Sie sind auf Seite 1von 486

Free Sample Chapters

Pacifica Military History

Free Sample Chapters

WELCOME TO

Pacifica Military History


FREE SAMPLE CHAPTERS
***

The sample chapters in this document are drawn from all the books currently in print from Pacifica Military History. All of the books are featured on the Pacifica Military History website

http://www.PacificaMilitary.com
Each sample chapter in this file is preceded by a line or two of information about the book, including current status and availability. Many of the books are available in print and all the books represented in this collection are available for the Amazon.com Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and other ebook editions. Please check the website to see if our books are available yet in still more ebook editions. You may keep this Adobe Acrobat pdf file for as long as you like, and please feel free to pass copies of the entire file along to as many people as you wantand they may pass it along too.

Pacifica Military History

Copyright 2011 by Words To Go, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Requests for permission to make publish any part of the work should be mailed to: Permissions, Pacifica Military History, 1149 Grand Teton Drive, Pacifica, California 94044

Free Sample Chapters

Table of Contents

The Third Day on Red-3 (76 Hours) The Ferretts Strike (A Gallant Company) First Kill (Ace!) The Big B (Aces Against Germany) Crippled (Aces Against Japan) Blood Over Kwajalein (Aces Against Japan II Save the Bombers (Aces At War) Descent Into Hell (Aces In Combat) December 1942 (Air War Europa Chronology) November 1943 (Air War Pacific Chronology) Meeting Engagement (Ambush Valley) Desperate Gamble (Carrier Clash) Ambush! (Carrier Strike) Hill 1282 (Chosin) New Britain (Coral and Blood)

Pacifica Military History

The Reserves Are Coming (Duel for the Golan) Mean Streets (Fire in the Streets) Engineers At War (First Across the Rhine) Edsons Ridge (Guadalcanal: Starvation Island) The Atlantas Ordeal (Guadalcanal: Decision At Sea) Record Incoming (Khe Sanh: Siege in the Clouds) First Combat (Lima-6) The Choiseul Raid (Marines At War) OBrien Hill (Munda Trail) A Fighter Aces Baptism (Mustang Ace) The Jordanian Attack on West Jerusalem (Six Days in June) Navy Fighters Over North Africa (The First Hellcat Ace) Command (The Jolly Rogers) Born on the Fourth of July (The Road to Big Week) A Death in Beirut (The Root) Leaving North Korea (The Three Day Promise) Inchon to North Korea (Three-War Marine)

Free Sample Chapters

Pacifica Military History

76 Hours
The Invasion of Tarawa By Eric Hammel and John E. Lane On the morning of November 20, 1943, the U.S. 2d Marine Division undertook the first modern amphibious assault against a well-defended beachhead. The objective was tiny Betio Island in Tarawa Atoll. The result was a tragedy and near defeat turned around into an epic of victory and indomitable human spirit. Although the admirals commanding the Tarawa invasion fleet had assured the Marines that Betio would be pounded to dust by a massive naval and air bombardmentthe largest of its kind seen to that time the first waves of Marines found the Japanese defenses intact and manned by determined foes. Within minutes of the start of the head-on assault, the American battle plan was a shambles and scores of Marines had been killed or wounded. The assault virtually stopped at the waters edge, its momentum halted before many Marines ever dismounted from the amphibian tractors that had carried them to the deadly, fire-swept beach. Follow-up waves of Marines suffered grievous casualties when they were forced to wade more than 500 yards through fire-swept water because tidal conditions had been miscalculated by the planners. Follow the bloody battle for Betio in graphic detail as heroic American fighting men advance every life-threatening step across the tiny island in the face of what many historians agree was the best and most concentrated defenses manned by the bravest and most competent Japanese defenders American troops encountered in the entire Pacific War.

Free Sample Chapters

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book 76 HOURS: The Invasion of Tarawa, which is available in print and ebook editions.

The Third Day On Red-3


by Eric Hammel & John E. Lane Copyright 1985 by Eric M. Hammel and John E. Lane. Tarawa, November 22, 1943. The situation on Beach Red-3, the 2d Marine Divisions left flank on Betios northern shore, had remained unaltered for a day-and-a-half. Major Henry Jim Crowes 2d Battalion, 8th Marines, had been pulverized in the initial landing and subsequent stalemate. Company F, which was holding a ten-yard-deep perimeter along the coconut-log seawall, on the battalion left flank, could barely muster enough able bodies to man a platoon. Every one of its officers had been wounded. Company G had been largely broken up to fill gaps and plug holes in the thin battle line. Company E had fared best. It had advanced on Dday to a limit of seventy-five yards inland. Casualties had been heavy, but Company E was still an organization. Major Robert Ruuds 3d Battalion, 8th, had also landed on D-day to reinforce Crowes mauled battalion, but it had been blasted apart even before reaching the beach. Scores of Ruuds Marines had been killed or wounded wading to Red-3 through the fire-swept water, and the remainder of the battalion was still sorting itself out, still forming and reforming into pick-up squads and platoons wherever a lieutenant or sergeant or private could persuade enough Marines to sit still long enough to get together. No gains had been made on Red-3 throughout November 21, the second day on Betio. Crowes Marines had plugged away at the incredible defenses in depth on Red-3, had probably killed scores or even hundreds of Japanese. But the major uncommitted Japanese combat units were to Crowes left, safely out of the battle and therefore a huge reserve that

10

Pacifica Military History

could be fed into the battle at will against the Marines struggling to expand the tenuous perimeter on Red-3. No matter how many of the enemy they killed, the Marines on Red-3 had to constantly face relatively fresh reinforcements. It was all the Marines could do to hold their meager gains. Between 0700 and 0720 on D+3, U.S. Navy battleships standing well off Betio fired their 14-and 16-inch guns at targets ranging from the eastern end of the island to within five hundred yards of Crowes lines on Red-3. Next, U.S. Navy carrier aircraft pummeled the area for thirty minutes. Between 0830 and 0850, the battleships fired again. Then there was another air strike. The battleships fired again from 0930 to 0950, and then there was yet another air strike. And then the battleships fired one last time between 1030 to 1050. The goal was to destroy the Japanese reserve manpower pool and resources in the eastern half of Betio. * Early on D+2, Maj Jim Crowe issued general orders calling for an all-out assault against the defensive complex on his left flank below the Burns-Philp wharf. The complex, consisting primarily of the large covered bombproof and two supporting pillboxes, had stymied F and K companies for nearly forty-eight hours and had barred the way to the wharf and the entire eastern end of Betio. After spending nearly all of D+1 preparing the way, the two badly understrength rifle companies and assorted mixed units under Maj Bill Chamberlin were ready to go. The remnant of F Company drew the steel pillbox covering the wharf and the northeast corner of the bombproof. G Company was in support. A short distance to the south, K Company, supported by two 37mm antitank guns and its own 60mm mortars, was to hit the coconutlog pillbox guarding the south and southeast portions of the bombproof. Assault teams from the most successful unit would take on the bombproof itself. There were no plans for further advances by any of the units on Red-3; they would be issued when the bombproof fell. If the bombproof fell. Preparations for the assault began at about 0930, when most of the machine guns along the front, particularly those supporting F

Free Sample Chapters

11

Company, were shifted to what was hoped would be better advantage. At the same time, Marines began cleaning their rifles and automatic weapons in relays; the crud of the two days of battle had fouled many weapons to the point of unreliability. Also at 0930, the 60mm mortars supporting K Company were unleashed against the coconut-log emplacement and the area around it. No fire was directed against the covered bunker as that would have been a waste of precious ammunition. One round from a K Company mortar hit an uncharted ammunition dump, which blew with a loud bang. The dump, to the amazement of all, had been in the very emplacement that held up the advance for two full days. Machine-gun fire from this quarter ceased to be a problem. While the infantrys preparations continued, Colorado, the lone surviving medium tank of 1stLt Lou Largeys platoon, slowly advanced through the riflemen huddled along the beach to a position behind the easternmost extremity of F Companys seawall line. Largey directed his 75mm gun against the steel pillbox, and a quick succession of direct hits flattened the position, giving F Company free reign over the area. At 1000, moments after Colorado destroyed the steel pillbox, the assault on the bombproof was canceled. Rather, F Company was to assault eastward to outflank the defensive keypoint. Then the main event would commence. The haggard remnants of F Company had only thirty yards to take, the same thirty yards they had conceded the day before to consolidate their position on the beach. A lot had happened to weaken and demoralize F Company in two days of battle, so it took Capt Martin Barrett several hours just to get his troops into position. F Company struck at 1300 and immediately met with ferocious defensive fire from infantry positions along the beach and just across the seawall. Although small gains were achieved, it was decided that the assault on the bombproof would have to be made without the added benefit of flank control. * As the covered bunker was the main objective in his sector of Red3, Maj Bill Chamberlin was more or less left with the task of organizing

12

Pacifica Military History

the proceedings. With F Company bogged down at the seawall and K Company engaged on the bombproofs western flank, it was impossible to draw upon any organic infantry formations for the assault. Chamberlin began scrounging. One of the first men nabbed in the majors roundup was TSgt Norm Hatch, the only combat movie cameramen on Red-3 (and the only one on Betio through D-day and D+1). Using his rank and considerable bulk to bolster his native talents for organization, Hatch helped Major Chamberlin gather a mixed group of stray riflemen and specialists. Once organized, the group huddled below the seawall for a quick briefing. Chamberlin pointed to the crest of the bombproof and told the men, When I yell Follow me! you follow me up that bombproof. Hunched up against the wall with Technical Sergeant Hatch, Chamberlin watched and waited for a few moments. The fire did not slacken, and the scene changed not one jot. The major shrugged and, without looking back, rose to his feet and yelled Follow me! Norm Hatch raced with him to the top. At the crest of the mound, the major and the cameramanwho was carrying his movie camerastared in amazement as a squad of Japanese broke into the open and spotted them silhouetted against the smokey skyline. Chamberlin instantly prepared to fire. Only then did he realize that he was unarmed. Norm Hatch wordlessly looked on. The major looked at him, snapping him into action. Hatch placed his precious camera under his arm and began sifting through his film-filled bandoleers in search of his .45-caliber pistol, which had long since been twisted out of reach behind his back. He looked at Chamberlin in helpless dismay, and Chamberlin muttered one curt suggestion, Lets get the hell out of here! The two turned and barrelled off the mound, unhurt, furious. * Like Chamberlin and Hatch, 1stLt Sandy Bonnyman of F Company, 18th, put together a mixed group of engineers, pioneers, and stray riflemen to mount an assault on the bombproof. Bonnyman had been studying the bombproof and training his ad hoc platoon since D-day

Free Sample Chapters

13

afternoon, waiting for the right moment to strike the formidable position at just the right spot in just the right way. Shortly after Bill Chamberlin and Norm Hatch returned to cover, Bonnyman decided it was time to move. His group worked through the F Company seawall line and sought the protection of an L-shaped six-foot-high wooden fence running at right angles to the seawall just off the bombproofs northwest corner. The bombproof was the closest thing to a hill on Betio. Since it had proved impossible to breach either of the entryways, the only tactic left to Bonnyman was a direct uphill assault. The Japanese engineers who had designed the bombproof had left a number of large black ventilators protruding from the well-camouflaged roof. Those ventilators would be Sandy Bonnymans key objectives. A bit of flaming fuel fired into them would certainly force the defenders into the open. The alternative was air too hot to breathe and thus asphyxiation. So, supported by 37mm antitank guns, 60mm mortars, and an assortment of automatic infantry weapons, Bonnymans group lined up single-file below the seawall and stepped off. Each of Bonnymans men individually vaulted the seawall to the higher ground behind the L-shaped fence. From there, following hand signals from observers who could clearly see the objective, the men worked along the fence to the foot of the slope, where they were stopped by heavy gunfire. Cpl Harry Niehoffs demolitions team was intercepted by Major Chamberlin as it returned from a minor foray farther along the beach. Chamberlin asked Niehoff if there were any explosives available, and Niehoff replied that he still had several charges. Where do you want them used, sir? Chamberlin motioned to the covered bombproof and explained that the Japanese were reinforcing from the southeast but that their avenue of approach was well camouflaged and had not yet been found. Harry Niehoff hurled several charges over the bombproof and ducked behind the seawall as a flurry of fire sought him out. When the firing subsided, he led his engineers around to the L-shaped fence and prepared to move on the summit.

14

Pacifica Military History

Pfc Johnny Borich, who was operating one of two flame-throwers on Red-3, was the pointman. He lightly doused the top of the bunker while Harry Niehoff tossed a big charge in hopes of subduing the defenses. Next, Borich moved forward to spray a concentrated burst of flame. As Niehoff prepared to throw another charge, Borich screamed, Grenade! Everyone hit the dirt. The instant the dust settled, Corporal Niehoff threw another big charge. It blew, and every man behind the fence piled into the open and legged uphill to the summit. All over Red-3, Marines curious about the commotion stopped what they were doing to look on as Sandy Bonnyman and a half-dozen Marines made it to the top. TSgt Norm Hatch captured the breakthrough with his movie camera. The first key had been turned by Johnny Borich and Harry Niehoff. The combination of flame and TNT had killed the crew manning a machine gun at the top of the bunker and had set the palm-frond camouflage afire to cover the breakthrough. The next key was turned by a pioneer named Earl Coleman. As Sandy Bonnyman sparked the team and issued a steady stream of orders, Pappy Coleman yelled for TNT and tossed fused charges as fast as he could light them. In moments, he had blown the cover off a camouflaged entryway on the southeast corner of the huge structure. As hundreds of helpless Marines looked on, a large knot of Japanese burst from the exposed entryway and formed to counterattack Bonnymans team. There were only a half-dozen men atop the bombproof at that moment. Pfc Johnny Borich was firing burning diesel into the ventilators, forcing the Japanese to evacuate. Pappy Coleman, Cpl Harry Niehoff, and Sgt Elmo Ferretti were furiously hurling blocks of TNT. Sandy Bonnyman faced the Japanese alone with his light .30-caliber carbine. Bonnyman leaped to the forward edge of the toehold beside Harry Niehoff, rammed home a full fifteen-round clip, and rapidly fired into the oncoming rigosentai. Some fell. Most kept coming. With the Japanese only yards away, Bonnyman rammed home another fresh clip and killed three, just as Marine reinforcements attacking up the backside of the bunker blunted and turned the Japanese drive.

Free Sample Chapters

15

But the help arrived too late for Sandy Bonnyman. He had been shot dead in the final moments of his one-man defense of the bombproof summit. As soon as Harry Niehoff heard the killing shot thud into Sandy Bonnymans body, he flattened himself against the ground. It was just in time, for one of Pappy Colemans potent charges arched back over the knot of the defending attackers, bowling men from their feet. Sgt Elmo Ferretti was badly dazed and had to be led back down to the seawall. Moments later, as Harry Niehoff was firing his carbine in the midst of another Japanese sally, he heard something drop next to his head. He saw a grenade from the corner of his eye. Without thinking, he leaped across the dead lieutenants body and wedged himself between it and a dead Japanese machine gunner. But nothing happened. Long moments later, Niehoff ventured a peek and saw an unarmed American grenade, thoughtfully provided by one of the men at the foot of the bombproof. Tension, smoke, and the stench of burning flesh finally got to Harry Niehoff. Since he was out of TNT and ammunition for his carbine, the engineer corporal ambled to the rear for a break. He had not suffered a scratch, although thirteen of the first twenty-one men to reach the top of the bombproof were dead or wounded. On losing their bid for the summit, the Japanese sought to abandon the position; they cascaded from the two entryways and legged off to the east. Most of them were cut down by F Company, 8th. Many defenders who turned south to escape F Company were felled by a pair of 37mm guns firing canister rounds as fast as the gunners could reload. * After leaving the bombproof, Cpl Harry Niehoff wandered down the beach to his platoons CP and found a large cache of TNT. Rising above his exhaustion, he loaded an ammunition cart with explosives and, eliciting help from nearby Marines, hauled it to the beach by the bombproof. By the time Niehoff got there, however, dozens upon dozens of Marines were swarming over the area, rooting out survivors and snipers. Corporal Niehoff decided to call it a day. He sat down to rest and, following a few nearsighted reveries, found a pile of glass at his feet.

16

Pacifica Military History

The glass was of a sort known to all Marinesthe kind they make beer bottles with. Niehoff idly poked through the shattered debris and found the best reward he could ever have hoped for. He pulled one tantalizing, if warm, full and unopened bottle of Kirin beer from the wreckage of what had once been a goodly supply. As his tongue madly quivered, Harry Niehoff prepared to open his prize. But a voice from behind shattered his solitude. Commenting on the corporals ideal luck, Maj Bill Chamberlin stared at the lone bottle of beer through eyes that had become a gateway to his soul. The major looked as bad as the corporal felt. Succumbing to one of the hardest decisions of his life, Harry Niehoff silently handed the major the prize of a lifetime. * Following the annihilation of the bombproof defenders, the rifle companies got set to move. Maj Jim Crowe ordered his command to attack eastward along the northern shore until stopped by the onset of darkness or a Division order. While F Company occupied a holding position, E and G companies moved around the north side of the bombproof. To the South, K Company stood down to cover a demolitions team as it moved to seal the southeastern entryway of the bombproof. No one was about to enter the building, and no one wanted any more Japanese vacating it after dark, by which time it would be well behind Marine lines. Next, K Company and Colorado attacked parallel to E Company along the southern side of the bombproof. A team of riflemen who were left to guard the southern side of the bombproof whiled away the afternoon by chucking grenades into any openings they could find. In time, a bulldozer with a jury-rigged armorplate cab arrived and commenced to seal the entire structure with sand; doubtless, any Japanese still cowering within were asphyxiated. E, G, and K companies had a field day. Everything fell before them. Trenches, buildings, and pillboxes were blown wherever encountered. Although a number of Marines were wounded, no one was killed. First Lieutenant Robert Rogers, leading E Company, had a close call when, on turning, he saw a Japanese officer bearing down on him, sword held

Free Sample Chapters

17

high for a killing blow. The attacker was shot dead in his tracks by a nearby rifleman. * The last major objective of Crowes advance was the massive concrete bunker housing the headquarters of the 3d Special Konkyochitai. For nearly three days, gunners on the flat roof of the headquarters bunker had had an unobstructed view overlooking Marine dispositions. Their machine guns had taken the lives of many Marines. While a line of machine guns was positioned to keep the Japanese from manning the bunkers numerous firing embrasures, a large group of combat engineers gingerly approached the bunker in short hops. The objective was the bunkers massive steel doors, which had been banged shut by seven fleeing rigosentai minutes earlier. The engineers set and ignited a powerful charge and ducked around the corner. The door was buckled and thrown open, and Pfc Johnny Borich stepped through the billowing dust and smoke to douse the bunkers innards with a stiff dose of flaming fuel. When Borich turned to let waiting riflemen pass, he was greeted by a tremendous cheer from scores of Marines who had watched his calm actions. Marines streamed by. The advance was so swift and steady that Colorado, which was backing K Company, was never called to help. Later estimates concluded that nearly a hundred Japanese throughout the area committed suicide in the face of the successful Marine attacks. This, more than anything, accounted for the low casualties among the assault units; only three men were wounded after the leading files passed the Burns-Philp wharf. In the end, Jim Crowes two mixed battalion landing teams covered nearly four hundred yards straight out. Late in the afternoon, however, orders from Division pulled Crowes forward elements back almost one hundred fifty yards to the airport turning circle. It was feared that Crowes fields of fire might endanger the 1st Battalion, 6th, which was rapidly approaching the area south of the turning circle.

18

Pacifica Military History

Free Sample Chapters

19

20

Pacifica Military History

A GALLANT COMPANY
The Men of the Great Escape Jonathan F. Vance

On the night of March 2425, 1944, seventy-nine Allied airmen clambered through a tunnel at Stalag Luft III in eastern Germany in the final act of what history and Hollywood have dubbed The Great Escape. The culmination of more than four years of toil, triumph, and heartbreak, the escape was intend-ed to cause as much disruption as possible in Hitlers Europe. In this, the escapers succeeded beyond their wildest expectations, but the escape sent shockwaves through the German high command that were to have tragic consequences. This is the story of that remarkable battle to escape from captivity. Built around a cast of colorful and engaging characters from every corner of the world, it describes their ongoing struggle to outwit their captors, the growing sophistication of their escape attempts, and their ambitious plan to construct three huge escape tunnels and scatter hundreds of airmen across occupied Europe. It is a tale of ingenuity, perse-verance, and courage, and a testament to what ordinary men can achieve in extraordinary circumstances. Jonathan F. Vance became interested in The Great Escape while a teenager, and spent more than twenty years collecting information on the subject and interviewing survivors, escape organizers, and relatives of The Fifty. He has published many books and articles on POWs and escaping, and has also written on other aspects of military his-tory. His book Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning and the First World War won most of the major awards for Canadian historical writing in 1997. Vance is an associate professor of history at the University of Western Ontario, and lives in London, Ontario, with his wife and two children.

Free Sample Chapters

21

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book A GALLANT COMPANY: The Men of the Great Escape which is available only in ebook editions.

The Ferrets Strike


Jonathan F. Vance Copyright 2000 by Jonathan F. Vance

With the break drawing nearer, Jimmy Catanach, Alan Righetti, and a few other Australians got together over a homemade Ouija board and tried to unlock the secrets of the future. There were some feeble attempts at ventriloquism and a few knocks on the table that no one was willing to admit to, but the only information the board provided was that they would probably have bully beef fritters for dinner the next day. At about the same time, Johnny Pohe was able to slip one past the censors. Glowing pictures of a POWs life have been published in England and perhaps New Zealand, he wrote to his family, and you can believe them as being tito. Since none of the camp censors spoke Maori, they didnt realize that tito meant lies. However, it was not smooth sailing everywhere. Dennis Cochran shared a room with a few Englishmen, a Canadian, and a Brit from Uruguay, not all of whom understood the importance of Denniss work as a contact. Whenever his tame goon came around, it was understood that the rest of the lads would wander away and let Dennis talk to his man in private. Unfortunately, one of the roommates considered his bunk to be his own personal, inviolable space and resented having to leave the room whenever the tame goon came around. Gradually a deep resentment developed between Cochran and his roommate, and one afternoon they had a heated argument. After the words ceased, the roommate brooded for a while and then came up behind Dennis and

22

Pacifica Military History

tapped him on the back. When Cochran turned, the other fellow slugged him nearly unconscious and returned to his bunk. The others in the room returned a few minutes later and found Dennis lying dazed and bleeding on the floor, his eyes badly bruised and nearly closed. He was definitely not in the best of shape to be traveling inconspicuously around wartime Germany. * It was mild on the morning of February 20, as it had been for most of the New Year. Only for a short time had it been cold enough to freeze the camp ice rink. But that dull morning was even warmer than usual, for it was the day of the long awaited draw for places in the tunnel. There were 510 names in the draw altogether. The first 100 were specially selected by the escape leaders as those who had contributed the most or who had the best chance of escaping successfully, and the rest came from the complete roster of the organizations workers. In addition, eight names were put forward by the camp entertainment and administrative staffs. While these men hadnt assisted with the escape preparations, it was rightly decided that their valuable contributions to the running of the camp as a whole should be recognized. The selection process consisted of a number of different draws. The first thirty names to be drawn for final exit order were those who, in the eyes of the organizers, had the best chance of escaping successfully. They would travel by train, without incriminating Red Cross food or large maps. After this group, the names of forty of the most prominent workers were put in, and twenty were drawn. Then the next thirty most prominent workers names were put in and twenty drawn. To round out the first hundred, those names remaining from the earlier draws were put back in the hat and the last thirty spots allotted. Finally, the remaining four hundred ten names were put in and one hundred were drawn to complete the exit order. Once the list of two hundred escapers had been established, it still had to be revised. On the night of the escape there would be men stationed at Piccadilly, Leicester Square, and the exit shaft to pull the escapers through the tunnel. These men were known as haulers, and each would pull through twenty escapers before going out himself. The

Free Sample Chapters

23

final list had to be adjusted so that in each group of twenty, there were three experienced diggers to act as haulers. Red Noble and Shag Rees actually drew in the second hundred but were allotted numbers seventy eight and seventy nine so they could act as haulers. Ivo Tonder, Tony Bethell, and Bob Nelson were also assigned hauling duties. * With the escapers having been notified of their final exit numbers, they could press on with their plans. Bill Fordyce had planned to go with Tom Leigh, an Australian born ex Halton apprentice who had been downed in 1941, but the latter drew in the 40s, while Bill drew number 86. Consequently he teamed up with Roy Langlois, who had also drawn a later number. Paul Royle drew number 55 and, since he had no particular plans, got in touch with number 54, who happened to be Edgar Hunk Humphreys, another Halton alumnus and a prisoner since December 1940. Hunk was glad to have some company, so they went from there. Others, believing that a single escaper would be less conspicuous, elected to travel alone. One of these was Flight Lieutenant Albert Shorty Armstrong, a Bolton native and electrical engineer by trade who was shot down in North Africa in August 1942. Shorty was one of the few hardarsers traveling alone but the prospect of a solitary trek didnt bother him. On the contrary, he was anxious to get going. When push finally came to shove, some of the escapers had attacks of nerves and asked to be removed from the list. Paul Brickhill had a spot in the second hundred and was allowed into Harry to get a feel for it. As soon as he got to the base of the entry shaft and looked up the tunnel, he knew he couldnt go through with ithis claustrophobia was just too strong. Rather sheepishly, he went to Roger Bushell and gave his reasons for asking to be dropped from the list. Someone panicking in the tunnel on the night of the escape could be disastrous. Thanks for being so honest, Paul, said Roger. Youre the eleventh man to come off the list this morning. * With the draw completed, the idea of escape suddenly became more real for the prisoners, as they could actually see their chance to get out of the backwater of the prison camp. They had missed much over

24

Pacifica Military History

their years in captivity. Certainly prospects for promotion became dimmer with each passing month, and the more adventurous among them were missing combat action that they would likely never get the chance to see again. But more important, their lives were passing them by. The homes that each had left the day before his last operation were no longer the same. Dennis Cochrans mother had died during his time in captivity, Johnny Stowers mother was dangerously ill, and both of Bob Stewarts sisters had died. Those men who had left fiances at home, such as Cookie Long and Tom Leigh, found the separation very hard to bear. As pieces of their old lives dropped away for some, others waited helplessly while their new lives went on without them. Pawel Tobolski had never seen his son, being raised by his wife in Scotland. His roommates often joked that it would be difficult to wean the lad of wearing kilts once they got back to Poland. Jack Grismans daughter, born on the last day of 1941, had just celebrated her second birthday and still had never seen her father. Her twin brother had died at birth, a loss that Marie Grisman had to bear alone. Things like this made up the real tragedy of captivity. Others never stopped planning for the future. Brian Evans and Joan Cook had become officially engaged in 1943; Brian said that he would much rather have things for certain, rather than just an understanding. Tom Kirby Green was looking forward to a new life with Maria in Tangier. He had inherited some land from a rich uncle and was planning to settle there after the war. He had no idea what they would do but was sure something would come along. * However, there were still a few feet of sand separating the prisoners from freedom, and removing it was the first order of business. When Walter told Wally Valenta that Rubberneck was going on two weeks leave at the beginning of March, the organizers saw their chance to finish Harry and get him completely sealed before the hated ferret returned. Then, the day before his leave, Rubberneck struck a parting blow. Without warning, he and a security officer, Broili, brought a party of guards into the compound and began calling names.

Free Sample Chapters

25

In all, nineteen officers were summoned, rigorously searched, and marched out the gates to Belaria, an auxiliary camp about five miles away. Purges were standard procedure, but this time the Germans had struck it lucky, for they picked some of the most important men in X Organization: Wally Floody, chief tunnel engineer; Peter Fanshawe, chief of dispersal; George Harsh, chief of security; Kingsley Brown; Bob Stanford Tuck; Jim Tyrie; and thirteen others. The goons could hardly have picked better had they known the entire setup of X Organization. It was a cruel blow, but because of the progress of the escape preparations, one that could be endured. Ker Ramsay took over as chief tunnel engineer, and the seconds in command of the other departments could supervise the operations for the few days until the scheduled break. However, the disruption of travel plans was less easy to overcome, and some men were faced with the prospect of quick improvisation. Gordon Brettell turned to roommate and fellow forger Henri Picard and worked out a new plan that took advantage of Picards native tongue. They would travel to Danzig as French workers and look for a ship to take them to Sweden. Danzig was known to be full of French workers, so the two hoped for some help once they reached the port. Tom Kirby Greens partner had also been included in the purge, so he had to make other arrangements as well. Gordon Kidder had planned to travel with Dick Churchill as Romanian woodcutters, but X Organization decided that Kidder should team up with Kirby Green, with the pair going as Spanish laborers. Dick Churchill agreed to the plan and linked up instead with Bob Nelson. The arrangement was satisfactory, though no one liked making such major changes at such a late date. * Without his Russian speaking partner, Roger Bushell first elected to travel alone and then decided to team up with Lieutenant Bernard Martial William Scheidhauer, a soft spoken Free French officer who wasnt quite so English in appearance as Bob Tuck. About five feet, nine inches tall with clear blue eyes and chestnut hair, Bernard was one of X Organizations intelligence experts, specializing in his native land. More important, he knew one area of the border particularly well. His father had commanded a battalion of the Moroccan infantry regiment

26

Pacifica Military History

occupying the Palatinate after the First World War, and it was in Landau, near Saarbrcken, that Bernard was born on August 28, 1921. His father retired while Bernard was still young and the family returned to their hometown of Brest, where Bernard went to high school. He was a charming boy, full of exuberance tempered with a dignified and almost aristocratic mien, and became popular at the Brest lyce. The young Scheidhauer was finishing at the lyce when German troops reached Brest in the summer of 1940. He had planned to take pilot training after graduation, but his father recommended that he try to escape to Britain, so Bernard headed south for Bayonne, hoping to reach England via Gibraltar. He got no farther than St. Jean de Luz, though, and was forced to return to Brest. Undaunted, Bernard arranged with five others to sail to England in a little boat called La Petite Anna. On October 19, 1940, they left the port of Douarnenez for Cornwall. A couple of days out, however, their craft ran into a gale, and they used the last of their fuel trying to ride it out. The storm passed, but the six were helpless and drifted for days. In time, their food and water ran out, and still they drifted. Finally, on the twelfth day, they were spotted by a Scottish freighter that picked them up, half dead from hunger, thirst, and exposure, and took them to England. Less than a week after the ordeal, Bernard was accepted into the Free French Air Force. He completed flying training and in March 1942 was posted to 53 OTU. At the end of May he was hospitalized briefly after a flying accident, but on June 24 he was posted to the famed 242 Squadron, with which he flew his first operation. On September 4 Bernard was transferred to 131 (French) Squadron. The unit was busy with convoy patrols and cross Channel sweeps that autumn, and Bernard completed more than forty sorties in only weeks. On November 11, 1942, he and his unit took off from Westhampnett in their Spitfires for a patrol over the Somme estuary. They found nothing, but on the way home ran into a towering bank of cumulus clouds. The first section of three aircraft swung to port and missed the bank, but Blue Section, with Bernard Scheidhauer flying in the number 3 spot, plunged into the clouds in a line astern. It was a pretty rough ride but didnt get too alarming until Bernard suddenly

Free Sample Chapters

27

saw a tailplane loom up in front of him. Putting the nose down, he dove away to port but not before hearing a tremendous crash as he hit the aircraft. Emerging from the cloud at two thousand feet, Bernard was counting his blessings when his engine gave out. Then he noticed that a good eighteen inches were missing from his propeller blades. Without hesitation Scheidhauer abandoned his mortally wounded Spitfire, made an easy parachute descent, and clambered into his dinghy. He was later picked up, damp but unhurt, by a Royal Navy Walrus flying boat. A week later, on November 18, Bernard was back in action, searching for trains on the CaenCherbourg railway line. He and his wingmate claimed hits on four locomotives, but on the way home, Bernards Spitfire began to act up, likely damaged by debris from one of the trains. Realizing that he would never reach England, he turned toward the nearest land, which happened to be Jersey in the Channel Islands. He force landed and was picked up by German soldiers. His first interrogation was a bit hairy. Intrigued by the sound of his name, the interrogators became even more interested when they discovered that Bernard had been born in Germany. Making a note to that effect in their files, the Luftwaffe passed him on to Sagan. Scheidhauer was glad to be of use to the intelligence section of X Organization, but it was his birthplace that attracted Rogers attention. As a boy, Bernard had played in the hills and fields around Landau and observed everything around him with the keen eye of youth. Something in his past might one day hold the key to a successful crossing into France. * Before Rubbernecks chair was cold, the organization had been altered to compensate for the purge. Now there were more men working in the tunnel than ever before: two at the face; two in each of the halfway houses; and one at the entrance shaft. During the first nine days of March, they excavated the last 100 feet of tunnel, including an 18-foot-long chamber at the base of the exit shaft. On March 4, the workers dug a record 14 feet of tunnel. After the last chamber was finished, the surveyors went down and measured the tunnel carefully. They had calculated that the distance to the edge of the woods was 335 feet, and

28

Pacifica Military History

their measurements indicated that Harry was 348 feet long from shaft to shaft. The exit should be well inside the trees. Now came the tricky part. It was decided to dig upward almost to the surface, leaving two feet of earth to be removed on the night of the escape. The most experienced diggers did this work, because the risk of falls was great. It was such a tricky job that it took until March 14 to complete. Just after Appell on that day, Johnny Bull and Red Noble disappeared down the tunnel to dig the last few feet and shore up the roof of the exit shaft. As they clambered up the exit ladder, a deep and loud rumble ran through the tunnel. Jesus, what the bloody hell was that? whispered Bull. Seconds later another rumble rolled around them as the two looked at each other quizzically. Noble was the first to speak. Must have been something driving along that road. Either that was a helluva loud truck or were awful damn close to the road! said the Canadian. Wed better get this little job done and have a word with Roger. Before starting to dig up, Johnny took a broken fencing foil and poked it upward to measure the amount of soil they had to remove. It was then that he got the second shock of the day. The foil went no more than six inches before breaking the surface. He climbed back down to where Red squatted with the tools. Theres maybe six inches of topsoil between us and the great outdoors, he said hurriedly. Its bloody lucky I didnt start right in with the shovel. Johnny climbed back up the ladder to wedge a couple of bedboards in as a ceiling and then packed the sand behind them. Red passed up the last of the braces, and the exit was made secure in the event of a wandering goon treading on it. The two worked in silence, both thinking about the discoveries they had made. The fact that the tunnel came so close to the surface was worrying but not particularly dangerous. Six inches of dirt should be enough to prevent the trap from sounding hollow if a sentry stepped on it. The rumble of trucks was considerably more alarming, though. If the trucks were as close as they sounded, the tunnel exit was less than twenty feet from the road, in the middle of an open field. That meant that Harry could be at least thirty feet short.

Free Sample Chapters

29

That night the escape leaders discussed the discovery. Again, they went over the measurements taken by the surveying teams, and the mathematical types returned to Harry to confirm their calculations. Everything seemed to check out, and the loud rumble was put down to the properties of the sand. After Johnny and Red left the tunnel, everything that was not absolutely essential was taken out and either burned or stored down Dick. Pat Langford sealed the trap and then scrubbed the floor around it so the boards would swell and close any cracks. He would do the same chore twice a day until the tunnel broke. The following day, Rubberneck returned from leave and announced his arrival by descending on 104 with a party of ferrets. As usual, they found nothing. * With the sealing of Harry, a mood of excited anticipation gripped the camp. Many prisoners couldnt help but let it slip into their letters home. The vital day for which we are all keenly waiting, wrote Brian Evans to his fiance, Joan, is even nearer than we actually think. Tim Walenn wrote to his brother, We are all expecting to be home in a few months. John F. Williams was a bit more practical and asked his parents not to send any more cigarettes or tobacco, while Henri Picard told his family that he wouldnt need any more drawing materials for the time being. Still, it was crucial that a show of normalcy be kept up. Ian Cross took time out from tidying up the dispersal areas under the theater to go across to East Compound for a soccer match. There he chatted with his old friend and escape partner Robert Kee and talked excitedly about the coming break. Arsenic and Old Lace was playing in the camp theater, and Tony Hayter was planning the years garden. There appeared to be nothing out of the ordinary at all. New prisoners were coming into Sagan every day, and one of the purges from Dulag Luft included a recently captured Canadian named Freiburger. Freiburger . . . intoned the duty officer approvingly. That is a good German name. Well, Im from Canada, replied the newcomer without so much as a pause, and thats where all the good Germans are!

30

Pacifica Military History

* The morning of March 20 was bitterly cold and windy and, as was often the case on mornings like that, early appell was held not on the parade ground but in the open space between the first two rows of huts. The men piled slowly out of the huts and took their places; Alex Cassie, Des Plunkett, and the other Amiable Lunatics straggled to their spots between Huts 103 and 110, chatting and laughing while they waited for the duty officer. Tim Walenn wasnt with them that morning. For the past few days, he had been staying in his bunk during appell to be counted on the sick list. The real purpose behind this was so he could keep an eye on the bulky bag of rubber stamps used by Dean and Dawson. Strictly speaking, they should have been stored down Dick at all times, and there would have been hell to pay had Bushell learned of the practice. But Tim was concerned with the amount of work still to be done and decided that the process of getting the stamps in and out of Dick consumed too much valuable time. All over the compound there were similar breaches of security, done solely for the sake of speed. Plunkett and Cassie were chatting happily about the progress of preparations when a posse of guards doubled into the compound and encircled Hut 120. Obviously a search was planned. Well, thats a bit hard, said Alex with a groan. Now I suppose well be standing out here for hours. At least weve got our showers on this morningthatll give us a bit of a break! Suddenly, Plunkett went deathly pale and grabbed Cassies arm, his other hand frozen in his tunic pocket. Oh, Christ, he said with a gasp, my map book! I must have left it on my bed. Its got the names of everyone whos going out and the maps theyll need. For a moment, Plunkett was frantic. If that little notebook fell into German hands, it would ruin the entire escape. And poor Des alone would be to blame. However, Plunkett was nothing if not a realist and he collected himself quickly. His mind went to work, trying to arrange a plan to retrieve the valuable book. In a surprisingly short time, he was outlining his scheme to Alex. It all hinged on two things: the fact that Tim Walenn was still inside the hut; and their scheduled shower party. Soon Des had gathered a few others from the hut and put the plan in motion.

Free Sample Chapters

31

Very casually and with a jaunty whistle, he sauntered over to Hut 120 and called to the guard in their room. He politely told the goon that this hut was scheduled to go to the shower block that morning but hadnt taken their shower kit with them on appell. Would the guard be so kind as to retrieve his from his locker and pass it out to him? All the way down the hut, others asked the same question, and soon various guards were passing out small bags and bundles. As Plunketts guard called his superior for permission, Des quickly whispered to Walenn, who was on his bunk directly under the window, about the book and asked him to pitch it out when the opportunity arose. The guard turned back to Des and said he would pass out the necessary supplies. Plunkett smiled his thanks and directed the guard to his locker out in the corridor. As soon as the guard left the room, Tim bounced off the bed and grabbed the map book. Thrusting it into the bag containing his rubber stamps, he tucked the lot into his shower bag and gave it to the guard when he returned from the corridor. The unwitting sentry then passed everything out the window to Des, who accepted the bundle gratefully and wandered back toward the firepool with the vital escape equipment stuffed safely inside his tunic. After that the Amiable Lunatics never mentioned the close call again; it was best forgotten. * With the tunnel now ready, the organizers had to decide on the best date for the break. Dark of the moon was at the end of the month, with the best days being the twenty-third to the twenty-fifth. The twentyfifth was quickly dropped. Because it was a Saturday, the train travelers would have to contend with Sunday rail schedules. That left the night of the twenty-third or the night of the twenty-fourth. Since there was no difference between Friday and Saturday train schedules, either day would do. However, there were still many final preparations to be made. On March 20, Crump Ker Ramsay inspected all the cases to be carried by the escapers to ensure that they would fit through the tunnel easily. Some of them were pretty beaten up, having been acquired in the early days at Schubin.

32

Pacifica Military History

Then began a seemingly endless round of briefings. Beginning on the twenty-second, Crump and Johnny Marshall lectured all the escapers on how to get through the tunnel. Lie completely flat on the trolley, boomed Marshall, and for Gods sake keep your head down. Theres nothing to see so dont bother looking up, because if you do, youll bash your head and bring everything down. Hold your cases straight out in front of you and keep your bloody elbows in or youll tear down a frame. And whatever you do, dont tip the trolley! A hand came up timidly at the back of the room. What happens if the trolley tips itself, Johnny? asked one of the listeners. Johnny smiled and spoke soothingly, sensing some nervousness in the room. That shouldnt happen if you do what Ive told you to. But if it does, the first thing to remember is, dont panicas soon as you panic, youre going to squirm around and knock a frame out. As carefully as you can, get off the trolley and crawl to the nearest halfway house. Dont try to get back on the trolley, and dont leave the trolley in the tunnel pull it behind you! Any more questions? Seeing none, Johnny wished the group well and cleared the room so that Crump could go over the whole thing again with the next lot. * One of the most important briefings was given to the marshalers, those men appointed to guide groups of ten escapers away from the compound. Most were to go west, but there were also some groups going south along the railway line toward Tschiebsdorf. In some ways the marshalers were among the most vital cogs in the escape wheel. If they failed in their task and ran into trouble near the camp, the entire operation could be ruined. Because of this, Tony Bethell, Jack Grisman, Hank Birkland, Larry Reavell Carter, and the rest of the marshals listened to the briefing intently and went over the drill time and time again. Each marshal would wait in the forest until his ten men had arrived and then strike off into the woods. Keen Type had given Marcel Zillessen complete information on the paths through the woods and how far the trees stretched in all directions, so they were able to get a pretty good idea of where to go. They first had to navigate around a small

Free Sample Chapters

33

lighted compound a few hundred yards from the camp. It was thought to be either an ammunition dump or an electrical installation, but the organizers were certain that it should be avoided at all costs. Then the group had to get past the other compounds in the Sagan complex, cross a narrow road, and hit a branch of the railway line. They would follow this until they came to the main northsouth line, where they would split up. The distance was just over a mile. From there the escapers were on their own and had to find their own way around the various obstacles. Those continuing south would have to negotiate one main road and the small villages of Hermsdorf and Tschirndorf before coming to their first big hurdle, the main Berlin Breslau autobahn. Escapers going west had to cope with Sorau, a largish town similar to Sagan in size, while those going east would have to deal with Sprottau, another good sized town. Only those walking north had a relatively easy tripthat is until they reached the Oder River, roughly thirty miles north of Sagan. Information recently received in the camp revealed that the river was flooded and would likely be very difficult to cross. Because of the importance of keeping to a schedule, the train travelers would make their own way through the forest and were given explicit instructions for the trek. They would have to walk northeast for about a quarter of a mile, and then look for a road that ran roughly northwest to southeast past the station. Beside this road was a fence that backed onto the station entrances. There were three possible entrances to the station. The most desirable was a path across the tracks to the east of the platforms, but if this proved impossible to use, there was an overhead walkway to the west of the station. Only if neither of these was available were the escapers to use the subway, which went under the tracks and came up in the main booking hall. This route was the busiest and therefore the most dangerous and was to be used only as a last resort. In addition, each escaper was given a special briefing by one or more of the area experts, depending on the individuals travel plans. For instance, those traveling south to Czechoslovakia would hear from Wally Valenta or from another Czech officer who came from the Riesengebirge,

34

Pacifica Military History

the mountains that straddled the CzechGerman frontier, who knew them as well as anyone. They were also taught to say in Czech, I swear by the death of my mother that I am an English officer, and were assured that this oath would cause them to be believed anywhere in the country. They were also briefed by Wing Commander John Ellis, an expert on outdoor survival who passed on tips to make a hardarsers journey more bearable. Those making for Switzerland listened to Roger Bushell and Johnny Stower, who spoke of their experiences at the border, and were given information about the location of guard posts on the frontier that Zillessen had obtained from Keen Type. That helpful ferret had also provided a list of the foods that could be obtained without ration cards and directions to the berths usually reserved for Swedish ships in Danzig and Stettin. Finally, Roger met with all the escapers in the lavatory of 104. He spoke confidently of the arrangements made regarding the marshalers and passed on some contact addresses. For those going south, there was the address of a baker just inside the Czech frontier and the name of the hotelier in Prague who had helped Johnny Stower the previous year. Roger also gave out the address, sent in code to Schubin in 1942, of a brothel in Stettin that was frequented by Swedish sailors. He wished everyone well and then stayed to talk with each of the train travelers. Bushell reminded them of various German customs and gave out the available information about timetables and fares. Keen Type had provided details on all trains from the Sagan station and, from various sources, Valenta had been able to build up a complete schedule of times and prices. With this the train travelers could plan their itinerary even before leaving the camp. * By this time, most of the material arrangements had been made. Nearly three thousand maps had been run off and sorted into groups, and Johnny Travis had made up metal water bottles from old food cans and solder. In Hut 112, Cantons chefs were busy mixing hundreds of four ounce cans of escape mixture. There were two kinds, both made to the recipe of dietary expert David Lubbock: a mixture of sugar and cereal; and a precooked solid made of cocoa, chocolate, fat, sugar, and Klim. Each can of the precooked mixture was enough to provide the necessary

Free Sample Chapters

35

nutrition for two days. The hardarsers were given six cans each, and the train travelers were offered four, although many decided against carrying the cans, which would instantly identify them as escaped POWs if they were searched. As the escape drew nearer, many of the lads wrote home, some hoping it would be their last letter from captivity. Ive got an important part to play in one of our kriegie plays, wrote George Wiley to a friend in Canada, and am a bit nervous about doing my part well . . . may see you sooner than expected. By the morning of March 23 there was still a good six inches of snow on the ground, but the winter seemed to have broken at last. There was a new mildness in the air, and a very slight thaw had set in. Spring was clearly on its way. There was still a snap in the air, but it was more electricity than cold, for everyone knew that the break was due in the next couple of days. The opinion of the optimists was further borne out when the leaders of X Organization were seen making their way slowly and circuitously toward Hut 104 for another meeting. One of the men who walked up the steps to 104 was not a regular at those meetings and, to those who knew him, his presence was significant. The new face was Flying Officer Len Hall, of the RAF Meteorological Branch, who had the dubious distinction of being one of the few officers in Sagan who had been sunk instead of shot down. The vessel taking him to England from Nigeria had been torpedoed in the Caribbean, and Len spent four weeks as a prisoner on a U-boat before getting back to dry land. The Germans evidently didnt know what to do with him because they moved him between Dulag Luft and a naval transit camp for almost two months before finally deciding to stick him in Luft III. The organization was glad of that decision, for they were in great need of a trained weather forecaster. Since the kingpins of the organization all knew the score, the first questions went to Len. How do things look for the next couple of days, Len? asked Roger quietly. Quite good, actually, began Len. As you know, its dark of the moon now, and there should be pretty good cloud for the next couple

36

Pacifica Military History

of nights to make it even darker. Im afraid the temperature wont be too helpful, but youll likely have a bit of wind to cover up the noises. Thats the best I can do with what I have to go on. Can you give me anything longer-term? queried Roger. Len shook his head. Sorry, Roger. This German weather can get damned nasty, and its still too early to say that the winters over for good. Roger grunted and looked around at his lieutenants. It was clear that he wanted to get moving. Well, well have to wait until tomorrow morning to decide for sure, but I think we should give it a go if the weather doesnt change. Any objections? Everyone in the room knew Roger well enough to recognize when he had made up his mind, and this was one of those occasions. They all shook their heads. Tim Walenn said that he needed as much notice as possible to stamp and sign all of the forged documents, and Ker Ramsay wanted at least half a day to make the final preparations in the tunnel. Aside from that, there was nothing further. After the meeting broke up, Johnny Marshall hung back to have a word with Roger. What about the hardarsers, Roger? he asked. Theres still three feet of snow in the foreststhey wont stand a chance in those conditions. Bushell was firm. Its a chance theyll have to take. We cant risk keeping Harry until the next no-moon period. Youve seen the trap its warping more every day. Were on borrowed time as it is. If we dont move soon, the odds are that well lose everything. How about putting out some train travelers now, and closing Harry up until the weather improves? The walkers would have a much better chance in a months time. Come on, Johnny, said Roger. You know the tunnel would never make it through a big search if we used it once. Besides, its got to be all or nothing. The entire plan depends on getting large numbers of escapers out in one goa few train travelers just wouldnt do. It was useless to discuss it further, especially since Marshall knew that all of Bushells points were valid. Still, the conversation forced

Free Sample Chapters

37

Big X to reconsider the problem of the walkers, and after mulling it over for the afternoon, he sought the advice of Wings Day. He told Wings that he hated to make a decision that would jeopardize the hardarsers chances but that he saw no other alternatives. Wings was quick with his reply. We both know, Roger, that the odds are stacked against the hardarser at the best of times. Weve both done our fair share of walking in the pastyou know as well as I do that the odds are a thousand to one against, even in the best conditions. Besides, no ones going to freeze to deathif things get bad they can just turn themselves in. Its usually warm enough in the cooler! Roger smiled when he saw Wingss big grin. Thats bloody true enough! he said grimly. In any case, theres a bigger question here. Youve said it yourself a dozen times that the greatest value in an escape is the number of chaps who get out in the first place, not the number who get home. Even if none of the hardarsers lasts two days, theyll have had an impact just by getting outside the wire. Bushell was silent for a moment and then looked up and said simply, Thanks, youre right, before wandering off to his hut. Wings watched him stride across the compound and reflected on what the South African had been able to achieve. He had taken a camp full of very different characters and given them a uniting purpose. Soon he would turn loose up to two hundred escapers and, for the seventh time, Wings Day would be one of them. There was a heavy snowstorm that night and the issue was again in doubt when the committee members met on the morning of the twentyfourth to come to a decision. At 11:30 A.M., they gathered in a room in Hut 101. Just ten minutes later, they all emerged again. It was on. Tim Walenn went straight off to start date-stamping and signing the papers. This job had to be left until the very last minute so the escapers could get the greatest possible use out of their limited time travel documents. Also, most of the documents had to be signed, including Roger Bushells genuine visa, which he had procured in the course of one of his escapes. Cassie painted on the visa stamp in purplish pink

38

Pacifica Military History

watercolor and then signed it with the name of a chief of police whose real signature they had. Alex practiced the signature for two days so that he could get it just right. Meanwhile, Crump went down Harry to do the final tunnel work. He started by hanging two blankets in the exit chamber to block the light and sound. As an added precaution, strips of cloth were nailed to the first and last fifty feet of trolley rail. Blankets were also spread on the floor of both the entry and exit shafts to deaden any sounds and were laid down in both halfway houses so that the haulers wouldnt get their clothes filthy. Next, extra lights were installed every twenty five feet to give a bit more illumination to comfort those who were inclined toward claustrophobia. Finally, the trolleys had to be modified to handle the large number of men who would be using them. Extra planks were added on top to provide a better platform for the escapers to lie on, and four hundred feet of one inch thick manila rope intended for the camps boxing ring was taken down and attached to the trolleys. Finally, four twisted shoring boards were replaced and a specially constructed wooden shovel was taken to the exit shaft for use in breaking the tunnel. Meanwhile, the Little Xs were making their way around the various departments of the organization to pick up all of the gear for the escapers in their hut. They had already grilled each escaper and carefully examined his clothing, luggage, and papers and now had to hand over the bundle of gear and a few last bits of advice. The Little Xs also gave each man explicit instructions on when and how to go to Hut 104. For days before the escape, watchers had kept a tally on the number of men going in and out of the block on a normal day. To avoid an increase in traffic on the day of the escape, these figures were used to arrive at a series of routes and timetables. There was a thirty second interval between movements, and each escaper had a specific time and direction to go. When he got to 104, he would be directed to a bunk to wait for his number to come up. The regular occupant of that bunk would then make his way to the other fellows hut and remain there until the following morning. Around the camp, tension was mounting. There were a few more forced grins, and many of the kriegies tried to calm their nerves with

Free Sample Chapters

39

meaningless conversation. Len Halls afternoon meteorology class was noticeably smaller than on previous days, and there were fewer people hanging around the theater. The night before had seen a dress rehearsal of the new production of Pygmalion, with Roger Bushell as Professor Henry Higgins. An understudy waited in the wings, lest the star be unavailable. Back in his room, Hank Birkland hunched over one last letter to his family. I got a letter last month to which I will not be able to reply, he wrote in his typical straightforward style. I am not in a position to carry on a letter for letter correspondence for long. Just after six, a few men gathered in Johnny Traviss room for a last supper of bully beef fritters and barley glop, a mixture of barley, Klim, sugar, and raisins. Roger Bushell, Bob van der Stok, Digger McIntosh, and Shorty Armstrong were all there, but there was little conversation. No one seemed to have much of an appetite, despite Traviss guarantee that the feast would keep you filled for days. In Hut 112, George Wiley was setting a few things straight before leaving for 104. Of all the escapers, George was the youngest-looking. Though he had turned twenty two in January, his fair hair and gentle features made him look about sixteen, and George was used to jibes about the authorities having to let kids into the air force to do a mans job. This day, though, Georges boyish face showed as much trepidation as excitement. He spoke no German and realized that his chances of making a clean escape were almost nil, especially as his leg was again giving him trouble in the cold. He expected to be picked up in the Sagan area and thought he would probably spend a week or two in the cooler before being put back in the compound. As George was cleaning up his bunk, he chatted with Alan Righetti, who would be staying behind in 112. The Australian could tell that his roommate was uneasy and tried to buck him up with a few words of encouragement. Alan had been involved in a couple of breaks in Italy and knew what it was like for a first time escaper in the hours before a break. George was comforted by Alans words but as he got up to make his way to 104, the Canadian turned to his roommate and held

40

Pacifica Military History

out his watch and a few other things that he had collected over his year in captivity. Alan, if I dont make it, he began, will you see that these things get back to my mother in Windsor? Okay, George, said Alan quietly. You sure you dont want to hang on to them? You may see her before I do! he added cheerfully. Wiley smiled and clapped his pal on the back with a word of farewell. As he turned to leave the room, Righetti couldnt help but think that George Wiley looked so young and innocent to be heading out into the snowy unknown of a cold March night. * As dusk fell, the exodus continued. Pulling on his greatcoat, Mike Casey bade farewell to his roommates in Hut 122. Im off, lads, he said with a wave. Its about time for my run in the woods! Mike reported to 122s controller, who consulted his time sheet, got the nod from his stooge, and pushed the Irishman out the door with a hearty clap on the back. Casey walked east, around the south end of Hut 121 and then entered 109 by the south door. He went directly to Room 17, where Wings Norman sat with another time sheet. Ah, Mike, said Norman cheerily, spot on time as usual. Off you go, then, and dont get yourself into any trouble! With a firm handshake, Mike was sent on his way. He continued up the corridor to the northern end of 109, where another stooge stood holding the door shut. He peeked through the crack and then quickly opened the door and gave Mike the thumbs-up as he passed. The Irishman crossed the path running beside the firepool and paused on the southern steps of Hut 104. The door swung open and Casey reported to Dave Torrens, who gave him a room and bunk assignment. Mike had escaped before, but in his nearly five years as a prisoner, he had never seen anything quite like this. Inside the crowded hut was the oddest collection of characters, some in rough working clothes and others in smart business suits. Some were just standing and smoking, others were chatting softly, and two pairs were huddled over a game of bridge. Many just sat and said nothing, glancing up briefly with a smile as Mike passed.

Free Sample Chapters

41

Twice every minute, the door opened for another kriegie, who came in quietly and was checked off by Torrens. Everything had gone exactly according to plan so far. Then, at about a quarter to eight, the door opened again. Instantly, a hush fell over the corridor and Casey poked his head out of the room to see what was up. There, at the end of the hall, stood a Luftwaffe corporal.

42

Pacifica Military History

Free Sample Chapters

43

44

Pacifica Military History

Ace!
A Marine Night-Fighter Pilot in World War II By Colonel R. Bruce Porter with Eric Hammel My first time at the controls of the N3N was a nightmare of jerky, uncoordinated movements, over-corrections, needless exertions, and redfaced certainty that I did not, in fact, have the right stuff. The instructor calmly got meand himselfout of trouble and never uttered a sound of dismay. Until we were safely on the ground. Then he looked at me a wet rag, sweating fear and embarrassment into my bulky flight suit and said just the thing to make my day: Porter, you will never solo. You are the dumbest cadet I have ever laid eyes on. Ace! is Bruce Porters life as a Marine combat fighter pilotfrom his earliest days as a naval aviation cadet before World War II, to his adventures guarding Americas forwardmost defense line in the South Pacific, to his aerial combat over the Solomons. Follow Bruce Porter through his exacting night-fighter training and fly with him on his rare double-kill night mission over Okinawa in 1945. Colonel Robert Bruce Porter, USMCR (Ret) reported for his Last Flight on April 20, 2009. What the Marine Aces said about Ace! From flight training, Bruce Porters aeronautical skills as a Marine day- and night-fighter pilot defined the termfighter ace! Bruces book reflects the keen, analytical mind of a fighter pilots technical skills projected into combat. This book is a must for anyone interested in combat aviation history. Col Jeff De Blanc, Marine Medal of Honor recipient [In his book], Bruce relives the challenges, frustrations, and triumphs of training, on to his victories in the Corsair in the Solomons, and then on to attain ace status with a flourish at Okinawa. Read and enjoy a

Free Sample Chapters

45

fabulous Marine aviation combat story. BriGen Joe Foss, Marine Medal of Honor recipient Bruce Porters book is great! It shows the many details and answers many questions about operating from an aircraft carrier. . . . It explains why, even without enemy action, steady operations under poor conditions will cost us pilots and aircraft. . . . I highly recommend Ace! BriGen Bob Galer, Marine Medal of Honor recipient You have to read this excellent book. It will keep you glued to the pages as you sit in the cockpit with Bruce. . . . It is very well written and personal. Col Jim Swett, Marine Medal of Honor recipient Bruce Porters book, Ace!, tells of our flying Wildcats together before Pearl Harbor, about his Corsair victories in the Solomon Islands, and his splendid night flying from Okinawa. I highly recommend Ace! LtCol Ken Walsh, Marine Medal of Honor recipient

46

Pacifica Military History

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book ACE!: A Marine Night Fighter Pilot in World War II by Colonel R. Bruce Porter with Eric Hammel. The book is currently available in a $24.95 trade paperback edition published by Pacifica Military History. It is also available in ebook editions.

First Kill
by Colonel R. Bruce Porter with Eric Hammel Copyright 1985 by Robert Bruce Porter and Eric Hammel

Robert Bruce Porter earned his wings and was commissioned a Marine second lieutenant in July, 1941. He shipped out to American Samoa in March 1942, with the first U.S. fighter squadron to be sent to that threatened front-line area. Following more than a years rigorous training in Samoa, Porter was transferred to Marine Fighter Squadron 121 (VMF-121), which at the time was converting to the new F4U-1 Corsair fighter. The squadron was moved forward to Guadalcanals Henderson Field on June 9, 1943, to begin its third combat tour in the Solomons. By then a seasoned, senior pilot, and one of the first Marine airmen to be assigned to front-line duty in the Pacific, Captain Bruce Porter finally faced the prospect of experiencing combat against Japanese warplanes. My first air-alert scramble at Guadalcanal was on June 12, 1943. It was to be my first intercept and my first combat. I was then the squadron flight officer and, on June 12, was flight leader of VMF-121s two four-plane alert divisions. Pilots not already waiting in their cockpits were in the squadron ready room, a large tent near the edge of the main runway, within sprinting distance of our Corsairs. At the alert, I ran toward the airplanes, which were waiting like cow ponies in the dispersal revetments beside the taxiway.

Free Sample Chapters

47

I climbed up on the left wing of the first plane I could find and vaulted into the cockpit. With the aid of the plane captain, I shrugged into my seat and parachute harnesses and plugged in my throat mike and earphones. As the plane captain climbed down off the wing and got out of the way, I checked the lever that was set to lock me into the cockpit. Then, one by one, I heard the thrumming high-performance engines, which had already been turned up by the plane captains, roar to full power. At this point, all pilots checked the two magnetos to be sure they were each bearing a full power load. If the magnetos gave a low reading, or if some other problem was noted, the pilot would quickly shut off the engine, reverse the entry procedure, and head for the nearest spare plane, of which there were always one or two. Sometimes, if too many airplanes were down, some pilots would miss getting into the air. The eerie thing about scrambles was the complete absence of radio chatter. The entire evolution was so automatic that, except in an extreme emergency, there was zero conversation. We just boosted power and rolled out to take off into the wind. As my airplane vaulted into the air, I pulled up its landing gear lever with my left hand. Then, as I climbed beyond danger of hitting the earth, I switched the joystick to my left hand and pulled my birdcage canopy shut with my right. Then I strapped on my oxygen mask, which was mandatory above 10,000 feet. Within a very few minutes, my half-squadron was clawing for an altitude advantage over the onrushing enemy, seeking to meet that enemy as far from friendly bases as we could manage. As we climbed, each of us charged and test-fired all of his six Corsairs six .50-caliber wing guns. There was no point in flying on if the guns were inoperable. The formation pretty much took care of itself. We nearly always had a few stragglers or gaps in our formation right after reaching altitude. That meant we had to reconstitute two-plane elements and divisions on the way to combat. * We were at 18,000 feet and heading northwest, toward the Russell Islands, which were about 80 miles from Henderson Field. The remainder

48

Pacifica Military History

of the squadron, and three other alert squadrons, were dispersed nearby or right behind us, covering different altitudes and sectors. Thus, we had 32 Corsairs and Wildcats flying as a leading wedge and nearly an identical number coming on as a follow-up force. The New Zealanders managed to launch another 30 P-40 fighters. For all the long months of practice and performance in Samoa and at Turtle Bay, I did not have a calm cell in my body. It is unusual to sweat at altitude, even in the tropics, but bodily fluids were running off me in rivulets. I was even concerned that my canopy would fog up from so much moisture. I had no fear, but my bloodstream had an overabundance of adrenalin and, Im sure, other life-preserving substances that gave off a rank odor and copious amounts of perspiration. In a way, my discomfort shielded me from dwelling too much on the possible consequences of the onrushing confrontation. I do not think I was ever as exhilarated as I was during that flight. The Russells had been recently seized by Marine Raiders, and a new forward fighter strip was under construction. It was unclear if the approaching Japanese wanted to strike at the new base or if they were bound for Guadalcanal. Whatever the case, we had barely enough time to intercept them just to the northwest of the Russells. There was no end of chatter among the Corsair pilots, especially bogiesunconfirmed, presumably hostile radar contacts from our ground controllers at Guadalcanal. We were over the Russell Islands within 30 minutes of the alert. Below, I could see the wakes of boats as they plied the blue waters. I was scanning the entire sky, looking for telltale movement among the distant thunderheads and the lacy white cumulus clouds set against a splendid blue canopy. I was just commenting to myself what a beautiful day it was when my earphones suddenly crackled with an incoming all-squadrons message: Tally ho! Zeros at eleven oclock. Angels 25. This meant that enemy fighters had been spotted as they flew at an altitude of 25,000 feet and on a bearing just to the left of dead center. (Imagine a clock. Dead ahead is 12 oclock, dead astern is six oclock, right is three oclock, and left is nine oclock.)

Free Sample Chapters

49

I charged my guns and turned on my reflector sight, which cast an image of a gunsight, complete with distance calibrations, on the windscreen in front of my face. Within seconds, I saw silvery glints against the bright blue background of the sky. The enemy fighter formations were coming in from all directions. No enemy bombers had been reported by coastwatchers occupying various covert observation posts farther up the Solomons, and none was sighted as the opposing forces rushed at one another in excess of 500 miles per hour. We were encountering a fighter sweep, pure and simple. Over 70 Zeros had come only to challenge our fighters. Well. * As I approached the swift silver streaks and tried to lock onto one of my own, I could see in the middle distance that other Corsairsfrom my two divisions, as it turned outhad already engaged, for there was a large brown smudge set against a lacy cumulus cloud to mark the spot where a Zero had blown up. I saw no parachute. Then we were into it. To my left, my own divisions second element suddenly broke away to take on an oncoming Zero. But I had only enough time to watch the first spurt of tracer erupt from one of the Corsairs six .50-caliber wing guns. All the best training in the world could not abate the instant of sheer surprise when my eyes locked onto a target of their own. The Zero was going to pass me from the right front to left rear as he dived on one of the Corsairs of my engaged second element, which by then was behind and below me. I was sure the Japanese pilot never saw me as he opened with his two .30-caliber machine guns. I saw his pink tracer reach out past my line of vision, which was obscured by my Corsairs long nose. Then, for good measure, he fired four 20mm cannon rounds, which passed in front of me like fiery popcorn balls; I was shocked to see how slowly they seemed to travel. I never consciously pressed my gun-button knob. I had practiced this encounter a thousand times, and I seemed to know enough to allow

50

Pacifica Military History

my instincts to prevail over my mind. My guns were boresighted to converge in a cone about 300 yards ahead of my Corsairs propeller spinner. Anything within that cone would be hit by a stream of half-inch steel-jacketed bullets. My Corsair shuddered slightly as all the guns fired, and I saw my tracer passing just over the Zeros long birdcage canopy. Then he was past me. I pulled around after him, to my left. So, I hoped, did my wingman, 1st Lieutenant Phil Leeds, who was echeloned to the right and rear, just off my right wing. My turn was easy. I did not pull many Gs, so my head was absolutely clear. I came up with a far deflection shot and decided to go for it. I gave the Zero a good lead and fired all my guns again. As planned, my tracers went ahead of him, but at just the right level. I kicked my left rudder to pull my rounds in toward his nose. If that Japanese pilot had flown straight ahead, he would have been a dead man. Instead, that superb pilot presented me with a demonstration of the Zeros best flight characteristic, the one thing a Zero could do that could carry its pilot from the jaws of death just about every time. I had heard of the maneuver I was about to experience from scores of awed F4F and F4U pilots, but I had no conception of how aerodynamically fantastic the Zero fighter really was until that split second. As soon as my quarry saw my tracer pass in front of his airplanes nose, he simply pulled straight up and literally disappeared from within my reflector sight and, indeed, my entire line of sight. My tracer reached out into empty space. I was so in awe of the maneuver that I was literally shaking with envy. I had time to inscribe a fleeting image of my surroundings upon my minds eyethe sky was filled with weaving airplanes, streamers of smoke and flame, winking guns, and lines of tracer set against that superb blue background, with its distant thunderheads and lacy cumulus clouds. Then I pulled my joystick into my belly and banked as hard to the left as I dared. There he was! My reflector sight ring lay just to the right of him. He was just beyond my reach. If I was to get a clear shot, I would have to

Free Sample Chapters

51

pull up in an even steeper climb. Even then, he had the better climbing speed, and he was steadily opening the range. But I wanted the son of a bitch to avenge Sam Logan. I held my breath and sucked in my gut to counteract the pressure, but I felt the forces of gravity steadily mount up and press me into my seat; I felt the thought-carrying blood being sucked from my brain. I could not quite get him into my sights; he was just a little too high and a little too far to the right. He had me in a tight loop by then. I knew I would not be able to maintain the mind-expanding maneuver indefinitely. It struck me that I might be running low on ammunition. All the alarm bells went off in my head at the same time, but I hung on despite the gray pall that was simultaneously passing over my eyes and my mind. I finally reached the top of the loop, a point where all the forces were in equilibrium. Suddenly, the G forces relaxed. I was not quite weightless, but neither was I quite my full body weight. There was a moment of grogginess, then the gray pall totally cleared. I noticed that the horizon was upside down and that the Zero was . . . in my sights! He was about 300 yards ahead of me, at extreme range, and slowly pulling away. It was now or never. I blocked out everything else in the world except that silver Zero and the tools I had at my disposal, now mere extensions of my mind and my senses. Nothing else in the world mattered more than staying on that Zeros tail. I would have flown into the ocean at full throttle if that enemy pilot led me there. I squeezed the gun-button knob beneath my right index finger. The eerie silence in my cockpit was broken by the steady roar of my machine guns. The Zero never had a chance. It flew directly into the cone of deadly half-inch bullets. I was easily able to stay on it as the stream of tracer first sawed into the leading edge of the left wing. I saw little pieces of metal fly away from the impact area and clearly thought I should nudge my gunsightwhich is to say, my entire Corsaira hair to the right.

52

Pacifica Military History

The stream of tracer worked its way to the cockpit. I clearly saw the glass canopy shatter, but there was so much glinting, roiling glass and debris that I could not see the pilot. The Zero wobbled, and my tracer fell into first one wing root, then the other, striking the enemys unprotected fuel tanks. The Zero suddenly blew up, evaporated. * I instinctively ducked, certain that I would be struck by the debris, which was hurtling by at many hundreds of miles per hour. I could feel things hitting the Corsair, but I was quickly through the expanding greasy cloud of detritus and soaring through clear sky. As I fell back into the ironclad routine of rotating my head left, right and up in search of enemy planes, I felt rather than saw Phil Leeds closing in on my tail. Only then did I realize that trusty Phil had followed me all the way through the grueling chase and on through the debris cloud of the evaporated Zero. Now it was his turn. Only seconds after passing through the debris of my kill, another Zero flashed by directly in front of us, from right to left and a hair above us. Phil was in the best position to get him; we both knew that. While Phil went after him like a hawk after a mouse, I dropped back and locked on to Phils wing. Phil peeled off to the left and struggled mightily to grab hold of the Zeros tail. As he turned, however, I saw a stream of pink tracer flash past his windscreen from the right rear. My eyes quickly shifted to my rear-view mirror on the right and caught the glint of the sun on our assailants silvery fuselage. Phil saw the second Zero too and led me sharply around to the left. There, we both saw that a third Zero was coming toward us from below! Phil followed through right into a diving head-on attack against the third Zero. Even as pink tracer from the second Zeros guns flashed by from the right rear, I saw that Phil was scoring solid hits on the third Zero. I also noted that there was no return fire from the third Zero.

Free Sample Chapters

53

Then it was time to get out of the way. We reversed course by flying up into a tight loop. The instant we completed the high-G maneuver, the second Zero overtook us and hurtled out from under my wing. Phil simply fired all his guns at the second Zero as it passed beneath his wing. I lost track of Phils bullets and all the Zeros for just an instant as I checked to see if any more Zeros were converging on us. When I next looked around, all I could see was a huge white parachute opening beneath a great puff of black smoke. Nearby, the remains of the lifeless second Zero spiralled down toward the sea. Neither the first nor third Zeros were anywhere in our part of the sky. I dont think Phils kill took more than ten seconds. * The sky around us was empty; the air battle had passed us by. Far off, I could see airplanes maneuvering against the backdrop of clouds. I briefly considered joining the action, but I was worried about our supply of .50-caliber ammunition. I well knew that only very foolish pilots knowingly use all their bullets when enemy fighters are still around. I motioned Phil to fall back on my tail, which he did as I checked our position on my strip map. As soon as I had a fix on a distinctive island below, I climbed back to 18,000 feet and shaped a course for home, well to the southeast. Only then did I realize that my flight suit was dripping wet from perspiration. And I could feel a heavy pounding in my temples, indicating that a vast quantity of adrenalin was coursing through my bloodstream. My breathing became shallow, and I felt ever so faint. I took a few deep pulls of pure oxygen, and that cleared me right up. * After a return flight of under 30 minutes, we made landfall over Cape Esperance, Guadalcanals northwestern tip. It was about 1130. Then and there, Phil and I both spotted a solitary Zero circling right over the beach at about 5,000 feet, well below us. I had the vague impression that the pilot might have been speaking by radio with someone on the ground. I knew I was very low on ammunition and would have left that Zero alone, but Phil radioed that he wanted to take a crack at him, though he had no idea how many bullets he had left.

54

Pacifica Military History

I turned the lead over to Phil and followed him in a steep dive right out of the sun. The whole thing was over in seconds. Phil simply nailed the Zero, which turned its nose down and dived straight into the sea. It never even flamed. We circled the Zeros grave once, then turned for home, where we made a routine landing and taxied out to the dispersal area to see how our comrades had fared. As it happened, Phil and I were the first ones back. We accepted handshakes from our plane captains after telling them the good news, and then we bided our time by checking our Corsairs for damage. Neither of the airplanes had sustained any bullet holes, but my airplanes nose and leading wing edges were pitted from debris, and there was a large black smudge, probably flaming oil or aviation gasoline, on my prop spinner and the nose of my fighter. Everyone was back within 30 minutes or so. It turned out that VMF121 was the only squadron that scored that day. Captain Bob Baker was credited with a probable Zero; Captain Ken Ford got two solid kills and a probable; Captain Bill Harlan got one kill and two probables; Captain Bruce Porter got a kill; and 1st Lieutenant Phil Leeds got two kills. That is six kills and four probables against no losses of our own. A very good day! * I had not only weathered first combat, I had scored my first kill. I had been baptised. I had won my spurs. It did not dawn on me until late that night that I had also killed a man.

Free Sample Chapters

55

56

Pacifica Military History

ACES AGAINST GERMANY


The American Aces Speak By Eric Hammel In the second volume of his critically acclaimed series, The American Aces Speak, military historian Eric Hammel brings fresh first person accounts from U.S. Army Air Corps fighter aces who blasted their way across the skies of North Africa, the Mediterranean, and northern and southern Europe in the great crusade against Hitlers vaunted Luftwaffe and other Axis air forces. Coupled with a concise historical overview of Americas air war against the Axis in Europe and North Africa, Hammels detailed interviews bring out the most thrilling in the-cockpit experiences of some of our countrys best pilots. Climb aboard a P 38 Lightning as Maj. Bill Leverette fights Americas highest scoring single personal air battle against the Luftwaffe. And get into the cockpit of a P 47 Thunderbolt as 15 victory ace Capt. Don Bryan scores his dream kill by outwitting the pilot of a far speedier German jet in the closing days of the war in Europe. As he has in four companion volumes, Hammel collected some of the very best air combat tales from Americas war against Germany. Nearly all the stories in Aces Against Germany have never before been told, and the others have been enhanced by details and viewpoints brought out by Hammels interviewing Together, the five volumes of nearly 200 first person aerial combat stories from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam stand as an enduring testament to the combat airmen who fought their wars strapped into the cockpits of Americas lethal high performance fighter aircraft. Aces Against Germany is a highly charged emotional rendering of the now-dim days of personal combat at the very edge of our living national history. There was never a war like it, and there never will be again. These are the stories of Americas eagles in their very own words.

Free Sample Chapters

57

Critical Acclaim for The American Aces Speak Series The Book World says: Aces Against Japan is a thunderous, personal, high-adventure book giving our men in the sky their own voice Book Page says: Eric Hammels book is recommended reading. It is a must for any historians bookshelf. The Library Journal says: No PR hype or dry-as-dust prose here. Hammel allows his flyers to tell their stories in their own way.Exciting stuff aviation and World War II buffs will love. The Providence Sunday Journal says: A treat that deftly blends a chronology of the Pacific War with tales that would rival a Saturday action matinee. Infantry Magazine says: If you would like to read one book that will give you a broad overview and yet a detailed look at what a fighter pilots air war was like?this is the book. The Bookshelf says: Hammel is one of our best military historians when it comes to presenting that often complex subject to the general public. He has demonstrated this facility in a number of fine books before [Aces Against Germany] and now he does so again.Not to be missed by either buff or scholar.

58

Pacifica Military History

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book ACES AGAINST GERMANY: The American Aces Speak by Eric Hammel. The book is currently available in a $27.50 trade paperback edition published by Pacifica Military History. It is also available in ebook editions.

