USAAF B-17’S in Java – Part 14: February 3, Java attacked.


The Japanese forces had nearly completed the encirclement of Java. And as it was now operating from Kendari and Balikpapan, the Imperial Japanese Navy’s 21st Air Flotilla was ready to carry out the first real attacks against targets in Java.
On Tuesday, February 3, 1942, the first savage strike came against the naval base at Surabaya, against Malang airfield, and the recently opened field at Madiun.

Their first victim was a B-17C [1], flown by 1st Lt. Ray Cox on a local test flight. The plane was shot down at 09.30, in the mountains some 10 miles south of Malang, killing the entire crew of 7.
At 1040, Malang was hit without warning by a wave of dive bombers. followed a little later by 27 Mitsubishi G3M ‘Nell’ medium bombers that paraded over the field at 15.000 feet and dropped their load. They were followed by 7 Mitsubishi A6M Zeroes of the Tainan Kokutai that strafed the field until 11.30.
After shooting up whatever they saw, they left, leaving some damage to buildings behind (the post-exchange was razed to the ground and the runway was cratered). But incredibly, the Japanese attacks had caused no casualties amongst the Americans; just some injured after diving into slit trenches or machine gun pits to escape the attack.


However, the Japanese strafers had hit four B-17’s, all fully fueled and bombed up and ready for take-off. Three of them blew up immediately; one of them was badly damaged and burned out later, after catching fire again [2].
The damage at Madiun was not serious, and Yogyakarta had not been touched. But, with Kendari and Balikpapan in Japanese hands, similar and continuing attacks could be expected and the outlook for the defense of Java was grim.

Surabaya, the main Dutch Naval Base in Java, had been the main target and was hit extremely hard. The small fighter force of Dutch Brewster Buffaloes and Curtiss CW-21 ‘Interceptors’ was literally swept from the skies by an overwhelming number of Mitsubishi Zeroes. And after 27 G3M ‘Nell’ bombers had hammered the Dutch naval installations, strafing Zeroes destroyed three Catalinas on the water.

The Zeroes also shot down one old B-18.

Tragically, it was  36-338, piloted by Major Straubel who was returning from his conference with Brereton in Bandung. He was making a detour via Surabaya to drop off some radar specialists [3]. The unarmed old bomber ran into a swarm of Zeroes that shot it down approx. 30 miles west of Surabaya.
Straubel and his co-pilot Smith were miraculously thrown clear from the wreck, but they both sadly died the next day of the extensive burns they had suffered when they had tried to rescue their passengers from the flaming wreckage.

Major Kenneth B. Hobson took command, but the loss of a second Commanding Officer within just over a week was another setback for the already battered morale of the 7th BG.

– To be continued –

[1] B-17C No 40-2032
[2] B-17D No 40-3074, B-17D No 40-3078, and B-17E No 41-2470. B-17E No 41-2427
[3] Aboard were  Lt. Col Murphy, a communications expert sent out by Brereton to supervise the set up of a radar network, and two members of the radar staff, 1st Lt. Glen H. Boes and 2nd Lt. Irvin A. Kriel

Posted in Aircraft, Boeing B-17 in Java, Boeing B-17 Pacific War, Dutch East Indies, Java Campaign 1942, Pacific War, US Army in Java 1941, USAAF Java, USAAF Pacific, WW2 Pacific | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

USAAF B-17’S in Java – Part 13: The Deadly Balikpapan Grind


The Deadly Balikpapan grind and problems of command…

The land battle for Balikpapan was over on January 26. The Dutch defenders, 1200 scantily equipped KNIL soldiers, were simply overwhelmed by the Japanese invasion force of 1200 marines and 5500 infantry that had swarmed ashore.
But there still was no rest for the harried crews of both the 7th and the 19th, now usually flying joint missions. For some unclear reason, probably because the Japanese fleet in Macassar Strait was perceived as a threat to Java, ABDACOM persisted in ordering continuing bombing strikes against Japanese shipping at Balikpapan, despite the uncertain results and the unbelievably bad weather.

7th-19th_BG_Operations Area from Java

7th / 1th Bomb Group Operations Area Early 1942



The continuous Balikpapan missions became a deadly daily grind.

  • January 30, 10.00, three B-17’s took-off for Balikpapan. One aborted the mission with engine problems. The other two ran into extremely bad weather and returned to base by 12.00.
  • January 30, 22.00, 2 LB30’s flown by Wade (AL521) and Ezzard (AL470) took off for a night raid on Balikpapan and returned the next day, Results of the mission doubtful since very bad weather made any hits unobservable.
  • January 31, 6 B-17E’s were sent to Balikpapan. Bad weather made the target partially invisible, but the crews claimed hits on several vessels. Japanese fighter attacks killed T/Sgt J.A Potters, wounded gunner Pvt Edwin M. Shipley badly in the leg and foot.
  • February 1, 06.50, Major Straubel led a flight of 6 B-17’s to attack enemy shipping in the Balikpapan area. Halfway into the flight, Northcutt abandoned the mission with engine trouble. Extremely bad weather over the Java Sea forced the five remaining bombers to return to Singosari where they landed at 12.15.
  • February 1, 23.00, Dougherty, Kelsey, and Tartar took off in their LB-30’s for a night raid at Balikpapan. Thick clouds covered the target area, but Dougherty claimed to have hit and sunk a ship. [1] Tarter’s crew spotted what they thought were some oil-tanks, dropped their bombs and were rewarded with large fires caused either by burning oil or exploding ammunition.
  • February 2, 09.30, 8 B-17’s took-off to attack shipping off Balikpapan [2]. Hillhouse had to abort the mission because of non-functioning tail guns. The other bombers pressed on and claimed 1 transport sunk and 1 damaged [3]. The crews returned to base around 16.20.

