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

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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 —

About Kingsleyr

Thank you for visiting my blog! The posts you find here are a direct result of my research into aviation and military history. I use the information I gather as a foundation and background for my books. You may call the genre historical fiction, a story woven into a background of solid and verifiable historical facts. However, the period and region I have chosen to write about (late 1930's - 1950's in South-East Asia) are jam-packed with interesting information and anecdotes. If I'd used them all I would swamp the stories. So this blog is the next best thing. It is an "overflow area" in which I can publish whatever I think will interest you. And from the reactions I get, I deduce I am on the right track. A lot will be about aviation in the former Dutch East Indies. This, because my series of books ("The Java Gold") follows a young Dutch pilot in his struggle to survive the Pacific War and its aftermath. But there's more in the world and you'll find descriptions of cities, naval operations and what not published on this blog. Something about myself; I am a Dutch-Canadian author, living in, and working out of the magical city of Amsterdam. My lifelong interest in history and aviation, especially WW2, has led me to write articles and books on these subjects. I hope you'll enjoy them!
This entry was posted in Aircraft, Dutch East Indies, Java Campaign 1942, Malayan Campaign 1941-42, Pacific War, USAAF Java, USAAF Pacific, WW2 Pacific and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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

  1. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Reblogged this on My Forgotten Hobby II and commented:
    Part Six of US Bomber Operations in the Dutch East Indies


  2. Pierre Lagacé says:

    All these on my reading list.


    • Kingsleyr says:

      Thanks Pierre! And there’s much more to come!


    • Bill Bowen says:

      My wife’s father was Lt. V. Snyder of the 93rd, and during this period of the war he was normally Major Combs’ copilot. I have been piecing together his combat history during the first year of WWII through the Philippine, Java, Australia, New Guinea, and New Britain.


      • Kingsleyr says:

        Hi Bill
        My apologies for reacting so late to your comment
        For personal reasons, I was unable to work on the blog for a long time but now I have taken up the thread again.
        I would be most grateful to hear more about your father’s war exploits; not only out of curiosity but also because I am bundling the published and yet unpublished blog posts into a single, rather expanded narrative, and will publish it later this year as a book. Its title will be “One Way Ticket to Java.”
        So, any help I can get to enhance it is very, very welcome.
        Let me know if you are willing to do so.

        Many thanks for reading my blog

        Robert Kingsley


      • Pierre Lagacé says:

        Contact the author of the blog I had reblogged. I am sure he will be interested in what you have.


  3. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Desperately waiting for Part VII…

    Liked by 1 person

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