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…

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USAAF B-17’s in Java – Part Seven

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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 —

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USAAF B-17’s in Java – Part Six

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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 , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

USAAF B-17’s in Java – Part Five


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The arrival in Java of the 7th Bomb Group.

On January 11, while the 19th was under way to Tarakan, three Consolidated LB-30’s arrived at Malang’s Singosari airfield at 13.05 local time. Major Austin A, Straubel flew in AL 609,  1st Lt John E. Dougherty AL535, and 1st Lt Horace M. Wade AL612. These crews, belonging to the 11th Bomb Squadron, were the first of the 7th Bomb Group to reach the Dutch East Indies. Over the next few days, more planes trickled in via the 21.000 mile Atlantic – Africa – India Ferry Route, all flown by crews from the 9th and 22nd bomb squadrons. On January 16, the strength of the 7th Bomb Group in Java was up to four LB-30s and six B-17’s.
The B-17’s were factory-fresh ‘E’ models (as shown in the banner above). It was the long awaited type with a top-turret, tail guns and a rudimentary (and very ineffective) ball-turret underneath.
The LB-30’s, the ‘export model’ of the Consolidated B-24 ‘Liberator’, arrived in Java still bearing British side numbers instead of common USAAF serials, and with USAAF insignia painted on wings and fuselages covered with a British style camouflage pattern.

lb-30 at Malang - Robert F Graf

Consolidated LB-30 AL515 at Malang / Singosari Airfield in 1942.  (Photo Robert F. Graf collection) 

The LB-30’s had been waiting at Consolidated Aircraft’s Modification Plant in Tucson, Arizona, for delivery to the RAF. Once the hurried decision to divert them to Java had been taken, they were further modified at Wright Field, Ohio and then finally delivered to Mac Dill Field, Tampa, Florida, There the planes were to be prepared for the ‘African Route’ and the crews to be ‘thoroughly briefed’
(Authors note, ‘Thoroughly Briefed’ must be taken with several grains of salt. Edmunds and Dorr give examples of crews that had no knowledge of the route at all, of crew-members that had minimal or no experience with 4-engined bombers or had never even been near one. In a number of cases, navigators were fresh out of navigator’s school and more than one flight was saved from disaster by the captain’s navigational skills).


Starting on their 21.000 mile African Route, the crews flew south from Mac Dill Field to Waller Field in Trinidad. From there, they  went on to Belem and Natal, both in Brazil.  Natal was their starting point for the Atlantic Ocean crossing to Freetown, Sierra Leone. Next they continued to Accra (in the Gold Coast, now Ghana) and then all the way across the African continent via Kano and Khartoum. The next stop would be Cairo and from there either to Aden or Karachi where the crews would learn that their final destination would be Java and not the Philippines The bombers would then stage through Colombo heading for Bandung in Java. Despite the enormous distances to be flown and weather and mechanical problems under way, only 5 out of 58 bombers sent were lost.


Major Austin A. Straubel, CO 11th Bomb Squadron

Shortly after his arrival at Singosari, Major Straubel found out that, so far, no US ammunition had arrived in Java.
This meant that the crews of the 7th would have to make do with Dutch 300 kg bombs that only had a single lug. Straubel told 1st Lt. Horace Wade to make sure that the bombsight worked with the unfamiliar Dutch bombs in case they would draw a mission.

Wade dutifully took AL612 up for a test bombing run and the bombsight worked just fine with the Dutch bombs. But returning, he botched his landing on the unfamiliar field and sheared 6 feet off the LB-30’s left wing. The damaged part was sent by rail to be repaired at the Dutch Air Force Bandung depot but, unfortunately, never returned.
The unlucky AL612 would never fly again; she was doomed to become a ‘hangar queen’, slowly gutted as she was cannibalized for spares. Finally, she was ignominiously destroyed when the US airmen evacuated to Australia.

The few mechanics available for servicing the 7th Bomb Group’s planes at Singosari had to share one big hangar with the Dutch (who still had some of their antiquated B-10’s in there) and with crews of the 19th Bomb Group, who were trying to repair their shot up B-17’s. This crowded situation caused friction right from the start. There was a general lack of everything, especially spares, causing the crews of the 7th Bomb Group to grow extremely possessive of their supplies, tools and rations.

