“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 . 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 . 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 (41-2476), Mathewson (41-245)5, Cox (41-2478), Skiles (41-2454) and Habberstad (41-2427).
 Some sources state as many as 30.