ambushes, and made friends out of local villagers. That is the kind of American who makes our nation great.

Which leads me back seventy years to a Cumberland, Maryland factory worker who, in the throes of the Depression, sought service in the Army Air Corps as a way out of his small town circumstances. Enlisting in 1937, he trained as a clerk and was sent to the Philippines in 1941 to be a paper-pusher in the newly established V Bomber Command Headquarters. In four years, promotion had come slowly for him, and when  Japanese aircraft  appeared over Clark Field on December 8, Boyland was a corporal.  He was at Clark when the attack came and destroyed most of MacArthur’s air force on the ground, and in the chaotic days that followed, he was culled from the HQ element and sent to the 192nd Tank Battalion, where he trained as an M3 Stuart gunner for six weeks at the start of the Bataan Campaign.

In February, he received a week’s worth of infantry training, then was posted at Cabcaben Airfield, where he manned a .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine gun. Between standing watch over the field, he participated in dismounted patrols around Mariveles, and did such an impressive job that he received a spot commission to 2nd Lieutenant by the 31st Infantry’s Major Miller. Along with most of the other marooned FEAF ground and air personnel, he served in combat with the 71st Infantry Division (Philippine Army) until malaria and dysentery knocked him out of action.

As the situation on Bataan began to collapse in early April 1942, he was ordered to Corregidor, but the FilAmerican Army surrendered while he was trying to find passage to the Rock. The Japanese captured him at Mariveles. With twenty other American POW’s, he was pressed into service as a truck driver for the Japanese. Under guard, he drove around Bataan, Guagua, and Pampanga, forced to do whatever the Japanese demanded of him. Yet, his experience was easy compared to what thousands of other half-starved, sick POW’s faced on the Death March. Boyland and his crew of truck drivers often were allowed to go into Manila to purchase food and even alcohol. This comparatively easy life changed later that spring when and thirteen other American drivers were taken to Olongapo and crammed aboard a Japanese transport vessel. The ship took them to Negros Island, where he and his fellow POW’s drove and repaired trucks for the next year.

On Negros, Boyland experienced the opposite extreme of the Japanese occupation. In the months that followed, beatings became increasingly frequent, and he bore witness to the full horrors inflicted on the Filipino population, especially after the Kempeitai showed up on Negros. One Kempeitai Lieutenant in particular terrorized the inhabitants of Bacolod, killing civilians with his sidearm.

Towns suspected of supporting the growing guerrilla movement were dealt with harshly. Several times, Boyland witnessed Japanese troops pour into this villages and massacre the residents with machine guns and bayonets. Other times, the Japanese would capture a group of Filipino males, tie them up and spend days torturing them. They’d be left in the sun without food and water, burned with cigarettes, and mutilated with scissors. Afterwards, Boyland and his fellow Americans would be ordered to bury the bodies.

Sometimes, the Japanese made clumsy attempts to connect with the Filipino population. In April 1943, Boyland was ordered to drive in a two truck convoy. In back, instead of just bayonet-armed Japanese Soldiers, he and the other driver transported a brass band, a singing trio, two Filipino nurses and a couple of doctors. With music merrily playing, they rolled through the countryside, visiting hamlets around Bago. They would stop, hand out candy, cigarettes and donated clothing to the impoverished populace while the medical staff tended to the sick. Sometimes, they’d host dances and games, complete with prizes.

The pistol-fond Kempeitai lieutenant went along on the sojourns, keeping a watchful eye on the spectacle. The Japanese called these Peace and Relief Missions.

Such tactics couldn’t sway the Filipinos, who remained fiercely loyal to the United States despite the reign of terror unleash on them behind the facade of brass bands and free shirts. That point was driven home to Boyland once day when his truck broke down during a Peace and Relief run to Ponte Verde. As he worked to repair it, the locals came out to him, and when the Japanese weren’t looking slipped him fresh fruit and eggs. The mayor even gave him some money.