To keep the big planes ‘Up’ for this grueling scheme, the mechanics sometimes literally had to work around the clock to service them and repair battle damage, while they were continually hampered by a lack of spares and lack of sleep…

Major_Austin_Straubel_imageSoon, Major Austin A. Straubel, who had succeeded Major Robinson as CO of the 7th Bomb Group,  became deeply unhappy with this and with the way his bomb group was frittered away by 5th Bomber Command. The crews (and planes) of the 7th  were – in his view haphazardly – ‘tacked on’ to the formations of the 19th. Another problem was the great difference in operational doctrine between the 7th and the 19th, as well as the difference in the mentality between the groups.
It all made Straubel’s command more difficult and he decided to go to Bandung to discuss his grievances with General Brereton to resolve the issues and preserve the 7th Bomb Group’s identity and integrity. He signed out the ‘hack’ of the bomb group, a clapped out Douglas B-18 (36-338), and left for Bandung at 09.00 on February 2, with Lt. Russel M. Smith as co-pilot and crew-chief M/Sgt George W. Picket as flight-engineer.

– to be continued –

[1] According to ‘Summary of Air Action’; but Japanese sources do not confirm this.

[2] Conolly (41-245)6, Matthewson (41-245)5, Casper (41-247)0, Schmitt (41-2469), L. Key (41-2472), Hilhouse (41-2466), Sargent (41-2457) and A. Key (41-2458).

[3] According to ‘Summary of Air Action’; but Japanese sources do not confirm this.

Posted in Boeing B-17 in Java, Boeing B-17 Pacific War, Dutch East Indies, Java Campaign 1942, Pacific War, US Army in Java 1941, USAAF Java, USAAF Pacific, WW2 Pacific | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

USAAF B-17’S in Java – Part 12: The loss of Major Stanley K. Robinson



Once captured by the enemy, a secret airfield will become a fearful liability”,  the Royal Dutch Navy had predicted not so long ago. And the capture of the secret airfield Kendari II (in Celebes or Sulawesi) proved how true their dire prediction was.

A Japanese assault force landed on the beaches near Kendari II (or K-2) in Celebes at 04.30 in the morning of January 24, 1942. Supported by fighters from distant Menado, they overwhelmed the Dutch defenses and by the end of the day, the airfield was in Japanese hands, captured completely intact and operational.

The Imperial Japanese Navy’s 21st Air Flotilla lost no time to send a force of 30 Mitsubishi A6M Zeroes to K-2. They arrived the very next day and the presence of these formidable fighters would have disastrous consequences for the US bomber crews.


On January 29, a flight of 5 B-17’s was tasked with another bombing mission against Balikpapan, and Major Robinson decided to lead them [1]. It would be his fifth consecutive mission that week. It was also against orders. When Lt. Col Eugene Eubank heard about the number of missions Robinson had flown, he had ordered him temporarily grounded.
But the order did not stick. Of the four crews of the 7th BG that would fly this mission, only one had some operational experience. The other crews were ‘raw’. Two of them had arrived just two days earlier and the third had only arrived that same day,

Learning this, Robinson decided to defy all authority and to lead the mission that took off around 07.30. They reached the target area around 12.00 and immediately ran into stiff fighter opposition from Kendari. Three of the bombers dropped their loads, but Robinson’s bombs would not release, so he overflew the target and reversed course.
But when he started his second run, the lone bomber was almost immediately attacked by a large number of Zeroes [2].  Being wise by now to the deadly sting in the tail of the B-17E, the Japanese fighters concentrated their attack on the cockpit area and riddled it with bullets and cannon shells. The bomber was seen to pitch up uncontrollably, stagger and then turn over into a steep dive that sent it crashing violently into the Java sea. No parachutes were seen and there were no survivors in the water.

The 7th Bomb Group had lost its CO.

Robinson Obituary Life Mag_Mar_16_42

Robinson’s obituary in Life Magazine

[1] Robinson (41-2476), Mathewson (41-245)5, Cox (41-2478), Skiles (41-2454) and Habberstad (41-2427).

[2] Some sources state as many as 30.




Posted in Boeing B-17 in Java, Boeing B-17 Pacific War, Pacific War, US Army in Java 1941, USAAF Java, WW2 Pacific | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

USAAF B-17’s in Java – Part 11 – The Battle for Balikpapan heats up

Banner_The Bombers

The Battle for Balikpapan – Things heating up

The Japanese pincer operation against Java continued, and the invasion of Balikpapan went according to plan, despite the losses suffered by the Balikpapan landing force during the night attack of January 24.

