PERSONAL ACCOUNT OF BOMBER COMMAND STATION LIFE
PREPARED BY MAJOR BERNHARDT L. MORTENSEN

(A story about Fifth Bomber Command)

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The Headquarters Squadron of the Fifth Bomber Command had its birth in Townsville, Australia September 5, 1942. Facing the heavy task of getting several bombing groups as well as itself to coordinate, the Command naturally had its days of bewilderment and hectic preparation. The first offices were set up in an old four-story stone building just one block off Flinder's Street, the main thoroughfare of Townsville, a city of some 60,000 population. It was in this old building where Fifth Bomber Command came to life.

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Gen. Kenneth Walker

At the start of operations the organization found itself working in conjunction with the Royal Australian Air Force in order to get acclimated to the new and vast problems which lay ahead. General Kenneth N. Walker commanded the new born Fifth Bomber Command and was responsible for much of its success from the very start, inspiring the men under him with his likeable personality and pleasing manner until his untimely disappearance when the bombing plane in which he rode was shot down over Rabaul several months later.

In order to get acclimated to the geography, weather, terrain and other characteristics of future targets and reconnaissance as well as existing systems of communications and various other knowledge it was extremely necessary that the American Air Force work in conjunction with the Royal Australian Air Force. In the old stone building Yanks and Aussies worked side by side and hendled the dispatching of planes here and there. The WAAFS, Woman's Army Air Force, also worked the Fifth Bomber and Royal Australian Air Force combined offices and did a creditable job handling the telephone system as well as taking care of the many radio, telegram and cable messages constantly pouring in and out of the location.

 

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Townsville, is an important seaport far north on the Eastern coast of Australia. With a natural harbour and a fine large airport it provided a natural staging point and jumping-off location for New Guinea and other islands which were quickly being infiltrated by the Japs. Had the Japs landed in Australia's north country Townsville would have been the main point for American and Australian planes to stage their attacks. Fortunately Jap airplanes only came within a few  miles north of the city early in September 1942 (this was actually in July 1942) when a few bombs were dropped without damage.

 

vbc01.jpg (89342 bytes) Flinders Street, Townsville
vbc02.jpg (64494 bytes) Overlooking Strand Park, Townsville
vbc03.jpg (87035 bytes) The Basin
vbc04.jpg (86390 bytes) Railway Station, Townsville
vbc05.jpg (89784 bytes) Swing Basin and South Townsville
vbc06.jpg (93964 bytes) Flinders Street, Townsville
vbc07.jpg (82130 bytes) City Buildings, Townsville
vbc08.jpg (88220 bytes) The Strand, Townsville

When the Fifth Bomber Command began its operations it had the embroyo of what was then called a G-2 section, (later A-2), and operations, weather section, army records, finance and pay, personnel section and the beginnings of a few other functions. September and October were characterized by the thousands of messages, coded signals, telegrams and cables that poured through the building in a frantic fashion. The Nips were only 17 miles from Moresby fighting their way toward the American lines after having succeeded in coming over the Owen Stanley Range; the enemy was also in full occupation of New Britain, New Ireland and Bougainville and had occupied the Solomon Islands. The New Hebrides group were threatened as well as New Caledonia. New threats had been given to American shipping and the picture in general looked dark.

Jap bombers were hammering at American fighter air strips in New Guinea where only a small number of P-39's, P-40's and some of the newer P-38's were fighting desperately to drive away the strafing Zeros and the Nip bombers which were raiding American airstrips, camps and supply dumps with regularity both day and night. Far-flying Yank reconnaissance showed that the Japs were moving in large ground forces and tons of supplied all along the north coast of New Guinea and that airfields and supply dumps as well as shipping were sighted in dozens of places. The Fifth Bomber Command faced organization in the midst of threat and consternation. It had to build and organise swiftly from a bare beginning to face a grave responsibility and face it hurriedly and efficiently.

Considerable naval escort was being used by the Americans to guide their ships from the Townsville harbor on the three or four day ocean journey north across the Coral Sea to Port Moresby as Japanese submarines were reported to be hunting ships between the far north Australian coast and the Gulf of Papua. Reccos sent out from Garbutt Field at Townsville covered the Solomons Islands, the New Hebrides group, the Trobriand Islands and also toward Milne Bay, the latter place which held a small contingent of Nips.