Enough was enough. Beaten almost every day for months, bearing witness to horrific atrocities then burying the victims, all while driving around a traveling road show with the sadistic Kempeitai officer was too much for Joe Boyland. In April 1943, a Japanese officer smacked him across the face and that humiliation became the final straw.

The next day, he was in the market place at Bago, paused between runs in his truck. His Japanese guard walked across the street to buy cigarettes, and Boyland saw his chance. He slipped into a nearby shop and bolted out the back door. He linked up with a local guerrilla cell, which took him up into the mountains to escape the Japanese.

For most of the next year, Joe lived the life of an American insurgent, operating with the guerrillas of Northern Negros. They carried out ambushes, sometimes attacking the very trucks that he’d been driving. By July, all but two of the American drivers he’d been with had escaped and linked up with various guerrilla groups as well.

Boyland soon found the shadow war on Negros had an ugly underbelly. The Filipinos in the movement hated the local Spanish aristocracy. They represented the elite of the old colonial order, and they took out centuries of pent-up resentment on them through midnight raids and violence. The Spanish left their outlying properties and moved to Bacolod where the Japanese could better protect them, and many openly collaborated with the occupation force as a result.

Martinez Godinez was an exception. He and Boyland had become friends after Martinez provided food, whiskey and safe places to crash. He was officially the Spanish Consul for Negros, and despite his nation’s neutrality in the war, he played an important role in keeping Boyland’s guerrilla cell in the fight. Despite this, other insurgent groups considered him an enemy, and they marked him for death. Boyland protected him as much as he could, but eventually convinced Martinez to send his family to Manila, where they would be (at least for the time) safer.

Then there were the anti-American guerrillas. The most notorious, at least to Boyland, was a former sergeant in the army named De Asis. Reputed to have gone on a blood-feud killing frenzy that claimed the lives of some twenty-seven Filipinos, De Asis was all about settling scores and exercising grudges. He had a deep seated hatred of Americans, and was rumored to have killed several. In January 1944, Boyland went in search of De Asis, probably to try and halt his depredations, but he proved elusive and Joe never found him.

Bacolod, the largest city on the island, teamed with intrigue. Plenty of the locals supported the guerrillas, but there were always fifth columnists, spies and sympathizers working with the Japanese. A German named Weber was one of the most aggressive pro-Japanese civilian in the city. He would strut through the streets in shorts, armed with a pistol and would “arrest” anyone he suspected of supporting the insurgency, then turn them over to the Japanese authorities.

In February 1944, after months of shadowy operations, ambushes, near misses with Japanese patrols and rival guerrillas, Boyland was evacuated off Negros and taken to Australia, where he was debriefed then sent home to Maryland.  When he returned to Cumberland, he learned that one of his brothers had joined the Navy and was serving in England. He later took part in D-Day as part of a landing craft crew.

Joe was given a hero’s welcome in his hometown. So few had escaped from the Philippines that the local papers celebrated his arrival, but noted repeatedly that he wouldn’t talk about his experiences. It later came out that he’d been thoroughly interrogated at the Pentagon after his return from the Philippines. Once he was given 30 day leave and came home to Cumberland, the Secret Service kept him under constant surveillance to ensure he did not speak of what was happening in the Philippines. That level of paranoia was also experienced by other escapees, including the legendary Ed Dyess.

Boyland went to OCS and stayed in the military after the war, learning to fly and serving as a pilot in the Air For Parce before finally retiring as a lieutenant colonel. In December 1975, his car got stuck in soft mud on the side of Route 301 in North Carolina, outside of Rocky Mount. While walking along the shoulder to a nearby gas station to get help, he was hit by a passing car and tragically killed, a terrible end for the warrior clerk.

He never spoke to the press about his wartime experiences in detail, honoring the order given to him during his Pentagon debriefing to keep his mouth shut. But he did tell his hometown paper once of a poignant moment after he was captured that haunted him through his captivity.