THE BIG B
by Eric Hammel Copyright 1992 by Eric Hammel. Major TOM HAYES, USAAF 364th Fighter Squadron, 357th Fighter Group Berlin, March 6, 1944 * Portland, Oregons Thomas Lloyd Hayes, Jr., dreamed of flight through-out his youth, but he saw no means for making his dreams real until 1937, when he was a high-school senior. Early that year, a Soviet airplane on a much-heralded flight from Moscow to San Francisco was forced to end its journey in Portlands neighbor, Vancouver, Wash-ington. Young Tom Hayes was one of the first civilians to greet the Russian aircrew. Emboldened by his brush with reflected glory, Hayes attempted to enlist in the U.S. Navy flight program as soon as he graduated from high school that June. He was turned away on account of his age and advised to earn a college degree in order to qualify. Hayes dutifully matriculated at Oregon State University, but all he really cared about was qualifying for Navy flight school. However, in May 1940the month Germany invaded the Low CountriesHayes attended an Army Air Corps air show in Corvallis, Oregon. When he learned at the show that he needed only two years of college to qualify, he signed up on the spot. Within a month, Cadet Hayes was attending Primary flight training at Glendale, California, and he graduated with Class 41-A at Kelly Field, Texas, on February 7, 1941. Lieutenant Hayes was assigned to the 35th Pursuit Group. In November 1941, the group was ordered to

Free Sample Chapters

59

the Philippines, but by December 7 one-third of the groupTom Hayes includedhad not yet shipped out. In January 1942, Hayess group of pilots, crew chiefs, armorers, and P-40 fighters ended up on Java, battling the Japanese. On February 19, Hayes was shot down by a Japanese Zero fighter and severely injured. He was evacuated to Australia just as the American survivors of the one-sided air battles were being withdrawn. After recuperating from his injuries, Hayes helped to recommission the 35th Pursuit Group. He flew Bell P-39 Airacobras with the 35th in New Guinea until he was ordered home in October 1942 to help prepare newly trained fighter pilots for the rigors of combat flying in the Pacific. After completing a month-long War Bond tour, Captain Hayes was assigned as a flight leader to a P-39 replacement training group in northern California. In May 1943, he was selected by the commander of the new 357th Fighter Group to replace a squadron commander who had been killed in a training accident. Hayes assumed command of the 364th Fighter Squadron in Tonopah, Nevada, and helped train the new P-39 unit. By October 1, 1944, the 357th Fighter Group was ready to ship out from its base at Marysville, California; it had been trained to perfection and was, in every respect, ready to go to war. Instead, the group was ordered to leave immediately for several bomber bases in Nebraska, Wyoming, and North Dakota. * We didnt know what was going on. It turned out that we had been scheduled all along to ship out to England on October 1. The new groups bound for England were scheduled to complete their phases of train-ing every six weeks and then move on to new bases. But, as we eventually learned, we couldnt go straight to England because our base there was not ready. We were sent to the upper Midwest to mark time. As long as we were there, we kept up our flying skills by simulating German fighter attacks against heavy bombers. That helped get the B-17 and B-24 crews certified a little more quickly for deployment overseas. The stopover turned out to be of great value. We quickly learned that the war-time shortage of small-arms ammunition had caused a huge increase in the local population of pheasant and other game birds, so fifteen or twenty

60

Pacifica Military History

of us sent for our shotguns. After we finished flying each day sharpening our flying skills in aggressive, high-speed attacks that lacked only real gunfirewe went bird hunting. We shot so many pheasant that we were able to feed the entire squadron300-plus people every night. More important, we sharpened our shooting eyes. After about a month, we left the P-39s behind and boarded the Queen Elizabeth for a high-speed run to Scotland. We spent Thanksgiving at sea. When we finally got to England and had been assigned to the Ninth Air Force, we were told that we were going to be the second fighter group in England to be equipped with North American P-51 Mustangs. We didnt know a thing about the Mustang except that it was a so-so dive-bomber with no high-altitude capability. We also didnt know that the 354th Fighter Group (our immediate predecessor in the Stateside training cycle) had been reequipped with an upgraded ver-sion of the Mustang when it arrived in England in mid-October. The Mustang we knew about had been built by North American Aviation under contract to the RAF as a ground-support airplane. The early Army Air Forces version was known as the A-36, and it had been used for some time as a dive-bomber. There was also a fighter ver-sion known as the P-51 A, but it and the A-36 were equipped with a 1,200horsepower Allison engine that was inadequate. The P-51 A and A-36 could not get above 17,000 feet. Unknown to us, the Mustang had been the object of an intense development program beginning in late 1942. The key to that program had been the marriage of the Mustang to the 1,430-horsepower Packard Merlin engine, a licensed version of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine. Very late in the process, the urgent need for long-range fighters in Europe had resulted in the addition of an eighty-five-gallon fuel tank behind the P-51s cockpit, and this had led to some delays. The result, when all the bugs had been ironed out, was the P-51B, which the 354th Fighter Group was just about to take into combat when the 357th Fighter Group arrived in England. Unfortunately, there were not enough P-51Bs for us or for the 4th Fighter Group, which was also supposed to be reequipped with the new type. The 354th had been suffering operational and training losses, and

Free Sample Chapters

61

it was bound to suffer combat losses as soon as it began escort duty with the heavy bombers. The entire early production output had gone to the 354th, and all or most of the replacement Mustangs that arrived in England would be used to keep the 354th up to strength. By the time we had been in England for a month, we still had no airplanes. All we did was slosh around in the mud and take classes in the morning and in the afternoon on aircraft identification. But we were doing no flying. I got checked out in a P-51, but only because I was a squadron commander. We eventually got a few of our own, but barely enough to check out the other pilots in the group. Finally, on January 24, an important decision was made. Outside of keeping the 354th up to strength, all the available P-51Bs in En-gland would be assigned to the Eighth Air Force. A few days later, the 358th Fighter Group, a P-47 group from the Eighth Air Force, was transferred to the Ninth Air Force, and the 357th Fighter Group was reassigned to the Eighth Air Forces 66th Fighter Wing. Within a few days, the 358th moved from its base, Leiston, to our base, Raydon Wood, and we moved from Raydon Wood to Leiston. That way, we would be in the north, about forty miles closer to the bomber routes to Ger-many, and the 358th would be in the south, closer to France. The Eighth Air Force couldnt get us operational quickly enough. In a weeks time, our groups strength in P-51Bs went from something like a dozen airplanes to seventy-five. It was busy. In addition to checking out the airplanes, we had to get all the pilots checked out. And, in the meantime, our command pilotsgroup, squadron, and flight leaders started going out on missions with the 354th Fighter Group to learn about the war over northern Europe. The 357th Fighter Group was declared operational on February 8, 1944. Following three relatively easy group combat missions over Franceon February 11, 12, and 13we went to Germany for the first time on February 20. It was the first mission of Big Week, and the target was Leipzig. The 362d and 363d Fighter squadrons posted their first victories on that mission. My 364th Fighter Squadron posted its first three victories during the February 22 mission, which was against the Me-109 factory at Regensburg, Germany, and the ball-bearing plant at

62

Pacifica Military History

Schweinfurt. We were grounded by weather on February 23, but on February 24, while escorting the heavy bombers to the Me-110 fac-tory at Gotha, Germany, I received credit for an Me-109 probable over the target. We flew to Regensburg on February 25 and to Brunswick on February 29. I shot down an Me-109 on our March 2 mission to Frankfurt. In all, by then, the group had been credited with twenty confirmed victories, and we were sharp and confident. By the close of Big Week, on February 29, people had been start-ing to talk about Berlin. Several times, we had flown close enough to the German capital to see it, but the Eighth Air Force had not yet flown a single mission there. Everyone was asking, When the hell are we going to hit the Big B? Before every mission, wed go into the briefing hut, and theyd open the curtains that covered the map showing our route to the target. We were just waiting to see the red tapes marking the route to Berlin. When we finally saw that it was going to be Berlin on March 3, our feelings sure changed. The bravado left us. The weather was ter-rible. Of the entire Eighth Air Force, only the 4th Fighter Group and one of the P-38 groups flew all the way to the target, but they never even saw the ground. All the bombers were recalled or went after secondary targets. The weather was so bad over England that we couldnt get the 357th together at all. We were finally recalled. I logged ninety minutes of flight time, all of it on instruments. We lost two pilots on March 3, and nobody knows how. In my opinion, these losses were due to the weather. If the group lacked anything, it was instrument training. It is extremely easy to lose a sense of up and down in the clouds. Unless you overcome your instincts and force yourself to fly the instruments, you can easily enter an uncontrollable spin or even fly the airplane right into the ground. The weather over north-ern Europe that time of year was terrible, and I am sure that all the groups were losing pilots and airplanes because of disorientation or mid-air collisions in the clouds. They sent about 500 B-17s and over 750 fighters to Berlin on March 4, but there were only a few holes in the clouds, and only a few German fighters could find us. Just one combat wing composed of thirty-eight

Free Sample Chapters

63

bombers actually reached Berlin, and these planes bombed the holes in the clouds without knowing what was underneath themresiden-tial suburbs. There was almost no fighter action. Only seven German airplanes were destroyed by our fighters that day, but pilots from the 357th got two of them. On March 5, we escorted the 2d Bomber Division B-24s to Bor-deaux, in southern France. On the way to the target, some of the B24s dropped supplies to French Resistance fighters in the foothills to the French Alps. Over Bordeaux, our group encountered several FW190s, which were shot down, and our pilots also got three four-engine FW-200 Condors that were taking off from a grass airfield. We had one airplane shot down, but the pilot, Flight Officer Chuck Yeager, eventually returned to the group by way of Spain. Unfortunately, on the way home, during a low-level strafing run, the group commander, Colonel Henry Spicer, was shot down by flak and captured. The group deputy commander, Lieutenant Colonel Don Graham, assumed com-mand of the group when we got home. On the night of March 5, all the smart money was on another mis-sion to Berlin. I, of course, knew it was going to be Berlin when we received word that we would be going out on a maximum effort. We were also told that the weather was supposed to be improving. Maintenance said they could get only forty-eight Mustangs in the air the next morningexactly what we needed, but with no spares. We therefore scheduled the first team, our very best and most-experienced pilots. There was no horsing around that night. We had a job to do, so everyone went to bed early. The bombers had to take off hours before any of the fighters. There were hundreds of them, and they had to form up into their combat boxes, combat wings, and combat divisions. That took a long time. Also, the Germans had deployed a belt of 88mm and other flak guns along the Dutch and Belgian coasts, where the bombers usually crossed in. The bombers liked to pass over the flak guns at least at 20,000 feet, and that meant they had to circle higher and higher with their heavy bomb loads while they were still over England. Hundreds of bombers were circling long before it was time for us to get up. As usual, I was awakened by the

64

Pacifica Military History

drone of their engines. Because the bombers were overhead, I knew the mission was on long before it was announced officially. I also knew that, unfortunately, their contrails were creat-ing an overcast through which we would have to take off later that beautiful spring morning. I was going out as the deputy mission leader, so I met up with Don Graham early to go over last-minute arrangements for the entire group. This was Dons first mission as the group leader and my first as the backup. We arranged a few non-verbal signals so we could com-municate off the air in the event one or the other of us ran into prob-lems. We also decided what the group was going to do on the way home, depending on what happened before we were released from escort duty. The pilots went over to the mess hall for breakfast, then we had the group briefingthe basic information that was going to get all of us to the target. The weather was good over England, but we were told that the front was moving east. The closer we got to Berlin the worse the weather was going to get. If it was clear, we only needed to fol-low the bomber stream out of England and overtake the lead bomb-ers before they reached the target. But, if the weather was bad, we couldnt fly up the bomber stream for fear of colliding with the bombers in the clouds. Or, in the case of this mission, the bombers werent even fly-ing directly to Berlin. In an attempt to confuse the Germansmake them think the target was somewhere elsethe bombers were flying along a route that would have been too long for us to follow anyway from Munster to Meppen, Goslar to Uelzen, and Halle to Ratheneau. Halle was southwest of Berlin. In order to conserve our fuel, we were to fly practically due east all the way from the Dutch coast to Berlin. As one of only three or four P-51 groups available for the mission, the 357th would, as usual, pick up the lead box of bombers at around 1300 hours and plus or minus seventy-five miles from the target. We were to sweep ahead of the bombers as they came in over the target, and then we were to hand the escort off to fresh P-47 or P-38 groups plus or minus seventy-five miles along the route home. On March 6, the bombers would actually be passing Berlin so they could make their bombing runs on different parts of the city from either west to east or south to north. That way, they would already be pointing toward home when

Free Sample Chapters

65

they toggled their bombs. We would join them as they completed their run-up to the target from Halle, and we would leave them along the first leg toward England. Following the group briefing, the pilots broke up for squadron briefings. Here, parachutes, oxygen masks, and escape kits were handed out, and the squadron leaders arranged the order of flights and made any nec-essary last-minute changes in flight and element leaders. Also, each squadron leader told the pilots what the squadron was going to do on the way home from the target, in case it was a milk run. After we had finished up with the escort part of the March 6 mission, my 364th Fighter Squadron was going to go home on the deck. If we had enough gas, we might go over into Austria to shoot up some of the German flying schools. If not, we would use up our ammunition strafing targets of opportunity on the direct course through Germany toward the North Sea. We took fifteen or twenty minutes for the squadron briefing, and then we went out to the flight line, to our airplanes. Each pilot checked his own airplane, strapped in, and went through the usual pre-flight routine with the crew chief. We started taking off at 1030. We had a policy about aborts, and it was the same as all the other fighter groups in the Eighth Air Force. Ideally, we wanted to get to the target area with three squadrons of sixteen airplanes per squad-ron. On most missions, we took up to four spares most of the way across the North Sea. If there were any aborts, the spares could fill in. If there were fewer aborts than spares, the remaining spares went home be-fore the group crossed in. If anyone thought he couldnt complete the entire missionif there was any problem or if a pilot thought there was going to be any problemhe had to turn around and get the hell home while we were still over the North Sea. That way, we wouldnt have to send a good combat airplane to protect the airplane with the problem. Just as we were approaching the Dutch coast, Don Graham porpoised his airplanethe signal that he was aborting. When I acknowledged, he immediately banked and turned for home. Shortly after Don left, a few others turned for home, too. When we made landfall over Hol-land, we were down to forty airplanes.

66

Pacifica Military History

The problem was that we had been flying every day for six straight days, and we had no spares on March 6; we had exactly forty-eight planes in commission that day. The 357th Fighter Group was still in the learning process. I imagine some pilots were still, shall we say, queasy about flying in combat. And Berlin was thought to be an es-pecially dangerous place. We still hadnt seen what the German fighters would do to protect their capital city. Maybe a lot of pilots had but-terflies that day, or maybe the heavy schedule of combat missions six in six days had caused more wear and tear to the airplanes than we realized. Whatever the reasons, we kept losing airplanes after we made landfall. Altogether, fifteen of our forty-eight Mustangs aborted before we reached Berlin. My own section of two flights, which was supposed to be eight airplanes, ended up with an oddball five. I had the group. I had to navigate us to Berlin and find the bomb-ers in the overcast before they reached the target. I knew it was a matter of staying on course and getting where we were supposed to be on time. It was time and distance. The weather got worse and worse as we flew. We stopped flying the usual tight formation and spread the squadrons out between the two main layers of clouds. There was a thick layer of undercast that varied between 15,000 and 20,000 feet, and another good one started at about 28,000 feet. We flew between those layers, spread apart. We were flying along great, but I had no idea where the hell we were, no idea at all. I couldnt see any landmarks on the ground, and I had to assume that the wind was right, as stated in our briefing. If it wasnt, I could be way off course and never know about it. All I could do was fly the briefed heading and pray. As I flew along, I switched over to the bomber frequency a few times, to find out what was going on. I was able to cross-check with them to at least see that my schedule was still okay. I might be off course, but if I was on course, I would meet up with the bombers on time. Around noon, I heard that German fighters were going after the bombers and that our P-47 groups were engaging them. But I was still an hour away from the rendezvous. I could only listen and hope Id find the bombers. I was getting concerned. I checked with Captain William Obee OBrien, of the 363d Fighter Squadron, to find out if he thought we

Free Sample Chapters

67

were on course. Some of the other pilots broke radio silence to needle me a little. They said things like, Where the hell are we? and I bet we overshot the target. Just what I needed to hear! When someone said, Christ, we must be over Russia! I said, Gowdy Red, here. Radio silence! Got it? I knew their voices; I knew who was needling me. They didnt make it any easier on my frame of mind. I had to worry about making the rendezvous in that lousy weather, but I also had to worry that maybe the bombers would be in the damn overcast and that Id find them by running into them. And I was really concerned that I hadnt made the course good, or that the bombers were ahead or behind scheduleor something. Suddenly I was looking at a big break in the clouds. For the first time on the whole mission, since Id left England, I could see the ground. And all I could see was a huge urban area. There were red-tile roofs as far as the eye could see. What with the time on the clock1300, exactly it had to be Berlin. Voices on the group radio net started coming up with, Hey, that looks like Berlin! and Yeah, it must be. Then someone called out, Therere the bombers! I looked to my left, and there they wereB-17s. And then, right then, someone else called, Bogies! Two and three oclock! It was a three-way rendezvous. I found out later that we were about twenty-five miles southwest of the city center. That meant we were a little behind schedule, or the bombers were a little ahead. But it was a perfect rendezvous anyway. I had been flying at 26,000 feet all the way in. My high squadron was at around 27,000 feet and my low squadron was at about 25,000 feet. The bombers were stacked between 22,000 and 26,000 feet. There were clouds over us at about 28,000 feet and clouds underneath us at about 15,000 feet. It was hazy between the cloud layers, but the vis-ibility was adequate. There were German fighters stacked all the way from the level of the bombers to the upper cloud ceiling. They were still just specks when I saw them. They looked like a swarm of bees, maybe seven to ten miles distant. They were going flat-out head-on to the bombers. Thirty or forty twin-engine fighters were going in first to fire rockets in order to break

68

Pacifica Military History

up the bomber boxes. And coming up behind the twin-engine fighters were many single-engine fighters, Me-109s and FW-190s. Higher up was their top cover, thirty or forty Me-109s. Between all of them and the bombers was the 357th Fighter Groupthirty-three of us. We had just enough time to change to internal tanks and kick off our drop tanks before the first Mustangs were close enough to open fire on the twin-engine fighters. There wasnt even time for me to call out any orders. I was in the middle, leading what was left of the 364th Fighter Squadron. The 362d and 363d squadrons were weaving above and below me, about a mile away on either side. If the Germans ignored us and continued on straight for the bombers, our standard tactic was for the high squadron, the 363d, to take care of their top cover while the middle squadron, the 364th, turned in to engage the Germans from ahead and the low squadron, the 362d, turned wide to engage the Germans from behind. But the plan went to hell as soon as we saw the Germans; there wasnt any time to put it into action. As the Germans came in range, the 362d just weaved to its left, came in directly behind the first wave of single-engine fighters, and started knocking them down. I no sooner kicked off my drop tanks than I was in a left turn to get in behind the Germans. Instead of going straight in for the bomb-ers, some of the Germans turned to fight us. That was natural, but about half of the twin-engine fighters dove away into the lower clouds. These might have been night fighters that had been pressed into service to protect the capital. If so, this wasnt their kind of fight, and they were showing it. We flew straight into the main German formation. We could have done more damage if there had been more of us, but we were appar-ently able to break up their main attack. Within seconds, it was just a hell of a mess. Everything was going in all directions at once. Indi-vidual dogfights were breaking out all over the place. I managed to keep my section of five airplanes together. When the German twin-engine fighters turned into us or dove away, I left them for other P-51s and turned to engage the German top cover. By then, there were only eight or ten Me-109s above us, but they were coming down to hit us from our rear. I turned into the bunch of them and hollered

Free Sample Chapters

69

out, Im taking the top guy! I assumed he was their leader because the others were echeloned off him. Things got blurred and happened fast. The next thing I knew, I had my hands full with that 109. We were turning and turning, but nei-ther of us was shooting. We were climbing, descending, and climb-ing again, turning all the while. The 109 was ahead of me. He was after me and I was after him in a tight left-hand circle. The Me-109 was a good airplane at altitude, and the German pilot kept trying to climb, to get some advantage. Finally, I was able to gain on him. And then he split-essed out of it, heading straight down. I was too far behind to fire, but I was closing the gap. From previ-ous experience and lots of advice, I knew that all I had to do was follow the 109 and keep him in sight. If we ended up on the deck, a Mus-tang could overtake a 109. There was no cloud cover in the area, but the Germans had smoke generators all around Berlin, and the smoke was up to 15,000 feet. Even though I was closing on it, the 109 became obscured in the smoke, and then it disappeared altogether. I pulled out at about 15,000 feet. As I pulled around to look for the 109or anyone elsesomething went by, straight down. Then, all of a sudden, something else went by, and this time I could identify it. It was a stick of 500-pound bombs. It looked like a ladder going straight downall rungs and no rails. I was in the wrong place! I looked around, and there were plenty more ladders. I looked up, and all I could see were four-engine bombers. Holy God! Bombers were over me and Berlin was under me! I was thinking, Which way do I turn? I kicked the airplane and snap-rolled straight down. At least now I was parallel to the falling bombs. I pulled out at 500 feet and must have flown between the bombs. Heading for the closest rural area off to the west, I started back up. As I was getting back to about 15,000 feet, lo and behold, I picked up my original section of P-51s, plus Obee OBrien, from the 363d. While I had been busy with my 109, three of these pilots had shot down two Me-110s. I took the lead and climbed back up to help escort the bombers that were still approaching the city. We assumed a position on the west side

70

Pacifica Military History

of the bomber stream and patrolled back and forth, looking for German fighters. At about 1320, we found an Me-110 at low altitude. We all went down. The guy whod called it out shot the 110 down while the rest of us covered him. Next other fighters arrived to relieve us. We all had ammunition left, so we stayed at 500 feet, looking for targets on the ground. We took a heading of about 280 degrees, back toward the Dutch North Sea coast and home. As we were coming up on Uelzen at about 1420, I saw a singleengine fighter ahead of us. It was at 500 feet on an opposite course and a few miles to my right. I thought it might be a P-51 whose pilot needed company, so I turned ninety degrees to my right to look it over. As I closed on it, I could see that it was an Me-109. The German didnt see us as we continued to turn in behind him. The 109 was flying so slowly and I was approaching it so quickly that I was only 200 yards away when I opened fire. I no sooner squeezed the trigger than I had to drop my nose to duck underneath the 109. I dont think the pilot ever saw me. The 109 fell straight into the ground and burst into flames. As it did, someone hollered, Theres an airfield! It was nearly dead ahead. Apparently, the 109 had been coming in for a landing. That explained why he had been flying so slowly, but his approach was too long and he should have been looking for us. There were He-111 bombers lined up along the edge of the airfield. I opened fire on them as soon as I saw them, and the other pilots in my section did the same as they followed me across the airfield. I hit at least one of the bombers, and the others shot up whatever happened to be right in front of them. We didnt get any of the He-111s burn-ing, but I was sure we did a lot of damage. On the way out, I said over the radio, Okay, enoughs enough. Lets get out of here before they start shooting at us. We turned back on course for home. On the way to Holland, we shot up a few trains and trucks. We landed at 1600 hours. It had been a five-and-a-half-hour flight. The thirty-three of us received credit for twenty of the eighty-one fighters the Germans lost to our fighters on March 6, 1944. If we had

Free Sample Chapters

71

been able to get more of our airplanes over Berlin that day, we could have done more damage. We suffered no losses. * Major Tom Hayes scored his third victory, an Me-410, on the March 8 mission to Berlin, and an Me-110 on the March 16 mission to Berlin. He was made group deputy commander on March 28, and he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel shortly after he achieved ace status by downing an Me-109 on April 19, 1944. Thereafter, Hayes downed an Me-109 on May 28, an Me-109 and a shared Me-410 on June 29, and a final Me-109 on July 14, 1944. He rotated back to the United States in September 1944 to become deputy for operations of the training facility at Luke Field, Arizona. Tom Hayes retired from the Air Force as a brigadier general in 1970.

72

Pacifica Military History

Free Sample Chapters

73

74

Pacifica Military History

ACES AGAINST JAPAN


The American Aces Speak By Eric Hammel In this superb, originally conceived offering, noted military historian, Eric Hammel brings us first-person accounts from thirty-nine of the American fighter aces who blasted their way across the skies of the Pacific and East Asia from December 7, 1941, until the final air battles over Japan itself in August 1945. Coupled with a clear view of Americas far-flung air war against Japan, Hammels detailed interviews bring out the most thrilling in-thecockpit experiences of the air combat that the Pacific Wars best Army, Navy, and Marine pilots have chosen to tell. Meet Frank Holmes, who defied death in an outmoded P-36 while still clad in a seersucker suit he had worn to mass earlier that morning. Fly with Scott McCuskey as, single-handed at Midway, he takes out two waves of Japanese dive-bombers that are attacking his precious aircraft carrier. Sweat out the last precious drops of fuel in a defective Marine Wildcat fighter as Medal of Honor recipient Jeff DeBlanc bores ahead to his target to keep the faith with the bomber crews he has been assigned to protect. Experience the ecstasy of total victory as Ralph Hanks becomes the Navys first Hellcat ace-in-a-day when he destroys five Japanese fighters over the Gilbert Islands in a single mission. A superb interviewer, Hammel has collected some of the very best air-combat tales from Americas war with Japan. Combined with the four other volumes in The American Aces Speak series, this work will stand as an enduring testament to the brave men who fought the first and last air war in which high-performance, piston-engine fighters held sway. These are stories of bravery and survival, of men and machines pitted against one another in heart-stopping, unforgiving high-speed aerial combat. The American Aces Speak is a highly-charged emotional rendering of what men felt in the now-dim days of personal combat at the very edge of our living national history. There was never a war like it, and there never will be again. These are Americas eagles, and the stories are their own, in their very own words.

Free Sample Chapters

75

Critical Acclaim for The American Aces Speak Series The Marine Corps Aviation Association Yellow Sheet says: The recounting of each story is done in the pilots own words. This is a powerful technique that draws readers into the action and introduces them to the world of the fighter pilot The American Fighter Aces Bulletin says: Some of [the] episodes are well-known; others have never been written before. But each account delivers something intensely personal about the Pacific Air War. The Library Journal says: No PR hype or dry-as-dust prose here. Hammel allows his flyers to tell their stories in their own way . . . Exciting stuff aviation and World War II buffs will love. Book Page says: For those who have an interest in World War II, or those who simply like to read of drama in the skies, Eric Hammels [Aces Against Japan] is recommended reading. It is a must for any historians bookshelf. WWII Aviation Booklist says: Hammel provides a veritable feast of aviation combat narrative. As always in this series, the entries [in Aces at War] have been carefully selected to provide the most entertaining ride possible for his readers. Easily the best series available on air combat! Get them all!

76

Pacifica Military History

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book ACES AGAINST JAPAN: The American Aces Speak by Eric Hammel. The book is currently available in a $27.50 trade paperback edition published by Pacifica Military History. It is also available in ebook editions.

CRIPPLED
by Eric Hammel Copyright 1992 by Eric Hammel 1st Lieutenant CORKY SMITH, USAAF 80th Fighter Squadron, 8th Fighter Group Cape Gloucester, December 26, 1943 * Cornelius Marcellus Smith of Brooklyn, New York, graduated from Roanoke College, in Salem, Virginia, in June 1940. He worked in industry for over a year, then quit his job to join the Army Air Corps at the outbreak of the war. He earned his wings in September 1942, trained in P-39s in Florida, and departed for New Guinea to join the 8th Fighter Group in November 1942. It took six months for Lieutenant Smith to hit the charts, but he did so in a big way. On June 21,1943, he shot down 3 Zeros and claimed 1 Zero probable in action near Lae. Smith got another Zero probable on September 15, over Wewak; a confirmed Tony fighter, also over Wewak, on October 16; and another confirmed Zero over Rabaul on October 24, 1943. * The 80th Fighter Squadron, also known as the Headhunters, had been engaged in the war since August 1942. Equipped with P-39 and P-400 fighters and initially stationed at Port Moresby, the squadron had moved to Milne Bay, on the southern tip of New Guinea, in early October 1942. While at Port Moresby, the squadron had seen active combat, and its pilots had downed 6 Zeros. Despite the downing of another Zero in

Free Sample Chapters

77

January 1943 at Milne Bay, the morale of the pilots was low due to the few recent occasions on which they had seen combat. The P-39 had proved ineffective against the faster and more maneuverable enemy fighters. Its range and altitude limitations were also major draw-backs. Additionally, an epidemic of malaria and dengue fever had rendered many of the pilots and ground-crew personnel hors de combat. It was time for a change. In late January, the unit was withdrawn from New Guinea and moved to Mareeba, Australia. Rest and rehabilitation to recover from malaria and dengue was the primary reason for the move, but more important was the news that our P-39 and P-400 aircraft were to be replaced by highly regarded Lockheed P-38 Lightning twin-engine fighters mounted with four .50-caliber machine guns and a 20mm cannon. Morale soared. The move was completed in early February. In early April 1943, the Headhunters brought their new P-38s back to Port Moresby. Our camp was Kila Airdrome, more commonly known as 3-Mile Strip. In the following %Vi months, the squadron proved itself an outstanding combat unit. The P-38 was superior in most aspects to the Japanese Zero fighter aircraft we were facing. By the middle of December, we had contributed a total of 136 confirmed kills to the war effort. All but 7 of these had fallen to P-38 guns. I had joined the Headhunters at Milne Bay in late November 1942. A year later, I was credited with 5 aerial victories, all in the P-38. Morale of both pilots and ground-crew personnel was at an all-time high. We welcomed the increasing opportunities to bring the war to the enemy with our long-legged fighter. On December 12, 1943, the 80th Fighter Squadron completed a permanent move from Kila to the multibase airdrome complex recently constructed at Dobodura, on the east coast of New Guinea. During October and November 1943, our air strikes against forward Japanese air and sea strongpoints on New Britain and along the more northern shore of eastern New Guinea had critically interfered with the enemys ability to pose a major threat to our air installations. We had seized control of the New Britain and southern New Guinea airspace and shipping lanes necessary for our logistical support. General Mac Arthurs

78

Pacifica Military History

leap-frog strategy was moving northward. Lae and Salamaua had fallen to our forces, and we had greatly negated the capability of the Japanese to operate in strength from Rabaul, Wewak, Madang, and Cape Gloucester. We had also seized Finschhafen, an enemy air base on the coast of New Guinea only some 80 miles distant from the western end of New Britain. On New Britain, Cape Gloucester harbored an airfield still held by the Japanese. Finschhafen had been developed as a new air base by our engineers and was fully operational. In short, the stage had been set for our forces to undertake the long-awaited initiative and push the enemy back. Unbeknown to us when we arrived at Dobodura on December 12 were plans to invade the Japanese bases at Arawe and Cape Gloucester, New Britain, in the immediate future. Cape Gloucester was to be developed for Allied use as a forward air base. Madang and Wewak, on the New Guinea coast, were to be bypassed, and the Japanese bases on Manus Island (some 50 miles off Wewak), Aitape (north of Wewak), and Hollandia (farther to the north) were to be seized and made into ad-vanced U.S. bases. Once this had been accomplished, we would strike at and seize key areas of northern New Guinea; Java and its surrounding waters; and, eventually, the Philippines. Initial operations against Arawe took place immediately follow-ing our arrival at Dobodura. The Headhunters took part in preinvasion missions on December 14 and covered the actual invasion on December 15. On December 18, we took part in covering bombers on a mission to soften up Cape Gloucester in the morning and went back to Arawe in the afternoon. There was no Japanese air activity on either mission. On December 22,1 shot down a Zero fightermy sixth victorywhile escorting bombers against Wewak, and I got shot up myself. I made it back on one engine. On December 25,1 helped cover a U.S. naval convoy going into Finschhafen. During the evening of December 25, we were informed by 8th Fighter Group headquarters that we would provide air cover for an amphibi-ous landing at Cape Gloucester the next day. This was good news; we went to bed in high spirits. On the morning of December 26, we were called to a meeting at our flight-line operations hut and briefed on the mission. We were to provide

Free Sample Chapters

79

air cover over the new beachhead, some 200 miles distant, beginning at 1400. Control of all flights over the beachhead would be handled by a team aboard a destroyer. We would contact the ship upon arrival to receive further instructions. Major Edward Porky Cragg, our CO, would lead the mission. Major Carl Freddie Taylor, our operations officer, would also participate. As it looked like a big operation with the probability of seeing combat, the more-experienced pilots were chosen to fly. Our call sign would be the same as always: Copper. We would fly sixteen P-38s in the usual flight formation. Call signs of Red, White, Blue, and Yellow would be utilized in that order. Major Cragg was Copper Red-1, his wingman Copper Red-2, and so forth. I was to be the element leader in the fourth flight, Copper Yellow-3. Since we were to start engines at approximately 1145, we were to be in our cockpits or close by the aircraft by 1130. Taxi would be in order of flights. Takeoff would be by two-ship elements. Climb out and assembly would be the usual circular left-hand pattern. We would climb to 12,000 feet and, using the direct route, maintain loose for-mation to the coast of New Britain. Then the formation would tighten up for the remainder of the distance across the island to Cape Gloucester. Radio silence was to be maintained by all following takeoff. Abort-ing aircraft, if any, would indicate intentions by rocking their wings before departing from the formation. Unless in extreme difficulty, aborting aircraft would not be escorted back. Following departure from Cape Gloucester, the route home would be determined by remaining fuel. If possible, aborting aircraft would return to Dobodura. If necessary, Finschhafen or Nadzab would be alternates. The weather forecast was CAVU throughout the mission, but scattered low clouds might be encoun-tered in the beachhead area during the afternoon. We were to use our drop tanks and run them dry unless we got into a combat situation. If we encountered enemy aircraft, they would probably be fight-ers with dive-bombers, coming from Rabaul. Their most likely approach was from the east to the south of the hilly-to-mountainous terrain running through the center of New Britain from east to west. We were told to be especially alert for aircraft emerging from behind this ridge. We were to relieve P-38s from another squadron that were already in the area. P-47s from the 348th Fighter Group would also provide

80

Pacifica Military History

cover. No P-40s or P-39s were expected in the vicinity; their mission would be to provide air cover for Finschhafen, our alternate destina-tion. In short, the only friendly single-engine aircraft we would see near the cape would be P-47s. The large size of that type of fighter would be sufficient to identify it as friendly. All of us pilots were at our aircraft long before 1130. Shortly thereafter, a jeep came by with the word to start engines. Following start-up, the tower gave the word to taxi. We took off in two-ship formations, as planned; we climbed to 12,000 feet; and headed on course at approximately 1215. The weather was perfect en route. Copper Red1 contacted our ship control at about 1345 hours. We were instructed to maintain our 12,000-foot altitude and patrol the beach area. We tooled around for about 20 minutes, watching LSTs and other naval craft running to and from the beach. I observed some shelling by various naval vessels and saw some of our Marines and their ve-hicles on the beach. Everything seemed to be going well, but there was less activity than I had expected. The calm atmosphere was broken when our control ship advised us that a large blip had appeared on radar 20 to 25 miles out to sea north of the beachhead. We were instructed to climb to 20,000 feet and given an intercept heading. The radar sighting indicated a large force of aircraft at high altitude. We spent about 10 minutes under radar control, following heading and altitude instructions, but we saw nothing. We were then informed that the blip had completely disappeared from radar and that we were to return immediately to the beachhead. We did a quick 180degree turn and headed back while descending to our original 12,000foot assigned altitude. We had no more than started our return when the destroyer contact told us that a large force of en-emy fighters and divebombers had come in from the southscreened by the mountainsand was attacking the beachhead and shipping in the area. The word was given by Copper Red-1 to drop belly tanks and get in trail formation. When this was accomplished, we were instructed by the controller to split our force. The first two flightsRed and White were to engage the enemy aircraft by attacking the area at low level. The last two flightsBlue and Yellowwere to remain at 10,000 to

Free Sample Chapters

81

12,000 feet to intercept a second wave of fighters and dive-bombers should any appear. Since I was in Yellow Flight, I would remain with the high group. In our brief absence from the beachhead, low clouds had formed against the hills and over portions of the beach. Although thin and scattered, these hindered our view of the coast. Several naval vessels were firing at low-flying enemy aircraft, and I observed sundry ex-plosions in the beach area. Red and White flights had left our altitude and were closing rap-idly with the land. When Blue and Yellow flights arrived over the beach at our assigned altitude, we placed ourselves above the ridgeline to serve as a shield against any attacking force. I could not see either Red or White flights due to low clouds. Blue Flight was then directed to support our first two flights at low altitude. Yellow Flight was to hold our patrol altitude. We had no more than reinitiated our patrol than my radio receiver went dead. All sound ceased. I hit my mike button to call my wingman, but I received no response. He could easily see me in the cockpit, so I informed him of my predicament by pointing to my headset and shaking my head. He got the picture and indicated that he could not hear any transmission from me. I intended to follow the flight from above and to the rear. That accomplished, I checked my headset and various channels on my radio, but to no avail. I was kaput as far as communications were concerned. This was for the birds. I wanted to join in whatever was going on beneath me, not fly around looking for enemy aircraft that I had no means of reporting should any arrive. I pulled abreast of my flight leader, waggled my wings, and waved good-bye to signify I was going to leave. He grinned and stuck his thumb up to bid me well. I peeled off and started down to find something to shoot at. When I arrived below the clouds, I found eight or nine P-47 Thun-derbolts engaged in a dogfight with four Oscars north and east of the beachhead and about two miles away from my position. No P-38s were in sight. I decided to help out the 47s. As I headed toward the fracas, three of the Oscars broke off and headed southeastthe P-47s

82

Pacifica Military History

already outnumbered them, and the arrival of my P-38 only les-sened their chances. However, one of the Oscar pilots decided to stick it out a bit longer and continued to go around with the 47s. When I got to within about 2,000 yards, he decided to leave and took off with three of the Thunderbolts on his tail, some 500 yards back. I had played around in mock combat with 47s before and knew that they could not outrun a 38. Moreover, I did not believe a 47 could catch an Oscar in a low-altitude chase. Hence, I took out after them even though I was at a greater distance back than I had originally believed. The start of the chase was at about 4,000possibly 4,500feet of alti-tude. The Oscar was about a quarter mile out to sea and running east at a good clip, parallel to the coast, in a slight descent. Its speed surprised me, but I felt that I could catch the Oscar in the long run if it kept on a straight-away course without attempting to turn and en-gage. I planned to get real close, fill my gunsight, and hit the Oscar full bore with the four .50-cals and 20mm, all at once. Hopefully, the 47s would bring up the rear and provide cover for me should any other Japanese fighters appear. But this was not to be the case. Each 47 peeled off and headed back for the beachhead area as I overtook it. I then realized that I had put 15 to 20 miles between me and the beachhead. Although alone, I felt the urge to continue the chase. My adrenaline was at high pitch! We were now close to the surface of the sea, and the Oscar had begun to level out. I was hardly overtaking it. I was well aware of my vulnerability to attack from any other Japanese fighter, should any turn back to render assistance. I kept alert, looking for any to appear. My visibility over the water was clear, but the low clouds over land ob-scured my view in that direction. My intention was to wait until the Oscar more than filled my gunsight before I opened fire. This would ensure destruction. When I was about 500 yards away, a Zero appeared at 1 oclock, diving toward us through the clouds. He was coming fast. I knew it was touch and go as to whether I could hold fire long enough to guaranty the kill before the Zero opened fire at me. I knew the pilot would be confronted with a difficult deflection shot, though, so I took the gamble and concentrated on the Oscar. When the Oscar filled my gunsight, I let go with my .50s and 20mm, hitting it with everything I had from the tail up through the fuselage and

Free Sample Chapters

83

cockpit. The Oscar did not blow up, but pieces of the ship, includ-ing a large portion of the tail section, flew everywhere. A sure kill! The Zero was close upon me and firing as I pulled up in a steep right turn to gain altitude and headed 90 degrees from course. I felt my 38 get hit by his fire, apparently in the right-engine area. I flew over the coast in a shallow high-speed climb, trying to put as much distance between me and my attacker as possible and, at the same time, gain some altitude to enhance my maneuverability in case he pressed his attack. My right engine started overheating, which indicated damage and loss of coolant. I leveled out at about 5,000 feet, still going south. I was well over the land when I shut the engine down and feathered the prop. I scanned the skies through all points of the compass, but with nary a sighting of my attacker. I had no desire to bail out or crash-land over any part of New Britain in the event my good left engine failed or if any attacking Zero downed me. Hostile natives reportedly lopped the heads off the American airmen, and the Japanese were known to do the same. Subjecting myself to capture held no appeal. I headed back toward the coast and the friendlier sea. There was still no sign of my attacker, so I decided to get four or five miles offshore and then head toward Finschhafen via Cape Gloucester. I climbed back to about 10,000 feet, well over the sea, and set course. The left engine ran okay, flight controls gave no indication of dam-age, the voltmeter was okay, and I could not see any sign of damage to the aircraft. However, I knew my right engine had taken some hits, and I had no intention of trying to restart it. The P-38 flew well on one engine. I had no doubts as to my ability to reach Finschhafen. I had previously made four one-engine landings in 38s, so I felt quite confident. Fuel posed no problem; I had dropped my two belly tanks at Cape Gloucester, but I had ample gas in my main and reserve tanks. I passed the cape about four miles out to sea and saw a few P-47s over the beach area. One ship was burning off the coast. It appeared to be a destroyer, but, at my altitude and distance, I could not be sure. Other than those sightings, the area was clear. I never saw my attacker or any other enemy aircraftduring the course of my flight. Over the

84

Pacifica Military History

sea between New Britain and the New Guinea coast, I saw one flight of P-39s but nothing more. As I neared Finschhafen, I saw that the strip and adjacent airspace were very active. Many aircraft, mostly P-38s and P-47s, were taking off, flying in the traffic pattern, and maneuvering in the vicinity of the field. It was no place to attempt a single-engine landing without communication. I could not alert anyone to my predicament. If I joined up with another plane to visually indicate my situation so he could talk to the tower, I would have to descend. Loss of altitude held no appeal; I would need all the altitude I could get should my good left engine act up. Also, the strip at Finschhafen ran from the sea to neighboring high jungle growthlandings were made from the sea. In the event I overshot the strip in attempting to land, I would have to go around on one engine. This was not a recommended procedure, especially with a wall of tall trees to contend with at the end of the strip. I elected to continue on to Nadzab and land at one of several strips there. This would lengthen my flight by 50 to 75 miles, but it posed no problems. I headed on course. About 10 miles past Finschhafen, my left engine started missing not a good sign. I immediately turned 180 degrees and headed back, checking the cockpit instruments. Fuel pressure was okay, but my RPM was fluctuating noticeably and would not stabilize. I had come back on the throttles first thing and found that the engine ran fairly smoothly at about 15 inches of manifold pressure and about 1,600 RPM. How-ever, any increase in throttle setting or RPM resulted in engine misfires, and increasing the RPM increased the fluctuation. A land-ing was essential. I was losing altitude and could not fool around. I also noticed that my voltmeter needle was doing a good bit of waver-ing, which signified an electrical problem. Everything was coming loose at once! I was close enough to the field to glide and make it. I wondered about the health of the hydraulic system and wondered if I could lower the landing gear. I was not elated over the possibility of a wheels-up landing, especially on the Pierced Steel Planking (PSP) strip. Land-ing without wheels would enhance the danger of fire and could ren-der the strip inoperative if the planking was torn up. Also, I would have no control of the aircraft if I overshot and slid into the trees at the far end.

Free Sample Chapters

85

If my hydraulic system was not operating properly, I planned to bail out. I had no way to alert the tower other than to come over the strip at a good clip with the wheels down and my landing and fuselage lights on, rocking my wings to get attention. From past experience, I knew that if I came over at 800 to 1,000 feet at 150 miles per hour or more with the gear down, I could execute a widow-maker, a 360-degree circle descent to the approach end of the runway. If I was not too hot, I could utilize flaps to prevent landing too far down the strip. I turned on my navigation and landing lights and headed down. I dropped my gear at about 2,000 feet. Fortunately, the gear indicator showed Down and locked. I decided to dead-stick the landing, as I could not depend on my left engine. Now my only problem was getting the towers attention so the crew could advise other aircraft to clear the area for my approach. I observed several planes taxiing toward takeoff position, and others were in the traffic pattern. The tower gave no notice of me. I came over the strip at about 1,000 feet, real hotabout 200 miles per hourand rocked my wings hard. I peeled off about halfway down the runway in a steep turn, climbing a bit to kill some speed and stay fairly close to the field. Leveling off at about 1,200 feet abreast of the approach end of the runway, I hit one-quarter flaps and continued the turn. I was indicat-ing about 120 miles per hourstill hotso I dumped half flaps. At that moment, I got a green flare and brought the airspeed down to just below 100 miles per hour. I set my glide angle and cut my main ig-nition switch and fuel mixture off to safeguard against fire in event the gear collapsed. I set it down about 500 feet from the approach end and came to a rolling stop off the right side of the strip. I made a final cockpit check, climbed out with my chute and other gear, and was greeted by a bunch of line personnel. In the morning, I was informed that a P-38 on the strip needed to be ferried to its home outfit at Dobodura. I volunteered to fly the plane to its home base and was quickly taken up on the offer. I gave it a quick check ride, landed, signed it off as okay, and flew it home. The receiving unit, based at another strip, gave me a ride to the Headhunters camp.

86

Pacifica Military History

Upon arrival, I learned that our CO, Major Porky Cragg, had been shot down at Cape Gloucester along with our operations officer, Major Freddy Taylor. Both were listed as MIA. During the afternoon of December 28, Freddy Taylor came home, much to everyones surprise. His return lifted morale tremendously and gave us hope that Porky Cragg might also have survived. Unfortunately, Porky never returned. He was a fine man, a natural leader in every respect. At the time of his loss, he had a total of 15 confirmed aerial victories and was one of the leading American aces. I considered myself most fortunate, for I had had an engine shot out over Wewak on December 22, just four days prior to losing an engine at Cape Gloucester. Two single-engine return trips in the month! I didnt need any more! * By the time Captain Corky Smith returned to the United States in May 1944, he had driven his total of confirmed victories to 11, includ-ing 2 Zeros destroyed on January 18, 1944, at Wewak; a Mitsubishi Ki-46 Dinah high-speed reconnaissance bomber over Hollandia on March 31; and a Ki-61 Tony fighter over Lake Santani on April 12. He went on a War Bond tour and then served for the rest of the war as a P-38 instructor at Santa Rosa, California. Smith remained in the Air Force after the war and retired as a colonel in December 1968.

Free Sample Chapters

87

88

Pacifica Military History

ACES AGAINST JAPAN II


The American Aces Speak By Eric Hammel Combat historian Eric Hammel comes through with an engrossing new collection of first-person accounts by American World War II fighter aces. Coupled with a clear overview of Americas air war against Japan, Hammels detailed interviews bring forth the most thrilling in-the-cockpit experiences that World War IIs fabled Army, Navy, Marine, and Flying Tiger aces have chosen to tell. Ride with 2d Lieutenant Jack Donalson as he downs three Zeros over Luzon on the second desperate day of World War II in the Philippines. Share three lonely air battles over Burma and China with Flying Tiger aces RT Smith, Dick Rossi, and Joe Rosbert. Hear the cry of victory as 2d Lieutenant Don McGee survives yet another encounter with Zeros over embattled Port Moresby, New Guinea, in his P-39. Feel the anxiety as an injured Ensign Ed Wendorf races against time to land his damaged Hellcat aboard the USS Lexington before he bleeds to death. And thrill to the hunt as Pearl Harbor veteran 1st Lieutenant Frank Holmes seeks personal revenge against Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto on one of historys most important and most thrilling fighter missions. The American Aces Speak is a highly charged five-volume excursion into life and death in the air, told by men who excelled and triumphed in aerial combat and lived to tell about it. Critical Acclaim for The American Aces Speak Series The Book World says: Aces Against Japan is a thunderous, personal, high-adventure book giving our men in the sky their own voice. Book Page says: Eric Hammels book is recommended reading. It is a must for any historians bookshelf.

Free Sample Chapters

89

The Library Journal says: No PR hype or dry-as-dust prose here. Hammel allows his flyers to tell their stories in their own way. Exciting stuff aviation and World War II buffs will love. The Friday Review of Defense Literature says: Aces Against Japan is replete with individual heroism and personal feats that almost defy comprehension. A thoroughly enjoyable foray into the cockpits of World War II fighter pilots. The Providence Sunday Journal says: A treat that deftly blends a chronology of the Pacific War with tales that would rival a Saturday action matinee. Infantry Magazine says: If you would like to read one book that will give you a broad overview and yet a detailed look at what a fighter pilots air war was like, this is the book. The Bookshelf says: Hammel is one of our best military historians when it comes to presenting that often complex subject to the general public. He has demonstrated this facility in a number of fine books before [Aces Against Germany] and now he does so again. Not to be missed by either buff or scholar.

90

Pacifica Military History

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book ACES AGAINST JAPAN II: The American Aces Speak by Eric Hammel. The book is currently available in a $27.50 trade paperback edition published by Pacifica Military History. It is also available in ebook editions.

BLOOD OVER KWAJALEIN


by Eric Hammel Copyright 1996 by Eric Hammel. Ensign WENDY WENDORF, USN VF-16 (USS Lexington) Kwajalein AtollDecember 4, 1943 * Edward George Wendorf was born on February 22, 1922, in the small central Texas town of West, about 80 miles south of Dallas. He was raised in West and attended school there until 1939, when he went off to the University Texas in Austin on a football scholarship. Between his freshman and sophomore years, Wendorf became interested in aviation. When a friend suggested that for just fifty dollars they could take the Civilian Pilot Training course at Hillsboro Junior College, which was just fifteen miles north of West, Wendorf agreed. At Hillsboro, the young men received all the necessary ground courses and about forty hours of flight time in Piper Cub and Taylorcraft airplanes. Upon completion, they were awarded private pilots licenses. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Ed Wendorf enlisted in the Naval Aviation Cadet program with the stipulation that he would not enter pilot training until June 1, 1942, so he could complete his second year of college. In June, on schedule, the Navy assigned him to the Secondary Civilian Pilot Training center at Browning Field in Austin, where he trained in Waco biplanes. Upon completion of the course at Browning in September 1942, Cadet Wendorf was sent to the Navys pre-flight school at Athens, Georgia. In December, he was assigned to the Naval Air Station, Dallas,

Free Sample Chapters

91

for Primary Flight training. He then went on to Corpus Christi for Basic and Advanced flight training. He was commissioned an ensign and designated a Naval Aviator in June 1943. After earning his wings, Ensign Wendorf was assigned to Lee Field in Jacksonville, Florida, to train in Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters with an operational training unit. Next he went to Glenview, Illinois, where he qualified for carriers aboard the converted lake steamer USS Sable. He then received orders to report to San Diego for further assignment, and after only one day in San Diego he was put aboard a ship bound for Pearl Harbor. * I reported and was assigned to Fighting-16, which was then at Kaneohe Naval Air Station. I was given an F6F Hellcat operations handbook on a Friday evening and told to be ready for a familiarization hop at 0800 the next morning. I was checked out as scheduled, and proceeded to fly formation and gunnery flights in the afternoon. I was given a carrier qualification bounce drill on Sunday morning. The USS Lexington (CV-16) departed Pearl Harbor early on Monday morning. Ensign Edward Tiger Rucinski, another replacement, and I flew out to the ship and were carrier qualified with six landings apiece while en route to battle. Here I was, with fewer than 200 total flight hours and not even 10 hours in the F6F, and I was on my way to my first combatthe taking of Tarawa by the U.S. Marines. The time frame of this departure was mid-November 1944. We were several days en route to the Tarawa area, and upon arriving Air Group 16 was assigned several responsibilities. First, we made several strikes against the facilities, aircraft, and defense systems in Tarawa Atoll prior to the amphibious assault at Betio by the Marines. Second, we patrolled the area between the beaches of Tarawa and islands to the north in order to intercept and prevent any attacks on the assault forces. And third, we occasionally were called upon to provide close air supportbombing and attacking any particular stronghold that was giving the Marines a problem. We provided the patrol and intercept services for a week or ten days, occasionally chasing a random bogey out of the area but not really seeing anything significant.

92

Pacifica Military History

When the Marines had secured their beachhead at Tarawa, I guess it was decided to stage a hit-and-run attack on Kwajalein Atoll particularly the airfield on Roi Islandto do whatever damage to aircraft and installations we could, and obtain some photographs of the beaches and defenses for use in the landings that were to be made there. Upon joining the squadron, I had been assigned to fly wing on one of the division leaders, Lieutenant Jim Alkie Seybert. The nickname Alkie was short for Alcohol, perhaps referring to his earlier imbibing habits but certainly not reflecting his drinking during the time that I knew him. Jim was an outstanding pilot and a wonderful human being. We developed a very close bond during the ensuing months and vowed to protect each others tail at all costs. Since we both survived the tour safely, we considered our accomplishment a success. My big day arrived on December 4, 1943. We went into Kwajalein Atoll as a group with three levels of cover to protect the dive-bombers and torpedo bombers. We had low-level cover at 7,000 feet, mid-level cover at 12,000 feet, and high cover at 18,000 feet. Jims division was assigned as mid-level cover. We arrived in the target area early in the morning, around 0700, and proceeded to sweep the area for enemy bogeys. Seeing no opposition in the air, we were directed to strafe Roi Airfield. Our main targets were parked aircraft, of which there were only a few, and the hangar areas. Alkie put me in a right echelon to his Hellcat, gave me the Break signal, and peeled off to the left. I waited several seconds and commenced my own attack. I kept Alkie in sight but took a lateral spacing off to his right so that I could concentrate on my strafing targets and keep him in sight as well. I fired a few long bursts into a couple of aircraft on the hangar apron, then shifted my sights to an open hangar and fired a long burst into it. It was about this time that I experienced several jolts from antiaircraft shells that burst in close proximity to my airplane, so I jinked and juked (changed altitude and direction) several times to throw off their aim. Alkie and I had agreed to rendezvous to the left, over the water, at 5,000 feet, but the AA was so intense that I had to break to the right. I was commencing my recovery when I spotted a lone Betty twin-engine

Free Sample Chapters

93

bomber scooting low on the water. I dont know whether it had just taken off or was returning from another field. Anyway, I had to take off a lot of throttle as the speed from my dive was going to take me past him in a hurry. I swung out to the right and then back in on the Betty. Then I fired a short burst from all six .50-caliber guns. The bullets went over the top of him, so I lowered my nose and sights, and fired a two long bursts into the bomber. It started disintegrating while trailing heavy smoke and commenced a slow diving turn to starboard until it crashed into the water. I went to full throttle and started a slow climbing turn to port, looking for Alkie Seyberts F6F. As I climbed through about 7,000 feet, I spotted a flight of four aircraft high in the sun. I assumed they were friendly, because we had been pretty much observing radio silence and I hadnt heard any reports of enemy aircraft in the air. Little did I know that the jolts I had felt during my strafing run had been several actual hits in my fuselage by 37mm AA, which had knocked my radio out of commission. I was unobserved by the pilots as I approached the flight of four aircraft from inside and underneath. As I neared the formation, I was shocked to see they all sported the red meatball of the Rising Sun and were actually a flight of four Zeros. There was little I could do except slide out to the starboard side, line up the two outside aircraft, and open fire. The outside Zero exploded almost immediately, and the second one began to burn as it fell off to the right. By this time, evidently, the leader and other wingman had spotted me. When they broke in opposite directions, my only recourse was to follow one of them, and I selected the leader. However, he turned steeply to the port and I soon lost him. Meanwhile, the other wingman had pulled around and was on my tail. As I turned sharply to the right, I saw a couple of bursts of tracers go over my head. I dove to try to lose him but he stayed close on my tail, so I executed a sharp pull-up. As I neared the top and began to drain off my speed, I decided to pull it on through and complete a loop. As I came over into the inverted position, I could see the Zero pulling through like mad, and I realized that he was going to be in an excellent position to

94

Pacifica Military History

rake me on the recovery. I decided to push forward on the stick and fly inverted for a couple of seconds. The Zero pilot was so intent on pulling inside me that I think the move surprised him. He lost sight of me and continued his pullout. After delaying my pullout a couple more seconds, I found him just about in my sights on the recovery. I was slightly out of range at first and had to add throttle to close before firing. I dont think he saw me until I opened fire, and by then it was too late. He soon began to burn and crashed into the sea. It had been an exciting couple of minutes and resulted in four victoriesthe Betty and three Zeros. There were several engagements going on, so I decided to climb above the closest one, dive to get some speed advantage, and see if I could help pull an enemy aircraft off of someones tail. As I was climbing to get in the fray, I must admit that all my attention was directed above me and not to my rear. All of a sudden, I saw 7.7mm bullets and 20mm cannon shells ripping off pieces of my wing covering and some tracer fire going past me. My first reaction was to look to the rear and peek out from around my armor-plated setback. I just started to peek when a 7.7mm bullet came over my left shoulder, hit me in the temple above my left eye, and went through and out the front right side of my canopy. It felt like someone had hit me alongside the head with a two-by-four board. I was temporarily stunned and dazed, and I dont remember how long it took me to realize that I had been hit. My first thought then was to get the hell out of there. We had been instructed that one of the best evasive maneuvers was to dive to terminal velocityI think the Red Line maximum speed allowed was around 400 to 425 knotsand make a sharp turn to the right. This I did, and evidently it worked, because the Zero pilot did not elect to stay with me, for which I was most thankful. As I pulled out from the high-speed dive, I noticed that blood was spurting and landing on my left hand, which was positioned on the throttle. I immediately placed my left hand on the artery leading to my wound and applied pressure. This seemed to stop most of the bleeding, but some blood was still running down my arm and onto my leg. A friendly submarine was positioned a few miles off the coast to rescue aviators who had been hit. I think the sub was off the northeast

Free Sample Chapters

95

side of Kwajalein Atoll, but it stayed submerged until it was notified by someone that a flyer was down in the area. Since I was alone and had no radio due to the AA fire, there was no way to communicate with the sub. I was bleeding quite profusely, so it was decision time! Would I retain consciousness long enough to ditch in the area of the sub, get in my raft, and take a chance on someone seeing me and notifying the sub of my location? Or would I last long enough to stay in the air for 45 minutes, to make it back to the ship? I considered my options for only a few moments and decided on the latterreturn to the ship. The correct compass heading for my return was around 45 degrees. As I attempted to take up this heading, I noticed that my Remote Indicating Compass (RMI) was inoperativealso due to that AA hit and that the liquid compass was swinging through 30 to 40 degrees and thus extremely inaccurate. I decided to take a heading that bisected the north-south and east-west runways at Roi, line up on two clouds, and fly in that direction. When I would pass over one of the clouds used to line up the 45-degree heading, I would line up two more. The weather was mostly clear, with scattered clouds and about four to five miles of visibility. I flew most of the way above the scattered clouds. After 45 minutes, I decided to let down below the overcast and commence an expanding square search until I spotted the Lexington. I had just completed two legs of the search when I spotted a carriers wake. I felt tremendously relieved. Unfortunately, the number on the fantail of the ship was 10that of our sister ship, the USS Yorktown. My wound had slowed to a trickle by then, but I was still losing blood and was therefore anxious to recover on any carrier. As I flew by the Yorktowns island, I waggled my wings to indicate that I had no radio. As I did, I noticed that there were many TBFs, SBDs, and F6Fs turning up on deck, ready to launch for another strike at Kwajalein. The visibility was still four to five miles, so I looked all around for the Lexington, but I did not see her. The people on the Yorktown understood my problem. They used white material of some sort to make an arrow pointing in a southerly direction, and also the number 12 to indicated the distance in miles to my carrier. I waggled my wings again to indicate that I understood the

96

Pacifica Military History

message, and then I turned to that heading and began looking for the Lex. After only several minutes of flight, I picked up the wake of the ship. When I saw her, I noticed that the deck was clear and ready to accept aircraft. The ship immediately gave me a Prep Charlie in Morse code with an Aldis lamp, indicating that it was okay to begin my approach. Soon they transmitted a Charlie, also by Aldis lamp, meaning it was okay to land. I turned downwind and began my approach. Much to my chagrin, I discovered that my tail-hook rail had been shot away and that I had no hydraulic pressure to lower my wheels or flaps. There was a compressedair bottle to blow down the wheels in an emergency, and since I definitely considered this an emergency, I used it to lower my gear as I continued my approach. The deck was clear, but as I approached the ramp, I was given a Wave-off by the LSO. As I flew past, he gave me the signal that I needed to lower my tail hook and flaps. I waggled my wings again to indicate that I understood but that I was unable to do either. I continued upwind and began another approach. I had opened my canopy and was trying to use both hands to fly the plane. The wind was blowing in my face and I could no longer hold the pressure point on my temple, which caused the wound to bleed freely. The flowing blood was completely obstructing the vision in my left eye. Believe me, is difficult enough to land on a carrier deck with both eyes functioning, but with only one eye, it was extremely difficult! As I neared the ramp on my second approach, I noticed that there was a Hellcat crashed on deck in a wheels-up condition. As I learned later, it had taken several 20mm hits in the cockpit that severely wounded the pilot in the hand. The LSO had brought this F6F in on a straight-in approach, but the wounded pilot had been unable to lower his gear and flaps prior to the landing. I was feeling okay except for the bleeding. I was not feeling faint or light-headed, and the wound above my eye was sort of numb. The caked blood was helping to stem some of the flow. Though I was not feeling much pain, I certainly did not relish the thought of circling while the deck crew cleaned up the deck crash. But I really had no other choice.

Free Sample Chapters

97

After I had circled for about fifteen minutes, they again gave me the Charlie signal to land. This time, realizing I had no tail hook or flaps, the deck crew had rigged the barrier across the flight deck. The barrier consisted of several strands of one-inch wire cabling that would stop the aircraft on its runout. I made my second approach and soon discovered that I could not see well enough to make the trap unless I held my left hand to my temple to stop the flow of blood. I made the approach holding my temple with my left hand, flying the aircraft and making throttle adjustments, and eventually taking the Cut, all with my right hand. I landed successfully and slowed my roll to almost a stop before I struck the barrier and nosed up. It had been an ordeal, but I had survived. They removed me from the plane, placed me on a stretcher, and took me to the sickbay. My flight suit was drenched in blood, and blood had even run down my leg and into my left shoe, which squished during the few steps I took on my own. The flight surgeon later told me that he estimated I had lost nearly two quarts of blood. I was sedated and remember little else about the next twenty-four hours. But as exciting as my day had been, it was not yet over. The air groups made repeated attacks on Kwajalein during the day and then the task force withdrew to the east and took up a course to return to Pearl Harbor. As we withdrew, we came under attack by several Bettys, which tracked the carriers and attempted to launch aerial torpedoes our way. At approximately 2200, one of them was successful and the Lex took a hit below decks in the vicinity of the sickbay. I understand that several people were killed, including the corpsman who was holding a compress to my head to stop the bleeding, and that the compartment was partially flooded. As I later learned, the gun captain of the 40mm mount just outside my bunkroom had heard that I was wounded, and came down to the sickbay to visit me just as the torpedo hit the ship. When he looked through the Plexiglas inspection window into the sickbay compartment, he saw that another wounded pilot and I were moving about in bed, so he entered and pulled us both out to safety. I understand that the compartment I was in eventually flooded completely. Had the gun captain

98

Pacifica Military History

not decided to come visit me at just that time, it is doubtful that anyone else would have noticed us and made the rescue. What a day! It was filled with lots of luck. Im sure I owe my good fortune to the intervention of Divine ProvidenceI prayed long and loud throughout the ordealand to a strong will to survive. I know that I was just not ready to go that dayit was just not my time to go. I was hospitalized for about a week at Pearl and then returned to the squadron. After I regained complete sight in my left eye, about a month, I returned to flight status and resumed my tour aboard the USS Lexington for another seven months. I returned to the States and was reassigned in July 1944. Comparing the performance of the Hellcat versus the Zero, I feel that the Hellcat was by far the more durable of the two aircraft, due mainly to fact that the wing fuel tanks were self-sealinga bullet or incendiary could pass through the wing tank, which would seal immediately without causing a fire or explosionand because the pilot had a lead silhouette of armor protecting his backside. On the other hand, the Zero was faster and more maneuverable, thanks to the weight-saving features of not having the self-sealing fuel tanks and the armor plating protecting the pilot. This I think was a net disadvantage. A number of times in later fights I was outmaneuvered the Zero turned inside meand my plane was hit, but it was not disabled. By contrast, only a few rounds fired into the Zero usually resulted in the pilot being hit and the Zero crashing into the sea, or a fire starting and the airplane either burning or exploding. As an example of the ruggedness of the Hellcat, the plane that I flew back the day I was shot had three 37mm holes, about seven 20mm holes, and more than 250 7.7mm bullet holes or small fragment holes from antiaircraft fire. Several of the smaller fragment holes were in the engine area, but the good old Pratt & Whitney continued to purr right down to the time that I nosed-up on deck. The abilities and caliber of the Japanese pilots I engaged also declined tremendously with the progression of the war. I speak only for our experience in VF-16, but I would expect it to compare with that of other squadrons operating at the same time. Early in the war, around Kwajalein,

Free Sample Chapters

99

the Japanese pilots were extremely tough, and our kill ratio was only about 5:1. Later, around Truk, Palau, and Hollandia, our ratio grew to about 12:1. And around the Mariannas, VF-16 shot down an estimated twenty-five to thirty Japanese aircraft during that one-day Turkey Shootwithout losing a single plane or pilot to enemy aircraft. I feel sure that this was due to the attrition of first-rate Japanese pilots and Japans inability to train replacements in an orderly manner. * In addition to the Japanese aircraft he downed over Kwajalein on December 4, 1943, Ensign Wendy Wendorf shot down an Imperial Army Ki-61 Tony fighter over Truk on April 29, 1944, and a bomber in the Marianas on June 19, 1944. Following a well-deserved home leave, Lieutenant (jg) Wendorf joined a group of six nuggetsrecently designated and commissioned aviatorswhom he shepherded through operational training and carrier qualifications before all were assigned to the escort carrier USS Savo Island. The ship and its composite squadron joined several similar units in Adak, Alaska, where they were preparing for the upcoming invasion of Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the war quickly ended. After the war, Lieutenant Wendorf was given a commission in the Regular Navy. During the first of two back-to-back tours as a flight instructor at Pensacola, Wendorf became engaged to and soon married a Navy air traffic controller. He retired from the Navy in 1968 and worked for nearly two decades in the aircraft industry.

100

Pacifica Military History

Free Sample Chapters

101

102

Pacifica Military History

ACES AT WAR
The American Aces Speak By Eric Hammel

Adding to the first three volumes of his acclaimed series, The American Aces Speak, leading combat historian Eric Hammel comes through with yet another engrossing collection of thirty-eight first-person accounts by American fighter aces serving in World War II, the Israeli War of Independence, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War As are the three earlier volumes, Aces At War is a highly charged excursion into life and death in the air, told by men who excelled at piston-engine and jet-engine aerial combat and lived to tell about it. It is an emotional rendering of what brave airmen felt and how they fought in the now-dim days of Americas living national history. Ride with Flying Tigers ace Charlie Bond as he is shot down in flames over the Chinese city he alone has been able to defend against Japanese bombers. Share the loneliness of command as Lieutenant Commander Tom Blackburn decides the fate of the fellow Navy pilot whose F4U Corsair malfunctions in a desperate battle over Rabaul. Feel 2d Lieutenant Deacon Priests overwhelming sense of duty to a friend as he lands his P-51 Mustang behind German lines to rescue his downed squadron commander. Share Lieutenant Colonel Ed Hellers desperation as he fights his way out of his uncontrollable F-86 Sabre jet over the wrong side of the Yalu River. And join Major Jim Kasler as he leads what might be the most important air strike of the Vietnam War. These are Americas eagles, and the stories they tell are their own, in their very own words. Critical Acclaim for The American Aces Speak Series The Book World says: Aces Against Japan is a thunderous, personal, high-adventure book giving our men in the sky their own voice.

Free Sample Chapters

103

Book Page says: Eric Hammels book is recommended reading. It is a must for any historians bookshelf. The Library Journal says: No PR hype or dry-as-dust prose here. Hammel allows his flyers to tell their stories in their own way. Exciting stuff aviation and World War II buffs will love. The Providence Sunday Journal says: A treat that deftly blends a chronology of the Pacific War with tales that would rival a Saturday action matinee. Infantry Magazine says: If you would like to read one book that will give you a broad overview and yet a detailed look at what a fighter pilots air war was like, this is the book. The Bookshelf says: Hammel is one of our best military historians when it comes to presenting that often complex subject to the general public. He has demonstrated this facility in a number of fine books before [Aces Against Germany] and now he does so again. Not to be missed by either buff or scholar.

104

Pacifica Military History

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book ACES AT WAR: The American Aces Speak by Eric Hammel. The book is currently available in a $27.50 trade paperback edition published by Pacifica Military History. It is also available in ebook editions.

SAVE THE BOMBERS


by Eric Hammel Copyright 1997 by Eric Hammel 1st Lieutenant FRANK GERARD, USAAF 503d Fighter Squadron, 339th Fighter Group Annaberg, GermanySeptember 11, 1944 * Francis Robert Gerard was born in Belleville, New Jersey, on July 11, 1924. He graduated from high school in June 1941, and on October 22, biked from his home in Newark to the recruiting station in Lyndhurst. It was his intention to enlist in the Marine Corps, but he was arrested at the entrance to the building by a sign depicting Uncle Sam pointing his finger and emblazoned with the question, Can You Fly? A crack athlete and a top scholar, young Gerard said to himself, Why not?, and proceeded to the Army Air Forces recruiter. He passed the written exam with ease, but when he returned for his physical the next day, he could not get the recruiter to commit to an early departure for training, so he threatened to join the Marines. At this point, the teenager was ushered into the office of a full colonel, who questioned him on various aspects of his life. At last, the colonel promised to have the young pilot recruit sworn in on October 26 and on his way as soon as possible. The colonels word was goldenGerard was sworn into the Army on October 26, 1942, and on his way to training on December 18. Second Lieutenant Frank Gerard, age nineteen, emerged from flight training with class 43-H at Craig Field, Alabama, on August 30, 1943. After completing his training with a replacement training unit, he was assigned to the 339th Fighter-Bomber Group, which had been formed

Free Sample Chapters

105

as a light dive-bomber unit in mid-1942 and now was undergoing training as a P-39 fighter-bomber unit at Rice Field, California. The group was shipped to England in March 1944 and there it transitioned to P-51s for escort duty with the VIII Fighter Commands 66th Fighter Wing. The group flew its first mission, a fighter sweep ahead of the heavy bombers, on April 30, 1944. First Lieutenant Frank Gerard scored his first aerial victory, a Bf109 he downed with only 42 bullets, while escorting bombers near Gotha, Germany, on August 16, 1944. * I flew my entire combat tour as a member of the 503rd Fighter Squadron, 339th Fighter Group, based at Station 378, Fowlmere, England. On September 11, 1944, we were awakened early by the many B17s and B-24s droning overhead to complete their join-ups in the murky weather prevalent in England at that time of the year. I remember so well that it was pretty foggy that morning, and so I hoped that I would be able to sleep a little while longer. That was not to be, so my five Nissen hut buddies and I donned our damp flying suits and sloshed through the mud to have our sumptuous breakfast. Afterwards, we bicycled to the briefing hut to receive our mission for the day. It was a typical briefing at the start, but when it came to the type of tactics that the bomber boxes were to employ that day enroute to Grimma, Germany, and how we were to effect the rendezvous and the escort procedures, I could sense the perking interest of my fellow pilots and operations officers. En route to the target near Leipzig, we were told, we would not use the normal formation of boxes in trail. Rather, the bomber boxes would fly basically line abreast into Germany and then wheel into trail at a designated point before the Initial Point (IP). We could only conclude that this method of approach was to confuse the German air defenses. And it did cause confusion, no doubt about it, but mostly on the part of the Eighth Air Force escorts, both P-51s and P47s. When the time came for the Fortresses to wheel into position toward the IP, the 503d Fighter Squadron, with a total of fourteen Mustangs,

106

Pacifica Military History

was the only fighter unit in the proper position to offer protection to the many boxes of bombers. While we were still en route to the target area, the Germans sent up several decoy Bf-109s to entice our fighter units away from the bomber force. Our squadron was led by Major John Aitken, an experienced fighter pilot. We stayed with the B-17s, ignored the decoys, and maneuvered toward the front of the scattered bomber formation. When we were in the vicinity of Annaburg, I called in a mass of bandits, and Major Aitken gave the order to drop our external fuel tanks. It certainly was a frightening spectacle to spot the two gaggles of fighters approaching the bombers. The gaggles were composed of more than fifty enemy aircraft each, and the sight of them raised the hackles of my hair, as I am sure it did to the thirteen other Mustang pilots in our formation. I thought, This is it! However, we pressed on even though our instincts warned us that we would not return from this mission. But it was our duty to protect the bombers to the best of our daring and skill. As the enemy aircraft approached the bomber force, we dove down and began the attack. At first, I didnt think of anything except trying to distract the 109s from their goal of destroying the B-17s by getting them to mix it up with us. To this end, I fired a burst in their general direction, but I was firing from out of range. This premature action had no effect upon the deadly determination of the 109s and 190s. I was flying as the element lead in Major Aitkens flight, and initially I was slightly ahead of the others, in the nearest position to the enemy gaggles. After my futile attempt to distract the enemy I said to myself, Steady, boy. Concentrate on one at a time. Then I picked out a 109 that was about 300 yards out and crossing in front of me at about a 40degree angle. He was the tail-end charlie of a flight of 109s. I put all my football-passing and skeet-shooting experience to good use then. I gave him a good lead while aiming a little high, because of the distance. Then I gave him a short burst from my six .50-caliber machine guns. He blew up with coolant and flames streaming out. My wingman, 2d Lieutenant Raymond Mayer, saw him spin out with his wheels down and pieces flying off, so it was a confirmed victory. Scared as I was at the time, my lucky hits gave me a lot of confidence and elation.

Free Sample Chapters

107

I pressed on through the melee, and as we reached the American bombers, I maneuvered frantically to get in position while protecting my tail. All hell was breaking loose around me, and there were so many aircraft involved that it was difficult to distinguish friends from enemies, but thank God there were so many of them and few of us. I finally picked out an FW-190 that was in a slight dive. I got on his tail and gave him a short burst, and he immediately exploded. Captain James Robinson confirmed this kill. I then damaged another 109, but in the confusion of diving through the bomber formationI swear that I could hear the rapid fire from the heavy armament of the B-17s, and the sky around me was filled with parachutes and pieces of debris flying through the air I wasnt able to follow him to confirm this kill. Much remained to be done to assist the bomber crews and their aircraft. Opening to max throttle, I attacked another 109 that was going down in a dive, but as I was positioning on him, I spotted two more 109s coming in on my tail. As we were already getting into a sort of Lufbery, I accelerated my turn and got it in so tight that I thought my G-suit would break me in half. (We were one of the pioneer groups to test the pneumatic G-suit, and I said at the time that I never wanted to fly combat in a fighter without wearing one.) Because of the benefits of the G-suit, I was able to twist my head without blacking out, and I was able to outmaneuver the two 109s. I was determined that they would never fight against our valiant bomber crews again. I put that P--51 through every gyration it was designed for, and more. In fact, I snapped it around so forcefully that I was concerned about the wings coming off, --but I gave it a go. After two or three turns, I was on their tails. Though I was pulling a lot of Gs, I lined up on the nearer of the two 109s and gave him two or three short bursts. The pilot must have been amazed at this turn of events, for his previous target was now the aggressorand was scoring hits all over his airplane. He blew up and started his final descent. I followed him in a steep dive and saw him spin into the ground. While I was in this steep dive, Major Aitken passed me. He was on the tail of another 109, and he was getting serious strikes all over it. I pulled up because my speed was excessive, and this afforded me the opportunity to bounce another 109. I pressed the attack for what seemed

108

Pacifica Military History

like quite a while before I was in a position to fire. This 109 pilot was aggressive. He tried to lose me with various maneuvers and tactics, descending all the time. However, I was determined not to let this one fight another day. It was crazy up there at the time, but I got into position for a good deflection shot. When I was close enough I gave him a short burst, and he blew up and entered a crazy spin. As I pulled up in a tight turn to clear my tail and look for other enemy aircraft, I saw my 109 hit the ground. When he hit, he was still spinning. Next, I spotted six more 109s break for the deck. I rolled after them, but I had only 110 gallons of gas left, so I broke off the attack, climbed to 15,000 feet, and began my long and lonely flight back to Fowlmere. It had been a long day. The mission was seven hours and forty minutes, but adding the time for the fog-delayed takeoff, I was strapped into that Mustang for more than nine hours. My muscles and my mind were sorely challenged. I thought of a lot of different things that day, but most of all I was proud to be part of the 503d Fighter Squadron and thankful for the wisdom of Major Aitken for not being lured by the decoys, and for his dedication to protecting the bomber crews by following orders and not chasing across the skies for personal glory. We did our best that day, but it was not good enough. Twelve B-17s went down in flames before other American fighters finally arrived to protect them on the flight home. I do not think I had the courage to be a bomber pilot over Germany. I hadand still havethe utmost respect for the valor and dedication of those brave crews. The 503d Fighter Squadron shot down fifteen German fighters in that action, and we damaged many others. The 339th Fighter Group was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its achievements on September 10 and 11, 1944, and I was awarded the Silver Star for Gallantry in Action. * Frank Gerard was awarded four confirmed victories for the twelveminute September 11 fight over Annaburg; he was a five-kill ace, and only a month past his twentieth birthday. He went on to down two Bf109s, and damage a third, near Magdeburg on March 2, 1945; and shortly after being promoted to the rank of captain, he scored his eighth

Free Sample Chapters

109

and final victory on March 18, 1945, when he downed an FW-190 near Dummer Lake. After World War II, Frank Gerard served with the New Jersey Air National Guard while completing college. He earned his law degree in 1949, but his legal career was cut short when he was called to active duty during the Korean War. Thereater, he divided his time between various civilian pursuits, the New Jersey Air National Guard, and numerous stints on active duty with the Air Force, including a tour during the 1962 Berlin Crisis. He flew jet fighters until 1976 and retired from the Air Force several years later with the rank of major general.