And as it turned out, the combat crews of the 7th would have only four days to get ‘settled in’ before they would be sent off on their first – and costly – operation.

— To Be Continued —

Posted in Aircraft, Dutch East Indies, Historical Background, Pacific War, US Army in Java 1941, USAAF Java, USAAF Pacific | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

USAAF B17’s in JAVA – Part Four

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Hitting the Philippines – from Java

On January 8, 1942, the seemingly indefatigable Combs took nine of the B-17’s to Kendari II (also known as K2) at 07.15 a.m. They arrived 11.30 a.m. and took off at 17.00 p.m. the same day on a second mission against Japanese shipping in Davao Gulf.
Mechanical difficulties plagued the flight; four of the nine B17’s had to abort. The remaining five succeeded in reaching the target area and, as they had to attack in poor visibility, their bombing runs brought only uncertain results (1). The crews returned to K2 and stayed there overnight; next day, January 9, they fixed their mechanical difficulties and on January 10 at 07.00 a.m. they took off for the return flight to Singosari.

At that same January 10, the Japanese Empire officially declared war on the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Only hours later, a Dutch Navy Dornier Do-24K spotted a Japanese invasion fleet heading for Tarakan Island and Northeast Borneo. Knowing Dutch forces would not be able to prevent a Japanese landing, Dutch Army HQ immediately ordered the destruction of the Tarakan Djuata oil fields, the Royal Dutch Shell refinery and the coal mines in Borneo’s Berau Valley.


A 19th Bomb Group B-17D in Java

In response to a request for US help to attack the invasion fleet off the Tarakan coast, 7 B-17’s took off from Singosari on January 11 at 05.55 a.m. and headed north-north west in terrible weather. Four of the bombers lost formation and made it back to Singosari around noon. The three remaining B-17’s (2) attacked the fleet while fighting off Japanese fighters and bombed with uncertain results – 2 probable and 2 possible hits on transports and / or cruisers.

Combs made it back to Singosari around 16.35, Conelly diverted to Samarinda II and returned to Singosari on January 12 and Kurtz diverted to Surabaya, landing around 17.00. B-17 gunners claimed two Japanese fighters shot down during the encounter.


(1) Crews claimed a battleship set afire by on direct and one waterline hit, and several hits on a landbased AA battery. Japanese sources do not show a battleship present.
(2) 40-2062 (Conelly), 40-3067 (Kurtz) and 40- 3087(Combs)

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USAAF B17’s in Java – Part Three

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Darwin – Next stop: Java

On December 24, four days after the last B-17 had left for the safety of Darwin, the Japanese launched their heaviest air raid on the Manila area. They concentrated on the waterfront, destroying the area so completely that whole streets became impassable, even on foot.  This carnage and the rapid advance of the Japanese invasion forces on Luzon prompted MacArthur to order Major General Lewis H. Brereton to shift the headquarters of what remained of his Far East Air Force (FEAF) to where his bombers were: in Darwin, Australia.
Brereton would have liked to hitch a ride in one of his own B-17’s, but that was impossible so Admiral Hart surrendered his place aboard a PatWing10 PBY and off he went. First to a false start – their ‘boat’, overloaded with 21 passengers, hit a patrol vessel during their take-off run in the dark. Brereton and the others then made a dangerous car trip down to Lake Lanao where they transferred to another PBY.
This ‘boat’ arrived safely in Surabaya on Christmas Day 1941 and Brereton hurriedly went into discussion with the Dutch on the topic of ‘shuttle bombing’ targets in the Philippines. He intended to shift the entire B-17 operation to Java and as Del Monte was becoming more and more vulnerable to Japanese attacks after the invasion of Davao and Jolo, he wanted to stage his bombers through various NEI airfields.
After obtaining Dutch permission, he left Lt. Col. Eubank behind in Surabaya “to direct bomber activities from there” and  he departed for Darwin late on 28 December 1941 in a B-17 sent over to fetch him. (*)  He arrived in Darwin the next day, where Maj. Cecil E. Combs told him that:
“there are 14 complete combat crews available. Of the 14 B-17’s, 9 can be sent to the N.E.I. directly and three of the remaining five can probably be placed in commission a few days later; the others require  complete depot overhauls in Melbourne.”