While being taken to a POW camp, he spotted a billboard on the side of the road advertising Kelly-Springfield tires.  Cumberland was home to an 88 acre Kelly-Springfield factory, completed in 1921 when Joe was just four years old. The company employed much of the town, and was a pride of the city until it was purchased by Goodyear the year Joe graduated from high school.

The billboard brought him back to his hometown, and as he watched the advertisement pass by, he was filled with memories of City Hall Plaza, Bedford street and all the little shops in downtown Cumberland. As it slipped past his truck, the billboard served as a reminder to all he’d lost, and all he’d fight to regain in the difficult years to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: American Warriors, World War II in the Pacific | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Most. Unusual Distinguished Flying Cross. Ever.

The Philippine Air Lines hangar at Nielson Field in 1941. PAL flew Beech 18's and a Staggerwing (at right).

The Philippine Air Lines hangar at Nielson Field in 1941. PAL flew Beech 18’s and a Staggerwing (at right).

When the Pacific War broke out in December 1941, thirty-three year old Harold Slingsby was employed as a pilot with Philippine Air Lines, working for the legendary Paul “Pappy” Gunn from the company’s hub at Nielson Field outside of Manila. Far Eastern Air Forces had no transport force in 1941, and in those dark December days, the huge hole that left in MacArthur’s air capabilities was keenly felt. With no way to move personnel or supplies around by air, General Louis Brereton drafted Philippine Air Lines’ pilots and aircraft into the USAAF. Slingsby became an instant captain.*

At the end of December, it was decided to move General Brereton’s headquarters to Australia. Key staff officers were ordered out of the Philippines to help establish the new HQ. Slingsby was one of the pilots who flew those officers to Northern Australia. Upon arrival, he was pulled into the nascent Air Transport Command as part of the 21st Troop Carrier Squadron (the only cargo squadron in theater at that point) and spent much of the rest of 1942 flying the PAL Beech 18’s, Lockheed Lodestars and C-47’s around from base to base before returning to the States in early 1943.

The 5th Air Force was just being set up, and things were pretty chaotic in Australia in early 1942, so these transport missions were often anything but routine. On February 23, 1942, he was tasked with flying to Brisbane to haul back to Batchelor FIeld the intact wing of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Pappy Gunn, who commanded the 21st, was probably on this flight with “Buzz” Slingsby and took photos of this remarkable salvage job. They arrived at Brisbane and somehow shoehorned the wing under the fuselage of their transport. Exactly what aircraft Slingsby was flying is unknown, but it was probably an ancient B-17D the ATC pilots had been using since it had been flown out of the Philippines. The  B-17 wing was lashed to the underside of the fuselage, and they took off the following night to get it back up to Northern Australia where ground crews were waiting to pair the salvaged wing with another damaged Fort so it could be returned to service.

In times of great peril, the men of the 5th Air Force rose to the occasion and figured out a way to stay in the fight without adequate supplies, spare parts or aircraft. If Buzz and Pappy had been flying the old 19th Bomb Group B-17D’s that day, and nothing else in theater could have handled such a load, they were piloting an aircraft whose engines were so worn out and unreliable that the 19th had cast it off as uncombat worthy at a time when they were desperate for flyable bombers. Every minute in the air must have been a gut-check for them, but Slingsby made three landings and take-offs with the heavy, awkward load and got the vital wing up to the Darwin area.

For this incredible feet of ingenuity, Pappy put Slingsby in for a DFC. Here is his award citation:

G86A5185

 

 

 

*Kenney’s book, The Saga of Pappy Gunn states that Slingsby was a Consolidated employee ferrying PBY Catalina flying boats to the Dutch East Indies when the war broke out, but other sources state he was an employee of PAL in December 1941.

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The Fate of the Oklahoma

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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:

http://www.amazon.com/Trapped-Pearl-Harbor-Battleship-Bluejacket/dp/1557509921

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Warrior Adversary: Saburo Horita’s Story

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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: https://pacificparatrooper.wordpress.com

Rakkassans!

 

 

 

 

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

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