110

Pacifica Military History

Free Sample Chapters

111

112

Pacifica Military History

ACES IN COMBAT
The American Aces Speak By Eric Hammel Adding to the acclaimed first four volumes of his exciting, in-the-cockpit series, The American Aces Speak, leading combat historian Eric Hammel comes through with yet another engrossing collection of first-person accounts by American fighter aces serving in World War II and the Korean War. As are the four earlier volumes, Aces In Combat is a highly charged excursion into life and death in the air, told by men who excelled at piston-engine and jet-engine aerial combat and lived to tell about it. It is an emotional rendering of what brave airmen felt and how they fought in the now-dim days of Americas living national history. View the Battle of Midway through Lieutenant Jim Grays eyes as he must balance the needs of fellow pilots against the needs of his nation. Share the fear with Captain Charlie Sullivan as would-be rescuers deep in the New Guinea jungle attempt to turn him into a blood sacrifice. Crew a Canadian Mosquito night fighter as Lieutenant Lou Luma stalks the wily Hunand bags an aceover an airfield deep in Germany. Share Lieutenant Bud Fortiers and Major George Lovings grief when, on missions nearly eight years apart, they look on helplessly as trusted wingmen dive to their deaths in treacherous ground-attack runs. And watch anxiously as Captain Tom Maloney hovers between life and death for ten lonely days after stepping on a mine on an enemy-held beach. These are Americas eagles, and the stories they tell are their own, in their very own words. Critical Acclaim for The American Aces Speak Series The Book World says: Aces Against Japan is a thunderous, personal, high-adventure book giving our men in the sky their own voice.

Free Sample Chapters

113

Book Page says: Eric Hammels book is recommended reading. It is a must for any historians bookshelf. The Library Journal says: No PR hype or dry-as-dust prose here. Hammel allows his flyers to tell their stories in their own way. Exciting stuff aviation and World War II buffs will love. The Providence Sunday Journal says: A treat that deftly blends a chronology of the Pacific War with tales that would rival a Saturday action matinee. Infantry Magazine says: If you would like to read one book that will give you a broad overview and yet a detailed look at what a fighter pilots air war was like, this is the book. The Bookshelf says: Hammel is one of our best military historians when it comes to presenting that often complex subject to the general public. He has demonstrated this facility in a number of fine books before [Aces Against Germany] and now he does so again. Not to be missed by either buff or scholar.

114

Pacifica Military History

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book ACES IN COMBAT: The American Aces Speak by Eric Hammel. The book is currently available in a $27.50 trade paperback edition published by Pacifica Military History. It is also available in ebook editions.

DESCENT INTO HELL


by Eric Hammel Copyright 1998 by Eric Hammel Captain TOM MALONEY, USAAF 27th Fighter Squadron, 1st Fighter Group Near Aix-en-Provence, FranceAugust 19-September 1, 1944 * Thomas Edward Maloney was born in Cushing, Oklahoma, on March 21, 1923. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps shortly after graduating from high school and was inducted on June 13, 1941. He qualified for flight instruction in early 1942 and began training in September of that year. Cadet Maloney completed Primary flight training at Thunderbird Field, Arizona, in March 1943; Basic at Pecos, Texas, in May 1943; and Advanced at Williams Field, Arizona. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant and pinned on his wings as a member of Class 43-G at Williams Field on July 2, 1943. Second Lieutenant Maloney was selected for fighters, and was trained in P-38s at Muroc Army Air Base and Lomita Air Force Station, California, then departed the United States in September 1943, bound for North Africa. He was assigned as a replacement pilot to the veteran 1st Fighter Groups 27th Fighter Squadron, then a part of the Twelfth Air Force. Based at Mateur, Tunisia, the 1st Fighter Group had served chiefly as escort for medium bombers flying against tactical targets in Italy. However, on December 9, the 1st Fighter Group was transferred to the new Fifteenth Air Force and assigned to long-range escort duties for B-24s and B-17s attacking strategic targets throughout southern Europe.

Free Sample Chapters

115

Second Lieutenant Tom Maloney drew first blood on March 28, 1944, when he shot down a Bf-109 (and probably shot down a second) over Italy. On April 23, he shot down two Me-110s (and damaged a Bf-109) while escorting heavy bombers over Hungary and Austria. Next, on May 28, 1944, he shot down a Do-217 medium bomber over Buzim, Yugoslavia, and on May 31, 1944, he achieved ace status when he shot down a Bf-109 while escorting the heavy bombers over Ploesti, Romania. First Lieutenant Maloneys sixth victory credit was for an FW-190 he downed over Oberstdorf, Germany, on July 18; and he rounded out his score with a pair of Bf-109s he shot down near St. Tropez, France, on August 15, 1944. By doing so, he became the 27th Fighter Squadrons highest-scoring ace of the war, a distinction that one of his squadronmates would subsequently match but none would exceed. * During the Allied invasion of southern France, which commenced on August 15, 1944, two P-38 groupsthe 1st and the 14thwere sent on detached service from Foggia, Italy, to Corsica in order to support the landings. The main reason for the P-38 being there was to fly cover over the beachhead. It was felt they were easily recognizabe to Allied troops as friendly planes, which meant that trigger-happy American, British, and French gunners on the ground wouldnt be shooting at us, as they had done in earlier landing operations. I would like to comment briefly on the plane we flew, the Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter. Many aviation writers tend to downplay the effectiveness of the P-38 because of the various troubles and lack of success endured by the three Eighth Air Force fighter groups flying the P-38 out of England. I was fortunate to be given some insight into their problem when I was sent to England along with five squadronmates to bring back three-month-old P-38s from a group that was getting the latest model. As it was, this groups old P-38s were newer models than what we had! I was reunited there with many of my Class 43-G classmates who had been assigned to this group before it was shipped overseas. These pilots were scared to death. They had many engine failures, suffered from a lack of leadership, and suffered especially from a lack of combat experience. The entire group had started combat with

116

Pacifica Military History

no experience, and the pilots gained it only as they went. By contrast, I was fortunate to be sent to one of the very first units to fly the P-38 combat, so when we went on missions, the 27th Fighter Squadron was composed of experienced pilots with fifty or more missions, as well as new pilots with to no missions. I have never encountered a pilot who flew the P-38 in combat who didnt love the plane, and that included many who also flew the P-51. In fairness, I must say that the P-38s engines were very touchy and needed to be handled with kid gloves. Most writers overlook the fact that the P51 was originally the A-36 ground-support fghter, and that the A-36 used the same Allison engine the P-38 used. The A-36 was certainly no great shakes as a fighter. Ive always wondered what the P-38 could have been with two Merlin engines, the same engines the P-51 finally received. The flying characteristics of the P-38 were superb. It was gentle as a lamb, gave plenty of notice of a stall, and could turn with any fighter except the Spitfire and the Zero. Plus, its counter-rotating props eliminated the problem of torque so common to single-engine fighters. Very early in its operational history, the P-38 developed a reputation for being very difficult to fly. This wasnt the case, but being the first really high-performance fighter to enter service in the Army Air Forces caused it to be feared by many people who felt it was too complicated for one man to fly. On the morning of August 19, 1944, I flew a beachhead cover mission, and that afternoon our new squadron commander, Major Frank Pope, wanted to lead a four-ship flight from the 27th on a dive-bombing mission that was led by a four-ship 94th Fighter Squadron flight commanded by Captain Ed LaClare. The target was a railroad bridge in the city of Avignon, just below the confluence of the Durance and Rhone rivers. There was the possibility we might be intercepted by German fighters that far north of the invasion area. Major Pope had flown a tour in Alaska prior to joining the 27th as its CO, and he didnt have much combat experience with the Germans at this time. I was the 27th Squadrons operations officer, and the most experienced pilot in the group, so I thought it was advisable for me to fly the mission as Major Popes

Free Sample Chapters

117

element leader, in case we were jumped. This was my sixty-fourth combat mission. The mission proceeded as planned, bt with only fair results. Since we carried only one bomb apiece and had used belly tanks most of the way to the target, we still had practically full internal fuel tanks. One of the 94th Squadron P-38s developed a problem during the dive-bombing and returned to base, but the rest of us went looking for targets of opportunity by following the rail line leading to the west-southwest looking for a train or military trucks to shoot up. We skirted Nimes and proceeded down the railroad line, and in short order we came upon a train in a small station later identified as Le Cres. The locomotive appeared to be taking on water. First the locomotive was disabled by our guns. The cars it was pulling appeared to be flatcars loaded with German Army trucks, a tank or two, and other military gear. This small station was in relatively open country and there were no soldiers visible in the area. There was no evidence that anyone was firing at us. Because the train seemed to ve carrying valuable military cargo, our mission leader, Ed LaClare, made a decision to violate our strafing code of one pass only. I agreed with him. We formed a circle and took out each rail car in order. Quite a number of the rail cars exploded, which caused us to fly through the resulting fire storm. The debris this created was like flak. As I came off my third target, a 94th Squadron plane which was third in the circle flew straight ahead with its right engine on fire. Since he was the last 94th plane, no one in his own flight saw him go, so I flew up just behind him on the right and urged him to bail out. After about five miles, the pilot made a left 170-degree turn and belly-landed on a fairly level area. He went running off the wing before the airplane came to a complete stop. I didnt know until many years later that the pilot was 1st Lieutenant Dick Arrowsmith, and that he successfully evaded capture, was later led back to our lines by French Resistance fighters, and returned to his squadron to finish his combat tour. As I was returning to the train, my right engine began knocking. A check of the oil pressure and temperature revealed that Id lost the oil

118

Pacifica Military History

from that engine, so I feathered the propeller and called Major Pope to inform him that I was heading out to the Mediterranean and returning to Corsica. The major and the other two 27th Squadron planes broke off their strafing passes to escort me. After about ten minutes, I noticed that my left engine nacelle had oil dripping from it. A check of the oil pressure revealed Id soon lose that engine, too. I was five or six miles off the French coast, and there was a solid overcast at about 800 feet. I decided to land in the water, even though there were waves crossing my line of flight. I had no trouble landing on the crest of a wave after I jettisoned my canopy, but I immediately discovered that the P-38 floats like a crowbar. My dinghy was attached to my Mae West by means of a woven halfinch strand, and as I jerked on the strand it appeared the dinghy wouldnt separate from the parachute pack and was going to take me under with it. After a frantic last pull, it came up, and I inflated it. What a surprise! The dinghy was just large enough so that one side fit under my knees and the other side was below my shoulders. Only my head and knees were out of the water. The three P-38s from my flight stayed over me as long as their fuel permitted. Shortly after the last one left, two ships came up over the horizon, moving slowly toward me from the direction of our beachhead. Though it was near dusk when they arrived, it appeared at first that the nearer ship was going to run right over me, but as it came closer I could see that it was 150 to 200 yards seaward of me. I could see sailors on deck looking for me, but the swells kept me from their sight. They slowly sailed past me about a mile, turned around to seaward, and came back. But they never came as close as on the first pass. It was dark by then, but they stayed in the area at least another hour, shooting flares and lighting up the sea. Eventually they left, and I was alone on a pitch black night. Much later, near midnight, I began hearing breakers, faintly at first and then louder. It dawned on me that the tide and waves coming from the south had washed me to shore. I knew that I went down roughly twenty-five miles west of Marseille, and since this was four days after the invasion, I thought the shoreline here would probably be heavily patrolled by German soldiers. Nevertheless, I made it ashore without

Free Sample Chapters

119

incident. I was quite tired and sleepy because I had been up since 0600 hours and had flown two missions, but I needed to find someplace to hide my dinghy and Mae West. If these were found by a sentry at daybreak, the Germans would surely know that someone had made a mini-invasion during the night. I crept cautiously inland, looking for some shrubs in which I could hide the dinghy and Mae West and conceal myself so that I wouldnt waken to someone prodding me with a gun. The night was so dark, I could not see my hand in front of my face. I had moved inland between fifty to seventy-five feet when I froze at the sound of a click, like someone working the bolt of a rifle. On the ship that had carried me from the United States to North Africa, I had had plenty of time to think about going to war. I often thought how very lucky I was to be a pilot. I was glad I wasnt going to be in a submarine, where I could be drowned or marooned forever; and I was glad I wasnt an infantryman, who would have to contend with land mines he couldnt see. Immediately after hearing the click, I realized one of my two worst fears was about to be realized. The mine that went off under me shattered both of my feet, and inflicted compound fractures in both legs just above the ankles. In addition, several large pieces of metal had been driven into my left knee, gaping holes had been torn in both legs from the calves to the hips, a piece of metal had cut through my left bicep and numbed my arm, my face was torn by shrapnel and powder-burned, and my pantslegs had been blown off six inches below the waist. I was aware of a king-size hotfoot on my left foot. My right shoe was blown off, but my left shoe had remained on. When I tried to remove the left shoe, I found the foot had been impaled by a shard of the mine that had penetrated the bottom of the shoe, gone through the foot, and on through the top of the shoe. The pain was unbearable, but I had to pull the shard back through the bottom of the left shoe in order to remove the shoe. My escape kit was still attached to my belt, so I opened it and found a little tube of sulfathiazole ointment. I spread the pitifully small contents of the tube on the wounds I could feel on my feet; then I passed out.

120

Pacifica Military History

When I awoke on the morning of August 20, I saw that I had come ashore on a quite level, somewhat sandy area covered with very low scrubby vegetation. There was no one around. Very close to me were several trip wires for more mines. Knowing I was seventy-five or more miles behind enemy lines, it seemed to me that there was no hope of my being rescued. Having been raised a good Catholic boy, I said as good an Act of Contrition as I could and resigned myself to dying there. The truth is, few of those who made it through the war are luckier than I am to be alive. By all odds, I should be dead. On the morning of the second day, I tried to get a drink from the canteen in my escape kit, but it was empty. For the rest of the day, I alternately passed out and woke up. I was conscious for short periods only. During the third and fourth daysAugust 21 and 22it became apparent that I was going to die of thirst, if not from my wounds, so I started moving toward a two- or three-foot rise that had a row of bushes on top. The bushes were about fifty feet away. I would pick up one leg, set it down, then move the other, all the while being careful not to hit another mine or tripwire as I dragged myself along. Because I was conscious for only short periods of time, it took me several periods of consciousness to move the fifty feet. On the other side of the rise was a six-inch-deep pool of standing water, and I gratefully drnk from it even though it was dirty. I spent that night and the next day, August 23, by the edge of that pool. As before, I was unconscious most of the time. During one of the periods when I as awake, I became conscious of a feeling of movement in some of my wounds. A check revealed that all my open wounds were full of maggots, which caused me to think I was being eaten alive. Each time I was conscious thereafter, I killed as many maggots as I could. (It wasnt until much later that doctors told me the maggots were only eating the dead flesh, thereby delaying the onset of gangrene.) On the fifth day, August 24, I raised my head as far as possible to see whether there was anything nearby that I could try to reach for help. To the east, about a half-mile away, I could see the top of a tall wooden observation tower. Surely, I thought it would be manned, and by this

Free Sample Chapters

121

time I would have welcomed a German coming to take me prisoner. By the end of the day, however, I had made no progress toward the tower, and I slept where I had awakened. On the sixth day, August 25, I moved toward the tower and had gotten to within a hundred yards of it by nightfall. There was a swamp between me and the tower, and by sunset I could see that there was a log cabin it appeared to be a hunting cabinat the base of the tower. Both the tower and the cabin were obviously abandoned. On the seventh day, August 26, I entered the swamp, which turned out to be about two to four feet deep. It so happened that I had come ashore in a vast swampy area known as the Camargue, at the mouth of the Rhone River. I was able to move along quite well in the water because my legs were buoyant. I pulled myself to the cabin as cautiously as I could, because there were signs in German Achtung! Minenand I knew what that meant. The swamp next to the cabin was about 100 feet wide and 150 yards long, and at the far end it turned a corner. There was a footbridge that crossed from the cabin to the shorter side of the swam. It was made of rough timbers about ten feet long and three feet wide, and held together with a kind of baling wire. During the next two days, August 27 and 28, I labored to take the bridge apart and construct a raft with four of the timbers held together with the wire. Late the second day, I completed the raft and, with two long sticks, poled my way down the swamp, hoping t would lead to the open ocean. Upon rounding the corner, however, I found that the swamp deadended about twenty-five feet further on. It was quite late, so I poled ashore, secured the raft as best I could, and pulled myself about six feet out of the swamp. I spent the night there on the bank. I later learned that the Camargue was one of the top five mosquito-infested areas in the world. The mosquitoes were so big and so thick, they created a continual hum. I simply covered my face with my hands and let them have at me. The next morning, August 29, I got back on the raft to return to the cabin. As I rounded the corner, I could see people at the cabin, and I

122

Pacifica Military History

called out to them as I got near. They were six Frenchmen who had come out to start cleaning up the mess made by the Germans. They placed me in the bed of their old truck and started to drive up a trail. The jolting of the ride was more than I could physically bear, so they took the long front seat from the cab and placed me on it. Four of the men picked up the seat, one at each corner, and carried me up the trail. The truck driver drove ahead to arrange for an ambulance. The last man spelled one of the men who was carrying me, and they continued to spell one another until we reached the road, where an ambulance was waiting. On the way to the hospital, the ambulance stopped at a house where a French lady fed me some soup, my first meal in ten days. Needless to say, I thought the soup was the best I had ever eaten. Next, the ambulance took me to a hospital in Aix-en-Provence, which was close to the bythen liberated city of Marseille. My stay in the French hospital was almost as bad as my ten days on the beach and in the swamp. Until then, shock had spared me the excruciating pain that now came over me. No one at the hospital spoke any English, and I spoke no French, so there was little communication with the hospital staff. On my second day there, August 31, they put me on an operating table, and ten or twelve people stood around me. The doctor had antiseptics but no anesthetics, and the additional people were there to hold me down while the doctor dug shrapnel out of my legs and left knee. After this ordeal, I found an orderly who understood a little English and I convinced him to go find any Allied soldier and bring him back to the hospital. Shortly, the orderly returned with a British soldier whose Cockney accent made him almost as hard to understand as the French. I gave the soldier one of my dogtags and begged him to find an American officer and explain to him where I was. I asked the soldier to hurry, because I was not sure I would be able to endure the medical treatment I was receiving. When no one showed up that day or the next, September 1, I became very discouraged. Late that night, however, I was awakened by a U.S. Army captain with medical insignia on his shirt collar. He gave me a shot for the pain, and I passed out.

Free Sample Chapters

123

I was taken by ambulance to a field hospital, which had been located near our base in Mateur, Tunisia, when I first joined the 27th Fighter Squadron. Back then, the nurses had been very popular with my squadron mates, and we had socialized with them. When I woke up, I was being tended by a nurse I recognized. My spirits improved rapidly. During my stay at the field hospital, necessary surgery was performed on my numerous wounds in order to prepare me for evacuation. In short order, I was flown to the 118th Station Hospital in Naples, Italy, where I received a lot of medical attention. When word was sent to the 1st Fighter Group commander, Colonel Robert Richard, that I was alive and in a hospital in Italy, he issued an order that every day the weather permitted, a 27th Fighter Squadron P-38 pilot was to land at the nearby Capodichino Airdrome and visit with me. In Naples the doctors decided it was best to amputate my legs. I implored Colonel Richard to get the doctors to reconsider. With his help, and the help of our wing commander, the doctors decided to try to save the legs. They flew me back home in October. The date of the flight was known at 1st Fighter Group headquarters, so after the C-54 I was aboard lifted away from Capodichino and leveled out at altitude, a dozen red-tailed P-38s from the 27th Fighter Squadron appeared and settled down on both sides of the transport. They looked like silver ghosts. They escorted me for a hundred miles out over the blue Mediterranean, then silently peeled off, one by one, and went back to the war. Years later, I learned that Colonel Richard had issued an order that from then on, in the 27th Fighter Squadron, any plane with the number 23my old plane numberwould forever be known as Maloneys Pony. This order was not followed for thirty years after World War II, but ever since 1975, when the 27th, 71st, and 94th squadrons were rejoined as the 1st Fighter Wing, plane Number 23 of the 27th Fighter Squadron is named Maloneys Pony. I arrived in the United States in November 1944, and was stationed as close to my home as possible, at McCloskey General Hospital in Temple, Texas. I was operated on many times and was bedridden until September 1945, at which time I was able to take a few steps with the

124

Pacifica Military History

aid of crutches. I went home on leave, married my childhood sweetheart, Miss Patricia Jean Driggs, and returned to the hospital for another operation. In February 1946, with McCloskey Hospital scheduled to be closed, I was transferred to William Beaumont General Hospital in El Paso. While there, I received only rehabilitative care. Next, I was transferred to the neurological center at OReilly General Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, in order to repair damage to the peronneal nerve in my left leg. When the doctors at OReilly decided the nerve injury was inoperable, I was transferred in September 1946 to Pratt General Hospital in Coral Gables, Florida, for further treatment. I received only rehabilitative treatment there, and the hospital closed in April 1947. I was finally sent to Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco, and there I received treatment to both legs and feet. I was sent before the retirement board in October 1947 and was retired for physical disability with the rank of major, to which I had been promoted in April 1946. * After leaving Letterman General Hospital, Tom Maloney enrolled at Oklahoma State University and began the spring semester there in January 1948. In January 1951, he received a degree in accounting and went to work for an oil-and-gas drilling company. In 1954, he helped form his own drilling company, but in December 1976, problems related to his injuries forced him to sell his share. He later returned to work at the firm, finally retiring in 1985. In 1992, Tom Maloney was inducted into the Oklahoma Aviation and Space Hall of Fame. In late 1995, Tom Maloney was contacted by Jean Robin, an amateur historian who lived in the vicinity of the Le Cres railroad station, which had been the target of the August 19, 1944, strafing attack. The letter revealed that, in a matter of minutes, the flight of seven 1st Fighter Group P-38s had done extensive harm to the German war effort in recently invaded southern France. There were two trains in the station when the attack commenced at 1920 hours. One was on a siding without a locomotive. It consisted of thirteen closed rail cars containing fire bombspossibly incendiary

Free Sample Chapters

125

ammunition of some sort. Explosive and incendiary bullets fired by the P-38s .50-caliber machine guns and 20mm cannon started fires in these cars, and the rail cars and their contents were entirely destroyed and blown to pieces. Moments before the strafing attack commenced, the second train had been brought to a halt in the station by a red-light signal. This was no doubt the train Captain Tom Maloney saw when the attack got underway. It was composed of fifty-two flatbed cars and closed goods wagons. A number of Royal Tiger heavy tanks were on the flatcars, and ammunition was stored in many of the closed cars. Waffen SS tank crews and Panzergrenadiers were also in the closed rail cars. As the strafing attack began, the locomotive was perforated by bullets and stopped for good. Of the fifty-two cars it was pulling, nineteen were blown off the rails and destroyed. Twenty-six others remained on the rails but were entirely blown, torn to bits. When the P-38s left the scene, only seven flatcars and goods wagons were left intact. Beyond the outright destruction of the engine and fifty-eight rail cars and their contents, the attack blocked the main rail line with all the neighboring rail sidings with debris that, in some cases, continued to cook off through the night and burn out of control for several days. Live ammunition was scattered all over the station area and several nearby vineyards. The switching station was demolished and phone lines running through the station were severed. Apparently, many Waffen SS troops were killed in the attack or trapped in the wreckage, where they perished in the subsequent explosions and fires. Jean Robin, who passed through the area after the war, described it to Tom Maloney as a tangled heap of ruins, an absolute hell! He also reported that only one French railwayman was injured by an ammunition explosion. Your action, the Frenchman wrote in 1995, completely disrupted the German retreat by railway. All convoys [up the line] from Montpellier were then destroyed by Allied planes or by the Germans themselves.

126

Pacifica Military History

Free Sample Chapters

127

128

Pacifica Military History

AIR WAR EUROPA


Chronology Americas Air War Against Germany in Europe and North Africa, 19421945 By Eric Hammel THE GREAT AERIAL CRUSADE OF WORLD WAR II: There was never a military campaign like it, and there never will be another. Here is an opportunity to follow the great crusade as it unfolded in the air over the Nazi empire in North Africa and Europe. This exhaustive chronology sheds a fascinating light on the course of Americas air war against Germany and her allies. * The Air War Europa Chronology is a day-by-day accounting of all the major combat missions undertaken by United States Army Air Forces and United States Navy aviation units in the European, Mediterranean, and North African theaters of operations in World War II. * A special introductory narrative explains the crucial evolution of fighter tactics over western Europeand how it led to the inexorable defeat of Hitlers vaunted Luftwaffe. * All U.S. Army Air Forces theater fighter aces are covered including unit affiliation, date and time ace status was attained, and date and time of highest victory tally (over ten). * Information pertaining to the arrival, activation, transfer, departure, and decommissioning of air commands, combat units, and special units. Comings and goings of the commanders of major aviation units are also covered. * Provides a rich contextual framework pertaining to related ground campaigns; international and high-command conferences and deci-

Free Sample Chapters

129

sions influencing air strategies and campaigns; and breakthroughs in the development of special techniques and equipment, such as the evolution of the role of escorts and the strategically crucial introduction of fighter auxiliary fuel tanks. * Bibliography, guide to abbreviations, maps, and two indexes.

130

Pacifica Military History

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book AIR WAR EUROPA: ChronologyAmericas Air War Against Germany in Europe and North Africa, 1942-1945 by Eric Hammel. The book is currently available in a $35.00 trade paperback edition published by Pacifica Military History. It is also available in ebook editions.

DECEMBER 1942
by Eric Hammel Copyright 1994 by Eric Hammel

December 1, 1942
ENGLAND: Upon receiving orders from LtGen Dwight D. Eisenhower, LtGen Carl Spaatz leaves for Algeria to serve as Eisenhowers air adviser. MajGen Ira C. Eaker replaces Spaatz as commanding general of the Eighth Air Force. TUNISIA: A regular pattern of air attacks is opened by the Twelfth Air Force against Tunis/El Aouina Airdrome. In the first of these, conducted before 0900 hours, the base is attacked by six A-20s and 13 B-17s, which are followed closely by nine A-20s and six RAF Bristol Bisley light bombers. An estimated 30 aircraft are destroyed on the ground, and a 14th Fighter Group P-38 pilot downs an Bf-109 in the air over the airdrome. During the afternoon, an attack by 12 B-26s destroys an estimated 15 GAF aircraft on the ground. XII Fighter Command P-38s attack German Army tanks near Djedeida.

December 2, 1942
ENGLAND: BriGen Newton Longfellow replaces MajGen Ira C. Eaker as commanding general of the VIII Bomber Command. TUNISIA: Twelfth Air Force A-20s, followed by B-26s, attack Tunis/ El Aouina Airdrome; Twelfth Air Force B-17s attack Bizerte/Sidi Ahmed Airdrome and Bizerte harbor; and Twelfth Air Force B-25s attack flak batteries near Gabes Airdrome.

Free Sample Chapters

131

A total of nine GAF fighters are downed during the day by pilots of the 1st, 14th, and 52d Fighter groups undertaking a number of escort missions and aggressive sweeps into enemy territory.

December 3, 1942
TUNISIA: 97th Heavy Bombardment Group B-17s attack shipping and port facilities at Bizerte at about 1030 hours. Forewarned by radar, GAF fighters attack the bombers, but they are attacked in turn by 1st Fighter Group P-38s. Three Bf-109s are downed against the loss of five P-38s. 15th Light Bombardment Squadron A-20s, escorted by P-38s, attack Tunis/El Aouina Airdrome, and P-38s and Spitfires attack a variety of ground targets while on far-ranging sweeps and reconnaissance missions. While on these missions, pilots of the 14th and 52d Fighter groups down three Bf-109s.

December 4, 1942
ITALY: In the first USAAF air attack directly upon the territory of a European Axis nation, Italian Navy warships and port facilities in Naples harbor are attacked by 20 IX Bomber Command B-24s. Hits are claimed on several of the warships, including a battleship. There are no USAAF losses. TUNISIA: XII Bomber Command B-17s, followed a half hour later by B-26s, attack shipping and port facilities in Bizerte harbor. While escorting the bombers and conducting far-ranging sweeps and reconnaissance missions, pilots of the 1st, 14th, and 52d Fighter groups down five Bf-109s and a Bf-110.

December 5, 1942
ALGERIA: LtGen Carl Spaatz is named Acting Deputy Commanderin-Chief for Air of the Allied Force in Northwest Africa. The 3d Reconnaissance Group, equipped with F-4 and F-5 aircraft (P-38 variants), arrives at Oran/La Senia Airdrome to support the Twelfth Air Force. LIBYA: The Ninth Air Forces 12th Medium Bombardment Group, in B-25s, is recommitted to combat following a period of retraining. From its new base at Gambut, the group is to join the 57th Fighter Group and RAF light-bomber units in applying pressure to Axis air groups sup-

132

Pacifica Military History

porting the German Army battle line at El Agheila. During the early part of the month, USAAF and RAF pressure specifically against the Axis air establishment eventually drives all Axis aircraft from all the landing grounds within 90 miles of the front. TUNISIA: Aircraft of the Twelfth Air Forces XII Bomber Command and XII Air Support Command open a concerted bombing campaign against German-held port facilities in Tunisia. The objective is to hamper the flow of German troops and supplies into Tunisia while Allied ground forces prepare for an all-out offensive to liberate the entire country. Kicking off the new venture, XII Bomber Command B-17s, escorted by 14th Fighter Group P-38s, attack shipping and port facilities at Tunis. 14th Fighter Group P-38 pilots down two Bf-109s near Bizerte Airdrome. Twelfth Air Force B-25s attack Bizerte/Sidi Ahmed Airdrome, and A-20s attack German Army positions at Faid Pass.

December 6, 1942
ENGLAND: The 93d Heavy Bombardment Group, in B-24s, is reassigned to the VIII Bomber Commands 2d Heavy Bombardment Wing. FRANCE: In the days main effort, 37 of 66 VIII Bomber Command B-17s dispatched attack a locomotive factory at Lille. Losses are one B17 downed and nine damaged, one crewman killed, two crewmen wounded, and ten crewmen missing. Although 44th Heavy Bombardment Group B-24s are recalled from a mission against Abbeville/Drucat Airdrome, a squadron of six of the heavy bombers fails to receive the order and presses on. One B-24 is lost and another is damaged, at a cost of ten crewmen missing and three crewmen wounded. TUNISIA: Fifteen XII Bomber Command B-17s attack the port of Tunis; 15th Light Bombardment Squadron A-20s attack the bridge over the Medjerda River at El Bathan; and 14th Fighter Group P-38 pilots down a Ju-88, two Bf-110s, and a Ju-52 in two separate actions. The 33d Fighter Groups 58th Fighter Squadron, in P-40s, moves to the rather sparse forward fighter field at Thelepte and thus becomes the first USAAF unit to be based inside Tunisia. The unit will be primarily

Free Sample Chapters

133

responsible for supporting ground troops and for undertaking low-level attacks on transportation targets such as rail lines, bridges, and road traffic.

December 7, 1942
ALGERIA: Three squadrons of the Eighth Air Forces 93d Heavy Bombardment Group, in B-24s, arrive in Algeria to bolster XII Bomber Command. (The groups fourth squadron remains in England to conduct night-operations experiments.) TUNISIA: XII Bomber Command B-17s, escorted by P-38s, attack shipping and port facilities at Bizerte. Also, A-20s, escorted by P-38s, attack German Army tanks in the TebouraEl Bathan area, but other A20s dispatched to attack La Hencha and Sousse are turned back by bad weather. Two Ju-52 tri-motor transports are downed by a pair of 14th Fighter Group P-38 pilots near Sfax.

December 8, 1942
FRANCE: Findings of a recent bomb- damage assessment reveal that low-level bombing of submarine pens in western France has not been able to penetrate the roofs of the pens with the bombs available in the U.K. at this time. ITALY: IX Bomber Command B-24s attack targets at Naples. One 376th Heavy Bombardment Group B-24 is downed by flak. LIBYA: 57th Fighter Group P-40 pilots down seven Bf-109s in a morning battle over the Marble Arch Airdrome. TUNISIA: Although bad weather halts bomber operations, numerous sweeps and reconnaissance missions are mounted by Twelfth Air Force fighter units.

December 9, 1942
ALGERIA: One Ju-88 medium bomber is downed by a 33d Fighter Group P-40 pilot in his units first combat encounter of the war.

134

Pacifica Military History

December 10, 1942


EGYPT: On the first anniversary of Germanys and Italys declarations of war on the United States, a 57th Fighter Group P-40 pilot downs an BF-109 in a battle over the Marble Arch Airdrome.

December 11, 1942


ALGERIA: Col Charles T. Phillips replaces Col Claude E. Duncan as commanding officer of the XII Bomber Command. To better oversee flight operations and administration in the huge area for which it is responsible, Twelfth Air Force establishes five regional commands: the Moroccan Composite Wing, the West Algerian Composite Wing, the Central Algerian Composite Wing, XII Bomber Command; and XII Fighter Command. ITALY: IX Bomber Command B-24s attack port facilities and the area surrounding the Naples port. One 98th Heavy Bombardment Group B24 is downed by flak. LIBYA: In anticipation of a British Eighth Army offensive against the Axis El Agheila Lineset to begin December 14the 57th Fighter Group moves forward to a landing ground at Belandah. TUNISIA: XII Bomber Command B-25s, with fighter escort, attack rail bridges at La Hencha.

December 12, 1942


ALGERIA: A pair of 1st Fighter Group P-38 pilots down an Italian Air Force flying boat over the Mediterranean north of Philippeville. ENGLAND: The 315th Troop Carrier Group air echelon arrives from the United States following a forced one-month layover in Greenland caused by bad weather. The C-47 unit is assigned to the VIII Air Support Command as a general transportation organization. FRANCE: Seventy-eight VIII Bomber Command B-17s are dispatched against Romilly-sur-Seine Airdrome, but they are prevented from bombing by heavy cloud cover. In the end, 17 of these B-17s do manage to locate the Rouen/Sotteville marshalling yard, upon which they drop 40 tons of bombs. TUNISIA: XII Bomber Command B-17s attack the port facilities at

Free Sample Chapters

135

Sfax for the first time; B-17s, escorted by P-38s, also attack port and rail facilities at Tunis; and B-26s dispatched to Sousse and La Hencha abort due to bad weather. 1stLt Virgil H. Smith, a P-38 pilot with the 14th Fighter Groups 48th Fighter Squadron, achieves ace status when he downs an FW-190 over Gabes Airdrome during an afternoon mission.

December 13, 1942


LIBYA: Following a stalemate of several weeksduring which the British Eighth Army prepares for an all-out offensive to clear Libya German Army forces holding the El Agheila Line suddenly withdraw at the last minute toward Tunisia. As British ground forces struggle to pursue the Germans, the WDAF, including the Ninth Air Forces 12th Medium Bombardment Group and 57th Fighter Group, maintain pressure and attempt to interdict routes of retreat. 57th Fighter Group P-40 pilots down two Bf-109s near El Agheila. TUNISIA: Seventeen 97th Heavy Bombardment Group B-17s attack port facilities at Tunis; ten 301st Heavy Bombardment Group B-17s and 19 93d Heavy Bombardment Group B-24s attack port facilities at Bizerte; B-25s attack port facilities at Sousse; B-26s attack a bridge north of Sfax; P-38s escort the medium-bomber missions, fly patrols, and attack Axis road convoys and individual vehicles north of Gabes.

December 14, 1942


ENGLAND: A new report points out that efforts to build up and supply the Twelfth Air Force at the expense of the Eighth Air Force is producing a critical drain on the latters ability to complete training cycles and mount combat operations. LIBYA: 57th Fighter Group P-40 pilots down two Bf-109s at the cost of one P-40 and its pilot lost. TUNISIA: XII Bomber Command B-24s attack shipping and port facilities at Bizerte, and B-17s attack shipping and port facilities at Tunis. During the morning, nine 15th Light Bombardment Squadron A-20s, escorted by eight 14th Fighter Group P-38s and twelve 33d Fighter Group P-40s, attack the Sfax railroad station. During the

136

Pacifica Military History

afternoon, nine 15th Light Bombardment Squadron A-20s, escorted by P-38s, attack the same target. P-38s attack several Axis vessels at sea off the Tunisian coast, strafe traffic on the coast highway between Tunis and Bizerte, and strafe trains near Kerker and La Hencha.

December 15, 1942


ALGERIA: Col Carlyle H. Ridenour replaces Col Charles T. Phillips as commanding officer of the XII Bomber Command. LIBYA: Ninth Air Force B-25s and P-40s continue to attack tactical ground targets in support of the British Eighth Army. Eighteen 12th Medium Bombardment Group B-25s join with 36 RAF light bombers in a particularly effective attack against a motor-vehicle concentration west of the Marble Arch. While flying with the 57th Fighter Group, a 79th Fighter Group P-40 pilot draws first blood for his unit when he downs a Bf-109. TUNISIA: Three 15th Light Bombardment Squadron A-20s attack several bridges linking Gabes with Sfax; six A-20s attack Pont-du-Fahs; XII Bomber Command B-26s attack Tunis/El Aouina Airdrome; and XII Bomber Command B-17s attack port facilities at Bizerte. In the IX Bomber Commands first mission to Tunisiato help XII Bomber Command close Tunisian ports and lines of supply to German reinforcements and suppliesnine 376th Heavy Bombardment Group B-24s attack a railroad yard, roundhouse, and repair facilities at Sfax. The B-24s obliterate a locomotive repair shop.

December 16, 1942


LIBYA: Ninth Air Force B-25s and P-40s attack and harass German Army troops in the El Agheila area. TUNISIA: In separate missions, A-20s of the 15th Light Bombardment Squadron and the 47th Light Bombardment Groups 86th Light Bombardment Squadron (the latter on their units first combat mission of the war) attack Axis vehicle columns on the road between Mateur and Massicault. These are the first of many such attacks that will destroy an estimated 100 vehicles along this road by the end of the month.

Free Sample Chapters

137

XII Fighter Command P-38s attacking Axis ships at sea off Tunisias northern coast claim a direct bomb hit on one vessel, and a pair of 1st Fighter Group P-38 pilots down a lone Ju-88 at around noon.

December 17, 1942


TUNISIA: A total of 36 XII Bomber Command B-17s attack port facilities at Tunis and Bizerte; A-20s attack targets north and west of Gabes Airdrome and the Axis landing ground at Sidi Tabet; XII Bomber Command B-25s and B-26s dispatched to attack Axis ships in the Gulf of Tunis fail to locate their targets; XII Fighter Command P-38s escort all the bombing missions; and 1st Fighter Group P-38 pilots down a Ju-88 and two Bf-109s in separate midday actions.

December 18, 1942


LIBYA: The pursuit by the British Eighth Army of German forces retreating toward Tunisia bogs down. XII Bomber Command B-17s attack shipping and port facilities at Sousse. The Eighth Air Forces 93d Heavy Bombardment Group, in B24s, is transferred from the operational control of the Twelfth Air Force to that of the Ninth Air Force. The group begins moving to the Gambut Main Airdrome. TUNISIA: Thirty-six XII Bomber Command B-17s, escorted by 16 1st Fighter Group P-38s, attacking Bizerte through German fighters and flak claim a direct hit on one vessel. However, four P-38s and a B-17 are downed over the target by GAF fighters, and another B-17 is written off after it crash-lands at a friendly base. Eleven XII Bomber Command B-26s, escorted by P-38s, attack a marshalling yard and other rail facilities at Sousse. Flak downs two B26s. Twelfth Air Force A-20s, escorted by P-38s, attack a landing ground, dispersal areas, and the rail facilities at Mateur. One Ju-88 and an FW-190 are downed during the day by 33d Fighter Group P-40 pilots.

138

Pacifica Military History

December 19, 1942


TUNISIA: Twelfth Air Force A-20s, escorted by 33d Fighter Group P40s, attack the marshalling yards at Sfax, and a 33d Fighter Group P-40 pilot downs a Ju-88 near Sfax.

December 20, 1942


FRANCE: In the first mission in which the Eighth Air Forces four operational B-17 groups operate under the supervision of the 1st Heavy Bombardment Wing and its one operational B-24 group operates under the supervision of the 2d Heavy Bombardment Wing, 60 B-17s and 12 B-24s drop more than 167 tons of bombs on Romilly-sur-Seine Airdrome. Fighter opposition is extremely heavy. Whereas bomber gunners claim an incredible 53 GAF fighters downed and 13 probably downed, enemy fighters and flak definitely down six B-17s, cause unrepairable damage to one B-17, and damage 29 B-17s and one B-24. Also, two B-17s crash-land in England. Crew losses amount to two killed, 58 missing, and 12 wounded. Overall, these are the worst losses for a single day sustained by the Eighth Air Force so far in the war. TUNISIA: IX Bomber Command B-24s dispatched against Sousse harbor abort in the face of bad weather, but three of them claim the destruction of an Axis ship north of Sfax.

December 21, 1942


ALGERIA: 14th Fighter Group P-38s scrambled from their base at Youk-les-Bains down three Ju-88s during the afternoon. TUNISIA: XII Bomber Command B-17s are prevented by bad weather from attacking Sfax or Gabes, and 93d Heavy Bombardment Group B24s, operating under IX Bomber Command control, are prevented by bad weather from attacking the port at Sousse. However, XII Fighter Command P-40s destroy a tank and several motor vehicles near Kairouan.

December 22, 1942


TUNISIA: Bad weather prevents XII Bomber Command B-17s from attacking Bizerte or secondary targets at Sfax and Sousse; and only two 93d Heavy Bombardment Group B-24s dispatched against Sousse pen-

Free Sample Chapters

139

etrate bad weather to the target, but a number of those aborting manage to attack Monastir and railway facilities at Mahdia. Two GAF medium bombers are downed during a midday mission by 33d Fighter Group P-40 pilots.

December 23, 1942


ALGERIA: The 17th Medium Bombardment Group, in B-26s, arrives following a direct move from the United States via the southern ferry route. BAY OF BISCAY: Two Ju-88 medium bombers are downed by 82d Fighter Group P-38 pilots while the unit is transiting from England to Gibraltar for eventual deployment in North Africa as part of the XII Fighter Command. This unexpected encounter is the 82d Fighter Groups combat debut. EGYPT: The 376th Heavy Bombardment Group, in B-24s, moves to a base in Egypt from Palestine, and the 8th Fighter Wing headquarters begins overseeing several Ninth Air Force fighter groups. ITALY: During the night of December 2324, IX Bomber Command B-24s attack Naples harbor and one B-24 attacks Taranto. TUNISIA: The winter rainy season officially begins. Impenetrable cloud cover causes XII Bomber Command B-17s to abort their briefed attacks on airdromes at Tunis and Bizerte.

December 24, 1942


ENGLAND: The first consignment of USAAF P-47 fighters arrives aboard ship from the United States. TUNISIA: LtGen Dwight D. Eisenhower decides to abandon the Allied ground attack on Tunis until the rainy season ends in early 1943. However, the British Eighth Army will continue a cautious advance in Libya. IX Bomber Command B-24s dispatched to attack Tunis abort in the face of bad weather.

December 25, 1942


ALGERIA: 82d Fighter Group P-38s arrive at Oran/Tafaraoui Airdrome from England by way of Gibraltar. A number of them are immediately

140

Pacifica Military History

dispatched to fly a long anti-submarine patrol to protect two Allied convoys that are moving into the area. ICELAND: The 25th Composite Wing is activated in Iceland to oversee USAAF units and personnel assigned to the defense of the strategically important island. TUNISIA: XII Fighter Command P-40s bomb German Army troops near Sfax. A pair of Italian Air Force Mc.202 fighters are downed by a pair of 52d Fighter Group Spitfire pilots.

December 26, 1942


TUNISIA: XII Bomber Command B-17s attack shipping and port facilities at Sfax. GAF fighters and heavy flak down two B-17s and two P-38s, but a flight of four P-38 pilots from the 1st Fighter Groups 94th Fighter Squadron down three of the GAF fighters. XII Bomber Command B-17s, escorted by P-40s, claim three Axis ships damaged while mounting a second attack against shipping and port facilities at Sfax. While conducting reconnaissance patrols, XII Fighter Command P-38s strafe three locomotives and a number of motor vehicles. During the night of December 2627, three IX Bomber Command B-24s attack port facilities at Tunis, one B-24 attacks Sfax, and one B24 attacks Sousse.

December 27, 1942


TUNISIA: XII Bomber Command B-17s, escorted by P-38s, attack shipping and port facilities at Sousse and claim direct hits on four vessels.

December 28, 1942


TUNISIA: IX Bomber Command, XII Bomber Command, and RAF heavy bombers (the latter controlled by IX Bomber Command) mount four separate attacks during the day and evening against shipping and port facilities at Sousse. Claims are made for heavy damage to shore facilities and direct hits on several vessels.

Free Sample Chapters

141

During the course of several air-to-air actions through the day, P-38 pilots of the 1st and 14th Fighter groups down a Ju-88 and four Bf109s.

December 29, 1942


ALGERIA: A 52d Fighter Group Spitfire pilot downs a BF-109 near Bone. TUNISIA: XII Bomber Command B-17s, escorted by P-38s, attack the harbor at Sousse; Twelfth Air Force A-20s attack bridges at La Hencha, and escorting P-40s strafe a locomotive and rail cars at Ste.-Juliette; and XII Fighter Command P-38s attack a German Army tank depot near Pont-du-Fahs, followed by an attack on the same target by A-20s. IX Bomber Command B-24s dispatched to attack Tunis harbor during the night of December 2930 are diverted to Sousse because of bad weather.

December 30, 1942


FRANCE: Forty of 77 VIII Bomber Command B-17s dispatched attack the U-boat base at Lorient with nearly 80 tons of bombs. Bomber gunners claim 29 GAF fighters downed and seven probably downed. Three B-17s are lost and 22 are damaged, with crew losses put at two killed, 30 missing, and 17 wounded. TUNISIA: In their units combat debut, six 17th Medium Bombardment Group B-26s, escorted by 14th Fighter Group P-38s, attack Gabes Airdrome during the afternoon. Five of the B-26s sustain damage from flak and attacks by Bf-109s, and one B-26 is written off following a belly landing at Telergma Airdrome. A P-38 pilot downs one Bf-109 near the target. XII Bomber Command B-17s, escorted by P-38s, attack the marshalling yards and port facilities at Sfax, and then XII Bomber Command B-25s attack the marshalling yards again; Twelfth Air Force A-20s attack German Army troop concentrations, Gabes Airdrome, and a fuel dump near El Aouinet; and P-40s escorting the A-20s strafe ground targets of opportunity near El Guettar.

142

Pacifica Military History

1stLt Virgil H. Smith, a P-38 pilot with the 14th Fighter Groups 48th Fighter Squadron, who achieved ace status on December 11, is shot down and killed near Gabes.

December 31, 1942


TUNISIA: IX Bomber Command B-24s, accompanied by RAF Liberators, attack shipping and port facilities at Sfax; XII Bomber Command B-17s, with fighter escort, also attack Sfax harbor; Twelfth Air Force A-20s, with fighter escort, mount two attacks against the marshalling yards and port at Sousse; Twelfth Air Force B-26s, with fighter escort, attack Gabes Airdrome and shipping and rail bridges in the Bizerte and Tunis areas; and XII Fighter Command P-38s on reconnaissance missions claim the destruction of several motor vehicles.

Free Sample Chapters

143

144

Pacifica Military History

AIR WAR PACIFIC


Chronology Americas Air War Against Japan in East Asia and the Pacific, 19411945 By Eric Hammel THE GREAT AMERICAN AERIAL CRUSADE OF WORLD WAR II: There was never a military campaign like it, and there never will be another. Here is an opportunity to follow the great crusade as it unfolded in the air over the Japans ill-gotten empire in East Asia and the Pacific. This exhaustive chronology sheds a fascinating light on the course of Americas air war against Japan in all the active theaters. * The Air War Pacific Chronology is a day-by-day accounting of all the major combat aviation missions undertaken by United States Army Air Forces, United States Navy, United States Marine Corps, and American Volunteer Group units and commands in China, Burma, India, and throughout the Pacific during World War II. * All Army Air Forces, Navy, Marine, and Flying Tiger theater fighter aces are covered including unit affiliation, date and time ace status was attained, and date and time of highest victory tally (over ten). * Information pertaining to the arrival, activation, transfer, departure, and decommissioning of air commands, combat units, and special units. Comings and goings of the commanders of major aviation units are also covered. * Provides a rich contextual framework pertaining to related ground campaigns; international and high-command conferences and decisions influencing air strategies and campaigns; and breakthroughs in the development of special techniques and equipment. * Includes a bibliography, guide to abbreviations, maps, and two indexes.

Free Sample Chapters

145

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book AIR WAR PACIFIC: ChronologyAmericas Air War Against Japan in East Asia and the Pacific, 1941-1945 by Eric Hammel. The book is currently available only in ebook editions.

NOVEMBER 1943
by Eric Hammel Copyright 1998 by Eric Hammel

November 1, 1943
ALASKA: The Alaska Theater of Operations is established and the Alaska Defense Command is separated from the Western Defense Command, renamed the Alaskan Department, and placed under the direct control of the U.S. War Department. BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO: Two 347th Fighter Group P-38 pilots down a G4M near Cape St. George at 0950 hours. This is the first victory by Solomons-based fighters in the Bismarck Archipelago. IJN carrier aircraft40 B5Ns, 45 D3As, 82 A6Ms, and six reconnaissance aircraftarriving at Rabaul from Japan by way of Truk Atoll bolster the approximately 200 aircraft already based there. During the night of November 12, two 394th Heavy Bombardment Squadron SB-24s attack a convoy west of Cape St. George. CHINA: Six 11th Medium Bombardment Squadron B-25s and nine P40s attack the rail yards at Yoyang. NEW GUINEA: V Fighter Command fighters begin making use of the dirt airstrip at Gusap, which is slated to be expanded into a major airdrome. Concurrent with the build-up on new and improved airfields is a major road-building effort aimed at keeping the remote inland airfields stocked with fuel, parts, and other necessities. Indeed, one aviation engineer battalion is used to help build a road from Lae to Nadzab. SOLOMON ISLANDS: Covered by three AirSols F4U squadrons and

146

Pacifica Military History

assisted by naval gunfire, 31 USMC TBFs and eight VC-38 SBDs attack the Cape Torokina invasion beaches in Bougainvilles Empress Augusta Bay ahead of the lead waves of the U.S. 3d Marine Division. Commencing Operation ROa plan for the defense of the northern Solomon IslandsIJN air attacks against the invasion fleet delay unloading operations, but the invasion is considered successful despite the fierce opposition of a small defense force that restricts the Marines to a shallow beachhead. AirSols fighters based in the central Solomons provide extensive cover for the invasion force, and AirSols land-based and USN carrierbased fighters and light bombers from Task Force 38*, as well as USN surface warships completely neutralize the now-bypassed IJN airbases in southern Bougainville and the Shortland Islands. Nevertheless, at 0735 hours, nine Rabaul-based D3As, escorted by 44 A6Ms, attack the invasion flotilla through an AirSols covering force of eight VF-17 F4Us and eight RNZAF Kittyhawks. One USN destroyer is lightly damaged by a near miss. A second Rabaul-based air attack in the early afternoon results in no damage, but one USN transport runs aground while maneuvering to avoid the bombers. RNZAF Kittyhawk pilots down seven A6Ms and VF-17 F4U pilots down five A6Ms over Empress Augusta Bay between 0745 and 0800 hours; 347th Fighter Group P-38 pilots down seven A6Ms over Empress Augusta Bay between 0810 and 0820; VF-17 F4U pilots down an A6M over Empress Augusta Bay at 1330 hours; and VMF-215 F4U pilots down four A6Ms and a B5N over Empress Augusta Bay between 1345 and 1347 hours. Four Allied fighters are lost during the day. 1stLt Robert M. Hanson, a VMF-215 F4U pilot, achieves ace status when he downs a B5N and two A6Ms over Empress Augusta Bay at about 1345 hours. Twenty-one XIII Bomber Command B-24s attack Bougainville/ Kahili Airdrome; AirSols B-24s, SBDs, and fighters attack Bougainville/ Kara Airdrome; and 42d Medium Bombardment Group B-25s attack barges and docks at Faisi. On this first day of the Bouginville offensive, AirSols has at its immediate disposal the following units and aircraft: At Guadalcanal

Free Sample Chapters

147

VB-102 in 15 PB4Ys, VB-104 in 12 PB4Ys, the 5th and 307th Heavy Bombardment groups in 48 B-24s and four SB-24s, VS-54 in 14 SBDs, the 18th Fighter Groups 44th Fighter Squadron in 25 P-38s, 3 RNZAF Squadron in 15 PVs, VP-23 in 12 PBYs, VP-54 in six PBYs, VP-71 in 15 PBYs, VS-64 in eight OS2Us, VS-68 in eight OS2Us, SCAT in 21 C-47s and R4Ds, VD-1 in seven photo-reconnaissance PB4Ys, three 17th Photographic-Reconnaissance Squadron F-5s, 10 reserve P-39s, and 10 reserve P-40s; at MundaVF(N)-75 in six F4U night fighters, the 18th Fighter Groups 12th Figher Squadron in 25 P-39s, VC-24 in 24 SBDs, VC-38 in nine SBDs and nine TBFs, VC-40 in nine SBDs and nine TBFs, VMSB-144 in 24 SBDs, VMSB-234 in 10 SBDs, VMSB244 in 24 SBDs, VMTB-143 in 10 TBFs, VMTB-232 in 20 TBFs, and three 17th Photographic-Reconnaissance Squadron F-5s; in the Russell Islandsthree squadons of the 42d Medium Bombardment Group in 48 B-25s, VB-138 in 12 PVs, VB-140 in 15 PVs, VMF-211 in 20 F4Us, and VMF(N)-531 in five PV night fighters; at SegiVF-33 in 26 F6Fs, VF-38 in 12 F6Fs, and VF-40 in 12 F6Fs; at OndongaVF-17 in 36 F4Us, the 347th Fighter Groups 70th Fighter Squadron in 25 P-39s, 15 RNZAF Squadron in 21 Kittyhawks, and 17 RNZAF Squadron in 21 Kittyhawks; and at BarakomaVMF-212 in 20 F4Us, VMF-215 in 20 F4Us, and VMF-221 in 20 F4Us. During the night of November 12, two 394th Heavy Bombardment Squadron SB-24s locate an IJN surface task force speeding toward the Empress Augusta Bay invasion fleet. They sound the alarm and attack the IJN flagship, a heavy cruiser. This action precipitates the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay, a decisive night naval surface engagement that forces the IJN force to retire following the loss of a light cruiser and destroyer to gunfire from USN surface warships. * Task Force 38 [RAdm Frederick C. Sherman, Commander, Carrier Division 1]: USS Saratoga (Fleet Carrier Air Group 12) and USS Princeton (Light Carrier Air Group 23).

148

Pacifica Military History

November 2, 1943
BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO: In support of the landings at Bougainville and the Treasury Islands, 78 V Bomber Command B-25s, escorted by 70 V Fighter Command P-38s and P-47s (including two squadrons assigned to strafe in advance of the bombers), attack antiaircraft emplacements and shipping in Simpson Harbor. The mastheadhigh bombing is highly accurate, and three IJN destroyers and eight freighters are claimed as sunk or sinking. Nevertheless, in the strongest opposition encountered by the Fifth Air Force in World War II, IJN fighters and antiaircraft down eight B-25s and nine P-38s. V Fighter Command P-38 and P-47 pilots down 31 Japanese fighters in the Rabaul area between 1315 and 1400 hours. Maj Raymond H. Wilkins, the commanding officer of the 3d Light Bombardment Groups 8th Light Bombardment Squadron, sinks two Japanese ships and then deliberately draws enemy antiaircraft fire toward his B-25 in order to allow other airplanes in his unit to withdraw safely. Maj Wilkins airplane is shot down and all aboard are lost. Maj Wilkins is awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor. 1stLt Grover D. Gholson, a P-38 pilot with the 475th Fighter Groups 432d Fighter Squadron, achieves ace status when he downs an A6M and a Ki-43 over Rabaul at 1330 hours; 1stLt Marion F. Kirby, a P-38 pilot with the 475th Fighter Groups 431st Fighter Squadron, achieves ace status when he downs two A6Ms over Rabaul at 1340 hours; 1stLt Lowell C. Lutton, a P-38 pilot with the 475th Fighter Groups 431st Fighter Squadron, achieves ace status when he downs an A6M near Rabaul at 1340 hours, but he is himself shot down and killed in this engagement; 1stLt Arthur E. Wenige, a P-38 pilot with the 475th Fighter Groups 431st Fighter Squadron, achieves ace status when he downs two A6Ms near Rabaul at 1340 hours; and Capt William F. Haney, a P38 pilot with the 49th Fighter Groups 9th Fighter Squadron, achieves ace status when he downs two A6Ms over Rabaul at 1345 hours. During the night of November 23, RAAF Beauforts attack Rabaul/Tobera Airdrome. CHINA: Five 11th Medium Bombardment Squadron B-25s and 12 Fourteenth Air Force P-40s attack warehouses and port facilities at Shasi.

Free Sample Chapters

149

NEW GUINEA: V Bomber Command B-25s attack lines of communication around Fortification Point; and V Fighter Command P-39 fighterbombers attack targets in the Bogadjim area. SOLOMON ISLANDS: In a continuation of the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay, more than 100 IJN carrier bombers and fighters based at Rabaul attack the USN surface force at 0800 hours. Antiaircraft fire deflects most of the attackers, and only very light damage is sustained by a light cruiser from two direct hits. Twenty XIII Bomber Command B-24s attack Bougainville/ Kahili Airdrome; and USN aircraft from Task Force 38 mount two punishing strikes against Buka and Bougainville/Bonis airdromes. Task Force 38 then departs the area to refuel. VF-33 F6F pilots down a G4M, three D3As, and two A6Ms over the USN surface battle force in Empress Augusta Bay at 0815 hours; a VF-12 F6F pilot downs a Ki-21 at sea at 0838 hours; and a VMF-221 F4U pilot downs two D3As over a U.S. Navy task force at 1830 hours. One USMC F4U is lost. Marine BriGen Field Harris establishes a new Aircraft, Northern Solomons (AirNorSols) headquarters ashore at Cape Torokina to coordinate air activities over and around the Bougainville beachhead.

November 3, 1943
BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO: V Bomber Command B-24s mount light antishipping strikes at Cape Gloucester and Talasea, but planned attacks against Rabaul are canceled in the face of bad weather over the target area. BURMA: Eight Fourteenth Air Force P-40 fighter-bombers attack Lashio Airdrome. CHINA: Twenty-one 308th Heavy Bombardment Group B-24s attack the port at Kowloon; and nine 11th Medium Bombardment Group B25s and nine P-40s attack targets around Hwajung, Owchihkow, and Shihshow. 74th Fighter Squadron P-40 pilots down three A6Ms near Canton during the early afternoon. NEW GUINEA: V Bomber Command B-25s attack targets around Madang; and V Fighter Command P-39s strafe Bogadjim.

150

Pacifica Military History

SOLOMON ISLANDS: Nineteen XIII Bomber Command B-24s that attack a convoy near Mussau Island claim hits on three ships.

November 4, 1943
BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO: V Bomber Command B-24s on armed-reconnaissance strikes sink a ship north of New Britain, but planned attacks against IJN warships in Rabaul harbor are canceled in the face of bad weather over the target area. AirSols PB4Ys on patrol over the Bismarck Sea locate and attack a Japanese convoy carrying reinforcements from Rabaul to Bougainville and an IJN surface battle force. Two two transports are damaged. These finds precipitate a sally by a USN surface battle force and an antishipping attack on Rabaul by USN carrier aircraft that will take place the next day. BURMA: Chinese Army infantry forces pinned down at Ngajatzup in northern Burma must be resupplied by Tenth Air Force cargo aircraft. CHINA: The CACW makes its combat debut when 1st CACW Medium Bombardment Group B-25s attack military targets at Amoy and Swatow. NEW GUINEA: V Fighter Command P-40 fighter-bombers attack IJA ground troops in the battle area. SOLOMON ISLANDS: Twenty-three XIII Bomber Command B-24s attack Buka Airdrome. Having failed in large measure to draw much attention from Japanese forces, the U.S. 2d Marine Parachute Battalion on Choiseul is withdrawn under cover of AirSols light bombers and fighters. UNITED STATES: The U.S. War Departments Operations Division recommends that, among other matters relating to the U.S. involvement in China, the Fourteenth Air Force inaugurate a limited but ongoing bombing offensive against Japanese bases and lines of supply and communications.

November 5, 1943
BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO: Commencing at 1010 hours, while USN F6Fs based at Vella Lavella/Barakoma Field cover the carriers, 22 SBDs, 23 TBFs, and 52 F6Fs from Task Force 38 attack ships and fa-

Free Sample Chapters

151

cilities in Rabaul harbor. At a cost of one SBD, four TBFs, and five F6Fs lost (mostly to antiaircraft fire), four IJN heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and two destroyers are severely damaged (mainly by the SBDs), and USN F6F pilots (and several SBD and TBF crews) down one Ki-21 and 27 A6Ms and Ki-61s. Five F6Fs and five USN carriers bombers are lost with seven pilots and eight aircrewmen. As a result of this attack, all IJN surface warships at Rabaul are ordered to Truk Atoll, thus ending the threat of a surface attack against the Bougainville invasion fleet. Upon completion of the days strike against Rabaul, Task Force 38 withdraws from range of Japanese land-based aircraft. As Japanese aircraft based at Rabaul search in vain for the USN carriers, 90 V Bomber Command B-17s and B-24s escorted by 67 V Fighter Command P-38s pass up the deserted Rabaul-area airdromes and attack the Rabaul wharf area instead. (This is the final appearance of B-17s in the SWPA.) A 49th Fighter Group P-38 pilot downs two A6Ms over Rabaul at 1215 hours. The USN and USAAF combined bomber assault on Rabaul neutralizes the threat IJN surface forces pose to the Bougainville invasion fleet. CENTRAL PACIFIC: VD-3 PB4Ys mount their first mission to the Marshall Islands, where they photograph defenses and facilities in Mille Atoll. NEW GUINEA: 22d Medium Bmbardment Group B-25s and B-26s attack IJA infantry positions near Bogadjim with 23 tons of bombs dropped from very low altitude; V Bomber Command B-25s attack ground positions near Dumpu; and V Fighter Command P-39 fighterbombers attack Madang. The V Bomber Commands 22d Medium Bombardment Group, in B-25s and B-26s, is awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for precision bombing of IJA infantry trenches in very close proximity to Australian Army ground forces. 348th Fighter Group P-47 pilots down five Ki-61s and an A6M near Wewak at 1105 hours. SOLOMON ISLANDS: Six 42d Medium Bombardment Group B-25s

152

Pacifica Military History

on a sweep around Bougainville attack a bivouac at Kieta and sundry barges. Following the supposed sighting of Task Force 38 at 1445 hours by Rabaul-based search aircraft, 18 Rabaul-based B5Ns attack a tiny convoy composed of one USN landing-craft gunboat, one PT-boat, and one landing craft. The PT-boat is damaged when a B5N crashes into it, and the gunboat is damaged by a torpedo that does not explode. Despite this, the returning IJN pilots report the sinking of two carriers, three cruisers, and a destroyer. One B5N crashes into the PT-boat and another is downed by ships fire.

November 6, 1943
BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO: V Fighter Command P-40s attack Gasmata, but a planned heavy-bomber attack against Rabaul is recalled due to bad weather. CENTRAL PACIFIC: In support of the upcomng invasion of the Gilbert Islands, the Seventh Air Force, VII Bomber Command, VII Fighter Command, and VII Air Force Services Command all establish advance headquarters at Funafuti Airdrome. NEW GUINEA: Japanese bombers mount uncontested attacks against Dumpu, Finschhafen, and Nadzab. SOLOMON ISLANDS: Nine 42d Medium Bombardment Group B25s attack Buka harbor and airdrome; one B-25 attacks Kieta; AirSols SBDs and fighters attack Bougainville/Kara Airdrome, and then 24 42d Medium Bombardment Group B-25s attack Bougainville/Kara Airdrome again; and 17 XIII Bomber Command B-24s attack Bougainville/Bonis Airdrome. Four VF-17 F4U pilots down a G4M over Bougainville at 1040 hours; and a 6th Night Fighter Squadron P-38 pilot downs an A6M near Santa Isabel at 1300 hours. SOUTH PACIFIC AREA: VMF-216, in F4Us, arrives at Espiritu Santo from Hawaii.

November 7, 1943
BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO: Twenty-five V Bomber Command B24s and 64 V Fighter Command P-38s attack Rabaul/Rapopo Airdrome

Free Sample Chapters

153

8th and 475th Fighter Group P-38 pilots down six Japanese fighters over the Rabaul area between 1220 and 1230 hours. Five P-38s are lost. 1stLt Allen E. Hill, a P-38 pilot with the 8th Fighter Groups 80th Fighter Squadron, achieves ace status when he downs an A6M over Rabaul at 1220 hours; and 1stLt Jack C. Mankin, a P-38 pilot with the 475th Fighter Groups 431st Fighter Squadron, achieves ace status when he downs a Ki-61 and a Ki-43 over Rabaul at 1230 hours. CENTRAL PACIFIC: VB-108 displaces to the newly operational Nukufetau Airdrome. CHINA: Two 11th Medium Bombardment Squadron B-25s attack the harbor at Amoy; and six Fourteenth Air Force P-40s attack a bridge at Hsiangyangchiao. NEW GUINEA: Nine V Bomber Command B-25s attack Wewak, but more than 40 others abort when their escorts are intercepted over Nadzab by a large number of Japanese fighters. Japanese bombers mount uncontested attacks against Nadzab Airdrome and Bena Bena. Sixteen USAAF aircraft are destroyed on the ground. 49th Fighter Group P-38 pilots down three A6Ms near Alexishafen at 0720 hours; 8th Fighter Group P-47 pilots and 35th Fighter Group P-39 pilots down five Ki-21s and two Ki-43s near Nadzab between 0810 and 0815 hours; 348th Fighter Group P-47 pilots down four A6Ms between Saidor and Lae at 0855 hours; and 49th Fighter Group P-38 pilots down three A6Ms over Bogadjim at 1400 hours. LtCol Robert R. Rowland, the 348th Fighter Group executive officer, in a P-47, achieves ace status when he downs two A6Ms over Saidor. The 71st Reconnaissance Group arrives at Port Moresby from the United States for service with the Fifth Air Force. SOLOMON ISLANDS: Twenty-one AirSols B-24s attack Buka Airdrome; and eight 42d Medium Bombardment Group B-25s attack barges and shore targets at Atsinima Bay.

154

Pacifica Military History

November 8, 1943
BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO: The scheduled Fifth Air Force mission to Rabaul is canceled because of bad weather over the target. BURMA: During the night of November 89, five 7th Heavy Bombardment Group B-24s sow mines in the Rangoon River. CHINA: Two 11th Medium Bombardment Squadron B-25s attack Kiungshan Airdrome; and six Fourteenth Air Force P-40s attack a bridge at Hsiangyangchiao. SOLOMON ISLANDS: Twenty-two AirSols B-24s attack Bougainville/Bonis Airdrome; six 42d Medium Bombardment Group B-25s attack Kieta; and six B-25s attack targets of opportunity on Bougainville. Twenty-six IJN D3As and 71 A6Ms attack USN transports and warships in Empress Augusta Bay at noon, but they are intercepted by 28 AirSols fighters before they can do much damage. One USN transport is lightly damaged by two direct hits. Eight AirSols fighters are lost. A VF-17 F4U pilot downs a transport over Buka Airdrome at 0710 hours; VF-17 F4U pilots down three A6Ms west of Bougainville at 1100 hours; VMF-212 F4U pilots down three D3As and VF-33 F6F pilots down four D3As and four Ki-61s over Empress Augusta Bay at noon; and XIII Fighter Command P-38 and P-40 pilots down eight D3As and seven A6Ms over Cape Torokina between noon and 1230 hours. Lt(jg) James J. Kinsella, a VF-33 F6F pilot, achieves ace status when he downs three Ki-61s over Empress Augusta Bay at noon. Between 1911 hours, November 8, and 0100 hours, November 9, 21 Rabaul-based B5Ns, D3As, and G4Ms make unopposed attacks against a USN surface force off Bougainville. Ten bombers are downed by antiaircraft fire, but one light cruiser is damaged by two bombs and a torpedo.

November 9, 1943
BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO: V Fighter Command P-40s attack dumps at Gasmata, and patrolling V Bomber Command B-24s sink an IJN destroyer near Kavieng, but the scheduled Fifth Air Force mission to Rabaul is canceled because of bad weather over the target.

Free Sample Chapters

155

NEW GUINEA: More than 40 V Bomber Command B-25s and A-20s attack Alexishafen Airdrome. V Fighter Command P-38, P-39, and P-40 pilots down 15 Japanese fighters in a series of engagements over Alexishafen, Lae, and Nadzab between 1015 and 1120 hours. 1stLt James C. Ince, a P-38 pilot with the 475th Fighter Groups 432d Fighter Squadron, achieves ace status when he downs an A6M near Alexishafen at 1015 hours; Maj Charles H. MacDonald, a 475th Fighter Group staff officer whose first combat mission was over Pearl Harbor, achieves ace status when he downs two A6Ms near Aliexishafen at 1020 hours; and Capt Daniel T. Roberts, Jr., a P-38 ace with the 475th Fighter Groups 433d Fighter Squadron, brings his final personal tally to 14 victories when he downs an A6M over Alexishafen at 1030 hours. Roberts, however, is killed in a crash after his P-38s tail is clipped by another P-38 in his flight. 2dLt John C. Smith, a six-victory 475th Fighter Group P-38 ace, is killed in aerial combat over Alexishafen. PACIFIC OCEAN AREA: Task Force 57 is activated at Pearl Harbor under the command of RAdm John H. Hoover (Commander, Aircraft, Central Pacific) to oversee all land-based aircraft in the Central Pacific Area. Initially, the new command will incorporate the Seventh Air Force (Task Group 57.2, or Striking Group), the 4th Marine Base Defense Aircraft Wing (Task Group 57.4, or Ellice Defense and Utility Group), and six USN patrol squadrons (Task Group 57.3, or Search and Reconnaissance Group). SOLOMON ISLANDS: More than 20 AirSols B-24s attack Bougainville/Kahili and Bougainville/Kara airdromes; 42d Medium Bombardment Group B-25s attack Buka Airdrome and Kieta; and AirSols light bombers and fighters attack Ballale and Bougainville/Kara airdromes.

November 10, 1943


BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO: V Bomber Command B-24s attack Rabaul/Lakunai Airdrome and an airfield under construction on Duke of York Island; and B-25s and V Fighter Command P-38s attack shipping.

156

Pacifica Military History

During the night of November 1011, RAAF Beauforts attack targets around Rabaul. CENTRAL PACIFIC: During the night of November 1011, three IJN bombers evade VMF-441 F4Fs (operating without radar guidance) and bomb Nanomea Airdrome. One U.S. serviceman is killed, a B-24 is destroyed, and several other aircraft are damaged. CHINA: Fourteenth Air Force fighters attack river traffic. EAST INDIES: 380th Heavy Bombardment Group B-24s attack Soerabaja, Java. NEW GUINEA: V Bomber Command B-25s attack Alexishafen Airdrome. SOLOMON ISLANDS: More than 20 42d Medium Bombardment Group B-25s attack Ballale and Bougainville/Kara airdromes, and shipping targets of opportunity. Responding to the first air-support request of the Bougainville operation (lodged the afternoon before), 18 VMTB-143 and VMTB233 TBFs arrive on station at 0915 hours over the Piva River area of the Bougainville beachhead. At 1015, each of 12 TBFs drops 12 100-pound bombs on ground targets marked by colored smoke. Many of the bombs strike targets within 120 yards of USMC ground troops and kill an estimated 40 IJA soldiers. The attackthe first of its kind in the Pacific is deemed a success and a template for future operations.

November 11, 1943


BISMARCK ARCHIPEALGO: Before dawn, 23 V Bomber Command B-24s breast bad weather to attack Rabaul/Lakunai Airdrome, but follow-on strikes are recalled in the face of continuing heavy weather. This concludes the Fifth Air Force offensive against Rabaul. During the morning, while VMF-212 and VMF-221 F4Us bolster the combat air patrol over the carriers, 239 USN carrier* bombers and fighters attacking in two waves mount extremely strong attacks against Rabaul. In the air battle over Rabaul, USN F6F pilots (and several SBD crews) down 38 A6Ms between 0900 and 0930 hours. This mission marks the combat debut of the brand-new SB2C dive-bomber (from Fleet Carrier Air Group 17).

Free Sample Chapters

157

Forty-two XIII Bomber Command B-24s attack Rabaul from high level just as the last of the carrier aircraft depart the area. Cloud cover obscures the results as two B-24 squadrons drop their bombs from 16,000 to 20,000 feet. The 5th Heavy Bombardment Groups 23d Heavy Bombardment Squadron attacks a light cruiser from 8,500 feet. Several Rabaul-based G4Ms, 14 B5Ns, 27 D3As, and 67 fighters open a counterattack against the USN carrier force at 1315 hours, but USN fightersincluding a land-based F4U squadron (VF-17) and a land-based F6F squadron (VF-33) operating from the carrier decks beat off the Japanese attack and exact a very high toll of Japanese aircraft downed at sea and over the carriers between 1315 and 1415 hours. (The USN pilots claim 111 victories, but it is estimated that two G4Ms, 14 B5Ns, 17 D3As, and eight fighters are actually downed.) Three A6Ms are also downed at sea during the evening by VF-18 F6F patrol pilots. Eleven USN fighters are lost and the USS Essex is slightly damaged by a near miss. In the evening, Task Force 38 and Task Group 50.3 are dissolved and all five USN aircraft carriers are ordered from the area to take part with the U.S. Fifth Fleet in the upcoming Operation GALVANIC, the Gilbert Islands invasion. * Task Force 38 [RAdm Frederick C. Sherman, Commander, Carrier Division 1]USS Saratoga (Fleet Carrier Air Group 12) and USS Princeton (Light Carrier Air Group 23). Task Group 50.3 [RAdm Alfred E. Montgomery, Commander, Carrier Division 12]USS Essex (Fleet Carrier Air Group 9), USS Bunker Hill (Fleet Carrier Air Group 17), and USS Independence (Light Carrier Air Group 22). CHINA: Six 308th Heavy Bombardment Group B-24s attack Burma Road targets; eight Fourteenth Air Force P-40s attack river targets; and six P-40s attack a gun emplacement, barracks, and a radio station near Yoyang. NEW GUINEA: V Bomber Command B-25s attack targets around Madang, and V Fighter Command P-39s strafe Bogadjim.

158

Pacifica Military History

A 35th Fighter Group P-39 pilot downs a D3A near Alexishafen at 0737 hours. SOLOMON ISLANDS: Several 42d Medium Bombardment Group B-25s and AirSols F4Us strafe shore targets and barges in Matchin Bay.

November 12, 1943


BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO: The IJN terminates Operation RO and withdraws all of its 52 surviving carrier aircraft (of 173 committed) from Rabaul to Japan via Truk Atoll. Although still heavily defended by an infusion of land-based aircraft forwarded via the base at Truk (Caroline Islands), Rabauls aviation force moves predominantly to the defensive and so no longer poses a serious threat to Allied forces in the Solomon Islands or New Guinea. BURMA: During the night of November 1213, two 7th Heavy Bombardment Group B-24s sow mines in the Rangoon River. CENTRAL PACIFIC: Two squadrons of the VII Bomber Commands 30th Heavy Bombardment Group, in B-24s, displace to Nanomea Airdrome from Hawaii; and one squadron displaces to Nukufetau Airdrome. CHINA: Ten 11th Medium Bombardment Squadron B-25s and 24 Fourteenth Air Force P-40s attack rail yards, antiaircraft emplacements, and warehouses in Yoyang; five B-25s attack port areas at Puchi and Yangchi Kang; and one B-25 and 15 P-40s attack targets of opportunity while on armed reconnaissance missions. EAST INDIES: 380th Heavy Bombardment Group B-24s attack various targets on Amboina and Java. NEW GUINEA: V Bomber Command B-25s and B-26s attack Japanese-held villages between Finschhafen and Saidor. SOLOMON ISLANDS: At 0420 hours, four G4Ms attempt a torpedo attack against USN warships in Empress Augusta Bay. Next, at 0455 hours, four G4Ms attack a USN light cruiser with torpedoes and score one hit that severely damages the ship, kills twenty crewmen, and wounds eleven. Eighteen 42d Medium Bombardment Group B-25s attack Tarlena; six B-25s attack Matchin Bay; and eight XIII Fighter Command P-38s attack Bougainville/Bonis Airdrome.

Free Sample Chapters

159

Eighteen USN land-based TBFs from VC-38 and VC-40, responding to an air- support mission request lodged the previous afternoon, drop 100-pound bombs on IJA defensive positions within only 100 yards of friendly troops. As a result of the attack, the IJA force abandons its positions. New Zealand Army forces defeat the last vestiges of the IJA garrison on Mono Island in the Treasury group.