Japanese invasion forces

At 04.30 a.m. that same morning, a Japanese assault force landed on the beaches near Kendari II (Celebes) and the Dutch defenses were no match for them. By the end of the day the airfield was in Japanese hands
“Once captured, a secret airfield will become a fearful liability”, the Royal Dutch Navy had predicted not so long ago.

And the capture of Kendari II proved the truth of their dire prediction. The field had been captured completely intact and operational and the 21st Air Flotilla (that had supported the landing operation from distant Menado), lost no time to send in a force of 30 Mitsubishi A6M Zeroes.  The presence of these formidable fighters would further aggravate the already critical air situation around Balikpapan.

In the meantime, ABDACOM had been desperately groping around for a follow up of the successful raid by US destroyers that night and had ordered a flight of 9 B-17’s to bomb the invasion fleet. They took off at 06.15 a.m. but when they reached the target area things were very different in the air. Once they were over Balikpapan, the flight was jumped by aggressive Japanese fighters. In the scrap that followed, three of the B-17’s were badly damaged. All planes dropped their bombs and scattered, hiding in the thick weather while they set individual courses back to Singosari, This is why Major Robinson, flying low over the Java Sea, was able to spot Dougherty’s marooned crew and their wrecked LB-30 on Greater Mesalembo Island.
Various claims were made of damage done and planes shot down as a result of this raid. Unfortunately, Japanese sources, meticulously listing the time of the attacks and  number of planes observed, show no evidence of any damage done during these attacks (1)

Balikpapan on fire 1942

Balikpapan on fire – January 25, 1942

On January 25, a land battle quickly developed near Balikpapan. After landing the day before, some 5.500 men of the 56th ‘Sakaguchi’ brigade and elements of the 2nd Kure Special Naval Landing Force had been guided around the Dutch defenses by two ‘indigenous police officers’. And when these troops unexpectedly attacked, it was only a matter of time before they defeated the Dutch garrison force.

To support the defenders, a flight of 8 B-17E’s left Malang at 07.00 a.m. (2). Arriving over Balikpapan they ran into very heavy fighter opposition and five out of the eight bombers were so badly damaged that they had to retreat and land wherever they could. Hobson and Northcutt made wheels-up landings in Madura, the island opposite Surabaya, Crimmins crash landed near Arosbaya on the Madura coast. Bohnnaker made an emergency landing at Surabaya Airfield and Hillhouse had to crash-land his badly shot-up plane at Banjermasin (west of Balikpapan). When the three remaining B-17’s returned to Singosari, one more was damaged at landing.
Bombing results were again minimal and about the only positive news that day was the return of part of Dougherty’s crew after having been marooned for nine days at Mesalembo. However, 4 injured crew members had remained behind in the Surabaya Naval Hospital.


(1) From Senshi Sōsho, Part 3, Chapter VII, pp. 360:
On the 24th after the allied destroyers had gone, one [allied] heavy bomber came for an attack at 0812, which was followed by one [allied] flying boat at 0925, ten [allied] heavy bombers at 0950, seven [allied] heavy bombers at 1040, one [allied] flying boat at 1205, and eleven [allied] heavy bombers at 1710. On the next day, the 25th, ten [allied] heavy bombers came for an attack at 1000, which was [again] followed by seven [allied] heavy bombers at 1305, but they caused little damage.
(2) From: Summary of [USAAF] Air Operations in the Philippines and NEI
Bombers piloted by Hobson (41-2406), Hillhouse (41-2460), Northcutt (41-2468), Crimmins (42-2469), Bohnaker (41-2472), Teats (40-3070), Tash (30-3072), Parsel (40-3074).

Posted in Dutch East Indies, Pacific War, US Army in Java 1941, US Navy WW2, USAAF in Australia, USAAF Java, USAAF Pacific | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

USAAF B-17’s in Java – Part 10 – Balikpapan – Round One to the US Navy

Banner_The Bombers

The Battle of Balikpapan – Round One to the US Navy

With the drive through Malaya toward Singapore – the western part of the Japanese pincer operation against Java –– now well underway, the eastern part of the pincer was set in motion. It was a drive down Macassar Strait, between Celebes and the east coast of Borneo, to capture the vitally important oil production centers of Tarakan and Balikpapan and to establish air bases within range of Java..


Map of Borneo with oil centers and secret KNIL airbases

At 17.00 p.m. on January 21, the light cruiser Kana, 9 destroyers and a smattering of submarine chasers, mine sweepers and patrol craft left recently captured Tarakan harbour. They were escorting 18 transports carrying the Sakaguchi Brigade’s 56th Regimental Group and the Kure 2nd Naval Landing Force, both tasked with the capture of the strategically immensely valuable Balikpapan oil production centre.
Stormy weather provided cover for the Japanese ships, but PBY’s from Patwing 10 and Dutch Navy Catalina’s found and shadowed them. And again, when this fleet was detected, it became clear that ABDACOM lacked the naval forces to prevent a Japanese invasion.
The US bomber force was the only offensive weapon directly available and 5th Bomber Command was put under immense pressure. Things really heated up and from now on, there would be no rest, neither for the veterans nor the newbie bomber crews; they had to carry out strike after strike against the menacing Japanese invasion forces.

