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.

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 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 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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

  1. Pingback: USAAF B-17’S in Java – Part 13: The Deadly Balikpapan Grind — The Java Gold’s Blog – Lest We Forget II

  2. Pierre Lagacé says:

    I can’t get enough of this!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tom Grossman says:

    Glad to see the updates


    Liked by 1 person

  4. RON says:

    Hi Alfred,

    I like the blog… first one I’ve ever looked at at length. I’m going back to Part 1 and going from there. I’ve forgotten what you told me before… are the blogs in place of books? Or did you tell me that there will be more books based on what you publish in the blogs?



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