November 13, 1943


BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO: Fifth Air Force bombers and fighters open a pre- invasion bombardment campaign against IJA defenses and facilities in western New Britain. Nine V Bomber Command B-25s and 18 RAAF Kittyhawks attack Gasmata and photograph a wide area around Gasmata. BURMA: During the night of November 1314, one 7th Heavy Bombardment Group B-24 sows mines in the Rangoon River. CENTRAL PACIFIC: IJN bombers attack Funafuti Airdrome, where two aircraft are destroyed on the ground. GILBERT ISLANDS: Eighteen 11th Heavy Bombardment Group B24s based at or staging through Funafuti and Nanomea airdromes attack Betio Island with 27.5 tons of general-purpose bombs and 126 20-pound fragmentation bombs. There is no opposition from IJN fighters, but antiaircraft coverage is intense and one B-24 is downed. During the night of November 1314, USN Task Force 57* landbased bombers attack targets at Tarawa and Makin atolls and Nauru Island. * For the upcoming Gilbert Islands invasion, Task Force 57 is organized as follows: Task Force 57 [RAdm John H. Hoover, USN]: Task Group 57.2 (Striking Group) [MajGen Willis H. Hale, USAAF, Commanding General, Seventh Air Force]11th and 30th Heavy Bombardment groups (90 B-24s); Task Group 57.3 (Search and Reconnaissance Group) [RAdm John H. Hoover]VD-3 (6 PB4Ys), VP-53 (12 PBYs), VP-72 (12 PBYs), VB-108 (12 PB4Ys), VB-137 (12 PVs), VB-142 (12

160

Pacifica Military History

PVs), and tenders USS Curtiss, USS Mackinac, and USS Swan, based at Nanomea, Nukufetau, and Funafuiti; Task Group 57.4 (Ellice Islands Defense and Utility Group) [BriGen Lewie G. Merritt, USMC, Commanding General, 4th Marine Base Defense Aircraft Wing]Marine Air Group 13 and Marine Air Group 31 (90 F4Us and 72 SBDs), VS-51 (8 SBDs and OS2Us), VS-65 (8 SBDs and OS2Us), VS-66 (8 SBDs and OS2Us) MARSHALL ISLANDS: 11th Heavy Bombardment Group B-24s based in the Ellice Islands attack Mille Airdrome; and VD-3 PB4Ys based at Canton Island Airdrome and staging through the Ellice Islands mount their first photo-reconnaissance missions to Wotje and Maloelap atolls. NEW GUINEA: Nearly 120 V Bomber Command B-24s and B-25s attack Alexishafen; B-24s attack Kaukenau and Timoeka; and V Fighter Command P-40s strafe targets in and around Alexishafen. SOLOMON ISLANDS: Seventeen XIII Bomber Command B-24s attack Bougain-ville/Bonis Airdrome; and six 42d Medium Bombardment Group B-25s attack Buka Airdrome at low level. During the night of November 1314, 6th Night Fighter Squadron P-70s mount night heckling missions against Bougainville/Bonis and Bougainville/Kahili airdromes and targets in the Shortland Islands. A VMF(N)-531 PV night-fighter crew downs a G4M 50 miles southwest of Cape Torokina at 0420 hours. This is the USMCs first night victory, and the first by a PV.

November 14, 1943


CBI: Task orders are issued to U.S. Army engineer battalions and other units that will be involved in constructing airfields capable of supporting the commitment of B-29 very-heavy bomber units in 1944 (Operation TWILIGHT). GILBERT ISLANDS: Nine 11th Heavy Bombardment Group B-24s based at or staging through Funafuti and Nonomea airdromes attack targets in Tarawa Atoll. NEW GUINEA: V Bomber Command B-25s attack a convoy and bivouac near Sio.

Free Sample Chapters

161

MARSHALL ISLANDS: Nine 11th Heavy Bombardment Group B24s based at Funafuti Airdrome attack Mille Atoll. SOLOMON ISLANDS: During the night of November 1415, 6th Night Fighter Squadron P-70s mount night heckling missions against Faisi and targets in the Shortland Islands.

November 15, 1943


CENTRAL PACIFIC: More than 20 VII Bomber Command B-24s based at Canton Island and Nonomea airdromes attack Jaluit and Mille atolls in the Marshall Islands and Makin Atoll in the Gilbert Islands. VMSB-331, in SBDs, arrives at Nukufetau Airdrome from the United States. CHINA: Fifteen of 20 308th Heavy Bombardment Group B-24s dispatched against Hong Kong and Kowloon abort in the face of bad weather, but five B-24s are able to attack the Kowloon port area. NEW GUINEA: More than 30 V Bomber Command B-24s attack Alexishafen; 88 B-25s abort a scheduled mission against Wewak and Boram when they and their 16 P-40 escorts are engaged by many Japanese fighters. 49th Fighter Group P-40 pilots down a Ki-48 and six fighters over Dumpu and Gusap at 1010 hours; 8th Fighter Group P-40 pilots down three G3Ms and eight fighters over the Ramu Valley at 1010 hours; and 348th Fighter Group P-38 pilots down five fighters over the Wewak area between 1115 and 1130 hours. Two 49th Fighter Group P-40s are lost. 1stLt Richard L. West, a P-40 pilot with the 8th Fighter Groups 35th Fighter Squadron, achieves ace status when he downs two G3Ms and two A6Ms (and probably downs one more of each) over the Ramu Valley at about 1010 hours. SOLOMON ISLANDS: Twenty XIII Bomber Command B-24s attack Buka Airdrome; and eighteen B-24s attack Kahili. The 419th Night Fighter Squadron, in P-38s and several P-70s, arrives from the United States for service with the Thirteenth Air Force. The new unit will replace Detachment B, 6th Night Fighter Squadron. The 100th Medium Bombardment Squadron, in B-25s, arrives in the Solomons for service with the Thirteenth Air Force. The unit will

162

Pacifica Military History

be attached as a fifth squadron to the 42d Medium Bombardment Group in January 1944. During the night of November 1516, 6th Night Fighter Squadron P-70s attack Bougainville/Kahili Airdrome.

November 16, 1943


BURMA: P-38 pilots with the Tenth Air Forces 459th Fighter Squadron down three Ki-43s at 1100 hours while escorting bombers against Meiktila. CENTRAL PACIFIC: The USMCs Central Pacific Combat Air Transport Service (CenCATS) is established at American Samoa/Tutuila Airdrome to oversee Marine air transports in the Central Pacific area. VII Bomber Command B-24s based at Nanomea and Funafuti airdromes begin daily intensive antishipping searches to help cover the approach of the Gilberts invasion fleet. (Other long-range aircraft based in the South Pacific Area and Midway cover overlapping search sectors.) CHINA: Eleven 308th Heavy Bombardment Group B-24s, two 11th Medium Bombardment Squadron B-25s, and four Fourteenth Air Force P-40s attack the Kowloon port area; 11th Medium Bombardment Squadron B-25s mount antishipping attacks off the China coast; and one B-25 and 12 P-40s attack an IJA cavalry column and other targets around Shihmen. A 74th Fighter Squadron P-40 pilot downs a Ki-43 near Wuchow at 0945 hours. FRENCH INDOCHINA: Six Fourteenth Air Force P-40s strafe rail targets and barracks while on an armed-reconnaissance mission. GILBERT ISLANDS: VII Bomber Command B-24s based at Nanomea and Nukufetau airdromes mount individual attacks against Makin and Tarawa atolls. VD-3 PB4Ys reconnoiter and photograph Tarawa Atoll. INDIA: Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten formally activates the new Southeast Asia Command (SEAC) headquarters in New Delhi to oversee all Allied operations in the CBI Theater. MARSHALL ISLANDS: VII Bomber Command B-24s based at Canton Island, Nanomea, and Nukufetau airdromes attack Jaluit, Maloelap,

Free Sample Chapters

163

and Wotje atolls; and B-24s mount individual attacks against Kwajalein Atoll. Several B-24s are damaged in attacks by A6Ms. VD-3 PB4Ys and VII Bomber Command B-24s reconnoiter and photograph defenses and facilities in Jaluit Atoll. NEW GUINEA: V Bomber Command B-25s attack Finschhafen and nearby targets; and V Fighter Command P-39 fighter-bombers attack barges between Madang and Saidor. 475th Fighter Group P-38 pilots down three A6Ms over Wewak at 0950 hours, an A6M over Wewak at 1040 hours, and a Ki-61 over Finschhafen at 1040 hours. Two P-38s are lost. SOLOMON ISLANDS: Four XIII Bomber Command B-24s and 20 B-25s attack Buka Airdrome; and more than 20 B-25s and more than 30 XIII Fighter Command P-39s and P-40s attack targets of opportunity along the Bougainville coast. During the night of November 1617, more than 30 42d Medium Bombardment Group B-25s attack Buka Airdrome; and eight XIII Bomber Command B-24s attack Bougainville/Bonis and Buka airdromes at various times.

November 17, 1943


BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO: RAAF Kittyhawk fighter-bombers attack Gasmata. BURMA: Eight Fourteenth Air Force P-40s attack Pingkai and nearby targets of opportunity. CENTRAL PACIFIC: IJN bombers attack Funafuti Airdrome, where two Seabees are killed and a B-24 and C-47 are destroyed. CHINA: Eight Fourteenth Air Force P-40s attack Kengtung Airdrome and nearby IJA barracks. EAST INDIES: V Bomber Command B-25s attack a freighter near Tanimbar Island in the Molucca Islands. During the night of November 1718, V Bomber Command B24s attack den Pasar, Soerabaja, and Tjepoe. FRENCH INDOCHINA: Four Fourteenth Air Force P-40s attack Dong Cuong Airdrome. GILBERT ISLANDS: VII Bomber Command B-24s based at Canton Island and Funafuti airdromes attack Tarawa Atoll. MARSHALL ISLANDS: VII Bomber Command B-24s based at Can-

164

Pacifica Military History

ton Island and Funafuti airdromes attack Maloelap/Taroa and Mille airdromes. VD-3 PB4Ys reconnoiter and photograph Wotje Atoll. NEW GUINEA: Fifty-eight V Bomber Command B-24s are dispatched against Sattelberg in support of Australian Army ground forces, but only three B-24s and 12 RAAF bombers reach the target through bad weather. 348th Fighter Group P-47s strafe shipping between Finschhafen and Saidor. SOLOMON ISLANDS: At 0350 hours, IJN D4Y dive-bombers mount an unopposed attack against a USN reinforcement convoy near Bougainville. (These D4Ys, a brand-new type, have just been diverted from land-based duty in the Marshall Islands.) One troop-laden destroyertransport is sunk, the only ship sunk by Japanese aircraft during the Bougainville operation. Sixty-four crewmen and fifty-two Marines are lost. Five D4Ys are downed by antiaircraft fire. At 0800, AirSols fighters intercept 10 D4Ys and 55 Japanese fighters on an antishipping strike in Empress Augusta Bay. VF-17 F4U pilots down a B5N, two Ki-61s, and six A6Ms over Empress Augusta Bay between 0800 and 0815; and two VMF-221 F4U pilots down three D4Ys over Cape Torokina at 0800 hours. Two VF-17 F4Us are lost. XIII Bomber Command B-24s attack Buka Airdrome; and three 42d Medium Bombardment Group B-25s attack Kieta. The Marine Air Group 21 headquarters departs Banika Airdrome for the rear area. When a planned reinforcement of the Japanese air units in Rabaul is withheld by higher headquarters in view of the tremendous losses since November 1, Operation ROthe aerial defense of the northern Solomon Islandsis effectively (but not formally) terminated.

November 18, 1943


BURMA: Four Fourteenth Air Force P-40s attack the ferry at Tahsai in support of Chinese Army ground forces. CHINA: Twelve Fourteenth Air Force P-40s attack IJA ground troops and a troop-filled barge at Shihmen. GILBERT ISLANDS: Due to bad weather over assigned targets in the

Free Sample Chapters

165

Marshall Islands, nine VII Bomber Command B-24s based at Nanomea Airdrome attack Tarawa and Makin atolls, and Nauru Island; USN carrier aircraft from Task Group 50.4* attack Nauru; and USN carrier aircraft from Task Group 50.3 attack Tarawa Atoll with 115 tons of bombs. (USN carrier aircraft from Task Group 50.1 screen the northern approaches to the Gilbert Islands and Task Group 50.2 continues to move into position to attack Makin Atoll and other northern targets.) A VF-9 F6F pilot downs an F1M over Tarawa Atoll at 1130 hours, and a VF-18 F6F pilot downs an E8N at sea at 1606 hours. * For the initial phases of Operation GALVANIC, the Gilberts invasion, the aircraft carriers are organized as: Task Force 50 [RAdm Charles A. Pownall]: Task Group 50.1 (Carrier Interceptor Force) [RAdm Charles A. Pownall, Commander, Carrier Division 3]: USS Lexington (Fleet Carrier Air Group 16), USS Yorktown (Fleet Carrier Air Group 5), and USS Cowpens (Light Carrier Air Group 25); Task Group 50.2 (Northern Carrier Group) [RAdm Arthur W. Radford, Commander, Carrier Division 11]USS Enterprise (Fleet Carrier Air Group 6), USS Belleau Wood (Light Carrier Air Group 24), and USS Monterey (Light Carrier Air Group 30); Task Group 50.3 (Southern Carrier Group) [RAdm Alfred E. Montgomery, Commander, Carrier Division 12]USS Bunker Hill (Fleet Carrier Air Group 17), USS Essex (Fleet Carrier Air Group 9), and USS Independence (Light Carrier Air Group 22); and Task Group 50.4 (Relief Carrier Group) [RAdm Frederick C. Sherman, Commander, Carrier Division 1]USS Saratoga (Fleet Carrier Air Group 12) and USS Princeton (Light Carrier Air Group 23). Task Force 52 (Northern Attack Force): Task Group 52.3 [RAdm Henry M. Mullinnix, Commander, Carrier Division 24]USS Coral Sea (VC-33), USS Corregidor (VC-41), USS Liscome Bay (VC-39), USS Nassau (transporting a portion of VF-1), and USS Barnes (transporting a portion of VF-1). [The fighter components of VC-39 and VC-41 are equipped with FM fighters,

166

Pacifica Military History

a four-gun Wildcat variant built by the General Motors Eastern Aircraft Division, but generally the same as the F4F. In future, all new Wildcats will be FMs, and all escort-carrier composite squadrons will be equipped with them. Also, the VC-39 torpedobomber contingent consists of the first 12 TBMs to be deployed. The TBM is a TBF twin built by the General Motors Eastern Air Division rather than by Grumman.] Task Force 53 (Southern Attack Force): Task Group 53.6 [RAdm Van H. Ragdale, Commander, Carrier Division 22]USS Chenango (Escort Carrier Air Group 35), USS Sangamon (Escort Carrier Air Group 37), and USS Suwanee (Escort Carrier Air Group 60). MARSHALL ISLANDS: Due to bad weather over Wotje Atoll, VII Bomber Command B-24s based at Nanomea Airdrome attack Mille Atoll. NEW GUINEA: V Bomber Command B-24s attack Fak Fak; more than 30 V Bomber Command B-25s and B-26s attack IJA ground positions around Sattelberg; and V Fighter Command P-40 fighter-bombers attack Iworep. SOLOMON ISLANDS: VMF-212 F4U pilots down two A6Ms over the Zoller Islands at 0825 hours. The Marine Air Group 24 headquarters arrives in the Russell Islands. During the night of November 1819, five Marines are killed in the Bougainville beachhead when a night heckler penetrates the nightfighter umbrella.

November 19, 1943


AUSTRALIA: The 58th Fighter Group, in P-47s, arrives in Sydney for service with the V Fighter Command. BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO: V Bomber Command B-25s attack Kentengi Anchorage.

Free Sample Chapters

167

CHINA: 11th Medium Bombardment Squadron B-25s attack port facilities and warehouses and Swatow, and mount antishipping strikes in the South China Sea. GILBERT ISLANDS: Thirty VII Bomber Command B-24s join USN warships in the bombardment of Japanese positions in Tarawa and Makin atolls, and on Nauru Island; Task Group 50.4 carrier aircraft attack Nauru; and Task Group 50.3 carrier aircraft attack Tarawa Atoll with 69 tons of bombs; and Task Group 50.2 carrier aircraft attack Makin Atoll. Lt(jg) Hamilton McWhorter, III, a VF-9 F6F pilot, becomes the first F6F Hellcat ace when he downs a G4M near Tarawa Atoll at 0550 hours; four VF-2 F6F pilots down an E8N near Makin Atoll at 0830 hours; four VF-22 F6F down a G4M at sea at 0830 hours; a VF-60 F6F pilot downs an H8K at sea at 0945 hours; a VF-18 F6F pilot downs a G4M near Tarawa Atoll at 1040 hours; two VF-9 F6F pilots down a G4M at sea at 1455 hours; and VF-23 F6F pilots down two A6Ms over Nauru at 1555 hours. INDIA: The 5309th Provisional Air Service Area Command is activated at Chabua Airdrome to oversee supply and maintenance of USAAF aircraft in the region. MARSHALL ISLANDS: Task Group 50.1 carrier aircraft attack the Mille Airdrome and flying boats and floatplane fighters moored in Jaluit Atoll. NEW GUINEA: Approximately 30 V Bomber Command B-25s and B-26s attack IJA ground positions around Sattelberg; and 3d Light Bombardment Group A-20s attack Finschhafen. SOLOMON ISLANDS: Ten 42d Medium Bombardment Group B-25s attack Ballale Airdrome and Matchin Bay. VMF-221, in F4Us, displaces to New Georgia/Munda Field from Guadalcanal.

November 20, 1943


BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO: Fifty V Bomber Command B-24s attack Gasmata. During the night of November 2021, VP-101 Black Cat PBYs sink a cargo ship in Rabaul harbor.

168

Pacifica Military History

CHINA: Despite bad weather that grounds other missions, two 11th Medium Bombardment Squadron B-25s are able to attack barracks and warehouses on Nampang Island. GILBERT ISLANDS: U.S. forces launch Operation GALVANIC, the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. Following intense air and naval-surface bombardments, the U.S. 2d Marine Division lands at Betio Island in Tarawa Atoll, and elements of the U.S. 27th Infantry Division land at Butaritari Island in Makin Atoll. At 0611 hours, USN carrier aircraft from Task Group 50.2 (Northern Carrier Force) mount a 20-minute attack against beach defenses at Butaritari and thereafter stand by to cover the USN surface bombardment force and provide ground support as needed. As U.S. Army ground troops begin landing at 0832 hours, carrier aircraft bomb preselected inland targets. At 0615 hours, USN carrier aircraft from Task Group 50.3 (Southern Carrier Group) mount a firece seven-minute attack against shore defenses on Betio and thereafter stand by to cover the USN surface bombardment force and provide ground support as needed. Owing to delays in landing the first waves, the carrier aircraft attack shore defenses again at 0855 hours. Thereafter, F6Fs provide continuous on-call support for the USMC ground forces. A VF-16 F6F pilot downs an G4M at sea at 0930 hours. Beginning at about 1755 hours, 16 Marshalls-based G4M night torpedo bombers attack Task Group 50.3 while USN aircraft are landing. VF-18 F6F pilots down five G4Ms and ships gunners down four, but one G4M scores a single torpedo hit on the USS Independence (Light Carrier Air Group 22), which is forced to retire to Funafuti, the nearest friendly base. During the night of November 2021, a USMC reconnaissance company lands at Abemama Atoll from a USN submarine and swiftly occupies the atoll against negligible opposition. Abemama is to be the site of a new airfield. INDIA: The Fourteenth Air Forces 308th Heavy Bombardment Group begins a temporary displacement to the Bengal region of India to join the 7th Heavy Bombardment Group and RAF heavy bombers in a joint

Free Sample Chapters

169

campaign against strategic targets in Burma. Two squadrons are based at Pandaveswar Airdrome with two squadrons of the 7th Group, and two squadrons are based at Pangarh Airdrome, also with two 7th Group squadrons. MARSHALL ISLANDS: Task Group 50.1 carrier aircraft attack Mille Atoll. NEW GUINEA: Fifty V Bomber Command B-25s and B-26s attack IJA ground positions around Sattelberg and luggers in Hansa Bay; and 3d Light Bombardment Group A-20s attack targets around Lae. The V Fighter Commands 49th Fighter Group displaces to Gusap Airdrome from Dobodura Airdrome. SOLOMON ISLANDS: Thirteenth Air Force B-25s, and P-38s, and USN PVs attack Bougainville/Bonis Airdrome, and several B-25s attack coastal targets around Empress Augusta Bay. A VMF-222 F4U pilot downs a Ki-49 bomber near Bougainville at 0830 hours. MajGen Ralph J. Mitchell assumes the post of ComAirSols from MajGen Nathan F. Twining, who has been posted to a high command position in Italy. Mitchell will continue to command the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and MASP. VMSB-243, in SBDs, displaces to New Georgia/Munda Field following garrison duty on Johnston and Palmyra islands. SOUTH PACIFIC AREA: VMF-321, in F4Us, arrives at Efate/Vila Field from the United States. UNITED STATES: The XX Bomber Command is formally activated under the command of BriGen Kenneth B. Wolfe and initially assigned to the Second Air Force pending the creation of an air force to oversee B-29 very-heavy-bomber operations. Also activated is the 73d Very Heavy Bombard Wing. And the 58th Heavy Bombardment Wing, which is already training in B-29s at Smoky Hill, Kansas, is redesignated as the 58th Very Heavy Bombardment Wing.

November 21, 1943


BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO: V Bomber Command B-24s attack Gasmata.

170

Pacifica Military History

CHINA: Four 11th Medium Bombardment Squadron B-25s attack Taiping-hu Airdrome and mount antishipping strikes in the South China Sea; four B-25s and 12 Fourteenth Air Force P-40s attack Tzeli; 29 P40s attack small craft on Tungting Lake; 12 P-40s attack five vessels and other targets in the Shihmen area; and eight P-40s attack river boats and IJA ground troops near Tsowshih. GILBERT ISLANDS: 11th Heavy Bombardment Group B-24s based at Funafuti and Nonomea airdromes attack Nauru Island; and VD-3 PB4Ys escorted by 30th Heavy Bombardment Group B-24s, photograph the island. Fighting continues at Tarawa and Makin atolls. USN carrier aircraft continue to provide continuous on-call support of the landing forces. VF-2 and VF-6 F6F pilots down two G4Ms at sea at about 0610 hours. MARSHALL ISLANDS: Task Group 50.1 carrier aircraft attack Mille Atoll. NEW GUINEA: V Bomber Command B-24s and B-25s attack shipping targets; and 3d Light Bombardment Group A-20s attack targets in the Finschhafen area. SOLOMON ISLANDS: A small number of 42d Medium Bombardment Group B-25s strafe Kieta while conducting antishipping patrols. VF-17 F4U pilots down six A6M strafers over Empress Augusta Bay at 0535 hours; and a 67th Fighter Squadron P-39 pilot downs a Ki61 over Cape Torokina at 0630 hours.

November 22, 1943


BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO: More than 100 V Bomber Command B-24s and B-25s attack Cape Gloucester and Gasmata; and B-24s attack ships off Kavieng. CHINA: Sixteen Fourteenth Air Force P-40s attack troop-laden boats on Tungting Lake, and P-40s attack Yangtze River traffic. EGYPT: Allied leaders attend the SEXTANT Conference in Cairo to consider the changing war situation. GILBERT ISLANDS: Fighting continues at Tarawa and Makin atolls.

Free Sample Chapters

171

MARSHALL ISLANDS: Eleven VII Bomber Command B-24s based at Canton Island Airdrome attack Mille Atoll; and Task Group 50.1 carrier aircraft attack Mille Atoll. NEW GUINEA: Twenty-two V Bomber Command B-25s and A-20s attack IJA ground troops around Sattelberg. SOLOMON ISLANDS: Five USN PB4Ys, eight AirSols P-38s, and eight AirSols F4Us attack Buka Airdrome; and XIII Fighter Command P-38s attack barges and shore targets at Chabai.

November 23, 1943


CHINA: Thirteen 11th Medium Bombardment Squadron B-25s escorted by 24 Fourteenth Air Force P-40s and seven A-36s, attack rail yards and warehouses and Yoyang; and eight P-40s attack IJA cavalry and river traffic near Hanshow. EAST INDIES: V Bomber Command B-24s attack a convoy near Halmahera Island. GILBERT ISLANDS: VF-16 F6F pilots down 17 A6Ms near Makin Atoll at appromimately 1005 hours. Lt(jg) Eugene R. Hanks, a VF-16 F6F pilot, becomes the first F6F ace in a day when he downs five A6Ms (and probably downs a sixth) near Tarawa Atoll at 1006 hours. U.S. Army troops overcome resistance on Butaritari Island in Makin Atoll, and U.S. Marines secure Betio Island in Tarawa Atoll after a particularly bloody fight that points up the low state-of-the-art effectiveness of air and naval bombardment. Moves are made to completely secure both atolls and some outlying island groups still occupied by Japanese forces. MARSHALL ISLANDS: Six VII Bomber Command B-24s based at Nukufetau Airdrome attack Jaluit Atoll; and Task Group 50.1 carrier aircraft attack Mille Atoll. NEW GUINEA: V Bomber Command B-25s and A-20s attack occupied villages around Finschhafen. P-40 pilots with the 35th Fighter Groups 40th Fighter Squadron down an A6M and a Ki-43 near Saidor at 0955 hours.

172

Pacifica Military History

SOLOMON ISLANDS: Nineteen XIII Bomber Command B-24s attack Bougainville/Bonis and Buka airdromes; 23 42d Medium Bombardment Group B-25s, six USN PVs, and 24 AirSols F4Us, attack Chabai; and four B-25s attack coastal villages on Bougainville while conducting antishipping patrols. VMF-216, in F4Us, displaces to the Banika Airdrome from the New Hebrides to relieve VMF-211 of patrol duties. SOUTH PACIFIC AREA: MajGen Hubert R. Harmon is named South Pacific Area Deputy Commander for Air, and Col Earl W. Barnes becomes commanding officer of the XIII Fighter Command.

November 24, 1943


BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO: More than 20 V Bomber Command B-24s attack Gasmata. This concludes a five-day bombing offensive amounting to 133 B-24 sorties and 63 B-25 sorties. CHINA: Five 11th Medium Bombardment Squadron B-25s and 16 Fourteenth Air Force P-40s attack Hanshow; and two B-25s attack Amoy. EAST INDIES: Eighteen V Bomber Command B-25s attack shipping at Halmahera. GILBERT ISLANDS: An IJN submarine sinks the escort carrier USS Liscome Bay off Makin Atoll at 0513 hours. Six hundred forty-four men are killed, including many airmen from VC-39 and RAdm Henry M. Mullinnix, the Carrier Division 24 commander. VF-16 F6F pilots down two G4Ms and 10 A6Ms near Makin Atoll at 1230 hours. One of them, Lt(jg) Alfred L. Frendberg, achieves ace status when he downs three A6Ms. Work is begun to rehabilitate and improve the former-IJN airfields on Betio and Butaritari islands, both of which will be needed to support the projected advance to the Marshall Islands. INDIA: Airfield-construction units begin reaching Indian bases from the United States. MARSHALL ISLANDS: Twenty VII Bomber Command B-24s based at Nanomea Airdrome attack land targets and shipping in Maloelap Atoll; and Task Group 50.1 carrier aircraft attack Mille Atoll. NEW GUINEA: More than 30 V Bomber Command B-25s, B-26s, and A-20s attack Kalasa; and 15 B-25s and A-20s attack Finschhafen.

Free Sample Chapters

173

Col Neel E. Kearby replaces BriGen Paul B. Wurtsmith as head of the V Fighter Command. SOLOMON ISLANDS: Twenty-five XIII Bomber Command B-24s attack Buka and Chabai; 20 42d Medium Bombardment Group B-25s attack Bougainville/Kahili Airdrome; and six B-25s attack a possible radio station at Mutupina Point. The six-man crew of a B-25 bya USN PBY within antiaircrafgun range of Bougainville/Kahili Airdrome. A USMC SBD makes a successful emergency landing at Bougainvilles nearly completed Bougainville/Torokina fighter strip.

November 25, 1943


BURMA: A joint coordinated USAAFRAF bomber offensive begins against Rangoon-area strategic targets. Despite bad weather throughout the region, 11 490th Medium Bombardment Squadron B-25s and an unknown number of RAF bombers attack Japanese installations in the Rangoon area, including Rangoon/Mingaladon Airdrome. Escort for the B-25s is provided by the 530th Fighter Squadron. Sixty 308th Heavy Bombardment Group B-24s on loan to the Tenth Air Force fail to locate Zyatkwin Airdrome or locomotive repair shops at Insein due to heavy clouds over both targets, but several B-24s attack Akyab Airdrome on the return flight to India. Two B-24s crash on takeoff, killing all aboard, and one B-24 that is fatally damaged by ground fire over the target crashes with all aboard. P-51 pilots of the 311th Fighter Groups 530th Fighter Squadron down four Ki-45s over Rangoon and Mingaladon at 1300 hours. However, two P-51s are lost. This is the 311th Fighter Groups combat debut, and the first appearance of P-51 fighters in combat anywhere in the world. Col Harry R. Melton, Jr., the 311th Fighter Group commanding officer, is taken prisoner after his P-51 is fatally damaged by a Ki-45 over Rangoon/Mingaladon Airdrome. FORMOSA: On the basis of recent aerial intelligence reports, the Fourteenth Air Force mounts its first attack against Formosa/Shinchiku Air-

174

Pacifica Military History

drome. Led by the 23d Fighter Group commanding officer, Col David L. Hill, 14 11th Medium Bombardment Squadron B-25s, eight 449th Fighter Squadron P-38s, and eight newly committed 311th Fighter Group P-51A fighter-bombers (flown by Hill, several other 23d Fighter Group pilots, and several 311th Group pilots) fly from their temporary base at Suichwan Airdrome across the Formosa Strait at low altitude to attack the crowded Formosa/Shinchiku Airdrome. The P-51A and P-38 pilots down 14 fighters, bombers, and transports over the base at 1700 hours, and then the B-25s and P-51As destroy 42 Japanese aircraft on the ground. There are no USAAF losses. Sixteen Fourteenth Air Force P-40s attack boats in the Changte Hanshow area. GILBERT ISLANDS: VF-1, in F6Fs, arrives at Tarawa Atoll aboard two escort carriers. As soon as Betios airfield (renamed Hawkins Field) is rehabilitated, VF-1 will begin a land-based combat tour. Just after sunset, 13 Marshalls-based G4Ms, aided by parachute flares, attack the U.S. invasion fleet off Makin Atoll with torpedoes. No hits are scored. In a second attack against the northern USN carriers, USN F6F pilots guided by a VT-6 radar-equipped TBF down three G4Ms at sea between 1725 and 1928 hours. Lost in this action, however, is LCdr Edward H. (Butch) OHarethe VF-6 commanding officer, the U.S. Navys first World War II fighter ace, and a Medal of Honor recipient. It is possible that OHares F6F is the victim of the TBF, which also claims an aerial victory this night. MARSHALL ISLANDS: Task Group 50.1 carrier aircraft attack Mille Atoll. NEW GUINEA: V Fighter Command fighter-bombers attack targets on the Bogadjim road. A 348th Fighter Group P-47 pilot downs a Ki-46 near Wewak at 1010 hours. Australian Army ground forces capture Sattelberg. SOLOMON ISLANDS: VMSB-236, in SBDs, displaces to New Georgia/Munda Field from Guadalcanal. Also, VMTB-134, in TBFs, arrives at New Georgia/Munda Field from the United States by way of the New

Free Sample Chapters

175

Hebrides. The new unit will undertake level-bombing missions against targets on Bougainville.

November 26, 1943


BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO: V Bomber Command B-24s attack Gasmata and an IJN cruiser at Ubili. BURMA: Although the days heavy-bomber mission against Rangoon is scrubbed because of heavy weather, 13 RAF Wellingtons attack marshalling yards in the city during the night of November 2627. CHINA: Five 11th Mediums Bombardment Squadron B-25s and 16 Fourteenth Air Force P-51s and P-40s attack Kiangling Airdrome; two B-25s attack a freighter on Honghai Bay; and 12 P-40s attack boats in the Changte-Tehshan area. EGYPT: Before concluding the SEXTANT Conference, Allied leaders agree to mount an amphibious invasion in Burma (Operation CHAMPION) and to clear a land route from India to China through Burma. The leaders also approve plans for Operation TWILIGHT, the basing of USAAF B-29 very-heavy bombers in China. FRENCH INDOCHINA: Eight Fourteenth Air Force P-40s attack rail facilities at Cam Duong. GILBERT ISLANDS: Following up on a de facto occupation by USMC scouts, a large occupation force is landed at Abemama Atoll, where a new airfield is to be constructed. A new airfield is also to be constructed in Makin Atoll. The first American airplane to land at Betio/Hawkins Field is a VMJ353 R4D. NEW GUINEA: Nearly 40 V Bomber Command B-25 and B-26s attack barges near Sio; and V Fighter Command P-40s and P-47s attack occupied villages and targets of opportunity around Alexishafen, Madang, and Nubia. 8th Fighter Group P-40 pilots and 35th Fighter Group P-39 pilots turn back a Japanese bomber force on its way to Finschhafen and down seven Ki-43s and two A6Ms between Finschhafen and Saidor between 1100 and 1130 hours.

176

Pacifica Military History

SOLOMON ISLANDS: More than 40 XIII Bomber Command B-24s, more than 30 42d Medium Bombardment Group B-25s, and more than 30 AirSols fighters attack Bougainville/Bonis and Buka airdromes; one B-25 attacks Ballale Airdrome; and several USN PVs attack Nissan Island in the Green Islands.

November 27, 1943


AUSTRALIA: The Fifth Air Forces 6th Photographic Reconnaissance Group displaces to Brisbane from Sydney. BURMA: Despite interception over the target by as many as 40 Japanese fighters, all available 7th and 308th Heavy Bombardment group B-24s and 490th Medium Bombardment Squadron B-25s, escorted by P-38s and P-51s, destroy 70 percent of the locomotive repair shops at Insein. Three B-24s, four P-51s, and two P-38s are downed by Japanese fighters, but P-51s pilots from the 311th Fighter Groups 530th Fighter Squadron down four Japanese fighters over Rangoon at 1300 hours. During the night of November 2728, seven RAF Liberators attack the Rangoon dock area. CHINA: Four 11th Medium Bombardment Squadron B-25s attack a convoy near Amoy and port facilities at Swatow. MARSHALL ISLANDS: Eight VII Bomber Command B-24s based at Canton Island and Nukufetau airdromes attack Mille Airdrome. NEW GUINEA: V Bomber Command B-25s and B-26s attack Boram, Finschhafen, and Wewak. SOLOMON ISLANDS: More than 20 XIII Bomber Command B-24s attack Buka Airdrome; 19 B-24s attack Bougainville/Bonis Airdrome; five 42d Medium Bombardment Group B-25s attack Queen Carola Harbor; and a small number of USAAF B-25s and USN PVs attack targets near Mutupina Point.

November 28, 1943


BURMA: 7th Heavy Bombardment Group B-24s attack port facilities at Rangoon; and 490th Bombardment Squadron B-25s attack Sagaing. P-51s pilots from the 311th Fighter Groups 530th Fighter Squadron down four Japanese fighters over Rangoon at 1155 hours.

Free Sample Chapters

177

During the night of November 2829, RAF Wellingtons attack targets in Rangoon. CHINA: Eight Fourteenth Air Force P-40s attack barracks and other targets at Litsaoho; and eight P-40 air-drop ammunition to Chinese Army forces encircled at Changte. FRENCH INDOCHINA: Six Fourteenth Air Force P-40s strafe Luang Prabang Airdrome and Tran Ninh. GILBERT ISLANDS: Eleven VII Bomber Command B-24s based at Nanomea Airdrome attack Nauru Island. Tarawa Atoll is declared secure. USMC scouts begin inspecting other atolls in the Gilberts. During the evening, a small number of Marshalls-based G4Ms attack several USN surface warships of the northern task force, but no damage results. The ships claim the downing of several of the G4Ms. NEW GUINEA: Approximately 50 V Bomber Command B-24s attack Boram and Wewak airdromes; and more than 40 B-25s, B-26s, and A20s attack trails near Finschhafen and occupied villages on the Huon Peninsula. SOLOMON ISLANDS: Six 42d Medium Bombardment Group B-25s attack targets around Mutupina Point; and AirSols fighters attack numerous targets on Bougainville and in the Shortland Islands. VMF-214 displaces to Vella Lavella/Barakoma Field from New Georgia/Munda Field. VMF-123 is withdrawn to the United States for retraining and reorganization.

November 29, 1943


BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO: Thirty-five V Bomber Command B25s and B-26s attack Cape Gloucester. CHINA: Six 11th Medium Bombardment Squadron B-25s attack targets at Amoy and Swatow, and along the nearby coast; 24 Fourteenth Air Force P-40s air-drop ammunition and food to Chinese Army troops encircled at Changte and attack ground targets on the return flight. GILBERT ISLANDS: A VF-18 F6F pilot downs a G4M at sea at 1245 hours.

178

Pacifica Military History

NEW GUINEA: Six V Bomber Command B-24s attack a barracks at Manokwari. Australian Army ground forces advancing up the coast from Sattelburg seize several towns, including a Japanese supply base, without a fight. SOLOMON ISLANDS: Twenty-one XIII Bomber Command B-24s attack Kieta; 18 42d Medium Bombardment Group B-25s and AirSols P-39s and SBDs attack targets on the Bougainville coast. Construction work is begun on Bougainville/Piva Uncle Airdrome.

November 30, 1943


BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO: V Bomber Command B-24s attack New Britain/Cape Gloucester Airdrome; and B-25s attack targets on the New Britain coast. BURMA: During the night of November 30December 1, RAF Wellingtons attack targets in Rangoon. CENTRAL PACIFIC: After being relieved by a VII Fighter Command P-39 squadron, VMF-441 is withdrawn from Nanomea Airdrome to Samoa to transition from F4Fs to F4Us. CHINA: Eight Fourteenth Air Force P-40s strafe boats near Ansiang; six P-40 fighter-bombers attack fuel and ammunition dumps at Luchiangpa; and P-40s air-drop supplies to Chinese Army forces encircled at Changte. GILBERT ISLANDS: Six VMSB-331 SBDs and maintenance personnel displace to Betio/Hawkins Field from Nukufetau Airdrome. MARSHALL ISLANDS: Eighteen VII Bomber Command B-24s dispatched from Nanomea Airdrome to attack Maloelap Atoll abort in the face of bad weather, but two from that flight and ten others based at Canton Island Airdrome are able to complete the mission. NEW GUINEA: V Bomber Command B-24s attack Alexishafen; and B-25s attack Kalasa and motor vehicles near Waroe. SOLOMON ISLANDS: Seventeen 42d Medium Bombardment Group B-25s attack Malai in the Shortland Islands; several USN PVs attack Mawareka; and AirSols fighters attack numerous targets on Bougainville, Choiseul, and in the Shortlands

Free Sample Chapters

179

VF-33, in F6Fs, displaces from New Georgia/Segi Field to New Georgia/Ondonga Field. By about this date, VMF-222, in F4Us, displaces to Vella Lavella/ Barakoma Field from New Georgia/Munda Field; VMF-223, also in F4Us, displaces to Vella Lavella/Barakoma Field from Midway; and VMSB-234 is withdrawn to the United States for reorganization and retraining as a carrier-based TBF squadron.

180

Pacifica Military History

Free Sample Chapters

181

182

Pacifica Military History

AMBUSH VALLEY
I Corps, Vietnam, 1967 the Story of a Marine Infantry Battalions Battle for Survival By Eric Hammel In the summer of 1967, the Marines in I Corps, South Vietnams northernmost military region, were doing eveything they could to lighten the pressure on the besieged Con Thien Combat Base. Still fresh after months of relatively light action around Khe Sanh, the 3d Battalion, 26th Marines, was sent to the Con Thien region to secure the combat basess endangered main supply route. On September 7, 1967, its first full day in the new area of operations, separate elements of the battalion were attacked by at least two battalions of North Vietnamese infantry, and both were nearly overrun in night-long battles. On September 10, while advancing to a new sector near Con Thien, the 3d Battalion, 26th Marines, was attacked by at least a full North Vietnamese regiment, the same NVA unit that had attacked it two days earlier. Isolated into two separate defensive perimeters, the Marines battled through the afternoon and evening against repeated assaults by waves of NVA regulars intent upon achieving a major victory. In a battle described as Custers Last StandWith Air Support, the Americans prevailed by the narrowest of margins. Ambush Valley is an unforgettable account of bravery and survival under impossible conditions. It is told entirely in the words of the men who faced the ordeal togetheran unprecedented mosaic of action and emotion woven into an incredibly clear and vivid combat narrative by one of todays most effective military historians. Ambush Valley achieves a new standard for oral history. It a war story not to be missed. Praise for Ambush Valley Ambush Valley recounts the heroic performance in the summer of 1967 of the 3d Battalion, 26th Marines . . . as it defended the U.S. combat

Free Sample Chapters

183

base on a hill called Con Thien. . . . [It] is a fresh, highly personalized, and vivid narrative focusing on one theater of the Vietnam War from the perspective of those who fought there. Sea Power Another of Hammels harrowing eyewitness accounts of a Vietnam War campaign that remains a puzzling episode in a bitterly debated conflict. . . . [The] firsthand recollections afford a vivid, inspiring record of bloody set-piece battles . . . Kirkus Reviews This harrowing action is told almost entirely in the words of the survivors in a style that resembles the script for a documentary. By switching back and forth between voices Hammel is able to reinforce or expand on moments in the action; the device elevates this oral history of small unit action over most of its kind. Library Journal The desperate defensive tactics as well as the raw emotions of the men are vividly conveyed in this memorable mosaic of concentrated warfare. Superb oral history. Publishers Weekly Hammel has expertly woven recollections of numerous participants into a concise yet vivid tale of survival. I marvelled at his ability to present a complete account without gaps or reliance on extended narration. . . . I became so involved I did not want to put it down. Marine Corps Gazette The narrative is hard and grittyfrom the gut. Friday Review of Defense Literature

184

Pacifica Military History

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book AMBUSH VALLEY: I Corps, Vietnam, 1967A Marine Infantry Battalions Battle for Survival by with Eric Hammel. The book is currently available in a $27.50 trade paperback edition published by Pacifica Military History. It is also available in ebook editions.

MEETING ENGAGEMENT
by Eric Hammel Copyright 1990 by Eric Hammel The Con Thien Combat Base, an isolated hilltop position overlooking the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Vietnams, was under siege. During the last week of August 1968, III Marine Amphibious Force intelligence analysts discovered that the 812th North Vietnamese Army (NVA) Regiment was preparing to sever Con Thiens lifeline, the Cam Lo-Con Thien Main Supply Route. In response to the threat, the 3d Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment (3/26), which was to have been the next battalion to rotate into Con Thien, was assigned to relieve two companies of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines (1/9), at a roadside position known as the Churchyard, just north of Fire Base C-2 (Charlie-2), about halfway between Cam Lo and Con Thien. Three of 3/26s four infantry companies and most of the battalion headquarters-and-service company met at the Churchyard late in the afternoon of September 6, 1967. Early the next morning, portions of India/3/26 and Mike/3/26 were ordered to conduct patrols. Both companies had been operating around the Khe Sanh Combat Base all summer, and neither had ever operated in the Con Thien area between National Route 9 and the Demilitarized Zone. The September 6 patrols were more in the nature of familiarization tours than attempts to locate the enemy. Indeed, the half of 1/9 that the main body of 3/26 had relieved had not seen the enemy for more than a week.

Free Sample Chapters

185

Staff Sergeant RUSS ARMSTRONG India Company, 3/261st Platoon Commander September 7 was the anniversary of my leaving the States for Vietnam. India Company was ordered to run a patrol out in a northwesterly direction. Lieutenant Bill Cowans 3rd Platoon was left behind to man the company position, but the rest of the company went out, including the skipper, Captain Wayne Coulter, and the exec, Lieutenant Bob Stimson. Lance Corporal CHUCK BENNETT India Company, 3/26, 1st Platoon On the morning of September 7, Staff Sergeant Armstrong went up to a meeting at the company CP. When he came back, he said we were going out on patrol. He was a real gung-ho Marine and liked to volunteer us for stuff. He said wed be leading the patrol out. It was all Hurry up! Get moving! 1st Lieutenant BOB STIMSON India Company, 3/26Executive Officer The company was good at running itself, so my job as executive officer was more tacticalan assistant company commanderthan it was admin-istrative. I went out with the patrol on September 7 because I usually went out when all or most of the company was on patrol. A standard infantry company at the time was 210 officers and men. Going into The Churchyard, we couldnt have been more than 165. We were way down. With Lieutenant Bill Cowans 3rd Platoon staying back to man the entire company sector, we would be going out short of officers. The 1st and 2nd Platoons were both commanded by NCOs. Captain Coulter, the artillery FO, and I were the only officers on the patrol. We went out about 80-strong. * Staff Sergeant RUSS ARMSTRONG India Company, 3/261st Platoon Commander It was a very nice day. There was still a lot of dew on the grass and the rolling terrain looked peaceful, tranquil. The birds were singing, the sky was clear, the flowers were waving in a little breeze. It reminded me of home, of eastern Nebraska. It was so pleasant it kind of scared me. The

186

Pacifica Military History

tranquillity of what I was seeing and the chaos of the war I was in didnt fit together. As far as we were concerned, our job was to take a morning walk in the sun, see what we could see, and return to the battalion perimeter. 1st Lieutenant BOB STIMSON India Company, 3/26Executive Officer The last civilians had been forcibly evacuated from the DMZ area about a year earlier. I had flown over the area once in a helicopter just when we arrived in-country. There were then some people living in the area, but not many, because there was already saturation bombing going on. Consequently, because there was no one living there except Marines and NVA, the cultivated areas were dormant and badly overgrown. Several times on the patrol, squads moved out to check areas we were not able to see from the main body. Many such detachments were for purposes of securityfor example, before the main body could cross a clearing or a trail. These were routine occurrences and saved us time, though the overall pace was very slow. Wed have had to go slow even if there were no danger of enemy troops being around. It took us three to four hours to go only 1,000 to 1,200 meters, though we certainly didnt cut through in a straight line. The ground was very uneven, and the hedgerows blocked us everywhere. That terrain was as tough to move in as any I had ever experienced. It was very confining, very scary. I had a very bad feeling about being in such dense growth. Staff Sergeant RUSS ARMSTRONG India Company, 3/261st Platoon Commander We marched out about a klick and the two platoons split. I was supposed to reconnoiter in one direction and the 2nd Platoon was supposed to reconnoiter in the other. We worked our way through fields and battered little villages. We had a general direction in which to head and a general area to reconnoiter, but there were lots of obstructionsbuildings, woods, and heavy brushso we got pretty fragmented. My method was to send two or three Marines ahead of the main body at a faster pace while the rest of us scattered out to the sides. Everyone was very relaxed. Often as not, as we worked through a tiny

Free Sample Chapters

187

built-up area, I joined a fire team and worked with them as they checked through abandoned houses and sheds, seeing what we could see, looking for signs of occupation or military activity. The terrain was not especially rough. The ground meandered around into little rises here and there. Everything that was low had been rice paddies and everything from the edge of the paddies to the top of each knoll was covered with foliage. I couldnt tell if the growth was natural or if it had been planted by the Vietnamese. It was a combination of trees and bushes such that we couldnt see into it without going into it. It was fairly difficult to navigate in, because we couldnt see far enough to locate landmarks on our maps or shoot a resection on to pinpoint our position. Also, our map sheets converged in this area, so it was doubly difficult to be sure a feature on the map was the feature we could see. It was not difficult to walk, but navigating was difficult and tedious. Another factor that slowed us down was that this was our very first trip out into this new area. We had had a very short turnover with 1/9 the previous afternoon, not enough time to get any details from them about local topography or places to be wary of. It was a rule to move through a new area with trepidation, so it took longer to move across relatively short distances because we tended to be more careful. Also, I was not sure what our purpose in being there was. I did not know what I was supposed to be looking for or doing. After a while, we came to a grassy area and found four very distinct beaten-down trails in the grass where a military unit had marched through four abreast. I knew we were somewhere near the area of responsibility of a unit of the 4th Marines, but I didnt know quite where their area began. As soon as I recognized the trails in the grass for what they were signs of a large passing military unitI thought, My God, I had no idea the 4th Marines are this close to us! I filed that away and kept the platoon moving. Lance Corporal CHUCK BENNETT India Company, 3/26, 1st Platoon After wed been out for a long time, we saw some smoke. It was over by a rice paddy, in some high grass. We came across a big black kettle.

188

Pacifica Military History

There were no VC or NVA or anyone around, but there was rice cooking in the kettle. Staff Sergeant RUSS ARMSTRONG India Company, 3/261st Platoon Commander A little later, we came out of some undergrowth within sight of two blown-out churches, about 75 meters apart. Portions of both steeples were still standing. I located two destroyed churches on my map, but visibility was so lousy that I couldnt figure out if these were the same churches. I led the platoon over to the nearest church and climbed up into one of the dilapidated lath-construction steeples to try to find a land feature I could zero-in on so I could determine our position on my map. I climbed as high as I could to get a look over the treetops. My years as a mortarman had ingrained in me the habit of knowing my position precisely so I could call in fire if I had to. And I wanted to see if I could find the 2nd Platoon. We were in radio contact but had not seen it since splitting up with it. The vista, which was both gorgeous and tranquil, allowed me to pinpoint our position, but I was unable to see the 2nd Platoon. Shortly after I climbed down from the steeple and we started moving again, Captain Coulters radioman called and ordered us to rejoin the command group and the 2nd Platoon. I set a direct vector, and we headed out at a good pace along a little trail. The link-up was accomplished without incident, and the company headed northwest. Eventually, we cleared a treeline and started crossing a large, open rice-paddy area. The open area was open out to only about 250 meters in front of us, to a wooded area to the west, but we could see forever to the left and rightnorth and south. The paddy area was dry; it probably hadnt been cultivated in years. We crossed with the 2nd Platoon in the lead and entered the wooded area. It was getting on toward midday and I began expecting to hear the CO order us to break for chow, but he apparently wasnt ready. As we entered the woods we found a large, dry watercourse or drainage ditch, probably 8 feet deep and about 10 feet across. It did not look man-made. It had a rounded bottom and the sides were semi-sloping. It would take some effort to climb up and out of it. The bottom was dry. There were trees growing up to the edges.

Free Sample Chapters

189

Lance Corporal CHUCK BENNETT India Company, 3/26, 1st Platoon We checked the ditch out because it would have been a good spot for an ambush. Staff Sergeant RUSS ARMSTRONG India Company, 3/261st Platoon Commander After putting out flankers to walk along the top of the ditch and more flankers partway up the side to keep visual contact with the outer flankers, the bulk of the patrol walked right into the ditch and proceeded along it. It was easier to move in there than in the broken terrain on either side. 1st Lieutenant BOB STIMSON India Company, 3/26Executive Officer Even though part of the company was able to use the drainage ditch, progress remained slow because fire teams and squads had to advance through the brush on either side to provide security for the rest of us. The going for them was every bit as tough as it had been getting out to the ditch. Lance Corporal CHUCK BENNETT India Company, 3/26, 1st Platoon I was a flanker. It was very confined up above the ditch, so most of the time I was up on the rim of the ditch, inside. Staff Sergeant RUSS ARMSTRONG India Company, 3/261st Platoon Commander All of a sudden, at 1150, our flankers on the left began taking some sporadic fireburst, burst, burst, then nothing. Lance Corporal CHUCK BENNETT India Company, 3/26, 1st Platoon There was shooting. It was a bunch of shotsseveral automatic weapons. I hit the deck and started returning the fire. Lance Corporal Gary Lindsay was the next guy to my left, about 20 feet away. I saw him go down. I knew he was hit, but I didnt know how bad. I was trying to get fire out to where they were shooting at us from. They were dug in. They were only 75 to 80 feet from me. As soon as I could, I hollered at Lindsay, but the guy never responded. I crawled over there, firing a few bursts as I went. Lindsay was hit in the head. He was already dead. He never knew what hit him.

190

Pacifica Military History

The NVA kept firing at us and I kept firing at them, but I felt I had to get Lindsay into the ditch. I couldnt leave him out there. * Staff Sergeant RUSS ARMSTRONG India Company, 3/261st Platoon Commander We had no way of telling how many NVA were out thereone lone sniper, a fire team, or whatever. In the direction from which the fire was coming, to our left and left front, was a flat meadow, and behind that, 75 to 100 meters out, was another thick treeline through which I could see no daylight. The fire seemed to be coming from that treeline, but the vegetation was so thick I could not see muzzle flashes. 1st Lieutenant BOB STIMSON India Company, 3/26Executive Officer The company command group was in the middle of the column in the ditch. As soon as the flankers got hit, Captain Coulter started reacting, but the troops reacted on their own, too. Staff Sergeant RUSS ARMSTRONG India Company, 3/261st Platoon Commander We instantly set up a hasty defense. More or less instinctively, the unit leaders pushed troops out of the ditch to form a perimeter 20 to 30 meters in circumference in the direction of our march. If forward was twelve oclock, the perimeter was from nine oclock to three oclock by way of twelve oclock. The 2nd Platoon was on the right, from twelve oclock to three oclock and my 1st Platoon was on the left, from nine oclock to twelve oclock. The company command group, both platoon command groups, and some of the troops stayed in the middle of the perimeter, down in the ditch. I passed orders for everyone to stay in place and not to try to attack the enemy position. There were some low shrubs near the ditch, about waist high. The troops used them for cover. My radioman told me that the word on the company net was that the 2nd Platoon had had three of its flankers wounded in the initial flurry of fire. No one said so, but I assumed that Captain Coulter was calling in a medevac on the battalion net and that we would wait until the WIAs had been flown out.

Free Sample Chapters

191

There was some shooting going on and some explosionsRPGs or grenadesbut I dont think anyone in the ditch could see the enemy. I couldnt. * Captain TOM EARLY 3/26Communications Officer When India Company made contact at 1150, the first news we had at the battalion CP was the noise of the small arms on the battalion tactical radio net. Then we received verbal reports that they were in contact. We found out where they were and that they were pinned down. 1st Lieutenant BOB STIMSON India Company, 3/26Executive Officer The official radio complement at the time provided radios only to the platoon level. We did not rate squad radios. By the book, the exec of an infantry company didnt rate a radio. Based on our experiences, though, we had acquired more than we rated. Captain TOM EARLY 3/26Communications Officer The radio we used as a mainstay was the Marine PRC-25. To anybody who had been around longer than a year or twothrough the transition from the PRC-8, -9, and -10suddenly even a communications guy looked good because of his radios. The PRC-25s main advantage was that when you turned it on, it worked. That kept everybody not only happy but shocked, because that was not the case with the previous radios. The PRC-25 was a VHF frequency-modulated radio, and we depended on it. It was used not only in the battalion communications net, which connected the battalion commander with all his company commanders, but also by each companys tactical net. I would give each company the number of PRC-25s they needed; I had extras that I could dole out, so anybody who presented a good reason got a few. In many cases, the company tactical net would not only include the company commander and platoon commanders, but as far as those extra radios would go. It would encompass the squad leaders and platoon sergeants also.

192

Pacifica Military History

1st Lieutenant BOB STIMSON India Company, 3/26Executive Officer I had my own radioman and we had radio communication down more or less throughout the squad level, though I doubt every squad had one. The result was that the demand on everyone to report was great. People just got their butts chewed if they didnt immediately get on the radio and tell the next level up what was going on. Everybody in the chain of command was wary of thisI know I wasso the natural inclination was to immediately get on the horn and report to the next guy up the chain of command because, if you didnt, you knew there was going to be a voice coming over the channel asking why you hadnt reported. Militarily, the adherence to reporting procedures resulted in a lot of missed opportunities to exploit situations. The North Vietnamese werent constrained by similar requirements, so they could keep moving. It was the hallmark of the NVA to engage us, for instance, on one side and within a minute or two you had to be prepared to have them coming at you from the rear. They were experts at this. So, while the Marines were screwing around with this onerous reporting of situation, casualties, number and type of rounds expendedall the stuff that was kept in the statistical morass that was the Vietnam Warthe NVA infantry was firing and maneuvering at us. They were figuring out how to beat us while we were encumbered with all the statistical stuff the Marine Corps and the Department of Defense needed so they could figure out whether we were winning the war and by how much. It was lunacy! Captain TOM EARLY 3/26Communications Officer The word was passed from India Company to our battalion CP group over the battalion tactical net. In Vietnam, very few of our nets had security devices on them. So, when anything was reported over an unse-cured net, the enemy, who had captured many PRC-25s, was assumed to be dialed in on that frequency. We assumed the NVA was monitoring everything that was being said and that they knew exactly what we were doing. This gave the NVA a tremendous advantage since they knew exactly how India Company was pinned down, where they were pinned down, what they were calling for fire support, and what

Free Sample Chapters

193

help they needed. The NVA knew all the essential elements of information, probably as quickly as the battalion CP group. 1st Lieutenant BOB STIMSON India Company, 3/26Executive Officer As soon as the shooting started, some of the more adventurous squad leaders fired and maneuvered and did the things crack infantrymen are supposed to do. But others and their seniorsthe platoon commanders, Captain Coulter, and mehad to report the situation up the chain before we could do anything about the battle. Once we got that done, it was too late to exploit whatever it was we were involved with. Meanwhile, Im sure all the NVA were either firing or maneuvering or trying to size up what they had come up against. The NVA nearest to my position were very close, certainly no farther than 25 yards. There were little open areas out there, but mostly it was high brush, high grass, and trees. If they had been any distance away, they never would have seen us. Their vision was as encumbered by the thick vegetation as ours was. Im sure the guys who first ran into us hadnt seen us until they were right on top of us. Im sure they didnt know if we were a platoon, a company, or a battalion. While they were trying to find out what we were, most of our leadership was not doing the same. We were all trying to report. I made sure that information from the platoons and squads got to Captain Coulter, and up to Battalion. Only when we completed the initial rush of reporting did we start trying to push squads and fire teams out in an organized, centrally controlled manner to see what we were up against. We were doing what they were doing, but later. * Staff Sergeant RUSS ARMSTRONG India Company, 3/261st Platoon Commander Shortly after we set out our hasty defense perimeter, I asked my squad leaders to report. Two of them responded instantly, but the last one, Sergeant Alexander Chisholm, of my 2nd Squad, did not respond. Scotty Chisholm was an interesting fellow. He was 28 years old and a native of Scotland. He had served for five or six years in the British Army, in a Highland unit, and was a college graduate. I believe he might

194

Pacifica Military History

have been an officer. He was not a U.S. citizen, but he had a green card and was thus prime for the draft. He was an exceptional land navigator; I depended on him a lot. I dont think there was anywhere in Vietnam he couldnt navigate us to. Because of him, the 1st Platoon was almost always the companys point element when we were on a move. Scotty didnt respond when I asked the squad leaders to report, so I had to ask him again to report. He finally came to me and said, I think Lindsay may have been hurt. That was Lance Corporal Gary Lindsay, the 2nd Squads 2nd Fire Team leader. Chisholm and Lindsay were bootcamp buddies, very tight. I asked, Do you know for sure? No, Im not sure, he replied. I yelled over across the field on the left side of the ditch, toward where we thought Lindsay was. At about the nine-thirty position, I could see someones shoulder and boots. They were about 15 meters out. There was no response, so I climbed up on the bank of the ditch and put on a burst of speed. I hit the ground, rolled, got up, and ran again. I did that a few times until I got to within a few feet of Lindsay, then I yelled, Lindsay, goddammit! There was still no answer, so I crawled up beside him, reached over, and grabbed onto him. He was limp. I rolled him over and saw that his head had a big gaping hole in it. He was dead, but I yelled for a corpsman and added that I wanted some men to help pull him in. One of the docs responded, and he and two or three Marines did what I had done, ran and rolled until they reached us. Lance Corporal CHUCK BENNETT India Company, 3/26, 1st Platoon Gary Lindsay was one of the finest guys I met in Vietnam. He was there when I got there, and he took me under his wing. He taught me the ropes. He was a good talker and a really strong man, a bodybuilder. He was always laughing. Lindsay was a damn good Marine and a good friend. Hed taught me not to make friends over there, but he was my friend.

Free Sample Chapters

195

1st Lieutenant BOB STIMSON India Company, 3/26Executive Officer Lance Corporal Lindsay had been one of the all-stars in the Hill 689 battle at the end of June. He had really come into his own there, had showed a lot of fortitude that afternoon. Lance Corporal CHUCK BENNETT India Company, 3/26, 1st Platoon Lindsay had a powerful build and big bones; he was muscular and heavy. And he had all his gear on. It was hard to move him. Staff Sergeant RUSS ARMSTRONG India Company, 3/261st Platoon Commander The troops took off their belts and looped them under Lindsays arms. When they were ready to move him, I led the way back, crawling toward the ditch. Most of the men were manning a perimeter. Only the company com-mand element and a squad or two were still in the ditch. So was Scotty Chisholm. As the troops who were dragging Lindsay in pulled him down the bank of the ditch, I looked right at Scotty, who was sitting erect on the bank. He had piercing blue eyes, but now they seemed to be staring 5,000 meters into the distance. Inside his head, I was sure, he wasnt anywhere near Vietnam. Scotty had been the most effective squad leader I had. He was due to rotate with me and most of the rest of the old battalion. I decided then and there that, as soon as we got back to the battalion perimeter that evening, I was going to find him a job in the rear. He was used up; hed had enough. * 1st Lieutenant BOB STIMSON India Company, 3/26Executive Officer They kept probing us with fire. This was to get a response from our M60s and mortars, to see how large a unit we were. Im sureI know they were moving around us and maneuvering progressively closer and closer to learn what we were. I was busy. I also was very wary and frightened. However, I think the professional skills we had developed worked for us. Though we were late getting started because of the reporting, we knew what had to

196

Pacifica Military History

be done, and we did it. Everyone knew and everyone did it. Captain Coulter and I never worked in the same place, so Im not sure what he was doing besides answering questions from Battalion. While the captain continued to speak with Battalion, I started moving around, helping the platoons and squads tactically. The company command group stayed in the ditch, but I moved everywhere outside the ditch. I believe we were probed initially by several very small NVA units fire teams. I was never sure because my view was restricted by the undergrowth. But what I heardflurries of small-arms fire at intervals from different placesled me to that conclusion. They seemed to move around a lot, so I had no idea how many fire teams there were. The whole NVA force might have been only a squad or two altogether, but they kept us very busy and confused by firing from a lot of different places all around our position. Staff Sergeant RUSS ARMSTRONG India Company, 3/261st Platoon Commander I was very concerned. I had no idea what lay in store for us, no idea what was out there. I knew that most of my men had only two or three weeks left. One of my short-timers was dead, and another seemed to have lost his effectiveness. Whatever enemy were out there, we were holding them with fire from our weapons. They were close, but too far away to reach us or be reached by us with hand grenades. Our fire was reactionary; whenever they fired out from the woods, we fired back. We didnt know what we were shooting at; we couldnt see anyone. All we did was fire at the source of their fire, at muzzle flashes when we could see them. When their fire stopped, ours stopped. We didnt fire again until they started firing again. In time, the 2nd Platoons three wounded flankers and Lindsay were brought into the ditch, but another Marine, who did not respond to calls, could not be recovered from a bomb crater into which he had fallen. The enemy fire was so intense that no one could get to him. I heard that the skipper had called for a medevac chopper, but there was quite a bit of delay.

Free Sample Chapters

197

Captain TOM EARLY 3/26Communications Officer It took a long time to get the helicopters from Phu Bai or wherever they came from. Our request had to go up through the helicopter request net, had to be confirmed, and then they had to send the helicopters. Staff Sergeant RUSS ARMSTRONG India Company, 3/261st Platoon Commander I also heard that the skipper had put in a request for fixed-wing air support, but, like the medevac, it got delayed. Captain TOM EARLY 3/26Communications Officer There was an AO [aerial observer] up. The AOs were always on the same frequencies. We knew what those frequencies were; we all had them in our little notebooks. Any CP could come up and talk with him, ask him any questions they wanted. The AO was an artillery officer who could either help our FOs on the ground or call artillery fire himself. He could also call naval gunfire if there was a ship on station, or he could run fixed wing if there were fixed-wing aircraft in the area, or he could assist the arty FO on the ground in spotting exactly where the rounds should go into the enemy positions. So, we were in a position to control air either from the ground position with the FAC or from the air with the AO. It certainly was simpler for the AO because he was up there and could observe more from that little bird dog airplane. * The AO was aboard a single-engine light Bird Dog observation plane. He had arrived over the India Company position within about 30 minutes of the initial exchange of gunfire. Circling over a wide area, he located an NVA bunker and six NVA soldiers in fighting holes. He also reported that one of the NVA soldiers had an automatic weapon. The AO requested immediate air support. Typically, Marine jet fighter-bombers based at Danang, on the coast, needed at least 30 minutes to take off and get on station along the DMZ. They were thus due to arrive at about 1300, about 70 minutes after the first shots were fired. *

198

Pacifica Military History

Lance Corporal CHUCK BENNETT India Company, 3/26, 1st Platoon The NVA kept firing at us. Theyd fire and then theyd move and fire again. It was sporadic fire. They were probing, trying to find out what we had. There were fast movers coming in, dropping bombs near us. They had to give us cover so we could move out of there. They were dropping right on top of us, close in. They were shaking the ground real bad. Staff Sergeant RUSS ARMSTRONG India Company, 3/261st Platoon Commander The 2nd Platoon managed to recover the Marine from the bomb crater. When they got to him, he was dead. 1st Lieutenant BOB STIMSON India Company, 3/26Executive Officer It suddenly quieted down. I think they left because they found out what they wanted to find out. We had to move the wounded to an LZ [landing zone] about 100 meters from where we had been engaged. They were all serious enough to have to be carried. An H-34 came in and picked them all up, but they didnt take the two dead Marines. * The medevac took place at 1320, 90 minutes after the first shots were fired and at least an hour after medevacs were requested. At 1325, the AO directed an additional fixed-wing strike. The pilots claimed four con-firmed NVA deaths. At 1400, as India Company was moving back toward the battalion main body, the AO sighted a squad of NVA about 400 meters northwest of the original point of contact. He called for an artillery fire mission. The guns were fired, but the AO was unable to determine the result. At about the same time and several hundred meters to the southwest of the original point of contact, the AO located a new foot trail and, nearby, many new bunkers. Although 1/9 had reported that there had been no contacts around The Churchyard, it was well known that many NVA were living in the area. India Companys contact and the AOs sightings were not deemed signifi-cant. It was inevitable, given the number of NVA in the area, that Marines would run into them from time to time.

Free Sample Chapters

199

200

Pacifica Military History

CARRIER CLASH
The Invasion of Guadalcanal and the Battle of the Eastern Solomons August 1942 By Eric Hammel The Battle of the Eastern Solomons was historys third carrier clash. A collision of U.S. Navy and Imperial Navy carriers in the wake of the invasion of Guadalcanalwhose airfield the United States desperately needed and the Japanese desperately wanted backthe battle was waged at sea and over Guadalcanals besieged Marine-held Lunga Perimeter on August 24, 1942. Based upon the first half of Eric Hammels acclaimed 1987 battle narrative, Guadalcanal: The Carrier Battles, and in large part upon important new information obtained from both Japanese and American sources, Carrier Clash unravels many of the mysteries and misconceptions that have veiled this complex battle for more than a half century. Beginning with detailed descriptions of the history of the aircraft carrier, the development of carrier-air tactics, the training of carrier pilots, and numerous operational considerations that defined the way carrier battles had to be fought, Carrier Clash takes the reader into the air with brave U.S. Navy fighter pilots as they protect their ships and the Guadalcanal invasion fleet against determined Japanese air attacks on August 7 and 8, 1942. After he sets the stage for the August 24 Battle of the Eastern Solomons, author Hammel puts the reader right into the cockpits of U.S. Navy Dauntless dive-bombers as they dive on the Imperial Navy light carrier Ryujoand hit the ship with 500-pound bombs! Once again, in this strange tit-for-tat battle, U.S. Navy Wildcat fighter pilots must defend their ships against an onslaught by Imperial Navy Val dive-bomber pilots determined to sink the U.S. carriers, or die trying. Hammels coverage of the bomb damage to the USS Enterprise and subsequent fire-fighting and rescue efforts by her crew are especially compelling.

Free Sample Chapters

201

Carrier Clash is the definitive combat history of the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, historys third battle (of only five) between American and Japanese aircraft carriers. Critical Acclaim for Carrier Clash: The Bookwatch says: Carrier Clash takes the reader into the air with brave U.S. Navy pilots . . . [It] is an important contribution to the military history of World war IIs battle for control of the Pacific. The Book World says: Carrier Clash is a stark revelation of a complex encounter. Military Magazine says: Mr. Hammel presents the entire battle in a clear, easy-to-follow manner while interjecting interesting views of the [Battle of the Eastern Solomons] as seen by the participants on both sides. Military Review says: The book is loaded with great charts (maps), order of battle, and other hard to find details. Although Hammel describes the land and surface ship battles, his forte is his vivid descriptions of the aerial dogfights during the [Guadalcanal] invasion and the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. Canadian Military History says: Eric Hammel continues his tradition of exciting, well crafted books on the Pacific War with this account of the carrier battles that accompanied the American landings on Guadalcanal. . . . There is no denying that this is a cracking good read and an excellent companion to Hammels other books on the Guadalcanal Campaign. Sea Power says: Acclaimed military historian Eric Hammel presents a landmark history of the Battle of the Eastern Solomons . . . Drawing on newly declassified information from U.S. and Japanese sources, and on numerous other archival sources, Hammel brings a fresh perspective to

202

Pacifica Military History

the outcome of the war as a whole. . . . [He] describes with precision and insight the key events in the Guadalcanal/Eastern Solomons campaigns, the strategic implications of the battle, and the impact on the overall battle plans of both adversaries.

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book CARRIER CLASH: The Invasion of Guadalcanal and the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, August 1942 by Eric Hammel. The book is currently available as a $27.50 trade paperback edition published by Pacifica Military History. It is also available in ebook editions.

DESPERATE GAMBLE
by Eric Hammel Copyright 1997 by Eric Hammel It is unclear what RAdm Sadayoshi Yamada and his staff and command officers had in mind when they approved the second 5th Air Attack Force mission of August 7. Nearly all the operational Tainan Air Group long-range Zeros had accompanied nearly all the operational 4th Air Group Bettys to the Tulagi area, and the Rabaul air command felt an attack by U.S. Navy carrier aircraft was imminent. But someone must have convinced Admiral Yamadaor perhaps he convinced himself that he had not committed enough to the attack against the Allied invasion fleet around Tulagi. Very shortly after the 4th Air Group Bettys finished taking off, nine of the newly arrived 2d Air Groups sixteen Aichi D3A Val dive-bombers were also launched from their base at Rabaul. But unlike the Bettys and long-range Zeros, this attack force had no hope whatsoever of returning from the mission. If it flew all the way to Tulagi, it would not even be able to return as far as the Buka strip. All of the Vals were to be sacrificed. A seaplane tender and a Mavis flying boat were dispatched to pick up ditched pilots and crewmen in the Shortland Islands, off southern Bougainville, but no one could have had much faith in that plan.

Free Sample Chapters

203

The Val was a carrier bomber with an operational range of approximately 275 milesenough for a carrier bomber under most circumstances, but not even close for filling in as a land-based bomber under conditions that held sway on August 7, 1942, in the region under attack by the Allies. There was no provision in the airplanes design for an auxiliary fuel tankno way to eke out significant extra miles. Moreover, the land-based Vals in the 2d Air Groups inventory carried only two wing-mounted 60-kilogram bombs, and not a 250-kilogram centerline bomb. If they attacked Allied ships off Tulagi, there was very little hope that their bombs would sink any, or even cause very much significant damage. There was to be no fighter escort. The 2d Air Groups own Zero squadron was equipped with short-range Zero interceptors that could not fly even as far as the short-range Vals, and there seemed to be no point in dispatching an escort of only six Tainan Air Group long-range Zeros, which is all the veteran land-based fighter group had left on operational status at Lakunai Airdrome. Nine 2d Air Group Vals under the command of the hikotaicho, Lt Fumito Inoue, began launching at 1030. * About the only outside Allied combat organization that could provide assistance to the Guadalcanal invasion force was MajGen George Kenneys Allied Air Forces, which had several groups of bombers and fighters based in New Guinea, mostly around Port Moresby. It was no mean feat for the embattled U.S. Army Air Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area to provide the needed assistance, but provide it did. B-26 medium bombers flown by the V Bomber Commands 22d Medium Bombardment Group attacked Lae during the day to keep Imperial Navy bombers and fighters from being shifted to Rabaul to take part in strikes against the invasion fleet at Guadalcanal. And at 1220, thirteen 19th Heavy Bombardment Group B-17 heavy bombers based in Australia and refueling at Port Moresby attacked Rabauls Vunakanau Airdrome. Leading the strike was LtCol Richard Carmichael, the veteran commander of the 19th Bomb Group. The attack on Vunakanau was not the least bit altruistic. Allied intelligence had surmised that 150 Imperial Navy fighters and bombers

204

Pacifica Military History

were based there, and that fifty additional aircraft were at Lakunai. It was as important to Allied commands in New Guinea as it was to Allied commands in the South Pacific that these forces be reduced. One B-17 taking off from Port Moresby crashed before it could become airborne, and two B-17s returned to base with mechanical problems only minutes after taking off. One of the returning B-17s was piloted by Capt Harl Pease, who immediately transferred his crew to another heavy bomber, which was known to be in something less than top flight condition. Pease rejoined the rest of the strike force over Vunakanau, where the heavies were intercepted by fifteen 2d Air Group short-range Zeros and three Tainan Air Group long-range Zeros. Captain Peases bombardier was able to release the bombs aboard his airplane, but the B-17 was set upon by several Zeros and eventually cut out of the pack. It lagged farther and farther behind the rest of the group, and finally it fell from the sky, apparently killing all aboard. Captain Pease was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor. No Japanese aircraft were destroyed or even damaged on the ground, and no Zeros were downed despite claims for seven by the B-17 gunners. The Vunakanau runway, which did receive minor damage, was repaired long before Lt Renpei Egawa and LCdr Tadashi Nakajima returned with their 4th Air Group Bettys and Tainan Air Group Zeros. Shortly, the Allied Air Forces General Kenney, who would become an excellent combat commander, heard via a decoded radio intercept that the 5th Air Attack Force had thirty Bettys operational at Vunakanau that evening. Deducting this number from the erroneous very high intelligence estimates that had precipitated the noon-hour Vunakanau strike led Kenney to announce that the 19th Heavy Bombardment Group B-17s had destroyed seventy-five Japanese bombers on the ground. In point of fact, the number of Bettys available at Rabaul climbed by nine during the afternoon, when a chutai of the Misawa Air Group arrived from Tinian, in the Mariana Islands. It was the arrival of these Bettys that led to Admiral Yamadas report that led to General Kenneys erroneous deduction. * The level of energy and effort aboard the U.S. Navy carriers off Guadalcanal was frenetic following the end of the battle with the 4th

Free Sample Chapters

205

Air Group Bettys and Tainan Air Group Zeros. Many fighters were launched from the three carriers, and search missions were dispatched to look for downed fighter pilots on Guadalcanal and in the sea near Santa Isabel. By 1400, forty-four Wildcats were over the carriers and eighteen were over the invasion fleet. Also at 1400, a strange false alarm was rendered by the invasion fleet commander, RAdm Richmond Kelly Turner. Fighting-6s battle with the Bettys had not yet ended off Santa Isabel when Turner warned that an attack by Japanese dive-bombers was imminent. And then Task Force 61 transmitted a warning that twenty-five enemy bombers were attacking from 8,000 feet. There were no Japanese aircraft anywhere near Guadalcanal or the carriers at this time, but these warnings set everyone on edge, for the implication was that Japanese carriers were in the areaeven though U.S. Fleet intelligence had correctly reported that all of Japans carriers were in home waters. The false alarm was not sprung by any of the Allied coastwatchers hiding out in the central or northern Solomons, for Lieutenant Inoues 2d Air Group Val chutai was skirting the northern chain of islands at nearly 10,000 feet, far from the sight of any of the coastwatcher stations. This track brought the Vals to the northern side of Florida Island at 1430. They were beyond the range of U.S. Navy radars and U.S. Navy fighter patrols. When Inoue judged that his dive-bombers were opposite the invasion fleet, he signaled a turn to the south. There were clouds over the northern flotilla of Task Force 62, but Inoue had a clear view of many ships to the south, off Guadalcanal. As the Val chutai neared these ships, Inoue motioned for the three-plane shotai under WO Gengo Ota to attack a force of cruisers and destroyers to the west while the remaining six Vals went after transports anchored off the invasion beach. * The first American to realize an attack was under way was Lt Scoop Vorse, who was leading a pair of other Fighting-6 Wildcats over the western anchorage off Guadalcanal. Vorse happened to look down from 11,000 feet in time to see Warrant Officer Otas shotai rolling into its dive against the warships below. Vorse was amazed, a feeling he overcame in a split second and rolled straight into a dive of his own. His

206

Pacifica Military History

two wingmen saw him go, but they were unable to follow, and they did not see any targets in time to figure out what was going on. A little late off the markhe was lucky to have been on the mark at allVorse was barely able to keep contact with the diving Vals. The best he could do for the moment was park well behind the tail of the rear Val and open fire from long range. With all the fine, big targets ahead of himcruisers galoreWarrant Officer Ota for some reason set his sights on the Mugford, an oldish destroyer holding station in the western antisubmarine screen. At 1447, according to the Mugfords log, a lookout spotted two fixed-gear airplanes diving out of a cloud astern of the ship and head right at him. The sailor shouted a warning, and then he saw two more airplanes dive out of the cloud. Though the Mugfords captain was uncertain as to what was going on, he instinctively ordered a sharp turn to starboard. Ota and his wingman followed the destroyer into the turn and dropped their four 60-kilogram bombs. Otas missed the ship to starboard, but one of PO2 Koji Takahashis bombs struck the Mugfords aft superstructure and killed twenty-one crewmen. The third Val, commanded by PO2 Minoru Iwaoka and piloted by S1 Seiki Nakamoto, never made a move on the injured destroyer, or any other ship. Perhaps Scoop Vorse had killed Iwaoka or Nakamoto with his guns, which he had been firing all the way down; certainly his bullets struck the Val, for the airplanes descent was marked by a trail of smoke. Whatever occurred, the Val dived straight into the water without ever lining up on a ship or opening its dive brakes. Score one for Lt Scoop Vorse, who pulled out to chase Ota and Takahashi but could not find them. * The six 2d Air Group Vals led by Lt Fumito Inoue never did reach the Allied transports. As they crossed the channel between Florida and Guadalcanal at 10,000 feet, they were spotted by Lt Hayden Jensen, whose Fighting-5 section was part of a six-plane division led by Lt Dick Gray. Though the Vals were 3,000 feet above the Wildcats, and well to the west, Jensen happened to be looking right at them when they came into view. In fact, he caught sight of the Vals just as three of them Warrant Officer Otas shotaisplit off to attack the warships farther to the west.