Boeing B-17F

B17’s bombing through cloud

On January 22 the first mission was carried out against the Japanese invasion fleet off Balikpapan. A mixed flight of the 7th and 19th Bomb Group took off from Singosari at 06.30 a.m. (1). They were routed through Palembang in Sumatra where they landed  around 12.20 refuel and bomb-up.

Unfortunately, Lt. Hughes overshot the field and wrecked his bomber beyond repair. The eight remaining B-17’s went on and arrived over Balikpapan several hours later. They pressed home the attack, bombing from 14.500 ft., but as the area was covered by an 8/10th cloud layer, the results of the attack were uncertain. The flight returned unharmed to Palembang and, after staying overnight, the eight B-17’s returned to Singosari, leaving Hughes and his crew behind with orders to strip everything valuable from their wrecked B-17E (41-2419).

Later that  day, January 23, nine Dutch Glenn Martin B-10 bombers operating out of Samarinda II attacked the invasion fleet around 15.25 p.m. and damaged two of the transports (2).

ABDACOM had ordered US Navy light cruisers Boise and Marblehead and destroyers Parrott, Pope, John D. Ford, and Paul Jones to intercept and destroy the Japanese invasion force before it could reach Balikpapan.
But they were off to a bad start; their most powerful unit, the light cruiser Boise, almost immediately ran onto an uncharted reef in the Sape Strait and had to retire with a badly ruptured bottom. A little later, Marblehead, the other light cruiser, lost a turbine and had to slow down to a sedate 15 knots.


USS Pope under full power

Commander Paul H. Talbot decided not to tie his destroyers to the limping Marblehead and, taking the lead in his flagship John D. Ford, ordered his quartet of old four-stackers to make turns for 27 knots and set course for Balikpapan. They arrived shortly after 02.00 a.m. on January 24 and were treated to a grand spectacle. The retreating Dutch had torched and dynamited the Balikpapan oil-wells and refineries. To Talbots delight, the Japanese transports and other fleet units were sharply silhouetted against a blazing inferno that spanned the horizon.
Attacking immediately with torpedoes and guns, Talbot took his little force into the first US Navy surface action since 1898, when Dewey took his Asiatic fleet into Manila.
The sudden and totally unexpected attack caused great confusion amongst the Japanese. They initially thought they were under submarine attack and the Japanese escorts launched countless depth-charges and later even shelled each other in the wild confusion that followed.
One Japanese source describes the attack as follows:
…between 0420 and 0500, in the middle of the [landing] operation, allied naval vessels, which were judged to be three or four destroyers and one or two cruisers, appeared out of nowhere like phantom killers, wreaked havoc in the dark, and disappeared like the wind…(3)”

Cdr Paul H Talbot Frank Knox 11 July 42 Navy Cross

July 11, 1942: Commander Paul H. Talbot receives the Navy Cross from the secretary of the Navy Frank Knox for his action off Balikpapan

In a brisk and decisive action, the old four-stacker destroyers sank 3 transports – one of them was the Kuretake-maru of 5,175 tons, transporting the 146th Infantry Regiment’s / 3rd Battalion headquarters – and badly damaged two transports and a patrol craft. (4)
The last torpedo was fired at 03.45 a.m. and produced a definite hit on a merchantman. Out of torpedoes and low on ammo and with only minor damage to Pope, the four-stackers retired at 04.00, going to max revs and 32 knots.

Alas, there were no Allied naval assets to follow up this effective action, apart from a single Dutch submarine – whose commanding officer had had a grandstand view of the action – and 4 American subs,. Erroneous information from ABDACOM had sent all Dutch fleet units on a wild-goose chase to the west of Borneo; USS Boise and Marblehead were limping back for repairs and the British were clearly too preoccupied with Singapore to even bother.

Inevitably, the task of following up the destroyer attack and doing more damage to the battered Japanese invasion fleet was handed to the overworked US bomber force and the ABDACOM order-issuing machine groaned into action.

Footnotes / References

(1) Planes/Crews imvolved: 41-2456 (Robinson), 41-2460 (Hillhouse), 41-2471 (Strother), 41-2472 (Key), 41-2406 (Hobson), 41-2419 (Hughes), 41-2454 (Skiles), 41-2468 (Northcutt), 40-3067 (Parsel)
(2) Tatsugami Maru and Nana Maru, The Nana Maru of 6,557 tons eventually sank. Tatsugami Maru made it to Balikpapan, anchoring with the rest of the invasion force.
(3) Quotation from Japanese War Study “Senshi Sōsho”, Part 3, Chapter VII, pp. 357
(4) Quotation from Japanese War Study  “Senshi Sōsho”, Part 3, Chapter VII, pp. 358.
Ships sunk: Sumanoura-maru (auxiliary torpedo- and submarine-net layer and mine layer/oiler), Tatsugami-maru (munitions ship), Kuretake-maru (5,175 tons; with the 3d Battalion headquarters, the 12th Company, the 3d Machine Gun Company, and others on board): Ships badly damaged: Patrol boat No. 37, Asahisan-maru. Ships slightly damaged: Kumagawa-maru

Posted in Pacific War, US Army in Java 1941, US Navy WW2, USAAF Pacific, WW2 Pacific | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

USAAF B-17’s in Java – Part 9 – Project ‘X’

Banner_The Bombers

Project “X”, the 7th Bomb Group and Problems of Command

When President Roosevelt learned of the FEAF’s massive losses on December 8, he immediately issued a Presidential directive to reinforce the Philippines. As a result, a total of 15 Consolidated LB-30’s and 65 Boeing B-17E’s would be sent off in a hurry to the South-West Pacific. The ferry project had been given the ominous sounding name ‘Project X’. And the ‘Straubel Detachment’ consisting of 15 bomber crews of the 7th Bomb Group under Major Austin A. Straubel, was chosen to deliver the first installment. As we have seen, Straubel and his crews spearheaded a steady trickle of ‘Project X’ bombers that kept arriving singly or in pairs or even trio’s via the African Route.


B-17E 41-2459 seen somewhere in Africa during its ferry flight

The strength of the 7th Bomb Group gradually built up as more planes trickled in to Java over the next few weeks. On January 16, it was up to four LB-30s and six B-17s, all of them flown in via the African Route by crews from the 9th, 11th and 22nd bomb squadrons. And during the next weeks, more crews of the 9th, 11th and what remained of the 22nd Bomb or the 88th Reconnaissance Squadron would make their way to Java so that, by February 1, 1942, fifteen B-17E’s and four LB-30’s had reached Java.
However, this build-up soon created serious problems.

The continuing influx of bombers severely strained Singosari’s limited space and facilities. And then there was the spares situation or, putting it more bluntly, the general lack of everything. The crews of the 7th Bomb Group grew extremely possessive of their supplies, tools and rations.
By the end of January 1942, the condition of the planes in both bomb groups was becoming a major problem. The older bombers were rapidly wearing out as a result of the persistent very heavy use and frequent battle damage. And when some of the newer ones arrived, they were badly in need of an overhaul after their 12,000-mile ferry flight. The unfamiliar LB-30 complicated the maintenance problems. It had its own peculiar problems for the mechanics to fix and its specialized spares added complexity to the already difficult logistics situation.


USAAF Mechanics servicing a B17 ‘in the open’

On top of this came the overcrowding; the few mechanics servicing the increasing number of 7th Bomb Group planes at Singosari had to share a single large hangar with the Dutch (who still had some of their antiquated B-10’s in there), as well as with mechanics of the 19th Bomb Group, who were trying to patch up their bullet riddled B-17’s. A lot of work had to be done outside.
There was not nearly enough ground crew; helped by the combat crews wherever they could, the few trained mechanics present worked very hard during very long hours and on very little food.


They had to work with tools both inadequate for the job and insufficient in number. There were almost no spare parts; those with which the planes had left the United States had all too often been used up along the way.
It is a tribute to the dedication of these men that they kept the bombers flying, despite the fact that they quite frequently went without sleep. Their living conditions in Yogyakarta were a Spartan minimal to say the least, quartered as they were in an old monastery. And it was hard to find any western-style food or recreation during their scarce off-duty hours in a city where the population was 90% native Indonesian and predominantly Muslim.
Ever mindful of what had happened at Clark Field, the Philippine veterans were worried about this dangerous concentration of all American bombers at one field. The latter argument made good sense and, after a brief site inspection, it was decided to move the7th Bomb Group to Yogyakarta, 150 miles west of Malang. The first of the 7th’s ground crews arrived at Yogyakarta on January 21 and from then on, the bombers of the 7th re-deployed in groups of two and three to their new ‘official base’. But the field was a disappointment after Singosari; it was still being enlarged and its two way grass runway became very soft in tropical rains. And it rained each afternoon.

Lt.Col. Eugene L. Eubank

Lt. Col Eugene Eubank

But the airfield and maintenance difficulties were nothing compared to the problems of command. What befuddled the local situation right from the start was that Major Austin A. Straubel and Lt. Col. Eugene Eubank didn’t see eye to eye. Straubel was – at that time – the 7th Bomb Group’s ranking officer and CO of the 11th Bomb Squadron’s Java detachment. Eubank not only commanded the 19th Bomb Group but also was CO of 5th Bomber Command. Soon the question arose whether or not the crews of the 7th Bomb Group were part of and subordinate to 5th Bomber Command.


Major Austin A. Straubel

This situation was exacerbated further by the attitude of Eubank and the rest of his 19th Bomb Group, whose ‘up nosed’ air of superiority soon irritated all ‘newcomers’ and caused friction right from the start.
It was not a good beginning of what turned out to be the first American bomber offensive of the war.


Posted in Dutch East Indies, Java Campaign 1942, Pacific War, US Army in Java 1941, USAAF in Australia, USAAF Java, USAAF Pacific, WW2 Pacific | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

USAAF B-17’s in Java – Part 8 – “Shuttle Bombing”

To all my readers and followers: due to personal reasons it has been a long time since I posted the latest installment in this series. But now I have taken up the thread again and will complete this awesome and tragic story.