Brereton left then for a round of conferences in Brisbane and Melbourne but Combs wasted no time. On December 30, 1941, he took a flight of 7 available B-17’s from Darwin to Malang where they arrived at 16.00 p.m. Next day, 3 more B-17’s would arrive and another one on January 1, bringing the total available in Java up to 11. (**)
Needless to say that those early Fortresses had no tail guns, no top turrets, or ball turrets, and only the Ds were equipped with self-sealing fuel tanks. They arrived in Java with one crew and two mechanics per plane and virtually no spare parts.

B-17C Flying Fortress _40-2062_James_Conally_and_Crew

Lt. James Conally and crew arriving Malang December 30, 1941 with B-17C 40-2062, the only ‘C” model to operate out of Java on bombing sorties

The 19th Bomb Group was to be a ‘guest’ at Singosari airfield, located 6 miles north-east of Malang. It was home to one of the Dutch Glenn Martin B-10 squadrons and the positive side was that it was well camouflaged and had a hard-packed sod-strip of 5000 ft.  The facilities were a great improvement over what the ground crews had been used to at Del Monte. Billeting was fair and there were lighted hangars to work in, so that the servicing could be carried on after dark.
The negative side was that the field lacked radar and had no AA guns at all. And flying conditions were much the same as in the Philippines, with tropical weather fronts that were often too severe for the planes to penetrate.
A major drawback was that the field was located about 1000 miles south of Mindanao; for offensive operations the planes would have to stage through Dutch fields to the north. They also would have to carry bomb bay fuel tanks that reduced the bomb load and were a fire hazard when attacked by fighters.


Bombing up a 19th BG B-17D, location unknown

Bad weather prevented operations on January 2 but the next day, Major Combs led a flight of 9 B-17’s to Samarinda II (***). While  they stayed overnight, each bomber was serviced, refueled with 2000 gal of gas and loaded with four 600lb bombs.
Next day, January 4, Maj. Combs led eight B-17’s from Samarinda II 7 to Davao Gulf, 730 miles to the north, where approximately twelve enemy transports and perhaps as many as twenty-four warships were anchored. After a five hour flight, they climbed to 25,000 feet and bombed from this altitude. They scored hits which possibly sank a destroyer and, according to Japanese accounts, severely damaged a cruiser. Opposition was slight, and four hours later the B-17’s landed unharmed at Samarinda II.
Next day, January 5, the planes returned to Malang where the crews learned that this one mission  had exhausted the supply of 100-octane gasoline at Samarinda II. Moreover, the field’s unpaved runway had suffered badly as it was unsuitable for heavily loaded aircraft in monsoon weather. The next raid would have to stage through another field.

This raid is a typical example of bombing operations during the early phase of the Netherlands East Indies campaign.  The flights were made from unfamiliar and inadequately equipped fields, over areas that were imperfectly charted, and under circumstances which imposed at all times a maximum strain upon personnel. Three days of flying were required to drop less than ten tons of bombs and the results were questionable.
It was not an encouraging start.

— To Be Continued —

(*) 40-3070, flown by Lt. Parsel and crew
(**) 1 B-17C, 10 B-17D’s
(***) One of the secret airfields in the Dutch East Indies ; see ‘Military Background’

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USAAF B-17’s in Java – Part Two

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The Clark Field Disaster and Retreat from the Philippines

Brereton’s impression that the organization of the FEAF left much to be desired was confirmed the next day, after a hurried inspection tour of his command. The November 5 entry in his diary reveals that his orders, to build up a functioning air force in no-time, were literally a mammoth task.

‘…The heavies and mediums were all based at Clark Field. Half the fighters were stationed at Nichols Field, the remainder at Clark Field. There were no anti-aircraft defenses available at either of these fields or at any other airfield in the Philippines. Additional landing fields at Iba and Del Carmen were under construction. The air depot at Nichols Field was completely inadequate and plans for expansion to care for enormous increase in the Air Forces had not been implemented. Most of the B-17s were still uncamouflaged and from the air their burnished bright metal could be seen from a distance of at least 25 miles. There were no spare parts of any kind for P-40’s, nor was there so much as an extra washer or nut for a Flying Fortress. Training flights had to be limited as there wasn’t a spare engine for either P-40’s or B-17’s. There were few tools of any kind available with which an advance depot could begin rudimentary repair and maintenance…’

What Brereton really said in his diary was that the US Army Air Force in the Philippines was in no position to fight a war…

General Marshall sent out a ‘War Warning’ to his commanders on November 28, 1941. It heralded the last days of peace in the Philippines. A sense of foreboding had descended over the islands; everybody was convinced that ‘something’ was going to happen soon; the only question was – when?

PBY_on_patrol_during_WWIIOn December 2, a PBY-4 piloted by Lt. Robinson and Ensign Burgess stumbled upon a concentration of 20 Japanese ships in Cam Ranh Bay on the Indo-China (Vietnamese) coast. On December 3, another PBY reported that their number had grown to 50 and now included cruisers and destroyers.

When PatWing 10 returned the next day, they found Cam Ranh Bay empty of Japanese shipping and neither they nor the B-17’s were able to find them again.
From then on, Japanese aircraft were over Luzon every night and as a precautionary measure against a surprise attack, the 14th and 93rd bomb squadrons flew their B-17s to Del Monte, Mindanao, on December 5. Unfortunately, re-deployment of the 28th and 30th squadrons to Mindanao was not carried out.


MacArthur and Sutherland in Corregidor

Major General Brereton received the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 8 at 04.00 a.m. He ordered all air units in the Philippines to prepare for an expected Japanese air-attack at daybreak. He hurried over to General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters at Fort Santiago, Manila and arrived around 5 a.m. but was categorically denied access to MacArthur.

Despite frequent visits and telephone calls, MacArthur’s Chief of Staff Major General Richard K. Sutherland refused the desperately needed permission to carry out a planned strike at the Formosa (Taiwan) airfields. Afraid of his units being caught on the ground – as had happened in Hawaii – Brereton ordered the B-17’s from Clark into the air without bombs. Two fighter squadrons were ordered to Cover Clark Field and the Manila area.
When MacArthur’s approval for the Formosa strikes was finally received around 11.30 a.m., the orbiting bombers and fighters were recalled. The bombers were to re-fuel and bomb-up, the fighters to refuel. They were practically all on the ground at Clark Field when the Imperial Japanese Navy’s 11th Air Fleet struck at 12.15 p.m. with a force of 54 G-3M ‘Nell’ bombers and 50 A6M Zero fighters.
They dropped a lethal pattern of 600 lb bombs that ruined the single runway, destroyed some of the parked planes and devastated buildings, hangars and workshops. But the strafing attacks by the Zeroes were fatal to the B-17’s. For what seemed an eternity – but in reality 45 minutes – the strafers went after any airplane and any person in sight. The fully fuelled and bombed-up bombers exploded in angry fireballs, the remaining fighters were shredded by machine gun and 20 mm cannon fire.


Clark Field on December 8, 141

On this first day of the war, he FEAF had suffered staggering losses. In a single stroke, 18 of its precious B-17’s had been destroyed, together with 53 P-40’s, 3 P-35’s and an additional 25 or 30 miscellaneous aircraft (B-10’s, B-18’s, and observation planes). At Clark Field alone, over 100 persons were killed and 250 military personnel were wounded. Only two or three badly damaged B-17’s could later be patched up so that they could fly out to Del Monte, but only one of them would ever fly on an operation.
The 14th and 93rd flew their B-17’s to Luzon on December 9; 7 of them went to the San Marcelino dispersal field, 6 landed at Clark where the runway had hastily been patched up. After refueling in a hurry, they took off again and stayed aloft until darkness came.
Next day, December 10, saw the first Japanese invasion of the Philippines, with 4000 troops landing at beaches near Vigan and Aparri in northern Luzon. A flight of 5 B-17’s of the 93rd Bomb Squadron hastily took off from Clark and attacked the Japanese fleet with 100lb bombs that did some damage. Their bombs dropped, they went back to Clark to refuel and were ordered to return to Del Monte

Capt. Colin P. Kelly USAAC (NYT)

Captain Colin Kelly USAAF

Major O’Donnell, Captains Kelly and Parsel, Lieutenants Schaetzel and Montgomery, all of the 14th Bomb Squadron, flew their B-17’s from San Marcelino to Clark to bomb up. Kelly and Schaetzel had orders to find a Japanese carrier, which of course they did not find.
They turned to Vigan and Aparri and harassed the shipping there with 600lb bombs. Several transports were damaged and Kelly was credited with having sunk the battleship Haruna.
It later turned out that he had damaged the cruiser Ashigari,  the Haruna being 2000 miles away at that moment.