Free Sample Chapters

207

Rather than clutter the fighter channel, Jensen raced to the head of the fighter division and waggled his wings to signal an alarm. Then he put on full power and led the way toward the larger group of Vals. During the climb, one Wildcat dropped out when its pilot found that its guns were not working. At about the time Grays division, with Jensen in the lead, began climbing toward the six 2d Air Group Vals, Fighting-5s Lt Dave Richardson and Ens Charles Davy spotted the same enemy dive-bombers from their position at 13,000 feet and to the north. As Richardson arrowed down, he hoped he would arrive in time to meet the Vals before they commenced combat dives on any of the juicy targets in the channel. If the Vals did dive before Richardson and Davy reached them, there would be no way for these Wildcats to spoil the bombing attack. Lieutenant Inoue probably spotted Dick Grays five Wildcats as they climbed toward his Vals, and that apparently prompted him to switch targets. There was no way he could reach the transports before his slow dive-bombers were overtaken by the carrier fighters, so he opted to go after what he believed was a light cruiser that was much closer. In fact, it was another oldish destroyer, the Dewey, which was west of the transports, guarding against submarine attack. The Vals had just reversed their heading to set up on the Dewey when Lieutenant Jensen arrived in range at the head of Grays division. Attacking from the side on a slight climb, Jensen fired at the nearest Val, which staggered in flight as bullets clearly struck home. The wounded Val split off from the rest of the group and angled toward the water. Jensen stayed with it, firing all the way. The Dewey and other ships opened fire at everything in the air. Huge puffs from time-fused 5-inch antiaircraft rounds and ribbons of tracer blossomed and snaked at all levels from quite a bit higher than the Japanese dive-bombers and U.S. Navy fighters to quite a bit lower. But the remainder of Grays division pressed in. Lt(jg) Carlton Starkes and Lt Marion Dulfiho followed the Vals into their dive, firing all the way at whatever targets presented themselves. Ens Mark Bright had so much speed on that he overran the rear Val. Ignoring the danger from that dive-bombers two 7.7mm cowl machine guns, he pressed his attack on the next-to-rear Val and was answered in kind by a stream of 7.7mm

208

Pacifica Military History

bullets from its observer-gunner. Undeterred, Bright stayed the course until flames blossomed from between the fixed landing gear and spread forward and back. Lieutenant Gray, who was trailing Bright, fired a burst into the rear Val, but he thought someone better look out for more attackers, so he pulled up short and went high. Lieutenant Richardson and Ensign Davy did not get there in time to beat the Vals into their dive, so they pulled out and, like Dick Gray, looked around for more attackers. Lieutenant Inoue and PO3 Seiji Sato reached the drop point over the Dewey without being hit by antiaircraft fire or drawing any direct fire from the Wildcats. All four of their bombs missed. Seconds later, two Vals from the rear shotai reached the drop point, but their bombs also missed the twisting destroyer. At this point, Mach Don Runyon arrived on the scene with the three other members of his Fighting-6 Wildcat division. Alerted by chatter on the fighter channel, Runyon knew where to go and what to do when he got there. He skirted the friendly fire from below and attacked the first Val that he could get into his gunsight. He must have scored hits, but the dive-bomber was really hammered by the leader of Runyons second section, AP1 Howard Packard. The Val definitely crashed off Lunga, and Packard was given full credit, but it is certain that this airplane had suffered battle damage under the guns of Dulfiho, Starkes, and Runyon and perhaps Jensen and Bright too. Lieutenant Dulfiho spotted one of the rear shotai survivors as it completed its recovery off the Dewey. This Val broke to the south and attempted to evade by flying across Guadalcanals mountainous interior. The veteran Wildcat pilothis first combat had been a carrier raid in Februaryclosed to only 50 yards off the Vals tail and opened fire. Unfortunately, at the crucial moment, Dulfihos windshield was covered by oil thrown up by his own engine. He cracked the canopy and leaned out, resuming fire and attempting to adjust his aim on the fall of his tracer. But it was hopeless, and Dulfiho broke contact. By then, AP1 Packard was on the scent, and he went all out to catch up with the fleeing Val. But Don Runyon got there first, from ahead and below, and Packards wingman, Ens Dutch Shoemaker, boxed it in from the side. All three

Free Sample Chapters

209

Wildcats were firing when the Val flew into a ravine and blew up. Runyon was the division leader; he got the credit. Lieutenant Inoue and one of his wingmen got clean away. However, the leader of the rear shotai, WO Seisuke Nakagaki, was fired onand individually claimedby both Ens Mark Bright and Mach Don Runyon as he flew clear of the Allied shipping. Then Nakagaki was caught by Ens Dutch Shoemaker and Runyons wingman, Ens Harry March, as he neared Savo on a course toward the Shortland Islands. As Shoemaker set up for a high-side run, March roared up the Vals tail and fired despite a stream of bullets put out by Nakagakis observer-gunner. March thought his bullets started a fire, but Lt Hayden Jensen, who was coming on fast, thought the stream of white smoke was from a nonfatal oil-line break. In any event, Jensen closed on the wounded Val and fired bursts into it from 350 yards and on down. His bullets definitely set Nakagakis oft-wounded Val aflame, and the dive-bomber knifed into the water, for sure. Just about everyone involved was awarded a full official credit for this lone victory. In all, the nine Fighting-5 and Fighting-6 Wildcat pilots who attacked Lieutenant Inoues six Vals claimed thirteen full victories, and Lt Scoop Vorse claimed one of the three Vals that attacked the Mugford. Naval vessels firing at the Vals claimed two. * All four of the 2d Air Group survivors, who claimed a light cruiser damaged, reached the Shortland Islands at about 1700. Warrant Officer Ota and Petty Officer Takahashi set their Vals down in the water, as planned, and all four airmen in them swam to the waiting Mavis. Shortly, Lieutenant Inoue and his wingman ditched near the rendezvous with the seaplane tender. Inoue and his observer were rescued by the ship when it arrived on the scene, but the second pilot and his wingman simply disappeared. In return for superficially damaging a U.S. Navy destroyer and killing twenty-one members of its crewwith one of eighteen 60-kilogram bombs carried 600 miles from Rabaulthe 2d Air Group lost all nine Vals and twelve of eighteen pilots and observers. *

210

Pacifica Military History

All of the Fighting-5 pilots involved in the engagement with Inoues Vals landed in due course aboard the Saratoga. Vorse, Runyon, Packard, and March barely made it back to the Enterprise on the last of their fuel, and Dutch Shoemaker landed aboard the Saratoga. Coming off an afternoon patrol over the transports, a Fighting-71 Wildcat became separated from its division and got lost. It ran out of fuel over Guadalcanal and crashed in a stand of trees far from friendly lines. The injured pilot ended up in Marine hands nearly a week later, but this was yet another Wildcat gone from Frank Jack Fletchers original ninety-nine. Later, at about 1730, Ens Dutch Shoemaker, Ens Earl Cook, and Mach Pat Nagle, all from Fighting-6, were launched from the Saratoga to fly an ad hoc combat air patrol over the transports. Nobody had any business launching fighters to a distant station so soon before dark, but someone in authority was clearly rattled by the days two bombing attacks. Shoemakers Wildcat developed engine trouble on the way out, and he was nearly shot down on the way home by fellow Fighting-6 pilots who recognized his Wildcat at the last moment and led him to their ship. Cook and Nagle were ordered back to the Enterprise as soon as they reported on station. Nagle developed an undisclosed problem on the return. Though he was reported by Cook as having completed a successful water landing, he was never seen again. Ensign Cook asked for help back to the ship with the aid of radar, and the carriers even showed their deck lights to help guide him in, but he kept missing the mark and finally reported himself out of fuel at 1915. He was never seen again, either. There is speculation that the two Enterprise Wildcats were never refueled during their hour-long stay aboard the Saratoga, an understandable omission on such a busy day, but no less tragic in its consequences.

Free Sample Chapters

211

212

Pacifica Military History

CARRIER STRIKE
The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands October 1942 By Eric Hammel The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, a strategic naval action in the bitter Guadalcanal Campaign, was historys fourth carrier-versus-carrier naval battle. Though technically a Japanese victory, the battle proved to be the Empire of Japans last serious attempt to win the Pacific War by means of an all-out carrier confrontation. Only one other carrier battle occurred in the Pacific War, in June 1944, in the Philippine Sea. By then, however, the U.S. Navys Fast Carrier Task Force was operational, and Japans dwindling fleet of carriers was outnumbered and completely outclassed. Though hundreds of Japanese naval aviators perished in the great Marianas Turkey Shoot of June 1920, 1944, it was during the first four carrier battlesin the six-month period from early May through late October 1942that the fate of Japans small, elite naval air arm was sealed. It was at Coral Sea, in May, that Japans juggernaut across the Pacific was blunted. It was at Midway, in June, that Japans great carrier fleet was cut down to manageable size. And it was at Eastern Solomons, in August, and Santa Cruz, in October, that Japans last best carrier air groups were ground to dust. After their technical victory at Santa Cruz, the Japanese withdrew their carriers from the South Pacificand were never able to use them again as a strategically decisive weapon. Of the four Japanese aircraft carriers that participated in the Santa Cruz battle, only one survived the war. Following Santa Cruz and the subsequent series of air and surface engagements known as the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the Imperial Navys Combined Fleet never again attempted a meaningful strategic showdown with the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Though several subsequent surface actions in the Solomons were clearly Japanese victories, their results were short-lived. After November 1942, Japan could not again muster the staying poweror the willpowerto wage a strategic war with her navy. Once the veteran carrier air groups had been shredded at

Free Sample Chapters

213

Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz, Japanese carriers ceased to be a strategic weapon. The Santa Cruz clash was deemed a Japanese victory because U.S. naval forces withdrew from the battlefield. That is how victory and defeat are strictly determined. But on the broader, strategic, level, the U.S. Navy won at Santa Cruzbecause it was able to achieve its strategic goal of holding the line and buying time. Japan was unable to achieve her strategic goal of defeating the U.S. Pacific Fleet in a final, decisive, all-or-nothing battle. The technical victory cost Japan any serious hope she had of winning the Pacific naval war. The victory at Santa Cruz cost Japan her last best hope to win the war in the Pacific. Once again, author-historian Eric Hammel brings to the reading public an exciting narrative filled with the latest information and written in the edge-of-the-seat style that his readers have enjoyed for nearly two decades, in nearly thirty acclaimed military history books. As was the case with its companion volume, Carrier Clash, this new book is based upon American and Japanese battle reports and the recollections of many airmen and seamen who took part. Critical Acclaim for Eric Hammels earlier books about the Guadalcanal Campaign: Sea Power says: Acclaimed military historian Eric Hammel presents a landmark history of the Battle of the Eastern Solomons . . . Drawing on newly declassified information from U.S. and Japanese sources, and on numerous other archival sources, Hammel brings a fresh perspective to the outcome of the war as a whole. . . . [He] describes with precision and insight the key events in the Guadalcanal/Eastern Solomons campaigns, the strategic implications of the battle, and the impact on the overall battle plans of both adversaries. Kirkus Reviews says: Hammel is as adept at conveying the terrors of fighting fire on a ship . . . as he is at providing concise evaluations of top commanders. . . . Official histories apart, [Guadalcanal: The Carrier

214

Pacifica Military History

Battles is] the most thorough appreciation yet of Guadalcanals turningpoint carrier battles; praiseworthy. Lansing State Journal says: For the military buff, [Guadalcanal: Starvation Island] is an excellent resource. For the casual reader, it is a well-written account of one of the most crucial times in the history of the United States. ALA Booklist says: [Eric Hammel] effectively utilizes the accounts of the battle participants to provide a vivid dimension to the fighting . . . Library Journal says: Hammel does not write dry history. His battle sequences are masterfully portrayed. Canadian Military History says: Hammels descriptions of engagements on land, air and sea are fast-paced and engagingly written, and he has a knack for weaving together character and circumstance into a very readable story. Book World says: [Guadalcanal: Starvation Island] is stark, naked, and brutal. . . . It is an excellent, toughly drawn account of the awesomeness of war and is worthy many times over of being in any library worthy of the name.

Free Sample Chapters

215

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book CARRIER STRIKE: The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, October 1942 by Eric Hammel. The book is currently available in a $22.95 trade paperback edition published by Zenith Press. It is also available in ebook editions.

AMBUSH!
by Eric Hammel Copyright 1999 by Eric Hammel The first American strike bombersseven Scouting-8 and eight Bombing-8 Dauntlesses under Scouting-8s LCdr Gus Widhelmdid not begin launching until 0732, nearly twenty minutes after the first Japanese launch. Following the Dauntlesses were six Avengers under the Torpedo-6 commander, Lt Iceberg Parker. Last aloft were two divisions of Fighting-72 under the squadron commander, LCdr Mike Sanchez. This strike, under the overall command of Lieutenant Commander Widhelm, was vectored directly against the last-reported position of the Japanese carriers. The next strike group began launching from the Enterprise at about 0750, nearly twenty minutes after Widhelms strike began launching. This force was led by Cdr Dick Gaines, the Air Group 10 commander, who was flying his own command Avenger. It consisted of just three Bombing-10 Dauntlesses flown by Scouting-10 pilots; seven Avengers under the Torpedo-10 commander, LCdr Jack Collett; and eight Wildcats under the Fighting-10 skipper, LCdr Jimmy Flatley. There were several Avengers available aboard the Enterprise that could not be launched on this makeshift mission, because three Avenger aircrews were stuck aboard the plane-guard destroyers that had fished them out of the water during the night-landing fiasco. In addition, two Torpedo-10 crews were temporarily marooned aboard the Hornet, having been forced to stay overnight after ferrying two replacement TBFs over late the previous afternoon. The inconsequential showing by the

216

Pacifica Military History

Enterprise dive-bombers was the result of the requirements of both the morning search and maintaining antisubmarine patrols for the entire task force. The Enterprise strike group, such as it was, took an extremely long time getting airborne. Torpedo-10s Lt Doc Norton, who was one of the last in line, saw that each pilot ahead of him was stopping to read from a chalkboard held up by one of the flight-deck crewmen. When Nortons turn came, he read, Proceed without Hornet. Norton, who took off a few minutes later, did not even see any Hornet aircraft, though that ship was starkly visible on the horizon. Beginning at 0810, about forty minutes after Widhelms strike commenced launching, the Hornet Air Group commander, Cdr Walt Rodee, piloting his command Avenger, led off the second Hornet strike: nine Dauntlesses under Lt Johnny Lynch, the Bombing-8 exec; eight Avengers under Lt Ward Powell, the Torpedo-6 exec; and seven Fighting72 Wildcats under Lt Warren Ford. This was the clean-up formation; it would strike what there was left to strike, carriers or surface warships. The problem with the cobbled-together attack plan was that it was not cohesive. Both carriers initially launched the bombers and fighters they had available on the flight deck or at the ready and within easy reach on the hangar deck. Because each strike group was obliged to fly up to 200 miles to reach the Japanesea circumstance was made worse by the need of the U.S. carriers to sail away from the Japanese during launches into the prevailing windforming the first Hornet and Enterprise groups into a single unit was deemed too demanding on fuel supplies. Moreover, there was no U.S. doctrine allowing the subordination of one air-group commander to another, nor the meshing of squadrons of one air group with like squadrons of another. So, the U.S. strike groups went off as a stream of separate mixed units, each one composed of whatever aircraft happened to be available at the time of the launch. Indeed, each of the three strike groups lacked internal cohesion; each was itself strung out over distances of several miles. Throughout 1942, the U.S. Navy had been working hard to develop types of formations that would cluster the bombers in such a way as to

Free Sample Chapters

217

make them mutually supporting and to take full advantage of the forwardand rear-firing machine guns, but there was no doctrine for mixing divebombers and torpedo bombers in the same formation. Fighter-escort procedures were also relatively crude, but even the crude methods were obviated by the distance that had to be covered between each strike groups lead and rear bombers. The Wildcat divisionstwo to each strike grouptended to stay high because the Wildcats needed an initial altitude advantage to effectively combat faster-climbing Zeros. In the case of the two fighter divisions escorting the lead Hornet strike, one division had to fly cover with the higher Dauntlesses, while the other had to fly at only 2,000 feet with the Avengers. The mixed Enterprise strike planes all flew at roughly the same altitude, with the two fighter divisions split up to guard either flank just ahead of the bombers. * The opposing strike formations began passing one another at about 0830, when Gus Widhelms lead strike group was only sixty miles out from the Hornet. The low group of Wildcat-escorted Avengers actually passed directly beneath the larger Japanese formation. Widhelm and his pilots warily eyed LCdr Shigeharu Muratas strike group, and Murata and his pilots reciprocated. Many individual gunners in both forces trained out their machine guns, but no one opened fire and none of the fighters broke formation to molest the enemy. Within minutes, the strike groups had passed one another other. Assuming the Japanese had warned their ships of their presence, and thus feeling no need to maintain radio silence, both Widhelm and Mike Sanchez radioed Task Force 61 that a large Japanese strike was inbound. Murata did the same; he radioed the Carrier Group that fifteen enemy bombers were inbound. High above the passing bomber formations, twenty-nine Zuikaku Zero pilots failed to spot the American aircraft. * Next upabout ten miles behind Widhelm, 5,000 feet lower, and somewhat to the eastwas Dick Gainess smaller Enterprise strike group, which had been launched only twenty minutes earlier and which was only forty-five miles from the ship. The Enterprise group was still low and climbing very slowly to conserve fuelexcept for Commander

218

Pacifica Military History

Gaines, who had more fuel aboard than the other pilots and who rapidly climbed far higher than anyone else. The Dauntlesses, which were the slowest of the three American aircraft types, had the lead so that the swifter Avengers could hold station on them. This required the Avengersflying in newly contrived steppeddown diamond-shaped, four-plane defensive formationsto weave a little in order to keep from overrunning the straining SBDs in the long, slow climb. The two fighter divisionsLCdr Jimmy Flatleys on the right and Lt(jg) John Lepplas on the leftwere weaving back and forth 1,000 feet above and just ahead of the bombers in an effort to match speed with the much slower Dauntlesses. Flatley and Leppla were both veterans of the Coral Sea. Indeed, both had won Navy Crosses in historys first carrier-versus-carrier battleFlatley for his superb fighter leadership and Leppla for being the most aggressive Dauntless pilot anyone could remember. (Lepplas rearseatman at Coral Sea, also a Navy Cross holder, was ARM2 John Liska, who was returning home to the Enterprise at that very moment with Scouting-10s Lt(jg) Doan Carmody.) Few of the Enterprise strike aircraft had turned on their radios yet, the better to preserve radio silence. They were still climbing when Gus Widhelm and Mike Sanchez broadcast their warnings to Task Force 61which intercepted neither messageand no one in any of the Enterprise aircraft heard the alert. Lt Saneyasu Hidaka, leading nine Zuiho Zeros, was frustrated by the lack of orders from Lieutenant Commander Murata to attack the passing Hornet strikers, so he did not wait upon word from Murata when he spotted the climbing Enterprise force. Though bouncing the second wave of American bombers would deprive Muratas force of close-in support, Hidaka apparently thought that a quick hit-and-run pass from 14,000 feet would leave him with plenty of time to rejoin the bombers before the attack on the American carriers commenced. At 0840, Lieutenant Hidaka signed to the eight other Zuiho Zero pilots to follow him down in string formation against the American carrier bombers. After the Zeros had completed a descending 180-degree turn,

Free Sample Chapters

219

the attack would be launched against the rear of the Enterprise formation and from out of the sun. Hidakas attack completely surprised the Americans. Ironically, only moments before the Japanese struck, LCdr Jack Collett, in the lead Avenger, had wondered aloud about the total absence of chatter on the radioradio silence was seldom perfectly maintainedand had asked ARM1 Tom Nelson whether the radio was functioning. Nelson indeed found that someone had turned the frequency selector from the torpedo channel, and he made the necessary change. But it was too late. * The first American warplane to be struck by the Japanese fighters was Collets. ARM1 Tom Nelson had just heard a bleat of Bogeys! over the radio and was cranking back his tunnel-mounted .30-caliber machine gun when he heard the throaty voice of the .50-caliber turret gun overhead. An instant later, the Avenger shivered right down her air frame and involuntarily fishtailed. Then the starboard wing went down a bit. Nelson realized that the torpedo bomber was gliding toward the ocean. A quick peek out the starboard porthole revealed a sick sort of look on the face of Lt(jg) Robert Oscar, the pilot of the TBF stepped off Colletts starboard wing. Oscars expression told Nelson that it was time to go. He was just beginning to move when he realized that smoke was pouring through the fuselage of the airplane. He grabbed the interphone mike and yelled into it to get Colletts attention, but there was no answer. It looked more and more like the engine had been damaged or destroyed and the pilot had been injured or killed. By the time Nelson called to warn Collett, the latter had already exited the cockpit. Lt(jg) Raymond Wyllie, the pilot of the rear TBF in Colletts division, saw the squadron commander climb out onto the right wing and jump. He was never seen again. Meanhile, Tom Nelson crawled into the radio compartment and pulled the locking pins on the hatch, which he kicked out into space. AM1 Steve Nadison was still in the turret, so Nelson had to get his attention and hand him his parachute. As he did, he realized that Nadison had balked at wearing even his parachute harness in the cramped turret.

220

Pacifica Military History

So, while all Nelson had to do was clip his emergency parachute to his harness, Nadison had to climb into his harness and then clip on the chute. It was a life-and-death difference. Nelson tarried for a moment to help Nadison into the harness, but it was too cramped in the radio compartment for so much frantic movement, and it was all the more difficult because the Avenger was turning out of control to the right. Evidently realizing that Nelson couldnt help him, Nadison looked right into Nelsons eyes and cocked his head, a signal for Nelson to give him room by bailing out. With that, Nelson clipped on his chute and stood in the hatchway. The slipstream was powerful, and the airplane was still accelerating as it dived in a tight right spiral toward the ocean. It took a real concentration of energy for Nelson to dive through the tiny hatchway, but he did. The last thing he saw in the Avenger was the altimeter, which showed a reading of 2,000 feet. Tom Nelson instantly yanked the D-ring on his parachute pack, far too soon for inertia to overcome his momentum, which was the same as the falling airplanes. The force of the pilot chutes impact with the rushing air tore it away from the main chute and knocked Nelson out. When the radioman came to, he was floating beneath a beautiful white silk can-opy. He saw a large burning fuel slick on the surface of the ocean about a quarter-mile away. This was certainly his airplane. He quickly looked around for more parachutes, but there was none. At that moment, a Zero made a firing pass on Nelson, and the chute was badly riddled. Never-theless, Nelson slipped into the water a moment later and ducked beneath the surface. The respite was short-lived; he had bluffed the Japanese pilot, but one of the parachute shroud lines had become entangled with the buckle of his flight suit. He was being dragged down by the sodden, heavy parachute when he found the tangle and pulled it free. He yanked the twin D-rings on his Mae West life jacket, but only one side automatically inflated. He blew the other side up by the mouth tube and discovered that it had a hole in it, which gave him something upon which he could focus his attention. He had no idea what to do next. *

Free Sample Chapters

221

AMM3 Tom Powell, the turret gunner aboard Lt(jg) Robert Oscars TBF, located on the right wing of LCdr Jack Colletts lead Avenger, was watching on the right side of the formation when the Zeros hit. This was his role in a new method of formation defense known as concentrated cone fire. All the turret gunners on the right watched and fired to the right, and all the turret gunners on the left watched and fired to the left. The area overhead and between the right and left airplanes was a freefire zone. The tunnel gunners directed their attention and fire by the same method. From the first moment the Zeros broke out of the sun firing all their weapons, Powell was engaged up to his eyeballs in returning the fire. He never even noticed that the lead Avenger had fallen out of the formation. During one sweeping firing pass by a Zero shotai, Powell thought he saw one of the enemy fighters explode in mid air, but his attention was instantly diverted elsewhere. A few moments later, during a fast peek over the side of the airplane, he definitely saw another Zero smoking as tracers from another Avenger passed all the way through it. The ensuing kill was credited to ARM3 Charles Shinneman, the turret gunner aboard Lt Tommy Thompsons TBF, the lead plane in the stepped-down second torpedo element. Powell had no fewer than three Zeros in view at all times throughout the brief engagement. * The tail-end Avenger in the first section, piloted by Ens John Reed, was mortally hit by the second Zero shotai passing from ahead to astern. AMM3 Murray Glasser, the turret gunner, barely had time to fire a few bursts at the passing Zeros before the intercom crackled with Ensign Reeds screams, Bail out! Bail out! At precisely that moment, Glasser realized that pieces of the airplane were flying back past the turret, and he thought he saw the tip of flames licking around his post. He instantly locked the turret and dropped into the large radio compartment. The gunners chest parachutes, which were too large to wear in the confined turret and tunnel, were secured by large bungee cords to the bulkhead directly above the starboard hatch. Glasser was the first to get to them, and he threw one to the radioman-bombardier, RM3 Grant Harrison, who was sitting in the jump seat in front of the bombsight. It

222

Pacifica Military History

took Glasser another instant to realize that Harrison was already pushing the hatch open against the slipstream, though he did not have his parachute on. Glasser was about to say something to Harrison, but he saw that the radioman was glassy-eyed and realized that he had drifted off into a catatonic state. Glasser dived through the open hatchway and pulled his parachutes D-ring. As the chute billowed above him, he saw a Zero knife straight into the water. Minutes laterhe had lost track of time he gently entered the water and climbed out of the encumbering parachute harness without any difficulty. When next he looked, the sky was empty and eerily quiet. * It took several seconds after the initial attack on the lead Avengers for the rear Zero shotai to strike Lt Doc Nortons airplane, which was next- to-last in the rear Avenger formation. Both Nortons plane and the rearmost, piloted by Lt(jg) Dick Batten, were riddled by 20mm cannon and 7.7mm machine-gun fire. Nevertheless, both of the turret gunners got rounds into one of the Zeros as it flashed on by from astern to ahead, and the Zero ignited like a torch just before it grazed Nortons right wingtip. Though all the gunners probably got a piece of the destroyed Zero, the entire kill was credited to Battens tunnel gunner, AM2 Rex Holmgrin. Battens Avenger was hit by the passing Zeros. A fire erupted in the hydraulics line controlling the port aileron, which stood straight up. Holmgrin yelled a warning to Batten, who responded, Get ready to jump. Ill put her in the water, and then went on the open radio channel to say that he was on fire and setting down in the water. The burning TBF dropped out of formation, but the damaged aileron fell off the wing and the hydraulics fire burned itself out. The bomb bay doors could not be opened, and thus the torpedowhich was probably damaged, too could not be jettisoned. Batten found he could keep the damaged Avenger flying, so he gingerly turned back toward Task Force 61, hoping to nurse it all the way home. * The first American fighters into the fray were John Leppla and his Fighting-10 Wildcat divisionEns Al Mead, Ens Dusty Rhodes, and

Free Sample Chapters

223

Ens Chip Reding. All save Leppla were novices. Leppla flew directly into the oncoming Zeros. The four Wildcats instantly received hammer blows from hundreds of 20mm and 7.7mm rounds. Chip Reding, Lepplas second-section leader, saw only the rear Zero shotai as it closed on the Avengers. He immediately charged his guns and dropped his wing fuel tank. The transition from the drop tank to the main tank did not go well, however, and Reding temporarily lost air speed. In a second or two, the fuel-starved engine sputtered and died, and the Wildcat spiraled toward the ocean as Reding desperately tried to restart the engine. Dusty Rhodes, Redings wingman and the divisions tail-endCharlie, also had a problem with his wing tank. It stuck in place when he tried to jettison it, and a Japanese incendiary or tracer round set it aflame. Rhodes nevertheless stayed on station above Reding while the latter fluttered toward the sea and until he got his engine restarted. During those few bleak moments, oncoming Zeros riddled Rhodess canopy, shot out most of his instruments, and clipped his pushed-up goggles from his foreheadall without injuring him. Meanwhile, the wing tank continued to spew dangerous flames. As his engine restarted, Chip Reding distinctly saw two Avengers struck by Zeros diving from above and both sides, from directly out of the sun. He led Rhodes straight at the attackers, but other Japanese fighters intervened and pressed home their own attacks at such steep angles and in such quick succession that neither Reding nor Rhodes was able to get any of the Zeros in his reflector gunsight. At some point in the swirling fight, however, the fire in Rhodess wing tank went out, by then a small consolation. John Leppla was gone. The last person to see him was Dusty Rhodes, who had looked back just once to see Leppla making a head-on run at one Zero with a second Zero clinging to his tail. A few moments later, Rhodes saw a partially deployed parachute streaming toward the water and thought it might be Leppla, but there was no way to be sure because by then several Avengers had been culled from the formation. Long before Rhodess last sighting, and only an instant after the action got under way, Lepplas wingman, Al Mead, had evacuated his disabled Wildcat. He safely parachuted into the water.

224

Pacifica Military History

After a minute or two, Reding and Rhodes became separated. Each of their fighters had suffered severe damage. Rhodes had no instruments, and Redings electrical system was gone, which meant he could not use his radio or fire his guns. Each pilot instinctively looked around for the other, and they managed to get back together. They had been flying as a team for months and simply fell into a smoothly executed scissor weave, less as a means of suckering in Zerosfor neither Wildcat was able to fire its gunsthan as a way of evading Zeros. Slowly, the two Wildcats were being pulverized. But neither pilot had yet been injured. Then Rhodess engine burned out and froze. He was at 2,500 feet. He put the nose down for speed and turned upwind preparatory to ditching. A Zero dead astern opened fire, and the 7.7mm bullets severed the rudder-control cable. By then, Rhodes was approaching 1,000 feet. It was time to leave. He threw back the remains of the Wildcats canopy, stood up, kicked the joystick right into the instrument panel, and yanked the D-ring on his parachute. The unfurling silk canopy neatly plucked Dusty Rhodes from his dead fighter and carried him gently to the sea, where he made a hard landing. When Rhodes next looked up, Chip Reding was zooming away with three Zeros glued to his tail. Reding tried to stay over Rhodes, but the Zeros on his tail quickly drove him away. He dived toward the water and was below 100 feet before he was able to break away from the attackers. The strike group was long gone, and the Japanese seemed to be gone, too. Chip Reding turned the nose of his scrap-heap fighter toward the Enterprises last known position. * LCdr Jimmy Flatleys division did not initially see the Zero attack nor Lepplas response because Lepplas division was weaving away from the main formation when the attack was sprung. By the time Flatley realized that his group was under attack, the relative position of Lepplas division had shifted from the formations port vanguard to well astern. At the same moment, Flatley saw one Zero take position below and ahead of the TBFs. As soon as Flatley saw the attack on the Avengers get under way, he turned into the main formation to harass the nearest Zero, which was

Free Sample Chapters

225

by then well along in its approach from beneath the Avengers. Flatley executed a diving turn, came up with a full-deflection shot, and unleashed a stream of .50-caliber bullets. The Zero pulled up and turned away from the Avenger as Flatley recovered above and to the side to begin a second run. Flatley again got the Zero in his sights and instantly flicked the gun-button knob on his joystick while still at extreme range; a Zero hardly ever stayed put long enough for a perfect set-up. The gamble paid off: the Zero began smoking. A third, high-side, attack sent the Japanese fighter hurtling into the waves. When Jimmy Flatley looked up for more targets, he saw that the Zeros were gone and that the group of Torpedo-10 Avengers had been reduced from eight to six. Lepplas Wildcat division had vanished. The score for this unanticipated contest was four of nine Zeros downed by TBF gunners and F4F pilots, two of eight TBFs downed, and three of eight F4Fs downed. The human toll was four Japanese pilots lost, five American pilots and crewmen killed, and two Wildcat pilots and two Avenger crewmen in the water. * When the Zeros were gonethey made only the one sweeping passDoc Norton checked his riddled TBF for damage and discovered that he had no hydraulic power. This meant that the bomb-bay and .50caliber turret were inoperable. The Avengers right aileron was flapping in the slipstream, its control cable severed, and there was a large hole in the right wing disturbingly close to the locking mechanism. A closer check of the right wing revealed that the red warning tab was projecting, a pretty fair indicator that the locking pin was not properly seated and that the folding wing might fold at any moment. Fortunately, no one aboard Nortons plane had been injured. Norton conducted a brief internal argument with himself. It was certain that Japanese carriers lay ahead, and getting Japanese carriers was what he was drawing pay to do. But the fact that the bomb-bay doors were locked tight by the disabled hydraulic system, and that the rear turret could not be worked at optimum performance for the same reason, militated against continuing. The clincher was that projecting wing-lock warning tab. There was a better-than-even chance that the

226

Pacifica Military History

right wing would fold back if Norton pulled too many negative gees, and doing so was a virtual certainty in a combat torpedo approach. So, Norton gave the section leader, Lt Tommy Thompson, the hand signal for sick airplane and gingerly peeled into a turn for home. By then, Lt(jg) Dick Batten had fallen out of the formation, and the two damaged TBFs joined up for the trip back to the Enterprise. It naturally occurred to many of the six airmen aboard the returning Avengers that they were behind the Japanese strike group. All of them had an uneasy feeling about what they might find when next they saw Task Force 61. For their part, the Zuiho Zeros were done for the day. Four of nine had been shot down, and one or two others, possibly including Lieutenant Hidakas, were badly damaged. Feeling there was no way any of his Zeros could catch up with Lieutenant Commander Muratas receding strikers, Hidaka turned for home with the four remaining Zeros of his squadron. The Zuiho Zeros had done much to blunt the power of the Enterprise strike group, but Lieutenant Hidakas rash decision to attack was going to bear bitter fruit when Muratas force came within range of the Wildcats protecting Task Force 61.

Free Sample Chapters

227

228

Pacifica Military History

CHOSIN
Heroic Ordeal of the Korean War By Eric Hammel Told from the point of view of the men in the foxholes and tanks, outposts, and command posts, Eric Hammels Chosin is the definitive account of the epic retreat under fire of the 1st Marine Division from the Chosin Reservoir in December 1950. The author first sketches in the errors and miscalculations on the part of the American high command that caused the Marines to be strung out at the end of a narrow road scores of miles from the sea. He then plunges right into the action: the massing of Chinese forces in about ten-to-one strength; the Marines command problems due to the climate and terrain and high-level overconfidence; and the onset of the overwhelming Chinese assault. With a wealth of tactical detail and small-unit action Chosin: Heroic Ordeal of the Korean War is the most complete, most compelling book written on this iconic battle. Author Eric Hammels masterful account offers invaluable perspective on war at the gut level. Praise for Chosin Hammels book is full of accounts of the stuff that legends are made from. It is a cliffhanger of a story, and he tells it master-fully. Readers should be warned: Just as in the campaign itself, where there was no rear echelon and everyone was a combatant, so too, if you go into Yudamni with the Marines you had better be prepared to be with them all the way on to Hungnam and freedom. Sea Power Magazine This is a view over the foxholes rim. It concentrates on the superlative effort, suffering and courage of the young enlisted Marines, sailors and soldiers who glared at the quilted-uniformed enemy and refused to be stared down ... a factual, revealing and penetrating look at war at its worst and men at their best. The San Diego Union

Free Sample Chapters

229

The authors weaving of men, crises, and numbing cold leaves the reader in awe of this feat of arms in which soldiers and Marines fought an epic struggle to survive. . . . Hammels book is highly recommended. Infantry Magazine Involves the reader emotionally in a kaleidoscope of different, individual perceptionsfrom officers in their headquarters to riflemen shivering in the foxholes ... to the small-unit actions that, in their totality, shaped the ultimate course of the battle. Military History Magazine

230

Pacifica Military History

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book CHOSIN: Heroic Ordeal of the Korean War by Eric Hammel. The book is currently available in a $19.95 trade paperback edition published by Zenith Press. It is also available in ebook editions.

HILL 1282
by Eric Hammel Copyright 1981 by Eric Hammel The 1st Marine Division was on the move, toward the Yalu River. With any luck, if the weather cooperated, the United Nations police action in Korea would be over in a matter of weeks. The 5th Marine Regiment (5th Marines), most of the 7th Marines, and three artillery battalions of the 11th Marines spent the daylight hours of November 27, 1950, staging into the North Korean mountain-valley town of Yudam-ni, on the frozen shore of the Chosin Reservoir. While company-size units of the 7th Marines patrolled and fought through the day to secure the far-flung ridgelines that dominated the valley, a battalion of the 5th Marines mounted a limited assault aimed at striking off into the unsecured hinterland of North Korea. Strangely, for the Marines had faced no serious opposition in more than a month, all their patrols, sweeps, and advances on November 27 were strongly contested. Unbeknown to the Marines, tens of thousands of Chinese Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers were set that very night to spring an awesome trap upon the main body of the 1st Marine Division. Simultaneous mass infantry assaults were launched around the valley of Yudam-ni at about 2100. The temperature was minus-30 degrees Fahrenheit, so all but the regular watchkeepers were snuggled in their soft down sleeping bags, shoeless and exhausted by the days prodigious physical exertions and the sub-zero chill. Yudam-ni was seen by all higher headquarters as a temporary staging area. No strong hostile action was anticipated, and there was no strong

Free Sample Chapters

231

central authority determining where this battalion or that company was to be placed. Too large to be defended by a continuous line, the valley of Yudam-ni was merely screened by several isolated pockets of Marines: How Company, 3d Battalion, 7th Marines (How/3/7) to the northwest; Charlie/1/7 to the southeast; Dog/2/7 and Easy/2/7 to the east. Units of the 5th Marines caught on the perimeter just happened to be there when the days activities had drawn to a close. There was nothing wrong with the deployment; indeed, it was an adequate response of the solid combat experience of the planners to the latest intelligence data from higher headquarters. The orphan companies of the 2nd Battalion, 7th, were orphans because of the way Marine divisions of the era were not built. They were not built for moving and victualing themselves over very long lines of supply. There was not sufficient motor transport in 1st Ma-rine Division for moving so many men so quickly over so many road miles to a place like Yudam-ni. Owing to movement schedules worked out by harried motor-transport officers juggling conflicting priorities, it just happened that the 2nd Battalion, 7th, was split up for the longest period of time. On November 26, there were suffi-cient trucks to get two companies from Hagaru-ri to Yudam-ni. The remainder of the battalion had to await the vehicles that were bring-ing its relief up from the south on November 28. Thus, the two companies, about four hundred men, moved early and were attached administratively to Ray Daviss 1st Battalion, 7th, which placed them out of the way in the hills east of the long central valley of Yudam-ni. * Though composed largely of Reservists, Dog and Easy Compa-nies, 7th, were considered first-rate combat units. They had been baptized on the Inchon-Seoul Highway in September, and they had been in steady action all the way up from Wonsan. After arriving at Yudam-ni on November 26, the companies had been sent to outpost Hills 1240 and 1282, east of town, the former about one thousand yards east by south of the latter. The relative isolation of their positions was not lost upon the company com-manders. Patrols were sent out to examine and cover the intervening ground through the first

232

Pacifica Military History

day and night. As with the other 7th Regi-ment units guarding heights on the periphery of the valley, the two companies of the 2nd Battalion, 7th, were to be aided in covering their ground by the guns of the 3rd Battalion, 11th, the regimental 4.2-inch mortars, and such other mortars and heavy armaments as could be brought to bear in an emergency. It was a standard solution to a standard problem. During the night of November 26, an Easy/7 light machine gunner at the left extremity of the company line on Hill 1282 detected move-ment on the front. He tossed a grenade and bagged a Chinese infan-try officer who had been busily plotting the company position when he met his end; strewn about the corpse was a plotting board, tape measure, and alidade. Papers on the dead man identified him as a member of the 79th PLA Division. * The bulk of Captain Milt Hulls Dog/7 stepped off late in the morning of November 27 to patrol the ground north of Hill 1240. After three hours on the go the point platoon ran into a dozen Chinese and dispersed them. The middle platoon then passed through the point and swung eastward toward the village of Kyodong-ni, on the shore of the frozen Reservoir. The village had previously been burned out by marauding Marine fighter-bombers and was said to have been abandoned. The lead platoon, however, was hit by heavy fire as it crossed some low ground preparatory to entering the ruins. A strong Chinese force was entrenched on high ground north and west of the hamlet. Four Marine Corsairs made runs on the village as the two lead Dog Company platoons deployed to deliver an attack. One platoon leader was seriously wounded at the outset, but the other pressed on as a second air strike swept in. The Chinese had the terrain advantage and superior firepower, and the Marines were pressed back. The point platoon leader was killed while attempting to make a stand. Captain Hull informed his nominal superior, Lieutenant Colonel Ray Davis, that Dog/7 was under heavy pressure. Unable to do any-thing more constructive, Davis ordered Hull to return to Hill 1240 under friendly air and mortar cover. The Chinese chased Dog Com-pany as far

Free Sample Chapters

233

as they dared, then drifted back toward Kyodong-ni. In all, sixteen Marines were killed or injured. * Easy/7 had nowhere near as dramatic a day as its sister unit, but the troops were kept alert by almost constant sightings of white-clad Chinese all over distant ridges. Initially, Captain Walt Phillips had only two platoons with which to defend Hill 1282. These were placed in crescent-shaped arcs at the summit, one facing northeast, the other northwest. The detached platoon, which had spent the day guarding the regimental command post, was returned in the early evening of November 27. This unit was placed in line on a low spur just to the south of the summit of Hill 1282, several dozen yards behind the lines of its sister platoons, almost like a tail protruding from the main body of the company. The companys three 60mm mortars were emplaced below the sum-mit, between the two forward rifle platoons and the company CP. All light and heavy machine guns were deployed with the. forward rifle platoons. Though the troops received no official warning of an impending attack, they routinely set out trip flares along the entire front, and all weapons were registered upon every reachable approach to the company lines. Milt Hulls Dog Company, on Hill 1240, was similarly vigilant, though its position was somewhat below the actual summit of the hill, possibly hidden from Chinese observers manning posts on the rim of hills to the east. The 79th PLA Division was deployed to seize three of the four hills guarding the western side of the Yudam-ni base. It is evident, though not certain, that each of the divisions three regiments was assigned an objective that did not appear to Chinese observers to have been occupied by American Marines: the rightmost Chinese regiment was to seize Hill 1384, behind which Tapletts battalion had come to rest in the late afternoon of November 27. The center Chinese regiment was to take Hill 1240, behind whose summit Milt Hulls Dog/7 had been camped since November 26. The leftmost Chinese regiment was to take Hill 1167, which was not occupied at all by Marines. Only Hill 1282, between

234

Pacifica Military History

Hills 1384 and 1240, was to be spared. The Chinese had had Walt Phillipss Easy/7 under direct observation since November 26; indeed, they had lost a mapping officer to Phillipss vigilant sentries that very night. It seems that the commander of the 79th PLA Division had decided to move into the valley of Yudam-ni against the least possible opposition, by way of the undefended heights. The forbidding terrain knocked the Chinese plan askew. The reg-iment bound for Hill 1384 found its way, but the two southern regi-ments, attacking in columns of battalions deployed in columns of companies, veered northward. Thus, unoccupied Hill 1167 was not assaulted; the regiment bound for it moved on Hill 1240, and the regiment bound for Hill 1240 blundered toward Hill 1282. While this placed both Marine companies in danger, the Chinese advan-tage of freedom of movement was negated by the fact that the troops would be delivering their attacks across totally unfamiliar terrain, at night, against unanticipated opposition. * The first activity near Hill 1282 was noted at about 2200 hours, when several PLA squads approached the previously unoccupied rear spur and ran into 1st Lieutenant Bob Beys 3rd Platoon. Light skirmishing ensued for about thirty minutes, in which time the prob-ers were driven off at a cost of three Marines wounded. Dog Company, to the east, was also lightly probed. The company commanders, communicating by phone, agreed to pull in their horns, and canceled the routine patrols that were to have covered the open ground between the ridges. * In late 1942, John Yancey had been a corporal with Carlsons Raiders on Guadalcanal. At twenty-four, the Arkansan had striven to be the best Marine in the Corps, and he had been awarded a Navy Cross and a battlefield commission as a testament to his coolness under fire. In late 1950, John Yancey was a thirty-two-year-old family man and the proprietor of a Little Rock liquor store he had built up between the wars. Older and wiser, he had volunteered to fight again in Korea, more out of a yearning for action than anything else. In that sense, 1st Lieutenant John Yancey, commanding Easy/7s 1st Platoon, was typical

Free Sample Chapters

235

of many Pacific War veterans who had stayed in the Reserves in the late 1940s and who had been called to the colors from good jobs and fledgling businesses in the summer of 1950. But John Yancey was a certified hero, and the impulse to stand and fight was still very much with him. The second round of Chinese probes unfolded directly in front of Yanceys platoon. They were light, as usual, and the Chinese recoiled upon contact, content to draw fire to learn the whereabouts of the rifle pits and supporting machine guns. Yancey was not overly perturbed by the probes. He had ordered his gunners to hold their fire in order to avoid giving away their positions. It was business as usual, but only for a few moments. The unearthly silence was replaced by the cadenced tread of thou-sands of sneaker-shod feet crunching down upon the thin film of snow. In the distance, above the sound of the crunching, Yancey and his men could discern the rhythmic chant of a single voice. Straining his hearing to the limit, the former Raider thought he heard the words, Nobody lives forever. You die! repeated over and over in heavily accented English. It was almost too bizarre to believe. John Yancey cranked the handle of his sound-powered phone set and was answered in a whisper by the company exec, 1st Lieutenant Ray Ball. Ray, Yancey warned, theyre building up for an attack. Get the 81s and give us some light, and then lay in on the ridge and work back toward us. Theres a shortage of 81s, Ball revealed. We cant give you many. Yanceys platoon waited while the shadowy mass of Chinese peas-ant-soldiers stalked nearer. But for the crunching of feet on the snow, the only sound was that lone Chinese voice: Nobody lives forever. You die! Index fingers lightly traced the outlines of triggers and trigger guards. Moments passed, and those fingers toyed with the first pull, then tensed and froze before squeezing through the final, firing, pull. It was midnight. The first trip flares burst, giving the illusion that the Chinese were motionless silhouettes. The picture that was burned into the retinas and memory cells of Yanceys Marines was unprecedented, horrifying.

236

Pacifica Military History

The Chinese ranks stretched, endlessly it seemed, from one flank to the other. Each was a precise fifteen yards from the one in front, as far back as the eye could see. Leading the mass of white-clad infantry was a lone officer, who yelled over and over in heavily accented mission English, Nobody lives forever. You die! John Yancey leaped to his feet and hurled a challenge at the Chinese officer, but his voice was lost in the din of the Chinese chants and the cacophonous bleats of whistles, bugles, and shep-herds horns. Lay it on, Ray, Yancey blurted into the phone to the company exec. He dropped the receiver and fired a full clip at the Chinese officer leading the attack. As the Marine line erupted in gunfire, 60mm and 81mm mortar fire rained down on the Chinese, starting long and pulling closer to form a protective curtain. But the supply of mortar ammunition was limited, and the fire quickly abated. White-clad forms flitted be-tween foxholes to assemble near the center of the company position, immune to fire from Marines who feared hitting their own. Certain that Yanceys 1st Platoon was bearing the brunt of the attack, Captain Walt Phillips sprang from his command post and sprinted forward to take charge. He found John Yancey and his pla-toon sergeant leaping from hole to hole, shouting encouragement and distributing spare ammunition. Yancey could barely breathe because a grenade splinter had penetrated the bridge of his nose; his report was delivered amidst much hawking and spitting of the blood that trickled uncomfortably down the back of his throat. While Yancey moved one way, Walt Phillips moved the other, shouting encouragement, seeing to the evacuation of the wounded, calling up his meager reinforcements from the company CP area. Though hit by bullets in an arm and a leg, Captain Phillips contin-ued to stand his ground, an example to his troops. First Lieutenant Bill Schreier, the company mortar officer, was directing his crews amidst exploding hand grenades and mortar rounds when he glanced up to see a half-dozen PLA infantrymen coming right at him. He snapped his carbine up and fired, stopping the attackers momentarily, until the simultaneous explosions of nu-merous grenades

Free Sample Chapters

237

forced him to duck. Schreier next saw about twenty Chinese heading his way. His fire had little or no effect, so he trundled uphill to the company command post, where he found the wounded company commander. Phillips and Schreier spent the next several minutes attempting to form a line around the command post. There were no more than ten Marines in the vicinity, and there was no cover. White forms were moving through the company area, and grenades were bursting in batches, like firecrackers. Schreier had the distinct impression that Chinese grenadiers were dragging baskets of concussion grenades through the line platoons, stopping now and again to hurl whole clusters of them. He felt a sting in his left leg as he fired his carbine steadily at the grenadiers, but he had no time to check for a wound. Two or three grenades exploded practically on top of the mortar officer, and he was wounded in the arm, wrist, and chest. The Chinese attack faltered, then receded. In time, it was nearly quiet but for the desultory discharge of weapons that frightened men from both armies fired at targets, real and imagined. It seemed to Marines on the line that hundreds of dead and dying Chinese had been stacked up within ten feet of Yanceys line, and throughout the perimeter. * One thousand yards to the right of Hill 1282, across an open saddle the Chinese were using as a pathway into the center of the valley of Yudamni, Captain Milt Hulls Dog/7 was fighting a seesaw battle to hold Hill 1240. The usual PLA probes were followed by vicious, tearing assaults upon Hulls line. The company commander had placed all three of his understrength rifle platoons in a single line, and all three were thrashed repeatedly by equally concentrated hammer blows. Two officers had been lost on the patrol to Kyodong-ni during the day, and two more were lost that night with a large and growing number of riflemen and gunners. In time, the repeated body blows dislodged the center platoon, forcing the entire companyall those Marines who could still move into headlong retreat down the hill.

238

Pacifica Military History

The rush was stemmed by sturdy, bull-necked Milt Hull, who placed his burly, twice-wounded body between his Marines and the rear. Slowly, Dog/7 re-formed under intense pressure, won back a few square yards of lost ground, then followed the deter-mined company commander up the dark, slippery slope toward the summit. The Chinese were caught by surprise, and allowed themselves to be forced from the newly won ground. But they rallied within minutes and stampeded to retake the summit of Hill 1240. About thirty of them sideslipped the fighting and established a machine-gun strongpoint in the Marine right rear. The last of Hulls officers was wounded, as was his best platoon sergeant. Milt Hull raged at the survivors, Hold fast! Its only one gun, and it cant kill us all. The weapon was grenaded out of action, and the reinforced squad that was Dog/7 held. * Walt Phillips phoned Lieutenant Colonel Ray Davis at the first opportunity: We broke up the first attack, Colonel, but weve taken a lot of casualties. We need some help. There was no overall base commander at Yudam-ni, merely two coequal regimental commanders, each with his own set of problems. Homer Litzenberg was by far the senior to Ray Murray, but he had no mandate for taking command, and he did not. Murray, on the other hand, controlled the only viable reserve force in the valley, Lieutenant Colonel Jack Stevenss 1st Battalion, 5th, which was en-camped in the shadow of Hill 1282. Stevens was, in time, ordered to mount a relief force to bail out the orphan companies on Hills 1282 and 1240. The only officer in Stevenss battalion who had ever been on Hill 1282 was 2nd Lieutenant Nick Trapnell, a professional Marine who had been leading his platoon in constant action since joining Able Company, 5th, as a replacement on the Inchon-Seoul Highway. While establishing an outpost line between his battalion CP and the hill mass late that afternoon, Trapnell had been shown the awesome terrain by Captain Walt Phillips, with whom he had shared some prewar service. Phillips took pains to call Trapnells attention to the numerous white-clad Chinese on distant ridges.

Free Sample Chapters

239

The nights action began for Nick Trapnell when one of his fireteam leaders crashed into the platoons command post screaming, Theyre coming! Theyre coming! Therere thousands ofem! Ter-rified at the prospect of being caught on low ground in the dark, Trapnell immediately began gathering in the fire-team outposts he had strung across the open ground and, without instructions, re-formed his platoon on higher ground. Closest to Hill 1282, Trap-nells platoon was the first of Stevenss units to be ordered to the aid of Easy/7. That platoon comprised no more than thirty-five men, probably a smaller number than the losses Easy/7 had already sus-tained. The trek up the back of Hill 1282 was frightening, strange, confusing. Tracers passed overhead, but the reinforcements did not hear the sound until they were virtually on top of the beseiged summit. Unsure of the way, unsure if Easy/7 still existed, Trapnells platoon stumbled upward, calling vainly into the threatening void, Eas-ee Compan-ee! Eas-ee Compan-ee? * John Yancey was speaking with the right platoon leader, 1st Lieu-tenant Leonard Clements, trying to coordinate a defense, when the Chinese approached through the almost-silent darkness. Before either man could react, a large hole appeared in the front of Clem-entss helmet, and blood spurted out. Though the two men and their wives were the best of friends, John Yancey did not waste one in-stant seeing how his fellow platoon leader fared, for it seemed ob-vious that the round through Clementss forehead was fatal. Yancey tore off to rejoin his thin platoon. In fact, although Clements had been knocked unconscious, he was not badly injured. The bullet had glanced off his head at an oblique angle and had spun about harmlessly in the helmets liner. The 1st Battalion, 235th PLA Regiment, tore back into Easy/7s line after a thirty-minute respite. Hard one-two punches beat at one flank, then the other. Marines were deafened by the discharge of bullets and the close-in bursts of their own and Chinese grenades. The line was thinned as more and more Marines were killed or disabled. John Yancey was wounded again, seriously, when a grenade frag-ment holed the roof of his mouth. And Walt Phillips was cut down

240

Pacifica Military History

by machine-gun fire just as he thrust a bayoneted rifle into the frozen earth. This is Easy Company, he roared an instant before the fatal burst hurled him to the ground, and we hold here! First Lieutenant Ray Ball, the company executive officer, too badly injured to assume command of the company, propped himself up in a riflemans sitting position beside his foxhole and fired his carbine with telling effect as his lifes blood froze in expanding puddles beside him. In time, he fainted, and died. Nick Trapnells Able/5 platoon found its way into the position of the rearmost Easy/7 unit, 1st Lieutenant Bob Beys 3rd Platoon. Bey had no idea as to the dire straits his company was in, so he suggested that Trapnells thin platoon push off to the right to cover the open ground between Hills 1282 and 1240. Trapnell had not nearly enough men for the job, but he gamely led his riflemen into the void, dropping them off two at a time until he was alone on the dangling flank. The next Able/5 platoon up the hill came in directly behind the engaged portion of Easy/7 and was cannibalized to flesh out Yan-ceys and Clementss embattled platoons. The first news of the companys predicament reached Bob Bey when a squad leader and four riflemen from Yanceys platoon tum-bled off the summit almost into the arms of Beys platoon sergeant, Staff Sergeant Daniel Murphy. When he heard for the first time the full story of the fight higher up, Murphy rushed to Bey, repeated the gruesome tale, and requested permission to take every man he could find to help. Out of touch, unable to even hear the sounds of the furious battle because of strange breaks in the ground, Bey felt that he could spare no more than one squad and the platoons corpsman, who volunteered to go along. It wasnt much: Staff Sergeant Murphy, the corpsman, twelve 3rd Platoon riflemen, the five 1st Platoon stragglers. As Murphys group was breasting the summit, it slammed into a gaggle of Chinese which had just broken through at the center of the Marine line. The tiny group of Americans clawed their way over the beaten ground, overran the overrun company CP, and re-formed while the corpsman went to work on the wounded.

Free Sample Chapters

241

Walt Phillips was dead. Ray Ball was dead. Leonard Clements appeared to be dead. Bill Schreier was down with shrapnel in a wrist and a lung. The young officer commanding the reinforcing Able/5 platoon was severely injured. No one knew where John Yan-cey was, cut off somewhere to the left it was supposed. The com-panys senior noncoms were also missing. The rest was all up to Daniel Murphy. The platoon sergeant bellowed for attention, rallying isolated Ma-rines to his position by the CP. He redeployed those who came to him, moved a machine gun to better advantage, kicked ass, threat-ened, and prepared for the worst. It was not long in coming. Masses of white-clad Chinese loomed out of the darkness and slammed into the Marines. Murphy doled out the last of the grenades and began dismantling BAR clips to eke out the last of the .30-caliber rifle ammunition. * On the far side of the gap, John Yancey counted nine men who could still fight beside him. Hoping to instill some confidence in nearly beaten men, Yancey hawked blood and gurgled the battle cry he had learned as a Marine Raider: GUNG HO! It means Work Together, and it is spoken in the Cantonese mother tongue of most of the peasant-soldiers who were then trampling victoriously across the summit of Hill 1282. GUNG HO! Ten weary, wounded Marines lifted themselves to their feet, fixed bayonets, shuffled forward, their reedy battle cry cutting through the shrill night wind, their bayonets silhouetted in the firelight. GUNG HO! John Yancey went to his knees as a shadowy Chinese soldier fired a Thompson submachine gun full into his face. The impact of the only round to hit him popped the Raiders left eye out of its socket. The amazed platoon leader fingered the slimy orb back into place and crawled blindly up the blood-bespattered hillside. GUNG HO! The thin Marine line faltered, dissolved.

242

Pacifica Military History

Free Sample Chapters

243

244

Pacifica Military History

CORAL AND BLOOD


The U.S. Marine Corps Pacific Campaign By Eric Hammel In only a lifetime, the long United States Marine Corps campaign across the Pacific Island has become the stuff of enduring legend. We are down to just a few Pacific Warriors who lived it and can still tell us about it from their own experiences. Now, in Coral and Blood, the critically acclaimed military historian Eric Hammel, who has specialized in writing about Marines in the Pacific, has compiled a brief but comprehensive history of the Marines island war. This book was conceived as a starting point for readers who have not yet read much about the Pacific War, but it is also designed to provide a simple yet complete overview for seasoned Pacific War enthusiasts who have not yet examined the island campaigns as an integrated whole. Perhaps by finding out about battles not yet examined, an experienced Pacific War enthusiast will find inspiration for moving on to new battles and looking for even broader understanding. Following the general outline of his highly rated single-volume pictorial, Pacific Warriors, Hammel begins with the development of the U.S. Marine Corps unique amphibious doctrine, then moves briskly into the Pacific War by enumerating the Marine Corps presence on the eve of war. Thereafter, every significant action involving U.S. Marines during World War IIfrom Pearl Harbor and Wake Island to Okinawa is examined, including the role of Marine Air in the Philippines. In many cases, longer and broader discussions are presented in this volume than in Pacific Warriors. Experienced reader or not, you will almost certainly find something new and interesting in Coral and Blood. At the very least, you will find Coral and Blood, which weighs in at a respectable 96,000 words, to be valuable but not overbearing as a one-volume overview of the legendary efforts of Marines in the Pacific War.

Free Sample Chapters

245

The following article is excerpted from the book CORAL AND BLOOD: The U.S. Marine Corps Pacific Campaign by Eric Hammel. The book is currently available only in ebook editions.

New Britain
December 1943April 1944 by Eric Hammel Copyright 2008 by Eric Hammel The campaign by the 1st Marine Division to seize Imperial Japanese Army airfields and bases in western New Britain was unique because it was undertaken by Marines entirely under U.S. Army command in an area considered the province of the U.S. Army. The Cape Gloucester campaign, in fact, was an offshoot of the New Guinea campaign and not an extension of the Solomons campaign. The impetus for the landings at Cape Gloucester, New Britain, was the need to deny the Japanese an opportunity to mount air strikes against the open right flank of Royal Australian Army units advancing along the New Guinea coast within combat range of Cape Gloucester airfields, especially between Finschafen and Saidor. By the time of the invasion, AirSols assets operating from Bougainville would be in a position to relieve the New Guinea-based U.S. Fifth Air Force and elements of the Royal Australian Air Force of the burden of neutralizing Rabaul, and those Fifth Air Force and Australian bombers and fightersincluding those to be based at Cape Gloucestercould then assist in speeding the ground advance in New Guinea. Likewise, Vitiaz Strait, the sea passage between Cape Gloucester and New Guinea, would be firmly under Allied control and would thus provide clear passage for shipping along the continuing route of advance up the New Guinea coast as well as toward the Philippines. The 1st Marine Division was selected for the main role on New Britain because it had recuperated and retrained in Melbourne, Australia,

246

Pacifica Military History

following its harrowing ordeal at Guadalcanal; it happened to be ready to return to combat at a time when General Douglas MacArthurs Southwest Pacific command needed an amphibious-capable infantry division for the Cape Gloucester job. Final training and rehearsals took place in New Guinea. * Cape Gloucester is among the rainiest regions on Earth, and the landings were to take place at the height of the northwestern monsoon season. Moreover, as was the case at Cape Torokina on Bougainville, the landing area was filled with largely unmapped swampy lowlands, high ridges, and rugged rain forests with few trails and waterways to aid in movement through the region. On a typical day, temperatures stood at an extremely humid and strength-sapping 90 degrees, and 72 degrees at night. The key objectives were two airfields just back of Cape Gloucester, but hundreds of square miles of terrain had to be secured to deny access to the airfields by nearly the equivalent of an Imperial Army infantry division deployed in western New Britain. Thus the New Britain operation contemplated the rehabilitation of existing airfields and the development of a stout defensive cordon around them, as well as the pursuit and annihilation of Japanese ground forces across a vast area in which only a few known axes of advance existed. The advantages on the side of the invaders were air supremacy, freedom to move amphibiously at the periphery of the battle zone, and the deterioration of Japanese command and control following more than a year of intense ground war in New Guinea. * The first Marines to get into action on New Britain were crews from Company A, 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion, who took part in landings at Arawe by U.S. Army troops on December 15, 1943. Two of the companys new LVT-2 amtracs took a direct part in overwhelming a Japanese strongpoint. The net result of the Arawe landing was the dispersal of the Japanese garrison and the dispatch of a thousand veteran troops from Cape Gloucester toward Arawe only days before the Marine landings at Cape Gloucester.

Free Sample Chapters

247

* The main prelanding bombardment at Cape Gloucester was undertaken by Fifth Air Force bombers and fighter-bombers over a period of months under conditions of total air supremacy. The target airfields were no longer operational by late November, and the garrison was utterly demoralized. Beginning on December 18, many air sorties were mounted against prepared defenses in the immediate invasion zone, which were nearly destroyed. Beginning at 0743 hours on December 26, two infantry companies of the reinforced 2d Battalion, 1st Marines (2/1) went ashore aboard LCMs almost without incident east of the main beaches. The mission was to block trails leading from the airdromes to the main landing beaches. This landing is notable in that it was preceded at the last moment by the first-ever rocket bombardment mounted by amphibious vehicles, in this case U.S. Army DUKW amphibious trucks bearing multiple launchers. The Marines uncovered a system of trenches and bunkers, but no Japanese troops were encountered. The remainder of 2/1 landed without incident from LCIs and LCTs, and the entire force got to work on defensive measures to a distance of 500 yards from the beach. In advance of the main landings at Cape Gloucesters Beach Yellow, two Royal Australian Navy heavy cruisers and two U.S. Navy light cruisers opened fire at 0600 hours against beach targets with a 90-minute bombardment that mounted to 3,605 8-, 6-, and 5-inch rounds. Five squadrons of Fifth Air Force B-24 heavy bombers attacked a feature known as Target Hill between 0700 and 0720; then, as naval gunfire ceased at 0730, a squadron of B-25 medium bombers unloaded 8 tons of white phosphorous bombs, also on Target Hill. While the smoke from fires on Target Hill certainly obscured the landings from Japanese observers, as intended, it also enshrouded the beaches to a distance of 3,000 yards to seaward just as landing craft were bearing down on them. On schedule at 0745, a pair of LCI rocket ships fired last-minute salvos at the beachhead area. Between 0741 and 0748, the leading elements of 1/7 and 3/7 hit their respective beaches in a dozen LCVPs. There was absolutely no one home. The biggest problem the assault troops faced was the twisted wreckage of hundreds of trees blasted by

248

Pacifica Military History

the prelanding bombardment. Indeed, the first casualties resulted from undermined trees that fell as advancing Marines brushed by them. The first Japanese opposition was long-range machine gun fire that tracked Company I, 3/7, as it hacked through dense jungle and emerged on the coastal trail after its LCVPs went astray in the smoke and dumped it 300 yards beyond the beachhead boundary. As the reinforced 1st Marines (less 2/1) came ashore aboard LCIs behind the 7th Marines, 3/ 1, which was to lead the drive on the airfields, was ordered to attack the bunkers from which this fire originated, which happened to be on the way to 3/1s D-day objective. Except for the occupants of the bunkers, the landing force met no human opposition, but a deep, unmapped swamp directly behind the beach, as well as other natural obstacles rearranged by the preinvasion bombardment, made for extremely slow progress toward D-day objectives. Almost as soon as it started its move toward the bunkers on a two-company front, 3/1 had to contract its formation to a column of companies. As 3/1s vanguard passed through Company I, 3/7s blocking position before the bunkers at 1010 hours, it came under heavy fire. The battle did not go well for the Marines. An ad hoc bombardment by new 2.36inch rocket launchers (bazookas) and 37mm antitank guns was ineffective because the spongy logs from which the bunkers were constructed absorbed the impacts; 3/1 was unable to advance in the face of concentrated fire until an LVT carrying supplies from the beach drove over one of the bunkers and collapsed it. This allowed the infantry to penetrate the defensive zone. Thereafter, a platoon of five Sherman M4 medium tanks arrived to help seal the fate of the defenders. In all, seven Marines and twenty-five Japanese were killed and seven Marines were wounded. Then 3/1 advanced to its D-day phase line and dug in. On the left, 1/7 met only light opposition on its way to Target Hill. This high ground was seized against light opposition, and 1/7 also dug in. In the center, 2/7 advanced through a deep swamp to the coastal track; seized an abandoned Japanese supply depot; and attacked into a dense, swampy forest through spotty opposition. The battalion reached

Free Sample Chapters

249

its D-day phase line in the late afternoon and dug in on rising ground without being able to tie in with adjacent units on either flank. During the afternoon, 3/7 advanced through a swamp to its objective and also dug in. When 3/7 was ordered to shift to its left to link up with 2/7, alert Japanese soldiers attempted to infiltrate via the abandoned position, so the Marine battalion was called back to defend that ground. Behind this screen of four infantry battalions, 1/1 landed as the force reserve and set up in the Japanese supply depot, and 2/11 set up its 75mm pack howitzers on dry ground along the edge of the coastal trail that ran through the beachhead. Two other artillery battalions1/11 with 75mm pack howitzers, and 4/11 with 105mm field howitzers had a much harder time getting ashore across swampy ground. The 75s were moved to dry sites aboard amtracs, but the 105s were too heavy for that. In the end, amtracs blazed trails by crashing through dense growth so that artillery tractors and troops using blocks and tackles could move the guns, of which only three (of twelve) were set in by nightfall. Faced with the problem of unmapped swamps sitting on proposed dump sites, the division pioneer battalion (now designated 2d Battalion, 17th Marines, or 2/17) faced problems identical to those encountered at Bougainville for the same reasons, including a 4-foot tidal surge. The landing of suppliesmany of them aboard preloaded U.S. Army trucks driven by U.S. Army artillerymenbecame increasingly unglued as Dday progressed. The unprocessed supplies and long lines of trucks made for a glaring target when eighty-eight Rabaul-based Imperial Navy Zero fighters and D3A dive-bombers attacked in the afternoon. One destroyer was sunk and another was severely damaged, but so many Japanese planes were shot down by antiaircraft guns and two squadrons of P-38 fighters that the invasion force was never again molested during the day. The 1st Marine Division forward command post moved ashore right in the wake of the assault, and it oversaw the approximately eleven thousand Marines who got ashore by nightfall. D-day operationsa complete successcost twenty-one killed and twenty-three wounded. That night, the division commander requested that his force reserve

250

Pacifica Military History

two reinforced battalions of the 5th Marinesbe landed as soon as it could be lifted to Cape Gloucester from Cape Sudest, New Guinea. * The Japanese also sent all available forces toward Cape Gloucester. Most were on the move by the evening of December 26, and at least one Imperial Army infantry battalion arrived opposite 2/7 during the late evening. As the Japanese filed into a firing line opposite 2/7, individuals opened fire on whatever targets they could perceive on a dark, moonless night. Eventually Japanese scouts figured out that 2/7 was in an isolated position with a swamp at its back and tied into no friendly units on either flank. As Marine carrying parties maintained a flow of ammunition through the swamp, 2/7 held the developing counterattack at bay with remarkably accurate fire coupled with iron-willed fire discipline. The Marines fired only at clear targets and, for the most part, only when fired on. It rained all night, but the rain subsided at dawn, just as Japanese troops assaulted toward a break in the line. At that moment, troops from a 1st Special Weapons Battalion 37mm antitank battery that had left its guns behind to haul ammunition through the swamp arrived to plug the gap. The day was saved in a heart-stopping seesaw battle in which the Marines finally prevailed. The Japanese doggedly threw in progressively weaker attacks for three days, while the Marines built up their line with all manner of troops. In the tradition of every Marine is a rifleman, the line in the center of the beachhead was lengthened, bolstered, and filled in by 37mm gunners, pioneers, and other special troops acting as infantry. As the battle around 2/7 progressed, each component of the regiment lengthened its line to tie in with adjacent units; as 2/7 stretched right to tie in with 3/7, Weapons Company, 7th Marines, filled in part of 1/7s original line so that battalion could ease to its right to tie in with 2/7s left flank. In due course, the Japanese were defeated by a continuous line of battle-tested Marines, of whom eighteen were killed, three went missing, and fifty-eight were wounded. The Japanese lost at least two hundred dead or wounded, and the battalion around which the counterattack was built was permanently crippled.

Free Sample Chapters

251

* With the 7th Marines pinned in the center and many of its own troops committed as infantry, 2/17, reinforced to a strength of fourteen hundred by several hundred replacements who had been preassigned to the division en bloc, cleared the fouled beaches; the reinforced 5th Marines was made ready to land at Cape Gloucester; and the 1st Marines (less 2/1) moved on the airfields. Engineers from 1/17 and Seabees from 3/17 advanced in the infantrys wake to put in roads and drain dump sites all across the beachhead. Whenever the roads failed, U.S. Army LCMs and LCVPs dropped supplies along the beach, opposite the troops who needed them, and the supplies were then ported inland by work details. The vanguard for the advance on the airfields was 3/1, which, following a quiet first night ashore, moved ahead on the narrow strip of dry land supporting the coastal trail. Progress was orderly, deliberate, and steady behind a fan of combat patrols and on-demand artillery coverage. * The innovation of the day lay in tank-infantry coordination. The 1st Marine Division entered combat at Cape Gloucester with two companies of new, modern Sherman M4 medium tanks, and one sixteen-tank company was attached directly to the 1st Marines. The regimental commander, Colonel William Whaling, was a renowned woodsman who had organized and trained a scouting force on Guadalcanal and commanded several offensive operations. He took the nascent tankinfantry doctrine of the day to heart and applied it vigorously in the budding Cape Gloucester advance. In a nutshell, he teamed one infantry squad per medium tank for mutual support during the advance. The 3/1 vanguard was preceded by a twelve-man scouting force; then a column of tank-infantry teams advanced cautiously but steadily, one after another, to phase lines a half- or three-quarters of a mile apart. Between the phase lines, infantry combat patrols peeled off the left (inland) side of the coastal track to probe the dense woods and swamps as well as to secure the advance against Japanese scouts, probes, and counterattacks.

252

Pacifica Military History

The tanks aided greatly in overcoming two belts of pillboxes and bunkers encountered along the way. Indeed, they took primary responsibility for reducing each position with their 75mm main guns. In return, the infantry stuck close to prevent the tanks from being overwhelmed by Japanese infantry. By this means, 3/1 advanced 5,000 yards to its objective by 1350 hours on December 27. Ahead lay a wide, continuous belt of bunkers, pillboxes, and trenches centered on a feature eventually dubbed Hells Point. * The December 28 attack was delayed to allow time for the 5th Marines to reach Cape Gloucester and get into position to support the 1st Marines. A message announcing a one-day delay in the reinforcement operation was too garbled to be understood, but the reserve regiments nonarrival was noted, so the 1st Marines resumed its attack after only a brief delay. Beginning at 0800 hours, 2/11 bombarded the Japanese defensive zone, and at 0900 Fifth Air Force A-20 ground-attack bombers arrived to strafe and bomb the objective for an hour. The 1st Marines was to have jumped off as the last A-20s flew from the scene, but Colonel Whaling requested an hours delay to bring up more tanks At 1100 on the dot, 3/1 stepped off toward Hells Point in the same formation it had employed the day before. Then 1/1 moved up to cut a flanking path through the forest on the side of the coastal track. The Japanese were ready. While the defensive zone had been constructed to repel a beach assault, many positions could be rejiggered to inland bearings and thus face the 1st Marines. An intact infantry battalion supported by 75mm dual-purpose guns occupied the defenses. The battle was joined on the flank at 1145 when Company A, 1/1, ran into the prepared defenses 500 yards from the beach. The first shots were fired by concealed Japanese troops as Company A broke out of the forest into an area of chest-high grass. The Marines pulled back to the concealing tree line; and then the fight developed into a four-hour stalemate as forces of equal size duked it out with rifles and machine guns. The Marines beat off two infantry flanking assaults but could not overcome the steady Japanese stand by any means at hand. Eventually, under covering fires put out by 2/11, Company A, 1/1, pulled back for

Free Sample Chapters

253

the night to draw ammunition at its battalion perimeter. A stronger attack force that kicked off at dawn on December 29 fell into ground that had been abandoned overnight. In the meantime, 3/1 bored into the main defensive line, right on Hells Point, throughout daylight on December 28. Rain and dense foliage helped shield both sides from fire but also hampered both sides equally. Marine tank-infantry teams went up against defensive positions protected by land mines and barbed wire as well as by interlocking bands of fire from other emplacements fielding 20mm antiaircraft cannon, 70mm infantry guns, and at least three 75mm field guns. In some places, infantry-supported M4s ran right over pillboxes, smashing them in and exposing the occupants to direct infantry fire, but for the most part the infantry-supported tanks stood off from their targets and reduced one position at a time with pinpoint 75mm fire. The hellish all-out battle ended at 1630 hours, when the last beachside bunker was overcome without a fight, its occupants having withdrawn minutes earlier as part of a general retreat. There was nothing left between the Marines and the airfields. During the night, 266 Japanese corpses were counted within the Hells Point defensive zone. Fewer than twenty Marines were killed and fewer than fifty were wounded in the two-day battlea testament to the effectiveness of the tank-infantry teams. * Half of 1/5, most of 2/5, the 5th Marines regimental headquarters, and assorted attachments landed on newly opened Beach Blue, just behind the 1st Marines vanguard, beginning at about 0730 on December 29. The remaining elements of the 5th Marines regimental combat team were ashore on Beach Yellow by 0935 and were sent forward. Air and artillery opened ahead of the 1st and 5th Marine regiments at noon, December 29. The Marine assault was to be undertaken by 1/1 on the right, toward Airfield No. 2; and 2/5 on the left, toward a line of foothills that was thought to be the site of a Japanese defensive zone. Support was provided by 2/11s 75mm pack howitzers, 4/11s 105mm field howitzers, and a pair of rocket DUKWs. Attacking in the rain and supported by tanks and 75mm halftracks that were obliged to remain on the firm coastal track, 1/1 reached the

254

Pacifica Military History

airfield perimeter against desultory opposition at 1755 hours and was soon joined by 3/1 to defend the area. In the meantime, 2/5 was delayed as it traversed unexpectedly deep swamps and did not really join the attack until 1500. It found Japanese defensive positions but no Japanese troops in the foothills, so it looped down to help secure Airfield No. 2, where it tied in with 1/1 and 3/1 to complete the night defensive perimeter. Still in the forest at dusk, 1/5 established an all-around night defensive position. * On December 30, two reinforced companies of 2/5 marched across Airfield No. 1 while 1/5 moved up to Airfield No. 2. In going back over what had been abandoned defenses on a feature dubbed Razorback Hill, scouts from 2/5 ran into Japanese troops, possibly the advance guard of a battalion that was to have occupied the vital terrain a day or two earlier. A platoon of Company F, 2/5, was sent to mop up the Japanese, but it was attacked by a larger force as it reached the summit of one of the hills knobs. Reinforcements poured in from both sides. The Japanese attacked to dislodge the Marine platoon, but mortar fire held them at bay, and the rest of Company F arrived in time to drive them off. Tanks were called forward; then Company F attacked the Japanese. By 1130, thirty prepared positions had been overwhelmed by Marine tanks and infantry. More than 150 Japanese bodies were counted against the loss of 13 Marines killed and 19 wounded. In the meantime, 1/5 ran into prepared defenses east of Razorback Hill, but 3/1 and supporting medium tanks attacked through 1/5 and overcame the defenders. By that evening, the 1st and 5th Marines controlled both airfields and all the important high ground overlooking them. The strategic objectives of the operation were and remained firmly in American hands. An informal flag-raising was held on Razorback Hill by Company I, 3/1, on December 30, and the formal flag-raising was held at the airdrome on December 31. * The main objectives of the Cape Gloucester campaign were in Marine hands following a mere five days of combat, but the campaign

Free Sample Chapters

255

in western New Britain ground onward into March 1944, taking elements of the 1st Marine Division into several amphibious landings, long trail chases, and a few hard fights as they expanded the beachhead, absorbed several Japanese countermoves, hunted down Japanese forces of every size and description, and rolled up bases and encampments throughout the western end of the island. The main purposes of the ongoing and spreading offensive were to prevent attacks on the Cape Gloucester airfields and to so dominate the equivalent of a Japanese division as to keep it from ever taking part in a meaningful operation against Allied forces. All missions were accomplished in spades, and many hundreds of Japanese were killed or dispersed. Alas, advances in early 1944 by the Southwest Pacific Force in New Guinea and islands off New Guinea were swifter than anticipated in the 1943 run-up to the invasion of western New Britain, and the importance of the Cape Gloucester base receded even while engineers and Seabees improved and expanded the Cape Gloucester beachhead and rehabilitated the airfields. Neither airfield was on particularly good ground, and Airfield No. 1 was soon abandoned altogether. The first landing on Airfield No. 2, on January 28, 1944, was that of the personal plane of the 1st Marine Division commanding general. Two Fifth Air Force fighter squadrons were briefly based there, but both were withdrawn when the ground war left them far in the rear. By the end of April 1944, the entire 1st Marine Division had been relieved by U.S. Army units and withdrawn to a new training base on Pavuvu, in the Russell Islands. A total of 310 members of the division died on New Britain, and 1,083 were wounded in action.

256

Pacifica Military History

Free Sample Chapters

257

258

Pacifica Military History

DUEL FOR THE GOLAN


The 100-Hour Battle That Saved Israel By Jerry Asher with Eric Hammel The first Saturday in October 1973: A traditional Jewish Sabbath in Israel. It is also Yom Kippur, and the Israeli Defense Force is preparing to observe the holiest of the Jewish holy days. Meanwhile the Syrian army, the greatest achievement of the modern Syrian state, is massed on the Golan Heights. Together with newly arrived Soviet made equipment, 1,200 main battle tanks, 1,000 armored personnel carriers, 1,000 artillery pieces, and more than 100 mobile antiaircraft missile carriers are ready to strike in a lightning swift offensive that will drive to the sea and cut Israel in two. Duel for the Golan, the first book to be written on this aspect of the Yom Kippur War, is based on interviews with the participants from both sides. As such it remain a compelling and powerful account of one of the greatest tank battles fought since World War II. It also provides the first in-depth analysis of exactly how and why an inferior number of Israeli defenders was capable of inflicting one of the greatest defeats in modern military history upon awe inspiring Arab armored forces. Here are the intimate details of tank-against tank fighting, whether it be during retreats, in ambushes, or on the attack. Here are the stories of incredible courage and individual initiative as the Israeli defenders strive to contain the unexpected Syrian assault. During the 100 hour battle that saved Israel, every Israeli tank that was committed to the Golan fighting was hit by hostile fire at least once, and some commanders had five or six tanks shot out from under them. By the end of the war only a few days later, Israeli forces had counterattacked and advanced to where their artillery could hit the Damascus International Airport and other strategic targets with pinpoint accuracy. The Syrian army was virtually destroyed in the field, as were contingents from other Arab states such as Iraq and Jordan. How these remarkable turns of battle occurred is deftly laid out. This revealing account of a battle that changed the history of the Middle East is especially relevant today as tensions in the region increase once again.

Free Sample Chapters

259

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book DUEL FOR THE GOLAN: The 100-Hour Battle That Saved Israel by Jerry Asher with Eric Hammel. The book is currently available in a $27.50 trade paperback edition published by Pacifica Military History. The book is also available in ebook editions.

THE RESERVES ARE COMING!


by Jerry Asher with Eric Hammel Copyright 1987 by Jerrold S. Asher and Eric Hammel The summons of veteran crews to man the IDFs Reserve bri-gades had begun in mid-morning. The Reservists were older than the conscripted crewmen manning the 7th and Barak Brigade Centurions, and there was little joy about being back in uniform. Some, like Amos Ben David, took the time to phone friends before leaving home. Others just said their good-byes and went off to their mobilization centers. For most, the juxtaposition of Yom Kippur observances and the mobilization imbued this call-up with a unique character. The mobilization had a rhythm all its own. The armored infan-trymen were called up after the tankers. This frustrated David Givati, who had to stand by at the window of his apartment and watch trucks arrive to pick up men with higher priorities. Givati decided to kill time with a nap, but he soon found himself pacing again. At last, there was the bynow welcome knock at his door. Another armored infantryman, Benjamin Sheskapovits, was at least as impatient. After waiting for hours, he declared to his wife, If they dont come soon, Ill go myself. He was summoned a short time later. Some men mobilized themselves. When Ehud Dafna heard of the mobilization, he telephoned around to locate old buddies. He found they were on the way to the Golan, so he ventured from home on his

260

Pacifica Military History

own to join them. Giora Bierman, a staff officer, was in a hospital being treated for jaundice. He decided that his comrades needed him more than he needed perfect health, so he discharged himself to make his way to his depot. Each individual wrestled with problems and pas-sages. Many talked and speculated as they waited for transportation at the pickup points. On the other hand, Sorial Birnbaum ignored the talkers as much as possible to concentrate on the observances of Sab-bath and Yom Kippur that this great hubbub had interrupted. A piece of paper, a phone call, or a verbal message does not begin to make a civilian a soldier, nor even a soldier a combatant. The man must leave his home with whatever necessary equipment he stores there, get to a pickup point, be transported to a depot, be recorded as present, and told what to do by the professional soldiers comprising his units permanent cadre. Where the system is working, the arriving Re-servist finds all or most of his equipment neatly layed out, perhaps piled on the floor of a building, aligned with piles of equipment await-ing the arrival of the other members of his platoon or company. Per-sonal weapons and ammunition must be issued from the armory, with all the required paperwork. Vehicles must be located, and last-minute provisioning and servicing must be undertaken. Where men are late or ill, or where there are unfilled gaps because of transfers or incomplete expansions, substitutes must be found and incorporated into vehicle crews or service and support units. Slowly the individuals are married to their organizations, and the organizations are rebuilt into cohesive fighting units. Within hours, commanders such as Moshe Waks, now Captain Waks once again, are able to declare, The companys ready. Naturally, the news that war had actually erupted added a great sense of urgency to what was, for many, a maddening interruption of the holy day observances or just plain real life. Somehow the govern-ment was replaced in evil mutterings by the many names Israelis have for their enemies. Lieutenant Moshe Nirs company commander was vacationing out-side Israel, so Nir was made acting company commander. While issu-ing orders, Nir was approached by one of his men, who clearly needed reassurance. Do you know, the man asked, there is a war?

Free Sample Chapters

261

In an army where authorities habitually look the other way when men organize jeeps, half-tracks, and even tanks, improvising was second nature. For example, Lieutenant Shimon Ryan could not find his jeep, though he searched high and low through his units depot. Fi-nally he went to his company commander and admitted failure. The company commander left Ryan, but returned only minutes later with a brand-new jeep he had stolen. (The owner found Ryan a month and a war later and, of course, demanded that he return the vehicle.) Amos Ben David, Moshe Waks, Giora Bierman, Moshe Nir, and Shimon Ryan had no inkling that the hundreds of tiny decisions they made in those first, critical hours would substantially reverse the course of the war. They hurried through the familiar process because there was a war on, but they were not fully aware of the ultimate im-portance those preparations were becoming to senior commanders. * Out of the chaos of thousands of individual arrivals, Northern Command anticipated that three fully constituted Reserve brigades the 679th, the 9th, and the 70thand two separate Reserve battalions would deploy on the Golan before nightfall of October 7. As it turned out, this was about twenty-eight hours after the onset of the war. The 159 tanks assigned to the Reserve units would nearly equal the number of tanks Northern Command had been able to deploy on the Golan at the moment the war started. There were considerable differences among the Reserve units. Colonel Gideon Gordons 70th Armored Infantry Brigade was a unit that time had forgotten. Indeed, there were plans to disband it because it was equipped with unmodified World War II-vintage Sherman tanks and equally ancient M3 half-tracks. The troops still wore old footballtype helmets rather than the modern plastic headgear that had been issued almost universally throughout the IDF armored and mechanized units. All things considered, the brigade was a perfect snapshot of a 1963vintage formation. It was thought that 70th Brigade could be called upon to defend prepared positions or guard lines of communications, but no one believed the unit could be effectively or even safely employed in the attack.

262

Pacifica Military History

In sharp contrast, Colonel Mordechai Ben Porats 9th Armored In-fantry Brigade, also equipped with Shermans, was perceived as being a useful striking force. The Shermans had been upgunned and exten-sively and expensively modernized, and the troops were younger than the veterans of 70th Brigade. Moreover, 9th Brigade had long been a stalwart fighting force, nearly always operating in Northern Com-mand. Most of the officers and troops had trained on the Golan and knew their way around. Colonel Uri Orrs 679th Armored Brigade, a relatively new forma-tion, was equipped with early-model Centurion tanks that had been scheduled to be upgraded over the next few years. The crews were composed of younger men. In all, 679th Brigade was considered to be only marginally inferior to Barak Brigade. The two separate Reserve battalions71st Armored Infantry Battal-ion, under Lieutenant Colonel Yoav Vaspe, and an unnumbered tank battalion directly attached to Northern Commandwere perceived as absolutely first-rate units. Seventy-first Battalion, which featured two organic tank companies and one APC company, was earmarked for direct attachment to Barak Brigade. The Northern Command Tank Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Uzi More, was equipped with thoroughly updated Centurions; officially it was to operate as a weapon of opportunity under the direct control of Northern Command headquarters. Both of the separate Reserve battalions had trained spe-cifically for assignment to the Golan. * Brigadier General Rafoul Eitan was emerging as the sparkplug run-ning the Israeli engine of war. A parachute officer, Eitan had trained for many years in the art of instant assessment of battlefield puzzles and the fine art of rapidly moving troops and equipment to solve them. While fellow paratrooper Major General Yitzhak Hofi kept his attention riveted to the larger panorama, and his ear glued to the phone linking him with the chief of staff and the government, Eitan focused his energies and powers of concentration on the shifting events and fragmentary reports from the hard-hit bunkers and tank battalions.

Free Sample Chapters

263

At length, his observations caused him to place an urgent call to the Reserve tank unit whose depot was nearest the Golan. He asked that a forceany force, reallybe immediately dispatched to the heights. Colonel Ran Sarig, who was supervising the mobilization of the separate tank battalion, was more surprised by the locale to which the troops were to be sent than he was by the immediacy of Eitans request. The mobilization was proceeding more rapidly than usual. If crew integrity and unit cohesion were disregarded, men and machines could be made available to Eitan. Colonel Sarig, a highly skilled professional armor officer well schooled in his branchs doctrine of applying mass on the battlefield, asked Eitan if it was indeed desirable to divide even the few tanks he could then scrape together. Eitan confirmed his feelings that in this case it certainly was. At that moment, Sarig could field just eight Centurions to meet Eitans requirements. If no tragedy befell it, the stopgap force would reach the front sometime early Sunday morning. * The dispatch of the first group of eight tanks was yet another pressure on the Reservists still mobilizing. The yelling and prodding were not part of the time-honored exercise of hurry up and wait. The troops fully comprehended the urgency of the orders and oaths. They felt needed. The Syrian breakthrough near Hushniya showed them just how crucial their presence on the battlefield might be. Colonel Yitzhak Ben Shoham had succinctly stated his priorities: One tank or two. Under the direct leadership of the separate battalions commander, Lieutenant Colonel Uzi More, the eight Centurions ascended the Golan escarpment to Vasit and then proceeded southward along the Petroleum Road to link up with Zvika Force. By the time More reached Zvika, a second group of fourteen Centu-rions was on the way up the escarpment. They were under the command of Mores deputy, Major Baruch Lenschner, and Captain Moshe Waks. General Hofi considered Lenschners forceBaruch Forcea big force. The commanding general felt it was what he needed to confront the Syrian breakthrough at Hushniya.

264

Pacifica Military History

* Colonel Ben Shoham requested the use of More Force in an im-mediate counterattack against the Syrians holding the Petroleum-Hushniya crossroads. In Ben Shohams reading of the battle, time was a greater factor than mass. As he told Hofi, What we can do now, we might not be able to do later. As Baruch Force was well on the way, Hofi sanctioned Ben Shohams immediate night counterattack with Mores eight Centurions. As soon as More was briefed by Zvika, he decided to attack in two columns. Zvika would have four tanks in the right column, and More would lead the other five on the left. The attack commenced immediately. The first tank in Zvikas col-umn was set ablaze by a rocket-propelled grenade. When Zvika saw that the road ahead was blocked by Syrian tanks equipped with searchlights, he took a short break to think things through. Then he ordered one of the remaining tanks forward to res-cue the crew of the burning Centurion, and he positioned his own tank to cover the flank. Both tanksZvikas and the rescue tankwere hit. Zvikas gunner was injured, and the lieutenant felt the shock of the blast and a searing pain. He pulled himself out of the turret and clumsily somersaulted to the ground. Zvika lay flat for a moment and collected his wits, but the realization that he was next to a burning tank that might explode at any moment was sufficient to goad him to his feet. He unthinkingly ran straight toward the Syrians, then cut back to the last tank in his col-umn. He had been wounded in the upper left arm and the left side of his face, but he felt no need to be evacuated. He climbed aboard the last battleworthy Centurion in his column and ordered its commander to turn around and leave the vicinity of the fight. * Unbeknownst to Zvika, the Syrians had redeployed following his abortive attack. He had found them roadbound, lined up in column preparatory to moving. The attack had been misread by the Syrian 452nd Tank Battalion commander, Major Farouk Ismail, who as-sumed he had faced a more significant enemy force. Ismail decided to wait for daylight before

Free Sample Chapters

265

moving on, and he ordered his troop leaders to establish defensive positions along a front of two kilometers. Lieutenant Colonel Mores five-tank attack followed Zvikas by a lengthy interval. It did a great deal to confirm Ismails convictions, but the initial contact upset More, who reasoned that his attack was based upon faulty information with respect to the Syrian disposition and, it appeared, the composition of the Syrian force. In the heat of his brief, sharp fight, Zvika had not observed the mechanized infantry accom-panying Ismails tanks. Mores tanks were hit and disabled, one at a time. When the battal-ion commander saw a Syrian aim an antitank rocket at his command tank, he grabbed hold of his free machine gun and opened fire. But the machine gun jammed and the Syrian grenadier let fly. Uzi More lost an arm and an eye in the blast. Zvika emerged from the dark, standing erect in the turret of the only Centurion to survive his columns abortive attack. He reached Colonel Ben Shoham by radio and reported the destruction of More Force. For his part, Ben Shoham acknowledged that what could not be done immediately would have to be done later. He raised Eitan on the command net and told him of the failed counterattack, suggesting that Baruch Force be split to reinforce Zvika on the Petroleum Force. The balance of Major Lenschners tanks would establish defensive posi-tions on the Sindiana Road. * At this stage of his holding battle, Eitan discarded specific limited counterattacks to establish a coherent defensive line through the southern Golan. What Eitan proposed was a considerable undertaking in light of the numbers and dispositions of men and equipment and the complexity of moving them through the darkened battle area. Eitan laid out a new defense line from Bunker 110, on the east, through Tel Yosifon to the Kuzabia crossroads, on the west. The line was then ex-tended southward, through the waterfall area to Tel Bazak and on to the El Al Ridge. The forces involved were not large, but they incorporated Regulars and Reservists in six distinct movements and concentrations.

266

Pacifica Military History

The southern anchor of Eitans new line was manned by Lieutenant Colonel Yair Yarons 50th Parachute Battalion, which still could field several APC-borne infantry squads in the vicinity of Ramat Magshimim and Tel Saki. In addition, Yaron unknowingly and quite temporarily received some assistance in the form of several jeeps and APCs manned by Is-raeli border patrolmen. Without bothering to inform their own headquarters, much less Yarons, the inquisitive patrolmen had simply gravitated toward the sound of the guns. In time, they bumped into Syrian tanks. Amid the heated exchange of gunfire and crude Arabic epithets on the El Al Ridge, the border patrolmen did the sensible thing and fled. Slightly to the north of Yaron, on a dirt trail known as the Waterfall Route, was Colonel Ben Shoham, with his command tank and communications half-track. Nearby, at Tel Bazak, artillerymen who had been forced to give way earlier were at work on a new batterysite. To Ben Shohams northwest was the Arik Bridge, the southernmost Jor-dan crossing in the Golan sector. The route from the bridge was the most direct from the Jordan Valley to the Hushniya area, so Eitan used it to dispatch Major Gideon Weilers force of Centurions from the Armor School Tank Battalion to establish a blocking position domi-nating the Tel ZoharKuzabia crossroads. Northeast of Weilers position was Baruch Force, fourteen Northern Command Tank Bat-talion Centurions deployed to cover the two roads leading from Hushniya. * Paralleling Ben Shohams and Eitans concerns for time and move-ment, Colonel Hassan Tourkmanis 9th Infantry Division sought to exploit the Hushniya breakthrough. Checked to the north and west by the Northern Command Tank Battalion, Tourkmani ordered the 43rd Mechanized Brigade tank battalion to advance up the Rafid-Kuneitra Road. This movement was spotted by Israelis manning a nearby outpost, and a highly accurate report claiming an attack by forty Syrian tanks was flashed to General Eitan. Tourkmani had managed to find the one approach that the Israelis had not covered. Eitan wrestled with finding a way to block this new threat. The Reservists were too far to the west to be of any use in countering

Free Sample Chapters

267

Tourk-manis new thrust, and Ben Shoham had absolutely nothing left to spare. Eitan called Colonel Ben Gal of 7th Armored Brigade and ordered him to assume responsibility for the RafidKuneitra Road. Ben Gal earlier had kept back Captain Meir Tiger Zamirs com-pany of 82nd Tank Battalion as his unofficial reserve. He now ordered Major Eitan Kauli to use Zamirs company to stop the Syrian advance. * Tiger Zamir deployed two tanks abreast Bunker 109 as a rear guard, two more tanks on the same hill but farther south, and a single Centu-rion on a small hill across and overlooking the roadway. The deputy commander was given four tanks and sent to another small hill a mile to the south, from which he was to trigger the ambush Zamir had in mind. When all the tanks had been deployed, Tiger returned to the posi-tion abreast Bunker 109 in his own tank and ordered all crews to shut down and wait in total silence for the approach of the Syrian column and the illumination of his deputys searchlight. The Syrians rolled down the road oblivious to the waiting Israelis. Though Tiger had planned to contain all the Syrian tanks between the ends of his ambush, he had to allow a dozen of them to pass through the head of the ambush before the last of them passed the deputy commander. The gunners were losing their minds, so great was the tension of having to wait with so many good targets so easy to reach. The searchlight snapped on, followed by the instantaneous bark of a 105mm tank gun. Every Israeli gunner had been tracking targets, so all opened fire within a matter of seconds. Beneath their seats, to the right, the well-drilled loaders rammed home fresh antitank rounds and hit the gunners to let them know they could resume firing. Load, fire, train, load, fire, train. The gunners and loaders worked in superb harmony as the deputy company commander illuminated the roadway. The Syrians returned fire, but the Israelis were hull-down, virtually impossible to spotexcept for the deputy commander, whose searchlight drew heavy fire. Suddenly the light snapped off. Zamir first feared that his gunners would be unable to acquire targets, but there was more than enough light from blazing hulks.

268

Pacifica Military History

When nearly twenty-five Syrian tanks had been destroyed, Tiger reorganized his company and led it southward to get at the survivors. To his surprise, his entire company still was operational, including the deputy commanders tank. This last both relieved and upset Zamir, who asked the lieutenant why he had shut off the light. The man mumbled that it was dangerous. The lieutenant was both right and wrong. Zvika earlier had used Syrian searchlights to acquire targets, and Tigers ambush certainly had been successful because the roadway was amply lighted by burn-ing tanks. However, Tiger felt that his deputy had given in to his fears before the company could safely do without the light. As an officer, Tiger reasoned, his deputy had a prime responsibility to the mission and only secondarily to himself. * Eitans calculated maneuvering and the timely introduction of the first tiny Reserve formations had contained the Hushniya break-through, but a threat to the north still had to be eradicated with the resources at hand.

Free Sample Chapters

269

270

Pacifica Military History

FIRE IN THE STREETS


The Battle for Hue, Tet 1968 By Eric Hammel The Tet Offensive of January 1968 was the most important military campaign of the Vietnam War. The ancient capital city of Hue, once considered the jewel of Indochinas cities, was a key objective of that surprise Communist offensive launched on Vietnams most important holiday. But when the North Vietnamese launched their massive invasion of the city, instead of the general civilian uprising and easy victory they had hoped for, they were faced with a U.S.South Vietnamese counterattack and a devastating battle of attrition with enormous casualties on both sides. In the end, the battle for Hue was an unambiguous military and political victory for South Vietnam and the United States. In Fire in the Streets, the dramatic narrative of the battle unfolds on an hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis. The focus is on the U.S. and South Vietnamese soldiers and Marinesfrom the top commanders down to the frontline infantrymenand on the men and women who supported them. Eric Hammel, a renowned military historian, expertly draws on first-hand accounts from the battle participants in this engrossing mixture of action and commentary. In addition, Hammel examines the tremendous strain the surprise attack put on the South VietnameseU.S. alliance, the shocking brutality of the Communist liberators, and the lessons gained by U.S. Marines forced to wage battle in a citya task for which they were utterly unprepared and which has a special relevance today. With access to rare documents from both North and South Vietnam and hundreds of hours of interviews, Hammel, in a highly readable style, has produced the only complete and authoritative account of this crucial landmark battle.

Free Sample Chapters

271

Critical Acclaim for Fire in the Streets U.S. Naval Institute Proceeding says: Startles the reader with the scale and intensity of action required to recapture Hue City . . . Hammel s narrative style . . . bonds the reader to the subject [and] certainly to the participants. Military Magazine says: [Fire in the Streets] is true military history at its finest. Hammel writes in a highly readable style that anyone would find a joy to read. Armor Magazine says: The author has performed an outstanding job in reconstructing the details of the battle actions through extensive interviews with the people who fought the battle. Sea Power Magazine says: A detailed and engrossing account . . . The extensive use of recollections of the U.S. and South Vietnamese front-line troops and commanders give immediacy and credibility to Hammels account of one of the wars bloodiest battles . . . Library Journal says: The gritty, detailed war scenes and compelling narrative that are the authors trademarks are evident. Infantry Magazine says: Written in a lively and readable style, it is the most complete and detailed account of this central action of the war. Highly recommended. Leatherneck Magazine says: Hammel is at his best when he weaves the individual stories of pain, frustration, hope, and heroics of the multitude of players who were caught in the maelstrom of death and destruction that was Hue City in February 1968.

272

Pacifica Military History

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book Fire in the Streets: The Battle for Hue, Tet 1968 by Eric Hammel. The book is currently available in a $32.50 trade paperback edition published by Pacifica Military History. The book is also available in ebook editions.

MEAN STREETS
by Eric Hammel Copyright 1996 by Eric Hammel On the afternoon of January 31, 1968the first day of the Communist Tet Offensive2/5 was undertaking a coordinated three- company effort to clear an NVA battalion out of the area around the vital twin-span Troi Bridge complex, eight kilometers south of Phu Bai. Suddenly, with no warning, the 5th Marines CP ordered Fox/2/5 to break contact with the enemy and report to Phu Bai immediately for unspecified duty. The order was peremptory and non-negotiable; Fox/2/5 pulled out of the battalion line and assembled in a field for the drive north to Phu Bai. Fox/2/5 was in terrific shape when it left Troi Bridge for Phu Bai. Though the unit had sustained several losses around the bridge on January 31, hardly anyone was on R and R; all the men who had been lightly wounded, injured, or sick had been returned to duty; and the few replacements required had arrived. Thus Fox/2/5 was nearly at full strength, well rested, and well inte-grated. It had its full complement of lieutenants and staff non-commissioned officers, and all the squads were led by sergeants or seasoned corporals. When Fox/2/5 reached Phu Bai by truck late in the afternoon, the company commander, Captain Mike Downs, was or-dered to report to the Task Force X-Ray CP. There Downs met with the task force operations officer and his assistant, both lieutenant colonels. Though Downs knew nothing of the situa-tion in Hue or even around Phu Bai, he could not imagine why the CP was in a state of confusion bordering

Free Sample Chapters

273

on panic. Following a useless briefing, Downs was sent over to the 1st Marines CP, where the regimental operations officer told him that Fox/ 2/5 would be flying up to Hue the next day to operate with Lieuten-ant Colonel Mark Gravels 1/1. Once again, Captain Downs emerged from a sketchy briefing with only the vaguest sense of what was going on in Hue. As far as Downs could figure it, there were enemy troops inside Hue, and Fox/2/5 was needed to push them out. The impression Downs had was that his company would be back in Phu Bai pretty quickly, in a few days at most. Like Golf/2/5 before it, Fox/2/5 was going to Hue with-out its packs. The troops had grounded their personal possessions before going into the attack at Troi Bridge, and there had not been time to retrieve them when the call came to report to Phu Bai. All they had was ammunition, weapons, web gear, and whatever they had had the foresight to cram into their pockets. The troops received a hot meal that evening, and everyone slept under canvas that night. On the morning of February 1, the troops learned through unofficial channels that they were bound for Hue. None of them had ever spent any time in Hue, but virtually all of them were glad to be going. Fox/2/5 had been months in the bush, had taken casualties, and had very little besides its corporate bitterness to show for the experience. Word had it that the NVA was standing and fighting in Huesome-thing neither the NVA nor its VC allies had ever done in the bush Fox/2/5 had tromped. Word was, Hue was the place to get some, the ideal venue in which to exact payback for all the unavenged casualties Fox/2/5 had sustained in the bush. Reinforced with a pair of 81mm mortars and two 106mm recoilless rifles, Fox/2/5 began lifting out of Phu Bai at 1458, February 1, aboard a small number of CH-46 transport helicop-ters. They were bound for the Doc Lao Park LZ. In addition to lifting out Fox/2/5, the Marine helicopters were charged with carrying a significant resupply of ammunition and other goods for 1/1 and the two Marine companies already in Hue. The Fox/2/5 Marines and their officers were unprepared for the sporadic fire that greeted most of the helicopters as they set down on the

274

Pacifica Military History

Doc Lao Park LZ. In a few cases, the helicopters were struck by smallarms fire, which penetrated the thin metal skin and terrorized the unwitting troops inside. Fortunately, no one was injured, but the Marines charged off the helicopters rear ramps with serious intent, certain the LZ itself was under ground assault. Among the many terrorized by the incoming fire was a load of American news reporters who had hitched a ride into Hue aboard Mike Downss CH-46. Shortly after landing, the company commander could account for only two of the reporters, a United Press International team. Downs surmised that the other news-people had returned to Phu Bai, without ever leaving the heli-copter. There were not enough helicopters to fly the reinforced company the short distance to Hue in one lift, so the last squads did not arrive until 1705. By then, the leading elements of Fox/ 2/5 were already in a bloody fight. * Lieutenant Mike McNeils platoon of Golf/2/5 had been battling the entire day in an effort to relieve the GVN force in the Provincial Prison, six long blocks southwest of MACV. A dogged effort had carried Captain Meadowss tired troops across the highway and about fifteen meters up the first block of Tran Cao Van Street, but the NVAs resistance had steadily stiffened. The attack had ground to a standstill. As the hours wore on, the mission was scaled back. All Meadowss and McNeils platoon had to do was reach a small compound housing a U.S. Air Force communications contingent. The hostel was only a few blocks southwest of Highway 1, half the distance to the prison. Three blocks or six blocks, it didnt matter: Golf/2/5 remained bogged down less than a half block from its line of departure. The eye-opener of the day for Chuck Meadows and his Ma-rines was how many men it took to secure a row of buildings. In order to achieve this, Golf/2/5 was learning, a unit had to secure every room in every one of the structures; it had to fight a war in three dimensions rather than the usual two. As soon as two platoons of Fox/2/5 were assembled at MACV, Lieutenant Colonel Gravel decided to send them to re-store some momentum to the drive on the Air Force hostel. Captain Downs had

Free Sample Chapters

275

hardly reported to Mark Gravels CP, at MACV, before an Air Force sergeant who had lived in the hostel was attached to the company as a guide. Then Captain Downss company marched one block southeast on Highway 1 and turned rightsouthwestup Tran Cao Van, the first cross street. The entire route looked like a cycloneor a warhad hit it. Just before reaching Tran Cao Van, Mike Downs had met Chuck Meadows and Captain Jim Gallagher, 1/1s new opera-tions officer. Gallagher, a communicator by trade, had recently extended his tour of duty in Vietnam to take a crack at command-ing an infantry company. He had barely taken over Delta/1/1 when news of Major Walt Murphys death had reached him. As 1/1s senior captain, he had felt obliged, despite his lack of hard infantry experience, to fly to Hue to assume Murphys duties until a more suitable replacement could be found. Captain Gal-lagher had arrived aboard one of the night medevac choppers and had assumed his new duties as soon as he reached MACV. He had been up front with Chuck Meadows all day, learning on the run. Learning on the run was Fox/2/5s operative mode, just as it had been Golf/2/5s from the beginning of duty in Hue. Learning to deal with defended urban terrain had cost Golf/ 2/5 two killed and five wounded on February 1that made a total of seven killed and fiftyseven wounded in twenty-four hours. Now it was Fox/2/ 5s turn to pay the price of experience. * Corporal Chris Browns squad of 2nd Lieutenant Rich Horners 2nd Platoon took the Fox/2/5 point as soon as Chuck Meadows and Mike Downs had completed the formal turnover. At word from Lieutenant Horner, Browns squad was to turn the corner from Highway 1 onto Tran Cao Van and attack down the right sidewalk. Another squad from Horners platoon would follow and then peel off to attack up the left side of the treelined residential thoroughfare. The officers had already told everyone that every building on both sides of the street had to be com-pletely secured from bottom to top before anyone could go on to the next building and that units on both sides of the street had to advance apace to avoid NVA flanking fire from second-story windows. The Air Force sergeant-guide joined Browns squad a few moments before the Marines were to turn the corner. The first thing he told Chris

276

Pacifica Military History

Brown was that Golf/2/5 had been trying to fight its way up the street since around sunup and that the men had had their butts beat every time. He went on to render his opinion that the mission was suicidal. Corporal Brown went over to Lieutenant Horner to convey the Air Force sergeants sentiments, but Horner just shrugged his shoulders and said, Lets move out. Horners platoon advanced about fifteen meters up Tran Cao Van with two squads abreast and one in reserve, a classic infantry formation. After passing through Golf/2/5, the two Marines constituting the lead fire team of Corporal Browns squad set up behind a shoulder-high masonry wall to provide cover. This was another classic infantry maneuver, strictly by the book. Though Fox/2/5 had never fought in a town and the junior troops had never been adequately trained to undertake house-to-house com-bat, the troop leaders knew very well how to feel their way into hostile terrain. It was about then, however, that Corporal Brown, Lieutenant Horner, and Captain Downs went beyond the knowl-edge that had been keeping them and large numbers of Marines like them alive in the bush. It was then that Fox/2/5 learned what the term mean streets really signifies. Private First Class Louis Gasbarrini moved out first. He stepped from behind the wall and scuttled down the sidewalk to the nearest tree. Lance Corporal Charles Campbell went next, up and over the wall. Before Campbell had hit the ground, Gasbar-rini had been seriously wounded in the arm by a burst of AK-47 fire that could have come from anywhere. Someone yelled, Corpsman, up! and Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class James Gosselin, a twenty-six-year-old former Green Beret, charged into the open from behind the wall. He was halfway to Gasbarrini when he was shot dead in his tracks, Fox/2/5s first fatality in Hue. No sooner had Doc Gosselin fallen than the NVA trained their fire on Corporal Brown; the Air Force sergeant; and Private Stanley Murdock, Browns radioman. No doubt the NVA were drawn to the whip antenna on Murdocks squad radio. Lance Corporal Carnell Poole was a few steps behind the three men when the automatic-weapons fire reached out at them. Poole distinctly saw the stream of bullets pin Murdock to a wall at his back; the sheer force of the bullets held the radioman on his feet. The firing stopped, but Murdock just stood there, holding his M-

Free Sample Chapters

277

16 loosely at his side, gasping for air every few seconds. In extreme slow motion, before Lance Corporal Poole or any of the other shocked onlookers could act, Private Murdocks eyes glazed over and the gasping stopped. Fox/2/5 had sustained its second death in a matter of seconds. The Air Force sergeant was seriously wounded by the same burst. Despite the gunfire spraying the back side of the wallor because of itseveral members of Browns squad streaked into the street, intent upon reaching the apparently safer left side. Most of the men made it to cover, but Corporal David Collins, Private First Class William Henschel, and Private First Class Cristobal Figueroa-Perez were shot off their feet. When the dust settled, none of them was moving. As Chris Brown shrugged off the shock of near sudden death, Lieutenant Homers piercing yell reached him: Move it out! Brown looked up, but there was no one around him. For a second, the squad leader didnt know what to do. Then he went into automatic overdrive he moved on training and instinct. Brown whipped out from behind the wall and zigzagged down the sidewalk. When it seemed the right time to dive in, he landed next to Lance Corporal Campbell, who told Brown that, every time he tried to fire back at the NVA in the buildings, bullets kicked cement dust into his face. Corporal Brown yelled to Private First Class Gasbarrini, who was in front of everyone. Gasbarrini yelled back that he had been hit in the arm and that he was playing dead because he was afraid to move behind the nearest cover. Corporal Browns squad was stymied. If anyone made a move, NVA soldiers in the buildings overlooking the street fired into Tran Cao Van. Brown sent word back to Lieutenant Horner that Gasbarrini was wounded and beyond reach. Horner sent word forward to Brown that he was trying to get a tank up to cover a rescue effort. Brown ordered everyone who could to withdraw back behind the wall. Then Fox/2/5 settled in to wait. There wasnt anything else anyone could do. Minutes later, Lieu-tenant Colonel Gravel ordered Fox/2/5 to call it a day and return to MACV as soon as the company could police up its casualties. It seemed to Chris Brown that hours passed before two Marine M48 tanks turned into Tran Cao Van and chugged toward Private First Class Gasbarrini. When the lead tank pulled up even with the wall Brown

278

Pacifica Military History

was using as a sanctuary, he gin-gerly stepped out behind the armored vehicle and followed it warily down the right side of the street. The tank passed Gasbar-rini and stopped, a steel wall to protect the evacuation. When Chris Brown leaned down to help the wounded man, a stream of bullets reached out toward them. Brown felt warm fluid streak over his outstretched hands; he was certain Gasbarrini had been wounded again, but it was only water. A round had gone through Gasbarrinis canteen. Brown pulled the wounded man behind the tank, and other members of the squad helped Gasbarrini toward the rear. As the lead tank stood guard and probed the surrounding buildings with fire from its .50-caliber cupola machine gun, members of Browns squad warily convened in the street to lift their wounded and dead comrades onto the flat rear deck of the second tank. Four of the men Doc Gosselin, Private Murdock, Corporal Collins, and Private First Class Henschelappeared to be dead. A fifth, Private First Class FigueroaPerez, appeared to be seriously injured. As the rear tank, which was also firing its .50-caliber ma-chine gun, pulled back, a B-40 rocket streaked out from a second-story window and struck it squarely on the side of the engine compartment. Two of the bodies on the rear deck, which was over the engine, were thrown to the street. Immediately, piercing screams erupted from one of the bodies. Several Marines ven-tured back to the tank to see who it was and why. The screaming man was Private First Class William Hen-schel. He had been shot in the head in his bid to cross Tran Cao Van, and knocked unconscious. It was no wonder his spooked comrades had mistaken him for dead; his gruesome head wound had looked fatal, and there had been no time to conduct an adequate check in the middle of bullet-swept Tran Cao Van. When the B-40 blew Henschel off the tank, the shock of the blast apparently roused him. A closer inspection revealed that HenschePs left leg was missing below the knee. No one could tell if it had been blown off by the B-40 or if the tank had backed over it. It didnt matter; the leg was gone. Henschel was known in Fox/ 2/5 as the Marine Doc. Though he had no formal first-aid training, he carried a Unit One aid pack, just like the Navy corpsmen. He still had it when his shocked and dazed comrades peeled him off the surface of Tran Cao Van. Its

Free Sample Chapters

279

contents were used to affix a tourniquet and control the bleeding of his leg. The head wound turned out to be superficial. After the tanks pulled back around the corner to Highway 1, one more absolutely motionless Marine still lay in an exposed position about twenty meters down Tran Cao Van. A nose count revealed that he was Private Roberto de la Riva-Vara. Every effort had been made to reach de la Riva-Varas body, but the tanks had been unable to shield the rescuers, and the NVA had staked it out, certain they could kill any rescuers who ventured out after it. Lieutenant Horner had had enough. With nothing to show for it, Fox/2/5s 2nd Platoon had suffered fifteen casualties, of whom three were known dead, one (Figueroa-Perez) was expected to die, and one (de la Riva-Vara) was presumed dead. The lieutenant asked Captain Downs to please call it a day; there was no sense losing more men to rescue de la Riva-Varas body. Mike Downs was not going to leave anyone behind. After the wounded and dead were unloaded from the tank and sent on their way to M ACV, Downs ordered both tanks back up Tran Cao Van to cover Lieutenant Horners recovery of de la Riva-Varas body. Firing their machine guns as they went, the tanks advanced cautiously past the spot at which one of them had already been hit by a B-40. Nothing much happened. The NVA fired their AK-47s at the tanks, but no more B-40s were fired. The tanks moved forward, and the infantrymen followed them. As they reached de la Riva-Vara, he waved his arms a little. He had been shot in both legs and had been cannily playing dead. On the way back, Lieutenant Horner was wounded. The Fox/2/5 casualties were taken back to MACV without further incident. Later that night, all the serious casualties of the day, including Lieutenant Horner, were medevacked off the LZ in Doc Lao Park. Unlike the bloody medevac effort of the previous night, the convoy to the LZ was led by one of the M-48 tanks, which simply drove through houses and courtyards along a path the NVA snipers could never have staked out in advance. Before dawn, news arrived that Private First Class Cristobal Figueroa-Perez had died of his wounds in Phu Bais triage center. ***

280

Pacifica Military History

Free Sample Chapters

281

282

Pacifica Military History

FIRST ACROSS THE RHINE


The 291st Engineer Combat Battalion in France, Belgium, and Germany By Col. David E. Pergrin with Eric Hammel First Across the Rhine is the first-person narrative by the commander of the celebrated 291st Engineer Combat Battalion, one of the rough, hardworking U.S. Army engineer combat units that literally paved the way from Normandy to the Rhine and beyond. After it landed in Normandy shortly after D-Day, the 291st quickly acquired a reputation as a savvy, can-do engineer combat unit. During the race across France and Belgium in the summer of 1944, the 291st proved itself to be the U.S. First Armys premier engineer battalion. In December 1944, the lightly armed 291st found itself virtually alone as it stood astride the route of the panzer spearhead charged with leading the northern army group in Hitlers last-ditch Ardennes offensivethe Battle of the Bulge. Tough and confident, the 291st blew up bridge after vital bridge in the face of the German assault and thus denied Germany her needed victory in the West. Weeks later, the 291st was selected from among all U.S. Army engineer combat battalions in Germany to throw the first bridge across the Rhine River in the face of enormous resistance. It thus built the longest combat bridge in Europe in record time and opened the German heartland to the Allied juggernaut. Few American combat units have achieved the distinction and recognition accorded the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion. Here, in the words of its only combat commander, is the 291sts recipe for success stiff training and a group ethos for excellence. This is an exciting, inspiring story about an essential aspect of warfare all but ignored in the thousands of World War II books that have flooded the market over the past half century.

Free Sample Chapters

283

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book FIRST ACROSS THE RHINE: The 291st Engineer Combat Battalion in France, Belgium, and Germany by Col David E. Pergrin and Eric Hammel. The book is currently available in a $17.95 trade paperback edition published by Zenith Press. The book is also available in ebook editions.

ENGINEERS AT WAR
by Col David E. Pergin and Eric Hammel Copyright 1994 by David E. Pergrin and EricHammel. Lieutenant Colonel David Pergrins 291st Engineer Combat Battalion was the premier U.S. Army engineer unit in the European Theater of Operations in World War II. Through a combination of being at the right place at the right time, having the ingrained skills to complete any task under any conditions, and boasting the kind of leadership and human material that made any task seem easy, the 291st received more accolades than any of its marvelous sister engineering units. The battalions two greatest accomplishments in the war were, first, almost single-handedly stopping the powerful German armored thrust in the northern Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge, and, second, building the first engineer bridge across the Rhine River in March 1945, at Remagen. But there was luck at play in those towering historical endeavorsbeing where the action happened to beand so the fair way to judge the 291st is by what it accomplished on a work-a-day basis. After assisting elements of the U.S. First Army in regaining all the territory lost during the Battle of the Bulge, the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion was assigned to assist the 82d Airborne Division in taking a new and dangerous objective. The objective of the 82d Airborne Division at the end of January 1945 was achieving a breakthrough of the Siegfried Line at Losheim, the same place the Germans had broken through in the opposite direction at the start of their Ardennes Offensive. For the new attack, Colonel H. Wallis Andersons entire 1111th Engineer Combat

284

Pacifica Military History

Group was attached to the XVIII Airborne Corps, so the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion was transferred from a temporary assignment with the 1186th Engineer Combat Group to Colonel Andersons direct command, under which it had served for most of the time since landing in Normandy in June 1944. * At 0600 hours, January 29, Major General James Gavins 82nd Airborne Division jumped off through the 7th Armored Division into the Losheim Gap. Occupying an initial front line between Born and Ambleve, the 82nd Airborne attacked northeast across the high ground overlooking Wereth with the 325th Glider Infantry Regi-ment on the left, the 504th Parachute Infantry on the right, and the 505th and 508th Parachute Infantry regiments in reserve. Attacking beside the 82nd, on the left, was the crack 1st Infantry Division. The men of the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion did not follow the lead companies of the 82nd Airborne into the Losheim Gap as we had followed the lead companies of the 30th Infantry Division toward St.Vith. No, mostly we led the paratroopers through the hip- and thighdeep ice and snow, scraping paths through trackless minefields with our armored bulldozers so the lightly armed and largely unsupported paratroopers and glider infantrymen could move at all. From the outset, we faced a howling blizzard and minus-degree temperatures through a dense forest that lacked all but rudimentary footpaths. The problems and hardships we faced were surmountable, but only by battle-hardened troops with stout hearts and iron determination. Fortunately, the 291st had those in abundance. Particularly noteworthy were the heroic efforts of Technician 5th Grade Herbert Helgerson, a Company B bulldozer operator, near Wereth on January 29. Helgerson distinguished himself as he was clearing heavily drifted snow from a supply road directly along the front lines. Often working ahead of the infantry, he was once pinned down by a German machine gun and was almost constantly exposed to mortar and artillery fire called by German forward observers who seemed to have him under observation throughout his mission. Despite the unnerving proximity of the fire, Helgerson nevertheless got the road cleared so the infantry could receive vital support from the rear.

Free Sample Chapters

285

Another noteworthy performance was turned in by Corporal Edward Woertz, who became so wrapped up in his work that he worked eighteen hours or more at a time for four consecutive days. In fact, Woertz kept working at one point even though German machine-gun fire was hitting the body of his bulldozer. Not surprisingly, some of the most stout-hearted men were those who had already proven themselves in close combat with the en-emy. One such, who constantly drove his armored bulldozer di-rectly into the face of enemy emplacements, was Technician 4th Grade Tom Noland, whose exemplary leadership had done much to save the day against the Skorzeny brigade at Malmedy. Eventu-ally, though, Tom was seriously injured by a flurry of German rifle fire as he cut a trail for the troops of the 325th Glider Infantry in front of an active German defensive position. Also working far above and beyond his expected performance, Lieutenant Wade Colbeck took miserable, life-threatening turns in the cabs of the armored bulldozers when his platoons cold-dazed operators needed respite or relief. In addition to the bulldozers and road graders we directly com-mitted to supporting the infantry, we had as many as ten bulldozers and five road graders in constant operation behind the lines, labori-ously opening or cutting supply and evacuation trails. The Germans had mined every possible route through the forest, but our mine-sweeping teams seemed to have found every mine along the routes we opened and used. Despite the formidable natural obstacles and hardships, the 504th Parachute Infantry advanced seven thousand yards on January 28, capturing Herresback after killing 65 and capturing 201 Germans without sustaining any losses. The 325th Glider Infantry faced stiffer opposition in its zone and suffered losses accordingly. How-ever, it also wound up the day far ahead of its line of departure. The 82nd Airborne Divisions attack continued on a northeasterly heading on January 29, but abominable weather conditionsa full-scale blizzardrestricted the 325th and 504th regiments to gains averaging two thousand yards. A subsidiary attack by the 505th Parachute Infantry southeastward on the high ground toward Honsfeld eked out only fifteen hundred yards. The 291st thus found itself still within the same area of

286

Pacifica Military History

Belgium in which we had oper-ated prior to the German offensive, which had begun about six weeks earlier. On January 30, the 325th Glider Infantry jumped off to the northeast at 0500 hours. By 1500 hours, elements of the regiment had reached Bucholtz, abreast the Honsfeld-Losheim railway line. By nightfall, patrols of glider infantrymen were reporting back from the German side of the frontier. On that day, also, the newly committed 508th Parachute Infantry captured Lanzerath and the damaged highway bridge over the railway line. American troops were thus in possession of Kampfgruppe Peipers original jumping-off position, a significant gain. On January 31, a day of con-solidation in the 82nd Divisions zone, the 505th Parachute Infantry bullied its way forward to Losheim-Ergraben against moderate resistance. As Technician 5th Grade Mike Popp and I toured the frontier area visiting my operating platoons, we noted how many German vehicles and horse-drawn artillery units had been knocked out by our tactical air. Also, many of the villages had suffered extensive damage at the hands of our fighter-bomber pilots, and there was no evidence of German civilians in the region. Apparently, a decree from Hitler that the civilians defend the Fatherland unto death was being rigorously ignored. Captain Bill McKinsey reported that the Lanzerath bridge, which the 82nd Airborne was counting on to get its mobile artillery and armor forward, was impassable. Based on Bills frontline survey, we prepared to build a 180-foot Bailey span across an 80-foot-deep railroad cut through the Lanzerath ridge. The location of the new bridge would be precisely on the Belgian-German border, our first construction assignment in the Nazi homeland. The job was a typical rush. General Gavins division headquarters wanted to bol-ster the 508th Parachute Infantrys positions on the high ground between Losheim and Manderfeld with the self-propelled guns of the 629th Tank Destroyer Battalion. As it was, the 508th had already repulsed one German counterattack with its light infantry weapons and, though Bill McKinsey reported seeing German infantry in retreat, no one knew what the Germans might throw in next in symbolic defense of their border.

Free Sample Chapters

287

On February 1, the 291sts battalion CP moved forward from Malmedy to Meyerode and Companies A and C were consolidated to build the Lanzerath bridge. Before advancing to the bridge site, however, our mine-sweeping teams had to probe forward and clear all the approaches. As expected, the Germans had mined all the shoulder areas with antitank and antipersonnel devices and, as ex-pected also, had wired in numerous booby traps whose only pur-pose was to kill or maim engineers clearing the mines. As usual, we suffered no losses, but working in the snow and ice made matters extremely ticklish. Major Ed Lampps plan was to begin work on the bridge at 0030 hours, February 2. Long experience had imbued Ed with the belief that a bridge as critically important as this one would be under observation by German artillery forward observers, so his typical response was to do as much work as possible under cover of darkness. Beginning at sunset, the two engineer companies and all their equipment moved into holding areas within a mile of the bridge site. For the next six hours, all the troops worked feverishly to prepare for the massive, miserable job ahead. Then, at 0030 hours, right on schedule, Captain Warren Rombaughs Company C advanced to the bridge site en masse to begin the first continuous twelve-hour shift. Because it was so cold, Warren could work his platoons for only four hours apiece, which we had learned is about as long as human beings could endure the superhuman task of wrestling the unbelievably frigid five-hundred-pound steel bridge panels into place. The night was foggy and sleet fell steadily upon all the men whose duties prevented them from seeking even rudimentary cover. Progress was dampened a bit by the sleet because it obliged all the workers to pull their woolen watch caps down across their ears and faces. Sporadic artillery fire added considerably to the delaying action of the weather but fortunately resulted in no casualties. One of the greatest dangers lay in the potential for slipping or sliding off the glazed steel bridge panels into the eighty-foot-deep railroad cut. Again, no one was injured, though there were repeated heartstoppers throughout the ordeal. All this was done with the knowledge that the lightly armed and relatively unsupported troops of the 508th Parachute Infantry were waiting for

288

Pacifica Military History

their tank destroyers in vulnerable infantry fighting positions about a mile in front of the bridge. Mike Popp wrestled our command car to the bridge site at about 0300 hours, February 2, in the immediate wake of one of uncount-able numbers of artillery barrages. As I watched the miserably cold battlehardened Company C troopers wrestle the five-by-ten-foot panels of the double-triple Bailey bridge across an eighty-foot-deep chasm in the midst of a vertical ice storm, I became convinced that these were men who would finish anything, literally anything, that anyone could conceivably dream up to be accomplished by combat engineers. The bridge, which would be two panels thick and three panels high with a single-span treadway floor required the placement of 216 fivehundred-pound panels. When completed, with one end in Belgium and the other end in Germany, the 180-foot span would be able to support a forty-ton load moving at six miles per hour. We opened the bridge to traffic at 1700 hours, February 3, forty and a half hours after work began. We did so following an around-the-clock effort by two complete engineer combat companies and with-out suffering a single casualty or injury despite the incessant German artillery fire and incredibly dangerous working conditions. Our first customers were all the self-propelled tank destroyers of the 629th Tank Destroyer Battalion. And the payoff, soon to arrive, was a coordinated attack, amply supported by way of the Lanzerath bridge, in which the 325th Glider Infantry and 504th Parachute Infantry regiments quickly and decisively cracked the Siegfried Line between Neuhof and Udenreth, just north of the Losheim Gap. As soon as possible, the 291st followed the 82nd Airborne through the dragons teeth and formidable array of bunkers and pillboxes comprising the Siegfried Line. Behind us lay the long-sought breach in the enemy frontier and ahead of us lay victory, but not without privation and struggle, hope and glory as we had never seen them before. * On February 7, 1945, Colonel Anderson contacted me with orders to move the entire 291st Engineer Combat Battalion to a new jumping-off point in the Hurtgen forest. The news was unwelcome and immediately

Free Sample Chapters

289

became the cause of deep-seated anxiety among those of us who had followed the largely unsuccessful pre-Bulge efforts by up to 120,000 Americans to secure this vital, densely wooded, frontier region. Unfortunately for the many Americans who had tried and failed and the many more of us who would try again, the capture of the Hurtgen forest was absolutely essential to the contemplated broad-front Allied attack across the Cologne plain to the Rhine River, the last important natural barrier keeping us from Germanys western heartland. The essential features within the forest region were two massive hydroelectric dams, the Urftallsperre and the Schwammenauel, that controlled the water level of the north-flowing Roer River. If the Allies could not capture the dams intact, the Germans could flood the Roer valley and deny us the broadfront access to the Rhine that appeared essential to our strategic concept. The previous fighting in the Hurtgen had been about the grim-mest of the war in Western Europe. Not only had the Germans made a special effort to plant mines and booby trapsthey knew how important the region was to usthey took special pleasure in firing their artillery into the densely packed treetops in order to create exceptionally deadly sprays of shrapnel and wood splinters against which infantrymen advancing in the open could in no way defend themselves. Together with many extremely complex, exten-sive, continuous, interlocking, and hardened defensive sectors on the ground, these features had resulted in over nine thousand casu-alties prior to the Bulge. We were double annoyed with the news of our commitment to the renewed Hurtgen drive because we felt we had narrowly evaded a December commitment due to the onset of the German Ardennes Offensive. I had already traveled through the American-held Hurtgen region in the days immediately prior to the German offensive to review the manner in which the 291st was to be employed in the effort to capture the Roer dams. I had frankly hoped in the weeks after the Bulge that the higher headquarters responsible for reduc-ing the Hurtgen defenses had forgotten about the 291sts prospec-tive commitment. As it turned out, my wishes came to nothing. To get set for the new Hurtgen drive, the entire battalion caravaned from Meyerode to Walheim, a German town east of the Siegfried Line

290

Pacifica Military History

in the vicinity of Schmidt. We remained attached to the 1111th Engineer Group, but we now came under the control of Major General John Millikins III Corps, which was in the center of the 1st U.S. Army zone, directly facing the Hurtgen forest. On our left was the VII Corps and on our right was the V Corps. Unless the III Corps was able to secure the Roer dams intact, the 9th U.S. Army, adjacent to the 1st Army in the north, could not attack into the Roer valley for fear of being flooded out by the Germans, who after all could see the shape of our strategy. If the 9th U.S. Army could not advance, neither could Field Marshal Montgomerys entire 21st Army Group, to which it had been attached. And, if the 21st Army Group could not advance, neither could the four Allied armies arrayed in the center and the south the 1st and 3rd U.S. armies in the 12th Army Group zone and the 7th U.S. and 1st French armies in the 6th Army Group zone. When all was said and done, then, an Allied advance to the strategic Rhine barrier came down to III Corps hoped-for success in the Hurtgen forest. * The corps-wide preparations for the assault on the Roer dams gave us some time to clean up and take care of overdue housekeeping chores and to settle down after our harrowing weeks in the fore-front of the assault into Germany. The billets we took over for the troops were only fair, but they were warm and snug compared to the places in which we had been hunkering down for weeks. Everyone had an opportunity to heed my command to shave daily, and showers were set up to handle everyones needs. Only margin-ally less important than the care and feeding of the troops was the opportunity the break afforded us to maintain, refurbish, and re-place our sorely abused equipment. A spate of letter writing was immediately requited by the arrival of a ton of mail that had been following us around through the battle zone for weeks. This included hundreds of responses to the 650 Christmas cards the battalion headquarters staff had mailed to the families of our men just before the onset of the Bulge. It was gratifying reading, though some responses had been mailed by relatives of several of our dead comrades before news of the deaths reached home. A surprising number of letters and cards addressed to me complained that sons and husbands

Free Sample Chapters

291

had not been writing home and would I please get Johnny to write more often. The many packages that had been late getting to us before Christmas brightened our respite with a dizzying array of goodies from home. As the Old Man, I was obliged to sample more sweets than any human being should have. Given our fears regarding the battalions next battle, the caring attitude of our relatives and friends at home came as sweeter news than I can possibly express. We kept up our skills with a variety of local engineering chores. The area around Walheim was riddled with uncleared minefields, and Captain Jim Gambles Company A kept itself in trim by building a small airstrip near Schmidt for use by light Piper Cub artillery spotting planes. Naturally, all the letter companies were out every day, from sunrise to sunset, repairing the muddy, shell-damaged roads and bridges that would carry supplies forward and casualties rearward when the new assault got underway. * There was no certainty that the 291st would actually wind up having anything to do with the Roer dams themselves, but the betting around the senior staff ran heavily in that direction. Major Ed Lampp was extremely forceful in such prognostications. We knew we were considered a crack battalion. Being so judged had its good points, but it also meant facing the dirtiest assignments. Besides, our pre-Bulge preparations had been directed toward the dams; there was no reason to suppose that the folks who had remembered our early surveys and briefings would forget the sub-ject of those plans. To be on the safe side, I had Captain Bill McKinsey send out a recon team on February 9 to look over the dams from the closest possible vantage point and to assess the overall situation in the HI Corps zone. Bill briefed the battalion staff and company command-ers late. The 78th Infantry Division had jumped off against the dams on February 5 following its series of unsuccessful attacks against Schmidt. (The mission of capturing Schmidt had been turned over to Major General James Gavins 82nd Airborne Division on February 2 and Gavin had proceeded toward the city by a new routedirectly down the main highway through Lammersdorf rather than over-land through the often-

292

Pacifica Military History

used and stoutly defended steep-sided Kail Gorge.) Also on February 5, the 9th Armored Divisions Combat Command R (for Reserve) went in south of the 78th Division, in the vicinity of Wahlerscheid, in the Monschau forest, a region of the Hurtgen. It came as considerable relief to learn that the second-largest of the Roer dams, the Urftallsperre, had fallen intact to the 9th Armored on the first day of its assault. As Bill McKinsey gleefully pointed out, Thats one dam we wont have to rebuild! The main assault, that by the 78th Infantry Division, met light opposition on February 5 and 6 but nonetheless proceeded at a cautious pace. On February 7, the division commander decided to put all three of his infantry regiments into an effort to leap forward to the unsecured Schwammenauel Dam. A company of the divi-sions organic engineer battalion, the 303rd, was placed at the front with each of the attacking infantry regiments. In the ensuing action, the engineers alone destroyed or directly helped destroy over two hundred concrete pillboxes in the defended sector between Lammersdorf and the Roer. Bill McKinsey saved the best news for last. The 9th Armored Division had been sent to the aid of the 78th Infantry Division on February 9, permitting the 78th Division to redirect its 309th Infan-try Regiment cross-country against the Schwammenauel Dam. By days end, only hours before Bill conducted his briefing, the vital dam had fallen into the hands of the 309th Infantry. Better than that, the dam was intact. And, best of all, the fall of the dam had allowed the 9th Infantry Divisions 60th Infantry Regiment to spring forward right into Schmidt. All of the III Corps objectives had been taken and the entire SHAEF assault to the Rhine could commence without the 291sts having been committed to the bloody fighting in the Hurtgen forest. * Early on the morning of February 10, Colonel Anderson called the battalion CP and asked me to get over to Group immediately with Major Ed Lampp. There, Major Harry Webb, the group operations officer, briefed Ed and me on Operation GRENADE, the projected assault across the Roer River.

Free Sample Chapters

293

First Webb told us that although the Germans had not destroyed the dams they had accomplished several acts of mischief. In particular, they had destroyed the powerful dam machinery and discharge valves on the Schwammenauel and had diverted the water from behind the Urftallsperre to behind the Schwammenauel. The effect was not, as feared, an unstoppable torrent of water, but we were faced with stopping a relentless flow that, unchecked, would flood the Roer valley for about two weeks. If that happened, the 9th U.S. Armys drive toward the Rhine would be seriously delayed and that would have a ripple effect across the entire SHAEF front. Accord-ing to Webb, it looked as though the assault would be delayed for about two weeks. In addition to wrecking the machinery, the Germans had blown part of the spillway, leaving a big gap on top of the dam. The eighty-foot gap prevented the 78th Infantry Division from getting any armored support across the dam to the thin infantry screen defending the bridgehead on the east bank of the Roer. Major Webb next directed our attention to his situation map. He told us that when Operation GRENADE commenced, we were to directly support the 78th Infantry Division by building a bridge across the gap in Schwammenauel Dam and thus assure the free flow of armored vehicles and supplies toward the east. As Webb spoke, Ed Lampp caught my eye and smiled as if to say, I told you so! Indeed he had, many times over the past few days. After telling us that the effort undoubtedly would be made under direct German fire, Webb ended the briefing with a rather too chipper, You guys got the contract. Before returning to my CP to mount out the battalion, I was taken aside by Colonel Anderson. He told me that the 291st had been selected for the job by senior 1st Army officers because of the sterling regard in which we were held. Ed and I returned to the CP and called a meeting of senior staff and line officers to discuss the new and challenging mission. Bill McKinsey immediately dispatched patrols to survey the entire 78th Division rear and report back about any damaged or destroyed bridges and stretches of roadway that needed to be swept for mines or repaired. By then, the

294

Pacifica Military History

early thaw had left many long stretches of vital roadway in utter disrepair following the passage of our armys steel-cleated tracked vehicles. As soon as Bill left to dispatch the patrols. Captain Max Schmidt got on the phone to Group to line up our fair share of the available engineering supplies. * The overall plan for Operation GRENADE was to start the assault at the northern end of the battlefield by building bridges in the zone of the northernmost assault divisionsin the zone of the 9th U.S. Armys XIX Corps. Once a bridgehead had been established east of the river, succeeding divisions would cross the same bridges and hook south through the preceding units. Thanks to the slow flooding by way of the Schwammenauel Dam, the Roer had swollen from thirty yards to over a hundred yards in the zone of the XIX Corps. This caused an incalculable delay while engineers tried to figure out if they should try to bridge the wider-than-anticipated river or wait for the water to recede, in which case they would face a wide muddy bog across the entire flood plain. It was decided to wait. While the battalion CP moved from Walheim to Rotgen, due west of Schmidt, the letter companies of the 291st used the delay to clear mines and restore the road net in our zone. We also dug in the heavy field pieces of the 78th Divisions general support artillery battalion. On February 18, Group called to say that it had just received a dispatch from III Corps that had apparently passed through the headquarters of the 1st Army, the 12th Army Group, and SHAEF on its way from the White House. President Roosevelt had signed the Presidential Unit Citation for which the 291st had been recom-mended for its wide-ranging service during the Bulge. Colonel Anderson asked me to drop by Group headquarters to add my endorsement to a section of signatures that included Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Bradley, and Hodges. Every man in the battalion and those who had been wounded and evacuated during and since the actions in which we had earned this honorwas given a copy of the citation and authorized to wear the ribbon. However, we had no time to undertake a formal ceremony, for we were too busy preparing for our next great adventure.

Free Sample Chapters

295

* On February 19, a damaged B-24 heavy bomber came down in a smallish field south of Rotgen. Those of us at the CP heard the plane go in so I jumped into my command car with Technician 5th Grade Mike Popp and rushed to see what was going on. The makeshift landing field, part of an extensive minefield, was in the zone of Lieutenant Don Daviss platoon of Company C. By the time I arrived, the crew of the heavy bomber was climbing out of the airplane amidst shouted pleas from Don and his men that they stay put until a safe path through the mines had been cleared with the aid of mine detectors. The entire fresh-faced bomber crewthey all looked to be about eighteen years old disregarded the instructions and trudged across the muddy field toward us. When they got to the road, we pointed to the many signs that warned of the presence of mines in the field, but those cocky boys laughed and boasted, If we can crash-land a heavy bomber in a small field like this, theres no minefield that can do us in. With those foolish flyboys looking on, Daviss men immediately went to work plucking mines from exactly the route they had followed from the bomber. When the airmen saw the mines, they became so agitated that they refused to return to the bomber to collect their personal effects. * By February 22, the flood waters in the Roer valley had receded sufficiently for Operation GRENADE to commence the next day, February 23. As planned, the assault began in the north, toward Julich, in the zone of the 9th U.S. Armys southernmost XIX Corps. German air and artillery knocked out the assault bridges in the zone of the 102nd Infantry Division, but engineers employing a massive smoke screen in the adjacent 29th Infantry Division zone breached the river. By days end, tanks were advancing into Julich. In the next zone south, elements of the 30th Infantry Division conducted an assault river crossing in boats, but no bridges were completed in its zone and, thus, no armor could be sent to support the bridgehead. In the northern 1st Army sector, the VII Corps got no bridges across the Roer on February 23, but, next day, engineers built a Bailey bridge on the piers of the blown main highway bridge into Dren. This was the

296

Pacifica Military History

only bridge built to support the VII Corps assault that day. A treadway pontoon bridge that was to be thrown across the river on February 24 was delayed by a fierce defensive effort on the part of the 12th Volksgrenadier Division. This bridge was eventually completed, but the Germans continued to harass the units crossing there. By February 28, parts of six divisions on the XIX and VII corps zones were across the Roer, advancing into the Cologne plain toward the Rhine. During the morning, our battalion liaison officer, Captain Lloyd Sheetz, called from the 78th Infantry Division CP to tell us that all three regiments of the 78th were safely across the river and preparing to attack across the Cologne plain next day, March 1, along-side the 9th Armored Division. Among other jobs, the 291st was to support the III Corps attack by building a Bailey bridge at Blens. * As soon as we got the news from Lloyd Sheetz, Ed Lampp sent Bill McKinsey to Blens to survey the bridge site. Toward evening on the 28th, Bill returnedoverduefrom the last-minute reconnais-sance with a uncharacteristic haunted expression on his face. As the story developed, Bills recon team had approached the blown Blens bridge so it could confirm the measurement of the length of the Bailey bridges we were to throw the next day. Germans on the east bank of the Roer had apparently spotted Bill and his team and had put a great deal of effort into keeping them pinned. The scouts had spent the entire day crouched behind an abutment and had escaped only after the onset of darkness. Major Lampp assigned the Blens bridge to Captain Frank Rheas Company B. In turn, Frank assigned the Blens job to Lieutenant John Kirkpatricks platoon. Frank moved the Company B CP into a building near the bridge site at about noon, March 1, so he could oversee the staging of the bridging equipment. Almost as soon as Frank arrived, however, the Germans opened with a vicious artillery barrage. The shelling was still going on when Kirkpatricks platoon moved into the open to launch the bridge nose out over the turbulent Roer. The Blens bridge was to be a 130-foot triple-single span. We had built dozens of such bridges across France and Belgium, but the layout

Free Sample Chapters

297

at Blens presented us with several unique challenges. Chief among our headaches was the fact that the far-shore abutment sloped downhill, thus causing the launching nose to be high above the ground. This was solved by holding the bridge in alignment and level by means of a stout cable affixed to a bulldozer winch while the structure was being shoved across rollers set on the near shore. The initial artillery barrage abated, but the German guns opened with renewed fury at around 2300 hours. One of the heavy-caliber rounds struck the bridge itself and the resulting spray of shrapnel wounded five engineers. Though German rounds continued to fall all around the bridge site, Lieutenant Kirkpatrick stayed out on the span with the wounded men and helped the medics administer aid and dress wounds. Then, through more artillery detonations, John helped carry the wounded men to safety. As soon as the shelling abated, John calmly reorganized the platoon and led his engineers back out onto the span. Sporadic artillery fire ensued, but Kirkpatricks platoon completed the job at 0310 hours, March 2a record-setting performance of fifteen hours and ten minutes. As soon as the bridge was completed, tanks and assault guns already lined up behind cover in the town pushed across to join up with the 78th Divisions waiting infantry components. Before long, military policemen were herding German captives back across the Blens bridge. * While Company B was wrestling with the tricky, dangerous Blens bridge, Captain Jim Gambles Company A was preparing to under-take different but equally challenging headaches at Heimbach. The objective, placed in the hands of Lieutenant Bucky Walterss and Lieutenant Arch Taylors platoons, was the construction of a 110-foot triple-single Bailey span to replace a destroyed stone arch bridge that had been built on a curve. Working against established procedure, Jim Gamble wanted to get the bridge started in full daylight because of the severe difficulty his platoons would face as they attempted to install a straight bridge on a curve. Thus, construction work began at 1430 hours, March 2. Because the existing part of the bridge was too narrow to set base plates, Lieutenants Taylor and Walters had their men emplace tran-soms to extend the width of the existing structure.

298

Pacifica Military History

When I arrived to survey progress, the bridge was creeping out slowly above the river despite some very inaccurate shelling. After the troops added each new ten-foot section, the entire structure was angled slightly on the baseplate rollers, the only solution available for building a fortyton assault bridge at such a tough location. The work was not only strenuous, it was hazardous. Perfect timing was required to prevent the entire structure from tumbling forty feet into the river. The commander of the 78th Divisions 303rd Engineer Combat Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel John Cosner, arrived shortly after me. He had just come from having his first look at the Blens bridge, and he was effusive in his praise. After Cosner had had a good look at what Company A was doing there, at Heimbach, he described feelings of awe. As we continued to watch, the 310th Infantry Regiment, which was screening the bridge site, sent back about fifty German prisonersa real tonic for the engineers, whose backs were breaking from the grueling effort. They got the job done by 0900 hours, March 3in eighteen and a half hours. * As soon as I returned to Rotgen on the morning of March 3 to check in at the battalion CP, I was given a message that Colonel Anderson wanted me to return his call. I dutifully complied, but the colonel was not in. Major Webb, the 1111th Group operations officer, told me that the colonel wanted to know how the bridge-building was shaping up. I told him that the Blens bridge was in and the Heimbach bridge had been completed an hour earlier. Next up was the Schwammenauel Dam bridge, which Captain Warren Rombaughs Company C was slated to begin in a matter of hours. I told Webb that we had heard through 78th Division sources that the infantry had advanced far beyond the dam bridgehead and that they did not expect much artillery fire to be directed against Company C. Before ringing off, Webb told me that the colonel wanted to meet with me at the site of the dam bridge within the hour. I immediately left the battalion CP and drove over to pick up Lieutenant Colonel Cosner at the 303rd Engineer Combat Battalion CP. We had agreed earlier to visit all three bridge sites and to discuss plans for supporting the 78th Divisions drive across the Cologne plain. Cosner had information that all of the 78th Divi-sions three infantry regiments

Free Sample Chapters

299

were advancing rapidly in company with the 9th Armored Division against weakening opposition. Ac-cording to Cosner, the 9th Armored Divisions Combat Command B and the 78th Infantry Divisions 310th Infantry were already about fifteen miles east of the Roer. As we drove, we ruminated about breaching the next great barrier, the mighty Rhine. We were both certain that the Germans would blow every span across the mighty river from the Swiss frontier to the North Sea and that they would commit every available soldier, gun, and airplane to keeping all the Allied armies from crossing. Everything was in order at Heimbach and Blens. Maintenance teams were working over both bridges and my engineers were out policing up the last of the mines. Speed-limit signs had already been posted on both bridges, which were in heavy use. We arrived at the Schwammenauel Dam at 1330, March 3, and found Lieutenant Don Daviss and Lieutenant Tom Stacks platoons of Captain Warren Rombaughs Company C having a ball. The vistas to the east and west were utterly breathtaking, with rich pine forests stretching into the haze of the Roer valley and snow-capped hills marching beyond sight. We heard the rumble of artillery, but it was far east of the dam, far beyond range. The open breach where the Germans had demolished the spillway was seventy-five feet wide. It must have taken several tons of explosives to do the job. Work had begun at 1245 hours, right after lunch, and it was expected to be completed before dinner, say around 1830 hours. The bridge was an eighty-foot double-single Bailey span and the job was an absolutely straightforward affair in which Company C sustained only one casualty, a sprained back. The line platoons were about two thirds through the job when Colonel Anderson finally arrived. I knew things were going well as soon as I saw the twinkle in the Old Mans eyes. As he stood with Cosner and me watching the completion of the very last act in the long and bloody battle of the Hurtgen forest, the colonel reminded us that the ordeal had begun with an assault by the 28th Infantry Division, the Pennsylvania National Guard unit with which he had fought in World War I and whose engineer regiment he had commanded when the division was activated

300

Pacifica Military History

before Americas com-mitment to World War II. Maybe because I was a fellow Pennsylvanian, the colonel waxed nostalgic about the many scores of Pennsylvania infantrymen and engineers who had died on their way to this dam. That evening, when he got back to his quarters, Colonel Ander-son wrote in his nightly letter to his wife: I didnt sleep well last night. Pergrin was involved in building three bridges across a river where the danger was extremely in evidence from all the hazards of war. When I didnt hear from him this morning, I went to the sites and saw three masterpieces of engineering skill and courageous leadership. I will sleep well tonight. Shortly, the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion was called upon to throw the first Allied engineer bridge across the mighty Rhine River, at Remagen.

Free Sample Chapters

301

302

Pacifica Military History

GUADALCANAl Starvation Island


By Eric Hammel The Japanese defeats at Midway and Guadalcanal decided the outcome of the Pacific War. Guadalcanal was the classic three-dimensional campaign. On land, at sea, and in the air, fierce battles were fought with both sides stretching their supplies and equipment to the breaking point. The campaign lasted six months, involved nearly one million men, and stopped Japanese expansion in the Pacific. When the campaign began on August 7, 1942, no one on either side quite knew how to conduct it, as Eric Hammel shows in this masterly account. Guadalcanal: Starvation Island corrects numerous errors and omissions in the official records that have been perpetuated in all the books previously published about the campaign. Hammel also draws on the recollections of more than 100 participants on both sides, especially the enlisted men at the sharp end. Their words bring us into the heart of the battle and portray the fighting accurately, realistically, and powerfully. Guadalcanal: Starvation Island follows the men and the commanders of this decisive World War II campaign in an integrated, brilliantly told narrative of the desperate struggle at sea, on land, and in the air. Praise for Guadalcanal: Starvation Island and Eric Hammel A comprehensive history of the Guadalcanal Campaign . . . [and] a well balanced account. Well written and fast moving. Marine Corps Gazette Hammel has written the most comprehensive popular ac-count to date . . . and exposes controversial aspects often passed over, Publishers Weekly

Free Sample Chapters

303

Hammel takes the reader behind the scenes and details how decisions were made . . . and how they impacted on the troops carrying them out. He tells the story in a very human way. Leatherneck Magazine A splendid record of this decisive campaign. Hammel offers a wealth of fresh material drawn from archival records and the recollections of 100 odd surviving participants. . . . A praise-worthy contribution to Guadalcanal lore. Kirkus Reviews Hammels ability to reveal both the immediacy and the hu-manity of war without judgment or bias makes all his books both readable and scholarly. San Francisco Chronicle Hammel does not write dry history. His battle sequences are masterfully portrayed. Library Journal

304

Pacifica Military History

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book GUADALCANAL: Starvation Island by Eric Hammel. The book is currently available in a $27.50 trade paperback edition published by Pacifica Military History. It is also available in ebook editions.

EDSONS RIDGE
by Eric Hammel Copyright 1987 by Eric Hammel The Guadalcanal invasionAugust 7-8, 1942had gone of almost without a hitch. But the Imperial Navy had soundly defeated the Allied invasion fleet in a daring night action off Savo Island, and the U.S. transports a warships had fled. The prize at Guadalcanal for both sides was Henderson Field, the only airstrip within 600 miles of the main Japanese regional base at Rabaul. While Marines dangled the end of an inadequate supply line, Japan achieved mastery of the seas around Guadalcanal and was thus able to land infantry forces almost with impunity. The first large infantry force, accidentally goaded by Marines into a premature assault in late August, had been defeated. A second, much larger, Japanese infantry force had been landed east of the Marines Lunga Perimeter. It had marched overland to deliver what its commanders believed would an overwhelming assault against the thinly held Marine line south of Henderson Field. * September 12, 1942, was a red-letter day for Lieutenant Colonel Merritt Red Mike Edsons 1st Marine Raider Battalion, which received its first mail from home in several months. For a few hours in the afternoon, the troops were left alone to think and talk about a life only a few could actually believe they had once lived. In the rain forest south of the T-shaped ridge, Kawaguchi Butais main body was winding up its prep-arations for taking the airfield. It was only after dusk that MGen Kiyotake Kawaguchi first learned that

Free Sample Chapters

305

the jumbled ridge manned by Marines lay between his assault force and the main runway. There was no time to maneuver around the ridge; the hungry, exhausted Japanese would have to advance over the defended ground. Last-minute work parties and scouts fanned out to blaze trails and observe the enemy. The Emperors soldiers prepared to do their duty amidst a mood of relief. Mementos were exchanged and words of encouragement passed between old friends or from of-ficers to their men. An afternoon patrol by LtCol Sam Griffith and two riflemen brought news to LtCol Red Mike Edson that there was a large force of Japanese to the front. Griffith had been unable to determine how many Japanese there were, or where they were heading. Edson decided to mount several strong combat patrols next morning, and he called his company commanders and staffers to his CP for an evening planning session. Most of the Raiders and Chutes turned in for the night while sentries settled down to what would, they hoped, remain a quiet watch. * The T-shaped ridge rose out of the rain forest about a mile south of the main runway, its stem running in a north-south direc-tion for about 1,000 yards parallel to the Lunga River, about 600 yards to the west. The crossbar was high, clear, fairly broken ground dominated by four distinct spurs, two each on either side of the stem. Steep gullies and junglechoked ravines isolated the bare ridge in most directions. The only feasible path from south of the ridge to the Lunga Plain was down the long axis of the spurs and stem. Two Raider companies were on the line: B Company was on clear, high ground, its right flank tied in with C Company, Raiders, which was extended out to the right, its own right flank dangling off into the tree-choked flats beside the Lunga River. A and D com-panies, Raiders, were close by, in reserve. The battalion head-quarters and elements of E Company, the weapons unit, were bivouacked several hundred yards to the rear, on the stem of the T. B Company, Chutes, about seventy troopers, was tied in with B Company, Raiders, east (left) of the center of the stem, which served as the battalion boundary; A and C companies,

306

Pacifica Military History

Chutes, were bivouacked in the woods just behind and below the stem. The minuscule parachute-battalion headquarters was to the rear, near Edsons CP. An increment of 1st Pioneer Battalion was holding a hill overlooking the west bank of the Lunga, well to the right of C Com-pany, Raiders, and elements of 1st Engineer Battalion were on another nearby hill, to the left of the Chutes. * It started just as Red Mike was ending his briefing. As the leading elements of Kawaguchi Butai briefly floundered in the jungle flats below the ridge, seeking the first line of Marine listening posts, the artillery supported by the rear echelon of Ichiki Butai east of Alligator Creek opened fire several minutes before 2100, dead on schedule. Immediately, a Japanese naval floatplane ranged in from over the channel and dropped a parachute flare just south of the main runway. Two Japanese cruisers and a destroyer then opened fire on the T-shaped ridge. Several overs killed a number of Kawaguchis advancing infantrymen. Shouts of Japs! and Here they come! intermingled with screams of Totsugeki!Charge! Several listening posts screening the Raiders front were swept away in the opening rush, then the Japanese crunched up against the main line, manned at the points of impact by platoons from B and C companies, Raiders. Spreading left and right, the Japanese screamed and yelled and hurled strings of firecrackers to rattle the defenders. The most hard-pressed of the C Company platoons slowly fell back from its position overlooking the river. Communications became unglued all along the line as attackers and defenders intermingled under the eerie glow of shellbursts and parachute flares. Before any Marines could effectively react, Japanese soldiers were cutting fire lanes through the dense underbrush and firing along them at the stunned Raiders. Within minutes, a second C Company platoon was iso-lated by a human wedge of oath-screaming Japanese. All the disor-ganized Raiders who could withdrew. Severely disabled in the opening minutes of the fight, C Com-pany, Raiders, was forced to give ground. This, in turn, forced adjacent B

Free Sample Chapters

307

Company to undertake a fighting withdrawal to re-fuse its now-dangling right flank. When the withdrawal had been com-pleted, B Companys right platoon was bent far back, holding a north-south line. The Japanese could not press their advantage against the main body of B Company, for they had their hands full with isolated individuals and pockets of Raiders who had not been able to withdraw with the herd. The attackers were so taken aback by the unexpectedly stiff opposition that the fighting tapered off immediately after the first successful rushes had been driven home. Heavy skirmishing ensued through the long night, but the Japanese had all withdrawn by sunrise. * Early on September 13, pilots from carriers Hornet and Wasp ferried in eighteen brand-new F4F-4 Wildcat fighters for Cactus pilots whose own Wildcats had been lost in the heavy air fighting of the previous week. The Hornet and Wasp pilots were flown out later in the day. Lt Smokey Stover, of Fighting-5, roared aloft at 0830, one of seventeen Navy and Marine fighter pilots to greet an early air strike. Stover was at 25,000 feet peering all over the sky in search of targets when his earphones crackled with his division leaders ex-cited voice: Zero! The Americans had found two reconnaissance aircraft es-corted by twenty Zeros. The Japanese were not there for a fight, did not even expect one. Their sole mission was to determine who owned the airbase following General Kawaguchis crushing night assault. They gamely turned to meet the oncoming Americans. The four Fighting-5 pilots descended steeply, and were passing 18,000 feet before Smokey Stover even saw the quarry. Immedi-ately, Stover saw his wingman bailing out of his burning Wildcat. Then he was jumped by a Zero, which doggedly chased him into clouds at 6,000 feet. Hugging the clouds, Stover got into position to bag a Zero. The Japanese pulled up right in front of him, but Stover managed to hang on and fire his six .50-caliber wing guns until the Zero burst into flames and crashed into the rain forest. Next, Stover forced a Zero into a head-on contest as it pulled away from a firing run on another Wildcat. Stover saw good hits on the Zeros

308

Pacifica Military History

fuselage. He watched as it circled, trailing smoke, but he did not see it fall, so claimed only a probable. Fighting-5 claimed three Zeros definitely destroyed and one probable. The Marines made no claims. One Fighting-5 airman was lost with his Wildcat and anotherSmokey Stovers veteran wingman, Ens Don Inniswas seriously burned before bailing out; he was picked up in the channel by a landing craft from Kukum. A third Navy pilot was wounded, but landed safely. The reconnaissance report to 11th Air Fleet resulted in a bomber strike later in the day against artillery positions near Taivu Point. The Bettys destroyed most of what little remained of Kawaguchi Butais supplies. The Japanese bombers were hit first by Maj Bob Galer and two other Marine airmen as soon as they turned for home. Each of the three Marines claimed a kill. Smokey Stover, in one of seven Navy Wildcats to get in on the melee, got to 25,000 feet in time to make one pass, but with no observable results. Other Fighting-5 flyers destroyed two Bettys over Savo. However, a furi-ous Wildcat-versus-Zero dogfight claimed the lives of three Ma-rines and two Japanese. One Navy F4F was lost in a launching mishap. Late in the afternoon, a pair of Zero floatplanes caught every-one flatfooted and flamed a Marine SBD coming in for a landing, killing the pilot and gunner. Ten minutes later, antiaircraft gunners opened upon a dozen intruders, but fortunately failed to score. The intruders were U.S. Navy SBD Dauntless dive-bombers manned by aircrews from Scouting-3, which had been transferred to RAdm Slew McCains Aircraft, South Pacific, following the de-parture of Saratoga after she suffered torpedo damage on August 31. Soon after, the first American torpedo bombers to be sent to Cactussix TBF Avengers from Saratogas Torpedo-8also landed. * The Raiders moved to recover lost ground after sunrise. Jap-anese snipers abounded, so the advance by elements of B and C companies was cautious and slow. B Company riflemen who suc-ceeded in reclaiming fighting holes lost in the night found that the gear they had left behind had been rifled by the Japanese, and that much of the food they had

Free Sample Chapters

309

pilfered at Tasimboko had, in the end, gotten into the stomachs for which it had been intended. A Company, Chutes, had had no contact with the Japanese during the night, so was ordered down to the jungle flats to support the Raiders attempts to regain their original positions. The company advanced only a bit before it was stopped by gunfire from concealed emplacements. Unwilling to risk a major fight while de-ployed on so narrow a front, Capt Bill McKennan ordered his unit to back away from the Japanese. Once clear, however, McKennan pushed in from another direction, this time with some artillery sup-port. The second attempt brought forth a few Japanese snipers, but they did little to impede the Chutes, who accomplished their mis-sion by midafternoon. A Company returned to the ridge at 1530 to find that the cooks had saved the morning meal. All hands ate their first food of the day, then lined up again to collect their afternoon meal, which was always served punctually at 1630. C Company, Raiders, which had been badly mauled in the night fighting, was withdrawn from the front. A Company, the only Raider unit anywhere near full strength, and the remnants of D Company, which had been disbanded to fill out the ranks of the other companies, were sent to hold the Raider right. Red Mike decided to shorten the line somewhat, and pull it back nearly 100 yards to force attackers to cross open ground through grazing automatic-weapons fire. Improved fields of fire were cut, and much of the line was wired in. Deeper fighting holes were dug, and automatic weapons were repositioned. Asked by Archer Vandegrift what he thought of the night action, the grim, unflappable Red Mike whispered that he thought it was a test. Then he smiled his peculiar, bloodless smile and added that the Japanese would be back that night. Vandegrift ordered up 2nd Bat-talion, 5th, which had fought beside the Raiders on Tulagi five weeks earlier. When the reserve battalion was delayed by the days busy air activities as it crossed the main runway on its way from Kukum, LtCol Bill Whaling, exec of 5th Marines, and the rifle-company commanders arrived at Edsons CP late in the day to look over the ground. It was a

310

Pacifica Military History

wise precaution, for the main body of the battalion would be delayed until after dark. Late in the afternoon, all twelve 105mm howitzers of LtCol Hayden Prices 5th Battalion, nth, were moved with the aid of prisoners from their forest revetments to more-exposed firing positions south of the main runway. The gunners quickly plotted gen-eral and direct support concentrations on their maps, and zone registrations were fired before dark. The registration fire caused some excitement along the ridge, where Raiders and Chutes paused to see if they were under attack. When Capt Bill McKennan, who had been up all night and all day overseeing his A Company, Chutes, saw that the rounds were landing well beyond his position, he dozed off. Once the guns were registered, everyone except gunners was moved back into the woods to man a secondary line; if the Japanese broke through the Raiders and Chutes, they would certainly over-run the howitzers. There was nothing between the artillerymen and the vital airfield. * First Raider Battalion mustered just over 400 effectives. They held an 1,800-yard line anchored on the southern slope of a high, projecting knob to the right of the center of the crossbar of the T. B Company was on the left, and A Company and the remnants of D Company held the right. C Company, the battalion headquar-ters, and elements of E Company were the reserve. First Parachute Battalion had yet to come in contact with KawaguchiButai. B Company, mustering about seventy-five effectives, was tied in at the ridges center with B Company, Raiders. C Com-pany, which had landed fewer than eighty men at Gavutu and which now fielded no more than fifty, was to B Companys left rear, holding about 200 yards along a knob overlooking the jungle flats. A Company, the battalion reserve, was in the woods right behind C Company. The battalion was down to well under 200 troopers in all from the 377 who had landed at Gavutu. As with most Marine battalions in the Eastern

Free Sample Chapters

311

Solomons, 1st Chutes had lost far more Marines to illness and disease than to enemy bullets and bombs. General Kawaguchi reckoned that he had about 1,000 orga-nized effectives for the coming assault, a number far exceeding the combined strength of the two battalions holding the ridge. Despite casualties suffered the previous night, and the fact that many stragglers had not rejoined their companies, Kawaguchi decided early in the day to mount a new assault. With the onset of darkness, Raiders and Chutes could hear more and more talk from the woods to the front. The Raiders re-plied with taunts and curses. Bullets flew sporadically as each side psyched itself up. Capt Bill McKennan, of A Company, Chutes, was awakened from his afternoon nap by a runner summoning him to the battalion CP. He made his way through the dense woods in pitch darkness and was advised that the situation on the front had become threat-ening. A Company was to move to the ridge. McKennan returned to the company bivouac and ordered 1stSgt Marion LeNoir to call the troops out. The tension was alleviated when one young trooper said to McKennan as he passed in the dark, I spose we get time-and-a-half for this, Capn. The men dropped down beside the road to wait for the attack to begin. * B Company, Raiders, took it on the nose, at 1830, September 13. The Japanese struck most heavily on the right, just where they had hit C Company the night before. A platoon was quickly iso-lated from the rest of the company and surrounded. Then B Com-pany fell apart under repeated hammer blows. Driven back, the Raiders reformed just behind the crest and surged forward to re-gain some of the lost ground. But the Japanese were pouring through a 200-yard gap in the line. Within minutes, B Companys front had been reduced to a series of tiny pockets and strongpoints manned by desperate men. A Company, Raiders, isolated by the Lunga on one flank and the gap torn at its juncture with B Com-pany, was not seriously molested by Kawaguchi Butais main effort, which was aimed at the stem of the ridge, a direct path to Hender-son Field.

312

Pacifica Military History

Shortly after B Company collapsed, Red Mike moved his CP forward to the high knob dominating the southern end of the ridge, only several yards behind the most advanced machine-gun em-placement. As Edson sought to steady his rattled troops, Cpl Walt Burak, his runner, scuttled to the rear in search of communications wire, which was spliced in to the battalion message center and run back to the division CP, where the senior staff was anxiously await-ing news. Edson was coldly determined to stand his ground, though he, as every man around him, could barely lift his head for fear of having it blown off by the sheets of fire the Japanese were putting out. Edson presented a terse rundown to LtCol Jerry Thomas, the division operations officer, who was directing the overall effort from his operations center, just north of the ridge. (Red Mike would leave his exposed CP only once that long night, and then only to briefly spring to the rear to alleviate some of the confusion experienced by his superiors at division headquarters.) Individual Marines drifted back through the blackness from overrun positions while others crept forward. As the life-and-death struggle raged across the killing ground, Red Mike called on C Company to defend the knob on which he had established his for-ward CP. Then beleaguered B Company was allowed to withdraw. Only sixty Raiders responded, but many other B Company Ma-rines were fighting individually and in small groups on other parts of the battleground. * Fifth Battalion, 11th, was having the most active night in its brief history. Its twelve 105mm howitzers had been brought so close to the ridge during the late afternoon that the crews had had to dig pits beneath the breech blocks in order to take up the recoil when they fired at extreme high angle. The tubes were so steeply inclined that the rounds described trajectories similar to those of mortars. Initial fire missions consisted of individual concentrations directed by trained artillery forward observers on the ridge or by infantry officers and NCOs who had open lines to the battery fire direction centers. All that separated the howitzers from the Japanese was the line of Raiders and Chutes on the ridge. Pfc Larry McDonald, the nineteenyear-old O Battery recorder, was obliged to use a narrow-beamed pen-

Free Sample Chapters

313

light to make certain that his records and readings were in accord. Within a short time of the onset of the action, he drew sniper fire each and every time he used the light, no matter how briefly. Despite the danger, it was imperative that McDonald and other recorders continue; all guns had been set on base azi-muths, and any variation right, left, up, or down had to be noted in order to bring them back to the base. Communication between the artillery forward observers and the firing batteries was disrupted early in the action. When Red Mike requested an urgent replacement at dusk, Maj Charles Nees, the 11th Marines assistant operations officer, volunteered to take the job. The thirty-three-year-old reservist worked his way for-ward and, at about 2000, found a spot from which he could observe the front and adjacent positions. He reported to Red Mike, who had been directing the artillery, simply by shouting that he had arrived, was in position, and had established communications with the 105mm fire direction center. Nees immediately began calling the pinpoint fires the Raiders and Chutes needed to survive. At about the time Nees went forward, an aristocratic, silver-thatched older private first class named Tom Watson left his job as a clerk with the 105mm battalions headquarters battery to serve as a for-ward observer. Watson would be a second lieutenant by morning, so flawless was his direction of the guns. By 2100, the howitzer crews shifted from called fire to box barrages, then to rolling barrages, which entailed firing a salvo at maximum elevation and subsequent salvos outward at fifty-yard increments to 300 yards, then pulling the fire back fifty yards at a time. The gunners could not believe that Raiders and Chutes were calling ranges so close to their own positions, but they complied. The only time the guns stopped firing was when the battery execs, who were in charge of the fire direction centers, ordered individual tubes swabbed and cooled. One Japanese officer was so impressed with the rapid-firing howitzers that he later referred to them as automatic artillery. Much of the artillerys success stemmed from Japanese assault tac-tics: Every time the Emperors soldiers were about to launch a new assault, they lofted a red flare from their starting position. The Japanese who managed to breast the curtain of steel often pitched calcium flares at the American

314

Pacifica Military History

lines, and those drew yet more fire. The quality and speed of the gunnery paid deadly dividends. * The tiny parachute battalion, spared the previous night, bore the brunt of a vicious head-on assault. The action on the Chutes front began when two mortar rounds landed in C Companys lines, killing one trooper and wounding another. The Chutes responded by pitching hand grenades down the steep slopes at the sound of voices. As the action heated up and the Japanese routes of advance were revealed, Capt Bill McKennans A Company was ordered for-ward from its reserve position to man a secondary line on the re-verse slope of the ridge, behind B and C companies. Fearful that a powerful attack might breach his weak line, Capt Justin Duryea, whose B Company was holding the cleared area in the center of the ridge, directly beneath Red Mikes forward CP, ordered smoke pots ignited to screen his front. A red flare burst overhead at the moment of ignition, and its light was reflected off the smudgy black curtain. Someone yelled, Gas attack! Blood ran cold as the smoke oozed over the red-lighted ground; everyone had long ago discarded his gas mask. The Japanese struck as additional flares were lofted into the red sky, surging down the spurs and wildly charging along the pro-truding spine and the dark edges of the low jungle flats. They punched through from dead ahead, officers waving swords aloft while yelling Totsugeki! and Banzai! at the top of their lungs. Riflemen fired their .25-caliber Arisaka rifles and 7.7mm Nambu light machine guns from their hips, hurled grenades, and fired their strange little knee mortars. They screamed their oaths and fired their weapons and sacrificed their lives for their emperor. Most of the B Company troopers held firm, and the Japanese rolled away to their right front, hitting Capt Dick Johnsons pla-toon-size C Company. Cpl Ernie DeFazio, a squad leader whose squad had been disbanded, was firing at sounds in the dark when he saw a red, glowing light coming at him. There was barely time to secure his helmet with his left hand and duck. The object, a grenade launched by a knee mortar, burst overhead and badly lac-erated DeFazios left hand. DeFazio did

Free Sample Chapters

315

not dare get up, and he knew that yelling for a corpsman in all that din would be a waste of effort, so he crawled on his belly toward the rear until shock and pain caused him to faint. Most of the C Company troopers bolted, but the Japanese were momentarily halted when a C Company machine gunner cradled his gun in his arms and charged forward firing a long burst. The attackers were held for only a moment, for the gunner was shot dead in his tracks. The unremitting, repeated hammer blows finally forced Duryeas B Company to give ground. That in turn caused most of the remainder of Johnsons C Company to flee. While troopers from the forward companies ran headlong toward the rear, McKennans A Company revealed itself to the Japanese by opening with power-ful defensive fires centered on three well-emplaced medium ma-chine guns. Japanese Nambus, whose muzzle-flash suppressors made them extremely hard to spot at night, reached out from the dark to duel the Marine machine guns. American gunners were going down, one after another, but volunteers from the rifle squads replaced them. A Company held its line. Pfc Larry Moran, of B Company, ran nearly 1,000 yards down the stem of the ridge before he was stopped by 1stSgt Donald Doxey, who was reorganizing B Company stragglers in a stand of trees. Doxey ordered the Chutes to win back the lost ridgeline. As Larry Moran worked forward, he could hear bellowing voices from the Raider lines, exhorting the troops to keep the machine guns firing and kill the Jap bastards! Elements of B Company, Pfc Larry Moran included, regained the summit, but Moran was soon blasted over the side by a concus-sion grenade. Uninjured, he collected his wits and scrabbled uphill to rejoin the fight. Suddenly, a challenge was hurled through the night. Moran recognized the voice as belonging to MG Bob Man-ning, but he could not recall the password. Mr. Manning, he called. Yeah, Manning replied. Its Moran; I cant remember the password. Okay, come on up.

316

Pacifica Military History

Another voice suddenly called Mannings name and said that reinforcements were coming up on the right, that he should have his troopers hold fire. As Gunner Manning expected no help from any direction, he alerted the men around him to the ruse, then shouted approval. The attempted penetration was easily repulsed.. At 2200, three-and-one-half hours into the battle, Red Mike informed LtCol Jerry Thomas that his force of Raiders and Chutes had dwindled to about 300 organized effectives, and that the Jap-anese had yet to ease the pressure. Isolated groups and individuals continued to contribute to the success of the effort by stalling rushes and confusing Japanese troop leaders by firing from odd places at odd moments. Nevertheless, though many Japanese were down, the Marines were increasingly outnumbered. Pfc Larry Moran was struck in the thigh by a red-hot sliver of shrapnel. He fought on until a lull allowed him to hobble with another injured Marine to an aid station about 100 yards back. When the two arrived at the sickbay, they were told that the corps-man was on the line, that there was no one qualified to deal with their injuries. The two continued toward the rear, permanently out of the fight. Pfc Bill Keller, an A Company BAR-man, bowled over three Japanese who popped out of the trees directly beneath his position. One screamed for endless minutes, so painful were his wounds. A corpsman asked Keller what the trouble was. When the BAR-man said that a wounded enemy soldier was making all the noise, the corpsman sort of grinned and dropped into the trees to get at the wounded man. The screaming stopped, but Bill Keller never learned the outcome, for two Japanese concussion grenades ex-ploded within a yard of his position. The next thing Keller knew, he was being lifted onto a jeep at the base of the ridge. Shrapnel wounds pitted the lower part of his face and upper back. His pre-cious BAR was clutched tightly in his fists. Capt Bill McKennan was working out of his CP, right behind the forwardmost machine guns, when he and istSgt Marion LeNoir saw a Japanese grenade sputter out of the darkness. LeNoir dived one way and McKennan went the other, right into the orbit of a second grenade he did not see. McKennan next found that he was rolling downhill, and

Free Sample Chapters

317

he came to rest by the roadway running parallel to the base of the ridge, tangled up with a rifleman who had been knocked down by the same blast. The two groggily regained their feet and tried to regain their bearings, then felt their way along the trees beside the road until they reached an aid station. Both men were placed in a jeep and bounced rearward. An infil-trator hurled a grenade from out of the darkness, but the jeep rolled through the blast, and the two groggy, injured Marines were car-ried into a tent, where their wounds were swabbed with sulfa com-pounds. McKennan dropped off as morphine combined with the effects of forty-eight hours on the go. * In a conversation with LtCol Jerry Thomas at 0230, Lieuten-ant Colonel Edson said that he was out of the woods. While the Japanese had not yet begun to acknowledge defeat, it was generally felt that they had spent themselves. Thomas informed Edson that 2nd Battalion, 5th, was behind 5th Battalion, 11th, and would soon be closing on the ridge to assist him. G Company, 5th, moving up the left side of the stem of the T at 0400, was soon pinned by heavy fire from the woods to its left. It suffered numerous dead and wounded before arriving behind the Chutes and pressing forward against heavy opposition. In all, G Company lost thirty dead and wounded by dawn. As E Company attacked on the right of the stem, it lost five killed and nine wounded to snipers it bypassed in the dark. * The Japanese mustered one final assault at first light, but it ran directly into the guns and bombs of the last three serviceable P-400S at Henderson Field. The three Army pilots turned out of their high-powered takeoffs and dipped over the ridge, wreaking unbe-lievable destruction upon Kawaguchi Butai, which put out enough return fire to force two of the aircraft to glide back to the runway without functioning engines. * Cpl Carlo Fulgenzi, an eighteen-year-old suburban New Yorker serving with Headquarters Company, 1st Engineer Bat-talion, had been placed in charge of a group of engineers who, like himself, were suffering from

318

Pacifica Military History

the effects of malaria or other tropical diseases. Positioned across the jeep track at the base of the ridge, Fulgenzis group was whittled down through the long night by Jap-anese infiltrators, but the survivors held. At about 0500, Fulgenzi decided to venture up to the ridgeline to find a buddy whose machine gun had stopped firing hours ear-lier. He stopped dead in his tracks when he ran into about thirty Japanese laughing, joking men who had simply sauntered through or around the American positions higher up. All Carlo Fulgenzi had to fight them off with was a Colt .32-caIiber revolver he had smuggled ashore, a gift from his father. He had only the six rounds in the cylinder. As Fulgenzi ducked away from the Jap-anese, he found a dugout and rolled inside, silently praying for deliverance. He was shaking so badly that he had to steady the pistol between his knees. The chattering Japanese stopped outside the dugout. Several climbed on top of the coconut logs over the engineers head while others proceeded to rip apart tents throughout the area. They soon discovered that wounded and ill Marines were in the tents, and proceeded to flay two of them with bayonets and knives. A grenade landed in the trench leading into Fulgenzis dugout, and a steel sliver tore into his left leg. Immediately, four Japanese dived into the trench; they could not see Corporal Fulgenzi, but he could see them silhouetted in the entryway. The leader was only a foot away when Carlo Fulgenzi lifted the barrel of his Colt pistol and squeezed off a round into the mans forehead. The first Jap-anese pitched to the side, and Fulgenzi put a round into the second head. And the third. And the fourth. He started to climb out of the dugout to make his escape when he ran headlong into a fifth Japanese. The man had his rifle raised and was already squeezing the trigger when Fulgenzi shot him dead. Fulgenzi turned toward his company area, but got only about twentyfive yards when he found twelve Japanese furtively moving through the trees. They yelled oaths as Fulgenzi dived toward a nearby machinegun emplacement, uncertain whose it was. He found three Marines, who turned their gun to the flank and dropped all the Japanese in sight. After one of the Marines in the gun emplacement handed Fulgenzi a submachine gun, the engineer corporal bandaged his leg wound and

Free Sample Chapters

319

hobbled off to the 1st Engineer Battalion CP to issue an alert concerning the infiltration. Then he volunteered to lead a pa-trol to rescue the gunner he had set out to find earlier. Four of eight engineers in the patrol were wounded as they crawled on their bellies through a rain of sniper fire toward the silent machine gun. It took what seemed like hours to traverse a mere hundred yards. Moans from the position, however, egged on the rescuers. Carlo Fulgenzi broke into the open and leaped into the fighting hole. A Japanese machine gun that opened fire as Fulgenzi was airborne put a round through his left wrist, but he ignored the wound when he saw the two Marines who had been manning the position. The dead man on top had a dozen bayonet holes through his chest. The survivor had been shot through both legs above the knees, and one leg had been slashed to the bone by a sword. Ful-genzi was helping to lift the wounded man onto a stretcher when he was shot through the right arm. Despite the excruciating pain, he helped carry the wounded Marine to safety, then turned himself in for treatment of his own wounds. * There was a moment of heart-stopping drama at the division CP when a sword-wielding Japanese officer stepped into the open with two riflemen and headed directly for Archer Vandegrift, who was in the open, alone and unarmed. MG Sheffield Banta, an utterly unflappable old salt, stopped typing a report long enough to unholster his .45-caliber automatic pistol and plug the officer dead in his tracks. A corporal whose pistol jammed attempted to tackle one of the enlisted gate crashers, but two quick gunshots from nearby felled the quarry practically at the commanding generals feet. The third intruder was dropped where he stood and, later, a fourth infiltrator was routed out of the division commanders closet. * A and B companies, 1st Marines, were sent from reserve jjosi-tions by Alligator Creek before dawn to mount a sweep below the ridge to sever the Japanese line of retreat. Though these Marines were veterans who had weathered the carnage in the coconut grove on Au-gust 21, many were utterly appalled by what they saw as they passed through the tiny

320

Pacifica Military History

remnant of the parachute battalion; mail and debris were strewn all over the place, and Marines with dark, hunted expressions nervously peered at the jungle flats below. The two companies cautiously advanced west and south for nearly two hours without opposition. Then A Company ran into gunfire put out by a tiny blocking force. Capt Charlie Brush ordered 2ndLt John Jachyms platoon to hold the rear while the remainder of the company withdrew. Though Jachym was unable to comprehend why the powerful force was not going to launch an attack against the Japanese ahead, he fought a slow rearguard action. When A Company was reformed, Captain Brush explained that he had been ordered back to Alligator Creek to withstand an assault there. He had also received word, however, that B Com-pany had been engaged by a far superior Japanese force. He or-dered Jachyms platoon to mount a relief. When Lieutenant Jachym reported to the B Company CP, he found four of the company officers wringing their hands over the possible fate of a rifle platoon that had been ambushed and was pinned in the dense undergrowth. As the officers talked, Japanese machine guns on the opposite bank of the nearby Lunga River opened fire on them. Then a mortar round landed at their feet. The five officers and their runners burst in all directions from the point of impact, scrambling for cover. The round proved to be a dud. John Jachym could see that the demoralized B Company of-ficers were not about to commit themselves to bailing out the lost platoon, and he felt he needed more than his own understrength platoon to do the job. He sent his runner after the rest of A Company, which arrived at the B Company CP in due course, winded but up for the effort. Captain Brush reported to battalion headquarters, which reported to division headquarters, which replied that it could not afford to have the two companies involved in the rescue mission. Brush was ordered to withdraw posthaste to Alligator Creek. The abandoned B Company platoon was destroyed. In all, twentyfour Marines were killed in a fight to the last bullet. One of the few survivors, Pvt Harry Dunn, spent three days carrying a wounded comrade to safety; he hid during the day and traveled by night. It was a remarkable feat of survival and devotion.

Free Sample Chapters

321

* More than 600 Japanese corpses were counted on and about Bloody Ridge, as it came to be called; many wounded were laboriously carried into the rain forest by their spent comrades; a large number of dead or missing soldiers was never found, not even by American patrols that, for days, combed the jungle flats south of the ridge. Perhaps 1,200 Japanese officers and soldiers followed their general away from the beaten zone, across the Lunga, westward to link up with Colonel Okas battered contingent. The march was too much for many of the injured; scores of wounded Japanese were left by the wayside with scores of dead. They had neither food nor medical supplies. By the fifth day, NCOs were beating their flagging charges with switches, cursing them onward. In the end, the survivors emerged from the forest near Point Cruz and rushed to lap up the water washing over the beach. Many died, convulsed in agony. Of the 2,100 souls Kiyotake Kawaguchi had led to the foot of Bloody Ridge on September 12, just 1,000 returned safely. The Raiders lost 31 killed and 104 wounded, and the Chutes lost 18 killed and 118 wounded. B Company, 1st, lost 24 killed. Several dozen engineers and artillerymen also died.. The Japanese September offensive was over.

322

Pacifica Military History

Free Sample Chapters

323

324

Pacifica Military History

GUADALCANAL Decision at Sea


The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal November 1315,1942 By Eric Hammel Guadalcanal: Decision at Sea is a full-blown examination in vivid detail of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, November 1315, 1942, a crucial step toward Americas victory over the Japanese during World War II. The three day air and naval action incorporated Americas most decisive surface battle of the war and the only naval battle of this century in which Ameri-can battleships directly confronted and mor-tally wounded an enemy battleship. This American victory decided the future course of the naval war in the Pacific, indeed of the entire Pacific War. Hammel has blended the detailed historical records with personal accounts of many of the officers and enlisted men involved, creating an engrossing nar-rative of the strategy and struggle as seen by both sides. He has also included major new insights into crucial details of the battles, including a riveting account of the American forces failure to effectively use their radar advantage. Originally published in 1988 as the concluding volume in Eric Hammels series of three independent books focusing on the Guadalcanal campaign and exploring all the elements that made it a turning point of the war in the Pacific, Guadalcanal: Decision at Sea lives up to the high standards and expectations that have marked this authors many historical books and articles.

Praise for Guadalcanal: Decision at Sea and Eric Hammel Hammels description of surface tactics, naval gunnery, and what happens when the order to abandon ship is given is vivid and memorable. Publishers Weekly

Free Sample Chapters

325

[Hammels] detailed and fast-paced chronicle includes a number of incidents and anecdotes not found in the more prosaic official histories. Sea Power Meticulously well-researched and scholarly, but still readable. Author Hammel presents an interesting account of the three-phase battle with frequently gripping ship-by-ship, plane-by-plane, blow-by-blow narratives laden with many human-interest vignettes from both sides. The Hook [Hammel] mixes action with his history, the result being a highly readable story difficult to put down. Riverside Press-Enterprise Hammels painstaking reconstruction affords not only a wealth of strategic and tactical detail but also a full measure of critical judgements. . . . a kaleidoscopic but invariably intelligible accounts of key actions . . . Kirkus Reviews Hammel does not write dry history. His battle sequences are masterfully portrayed. Library Journal

326

Pacifica Military History

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book GUADALCANAL: Decision at Sea by Eric Hammel. The book is currently available in a $27.50 trade paperback edition published by Pacifica Military History. It is also available in ebook editions.

THE ATLANTAS ORDEAL


by Eric Hammel Copyright 1988 by Eric Hammel

It is Friday the Thirteenth of November, 1942. Thirteen U.S. Navy cruisers and destroyers are prowling the waters off Savo Island, adjacent to Guadalcanal, in the hope of forestalling a bombardment force of Imperial Navy warships, including two battleships. The USS Atlanta is the fifth ship in the American column, behind a vanguard of four destroyers and followed by several cruisers and several additional destroyers. The enemy is out there, somewhere. At 0150, one sharp searchlight beam from destroyer Akatsuki penetrated the blackness toward the highest near silhouette in the American column. The light from off her port bow struck Atlanta on the port wing of her bridge, startling all who stood in its sharp luminescence. The source of the light was so close and the light itself was so intense that Lt Stew Moredock, RAdm Norman Scotts operations officer, could just about feel the heat it was throwing off. Instantaneously, Atlantas gunnery officer shifted his attention from a solid radar target crossing from port to starboard due north and 3,000 yards ahead and yelled, Commence firing! Counterilluminate! As all four of her 36-inch searchlights snapped on, Atlanta be-came the first ship on either side to open fire. Immediately, her after group of four dual 5-inch mounts put out rounds straight up the cone of light, right at the searchlights themselves, right at Akatsuki. The target was only 1,600 yards to port, too close to miss.

Free Sample Chapters

327

At the same time Atlantas after gun group opened on Akatsuki, her forward group of three dual 5-inch mounts was shifted to a destroyer possibly Inazumawhich was about 300 yards behind Akatsuki. All the guns of both groups appeared to be dead on their targets. At least twenty rounds were observed striking all parts of the rear destroyers hull and upper works, and numerous hits were scored on Akatsuki. But not soon enough. Especially concerned with his crew of engineers who were sealed below decks in the fire rooms and engine rooms, Atlantas chief engineer, LCdr Arthur Loeser, had arranged for topside talk-ers to keep him abreast of what was going on outside while he re-layed a running commentary via loudspeakers from his station in the forward engine room. Thus the engineering staff throughout the cruiser was listening as Lieutenant Commander Loeser de-scribed the first seconds of the gunnery exchangeWere really putting rounds into them! Even as at least one of Atlantas two targets disappeared from view, the American light cruisers forward superstructure was raked by a dozen 5.5-inch rounds fired by light cruiser Nagara, which had by then turned back the way she had come and was at that moment swiftly steaming down the starboard side of and on the same general heading as the American column. Among other areas that were struck were Atlantas charthouse and forward 5-inch gun director. But the worst blows several of themfell upon the bridge area and the men occupying it. Lt Stew Moredock, who was observing the action from the port wing of the bridge, just ahead of the charthouse, was struck in the right arm by a piece of shrapnel, but he felt no pain and did not yet know he had been wounded. However, as soon as Moredock tried to use the injured limb, he was gripped by intense pain. In-stinctively, he glanced back at Admiral Scott, who was standing right outside the charthouse. At that moment, the admiral was in the process of taking a step forward. Then he collapsed to the steel deck, dead as he was caving in. Three of Admiral Scotts staffers died with him; only Stew Moredock survived. Only three of the thirteen enlisted sailors on the bridge survived along with Lieuten-ant Moredock and two or three other officers. One of the survivors was Capt Samuel Jenkins, who had made a fortuitous trip to

328

Pacifica Military History

the port wing of the bridge to find targets for his ships port torpedo mount. Though the captain had turned back to starboard by the time Nagaras 5.5-inch shells struck the bridge, he was shielded from the effects of the blast and suffered no injuries. * At nearly the instant Atlantas bridge was devastated, the Jap-anese destroyers to port put at least eight rounds into that side of the ship, from up near Atlantas bows to just beneath Mount-2. One of these rounds detonated directly on the face of Mount-1, killing every member but one of the right-hand gun crew. Another round struck the mounts upper handling room, killing and injuring every-one there and cutting the flow of ammunition to the viable left gun. As soon as Mount-1S right gun was disabled, GM3 Ed Huddleston, the left guns first shellman, took command from the wounded chief turret captain. Though Huddlestons ears were still ringing from the effects of the direct hit on the mount, he called Lt Lloyd Mustin, the assistant gunnery officer, to request permission to secure. Mustin agreed, but cautioned Huddleston to be careful since the ship was still taking hits. As soon as Huddleston stepped through the hatch to the main deck, a Japanese shell ignited the ammunition and powder in Mount-2s upper handling room. Though a cloud of shrapnel and debris erupted from the struck space, Huddleston was not touched, so he turned to help the next man out of his own mount. All the wounded from Mount-1 were laid out on the main deck beside the mount and given rudimentary first aid. Then, as Japanese shells continued to strike the ship, Huddleston was confronted by a panicked lieutenant who was yell-ing, Abandon ship! Huddleston was not so easily rattled, but other sailors who were immediately released several life rafts and followed them straight over the side. * One of Nagaras 5.5-inch rounds killed a pair of mess atten-dants who were passing one another as each ran to the opposite side of the ship from his battle station in each of the midships 20mm ammunition clipping rooms. Neither of those places was damaged and no one inside them was injured.

Free Sample Chapters

329

A 5-inch round fired from port struck the mast, toppling it and spreading shrapnel into the adjacent after stack and across the after searchlight platform. Another Japanese round penetrated the unoc-cupied flag cabin, and two more 5-inch rounds struck the after su-perstructure; one of them went all the way through Mount-4, the port waist mount, and then bored all the way through the ship. In fact, this armor-piercing round did not detonate until it had pene-trated Mount-5, the starboard waist mount. All but one member of the gun crew was killed; the survivor was blown into the water after being forcibly ejected from the mount when its roof was blown open. Finally, three lighter rounds, probably 3inch antiaircraft rounds fired from starboard by Nagara, struck Mount-6. * The Mount-5 handling-room crew evacuated the compartment in good order after the mount direcdy overhead was hit. However, as soon as the ammunition handlers were outside on the unengaged starboard deck, someone mentioned that at least several live 5-inch rounds were rolling around in the handling room. S2 Don McKay volunteered to go back in to retrieve them. The room was filled with stagnant smoke, so someone tied a rope around McKays waist and promised to reel him in if he ran into trouble. With that, McKay held his breath and groped his way into the darkened com-partment. He found several shells on the deck, picked them up, and passed them outside one at a time. Then he took a breather. As McKay was completing his second trip into the smoke-filled com-partment, an officer appeared and asked what was going on. He put a stop to McKays trips when he learned that McKay did not have a gas mask, much less a more sophisticated device known as an RBA (Rescue Breathing Apparatus). The officer felt the compartment was probably filled with poisonous gas in addition to the stagnant smoke. A runner was sent to find someone with an RBA. * The vanguard Japanese destroyer captains, drilled to perfec-tion in their navys highly aggressive torpedo tactics, exploited their initial immediate advantage and supplemented the gunfire with sev-eral salvos of their deadly 24-inch Long Lance torpedoes. Crewmen in blind engineering spaces throughout the ship heard LCdr Arthur Loesers mike

330

Pacifica Military History

open once again. Loeser said, Ah ... and the entire world fell in. Loesers voice was stilled in mid-sentenceand forever. The first Japanese torpedo to find any target struck Atlanta on the port side, nearly amidships and exactly in the center of her forward engine room. In addition to killing virtually everyone in the forward engine room, the detonation blasted a hole in the over-head and killed nearly everyone manning a damage-control station in the crews mess hall. The shock of the massive detonation lifted the light cruiser right out of the water. When she landed, Atlanta came down with a jolt that sent shudders and shivers up the spines of every member of her crew who was still vertical. BM1 Leighton Spadone, whose 1.1-inch mount was on the starboard side of the ship and well aft of the blast, was severely jostled as the entire ship flexed and strained as steel decks and bulkheads resonated the force of the detonation in all directions from the point of impact. Spadone and many others throughout the stricken cruiser distinctly heard and felt another massive explosion, right on the heels of the first. Many thought this was caused by a second torpedo, but it was almost certainly a sym-pathetic detonation in the engineering spaces. EM3 Bill McKinney and S2 Dan Curtin, who were manning a damage-control substation in a large crews quarters on the fourth deck, two compartments forward of the forward fire room, were knocked off their feet by the force of the blast. Immediately, the two jumped up and examined the area, but they could find no dam-age. A quick check also revealed that the battle phones and ships service phones were dead, and their only light was provided by a battery-powered battle lantern. McKinney was aware that Atlantas guns were no longer firing and that the ship was slowing down. He could clearly hear rending and tearing noises from above, as if the ammunition hoists running through the compartment to Mount-3 were buckling off their tracks. Most of the firemen, machinists mates, and watertenders who were working in the forward engine room were killed or wounded in the torpedo blast, which knocked out all the cruisers power except an emergency diesel generator. The Navys first anitaircraft cruiser had been rendered powerless and set adrift within minutes of opening fire.

Free Sample Chapters

331

* In the immediate wake of the torpedo hit, the survivors among her engineroom and fire-room watches had to fend for themselves. The inhabitants of the after fire room were immediately beset by an enormous in-rush of water through the breached double forward bulkhead. Fortunately, all hands managed to scramble up ladders leading to escape trunks overhead. Those who went up the port ladder made it to safety without much of a struggle, but three who opted for the starboard ladder were unknowingly beset by rigidly enforced rules pertaining to the watertight integrity of the ship. MM1 Ross Hilton, the machine-shop supervisor, and another machinists mate were only just recovering from the effects of the blast directly beneath their station when they saw that someone below was undogging the clips securing the heavy counterweighted starboard escape hatch in the midships passageway. However, as soon as Hilton began releasing the clips from his side of the hatch, an overexcited lieutenant appeared and bellowed, Dog that hatch backdown, Hilton! But, sir, Hilton protested, theres someone alive down there. I dont give a damn! Dog it down! Sir, theyre trying to get out. Theyre alive! The officer reached for his .45-caliber pistol, fixed a mur-derous stare at Hilton, and piped in his by-then shrill voice, Dog it down or Ill blow your brains out! Hilton was thinking about what to do or say next when a sailor arrived behind the officer and told him of an urgent matter requir-ing his presence elsewhere. As soon as the officer was distracted and gone, Hilton and his companion bent over to undog the hatch. By then, the man beneath the hatch had virtually completed the job, so Hilton and his companion jerked the hatch open. Immedi-ately, a fuel-covered machinists mate and two fuel-covered firemen cannonballed onto the deck. Behind them, the water had risen to within 2 feet of the overhead; the three would have drowned in a matter of moments. Hilton and his companion immediately re-sealed the hatch while the rescued machinists mate explained that everyone else from the after fire room had escaped up the port ladder.

332

Pacifica Military History

* After helping to clear volatile ammunition from the Mount-5 handling room, S2 Don McKay tagged along with an officer and several other sailors who were on their way forward to look for topside damage caused from the torpedo detonation. As the small group passed an escape hatch leading up from the damaged engineering spaces, the officer ordered McKay to redog several clips that someone had left open. McKay said that he thought someone might be trying to get out, but the officer remained firm; he had direct orders from his superiors to batten down all hatches. As they spoke, a thin gout of water burbled up from the edge of the hatch-way. The officer left McKay and several others to redog that hatch and check others in the vicinity. He said he would be back for them. By then, the forward engine room and after fire room were both flooded to the overheads, and all the men remaining in the former were dead. * S2 Dave Driscoll, the Mount-8 shell-hoist loader, worked him-self to a smooth, continuous flow while the action was hot, but a distinct shudder Driscoll felt early in the action was followed by an order to cease firing. Mindful for the first time of the intense phys-ical ordeal of continuously throwing heavy 5-inch shells onto the moving hoist, Driscoll and the other shellmen reacted to the cease-fire order by dropping to the deck or reeling back against the sup-port of the bulkheads of the gray steel compartment in which they had been sealed. After a minute or two, the babble of many con-fused voices making its way down the hoist from the gun chamber overhead was suddenly overwhelmed by an unwelcome command: Abandon ship! S2 Driscoll reacted by repeating the order down the powder hoist to the men who had been sealed into the Mount8 magazine. Then, as others climbed up to Mount-8, Driscoll undogged the handling-room hatch to gain access to an adjacent berthing compartment. There being no one in the berthing compartment, Driscoll next defied rigid regulations and undogged the hatch leading to the magazine. He was immediately confronted by sailors from the lower handling room crew, all of whom displayed expressions of pure animal fear mixed with pure human relief. S2 Dave Driscoll fell in with the thundering herd and began climbing the nearest ladder of the main deck.

Free Sample Chapters

333

* Despite all the obvious hits and the jolt he had received from the torpedo blast, BM1 Leighton Spadone was not overly con-cerned until he realized that his ship was no longer firing her guns. As Spadones confidence reached its low ebb, he found himself muttering, Please, God, stop them from firing, stop them from firing, stop them from firing. ... However, his prayers were an-swered by hits that seemed to be coming in from somewhere aft of the ship. Atlanta had been in the last stages of speeding up and complet-ing a right turn to regain her position in the column when she was struck by the torpedo. She was pointed south and sliding powerlessly to the end of that maneuver when San Franciscos main battery fired a full ninegun salvo at what must have been Hiei. Atlantas unchecked forward momentum carried her directly into San Fran-ciscos line of fire. Every one of the flagships nine 8-inch roundsand every one from the next full salvostruck Atlanta from a relative angle of 240 degrees, aft of the port beam, at a range estimated to be about 3,600 yards. Captain Jenkins, who had not yet had an opportunity to assess the damage or extent of casualties on his shattered bridge, was game to take the assailing vessel under fire with the remaining 5-inch mounts that could be brought to bear, but he recognized the familiarly American outline of the flagship in the flare of her own main battery and so countermanded the order as soon as he uttered it. It is doubtful in any case that the order could have been relayed to the guns because all power and communications throughout the stricken vessel were out. Mount-3 received two direct 8-inch hits, as did Mount-6 and Mount5. The rest of the 8-inch hits were scattered in two large groupings throughout the forward and after superstructures. By no means fatal to the stricken ship, the incoming friendly rounds nevertheless cut down many Atlanta crewmen. One of the mess attendants assigned to the crew running the ammunition hoist to the two midships i. i-inch mounts was in mor-tal fear of being hit on the head and killed. When F1 Chuck Dodd, who was in charge of the crew, had enough of standing around with nothing to do in the vulnerable little compartment, he gave the order to head to the

334

Pacifica Military History

starboard side of the ship. One of San Franciscos 8-inch rounds detonated nearby as Dodd opened the hatch. Its blast jarred the steel ladder running through the compartment from the bulkhead. The heavy ladder fell on the fearful mess attendant, crushing his helmet and his skull. * RM3 Ray Duke, a member of a repair party stationed topside in a passageway just forward of the radio transmission room, was in the act of cutting loose a fire extinguisher from an outside bulkhead when he was struck by shrapnel in the right knee. The force of the impact, which shattered the knee, threw Duke and the heavy TBS transceiver he was backpacking headfirst down an 11-foot ladder. Duke landed on his head and shoulders but was saved by his steel helmet, which took most of the impact when he landed. The nearby 1.1-inch ammunition handling room was on fire, and the area was filled with smoke. Slightly dazed and in need of fresh air, RM3 Duke staggered into the open on the unengaged starboard side and breathed deeply to regain his composure. His ordeal had only just begun. His lungs filled with fresh air, Duke hobbled into the burning and smoking 1.1-inch handling room to see if he could help there. He immediately found a friend who was lying in the middle of the ruin with his right leg shot off at the knee. Duke offered to fetch the other man some morphine and staggered down to the next deck to find a boatswains mate he knew was authorized to carry the nar-cotic. However, as soon as Duke asked for morphine, the boat-swains mate jabbed him with a full syrette and made him lie down on the deck. Duke tried to protest, but he was groggy from shock and smoke inhalation and never quite got the words out. No sooner was Duke on the deck than the adjacent pay office took a direct hit. The beam from the large flashlight he still carried revealed a hole in the bulkhead about half the size of a basketball. Shrapnel from the blast went right between Dukes legs, ripping off a large chunk of flesh from his left thigh right above the knee and severing the femoral artery. Blood was pulsing from the wound in spurts that appeared as thick as his wrist. Another piece of shrapnel slid be-tween Duke and the steel deck and sliced open the back of his right thigh from

Free Sample Chapters

335

knee to buttocks. At the same time, shrapnel punctured the 1.1-inch coolant tank right overhead and Duke was bathed in hot salt water. As soon as Duke recovered his senses, he and a sailor right beside him helped one another up a nearby ladder and crawled out onto the port quarterdeck. At that point, Duke stood up and walked all of 10 feet before his damaged right knee gave way. He fell heavily to the deck and lay there until someone came by and administered a second shot of morphine. Soon after that, a supply officer held Dukes head in his lap while a corpsman laved the wounds, applied bandages, and administered yet another dose of morphine. With that, RM3 Ray Duke lost track of his surroundings. * The electricians mates manning the after searchlights were in danger of being roasted alive by fires reaching nearly as high as the platform on which they were trapped. Not only was there no evi-dent way off the platform, dense smoke and shooting flames from shrapnel holes in the after stack, to which the searchlight platform was affixed, totally obscured the vista and blocked all possible es-cape routes. Indeed, there was so much acrid smoke billowing up around the after searchlights that the operators were not certain if they would die from roasting or smoke inhalation. Suddenly, when their plight seemed hopeless, the searchlight operators were graced by a sudden rise in their fortunes, a wind change that both blew the smoke away and revealed the silent pas-sage of Hiei only 100 yards from the ship. Though the searchlight operators were certain they were dead meat as they stared up at the battleships searchlights, which were 20 feet over their heads, Hiei went on her way without firing at burning Atlanta. Meantime, the wind held the smoke and diverted the flames away from the search-light platform, so all hands scrambled down to the relative safety of the main deck, where they went to work fighting fires. Atlantas emergency diesel generator got the lights back on at 0156. By then, thankfully, Atlanta was out of the line of fire, and the fury of the widening battle had passed her by.

336

Pacifica Military History

Free Sample Chapters

337

338

Pacifica Military History

KHE SANH
Siege in the Clouds An Oral History By Eric Hammel From critcally acclaimed military historian Eric Hammel comes a vivid oral history account of the Tet 1968 siege of the Khe Sanh Combat Base. The words of American fighting men caught up in the grueling, deadly seventy-seven-day ordeal create a harrowing tapestry of tragedy and triumph. As two North Vietnamese Army divisions move to surround them, the vastly outnumbered U.S. Marines rush to strengthen their defenses at the isolated base and several nearby hilltop positions. The Communist forces repeatedly attack, are repeatedly repelled, and then dig in to take the American base by siegethe makings of a classic, modern setpiece strategy in which the defenders become bait to tie the attackers to fixed positions in which they can be pummeled and pulverized by American artillery and air support. Khe Sanh: Siege in the Clouds is a ground-breaking step forward in the oral history genre. This grippingand movingnarrative flows from the masterfully woven threads provided by nearly a hundred men who gallantly endured the wrenching all-out struggle to hold the combat base and its vulnerable outlying positions. Praise for KHE SANH: Siege in the Clouds and Eric Hammel A harrowing, gut-level record of the Vietnam Wars Khe Sanh Campaign . . . a vivid, day-by-day log. . . . Hammel conveys the ironies as well as the horrors of the protracted engagement. Kirkus Reviews A remarkably accurate account of a crucial 77-day battle . . . Khe Sanh: Siege in the Clouds is retold as an oral history by the men who fought in it, which gives the account not only a vividness and immediacy but a human perspective so many other war analyses are missing. Playboy

Free Sample Chapters

339

The author sets the stage for this epic battle, but then turns the narrative over to the vivid accounts of nearly 100 individuals who survived. The accounts cover all the basesfrom privates in foxholes, to cooks, chaplains, and the commanding generals. . . . A masterful telling of history. Air Force Magazine The story of the thankless siege is told in this vivid oral history by nearly 100 articulate survivors, mostly U.S. Marines, who convey the frustration experienced by men trained for aggressive mobile warfare forced for the most part to huddle inside a crowded perimeter. Publishers Weekly Hammels book captures the full flavor of day-to-day life and death that was Khe Sanh. Marine Corps Gazette Hammels ability to reveal both the immediacy and the humanity of war without judgment or bias makes all his books both readable and scholarly. With Khe Sanh: Siege in the Clouds, he elevates the standards of oral history as well. San Francisco Chronicle

340

Pacifica Military History

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book KHE SANH: Siege in the Clouds, Tet 1968 by Eric Hammel. The book is currently available in a $32.95 trade paperback edition published by Pacifica Military History. It is also available in ebook editions.

RECORD INCOMING
by Eric Hammel Copyright 1989 by Eric Hammel 1stLt FRED McGRATH Bravo Battery, 1/13 The sound of incoming is like no other in the world. We had ample opportunities to hear it, learn it, adjust to it, and finally to live with it. From descriptions of battles during World War II and Korea, we at Khe Sanh got an inkling of what our fathers experienced. It was a constant reminder, that even though we were in a very picturesque mountain valley, somebody did not want us there. There were a lot of men who had fears of dying. And there were plenty of chances. Like the day and night the base took over 1,300 rounds of incoming. HN ROD DeMOSS 26th Marines Regimental Aid Station Another corpsman and I were topside at the entrance to our bunker, talking with a couple of guys across the road, when we heard boomp. We went below and soon we heard the round hit close. The two guys we had been talking to took a direct hit. All that was left was pieces of two bodies. Cpl DENNIS SMITH Bravo Company, 1/26 Lieutenant Kim Johnson was our 1st Battalion supply officer. He was handsome, even with glasses, tall, articulate, a practicing Mormon married to a former Miss Arizona who was going to school in Hawaii while she awaited his return. He had the option of running the supply end of things at Phu Baithe battalion rearbut he sent his gunnery

Free Sample Chapters

341

sergeant there instead so he could remain with his men. The guys at battalion supply noticed the funny underwear he worelower-body armor. He referred to it as anti-mortar and -rocket skivvies. He would have quiet religious discussions with his men from time to time. They loved him. The last week of February was the peak of the siege. On February 23, we absorbed the record for the whole siege[1,307] rockets and artillery rounds in a twenty-four-hour period. That afternoon, during the scariest barrage of rockets imaginable, LCpl James Jesse and I were in our house, hugging the sandbags, quietly acknowledging the absolute fear in each others eyes. The explosions were constant as they mounted to a head-splitting crescendo of head-splitting, knee-knocking sound. I cant adequately describe the terror I felt that afternoon. We should have been used to this, right? Lieutenant Johnson was in his bunker, not far from mine, along with the battalion motor-transport officer. An explosion that knocked Jesse and me off our butts was a direct hit on the lieutenants hooch. I looked out and saw the battalion supplymen scrambling out of their holes, so, over Jesses protests, I ran across the road to help. The supplymen all yelled at me, Get back. Well handle it. Go on! There were four or five guys there already, throwing boards and sandbags aside like madmen, machines, so I went back. During the next lull, one of the supplymen came over to our hooch. He was the picture of dejection and despair. He told us that Lieutenant Johnson was dead from a broken back. There were no other visible wounds. The motor-transport officer had been carried to the aid station; his legs looked so bad that everyone thought hed lose them. When the supplyman left, I just sat there staring. Something inside me had snapped. Jesse said, Smitty, youre pale and youre shaking. Have a Salem. Right there, I started up a four-pack-a-day habit. The incoming did not stop, but it became a little more irregular. I was still sitting and staring when my eyes went to a little leather-bound Bible I kept on a shelf. On an impulse, I flipped it open with my right index finger. I was numbly looking at the 91st Psalm, verse five. Then verses

342

Pacifica Military History

six and seven. I was not feeling any comfort. All I could think was, Why the lieutenant? Why him? They had told us in boot camp not to make friends with anyone we went into combat with, because if he was wasted you ran the risk of coming unglued and losing your battle effectiveness. Good advice, but impossible to follow. We depended on each other too much not to become friends. Maj TOM COOK 26th Marines Assistant Logistics Officer One of the incoming rounds hit the ammo dump and created a loworder explosion that set the dump on fire. The fire kept getting hotter and hotter and, finally, the dump blew. I saw all that stuff going up in the air. It was one of the most amazing sights I had seen in my life, all those mortar rounds, hand grenadesyou name itjust going up into the sky. I stood there and watched, totally amazed. Then it suddenly occurred to me that all that stuff was going to come back down. As a matter of fact, it had already started back down. I was about twenty or thirty yards from a bunker. I took off running and just barely got in there when I started hearing all that stuff hitting the ground. It blew mortar rounds a mile from the dump. A helicopter pilot who happened to be flying near Hill 881S at the time told me that he thought it was an atomic blast, because there was a 1,400-foot fireball. 26th Marines Command Chronology Enemy incoming caused a fire in ASP-1. Fire equipment responded, but at 1705, the ammo began to cook off. The fire destroyed 1,000 rounds of 90mm high explosive, 500 rounds of 106mm Beehive, and 120 rounds of 90mm canister ammunition. Maj TOM COOK 26th Marines Assistant Logistics Officer We had to have EOD people come up from Danang and clean the whole thing up. It was quite a mess. It made my job a little tougher, too, because I had to get all that stuff inventoried and reordered.

Free Sample Chapters

343

Pfc LIONEL TRUFANT 106mm Platoon, 3/26 The rounds just kept coming in, kept coming in. There was such a concentration of artillery hitting us! Usually, when artillery came in, we just sat in our living bunker and played cards. We just played chicken with the regular incoming, sitting in the living bunker. When it got real heavy, we would usually jump into the trenchline, which was a smaller target. But that particular day, it was coming in so heavy that three of us hid out in the machine-gun bunker, which was tiny. We were just hugging the ground, afraid. I had never smoked in my life, but that day I did. I did a lot of praying, too. Every once in a while, one of us had to stand up and look out to make sure Charlie wasnt coming. We knew this was Dienbienphu. This was the day. One time, when I was looking out of the hole, a round came in real close. Dirt and rocks and stuff pounded me right in the face. I thought I was hit. I felt my face and thought aloud, Oh, God, Im hit. One of my buddies thought it was comical. Damn, he said, you aint hit. HN ROD DeMOSS 26th Marines Regimental Aid Station Two Marines escorted a gunnery sergeant into the regimental aid station. He came in shaking, wouldnt talk, had both hands holding his helmet down on his head, and every time a round hit he would shake. He was, of course, suffering from shell shock, but it surprised me, because here was this tough Marine gunnery sergeantbeen through all kinds of shitand this makes him crack. I realized then that shell shock can happen to anybody. Lt RAY STUBBE 1/26 Battalion Chaplain [Diary Entry] Went by the new operating-room bunker, visiting all the wounded who kept coming in during the afternoon. One had a blast wound on his foot. He was in bad pain, even with morphine. Another said his legs hurt no matter where he put them. He was also in intense pain and was given an injection of morphine, but it still hurt him. The doctor said it was broken and would continue to hurt.

344

Pacifica Military History

More and more incoming. The 106mm recoilless rifle bunker near us, where I had slept on February 7, took a direct hit, and in the trench adjacent to it, injuring one and killing four. I ran down there, through the internal barbed wire, with the Catholic chaplain. There were pieces of arms and bodies. One had no head; we couldnt find it. There were small pieces of flesh all over the place. I knew them all intimately. . . . I took this very hard, but couldnt cry. Parts of one mans body hung out as I held him in my arms carrying him into the ambulance. A hand, an arm, a stringy piece of flesh intertwined with cloth and caked with mud. The 106mm recoilless rifle was completely untouched. Returned to my bunker. The west wall, by my rack, was protruding in like it would collapse on my rack. Things inside had shifted. We had taken in the following incoming today: 476 rounds of artillery, 42 rounds of 60mm, 372 rounds of 82mm, 4 rounds of 120mm, 437 rounds of 122mm, and 5 rounds of recoilless rifle. Total, 1336. But Lieutenant Colonel Wilkinson reported (from the regimental briefing) a total of 1,407 rounds. Major Smith, CO of FOB-3, told me we had received 1,700 rounds of incoming, counting those that landed in his area. 1stLt FRED McGRATH Bravo Battery, 1/13 It was fortunate that the NVA gunners were short of fuses, because many rounds would have done considerably more damage if they had exploded. The rounds that were not fused were particularly eerie. They whistled. We knew they would not explode, but when they hit, they were like wrecking balls. No shrapnel damage, but what a hole! As it was, they dug up a lot of dirt and nothing more. When EOD dug them up, they found the lift lugs still in the rounds. Capt DICK CAMP 3/26 Assistant Operations Officer By sunset, I was physically and emotionally drained. All I wanted to do was go to sleep. The adrenalin had been going through me for hours and I was about to fall over.

Free Sample Chapters

345

At last, the bombardment died way, and I walked outside, through the remains of the trees that had once shielded the battalion CP from view. I meandered through the trees, looking at the stars and feeling life return to a landscape that resembled the surface of the moon. Then I went back inside and drew two cups of coffee from the perpetual urn. As I was handing one cup to Maj Matt Caulfield, I heard an observer up on Hill 881S announce on the battalion net, Arty! Arty! Arty! Co Roc. I instinctively hunched my head into my shoulders and wondered halfaloud, So wheres this one going to hit? The next thing I knew, there was a tremendous explosion and all the lights went out. The bunker instantly was filled with dust and there was an immediate dead silence. I think I was the first to speakone of those dumb questions: Is everybody okay? It was dead dark in there, so I was immensely relieved to hear people say Yeah, Im okay, and Im fine, and No sweat. Everyone had had his brains rattled, but no one had been hurt. There was just the one round. Until someone got our generator going again, there was nothing doing inside, so we all went out to see what had hit us. The round had come in on an angle, right between the trees, right through the tent we had erected to camouflage the bunker. It had hit the one-inch plywood outer shell and detonatedjust the way we had hoped. There were six feet of earth, wood, rocks, and metal between us and the explosion, but the blast had blown off two feet of all those materials and had taken down the three-ply blast walls we had erected around the bunker. Two Marines who had been exiting a tent just across the way were saved by the blast walls, which directed the full force of the blast outward in another direction. We found them flopping around on the ground, stunned but unscathed except for a a few tiny shrapnel wounds, hardly more than scratches. We had taken a direct hit from a 152mm or 130mm round, but no one was permanently injured. It was a miracle of foresight and faith in our two main gods, Dirt and More Dirt. *

346

Pacifica Military History

1stLt FRED McGRATH Bravo Battery, 1/13 Bravo Battery pumped out over 1,250 rounds in reply. Bravo was really a battery and a half. That is, we controlled six 105mm howitzers of our own and three from Charlie Battery. So we combined our assets and created a nine-gun battery. During that very busy day and night, I had, at various times, five separate and distinct fire missions going simultaneously. To the everlasting credit of the Marine gunners on the line, they never missed a command or fired the wrong missions. In fact, Colonel Lownds personally came to our position the next day and thanked every Marine in the position for the superb fire support his regiment had received. HN ROD DeMOSS 26th Marines Regimental Aid Station One of my more gruesome duties was identifying and tagging bodies to be sent back home. I kept thinking to myself, This could be me. I was thankful it wasnt, but I felt bad, because I knew this was someone who had a family or friend who would grieve over him, someone who had a girlfriend or wife back home. All I could do, though, was zip up the bag and try to make it through without ending up like that.

Free Sample Chapters

347

348

Pacifica Military History

LIMA-6
A Marine Company Commander in Vietnam By R. D. Camp. Jr. with Eric Hammel In this vividly told first person narrative, retired Marine Colonel Dick Camp colorfully recounts the daily combat actions and command decisions of his Vietnam experience as Lima 6the com-mander of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 26th Marinesfrom June 1967 through January 1968. Upon his arrival in Vietnam, Captain Camp finessed his way into the immediate command of Lima Company following the death of its previous commander near Khe Sanh. Instantly, he was thrown into the tense experience of patrolling the beautiful, deadly jungle valleys around Khe Sanh and escorting supply convoys along embattled Highway 9 between Dong Ha and Khe Sanh. For six full months, Dick Camp commanded Lima Company in alternating periods of intense combat and intense waitinga typical, virtually emblematic experience shared by his peers in the 19671968 phase of the war in northern Quang Tri Province, bordering the DMZ and North Vietnam. In early September 1967, Camps battalion was almost overrun near besieged Con Thien in an ambush sprung by a full North Vietnamese Army regiment. In early January 1968, Lima Company ambushed the commander and staff of a North Vietnamese regiment apparently charged with assaulting the Marine lines at Khe Sanh. Three weeks later, Lima Company and the rest of the reinforced 26th Marine Regiment were besieged inside the Khe Sanh Combat Base by two North Vietnamese divisions. As much as Lima 6 is about fighting the Vietnam War, it is also the story of the tight camaraderie of the Marine infantry company at war of men from widely disparate backgrounds thrown together to succeed or fail as a fighting force. It is a compelling human story of an infantry company at war as seen through the eyes of its commanderthe lonely man upon whom all others depend for guidance, wisdom, strength, and humor.

Free Sample Chapters

349

An intensely frank, always human memoir, Lima-6 sets out to make no political or ideological points. It is a candid, refreshing narrative by a combat commander about the experience of command and the brotherhood of men at war. Lima-6 is, above all, an honest account of life and death at the heart of the Vietnam War. Critical Acclaim for Lima-6 A solid contribution to Vietnam literature. . . . Always readable, frequently vivid. Booklist Magazine Camps gritty narrative is flawless as it takes the reader through six months of the Vietnam War through the eyes of an infantry officer . . . a must for those who want to understand the awesome responsibility a company commander has in war. An honest portrayal. Vietnam Bookstore Book Report Solid, down to earth, and faithful in describing the way it was [for] one Marine company commander. Leatherneck An honorable and dead-honest narrative. Kirkus Reviews Camps autobiography underscores the essential nobility often displayed by men sharing dire circumstances. Cincinnati Enquirer

350

Pacifica Military History

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book LIMA-6: A Marine Company Commander in Vietnam by Col. R. D. Camp, Jr., with Eric Hammel. The book is currently available in a $24.95 trade paperback edition published by Pacifica Military History. This book is also available in ebook editions.

FIRST COMBAT
by Col. R. D. Camp, Jr. with Eric Hammel Copyright 1989 by R. D. Camp, Jr. and Eric Hammel Leatherneck Square, Vietnam, August 21, 1967 Captain Dick Camp, a professional Marine, had taken command of Lima Company, 3d Battaion, 26th Marine Regiment, in the field near Khe Sanh at the end of June 1967. Through July and the first half of August, the company had patrolled extensively around Khe Sanh and escorted convoys to the highlands base from supply dumps near the coast. In mid-August, Lima and another company of the battalion were temporarily transferred to the 9th Marine Regiment to take part in sweep opertions in the Leatherneck Square area around Con Thien, just south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). On August 20, the other company returned to Khe Sanh and Lima Company was attached to the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines (2/9). * It was late in the afternoon, August 20, and 2/9 was moving along a trail in the area immediately north of the sector in which our half of 3/26 had been operating the week before. I was starting to get anxious because I didnt know the people from 2/9 and I didnt like the way they operated. As we moved along the trail and were pulling up over a hill, there was a terrific explosion behind me. The whole column stopped as I thought, Oh shit. I wonder what the hells happened this time. I worked my way back in the column to discover that an Ontos we had with us was blown all to shit.

Free Sample Chapters

351

An Ontos was an ungainly tracked fighting vehicle mounting six external 106mm recoilless rifles. It was not armored at all. In fact, a .50caliber round could go right through it. As far as I was concerned, bad things always happened to Ontos and the men around them. It looked like our Ontos had been the victim of a command-detonated mine, which usually amounted to a dud 500-pound bomb dropped by our side and salvaged by the other side for use against tanks, Ontos, and amtracs. This minethankfully something lighter than a 500-pound bombhad gone off beneath the Ontos and sheared the track, driving wheels, and all three recoilless rifles off one side. When I arrived, the two crewmen were sitting on the ground beside the trail, dazed but unhurt. Everyone else was just standing around. It was staring to get dark and we were still on the road. I was getting concerned and the troops were, too. Finally, as we moved up and over the hill, the battalion CP told me to move in on the right side of the road and form a perimeter. As we got in, I saw that there was a large open area right behind us. Fortunately, I had an SOP worked out so we could form a perimeter in the order of march. The lead platoon moved first, straight into the nearest designated position, followed to the right by the middle pla-toon, and then by the rear platoon. As soon as we got the word from Battalion, I called the platoon commanders back and verbally sketched it in for them. They each said, Right, and we literally started running the troops in so we could dig in before the sun set. I checked in with the platoon commanders, each of whom escorted me as fast as we could walk around his platoons section of the line. As we went, I checked the position of each fighting hole and particularly the field of fire of every M-60 machine gun. I tightened up here and there, but the platoon commanders had known me from my first day with Lima Company, and they had trained their troops in my ways. It took only a few minutes to check the entire company and make sure we were tied in with the companies on our left and right flanks. After dark, as my troops were settling in, without telling me, Battalion sent its 81mm mortar platoon right into our company posi-tion. It was full dark by then, but the mortar platoon walked in on us with flashlights

352

Pacifica Military History

on and portable radios blaring. I was really upset, so I walked back to the 81mm platoon commander and said, If you dont knock that bullshit off, Im going to shoot you myself. I hated being with 2/9. I had not been favorably impressed from the first day we had operated with their Echo Company a week earlier, I was not impressed with the battalion commander, I was not impressed with how late we had started setting in for the night, and I definitely was not impressed with the 81mm platoons sense of noise and light discipline. Fortunately, and despite sleepless hours of concern, we spent an uneventful night. Nothing happened. At stand-to the next morning, August 21, the battalion CP gave me the word that Lima Company was going to move out on an indepen-dent company-size sweep. I didnt want to be around 2/9 and I was used to operating on my own. I couldnt have been happier. * Bright and early, Lima Company found itself moving along a ridgeline through a dense bamboo thicket that channelized us on the only trail. The bamboo was so thick that we had to stay on the trail to get through it. Unbeknownst to me as we moved along the little ridgeit was only fourteen or fifteen feet highthe point bent around a little bit too far to the right and started down off the ridgeline toward an open area, a complex of rice paddies. As the first four or five men of the lead element approached the nearest rice paddy, they took several sniper rounds. As soon as I heard the pop of the sniper rounds, I got on the radio to the lead platoon commander, the 3rd Platoons Gunnery Sergeant Almanza. Okay, Gunny, whats going on, whats going on? I knew that he was already trying to find out from his vanguard squad, but I wanted news as soon as possible. We had all of four or five scattered sniper rounds, but that was good enough. They stopped the point and the point stopped the whole column on the ridgeline inside the bamboo. The main body of the company never got out in the open, probably had not been seen. When Gunny Almanza confirmed that the point had been fired on, I said, Okay, hold your position. Ill come forward. I worked my way

Free Sample Chapters

353

through the troops angling down the slope. As I neared the point, I saw the rice paddies for the first time. Beyond them, directly across from us, was another low hill. Another low hill was to our rear. I called the rear platoon and told Little John, Move back along the trail, hook a left, and see what you can see along the ridgeline to our rear. Well look around down here. Little Johns 2nd Platoon backtracked, as ordered, and Little John eventually came up on the net with his report. He had worked to the left and had located a bunker complex. That made me extremely nervous. The main body of the company was on the side of a hill. To our right rear was another ridgeline with a bunker complex. Out ahead was an open area of rice paddies. There were snipers out there, probably on the ridge beyond the open area. Lima Company was in a box. There was no way out. Normally, Lima Company would have rated a forward air controller (FAC), a fully qualified naval aviator, a pilot ranked lieutenant or even captain. This time out, however, we had no FAC. There werent enough in 2/9 to go around. What we had was a tactical air-control party (TACP) operator, Private First Class Terry Smith, who was trained primarily to guide resupply and medevac helicopters. As I pondered my options, Terry came up beside me and said in a very calm, collected voice, Skipper, howd you like some air? I said, Shit, Id love some air. I didnt know it then, but Terry had never actually run a tactical air strike. He had been cross-trained to call in jets, but he had never really done so. Terry got on the tac-air frequency and called for any aviator to respond. Fortunately, there was a Bird Dog in the area, and he responded to Terrys first call. He said he was right over us and that he had some fast moversjetsstanding by. Terry told him that we had received some scattered sniper fire from our front and gave him an azimuth. I switched over to the tac-air frequency and added, Ill fire my mortar section on the rice paddy if youll make sure the ridges are fairly well clear. The aerial observer (AO) flew around our flanks and reported that he could not see anything on the hills. Meantime, I ordered the mortar

354

Pacifica Military History

section to deploy and gave the section leader, Corporal Patrick McBride, an azimuth to fire on. After McBride eyeballed the range and said the guns were ready, I told him I would spot for him. We threw several rounds into the far edge of the open area and the AO came right up on the air in a jubilant voice, My God, you just blew a couple of them into the trees! I immediately shouted back to McBride, Let em have it. You just blew some NVA into a tree! That was all those gunners needed to hear. They went into automatic over-drive. They were throwing mortar rounds down the tubes as fast as they could. They were really going through their supply of mortar rounds, no doubt encouraged by the ammo humpers desire to lighten loads. The AO kept reporting, My God, youre right on target. I can see them running. They look like theyre ants scurrying from a broken nest. You just blew a couple more of em into the trees. Then he added, Im gonna get some air on this. Not five minutes after the AO called for fast movers, Lima Company had ringside seats for the greatest air show any of us probably had ever seen. The AO was bringing in flight after flight of fixed wing. They were using napalm and 500-pounders. They really dusted off that hill. They worked it over for twenty or thirty minutes without letup. During the whole thing, I kept updating Battalion. The CO was really into it, but when I said, I want to go up on the hill, he replied, No, no, no! Wait a little while longer. Bring in some artillery. So we waited a little while longer and called in some artillery. When I reported that the artillery had really dusted the hill off again, the CO said, Okay. Im sending up two tanks. Wait for them, then go take the hill. The tanks worked their way up to us and, as soon as they arrived, I started Lima Company moving out to the edge of the near rice paddy and on toward the hill, which was to our right front as we walked, about 250 meters away. The company was in the open, well spread out, but we didnt take any fire. As we started up the hill, we entered the bamboo again. It was so thick we had to stop and wait for the tanks to knock down a pair of trails we could walk along. I didnt like having the company forming up in two columns behind the tanks, but there was no other way for us to plow through that really thick vegetation. Talk about

Free Sample Chapters

355

tunnel vision: Except for what we could see ahead, past the tanks, we were completely hemmed in by the bamboo. Suddenly, the tank that I was following fired its 90mm main gun. I was instantly on the intercom phone attached to the tanks rear fender, yelling to hear myself over the ringing in my ears, What the hell did you do that for? What are you doing? The tank commander told me that the tank had just broken through onto an unseen trail when the gunner had spotted a North Vietnamese RPG team just in time to push the firing button on the 90mm. After I acknowledged, the tank commander added with considerable glee, We just dusted them off. Theres just a spray of blood and guts where those guys were. The tank started up again and we followed it the rest of the way up the hill, which had really been blasted. Napalm had burned off most of the growth and there were deep bomb craters everywhere. We couldnt find anything but we could smell death. We couldnt find a sign of any NVA or their positions. I had no idea what the AO had seen, but I could smell death. As the platoons set in and continued to search the hill, my company radioman, Corporal Johnson, sat down at the edge of a huge bomb crater and took off his radio. I went over to join him, but as I approached I smelled something terrible. Goddamn John, theres something dead around here somewhere. He said, I know, sir, I can smell it, I can smell it. He stood up and looked around. Right where he had been sitting was a big chunk of meat that had obviously come from a body of a North Vietnamese soldier. Johnson had been sitting right on it. Grease from that chunk of meat had penetrated into his trousers and he smelled to high heaven. As soon as I realized what had happened, I said, Get away! Just get the hell away! And he was muttering, Oh, my God! Oh shit! My utilities! Little Johns 2nd Platoon started moving off the top of the hill, toward a little shoulder to the left of our former line of march. Down the back side of the hill, the Marines started hitting ground that hadnt been burned off or bombed. A Marine suddenly yelled, Hey, I got some bunkers over here. And a few other people said the same thing. One of the

356

Pacifica Military History

Marines, Private First Class David Francis, stut-tered every time he got excited. As the other Marines were yelling about the bunkers, I heard Francis yell even louder, I-I-I-I s-s-s-see th-th-th-them! I s-s-s-s-see th-th-them! He no sooner got that out than a terrific burst of fire came in on us. It sounded like on the rifle range, when everybody shoots at his target at once. Everybody went to groundexcept me. There I was, kneeling on the ground beside the command radio. I was just kneeling there like a dumb shit when it dawned on me: This was the very first time I had ever been shot at. The troopseven the green oneswere a little smarter than me. They were all on their bellies by the time my little pea brain was thinking, Hey, theyre shooting at me. Like a broken record, my mind was stopped on that one central fact, Theyre shooting at me. Theyre shooting at me\ Leaves and twigs knocked loose from a tree were falling down on my head. As I realized what was going on, I started getting lower and lower. Finally, I was down on my stomach. By then, if I could have cut the buttons off my shirt to get any lower, I would have. My two radiomen, Johnson and Vogt, were in the bomb crater behind me. They had been yelling from the moment the first shots were fired, but it took awhile for me to realize that they were yelling at me: Skipper, come here, come here. Get in this bomb crater. I crawled backward and jumped into the bomb crater beside them. As I focused on wider vistas, I heard how much shooting was going on, how much yelling and screaming there was. Machine guns were going off, and dozens of rifles. It was mass confusion. As I recomposed myself and tried to figure out how to respond, I realized that I could not begin to decipher all the sounds and voices. I jumped into the bottom of the bomb crater. As soon as I did, a bullet plunked in beside me. Obviously, it had come from somewhere up in the treetops. As I was articulating the thought in my mind, an M60 gunner crawled up to the edge of the crater, got up on one knee, looked in, and announced, Theres a fucking gook in that tree. With that, the M-60 gunner stood up on both knees, put the weapon into his shoulder, and started firing. From my place at the bottom of the crater, I could see chunks flying off of a palm tree about fifty or sixty

Free Sample Chapters

357

meters away. The M-60 gunner sprayed forty or fifty rounds into the palm tree and then stopped. He looked down, right at me, and said, I think I still see the fucker. Then he blasted the tree again with another fifty rounds. I called up, Jesus Christ, if that goddamn NVA is still alive after that, dont shoot at him again. Youre just gonna piss him off. The M-60 gunner looked down at me again and said, Oh, yessir. Then he crawled off. I was still trying to get a handle on the situation when, above the sound of many M-16s and a few M-60s, I heard someone nearby yelling threats. I climbed back up to the lip of the crater and saw our senior corpsman, Doc Bratton, beating a Marine on the chest, swear-ing as loud as he could, Goddammit, youre not gonna die! Dammit, you son of a bitch, breathe! Breathe! As the firing died downit was all ours by thenI found another Marine lying on his rifle in another bomb crater. He was sort of kneeling at the edge of the crater, with his arms and hands in a firing position on his rifle, but his head was leaning against the rifle on the ground. I said, Are you all right, Marine? I took him by the shoulder and pulled him back. It was Private First Class Francis, the stutterer. His eyes and mouth were wide open, but a second look revealed that he had been hit right in the back of the head. He was dead. He was the first dead Marine I had ever seen. I called one of the corpsmen over to take care of Francis and then I went over to see how Doc Bratton was doing with the wounded man. Doc was beating on the mans chest to try to keep his heart going. I saw that the Marine was one of my best squad leaders, Corporal Pat Cochran, formerly a semiprofessional football player, a handsome six-foot Texan with enormous, wide shoulders. Cochran had taken a round in the initial burst of enemy fire that sort of creased his scalp. Lance Corporal Anthony Benedetto was kneeling right next to him when Cochran turned to him and said, Im hit. Benedetto said, Right, and reached around to get a bandage. By the time Benedetto turned back, Cochran had been hit againright in the head. The second round had penetrated Cochrans skull and gone right into his brain. He was brain dead, but his body

358

Pacifica Military History

functions were still going on, so Doc Bratton was trying to keep him alive. Though the firing was dying off, Lima Company was still beset by enormous confusion. Staff Sergeant Marvin Bailey, the company gunny, was yelling for stretcher bearers and Sergeant Vogt was starting to call casualty information to the battalion CP. The CP said it was trying to lay on a helicopter for emergency medevac. Then the NVA started shooting again and all the Marines on one side of the hill returned the fire. There was an enormous amount of confusion. The battalion commander kept calling, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. I was trying to get reports from the platoon commanders, but I couldnt quite make sense of the confusion, so I couldnt relate much to the CO. Suddenly, I realized that we were the only ones shooting. So did a bunch of other people. I yelled, Cease fire! Cease fire! and, pretty soon, everyone was yelling, Cease fire! Cease fire! As the last rounds were fired, Little John came up to me to report. There were tears rolling right down his face. I said, Whats the matter, John? Whats the matter? He told me he had been advancing toward the sound of the original gunfire, his radioman in tow, when an NVA soldier had jumped right up in front of him and shot the radio-man. Little John had had a clear shot at the NVA, but his rifle had jammed. He still was so angry that tears were rolling uncontrollably out of his eyes. The helicopters started coming in for the casualties, who were being staged beside the big burned-out area on top of the hill. The litter teams Gunny Bailey had organized were really sweating. It takes six or seven men to lift a makeshift poncho litter. We got the two serious WIAs on the first helo and Cochran and Francis waited for the second. Two other Marines who were lightly wounded opted to stay with the company. I looked up briefly from a conversation with a platoon commander and spotted the 2/9 CO just as he was walking up. He must have come out on one of the medevac helos. Hey, Captain, he said as he arrived at my side, whats going on? I tried to explain what I knew, which apparently satisfied him because, after hearing me out, he ordered, Okay, I want you to continue on in this general direction. I acknowledged the order and he left the hill aboard the second helo.

Free Sample Chapters

359

* By the time we reorganized the company and got going again, it was the middle of the afternoon. I was getting worried about having to set in again after dark, but the battalion commanders order to track down the fleeing NVA had been firm. However, just as the point pushed off the hilltop and started along the ridgeline bordering another rice paddy to our right, the battalion CO ordered us to come back because it was getting too late in the day to be pushing our way across hostile territory. He got no argument from me.

360

Pacifica Military History

Free Sample Chapters

361

362

Pacifica Military History

MARINES AT WAR
20 True, Heroic Tales of U.S. Marines in Combat 19421983 By Eric Hammel In twenty hard-hitting, action-packed true, heroic stories, Eric Hammel chronicles the making of the modern U.S. Marine Corps from the desperate Guadalcanal landings in 1942 to the tragic bombing of the Marine headquarters in Beirut in 1983. Excerpted from all of Hammels books on Marine Corps battles and a number of articles he wrote over the years for Leatherneck and other magazines, this collection includes stories of ground combat in the South Pacific, Korea, Vietnam, and Beirut, as well as tales of Marine aviators in action in three wars. Marines at War will prove to be inspiring to Marines, former Marines, friends of the U.S. Marine Corps, and any other reader of military history who wants to know what war looks like from the bottom up. Eric Hammel is well known to military-history readers for the way he blends riveting accounts of men at the bloody spearpoint with the big picture. His blending fact with analysis is the essence of his writing. Several of the chapters in Marines at War are rendered in the actual words of combat Marines.

Free Sample Chapters

363

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book MARINES AT WAR: 20 True, Heroic Tales of U.S. Marines in Combat, 1942 1983 by Eric Hammel. The book is currently available in a $24.95 trade paperback edition published by Pacifica Military History. It is also available in ebook editions.

THE CHOISEUL RAID


October 28November 3, 1943 Copyright 1999 by Eric Hammel Charles J. Nick Waddell and C. W. Seton had been serving for many months as coastwatchers on the large island of Choiseul, in the central Solomon Islands. Their only contact with the outside world was their radio transmitter and receiver. Although there were also many Japanese serving on the island, Waddell and Seton felt fairly secure. The islanders were friendly and almost completely loyal to the Crown. Like coastwatchers serving in other occupied areas of the Solomons, Waddell and Seton were eagly awaiting a major Allied invasion, for by October 1943, even the most loyal of the islanders were growing depressed after being so long under Japanese domination; they did not understand why the all-powerful British had not yet booted out the inferior and at times brutal Japanese. Seton more than Waddell was also growing restive; he wanted to get out into the bush and kill Japanese. Although he and Waddell had armed about twenty-five scouts with captured Japanese arms and ammunition, orders from higher headquarters said to avoid scraps with the Japanese. Coastwatchers were too valuable from the intelligencegathering standpoint to allow them to go about risking their lives on nuisance attacks that could have no possible bearing on the progress of the war. Their only recourse was to wait, and watch, and hope. * Unbeknown to Seton, Waddell, and their scouts and supporters, Choiseul was to be bypassed by Allied forces; no invasion and no

364

Pacifica Military History

liberation were to take place. Rather, the 3d Marine Division was to land at Empress Augusta Bay, on Bougainvilles west coast, on November 1. By this stage of the Solomons Campaign, air strategy shaped ground strategy. Choiseul was a dead end; there was no place worth attacking from the air that could be reached from potential air bases on the island. But from central Bougainville, Allied fighters would be able to reach Rabaul, the main Japanese base in the region. Because the Japanese forces holding Bougainvilles many bases were quite powerful in aggregate, and Allied forces were relatively weak, it was decided early on in the invasion planning to tie down large numbers of Japanese by forcing them to defend many possible invasion sites. In fact, it seemed most probable to the Japanese that an invasion would take place in the Shortland Islands or on southern Bougainville, where a number of well-developed air and naval bases had already been built. This was sound logic by Japanese standards, but the Allies had learned to build airfields from scratch in very little time, and so attacking and capturing a defended base was not necessary. This was why Empress Augusta Bay was chosen. It was lightly defended, and new airfields could be built quickly where none existed before. And those bases would be more than fifty miles closer to Rabaul than existing Japanese bases in southern Bougainville and the Shortland Islands. Choiseul was not favorable for bases from which Rabaul could be attacked, but a logical argument could be made for an Allied invasion there. The islands Japanese garrison did flank the Allied holdings in the central Solomonson New Georgia, Vella Lavella, and Kolombangaraand the Allies had never before bypassed a Japanese base, so there was no way to anticipate that they would now. To help keep the Japanese focused on the unnecessary defense of Choiseul, southern Bougainville, and the Shortland Islandsto keep Japanese ground forces tied down in defense of widespread and isolated basesa New Zealand Army brigade occupied the Treasury Islands on October 27, 1943, and the 2d U.S. Marine Parachute Battalion mounted a raid against Japanese bases on Choiseul. The Treasurys were of some value to the Allies, but the Choiseul operation was a ruse that had no strategic purpose beyond keeping the Japanese there pinned down while the invasion at Empress Augusta Bay took place.

Free Sample Chapters

365

* Before Choiseul was removed from active consideration as an invasion target, operational intelligence data about the islands Japanese garrison had been systematically obtained. Small patrols were organized and inserted at various points on Choiseul by submarine, PT-boat, and amphibian bomber. One such patrol moved from PT boats under cover of darkness on September 6,1943, and hiked from the landing site, on the southwest coast, to a point a bit south of the Japanese base at Kakasa, on the Slot (New Georgia Sound) side of the island. From there, the patrol turned inland and crossed the island. It reached Kanaga safely and was welcomed into the camp of coastwatchers Seton and Waddell. U.S. Navy PBY amphibian patrol bombers flew up on the night of September 12 and took the patrol out without incident. Two other patrols were dispatched to the northern end of the island and Choiseul Bay on September 22. These roamed their assigned areas and were withdrawn without incident on September 30. The Marines and New Zealanders who made up these two patrols reported that about a thousand Japanese were at Kakasa and around three hundred others maintained a barge depot at Choiseul Bay. Both patrols found a number of suitable airfield sites and both marked a number of suitable landing beaches. Insofar as Japanese military activity was concerned, only foot patrols were sighted, and only in the immediate areas of Kakasa and Choiseul Bay. * Following the capture of Munda Field, on New Georgia, in August 1943, Seton and Waddell had busy time of it. Not only did they have to rescue, host, and send home a rising number of downed Allied aviators, or assist the few outside intelligence-gathering patrols that came their way, they had to maintain their watch on Japanese activities in their realm. During the Japanese evacuation of the central Solomons, Choiseul became a major relay point in the movement of troops and equipment from Kolombangara to Bougainville. Barges were constantly depositing troops on the southern end of the island, and other barges picked the troops up at Choiseul Bay for a trip across open water to Bougainville. Waddell and Seton had to keep a close watch on the barge traffic to and

366

Pacifica Military History

from Bougainville, and on the many hundreds of Japanese soldiers who had to march from southern Choiseul to Choiseul Bay. On October 13, 1943, Seton reported via radio to liaison officers on Guadalcanal that between 3,000 and 4,000 Japanese had passed Bambatana Mission, about thirty-five miles south of Choiseul Bay. On October 19, he reported that Japanese camps in the vicinity of Choiseul Bay and Sangigai were occupied by no fewer than 3,000 Japanese who were apparently awaiting transport to Bougainville. According to his scouts, Seton reported, these men were short on rations and living in dispersed campsites. Islanders gardens were being looted, and foraging parties were constantly in the bush searching for edible wildlife. Seton added that these Japanese troops were particularly edgy and had blocked all trails, tightened security, and had taken to shooting first and asking questions after. Seton did not mention that this upswing in uneasiness was probably the result of a minor foray on October 2 in which seven Japanese had died at the hands of twenty-five of his armed scouts. With this information on hand, it was finally and definitely decided by the Allied South Pacific Area headquarters that a major effort would not be made against Choiseul. Nevertheless, on October 20, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Williams, the 1st Marine Parachute Regiment commanding officer, and Lieutenant Colonel Victor Krulak, the 2d Marine Parachute Battalion commanding officer, were summoned from their camp on Vella Lavella to Guadalcanal to a briefing conducted by I Marine Amphibious Corps (IMAC) staff officers. Indeed, it was the IMAC staff secretary, Major James Murray, who first thought of mounting a raid-in-force against Choiseul, and it was such a raid that Williams and Krulak had been called down to Guadalcanal to discuss. All Lieutenant Colonel Krulaks battalion had to do was get safely ashore in northern Choiseul and raise a ruckus big enough to lead the Japanese to believe that a major invasion was underway or imminent. At the same time, though on a very low key, several reconnaissance missions would be carried out and a potential site for a possible PT-boat base was to be assessed. The enabling order for Operation BLISSFUL was issued by IMAC headquarters on October 22. Based on a suggestion from Seton, the

Free Sample Chapters

367

landing was to be made at Voza, a village about halfway between Choiseul Bay and Bambatana Mission. The beaches were reportedly good, and the local islanders were both loyal and willing to assist in every way possible. More important was the fact that no Japanese were known to be in the area even though Voza was directly on the Japanese evacuation route. Krulak no sooner picked up his operations orders than he prepared to return to his battalion on Vella Lavella. While waiting for his plane, he wrote out the entire working order for the mission. * The 2d Parachute Battalion had never been in combat, but it had trained hard and had otherwise prepared itself for battle. It might have been harder, in fact, than many combat-experienced units of the day. Krulaks original plan envisioned a combat jump into Voza, but there was no suitable drop zone nearby; the rain forest, which was as thick as any in the Solomon Islands, cloaked the objective and spread for many miles in all directions save one, which was westward into New Georgia Sound. Also, there were not enough transport aircraft in the South Pacific to carry a full battalion and all its required supplies and equipment to any destination in a single lift. As had the only other Marine parachute battalion to enter combatthe 1st, at Gavutu, on August 7, 1942 Krulaks would have to mount an amphibious landing. This was a heartbreaker for every member of the battalion, but the fact that combat was imminent was more important to many than the method of insertion. Krulaks battalion had four days to get ready and get there. Frenzy reigned in the 1st Marine Parachute Regiment bivouac on Vella Lavella as all necessary gear was sorted into four huge stacks, all orders issued to the three parachute-infantry companies and supporting units (the regimental weapons company mortars and machine guns were going, too, as was a detachment from an experimental rocket platoon that was armed with bazookas and rockets. Total strength when the battalion left Vella Lavella stood at thirty officers and 626 enlisted men. One Navy officer was attached to assess sites for the proposed PT-boat base. *

368

Pacifica Military History

At dusk on October 27, 1943, the U.S. Navy destroyer-transports Ward, Kilty, Crosby, and McKean arrived at Vella Lavella following their participation in landing a New Zealand Army brigade at Mono, in the Treasury Islands. The 2d Parachute Battalion, which was standing by with all its equipment and supplies aboard eight LCM landing craft, boarded the destroyer-transports in very short order, a testament to the units discipline. The entire operation was completed in a record fortyfive minutes. At 1921, with the destroyer Conway acting as escort, the laden destroyer-transports set course for Choiseul. The Conways radar would pinpoint the landing site on the Choiseul coast. Among those aboard the ships was coastwatcher Seton, who had been plucked from Choiseul in order to guide the parachute battalion. Shortly after 2300, while making way in column, the ships were spotted by a Japanese patrol plane, which dropped a single bomb and ran. The bomb landed close to the rear vessel, causing no damage. Shortly after midnight, at a point some 2,000 yards off the northwest coast of Choiseul, the little flotilla stopped. A reconnaissance party was ordered over the side of one of the ships, and these Marines paddled ashore in a rubber raft. While the reconnaissance was being carried out, Lieutenant Colonel Krulak ordered Company G and Company F into their landing craft. If the proper signal came from the beacha single light, indicating that the area was free of Japanesethe two companies would be ready to go ashore. As the Chutes waited, it was noted that the destroyer-transports were drifting farther apart. By 0019, October 28, Company F, aboard the Kilty, was closer to the beach even though Company G was to have landed first. The Company G commander, Captain Spencer Pratt, was ordered to take his men into the beach. As there had been no light from the reconnaissance team, Pratts company expected to go in shooting. But nothing happened. The patrol was waiting on the beach. The signal light had been spotted aboard the ships at 0023, but the Marines making the landing had not seen it. After Company G had established a defensive perimeter ashore, Krulak ordered the remainder of the battalion to land. As soon as the main body of troops was ashore, the landing craft returned to the ships

Free Sample Chapters

369

to begin loading supplies. While the supplies were being brought ashore, the Conway, which was standing well out to sea, was sighted and attacked by a lone Japanese airplane. The destroyers captain did not want to draw the fully warranted attention of larger Japanese forces, so he withheld his fire as two bombs landed near his ship. An Allied nightfighter pilot, who was over the flotilla in order to forestall such an attack, drew considerable criticism for not having been low enough to intercepy the enemy plane. At about 0200, as the Chutes were getting their gear safely off the beach, the entire convoy stood out to sea and made for Vella Lavella. Four LCP(R) landing craft and their crews were left with the Chutes. These craft were dispersed under cover along the shore near Zinoa Island. C. W. Seton, who had wandered into the forest as soon as he had landed, returned to the beach with a large group of islanders, who immediately got to work helping the Marines get their supplies off the beach. All the gear was safely hidden in the bush when a group of Japanese planes arrived at dawn to bomb the recently vacated beach. During October 28, the Chutes set up a base of operations about a mile inland from the beach, on a high plateau northwest of Voza. Outposts were established and wire communications were installed. The base of operations was hidden by the rain forest and on defensible terrain. While the base was being put together, a second flight of Japanese aircraft bombed and strafed the landing beach. The islanders had virtually obliterated all traces of use at the beach after everything had been safely dispersed and camouflaged inland. In fact, they fashioned a dummy beachhead several miles north of Voza to give the Japanese something to attack and think about. The 2d Parachute Battalion got down to business on October 29. The day before, Setons scouts had informed Krulak that there was a barge-staging base eight miles south of the Marine base, at Sangigai, and an outpost seventeen miles to the north, on the Warrior River. Thus, on the morning of October 29, Krulak dispatched combat patrols in both directions to locate trails, pinpoint the Japanese positions, and become familiar with the area. Krulak accompanied the patrol to Sangigai. As it neared the Vagara River, about halfway to Sangigai, the patrol split.

370

Pacifica Military History

Half the Marines turned inland to scout the area and locate an inland approach to Sangigai, and Krulak continued with the remainder toward the Vagara River. At the river, the stealthy, silent Marines watched ten Japanese unload a barge at the shore. Determining that this was as good a time and place as any to leave his calling card, the battalion commander ordered his troops to open fire. Seven of the Japanese were killed and the barge was sunk. Krulak then led his men back to the base camp. The second half of the patrol returned to the base camp soon after Krulaks, and then a squad was dispatched to the Vagara River to learn what the Japanese were going to do about the attack. It bumped into a platoon of Japanese about three-quarters of a mile from the original landing site but was able to drive off the superior force. * On the morning of October 30, Krulak led Company E, Company F, and the IMAC rocket detachment aboard the LCP(R)s hidden at Voza and prepared to set sail for the Sangigai ferry base, which was marked for destruction. The strength of the Japanese at Sangigai had been estimated at one hundred fifty armed troops. Seton warned the Chutes that the base could easily be reinforced from the southand probably already had been since the battalions landing. To help foster the impression that Choiseul was the scene of an allout invasion, Krulak had requested powerful air support for the attack. Just as the attack force was getting ready to sail from Voza, one of the LCP(R)s was damaged in an attack by an American warplane. As a result, the attack plan had to be altered. At 0610, the scheduled air strike hit Sangigai. As twenty-six Allied fighters flew escort, twelve Marine TBF Avenger light bombers dropped more than two tons of bombs on the Japanese base. Meantime, with more troops than could possibly be carried by three landing craft, Krulak ordered the two companies to march overland to the Vagara. Seton and his scouts led the way. Company F followed Seton along with a machine-gun section and the IMAC rocket detachment, and Company E followed with attached units.

Free Sample Chapters

371

Nothing happened until 1110, when Japanese troops posted at the Vagara River opened fire on the head of the approaching battalion column. The Chutes returned the fire, and the Japanese were forced to pull back to Sangigai. At this point, Krulak ordered Captain Robert Manchesters Company E to press on along the coast while the remainder of the force cut inland to secure positions on the high ground at the rear and east of the Japanese defenses. At H-hour, Krulaks enveloping force was still tangled up in the hilly, dense rain forest behind Sangigai. As sounds of gunfire reached the inland force from the direction of the beach, Setons scouts told the harried battalion commander that the Japanese were just ahead. Captain Manchesters troops had opened their attack only a few minutes behind schedule. The Japanese resisted for a few moments, but the Marine rocket and mortar fire, combined with rifle and machinegun fire, proved to be too much for them, and they hurried from the village, leaving Company E free to press on to the objective almost unhindered. Marines from Krulaks force spotted the Japanese a few minutes after the action began on the beach, and they moved to prevent the enemy from dispersing into the bush. This was of paramount importance, because Krulak wanted to destroy rather than disperse the Japanese force. It was a matter of luck rather than good timing, but the Japanese were forced to ground in prepared positions, which were immediately contained by the Chutes. As the Japanese moved north from the village, they ran head-on into Captain Spencer Pratts Company F, which immediately opened fire on them. A pitched battle raged on for nearly an hour. Company F then managed to complete the desired envelopment behind a screen of light-machine-gun fire. The Japanese panicked and mounted several uncoordinated rushes that only resulted in additional casualties. As the Marines maneuvered to close the right flank, the Japanese broke contact and about forty of them escaped into the bush. Nevertheless, seventytwo Japanese were killed in the action. Four Marines were also killed, and twelve, including Krulak and Captain Pratt, were wounded.

372

Pacifica Military History

While Company F was fighting in the bush, Company E had been blowing up the Japanese base. Brand-new barges were scuttled, all Japanese supplies were destroyed, and many documents were taken, including a chart showing all the naval minefields off southern Bougainville. After the Sangigai base had been razed, Company E withdrew to the Vagara River and all four landing craftthe damaged one had been repairedpicked it up and returned it to Voza. Meantime, Krulak and the rest of the attackers buried the dead in the bush and hiked to the Vagara River, where they arrived without incident after Company E had left. When Company E returned to Voza at dusk, Major Warner Bigger, the battalion executive officer, canceled the planned pick-up of Krulaks forcebecause the operation was many hours behind schedule. Unfortunately, Krulaks command radio had broken down, so he did not receive word of Biggers decision and could only guess at what his second-in-command was doing. The battalion commander and his troops spent an extremely anxious but uneventful night. Early on the morning of October 31, the landing craft arrived and withdrew Krulaks force from the beach. Upon his return to Voza, Krulak ordered that ambushes be set up and aggressive patrols be sent out to see what the Japanese were going to do about their defeat at Sangigai. On November 1, a Navy PBY landed in the water off Voza to pick up the wounded Chutes and captured documents. Also, in answer to an urgent request, 1,000 pounds of rice for Setons scouts, 500 pounds of TNT, and 250 hand grenades were air-dropped near Voza. Several brisk patrol clashes took place during the day, but the base camp was not threatened. Setons scouts reported that the Japanese had reoccupied Sangigai. * On November 1, Major Bigger led a combat patrol consisting of eight-seven men from Captain William Days Company G toward Nukiki Village, about ten miles north of the base camp. This was Biggers second time out to Nukiki; he had scouted the place the day before. The purpose of the large patrol was to check on reports from Setons scouts that a large force of Japanese was manning an outpost on the Warrior River.

Free Sample Chapters

373

Bigger was to move through Nukiki; cross the Warrior; destroy all Japanese installations, outposts, and emplacements in his path; and advance close enough to the main base at Choiseul Bay to hit the place with 60mm mortar fire. Krulak approved of Guppy Island, in Choiseul Bay, as an alternative objective in case Biggers patrol could not get to the main base. Biggers force made it past Nukiki without incident, but the LCP(R)s in which it was riding constantly beached in the Warrior Rivers shallow mouth. The sound of the engines being gunned to break free from the mucky bottom was quite loud, and Bigger feared that everyone for miles around could hear it. He therefore ordered his men to disembark and sent the boats downriver to be hidden in a cove near Nukiki. Four Marines and a radio were left on the east bank of the river and all excess gear was cached. The Chutes marched inland a considerable distance before crossing the river. In the middle of the afternoon, following a long march, the scouts confessed to Major Bigger that they were lost. Bigger decided to wait and rest, and he ordered his troops to bivouac on the spot, even though they were in the middle of a swamp. A small patrol was sent back to the radio to report the foul-up to base. When Krulak received the report, he asked Seton if a man who knew the area was available. Seton supplied the only man he had with him who was from the area, and this scout was immediately dispatched to locate Biggers force. Meanwhile, at Biggers order, the LCP(R)s were sent back to Voza. The small patrol from Biggers main force spent the night with the radio team. When they awoke next morning, they found that about thirty Japanese had moved directly between their position and Biggers. Before the Japanese could act, the handful of Marines made their way stealthily to the landing craft, which were still hidden in the cove at the Warriors mouth, and returned immediately to Voza, where they reported everything to Krulak. Upon receiving the news, the battalion commander asked IMAC for immediate air support, plus whatever PT-boats they could arrange to get there fast. All the while, Major Bigger was completely unaware of the activity in his rear. He had lost much time, so he decided to strike out directly

374

Pacifica Military History

for Choiseul Bay. The patrols position was determined, and a second small patrol was dispatched to the radio site to request that the boats pick up the main body that afternoon. Shortly after leaving, the second small patrol discovered that a large Japanese force was tailing Bigger. These Marines were unable to return to Biggers force, but they were able to fight their way through to Nukiki, where they were soon spotted by the crews of the returning landing craft. Meanwhile, Setons guide had found Bigger and was leading the patrol through thinning jungle toward the Choiseul Bay base. As the Marines came abreast Redman Island, a small offshore hunk of rock, a four-man Japanese outpost opened fire on them. Three of the Japanese were quickly shot dead, but the fourth made good his escape and apparently spread the alarm. Surprise was lost. Because the forest along the beach was too thin to provide adequate cover, Bigger decided to bombard Guppy Island. The Chutes moved into positions opposite the island, but they quickly discovered that forest growth masked the fire from their mortars. The mortars were moved out to the beach and set up with their baseplates partially submerged. The Chutes then proceeded to fire 143 highexplosive rounds into the Japanese fuel and supply dumps on the island. As they were retiring, large firesat least twowere spotted in the target area. Prodded by return fire, the Marines withdrew toward the Warrior River. The Japanese wanted Biggers hide. Groups of infantrymen were dispatched on fast barges, from which they landed at several points along Biggers anticipated escape route. The retiring Chutes were attacked four separate times before they reached the Warrior River, but they overcame the opposition each time. When they reached the river, they established a defensive perimeter and waited for the landing craft. When they felt that the pressure had subsided, several Chutes ventured into the surf to wash off some of the jungle grime accumulated during the exhausting march. As they did, they were taken under fire from the opposite bank of the river. The exposed Marines dived for the nearest cover, but they believed they were being fired on by fellow

Free Sample Chapters

375

Marines who had arrived on the scene to reinforce their group. Several American flags were waved at the bushwhackers, but these only drew increased fire. Biggers force sent back heavy return fire, which forced the much smaller Japanese force to withdraw. Bigger ordered three strong swimmers into the water to try to reach the expected rescue party and warn it of the ambush. Several Japanese had remained in the trees on the opposite bank of the river, and they fired at the three helpless swimmers, of whom only one lived to return to Biggers group. As the fire fight became more intense, Biggers Marines spotted the four LCP(R)s coming their way. But a storm was also moving in, and the sea was quite rough. Under heavy covering fire from Biggers troops, the boats beached themselves on the western bank of the river, and Biggers men clambered aboard. As the tiny flotilla backed off the beach, one of the fully laden LCP(R)s had its motor swamped by the rising surf, and it drifted toward the Japanese-held side of the river. Fortunately, it became fouled on a coral crag. At this juncture, two PT-boats (one of which was skippered by Lieutenant John Fitzgerald Kennedy) dashed in from the sea with all guns blazing at the Japanese-held side of the river. While the PTs 20mm and .50-caliber guns raked the Japanese positions, Chutes hurriedly transferred from the stalled LCP(R) to another. The stalled LCP(R) was towed away from the beach and its engine was restarted. All the landing craft then withdrew from range of the beach under cover of a rain squall. Aircraft from Munda Field and the two PT-boats provided close cover during the journey back to Voza. * Also on November 1, about the time the Bigger patrol was departing the base camp, a second strong combat patrol marched to the Vagara River in the hope of driving a strong force of Japanese infantry back toward their base at Sangigai. The Japanese encountered by this patrol put up a particularly hard fight. In assessing the various actions that evening, Lieutenant Colonel Krulak and his staff concluded that the small size and, in all probability, the intentions of their force had been divined to some extent by their

376

Pacifica Military History

adversaries. The findings of several Marine patrols were evaluated, and it was determined that growing numbers of well-armed and wellorganized Japanese were drawing closer and closer to the base camp. It appeared to be only a matter of time before the Japanese located the 2d Parachute Battalions hideaway and discovered that they faced only a very limited raid-in-force rather than an all-out invasion. If that happened, the Chutes would be extremely vulnerable to an organized clearing operation by the large numbers of Japanese that seemed to be concentrating near Voza. Although Krulak had originally envisioned an eight- to ten-day mission, he now realized that the time to withdraw was fast approaching. The clincher came on November 3, when a group of Setons scouts reported that a force of between eight hundred and one thousand wellarmed Japanese was at Sangigai and that another strong force was north of Voza, at Moli Point. After Biggers patrol had been picked up at Nukiki, IMAC headquarters radioed Krulak to ask whether he thought his mission could be completed. By thenNovember 3the Empress Augusta Bay landings on Bougainville had been undertaken successfully by the bulk of the 3d Marine Division, and the Japanese had quickly come to the conclusion that it was the main eventand that American activity on Choiseul was obviously a diversion. Even so, with Bougainville now the center of attention, the Japanese needed their Choiseul evacuation route more than ever, for their many bases in southern Bougainville and the Shortland Islands had been bypassed. They needed to evacuate or redeploy many of their units, and Choiseul was still the best route for many such movements. It was becoming painfully obvious that the Japanese on Choiseul now realized that they were facing a raiding force of about battalion strength, and that they were busily preparing to launch a counterstroke within forty-eight hours. Krulak told his superiors that his food supply was sufficient for another seven days, that ammunition was plentiful, and that he was holding a strong position, but added that IMAC might as well evacuate his battalion if, in fact, his mission had fulfilled its strategic purpose.

Free Sample Chapters

377

Krulak would later write of the situation: As a matter of fact, I felt wed not possibly be withdrawn before the [Japanese] cut the beach route. However, we were so much better off than the [Japanese] that it was not worrisome (I say now!). The natives were on our sidewe could move across the island far faster than the [Japanese] could follow, and I felt if we were not picked up on the Voza side, we could make it on the other side. Seton agreed, and we had already planned such a move. Besides that, we felt confident that our position was strong enough to hold in place if necessary. Nevertheless, on the night of November 3, three large LCI landing ships arrived north of Voza and began embarking the waiting 2d Parachute Battalion. As the troops filed up the ramps, loud explosions could be heardpresumably from mines and booby traps the Marines had set to delay the oncoming Japanese. Krulaks Marines loaded all gear (less their food, which went to Seton) and boarded in good order as the nervous LCI crewmen implored them to hurry. The entire loading operation took fifteen minutes. The LCIs backed off the beach and set course for Vella Lavella, where they arrived shortly after dawn on November 4. * In a later study of the operation in which Japanese records were perused, it was found that Krulaks estimation of the situation on November 3 was largely incorrect. Within mere hours of the withdrawaland not two days later, as the battalion commander guessedlarge and powerful Japanese infantry units closed in on the base camp and beach positions formerly held by the 2d Parachute Battalion. The Japanese had indeed been thoroughly surprised by the Marines initial actions on Choiseul, and, in the words of the assessment, undoubtedly [they] had been duped regarding the size of the landing force by the swift activity of the battalion over a 25-mile front. Nevertheless, once the big show got underway at Bougainville, there was far less doubt in Japanese minds as to what the Choiseul action meant. That a very small force was conducting a very limited diversionary operation on Choiseul became obvious, and immediate steps were taken to erase that force and reinstate the much-needed evacuation routes.

378

Pacifica Military History

The operation cost the Japanese a known 143 dead in the Warrior River and Sangigai actions. Equipment losses included two barges, more than 180 tons of equipment and stores, total (but temporary) destruction of the Sangigai base, and an unknown but presumably large loss of fuel and supplies in the dumps on Guppy Island. The minefield maps taken at Sangigai greatly eased the minds of many Allied naval officers and eventually led to the mining of additional waters around Bougainville. Although sources differ, it appears that nine Marines were killed in action on Choiseul, that fifteen were wounded and two were missing in action (and later presumed dead). The actual total impact of the diversionary mission was small. The 2d Parachute Battalion arrived on Choiseul too close to the Empress Augusta Bay landings to cause any major changes in the complexion of the total Japanese defensive system. Had the battalion landed a week earlier, the Japanese might have moved a large infantry force and adequate supporting arms from Bougainville and the Shortlands. Also, the small size of Krulaks force limited its effective scope of operations. The parachute battalions were smaller than other Marine infantry battalions, and their largest supporting arms were 81mm mortars. There was little damage the raiding force could have inflictedand little permanent damage that it did inflict. The Choiseul Raid was a minor success of little strategic value, but it was a good show nonetheless. It was the only time the painstakingly trained 2d Parachute Battalion saw action, for the 1st Parachute Regiment was dissolved in 1944 and its personnel converted to regular infantry, many of whom took part in the battle for Iwo Jima.

Free Sample Chapters

379

380

Pacifica Military History

MUNDA TRAIL
The New Georgia Campaign JuneAugust 1943 By Eric Hammel The Solomon island archipelago stretches in a roughly east west direction from New Guinea to San Cristobal. For the Imperial Japanese forces in 1942, it was a natural highway into the South Pacific. When checked at Guadalcanal, these forces realized they had moved east too quickly, and that their defeat was caused in part by inade-quate air bases between the front and their head-quarters at Rabaul, more than six hundred miles away. As the last Japanese battalions were wrecking themselves against the Marine defen-sive perimeter on Guadalcanal, the decision was made to build the Munda airfield on New Georgia, right in the middle of the Solomons chain. The Americans also recognized the Solomons as a highway, but in the other direction, toward Rabaul, the Philippines, and ultimately Japan. The two great Pacific powers clashed in the middle of this strategic island corridor in June 1943, when an untried U.S. Army infantry division assaulted New Georgia and began to move up the Munda Trail to take the airfield. This forgotten battle was in truth one of Americas first sustained offensive actions in the Pacific, and as such it taught green American troops and equally green commanders the realities of jungle warfare. Munda Trail is the dramatic, harrowing story of green American soldiers encountering for the first time impenetrable swamps, solid rain forests, invisible coconut log pillboxes, tenacious snipers tied into trees, torren-tial tropical rains, counterattack by enemy aircraft and naval guns, and the logistical nightmare of living and moving in endless mud. A carefully planned offensive quickly degenerates into isolated small-unit actions as the terrain breaks unit cohesion and leads inexperienced soldiers into deadly ambushes. As physical and psychologi-cal strains mount, Army doctors begin to define a new disease nearing epidemic proportionscombat fatigue. Men without injuries simply become

Free Sample Chapters

381

useless for fur-ther fighting, the advance bogs down. Yet, over time, the scared American soldiers find their inner resolve and climb out of the psychological abyss, emerge steady and true, combat veterans at last and victors. The New Georgia Campaign was, in Ham-mels words, a graphic study of the universal military truths attending the feeding of innocents to the ravenous dogs of war. Yet when it was over, there was no question in anyones mind that the tide had turned, that the forces moving through the Solomons would be American, and that they would move toward Japan.

382

Pacifica Military History

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book MUNDA TRAIL: The New Georgia Campaign, July - August 1943 by Eric Hammel. The book is currently available in a $24.95 trade paperback edition published by Pacifica Military History. This book is also available in ebook editions.

OBRIEN HILL
by Eric Hammel Copyright 1989 by Eric Hammel In the zone of the1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment on July 27, Lieutenant Colonel Slaftcho Joe Katsarskys infantry companies descended early into the low-lying rain forest in front of OBrien Hill and advanced toward the next hill, another nameless hump that would soon bear the name of a fallen American. Company C had the vanguard, with Company B close behind. The battalion made continuous progress until it reached the base of the objective. Then the Japanese on the heights resisted with light and heavy machine guns, Japanese rifles, captured American rifles and automatic rifles, and Japanese and American hand grenades. While B Company moved into the forest to bridge a widening gap between Katsarskys battalion and the adjacent 1st Battalion, 145th, C Company waded into the Japanese defenses. Second Lieutenant Louis Christian was leading his C Company platoon up the slope when his men froze under the fire of automatic weapons emplaced in a pillbox to the front. Christian had been the regi-mental sergeant major during the Guadalcanal fighting, but had accepted a battlefield commission. This day, the new lieutenant crawled alone through the light mantle of underbrush, right up to the face of the pillbox that had stymied his platoon. He chucked in several hand grenades, which silenced the Nambu. The entire company was having a bad time. The troops waded into the fire of several emplacements, but were forced to stop when they came under fire from more and more machine guns. Then the Japanese

Free Sample Chapters

383

infantry threw in a quick counterattack right off the ridgeline. Second Lieutenant Louis Christian was taking a breather alone when he saw his platoon begin to pull back. As the sur-prised American riflemen tumbled to the rear to find safe positions from which they could beat off the counterthrust, Christian re-mained where he was to direct fire from supporting mortars. A short burst of machine-gun fire found him as he searched for tar-gets, and he died in a pool of blood. The hill had a name. C Company pulled back and dug in. An artillery forward ob-server mouthed some frantic words into his field telephone and, after a moment, the ridge erupted under 105mm shells. The 1st Battalions 81mm mortars were hastily relaid and fired. Japanese 90mm mortars responded. Lieutenant Colonel Joe Katsarsky or-dered C Company back to OBrien Hill. * The ordeal of the 1st Battalion, 161st, was only just the begin-ning. Shortly after the main body of the battalion returned to OBrien Hill, a large American unit passed through from the north. Following was a large group of Japanese. No one really knew what was going on, but Katsarskys battalion inherited the Japanese. That was at 1430 hours. The first contact came when several Japanese blundered into the fire zones of several American machine guns and were dispersed. Shortly after this rather benign first encounter, the Japanese launched several squad-size probes to determine what they were up against. They had a fairly good idea by 1630, when Americans on the battalion line first heard Japanese soldiers in the forest get-ting themselves worked up for a big fight. There was a low saddle on the battalions right flank, and a gully stretching from left to right across the immediate front. Dense growth filled the gully. The forward slopes of OBrien Hill were outposted near the edge of the forest, within a wooded fringe fronting the high, open hilltop. The battalion command post was only fifteen yards behind the outpost line. Yelling taunts at their adversaries and encouragement among themselves, shrieking curses through the night, instilling passing clutches of fear even among the veterans on the hill, the Japanese moved noisily

384

Pacifica Military History

over the low saddle and through the tree-choked gully. American hand grenades rained down on them from the heights, as did American 60mm and 81mm mortar rounds. The high-strung chirping of Nambu light machine guns sounded through the throaty bursts of the mortars, and streams of bright tracer reached toward OBrien Hill through the solid, black wall of the night. The initial assault was launched by about one platoon. It was stopped cold by methodical riflemen and grimy-faced gunners manning the battalions air-cooled and water-cooled. 30-caliber Brownings. Two more frontal assaults of about platoon strength collapsed as soon as they lapped upward from the gully and sad-dle. Then the Japanese withdrew. They knew what they had come to learn; Katsarskys battalion had been probed. Joe Katsarsky knew, by 0800 hours, on July 28, that his battalion had been cut off. Litter teams attempting to reach the regi-mental aid station were fired on along the trail to the rear of OBrien Hill; several litter bearers and previously wounded sol-diers were killed. Jeeps bringing urgently needed ammunition from the regimental supply depot were fired on as they approached OBrien Hill; several drivers were killed, and four disabled jeeps blocked the vital link. All Katsarsky could do was draw some of his troops off the line and send them back over the trail to clear out the bushwhackers along the way. The heavily armed combat patrol moved cautiously up the nar-row track and the fringe of trees at its edge for two solid hours. For two solid hours, these sleepless soldiers killed. By 1000 hours, it seemed that the road had been cleared. The patrol filed up the re-verse slope of OBrien Hill and broke up to move back to the line. While the track was being cleared, the Japanese somehow sensed that the American battle line had been weakened, so they pre-pared an assault. The first file of Japanese stepped out of the forest just as the patrol was breaking up to return to the lines. The outposts took it first. With bullets from the main line pass-ing inches over their heads, and with Japanese bullets coming in a bit lower, the soldiers manning the posts withdrew. Pink and white tracer stitched the air back and forth, and Japanese explosive bul-lets popped loudly as they plowed into earth, wood, and flesh. Shelter halves the Americans had stretched above their fighting holes to ward off the sun were shredded

Free Sample Chapters

385

within minutes; they had to be pulled down to prevent them from becoming entangled with the barrels of weapons peering over the edges of the fighting holes. The battalion aid station, which was located on the nose of the hill, had to be pulled back over the crest so the medics could safely move among the wounded and pull others back to a place of rela-tive safety. The battalion communications center was menaced by machine-gun fire and the communicators had to abandon their ra-dios to sprint to safety. A rifleman on the line was struck by a bullet. A pair of medics charged through the nipping fire and lifted him, one on either side. They staggered through the beaten zone. Another rifleman was shot and went to his knees yelling, Im hit! He pitched forward an instant later, yelling, Im dead. And he was. Captain Ralph Phelps, the battalion executive officer, rushed through the fire to confer with Captain Donald Downen, the A Company commander. As the two officers conferred, a thin stream of machinegun bullets passed between them, no more than three inches from their bodies. The two popped off the ground and ran for cover in order to finish the discussion. A Japanese sniper armed with an American BAR was spotted and grenaded from his treetop perch. A corporal, second-in-command of a rifle squad, was shot to death hauling ammunition to his men. A lieutenant who had been nicked in the back of the neck when a bullet passed through his helmet in the road-clearing opera-tion bled for two hours before he found time to seek treatment. The assault was coming through mainly on the right. The Jap-anese had done some superb spotting, for most of the troops sent out on the road-clearing patrol had been drawn from this sector and replaced by a few pistol-toting mortarmen. There was one light air-cooled .30-caliber Browning machine gun on the right, but the gunner was absent due to illness and the assistant gunner had wandered off to a latrine moments before the attack commenced. The only man in the gunpit was Private James Newbrough, a green ammunition carrier. After a weird exchange of taunts, three Nambu-carrying Japa-nese charged Newbroughs gun. Two died and the other with-drew. Newbrough kept spraying bullets around, but the more he fired, the

386

Pacifica Military History

more attention he drew. The shelter half over the gunpit was shredded and the underbrush nearby was mown down to ground level. Private Newbrough finally determined that by un-fastening the machine guns traversing mechanism he could aim the gun from the underside of the barrel, which meant that his head would be that much lower. He unfastened the mechanism and sprayed and sprayed. And sprayed. Corporal Dick Barrett was in the rear when the fighting broke out. As soon as he realized Private Newbrough was alone in the gunpit, he gathered as much ammunition as he could scrape to-gether and moved out. Barrett arrived just as Newbrough was preparing to secure. While Corporal Barrett fed in a fresh ammu-nition belt and settled in behind the machine gun, Private First Class Hollis Johnson, a BAR-man, moved in closer to cover the gunners. And they all sprayed and sprayed. And sprayed. To the men involved, the fight seemed to go on for hours. It ended at 1045, after only forty-five minutes.

Free Sample Chapters

387

388

Pacifica Military History

MUSTANG ACE
Memoirs of a P-51 Fighter Pilot By Robert J. Goebel When Bob Goebel left home to join the Army Air Corps in 1942, he was a 19 years old and a high-school graduate. The only previous time he had traveled far from his native Racine, Wisconsin, was an epic trip in the summer of 1940, when he and a pal had ridden the rails to Texas and back to visit two of Bobs brothers who were in the service. Even during his weeks in Pre-flight training, young Goebel found that he felt at home in the service, and he looked forward to the great adventure on which he had embarked out of a sense of patriotism and yearning to see the wide world. Easygoing and quick to learn, Cadet Goebel worked his way steadily through the Basic, Primary, and Advanced phases of military flight training, and found in himself an aptitude for flight. However, like nearly all of his comrades, Goebel could not learn how to hit a flying target with the guns mounted on the trainers he flew. Nevertheless, heand theygraduated to fighter school and, after earning their wings and commissions, were sent on to join an operational fighter unitin Panama. The months of rigorous operational flying in Panama seasoned Lieutenant Goebel and his young companions, and made better aviators of them, but it did little to advance their gunnery skills. When a new crop of novices arrived, Goebel and his companions found themselves on their way to Europe to join the fight. They wound up in North Africa in the Spring of 1944 with orders to join the 31st Fighter Group in Italy. Just as Goebel and his young companions were about to join the leading fighter group in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, the 31st turned in its British-made Spitfire fighters for new P-51 Mustang fighters. Within weeks, Bob Goebel had flown his first combat missions and had lost his element leader, who was shot down in a swirling dogfight.

Free Sample Chapters

389

But master the job he did. A steady succession of bomber-escort missions over southeastern Europe slowly and then more rapidly forced Lieutenant Goebel to settle in and master aerial gunnery and the mentally taxing high-speed dogfights in which he became engaged. At last, he shot down his first German fighter. And he advanced to positions of leadership, in due course leading the entire 31st Fighter Group deep into enemy territory. At length, he shot down a fifth German and thus became an acea Mustang Ace. And then he shot down three Germans in one day on a mission to Ploesti, Rumania. He flew to Russia and back, and supported the invasion of southern France. In the end, by September 1944, he had eleven confirmed victories to his credit and was one of the 308th Fighter Squadrons most respected combat leaders. When he was sent home at the end of his combat tour, Captain Bob Goebel was not yet 22 years old.

390

Pacifica Military History

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book MUSTANG ACE: Memoirs of a P-51 Fighter Pilot by Robert J. Goebel. The book is currently available in a $27.50 trade paperback edition. This book is also available in ebook editions.

A FIGHTER ACES BAPTISM


by Robert J. Goebel Copyright 1991 by Robert J. Goebel. My first real baptism of fire came on April 21, 1944, with the first visit of the 31st to the Ploesti oil fields of Rumania. The milk runs were over. During the briefing, all eyes were on that red string stretched across the huge map on the front wall. It ran from the spur of the Italian boot easterly across the Adriatic, across Yugoslavia to the bomber rendezvous point, and ended finally above Bucharestalmost 600 miles. No one in the group had ever flown that kind of mission before, particularly in a formation of forty-eight aircraft. The German war machine had to have gasoline and lube oil, and most of it came from the Balkans, from Ploesti. The oil fields as well as the extensive refineries that supported them had to be destroyed, even though they were American-owned. We dutifully jotted down the compass headings and times. In addition, I wrote down the engine start, or PT. PT was a term carried over from Spitfire days, when the start and ignition booster buttons were side by side and had to be pushed in simultaneously. PT meant Push Tits. The intelligence briefer took the stage and talked about flak installations and concentrations of enemy fighters in the immediate vicinity of the target. His wording was a masterpiece of hedging worthy of the best Philadelphia lawyer. A statement like Sixty-three largecaliber antiaircraft guns are believed to be in the area south of the target always set me to wondering. Believed by whom? And did he really believe that there were sixty-three, or was that a nice number somewhere between fifty and a hundred? I had the feeling that someone was trying to measure a fly speck to three decimal places with a yardstick. Granted,

Free Sample Chapters

391

intelligence work was an inexact business, and I am sure that, if any better information was available, we would have gotten it. Still, I waitedin vain, as it turned outfor someone, just once, to stand up on that stage and say, I dont have a damned clue on what youre going to run into up there. The forecast was for bad weather all the way to the target, but that was nothing new either. In the absence of reliable data, I think, the weatherman played safe and called for bad weather everywhere. That way he was in a position to take the I told you so route if the weather was stinko. Or he could take credit for surprisingly fine conditions, as if he had had something to do with the improvement. At the end of the briefing, we piled into the several jeeps available for the ride to the airdrome and squadron operations. In the operations tent, the aircraft assignments were posted. As always, each pilot noted the location and marking of the aircraft he was to follow out of the parking area. Thorsen went over the flight positions again and discussed where he wanted the other three flights. The 308th was the lead squadron today, so he would also lead the group. Each squadron was to put up sixteen aircraft and two spares, which were to turn back at the Yugoslavian coast if no one aborted. In the standard formation, the sixteen Mustangs were grouped into four flights of four aircraft each. The lead flight was called Red Flight, and its supporting flight was Yellow; the second section consisted of Blue, and it was supported by Green Flight. As before, I was Thorsens wingman, so my call sign was Border Red Two. Lam, the squadron intelligence officer, issued each of us two small packets that could just fit into flight-suit pockets. One was an escape/ evasion kit, which contained some concentrated food bars, Benzedrine, a morphine syringe, and other like bits and pieces. The other was a package of used and rumpled money of the countries we were to fly over. There was a little more fiddling around, and then it was time to go. I walked out to my machine in a highly excited state, heart thumping, but I also felt elated and full of expectation. No more milk runs. No more silhouettes, like the aircraft recognition exercises. Now I was going to see the real thing.

392

Pacifica Military History

The pre-flight check was a cursory, tire-kicking affair. Then I had to urinate, except it was the second time in two minutes and, in spite of the urge, I was able to manage only a few drops. The crew chief helped me into my bulky RAF Mae West life vest and parachute harness. Then, when I was in the cockpit, he held the shoulder straps so I could thread the ends onto the lap belt and cam it down. I felt as if I had to go again but I knew nothing would come of it, even if I did get down and try. So I made my cockpit check, picked out Nightshade, and concentrated on its propeller until it started to move. I cranked up; gave the chocks-out signal; and, when the crew chief was safely seated on the wing, moved out and fell in behind Thorsen as he essed his way toward the end of the runway. The long nose of the Mustang made forward visibility very poor, and with sixteen aircraft kicking up dust, it was absolutely essential to keep essing and watching the mechanic on the wing for hand signals. At last we were at the runway. The crew chief jumped down and gave me a highballhand saluteand I was pulling out into takeoff position. As soon as Thorsen was halfway down the runway, I wiped my sweaty palms on my flight-suit thighs; made a rolling mag check; and pushed the throttle to the gate, 61 inches. I was off. I closed rapidly on Thorsen and tucked in tightly, sneaking an occasional glance beyond him at the rest of the squadron as each succeeding airplane caught up and dropped into position. Finally, the major rolled out on course. When I loosened my position so I could look around a little, I got a real thrill: Our squadron was in perfect formation and, on either side above us, the other two squadrons were equally well formed. The Adriatic sparkled below and was dotted with the white sails of the Italian fishing boats. As we gained altitude, the Italian coast gradually fell away. Ahead to the east, a buildup of cumulus clouds marked the Yugoslavian coastline. Soon we were at our cruising altitude. As the weather deteriorated, the squadrons began to maneuver around the towering buildups while trying to stay in contact. My attention was completely devoted to keeping station on Thorsens wing, so I had only a sketchy idea of what was going on. Unbeknownst to any of us, Fifteenth Air Force Headquarters had recalled the mission because of the weather, but the B-24s and the 31st had failed to get the word and pressed on to the target.

Free Sample Chapters

393

Rendezvous with the bombers came off without a hitch. Each squadron took up position over the bomber stream, flights scissoring back and forth, trying to stay out of the clouds but without overrunning the slow-flying B-24s. Shortly after rendezvous, someone broke radio silence to call out enemy fighters. I tried in vain to spot them by sneaking quick glances away from Thorsens machine, but I couldnt see anything except clouds and more Mustangs. The next thing I knew, the traffic on the R/T increased in volume and intensity to bedlam; everyone was cursing and shouting at once. Here they come! Break, break right! Passing under you.Watch out, four oclock level, Blue Leader.A whole bunch of the sons o bitches. . . .Red Leader, break right!You got him. You got him!Where the hell are you, Green Four? The shrill cacophony in my headset made my hair stand on end, but I was totally absorbed in staying with Thorsen as he went through some very high-g maneuvers. My vision was blurry from the stresses. Clouds and bits of the horizon went by in very strange places. I saw what I took to be tracers going over my wing between Thorsen and me, and I wanted to shout a warning. But I couldnt think of the right words to call a break. I just choked. After a few minutes, which seemed like hours, it was all over, and we were trying to reform. I was soaked with sweat and in such a keen state of sensitivity that the first sound of a routine radio call made me jump perceptibly. I finally got my nerves under control, but I felt nauseated as we set course for home. I was still twitchy when we started our descent and, after I pitched out and made my pattern, I just drove it down on the wheels and let it roll. All the crew chiefs were waiting in a knot at the end of the runway. As each ones aircraft came in, he mounted the wing for the taxi ride back to the parking area. When I was chocked, I shut down, unbuckled, and headed for the operations tent for debriefing. Luckily, no one was interested in quizzing me. I really hadnt seen much of anything except the side of Thorsens Nightshade, and I would have been embarrassed to admit it. I found out that the group had engaged two gaggles of thirty aircraft each and had destroyed sixteen of them. We had lost four of our own. One of the lost pilots was Jackson, a classmate from Moore Field

394

Pacifica Military History

who had been assigned to the 309th when we had come up from Telergma, three weeks earlier. He was the first combat casualty of our Panama bunch but certainly not the last. The 308th had done well, bagging four of the attackers and getting four probables into the bargain. Claude got one of the probables, which bettered Doctor Toms claim of a damage three days earlier. I was feeling down, having seen nothing and shot at nothing. One of our Panama guys was going to get a confirmed victory one of these days, and I just knew that it wasnt going to be me. Lying in my sack later that evening, I thought about the events of the day and tried to sort things out. I could see one thing clearly: Flying such close formation that I wouldnt get lost or separated kept me from doing my job, which was watching and keeping my leaders tail clear. I was going to have to loosen up and take my chances on staying with him. I also recognized that, in the heat of battle, there was no time to think about things. The time to do the thinking was on the ground. If I didnt do something instinctively, it wasnt going to get done. Anticipation was the thing. Be ready. I had to act without hesitation when the time came. Get the gun and sight switch on with the first bogey call. Get the tank jettison switch armed early so that the drop tanks would be away a split second after the command. Be ready for a hung tank. Be ready to go mixture auto-rich, full throttle, and RPM. And above all, be ready to call a break instantly when bounced by enemy aircraft, using the right call sign so I didnt scatter every other flight in the sky. On the next missiontwo days laterI was scheduled to fly on Johnsons wing as Green Four. I didnt know whether I had been graduated or demoted. No explanations or comments were forthcoming, so I chose to believe that Thorsen had okayed me for general wing flying and was taking on a new guy to fly his wing. Johnson had the reputation for being a tiger in the air, so I knew I would not want for action. We were going to Wiener Neustadt, a modern city near Vienna where Me109s were assembled. That probably meant that we were poking a stick in the hornets nest. Viennaor Wien, as it was known to the Austrians was 450 air miles from San Severo, almost due north. The direct route

Free Sample Chapters

395

would take us across the Adriatic and over the Yugoslavian coast just west of Split. After crossing the coastal mountains, we would pass almost over Zagreb, in the plain of Croatia. The very large and unmistakable Lake Balaton would lie in the distance to the east, in Hungary. Much nearer, almost beneath our track, would be the city of Graz, Austria, only a scant 75 miles from Wiener Neustadt. The takeoff and join-up were routine. As the group climbed northward over the sea, I had ample opportunity to look around. Fortyeight airplanes plus six spares made a formidable force and took up a good part of the sky. I was glad that I was a part of it instead of having to look at it from an Me-109 or FW-190 cockpit. Up near the Yugoslavia-Austria border, bogies were called out at one oclock, slightly below. This time, I got a good look and saw about twelve Me-109s passing from one oclock toward three, fairly close. As the squadron started to turn into them, Johnson let go his tanks, cut sharply inside our lead flight, and started down after them. I just had time to sneak a look at our lead flight on the outside as I rolled to follow Johnson. I was horrified to see the rest of the squadron turn back to the original heading, leaving us hung out to dry. I shot a glance back at Johnson. He was already getting away from me, turning in a tight vertical bank and closing rapidly on a 109. I pulled it in as hard as I could. But if I was to stay with him, I knew I was going to have to keep reefing it in. The 109s on the outside of us, which Johnson was expecting the lead section of the squadron to engage, could easily drop in behind us. But I figured that while pulling four or five gs, I was relatively safe. Hauling back on that stick for all I was worth and in a semicrouch, I was tightening my stomach musclestightening all my musclestrying to hold my head up against the vicious, unrelenting force of magnified gravity. I no longer knew if I was in the same piece of sky as Johnson; the positive gs were draining the blood from my head and I was sightless. After another second or two, I eased the back pressure on the stick until I got some vision back, hoping Johnson would still be in front of me. No joy. That part of the sky was empty. At eight oclock, a mile or two away, I saw a parachute. A good bit closer, two aircraft were coming at me. They had no deep central air scoop but two flat, shallow radiators under

396

Pacifica Military History

the wings and close to the fuselage, exactly like the recognition silhouette. They were unmistakably Me-109s! I went to War Emergency67 inches manifold pressureand made for a bank of clouds over on my left. I beat them into the clouds, a stratus deck that was fairly smooth inside. I was safe for the moment; visibility wasnt 20 feet. If I had chased someone into cloud cover, I would pop up on top, fly straight ahead, and watch for him to come out. Expecting them to do the same, I pulled the throttle back and started a turn, rolling out when I had reversed course. After a couple of minutes I pulled up into the sunlight and made a violent 90 left and then a 90 right to clear myself. I was alone. I had no idea where they had got to, but I really didnt care. Now what? I decided I would go the short distance to the target and join on someone rather than risk flying all the way home alone. Setting course for the target area, I climbed back up to the groups altitude, turning often to look aft and constantly scanning the sky for those fast-moving black dots. The target area could easily be spotted by the dark cloud of flak bursts and the heavy bombers could be seen from miles away. I moved in gingerly toward the first flight of Mustangs I came upon. The large letters WZ on the side told me they were from a sister squadron, the 309th. The leader gave me a short glance, raised his gloved hand to acknowledge my presence, and went on about his business. I felt like the lost kitten that had found its mother. But I couldnt help wondering what had happened to Johnson. Was that his chute or a German pilots. After I had landed and parked, I walked slowly toward the ops tent for debriefing, dreading the interrogation and my admission that I had lost my element leader. I told my story to Lam as completely as I could while he took notes. Johnson wasnt back and no one had reported seeing him. Two of the older heads who had completed their tour in Spitfires and were waiting to go home seemed interested in the fact that I had outrun the 109s in level flight. I asked one of themhe was the squadrons leading scorer, with six victoriesif that had been the wrong thing to do. He laughed and said, I guess not. I didnt sense any of the reproach from the rest of the pilots that I had expected. True, I hadnt deliberately left Johnson to take a shot or some such thing; still, I did lose him, and he wasnt back yet. Some of the older pilots questioned

Free Sample Chapters

397

his action in dropping tanks and getting sucked into a fight before bomber rendezvous. I went outside, sat on a wooden bench, and watched the late afternoon sky for one more Mustang. After a half hour, Lam came out and asked me if I wanted a ride back to the housing area. Everyone else had already gone, so there were just the two of us in the jeep. We rode back in silence. I felt pretty bad. Two other squadron pilots beside Johnson failed to returnTrafton and Hughes. Although no one knew it then, Trafton was wounded, but he had successfully bailed out and was to return to Italy three months later. Hughes was dead. He had remarked to Lam before going out to his airplane, Isnt it a beautiful day to get shot down? Did he have a premonition, or was it just an offhand remark? Who knows. But he was right about one thing: It had been a beautiful day.

398

Pacifica Military History

Free Sample Chapters

399

400

Pacifica Military History

SIX DAYS IN JUNE


How Israel Won the 1967 Arab-Israeli War By Eric Hammel Distinguished military historian Eric Hammel becomes the first chronicler of the 1967 Six Day War to unite the story of development of Israels bold brand of military training and planning with a detailed narrative account of her breathtaking victories in Sinai, Jerusalem, The West Bank, and the Golan Heights. Unlike all earlier accounts of the 1967 war, Hammels sweeping narrative describes how, from the early 1950s, the Israel De-fense ForceZahalundertook a relent-less and often visionary campaign to prepare for the inevitable war of national survival that, when it came, radically altered the Middle East and has profoundly influ-enced international politics ever since. Israels brilliant, innovative military think-ers developed extremely flexible strategies, operational plans, and battlefield tactics aimed at overcoming several large Arab forces with Zahals much smaller army and air force. Zahals innovations proved to be so effective and fundamentally sound that they established the norms of modem military planning and performance that saw the United States and her coalition allies through the lightning Desert Storm cam-paign of 1991. Hammel decisively disproves the endur-ing myth that Israels stunning 1967 victory was a miracle or a fluke. He explains how, by necessity and in secret, a tiny Third--World nation developed a First World military force that has become the envy of all the nations of the world. Hammel is at his proven best when describing the actions of men at war. Six Days in June seamlessly meshes classic military history with the human drama of Israels finest hour.

Free Sample Chapters

401

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book SIX DAYS IN JUNE: How Israel Won the 1967 Arab-Israeli War by Eric Hammel. The book is currently available in a $32.50 trade paperback edition published by Pacifica Military History. This book is also available in ebook editions.

THE JORDANIANS ATTACK WEST JERUSALEM


by Eric Hammel Copyright 1992 by Eric Hammel King Hussein of Jordan ordered his armed forces to open a war they did not have to fight on the morning of June 5, 1967, as soon as he had completed his 0930 radio address to the nation. Jordanian 155mm field pieces located in western Samaria, opposite Israels narrow waist, and in northern Samaria, opposite the Jezreel Valley and Beit Shean, opened fire at carefully preselected targets as far away as Israels principal city, Tel Aviv. The bulk of the slow, methodi-cal fire fell on Israeli military installations. While Israeli attention was riveted on the fall of the artillery shells, tiny Egyptian commando raiding parties began working their way from Latrun toward Israels international airport at Lod. It appears that the commandos were acting on orders from General Riadh, in Amman, and without the direct knowledge or approval of King Hussein or any senior Jordanian officers. For the time being, the Israelis knew nothing about the Egyptian infil-trators and they were willing to forebear the Jordanian shelling in the belief that it was Husseins way of showing other Arab leaders that he was a brother in the struggle against Zionism. No Israeli leader expected Hussein to plunge his nation into a war. Unfortunately, when the Israeli guns remained silent, the Jordanians became bolder. At 1000, a volley of 155mm shells reached north into the Jezreel Valley and fell

402

Pacifica Military History

on and around the runway of the Ramat David air base, the IAFs largest installation north of Tel Aviv. Even if Zahal had no plans to go to war with Jordan, it did intend to push the Syrian Army back from the Golan Heights, and the air support that was to be provided out of Ramat David was vital to that attack and, indeed, to the defense of northern Israel. The Israelis will not say what event or events caused them to decide to go to war against Jordan, but the worst thing the Jordanians did to Israel on the morning of June 5 was the shelling of Ramat David. Certainly, the Israelis had been thinking long and hard about a war with Jordan, but they did not issue their orders nor even complete final troop commitments until after Ramat David was struck, between 1000 and 1015. It was only then that the 10th Harel Armored-Infantry Brigade was transferred to Central Command from the GHQ Reserve, and responsibility for northern Samaria was transferred from Central Command to Northern Command. The Harel Armored-Infantry Brigade was the only Israeli unit that even approximated a strategic reserve in central Israel. Its only purpose up until about 1030 on June 5 was to stand ready to cut off a thrust toward the Mediterranean by whatever force the Arabs launched out of northwestern Samaria or the Golan Heights. Until Zahal GHQ confirmed its attachment to Central Command at 1030, the Harel Armored-Infantry Brigade had no place in Zahals or Central Commands contingency plans regarding an Israeli invasion of the West Bank And, realistically, there could have been no invasion of the West Bank without the Harel Brigade tanks and halftracks. Likewise, the Northern Command armored ugdah commanded by Brig-adier General Elad Peled was oriented entirely toward Syria until it was alerted at around 1030 on June 5 for a possible thrust to shut off the Jordanian artillery fire that was being directed at Ramat David It is unclear if General Peled even had tactical maps of northern Samaria when the alert was issued. * The Jordanians acted first. From all appearances, the Jordanian plan was improvised, but it did stem from a sort of wish-fulfillment on the part of the Jordanian monarch. Though Hussein had done little to prepare

Free Sample Chapters

403

his army for an offensive war against Israel, it is virtually certain that he did expect to emerge from the war in possession of at least West Jerusalem. Thus, while little was done elsewhere beyond harassing the Israelis north and west of Samaria, a real offensive plan was set in motion inside Jerusalem. Following several hours of odd outbreaks of small-arms fire along and around the Green Linethe truce line between Jordanian East Jerusalem and Israeli West JerusalemJordanian light 2-inch mortars suddenly came into play at 1115 against several Israeli border outposts manned by second-line troops from the Jerusalem Infantry Brigade. When the light mortars opened fire, the Israelis ratcheted up the violence by firing bazookas (2.76-inch rocket launchers) at Jordanian positions that had previously answered only with small arms. These escalating exchanges were typical; they had been flaring up with nauseating regularity ever since the truce lines had been drawn in 1949. For a change, however, there were no Israeli citizens to be mown down on the streets; everyone was indoors or, at least, well back from the truce line. The mortar, bazooka, and small-arms duels along the Green Line gained in intensity. Then, at 1130, Jordanian 25-pounder light field guns opened fire on Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, the Israeli settlement that screened West Jerusalem from the south. At the same time, a mixed volley of mortar and artillery rounds fell on Mount Scopus, an Israeli enclave in the northern part of East Jerusalem. The Israelis responded to the Jordanian artillery fire with their own artillery, but the fire from the Jordanian 25-pounder batteries never abated. * While the artillery duels opened in and around Jerusalem, news arrived at Central Command Headquarters that the Royal Jordanian Air Force was attacking Israeli towns and several Israeli air bases in central Israel and that retaliatory flights of IAF fighter-bombers were being launched to take out the two-dozen jet warplanes under King Husseins command. In all, sixteen Jordanian Hawker Hunters attacked Israeli air bases and villages around Netanya, Kfar Sirkin, and Kfar Saba. The Jordanians claimed to have de-stroyed four Israeli planes on the ground, but the

404

Pacifica Military History

Israelis admit to the loss of only one Noratlas transport. There were no lives lost. What really was lost was the Royal Jordanian Air Force. Fourteen of the sixteen Hunters that took part in the attack returned safely at one time to either of Jordans two air bases, and there the ground crews began the tedious task of refueling and rearming them. It would be two hours before the first Hunters could take to the air again, but the Israelis needed only about ten minutes to deny them the ability to do so. Two flights of IAF Miragesjust eight planes in allwere pulled from the rotation against Egypt and their pilots were hurriedly briefed for strikes against the Jordanian air bases at Amman and Mafraq, the latter in northeast-ern Jordan. The Mirages arrived over their targets at 1215 and commenced low-level strafing runs against individual aircraft with their 30mm cannon. In the course of destroying the partially refueled Hunters, the Mirages also released a number of 1,200-pound concretebusting bombs and thus disabled both runways. The only challenge was issued by a pair of Hunters that was late in returning from a mission over Israel. The two brave Jordanian pilots pitched into the Mirages over Mafraq, and one was shot down immediately. The second Hunter pilot was extremely good; he survived three firing passes at the dogfighting Mirages, which were a bit sluggish at low altitude, but then he and his airplane were blown to bits by a burst of 30mm cannon shells in the cockpit. Eighteen of the Royal Jordanian Air Forces twenty-four Hawkers Hunt-ers were destroyed in the one raid, and the remaining six were extensively damaged The only pilot fatalities were the two shot down over Mafraq. The Mirages over Amman Airport also accounted for two parked helicopters and three parked light transports, of which one unfortunately belonged to the British air attach. In simultaneous action, a flight of four Mysteres bombed the Royal Jordanian Air Force radar station at Mount Ajlun and caused extensive damage. * At 1330, after two hours of sporadic and inconclusive duels along Jerusalems Green Line, the little war in Jerusalem finally boiled over The event that finally forced Israel to act on a much grander scale began

Free Sample Chapters

405

at noon with an order from King Hussein to Brigadier Ata Ali Hazaa, the commander of the Jerusalem-based King Talal Infantry Brigade The monarch directed Hazaa to occupy the long, broad ridge in southern Jerusalem that incorporated Government House, formerly the residence of the British High Commis-sioner for the League of Nations Mandate in Palestine and lately the head-quarters of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO). The sprawling U.N compound and the entire ridge upon which it sat presented a commanding view of the entire southern half of the city. Israelis, who had had little use for the British and now had little more than contempt for what they saw as being a pro-Arab United Nations, took great pleasure in calling the hill by its Biblical name, Jebel Mukaberthe Hill of Evil Counsel Interestingly, Radio Amman had announced the seizure of Jebel Mu-kaber at 1030, fully three hours before the Jordanian operation actually began. The Israelis had taken notice of the announcement, but the govern-ment had been unwilling to do anything to deflect the presumed blow in advance. In any case, for Jordanian troops to seize Jebel Mukaber was really throwing down the gauntlet; it was an act that would certainly evoke a hostile response from the Israelis. It was also an act that immediately confused and alarmed the Israeli military authorities, for the hill was in the south of the city, in the exact opposite direction of Mount Scopus, which is where the Israelis expected any Jordanian blow to fall. There were 120 lightly armed Israelis on Mount Scopus, and many more as close to it as they could get. But there were only five Israeli soldiers in proximity to Government House. They were guarding Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, which had been evacuated days earlier. * The unit that Hussein specifically ordered Brigadier Hazaa to employ in the seizure of Government House was a battalion of the Iman Ali Infantry Brigade that had been brought into East Jerusalem on June 2. In fact, during his June 3 inspection tour of Jerusalem, the king had given Hazaa and the battalion commander, Major Badi Awad, direct orders to reconnoiter Jebel Mukaber and Government House from the Jordanian side of the truce line. This Major Awad had done, so, when

406

Pacifica Military History

the moment of truth was upon him, he was fully prepared to send two of his three small infantry companies up the hill. The 150 Jordanian infantrymen climbed the hill by way of a motor road. They encountered most of the U.N. staff and a number of their dependentsabout 100 souls in allin a small wooded area just to the north of the main U.N. headquarters building. The civilians had taken shelter in the woods because several Jordanian artillery rounds that had been meant to pass over the hill toward targets in West Jerusalem had clipped several structures atop the hill. While a handful of U.N. military officers and civilian officials com-plained bitterly to Major Awad and other officers about the incursion into the neutral zone, the Jordanian infantrymen set to digging in along the western and southern crests of the ridge. Several jeep-mounted 106mm recoilless rifles were driven up from East Jerusalem, and an artillery forward-observer team began spotting fire against targets that had hitherto been visible only on maps. The U.N. officials could do little to stop the Jordanians from occupying the woods and outlying buildings, but several of them manhandled a Jordanian machine gun out of Government House itself when the crew tried to set the weapon up in a second-floor window. The U.N. commander, Norwegian Air Force General Odd Bull, argued vehemently but to no avail with Major Awad. In short order, the Jordanian artillery forward observer was directing fire from a 25-pounder battery against Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, to the south, and Zahals Allenby Barracks, to the west. At the barracks, one of the Jerusalem Infantry Brigades four second-line infantry battalions was just then mobilizing. The five-man squad at Ramat Rachel was forced to take cover, and the second-line infantry battalion had to evacuate the barracks after the battalion commander, a company commander, and several soldiers were wounded. As soon as Jebel Mukaber was firmly under his control, Major Awad ordered his reserve company to advance against Ramat Rachel, and a platoon was sent forward to occupy the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture experimental farm in the neutral zone west of Government House. The five Israeli infan-trymen holding the little kibbutz were allowed by higher authority to flee, but the Jordanian troops on their way to the experimental

Free Sample Chapters

407

farm were stopped cold when the farm directors wife and an elderly auxiliary policemen fired an ancient Czech light machine gun at them. The Jordanian troops back-tracked into a treelike bordering the farm and, before they could muster another attempt, two reinforced companies from the Jerusalem Infantry Bri-gades Infantry Battalion 161 rushed up the hill to occupy the experimental farm in force The remainder of Infantry Battalion 161 beat the Jordanian company into Ramat Rachel. * All along the truce line, Jordanian soldiers were firming up their positions while waiting to see what the Israelis were going to do about increasingly strident provocations, particularly the seizure of Jebel Mukaber. Most of the Jordanian troops and officers did not know very much about what was going on beyond their little nodes of hostility, but all the news that was reaching them was good. Radio Amman was reporting the death of the Israeli Air Force and uncontested penetrations by several Egyptian divisions into southern and south-central Israel. Across the way, where Israeli Reservists from the Jerusalem Infantry Brigade were trying to cope, there was not much more news to be had. Kol Yisrael, the Israeli national radio station, wasnt saying anything. However, Jordanians and Israelis alike were thinking, Now is the time; now is the time to strike. Now is the time to correct the mistakes of 1948.

408

Pacifica Military History

Free Sample Chapters

409

410

Pacifica Military History

THE FIRST HELLCAT ACE


By Cdr Hamilton McWhorter, III, USN (Ret) with Jay A. Stout Though he would have objected to being called such, Hamilton McWhorter IIIs service to family and country make him a standout among Americas Greatest Generation. A Georgia native whose family roots date from that regions settlement during the 1700s, Mac McWhorter was a naval aviation cadet undergoing training when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. After earning his Wings of Gold in early 1942, Ensign McWhorter was trained as a fighter pilot in the robust but technologically outmoded F4F Wildcat. Initially assigned to VF-9a fiercely spirited and hardplaying fighter squadronhe saw first combat in November 1942 against Vichy French forces in North Africa. After returning to the United States, VF-9 became the first unit to convert to the new Grumman F6F Hellcat fighterthe fighter the U.S. Navy would use to crush Japanese air power during the long offensive from the Southwest Pacific to the shores of Japan. From mid 1943, Hamilton McWhorter was constantly engaged in the unforgiving and deadly aerial warfare that characterized the battles against Imperial Japan. His fifth aerial victory, in November 1943 off Tarawa Atoll, made him the first ace in the Hellcat, and seven subsequent victories ensured his place in the annals of air-to-air combat. McWhorters combat service, from the beginning of the war to the last campaign off the shores of Okinawa, makes his story a must-read for the serious student of the Pacific air war. Hamilton McWhorter III retired from the Navy as a commander in 1969. He passed away in 2008. A Marine F/A-18 pilot from 1981 to early 2000, Lieutenant Colonel Jay A. Stout is a combat veteran with over 4,600 flight hours. He has also authored Hornets over Kuwait, which recounts his own experiences during the Gulf War.

Free Sample Chapters

411

What the experts are saying about The First Hellcat Ace Mac McWhorter not only survived three carrier deployments in World War II, he earned a reputation as one of the Navys deadliest fighter pilots. His memoir captures the attitude of his generationthe heroism and the sacrifice, and the return to a loving famiy. It was an era never to return again. Barrett Tillman, author of Hellcat: The F6F in World War II Mac McWhorter became a noted Navy fighter ace during World War II, his three carrier deployments characterized by intense combat, the loss of numerous squadron mates, and the pain of separation from his wife and family. His memoir is not the stuff of legends or glamour so often associated with fighter pilots, but a sensitive look at the realities faced by carrier aviators who go in harms way. Bruce Gamble, author of Black Sheep One: The Life of Gregory Pappy Boyington Not only a thrilling account of some of the great air battles of the Pacific war, Hamilton McWhorters book provides a window through which we can view a generation of young men at war, impressed by their camaraderie and spirit and humbled by the hardships and fears they overcame. M. Hill Goodspeed, historian at the U.S. Navy Aviation Museum Today the U.S. Navys World War II fighter pilots remain less well known than their Army Air Forces counterparts. One reason is that they have left far fewer memoirs, a great loss, because nothing can replace authentic descriptions of fighter combat by those who actually did it. Fighter ace Hamilton One Slug McWhorter, a member of elite Fighting Squadron 9, flew nearly the whole war, first over Northwest Africa, then in the 194344 Central Pacific offensives, and finally in the grim assaults against Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and in the skies over the Japanese homeland. Vividly written, The First Hellcat Ace is an important contribution not only for the Pacific but the air war in general. John Lundstrom, author of The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway

412

Pacifica Military History

Note: The following article is excerpted from the book The First Hellcat Ace by Cdr Hamilton McWhorter III with Jay A. Stout. The book is currently available in a $24.95 trade paperback edition published by Pacifica Military History. It is also available in ebook editions.

NAVY FIGHTERS OVER NORTH AFRICA


By Hamilton McWhorter III with Jay A. Stout Copyright 1997 by Hamilton McWhorter III and Jay A. Stout Flight quarters was scheduled for 0500, November 8, 1942, so I got up at 0330 in order to have time to shower, shave, and get breakfast. The ships doctor had suggested that all hands take a good shower that morning to cut down the chances of infection if we were wounded. I really scrubbed downas much as I could in a shipboard shower. We werent allowed the luxury of standing in a hot shower because fresh water was always in short supply. The drill was to wet down, turn the shower off, lather up, then turn the shower back on only long enough to rinse off. After putting on a clean khaki uniform and black nec