Banner_The Bombers

Genesis of the “Shuttle Bombing”

The sudden Japanese strafing attack on Kendari II had made it clear that the Dutch ‘secret’ fields were no longer secret; they were in fact becoming far too vulnerable.
The alternative was to mount direct ‘shuttle missions’ from Malang to Del Monte. This would allow for two-way bombing of targets between Java and the Philippines. An additional advantage of this kind of shuttle operation was that ammunition could be carried into Mindanao on the way out, while some of the 19th Bomb Group’s experienced personnel, now marooned at Del Monte, could be evacuated to Java on the return flight.

ShuttleBombing Malang DavaoThe downside of this scheme was that a mission would mean a 1,500-mile flight in each direction, over strongly held Japanese areas and through an unpredictable equatorial front.
Yet, after much head-scratching, 5th Bomber Command Okay-ed the proposal and Lt. John B. Connally, one of the 19th Bomb Group’s veteran pilots, led a flight of 9 B-17’s on the first shuttle mission from Singosari to Del Monte.

B17E-ZHis orders for the outward leg were to bomb Japanese shipping around Jolo. (1) Three of the bombers had to turn back with engine problems (2), but the remaining six fought their way north through severe thunderstorms.

They had a go at Japanese shipping targets near the island of Jolo in the Sulu Sea, roughly halfway between Mindanao and Borneo.  Landing safely at Del Monte by the end of the afternoon, they reported hits on a tanker and what they thought was a cruiser.
Early next morning, Connally’s B-17’s were all bombed up and the flight took off for the ‘return shuttle’. Bad weather made bombing of Jolo or other targets impossible on the return trip. However,  when the bombers touched down at Singosari around noon, 23 officers and men of the 19th Bomb Group jumped out of the various bombers, glad for the chance to be evacuated from Mindanao.



A 19th Bomb Group B-17D being bombed up at Mindanao – Date unknown

Monday January 19, 1942, sure was a busy day for the 7th and 19th Bomb Groups.
Staff Sgt. Wise (19th BG) and Tech Sgt. Harvid Sager (11th BS) were taken by a Patwing 10 PBY to Macassar to help salvage as much as possible from Basye’s wrecked LB-30. The same PBY returned to Surabaya with Basye and part of his crew (3).
To help Wise and Sager strip essential equipment from the downed LB-30, 2nd Lt V.D. Pocnic (co-pilot). T/Sgt FE Paul Flanagan and gunner pfc Robert F Graf remained at Macassar.
At a quarter to ten in the morning, a flight of three additional B-17E’s reached Singosari with Major Stanley K. Robinson, the commanding officer of the 7th Bomb Group at the controls of B-17E 41-2456.
And on that same day, news arrived that the ground echelons of two squadrons of the 7th Bombardment Group had left Australia for Java; finally, more help was on its way.


[1] This was the first ‘mixed’ operation of the 7th and the 19th Bomb Groups. Pilots were Conally (402062), Tash (40-2419), Keiser (40-3066), Schaetzel (40-3070), Hobson (41-2406), Hughes (41-2419), Key (41-2472) and Hillhouse (41-2480);

[2] Hobson and Hughes returned to base with engine trouble. Hillhouse landed at Samarinda II with engine trouble and returned to Singosari next day

[3] 1st Lt. Basye, 2nd Lt. D. Skandera (Navigator) and S/Sgt Roy J. Wilhite (bombardier). Oldfield and Chopping were still in a Macassar hospital.



Posted in Dutch East Indies, Java Campaign 1942, US Army in Java 1941, USAAF Java, USAAF Pacific, WW2 Pacific | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Reevers Warbirds B-25 Mitchell Restoration – “Pulk” a Dutch Tribute

For some, history is very much alive.
Look at this post from Aces Flying High. A marvelous restoration job of a B-25J and named for one of the – in this case no longer forgotten – heroes named in one of my posts :Fred Pelder, who managed to escape from Java in a cobbled together Lockheed 12. (See my post “Escape From Java”)
Wonderful to see this dedication – so that younger generations can have a view of what it must have been like!

And thanks to Fred’s son Fred, who helped me correct his father’s long standing erroneously quoted name.


Aces Flying High

Reevers B-25J

Reevers Warbirds unveiled their North American B-25J Mitchell medium bomber restoration project at a public open day hosted by Classic Jets Fighter Museum on April 9th, 2017 at Parafield Airport, Adelaide, South Australia (alongside the museums F4U Corsair restoration project). I was in town and couldn’t miss the opportunity to attend!

Reevers Warbirds B-25 Pulk Parafield Airport April 2017 Earlier in the morning prior to the open day at Classic Jets Fighter Museum I took a look through the fence at B-25 “Pulk” whilst it was out in the open air at Parafield Airport (April 2017) – note the nose undercarriage door was loose, it had only been temporarily attached for the veteran ceremonies the day before and came off overnight in the wind outdoors

Reevers Warbirds B-25 Pulk Parafield Airport April 2017 Earlier in the morning prior to the open day at Classic Jets Fighter Museum I took a look through the fence at B-25 “Pulk” whilst it was out in the open air at Parafield…

