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.
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.
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 —