Chapter 2 - 90th Bomber Squadron 1942- 43
October 31 - 1942 We left Hickam for Australia. The planes were equiped with bomb bay tanks for the trip and loaded with as much equipment for plane maintenance as possible. We also had some of the ground crews with us as the group would be on their own until the surface escheon arrived. This is the first B-24 group to be assigned to the South West Pacific Area (SWPA). Our B-24 is "Yardbird", # 905. Our first leg of 7:45 hours was to a little group of atolls named Christmas Islands, claimed by both the Americans and British. Their were a few P-39's based here. The next day on the 1stNovember we flew 6:35 hours to Canton Island, a bleak white coral place. We next cross the date line to Nandi, New Caledonia; a 7:30 hour flight, but because of the date line we have lost a day and we land at Nandi on the 3rd October. We only refuel here. I remember the New Caledonia red volcanic dirt (dust) and getting it all over our khaki uniforms. Off by early afternoon and landing a few hours later at Amberly Air Base about 20 miles west of Brisbane, Australia.
November 8 - we left Brisbane for Mareeba, an air base inland from Cairns, Australia. On the 9th we made the two hour flight to our new home on the east Australian coast of the York Peninsula at an air strip called Iron Range. This last leg is our first time logged as COMBAT ZONE (CZ) flying time. Combat mission time was logged (CM). A little about Iron Range follows. The base was located about3 miles inland from the east coast of Australia on the York peninsula and consisted of two separate runways cut out of the eucalyptus jungle with very little clearance on either side of the runway. These were Claudia and Gordo strips. Our living area was within a mile of the Gordon strip and was entirely made up of tents. This included mess hall, hospital ,operations everything! The 22nd Medium Bomb Group of MartinB-26s was based at Claudia Strip. I remember talking to one of the B-26 crew members early after our arrival and they really "poured it on" about "problems" flying combat against the Japanese. I found out later that they in reality did have a lot of losses in combat from the Japanese Zeros; a lot worse than we did with the increased fire power we had on ourB-24's as compared to a B-26.
Our home was a GI four man canvas tent. The tent was on a slight grade down hill and as it rained every afternoon (I mean heavy rain. We were in the monsoon season here in the tropics), we had to dig a small ditch through the dirt floor in the middle of our tent. We could not keep the water out when it rained. One thing I remember about the food was lots of canned Australian corn- beef and powdered eggs. The food that I missed most was fresh green salads. We washed and shaved out of our helmets, but I use to sneak hot water from the nearby mess hall hot water drums that were being heated early in the morning for our breakfast washing of our mess kits. Showers were COLD water. Our recreation was to take our automatics and go target practicing in the jungle. Occasionally our squadron would have a truck take us east to the beach for swimming. On the beach is where I saw my first Australian Aborigine.
November 14 - our plane # 904 "Yardbird" is lost when it landed short of the runway and into some tree stumps (I think Townsville). A crew of the 90th headquarters was flying. None hurt. Up to this point our crew always flew "our" plan eand I had left mothers Kodak bellows camera on the plane. It was lost or reappropriated. Our new ship is "Bombs to Nipon" # 942 andwe flew to Port Moresby for our first mission. Below is a list of our crew for a B-24C. Later we would have newer version B-24D. Later the navigator position was moved to the flight deck behind the pilot and we got a 10th crew member, a nose gunner.
While at Iron Range we used Port Moresby to stage for our missions north across the Owen Stanley mountains of New Guinea. We would fly up from Iron Range one day and have abriefing for a mission next morning. We generally flew backto Iron Range after the mission without landing at Port Moresby. At Port Moresby there were at least Five Air Fields with A-20s, B-17s, B-25s, P-38s, P-39s, C-47s, and Australian Beaforts and Beau fighter aircraft. The fighters, P-39s and P-38s were used as air cover for theC-47s that flew supplies across the Owen- Stanley mountains to the troops fighting the Japanese. The P-38s were superior inmost ways over the Zeros, however about the only advantage the P-39s had was the top speed in a dive away from the Zeros. Only problem there's usually only so much space to do this maneuver. During the period I was in the SWPA, Our group never had any fighter cover. I heard that our group had more enemy aircraft to our credit than the Port Moresby fighters. I don't think the zeros liked to mix it up with the P-38s.