View original post 1,507 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

USAAF B-17’s in Java – Part 7 – 7th BG First Blood

Banner_The Bombers

First Blood – The 7th Bomb Group to Menado

While the 19th was ‘showing the flag’ way up north, a critical situation developed in Northern Celebes. The Japanese were invading Menado. Orders were issued to strike ‘with all available force’ at Menado airfield and the Japanese shipping in Menado Bay.
And all available force meant the recently arrived 3 LB-30’s and 2 B-17E’s that had been at Singosari for 4 whole days…
Watched by a few even newer arrivals, that had trickled in that day via the African Route,  the five bombers took off at 12.10 on January 16 and disappeared north, towards the Kendari II (K2) staging field at the South-Celebes coast. There they would stay overnight and carry out a dawn attack against Japanese forces in the Menado area on January 17. The LB-30’s were to attack Menado’s Langoan airfield; the B-17’s were to attack shipping in Menado Bay on what was the first operational mission of the B17E in the Pacific theatre


A Boeing B-17E of the 7th Bomb Group

To say that their orders were rather vague is putting it very mildly. The LB-30 crews lacked accurate target information and it took them 20 minutes to locate the airfield. By the time they had found the airfield, twenty miles south of Menado, and had dropped their bombs, 5 Mitsubishi Zeros aggressively attacked them and raked their unprotected bellies. The bomber crews fought them off, claiming one Zero shot down, but on the way back to Malang, it was clear that two LB-30’s (Dougherty’s AL535 and  Basye’s AL576) were really in trouble.
Dougherty found that that not only  was he very low on gas but the LB-30’s damaged controls made it increasingly difficult to keep his plane in the air. Halfway across the Java Sea, Major Straubel saw the bomber disappear from sight, with a smoking engine and four injured men aboard. Dougherty somehow managed to crash-land the LB-30 on a streak of sandy beach on Greater Mesalembo Island. The crew survived but the weather turned thick. Huddled in their wrecked plane, they waited for nine days, with little else but coconuts to live on and no proper shelter or medical care for their wounded. Their only hope was for the weather to clear so the wrecked plane could be spotted by a friendly aircraft. This finally happened after eight days, when – on January 24 – they were spotted by a very low flying B-17E (Flown by the 7th Bomb Group’s CO Major Stanley K. Robinson). The next day a Patwing 10 PBY came to pick them up.


A Consolidated LB-30, similar to those used in the January 17, 1942 Menado raid. (Source: Australian War Memorial)

Basye’s LB-30 had been hit in two engines and had part of its flight controls shot away. And two of his gunners were badly wounded; Sgt Wallace L Oldfield and Pfc Robert D Chopping (who had a bullet lodged within an inch of his heart). Basye crash-landed his ship at Macassar and both wounded were rushed to a Dutch hospital.  The bomber was damaged beyond repair  and the crew decided to strip it of all salvageable parts .

The two ship B17E flight fared little better. At 05.30 am, on the run in for the shipping attack in Menado bay, they were completely blinded by the sun rising directly in front of them. The only solution was to pass over the target area and reverse course 180 degrees. Now they could finally see some targets: two large, two small transports. But the two bombing raids they made were a fiasco. All bombs hung on the first run and on the second run six bombs hung in one of the B-17’s (of which they later managed to drop two on Langoan airfield). Four bombs were still on board when they landed at Kendari II.
And while they wrestled with their unwilling bombs, they were relentlessly attacked from 0540 to 0620 by approx. 15 Japanese fighters, two of which were claimed shot down by B17 gunners. But they came at a steep price.
When Necrason’s tailgunner, Pvt. Arvid B Hegdahl shot down his fighter, a Japanese cannon shell shattered his right leg above the knee. Fortunately, quick action by the 7th Bomb Squadron’s line chief – 60 year old engineer MSgt Louis T “Soup” Silva – saved his leg. After giving first aid as well as he could, Silva then heaved Hegdahl aside and took over as tail gunner. He later got a DSC for his actions.

Both B17E’s landed at Kendari for much needed medical aid, repairs and fuel. An hour later, Necrason’s co-pilot ‘Bernie’ Barr had helped a Dutch doctor to staunch the blood flow and splint Hegdahl’s leg. They were fueling up and frantically trying to repair DuFrane’s engines when, without warning, five Japanese Zeroes swooped down and attacked the field.
Necrason immediately took off, in a desperate attempt to save his plane (and crew) from being shot to pieces. Somehow he managed to get airborne and the crew fought off three of the Zeroes that went after their lone bomber. Still unaccustomed to the B17E, the Japanese attacked from behind and below, right into the tail-gunner’s field of fire.
When they  reached Singosari in their badly shot-up bomber, they heard that only Straubel’s crew had brought back their LB-30 (AL609)  more or less undamaged.


A B-17E, similar to those delivered to the 7th Bomb Group

Wade, without a plane, had remained at Singosari, to ensure that there was someone present to greet and guide new arrivals expected via the African Route. But when Necrason told him that ‘Duke’ DuFrane’s crew and shot-up B-17E were still at Kendari II, he immediately had Straubel’s LB-30 refueled and hurriedly took off at 13.15 to help DuFrane. Wade landed at K2 just after dark but came too late. DuFrane had been told that the invading Japs could arrive at K2 any moment. He had attempted a 3 engine takeoff but it failed; the field was simply too wet and soggy to gain sufficient speed on 3 engines. Unable to repair his fourth engine to get his plane out in time, DuFrane decided there and then to burn his B17 to deny it to the Japs. Upon arrival at Singosari early next morning, he and his crew received a severe dressing down from Eubank who was furious about the destruction of a brand new B-17.

Thus ended the 7th Bomb Group’s first mission in Java. According to ‘Summary of Air Action’, one Japanese transport was hit and seen to capsize while some damage was done to an airfield on which no planes were visible.
And these scant results had been achieved at the cost of 7 wounded crew members (of which 3 were severely wounded) and the loss of two LB-30’s and one B-17E, while one B-17E was badly damaged. Only a single LB-30 remained unharmed.


— To Be Continued —

Posted in Aircraft, Dutch East Indies, Java Campaign 1942, Pacific War, USAAF in Australia, USAAF Java, USAAF Pacific, WW2 Pacific | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

USAAF B-17’s in Java – Part 6 – ABDACOM

Banner_The Bombers

ABDACOM and the Sungei Patani Raid

The American – British – Dutch – Australian (ABDA) Command came into being early in January 1942. It was a direct result of the Arcadia conference during which Roosevelt and Churchill agreed on a unified command for South-East Asia. It was an attempt to coordinate intelligence gathering and distribution, target selection and resource commitment. But these high hopes were never fulfilled, and the overall command situation in Java actually deteriorated, since the ABDACOM bureaucracy made an absolute hash of intelligence gathering and distribution.
Just as an example: Under Dutch command, sighting reports from flying boats would be delivered to submarines or surface units within 10 minutes.
The ABDA intelligence clearing house took 6 hours or more to ‘process’ these same reports, and by the time they reached the intended recipients, they were completely useless. And target selection was whimsical to say the least– as was shown by the Sungei Patani raid.

On January 14, 1942, 5th Bomber Command felt the heavy hand of ABDACOM for the first time. Without warning they were ordered to bomb Sungei Patani airfield, ten miles north of Penang in northern Malaya.


A 1942 US Newspaper map fragment that shows the distances to be flown to various targets. Singei Patani is in the Malay States to the left,   1100 miles distant in a straight line

This target, about 1100 miles from Singosari was, in the eyes of both 5th Bomber Command and the bomber crews a complete waste of time. This airfield had been in Japanese hands since December 15, the information they were to act on was more than two weeks old and the Japanese air force had, in all probability, long since moved its planes way down south. Another factor was that, although high altitude bombing would damage hangars and buildings, it had only a limited effect on runways. The Japanese merely had to fill in the holes, as the US Airmen knew all too well from their own Philippines experience.

But ABDACOM was adamant that all of the 19th Bomb Group’s available B-17’s would be dispatched and it soon became clear that Wavell himself was dead-set on this raid.
“To put some heart into Singapore…” he said, apparently keen to ‘Show The Flag’,  though the Japanese invasions of Borneo and of Menado in Celebes were a much greater threat to the ABDACOM area right at that moment.


One of the 19th Bomb Group’s B-17D’s

All available B-17’s left Singosari on Jan 14 at 07.30. (*)
Because of the distance involved and the routes to be flown, the 7 bombers had to stage through Palembang in Sumatra to refuel and bomb up. They arrived there in the late afternoon, and when they wanted to bomb up, there was confusion about the bombload. that lasted for some time. Whether it was due to  misread or misinterpreted signals was not clear. Finally, Major Combs got really fed up and gave the order to load the B-17’s with 100 lb. demolition bombs.

The bombers took off for the raid on January 15 at 08.30 am in very bad weather. Lt. Teats lost the flight in the clouds and had to return to Palembang. And Lt. Vandevanter’s plane developed engine trouble, forcing him to turn back too.
The remaining 5 B-17’s duly bombed Sungei Patani; after damaging some buildings and starting a fire, they set course for Palembang. But they were so low on fuel by that time that they barely made it into the North Sumatran Thonga emergency field where they stayed overnight, as guests of the Dutch army.
Next morning Major Combs flew directly back to Singosari while the remaining 4 B-17’s staged through Palembang to re-fuel and pick up the other 2 B-17’s.
The 6 B-17’s left Palembang at 14.30 pm. When they arrived late in the afternoon, Bohnaker overshot the Singosari runway and wrecked his B-17 beyond repair.

All available bombers had been flying for 3 full days, had covered over 3000 miles and had lost one of their precious B-17’s after a raid that had started a fire and done some unknown damage to an unimportant airfield.
Looking at this abysmal balance sheet, it became clear that ABDACOM had sent the 19th Bomb Group on a futile prestige mission that lacked any strategic or tactical significance.



(*) According to Summary of Air Action in the Philippines / NEI, Jan 14, 1942, the planes dispatched were: 40-3061 (Combs), 40-3064 (Bohnaker), 40-3066 (Smith), 40-3067 (Schaetzel), 40-3072 (Vandevanter), 40-3074 (Parsel), and 40-3078 (Teats)

— To Be Continued —

Posted in Aircraft, Dutch East Indies, Java Campaign 1942, Malayan Campaign 1941-42, Pacific War, USAAF Java, USAAF Pacific, WW2 Pacific | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments