CHARTERS TOWERS PART 1
JACK HEYN IN THE SOUTH WEST PACIFIC
(MEMBER OF THE 3RD BOMB GROUP)
March 10, '42 we arrived Charters Towers, Q'land. An old gold mining town about 90 miles inland from Townsville in N.E. Queensland. They were in the process of building and air strip and that was to be our home fo the next 10 months. On Mar. 12, I celebrated my 19th birthday, and believe me there was no party. I went to bed that nite bushed. The next couple weeks we were busy unloading our equipment; setting up tents to live in, eat in and work in; and digging slit trenchs to jump in, in case of an air raid. I use the word dig loosely. I don't know what kind of soil it was, but one did not dig it - one picked in out with a pick axe. It took the best part of two weeks to get them all dug. Having been shipped over sans aircraft and senior officers, we were in no shape to fight a war. Supposedly aircraft were supposed to have been sent for us, but nothing ever materialized.
Aerial photo of Charters Towers in the summer of 1942
During the month of March we received 42 officers and 64 enlisted men from the 27th Bomb. Gp. that were evacuated from the Phillipines. Among them were Col. John Davies and Capt. P.I. (Pappy) Gunn. Davies became our Gp. Commander and Gunn our Gp.Materiel officer. We also recieved 24 A-24 Douglas Dauntless Dive Bombers, that the 27th pilots had picked up in Brisbane and headed back to the Phillipines with. Due to the detierorating situation in P.I. Java was as far as they got. So they were pulled back and assigned to our 8th Sq. In the last week of March we received about 24 B-25's. Unfortunately 3 of them cracked up on landing. Our pilots were all either A-20 or A-24 pilots, and hadn't been checked out on B-25's. These planes had belonged to the Dutch Air Force, but had been sitting in Brisbane, because the Dutch didn't have any pilots to fly them. One story goes that we literally stole them from the Dutch (supposedly they had broken locks on the hatches) another story goes that the Dutch transferred them over to the U.S. since we had the personell to fly them. To this day I don't know which is the truth.
Col. Davies sitting in his living quarters
along with Capt.
Strickland and a couple other unidentified officers
On April 1, 1942 the 3rd Bomb Gp. pulled their first combat mission in WWII. After flying to Port Moresby in New Guinea 6 of the 8th Sq. A-24's took off on a mission to the airstrip at Lae, New Guinea. This was on the north side of N.G. and was the airstrip from whence Amelia Earhart flew off into oblivion in 1937. The Lae airstrip was socked in by weather, so they diverted to Salamoa. They droped five bombs and returned to base. A very inauspicous start for a Group that in the next 3 and a half years would make their mark from Aust. to Japan. On April 5, '42 the 13th and 90th Sq. would enter the fracas with their B-25's . Col. Davies would lead them on the first U.S. mission to Gasmata.
On April 7 Col. Davies led 10 of the B-25's to Darwin. There they installed auxilliary tanks in the bomb bay, and joined by 3 B-17's flew non-stop to Del Monte on Mindanoa in the P.I. For 4 days they flew out obscure strips attacking shipping and instalations in the Cebu, Davao, Mindanoa area. When they Japs discovered where they were coming from they returned to Darwin with no loss of planes or men. Altho it was touch and go for Pappy Gunn, as they had trouble reinstalling the bomb bay tank and he was a day or so late getting back, but get back he did.
Pappy got his nickname honestly. He was a 20 year Navy aviator who was working with a Phillipine air line when the war broke out. The Army Air Corp commitioned him a Capt., and after some harrowing expieriences was evacuated to Aust. and assigned to our Gp. He started flying combat mission with pilots less then half his age - hence the "Pappy". There being a shortage of top brass in the outfit it wasn't long until it was Col. Gunn. It didn't take long before all these Lts. that went over with us were Capts. and Majs.
The early months of the war were very costly to the Group in both men and planes, both of which were in extremely short supply in the S.W.P.A. The A-24's were slow and sitting ducks for the Jap Zeros. The B-25's as high level bombers were also slow and altho better armed were still treated badly by swarms of Zeros. On May 25, '42 6 B025's attacked Lae and one of them came back. Many times they were flying with out excorts. On July 29, '42 seven A-24's took off from Moresby to attack a convoy approaching Gona. They were supposed to have escort fighters, but lost them over the Owen Stanley Mts. They went in on the convoy without them - one A-24 survived that mission, and that was the end of the dive bombers in the 3rd Bomb Gp. By this time the 89th Sq. had received some A-20's and the 13th and 90th were getting some replacement B-25's. The 8th would sit idle for a while until it too recieved A-20s.
Jack Heyn in the South West Pacific during WW2 - The Full story
© Peter Dunn and Jack Heyn 2013
This page first produced 1 January 2001
This page last updated 05 May 2013