After the attack, the B-17’s had to fight off very aggressive Zero attacks. A couple of Zeroes shadowed Captain Kelly’s B-17 and shot the bomber down within sight of Clark Field, killing Captain Kelly and his radio operator Sgt. Delehanty.
Because there were swarms of Japanese fighters over Clark by now, the returning B-17’s, together with the 3 remaining at San Marcelino, were ordered back to Del Monte. A single B-17 piloted by Lt. Pease flew the last bombing mission of that day against the Japanese ships off Aparri. He made 4 runs and dropped 19 100lb demolition bombs and all he got for his troubles was a single near-miss. After this last raid, Brereton ordered all B-17’s still in Luzon to return to Del Monte on December 11. On December 12, Major Combs took off from Del Monte for the only B-17 mission that day against the Japanese at Vigan but no results were observed.
Next day, the morning of December 13  two B-17’s, piloted by Lts. Bohnaker and Smith, were sent out to see what was cooking off Legaspi in southern Luzon where  a Japanese invasion fleet had been reported. But they had strict orders “… not to bomb or alert any enemy shipping there…”


Still from a Japanese propaganda film showing the Kimura Detachment landing at Legaspi

On December 14, the last significant B-17 operation from the Philippines was carried out, an attack on the Japanese fleet off Legaspi. Of the 6 B-17’s detailed for this mission, Lt. Conolly’s plane did not get airborne and Lts. Goates and Ford had to abort their missions because of engine trouble. The three remaining bombers, piloted by Lts Wheeless, Adams and Vandevanter, reached the target and carried out the attack but they only scored some near misses and no hits.
Vandevanter bombed from 21.000 feet and, after ducking into a bad weather front,  returned unmolested but the other two were fiercely counterattacked.
Bullets from 18 Japanese fighters tore through Wheeless’ B-17, wounding all 4 gunners and mortally hurting Pfc. Killin. Wheeless nursed his battered ship back to Mindanao but as drizzling rain shut out Del Monte field, he had to crash-land his B-17 at a small barricaded field at Cagayen where the crew counted 1200 bullet holes in their ship.
Adams was continuously attacked by Japanese fighters from the moment he entered the target area. Japanese bullets riddled his plane and wounded several crew members. They knocked out two engines and as he lost height rapidly, he knew he would not make it back to base at Del Monte. He decided to head for the island of Masbate, just across the strait from Legaspi. After crash-landing the B-17 at the beach, Adams and his crew barely had time to race for cover before the strafing Zeroes arrived and completely destroyed the bomber. Once the strafers had left, the men had to make it back to base on foot, a journey that would take them three weeks…

B17D 402073 Crash l Cagayan City Parade Field Mindanao Island 14 dec 41

Wheeless B-17D 40-2073, camouflaged after its crash-landing at Cagayen

The high mechanical failure rate of this mission made it clear that, with the facilities at Clark and Nichols fields completely destroyed, the B-17’s could no longer be maintained in the Philippines. Moreover, those in command realized that it was only a question of time before the Japanese would locate the hitherto undiscovered Del Monte Field. Therefore, on December 15, MacArthur approved Brereton’s proposal to move the remaining B-17’s from Del Monte to Darwin (Australia).
The first flight of 6 B-17’s left for Darwin on December 17 but the next flight on the 18th escaped destruction by a hairbreadth. 4 B-17’s were ready for a take-off at dusk, still dispersed and camouflaged with coconut leaves while waiting for 3 B-18’s to come in. The B-18’s – one of them carrying General Clagett – had barely landed when 12 Zeroes came roaring in over the tree-tops. They had followed the B-18’s in and as they strafed the field, their guns and cannon turned them into flaming wrecks. But the camouflaged B-17’s escaped unhurt and three of them left for Australia as soon as the coast was clear. General Clagett followed on the 19th as a passenger in a single B-17.
The final flight of 4 B-17’s departed the Philippines for Darwin in Australia on December 20, not even two weeks after the war had started. There, 1600 miles to the south, the only offensive weapon remaining in American hands could be properly maintained, safe from surprise attacks…

— To Be Continued —

Posted in Australia in WW2 and later, Dutch East Indies, Java Campaign 1942, Pacific War, USAAF in Australia, USAAF Java, USAAF Pacific, WW2 Pacific | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments