GENERAL MacARTHUR RESCUED FROM THE PHILIPPINES
BY B-17 FLYING FORTRESSES FROM TOWNSVILLE, QLD

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The Japanese Navy had Corregidor surrounded. On 22 February 1942, General Marshall advises General Douglas MacArthur that the President had directed MacArthur to leave Fort Mills and proceed to Mindanao. Finally on 9 March 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt tells General Douglas MacArthur that he must leave Corregidor. MacArthur agrees to leave by 15th March.

Japanese patrols are heavy and "Tokyo Rose" brags to her audience that MacArthur will be captured within a month. Some US Navy officers give MacArthur only a one-in-five chance.

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MacArthur decides to escape Corregidor by PT boat to Mindanao and fly to Australia from Del Monte on a B-17 Flying Fortress. MacArthur arranges for himself and his family and military entourage of 13 officers, two naval officers and a technical sergeant to travel on four decrepit PT boats of Lt. John Bulkeley's Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 3, based at Bataan. He also ordered three B-17's to fly from Australia to Del Monte airfield on Mindanao.

They left Corregidor at dusk in the PT Boats on 11 March 1942. At 6:30 am on 13 March 1942, PT 34 sights Cagayan Point on Mindanao Island.

When they arrived at Del Monte on Mindanao on 13 March 1942, MacArthur found only one crippled B-17 at the airfield. A few weeks earlier, several mechanics had arrived at Del Monte to repair the war weary B-18's and B-17's that scattered the "graveyard" at Del Monte airfield. Once repaired they were flown back to Australia with as many of the spare parts that were possible.

MacArthur and is party waited on a muddy airfield at Del Monte for three B-17C Flying Fortresses.  These aircraft were the remnants of those that managed to escape from Clarke Field when the Japanese made a surprise attack. Eventually only two B-17's arrived. One of them developed hydraulic problems and as a result lost his brakes. The aircraft had to be ground looped to stop it in time.  This did not impress MacArthur, and he was even less impressed when he saw the young pilot of the B-17, 1st Lt. Harl Pease, slide out of the forward hatch of the aircraft. MacArthur was reported to have muttered "He's only a boy". (The citation for Pease's medal gives the date as the 11 March 1942 for a flight from Batchelor to the Philippines, where he landed without brakes. Perhaps this was an earlier flight).

MacArthur was furious, and he would not allow anyone to board the "dangerously decrepit" aircraft. He then demanded the "three best planes in the US or Hawaii," manned by "completely adequate, experienced" airmen.

Townsville to the rescue!!

Major General George Brett, who was then responsible for the rescue plans for MacArthur, was in a quandary.  He had more B-17's that he could send for the rescue, but they were Navy aircraft based in Townsville. Apparently MacArthur had made it very clear that he did not want to be "rescued" by Navy aircraft. Brett at the time was the Commanding General of the US Forces in Australia.

Fortunately for Brett, on 14 March 1942, the B-17E Flying Fortresses of the Naval Task Force, Southern Bomber Command (ex 88th Reconnaissance Squadron, 7th Bomb Group) based in Townsville were transferred to the 19th Bombardment Group, USAAF.  He dispatched three B-17's (of the 40th Reconnaissance Squadron - later to become the 435th Squadron), but one was ditched off Mindanao. 

The three B-17's left Townsville loaded full of sulphur drugs, quinine and cigarettes for the military forces in the Philippines. Dick Graf told me that Lewis's aircraft was fitted out with 25 parachutes, 25 life vests and 25 oxygen masks. Mechanics had to fit special tee pieces in the aircraft to cater for a larger number of oxygen masks. Each of the crews had their regular co-pilots replaced with pilots who were familiar with the airfield at Del Monte.

When they arrived at Batchelor airfield they were advised for the first time of the details of their mission. They were to evacuate MacArthur and his party from a small airfield on a plantation on Mindanao Island in the Philippines owned by the Del Monte Company. Bomb bay fuel tanks were installed while they were at Batchelor for the 1,425 nautical mile flight. During this time there was a false alarm air raid warning at Batchelor and they took off for a short period until the "all clear" was given. They landed again to finish their preparations for the long flight to Del Monte.

The flight path to Del Monte took them between two large Japanese airbases which were only 30 miles apart.

The other two B-17's arrived at Del Monte at approximately midnight on 16 March 1942. The runway was lit with two flares (one at each end) to help them to land. The B-17 flown by Lt. Frank Bostrom landed first followed by the B-17, #41-2435, flown by Captain William Lewis, Jr. Later that night General Sharp arrived at the airfield with General MacArthur and his family and a large group of senior officers.

The senior pilot, 1st Lt. Frank P. Bostrom drunk eight cups of coffee to ready himself for the return flight to Australia. Dick Graf from Lewis's crew had a midnight lunch of pineapple and coffee. In the mean time, mechanics worked feverishly to repair Bostrom's defective supercharger. Bostrom told MacArthur that his party must leave their luggage behind. Dick Graf told me that MacArthur's party had arrived with an amazing amount of luggage. Captain Lewis also told his passengers that they could only bring one bag each. Jean MacArthur boarded Bostrom's B-17 carrying only a silk scarf and a coat with a fur collar. MacArthur gave his wife's mattress to Lt. Bostrom.

Not long after midnight on 17 March 1942, St Patrick's Day, two B-17's taxi out onto Del Monte airfield, which was again lit by two flares. MacArthur sat in the radio operator's seat. MacArthur's chief of staff, General Richard Sutherland, was squeezed into the bomb bay. Bostrom's overloaded B-17 Flying Fortress staggered into the air from Del Monte airfield with one engine spluttering.

One of the little known stories about the rescue mission was the fact that each aircraft had one stowaway on board.

MacArthur's four year old son, Arthur, was initially excited about his first air flight, but after some turbulence he soon became air sick. Arthur's Chinese amah, Au Cheu also travelled with MacArthur to Australia.

Their five hour flight took them over the captured enemy islands of the Celebes, Timor, and the northern part of New Guinea. Somehow they managed to avoid enemy Zero fighters.

When they reach Darwin,  they found that it was under Japanese attack, so they diverted to Batchelor airfield, about 50 miles away. They eventually disembarked from the aircraft at Batchelor at about 9 a.m. They are all very weary after their last few days of adventure. MacArthur told Sutherland "It was close, but that's the way it is in war. You win or lose, live or die -- and the difference is just an eyelash."

MacArthur asked an American officer about the build-up of troops in Australia to reconquer the Philippines. The officer told him, "So far as I know, sir, there are very few troops here." MacArthur was shocked by this and he said to Sutherland "Surely he is wrong."

The weary group ate a breakfast of canned peaches and baked beans. The General demanded a motorcade to the nearest train station - Alice Springs, a thousand miles away.

Jean, his wife, was totally exhausted and her son Arthur was so exhausted that he was on intravenous feeding. The doctors recommended against such a long desert drive with inadequate shelter and food.

Once MacArthur and his party arrived at Batchelor, they transferred to two Australian National Airways DC-3's. One source reports that there was an unexpected Japanese air raid warning as they left Batchelor. This reportedly lead to a rather bumpy and dramatic departure from Batchelor. It was reported that again MacArthur was not happy and demanded to know the pilot's name from Sid Chamberlain. The pilot was Captain R. Carmichael, the Commanding Officer of the 435th Squadron. The exhausted party landed at Alice Springs some hours later.

M/Sgt. George R. "Dick" Graf was the radio operator on Lewis's B-17, #41-2435. Dick advised that there was no unexpected Japanese air raid warning when MacArthur left aboard the DC-3's.

MacArthur and his party must have thought Alice Springs, resembled an Old West town complete with saloon, wooden boardwalks, and flies. MacArthurwatched a double feature film at the local movie theatre. He had not seen a film since leaving Manila. They slept on cots on the hotel's verandah.

On 18 March 1942, MacArthur sent his staff officers south by aircraft. His wife refused to fly any more, so MacArthur ordered a special train for himself and his family. They travelled the 1,028 miles of narrow gauge track to Adelaide in South Australia, in a three car wooden train pulled by a steam locomotive. The journey took 70 hours. They sat in a carriage with two hardboard seats running lengthwise along the carriage. The second carriage was a diner with a long wooden table. It also had some washtubs full of ice and an Aussie army stove. The train had to be stopped to allow the passengers to move from one carriage to the next.

ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE
Ralph M. Knox says he was one of the servicemen to help load the B-17's which evacuated MacArthur, his family and his entourage of 18 other senior officers. Knox's book "The Emperor's Angry Guest" says that three B-17's actually left that night from Del Monte for Australia, not two as reported by other historians. He remembers that the B-17 that had crashed on 11 March 1942 was repaired using the remaining spare parts left at the airfield. They then filled that B-17 with "footlockers, crates of clothing and fur coats, pipe tobacco, several straight back chairs, little Arthur MacArthur's toys, one rocking chair and two particularly heavy mattresses".

Knox's story also differs from the historians in that he states that there were four B-17s in the first rescue attempt not three. They were rumoured to have flown from Darwin, Australia. One of these arrived on 11 March 1942.  He reported that it was in such bad shape that it was grounded. One of the others had crashed into the ocean off Mindanao and the other two had turned back midway.

According to Knox there were a number of American nurses that could have been also evacuated instead of "Mrs. MacArthur's fur coats and the General's pipe tobacco."

 

1st. Lt. Frank Bostrom

 

Were you amongst the crew of the two B-17's
that rescued MacArthur and his party?

Or are you related to one of the crew members?

If you are, I'd love to hear from you.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank "Dick" Graf for his assistance with this home page. "Dick" was the radio operator on Captain Lewis's aircraft. Dick went on to be the radio operator in B-17 "Sally", General Kenney's private aircraft.

 

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 Peter Dunn 2004

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This page first produced 20 April 2003

This page last updated 20 March 2004