December14 - We flew out of a B-17 base that Belonged to the 43rd Heavy Bomb Group. It was called Jackson Strip. This B-17 group had some of the crews of the 19th BG that made it out of the Philippines early in the war. We arrived at Five Mile strip, Port Moresby just before some of theB-17s came back from a mission. That evening in the mess hall there was a crew member from today's mission with a bandaged arm and obviously some blood spattered on his shirt. If this was to impress us new green crews, it did just that; a suggestion of what might be us tomorrow. 15 November 1942 Ship # 942 We're up before daylight. The briefing is in the mess hall and you could hardly hear the briefer telling us about the targets. We were to take off at single intervals and each aircraft had an area to search for Japanese shipping. Our assigned search area was along the west coast of Bougainville Island in the Solomon Island group, Buin-Faisi area. This was not normally our area of responsibility but the Japanese Navy was saturating the Solomons so the 90th was called in to help out. Our flight to Bougainville was uneventful, arriving late in the morning. We followed the coast north and we suddenly came upon a single funnel cargo type ship just off the coast. It wasn't even moving.
Our first encounter with the enemy.
November 16 - This was the first Group mission to bomb Rabaulon the north west tip of New Britain. Our crew was not scheduled to fly. A 400th Sq crew, using "Bombs To Nipon", Lt Paul Larson, taking off shortly before midnight for Rabaul, clipped two other aircraft which were waiting to take off and were very close to the left side of the runway. There was a big fire and explosions, killing eleven crew members. This was the first time I saw injured and burnt victims of an aircraft accident. The remainder of our group was able to take off later. Col Art Meehan the 90th Group C.O. with a Major Morse, the 320th Sq C.O. were lost on this mission. Col Ralph Koon became the new Group C.O. 21 November "Bombs to Nipon" # 942 has been lost with Lt. Larson's crew. Our new ship is # 3875. I flew a search mission for Col Meehan as copilot with Lt Reinsland in B-24 # 825. We logged 8:30 flying time. 23-25 November Our crew flew south to our depot at Townsville Australia for maintenance equipment and parts.
December 1 - We were flying strike misson on Japanese shipping west of the Gasmata strip in formation with about 5or 6 B-24s bombing 4 destroyers. As soon as we dropped the bombs the ships turned away from us and we had no hits. This is the first time in real ack-ack for us. Logged 8:10 hours landing back at Iron Range. 9-10 December we flew two recco covering both sides of New Britain Island. We logged 14:30 in the two days. 11 Dec We flew parts a nd personnel between Iron Range and Jackson Strip, Port Moresby. using ship # 1904 15 December B-24 # 3875, Flew in strike to bomb "Tokyo Express" west of the Gasmata, New Ireland area. We were intercepted by zeros and our strike force shot down three of them. 17 Dec Recco mission with no sighted shipping. 18 Dec Recco and found convoy of 6 ships. No hits with our bombs. I don't think it's possible to hit a moving ship from six thousand feet or more with a single airplane. I think they can see the bombs being released and then move out of the bomb path.
19 Dec Recco again. Found 2 destroyers and shadowed them for 5 hours. No hits again with our bombs. On a recco when we found any ships, we would make a bomb run on them with our four 500 lb bombs that we normally carried on a recco.
This was done at a low altitude under the clouds, probably 3 or 4000 ft. We would get lots of ack-ack approaching and leaving the targets. They didn't seem to track us fast enough when we were over the top of them . Then we would fly out of range of their anti-aircraft fire range and return to check on their status about every hour and radio their position back to Port Moresby. The planes on alert at Port Moresby would be assembling a strike to bomb these ships. We spent most of the time between observing the Japanese ships and hiding in the clouds at about 2-4000 foot altitude.
December 24 - Our crew left Iron Range for Townsville for parts
and we returned to Iron Range on the 25th December with a load of beer
for th e Group. My diary says "we got to Iron Range by noon with the
beer. We had flown at 14-15000 feet to "ice" the beer. Big dinner,
Good time". 26 December mission to Rabaul. Our crew is not scheduled
So Lt. Lewis 400th transportation officer and I took a jeep out along the
runway that evening to watch the mission planes take off. On take-off
Lt Hendricks of the 400th veered to the right just after being
airborne. The runway is rimed with tall eucalyptus trees and he began
crashing thru the tops of them. The ship came down about 500 feet to
the right of the runway. It was on fire as it hit the ground with
the bombs going off due to the fire after about 5 minutes. One gunners
from the rear of the ship fell or jumped out just as the plane hit the
trees and they found him near the right side of the runway. I don't
think he survived. This was the last time that I went to watch our
planes take-off on a mission when our crew wasn't scheduled to fly.
December 27 - We're off to Brisbane Australia to pick up B-24 #124046 for our Squadron.