Casual air corps troops had arrived during the early part of September from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and thousands more were pouring into Townsville all through October. As the troops arrived accomodations were being set up at camps surrounding the city and many were billeted in downtown hotels and private homes. Two of the biggest centers for accepting the new men were the Armstrong Paddock and the big camp at Garbutt Field. It was at Garbutt Field that the Fifth Bomber Command was located and through this camp that the 32nd Division of Infantry stopped off for a short stay before being flown to Port Moresby in a large flight of C-47's where they were to do some of the hardest fighting of the war staving off the Japs advance at Kokoda Pass and later to engage them in the crucial battle of Buna which marked the turning point in the Nip's southward move.

Radio outfits came in during October and by the time November came around the nearby territory was dotted with supply camps, motor pools, repair outfits, ammunition dumps; the harbour was dotted with Liberty ships and naval craft, military personnel hustled to and fro and the air fairly reeked with preparation. A move was imminent as men were ordered to draw new supplies, turning in all heavy winter clothing and getting supplied with mosquito nets and lotions, sun tans, given shots for cholera and quinine for maleria as well as preparing themselves in many other ways to protect themselves from the baking heat of the insect-infested, disease ridden country into which they were destined to move.

The first camp of the Fifth Bomber Command, as mentioned before, was located at Garbutt Field camping-area about two miles west of Townsville and just a short distance from the huge Garbutt air base. the air base at Townsville was at the time perhaps the finest in all Australia. Scores of American bombers and fighter planes as well as transports were parked around the place in preparation for the tremendous aerial effort about to be staged up North in New Guinea. At the Bomber Command camp the men were living in barracks constructed of wood and also enjoyed good shower facilities, a volley ball court, nightly movies, a good mess hall which served fresh milk, vegetables and eats. Chief among the drawbacks of the location was the dust which blew off the sandy soil and into the buildings and also the many small red ants which got into the beds and harassed the sleepers biting them sharply all night. Acting commanding officer at the time was Captain Raymond Swenson of Chicago City, Minnesota a former B-17 pilot in the early days of the war and one who had distinguished himself in action over Rabaul in some of the earliest raids on that target. Sgt. Plisek was acting first sergeant.

Most of the men in the Fifth Bomber Command were employed in the downtown offices and rode to work every morning in a truck. When off work men entertained themselves as best they could by attending anyone of the town's several theatres, both downtown and suburban, going swimming at the city's beach, enjoying conversation in the over-crowded pubs where both American and Australian soldiers compared notes on everything from women to horse-racing while others sauntered about the soldier-packed streets shopping in the city's over-taxed stores or looking for suitable souvenirs. Weekly excursions were run out to Magnetic Island and many took advantage of these going there in company with Aussie WAAAFs, spending the afternoon at the beach or enjoying a "spot of tea" with their newly acquired friends from "down under". Army bands provided a concert every Sunday afternoon in the park down by the beach entertaining thousands of civilians as well as soldiers.

The firts publication of the Fifth Bomber Command, "The Bomb Bay Review" as organised in the old stone building at Townsville first being published as a feature story paper coming out once a week. It contained cartoons and humorous accounts of Fifth Bomber Command personnel and announcements important to the squadron. This paper was organized by Ray Kierce, Tom Sullivan and Ted Norelius, enlisted men of the organization who edited its first editions.

The city of Townsville nestled at the foot of a giant bluff bakes under the hot and dry climate of this far northeastern coast of Australia. Swept by the warm winds of the shallow sea off the Great Barrier Reef and heated by the sands which burn under the ever-present scorching sun shining in an almost cloudless blue sky. The city swelters through the day. In the evening, its concrete buildings are still warm from the absorption of the daytime sun. A continued discomfort is felt in the streets even at night time due to heat reflected from the concrete walls and buildings. Discovered by Captain Towns in the early years of exploration and long before the continent had been accurately mapped, the place was named in honor of the sea captain who came to this remote shore to establish a trading post and to use its natural harbor. Townsville is now connected with a rail line from Brisbane which follows the coast and with its large airport it is no longer the city accessable only by water which it was for many years. During peace time it has a flourishing tourist trade and is an important shipping point for supplies running into the interior of northern Australia. Cattle and sheep raising are carried on out in the back country. Some of the greatest sport sea-fishing in the world is said to exist along the Great Barrier Reef, those waters having been given widespread publicity by the late novelist and sportsman, Zane Grey before his death.

Townsville was a rather quaint place with most of its residential houses set up on stilts and with its business houses combining an architecture that possesses a Hindustic influence with its porches and decorative latticed work. Traces of the Victorian period with fancy iron grill work, scrolls and arches were also noticeable in the styles of these homes which seemed to include such a variety of ideas. The downtown "Arcade" was a huge building with many porches and a hotel. This structure gave the appearance of an amusement center and the ostentatious front made it somewhat reminiscent of some of the gaudy buildings at an American State Fair Canopies covered the sidewalks in the business districts so that one was continually walking under a roof this way being protected from the terrific heat which burned the streets. Many of the large warehouses and the old brewery near the west end of the business district were utilized by the army for storing huges supplies to feed the New Guinea theatre of action. The railroad was taxed to the utmost; the harbor was filled with Liberty ships and naval craft; the docks were enlarged and crews were busy day and night loading boats for the move north and supplies were constantly leaving from Townsville to Port Moresby as one convoy after another was prepared.

Personnel of the Fifth Bomber Command prepared to move out "enmasse" on November 29, 1942 but reports had it that 16 Japanese submarines were in the waters off Horn Island and for that reason, the command was informed, the move was delayed until Tuesday, November 31st when the "Benjamin Franklin", a liberty ship, left Townsville harbor fully loaded with Fifth Bomber Command and 405th Signal Company personnel and equipment. An advanced echelon had left a few weeks before and were stationed in the village of Moresby where they were shaping up some of the preliminary efforts of the command.

"The Benjamin Franklin" moved out of the Townsville harbor and the men looked back at the city where they had spent their first three month's service with the Fifth Bomber Command. Herded like cattle on the boat hundreds of men stood on the deck with scarcely a few feet separating them. They were standing, sitting down or sprawled out upon the human-littered deck. In this congestion of soldiers the deck was crowded with life rafts, winches, ropes, cables, jeeps, command cars, artillery pieces, a cabin cruiser, life boats, machinery, guns and stores and supplies of all kinds.

Some men spread blankets on the deck underneath a truck or a heavy piece of equipment to escape the blistering heat; others resting one foot at a time hung at the rails staring into the sea. Men would watch the ink-dark water as it splashed against the sides of the ship. Sometimes it was dark and then a deep blue, each wave-tip somersaulting backwards exploding in an effervescence of opulency as the force expended itself against the prow. Flyinh fish darted here and there gliding in gradual half circles with their humming-bird wings fluttering in a staccoto motion during the brief time they were in the air. Probably everyone saw all this but the stares of the men were full of thought. Thoughts of home, of folks left behind, of some partucular girl, sweetheart or wife, parents or friends. Wonder was wrtitten on the cases of the men, wonder concerning the place to where they were going, about New Guinea and how long they would be there and of how long the war itself would last. Little did the men on the Liberty ship "Benjamin Franklin" realize that they would be marooned on this tropical island of Guinea, the second largest island in the world, for a period for some reaching out to almost two years. Few of the men thought that even after a two year period that they would be destined to go on to the Dutch East Netherlands and to various islands in the Philippines for another year or longer.

Actual speculations on the New Guinea stay ranged from four to eight months. "They can't keep us in New Guinea any longer than that", the men stated, adding that, "white men can't stand the climate. We will wither be sent back to the States after six months or back to the mainland in Australia for the duration. What a break if we we are up there about six months or so and then get stationed in Sydney or Melbourne until the war is over!" Thus were the speculations, but the grim destiny of a long, lonely, uncomfortable physical and mental ordeal lay ahead not to be changed.

The Liberty Ship "Ben Franklin", a vessel of 10,000 tons, was one of 12 dull painted ships in the convoy which with small naval escort consisting of destroyer escorts and sub-chasers slowed and methodically splashed their prows in the warm, ink-blue waters of the Coral Sea steaming northward toward Port Moresby. The destination was not anticipated with pleasure because even at sea and halfway to their new home the men realized that they would be cut off physically, socially and almost mentally from the rest of the world. They were sailing for New Guinea which everyone knew from earlier reports was to be a hot place, filled with jungle growth, tall grass, malarial mosquitoes, insects of many kinds and skin diseases which were very prevalent and discomforting at the least. There was hard work ahead and plenty of it, work to erect the camp, showers, latrines, to pitch tents, to cut poles and haul lumber, to building a mess hall, supply houses, office buildings and the labor of unloading the cargo off the boat and unloading it at camp, to arrange the office equipment and erect telephone and electric light lines besides the completion of countless other tasks.

Getting off the boat fully equipped with helmets, gas masks, web equipment and with barracks bags full of sun tans, fatigue suits, mosquito nets and repellents as well as rifles and other material the men climbed into army trucks which skirted the bay passing through the village of Port Moresby where Jap bomb craters could be seen and a few sunken boats in the harbor presented some of their rusted superstructure above the water. On the other side of Moresby the trucks followed the sea coast and then ascended a long winding road over a steep hill which took them over the sea cliffs and down into a valley where the trucks travelled about 14 miles out past "Seven Mile Strip" to the new location just behind a few bluffs off the road where the Fifth Bomber Command was to make its new home, its first one in a combat area.

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12 May 1943 - HQ Squadron Area, Fifth Bomber Command - Seven Mile Strip, New Guinea

It was now December 4th -- the day which marked the disembarkation of the main body of the command which was to settle in New Guinea. The men set about putting up their tents and in a few days work began on a large mess hall. At first only a small shed was used for the cooking and officers and men alike stood in the chow line awaiting their turn to get their mess kits filled and then each walked over to a stump, a log, a gas drum, tractor or whatever he could  find handy to sit on to eat his meal. When it rained the personnel ate and got soaked at the same time and when the sun was blistering hot one sought the shelter of a tree or bush and sat consuming his meal with thick, sticky sweat coursing down his face and moistening his clothes. Discomforts had begun.

vbc15.jpg (101306 bytes) 17 May 1943 - Constructing bridge near Ward's Drome
vbc16.jpg (178805 bytes) 1 June 1943
A-3 Const. HQ V Bomber Command

Men were sent into the jungles north of the camp site out past Wagani strip on the other side of Laloki River a couple miles from the camp where they worked for a few weeks cutting poles for the tents and buildings. Others were sent to a nearby gravel pit to get a bedding for the muddied road leading into the camp, while some crews were dispatched to glean the area for what lumber could be obtained. Office buildings were under construction and the first of these were built of grass with thatched roofs. Most of this work was done by the natives who possessed skill at lacing framework together without the use of nails and of weaving in the grass walls and roofs. Later these buildings, although cool, proved to be rather impractical because of the many insects they harbored. Small bugs would bore holes into the gframework causing a light sawdust to fall on the tables, desks and floors. With the grass-shack buildings full of cigarette-moking soldiers fire was also a hazard as was later proven when the 405th Signal building burned within 15 or 20 minutes. Fortunately the other adjoining structures were saved.

Members of the 405th Signal Company who had been attached to the Fifth Bomber Command arrived in New Guinea in both an advanced echelon which came several weeks prior to the other shipment of men from that outfit who made the journey with Bomber Command members on the S.S. Banjamin Franklin. The 405th Signal Company handled all the electrical wiring, telephone service, erection of poles, the power generators, radios, teletype machines and supervised the handling of all the incoming and outgoing messages as well as taking care of all weather broadcast information and the preliminary and final mission reports from the incoming bombing planes. Among other things the 405th took care of the messages on estimated time of arrival on all types of planes both combat and transports as well as countless other duties connected with radio and teletype information.

The officer's area was being given first consideration on much of the detail program. Many of the tents were pitched high on the bluffs near the office quarters. Paths were constructed to these lofty points. It was a tremendous physical effort to help carry the large-size electric refrigerators up the steep bluffs in order that some of the "wheels" may enjoy a cool, refreshing drink of water or a suitable wash for a highball while the rest of the proletariat struggled on in thru chain-gang fashion earning the full and appropriate right to chant the lusty strains of  the "Volga Boatman" had they enough strength to do so.

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The "Stagger Inn"

One of the first concerns of General Walker was that the temporary offices get set up so that operations could commence as soon as possible. At this time the American Air Force was segregating itself gradually from the Royal Australian Air Force but during the time of transition the Fifth Bomber Command had attached to itself several Australian officers and men who performed liason work between the two air forces. Time was not long before the strikes began and some of the B-17 groups were already hitting at Rabaul where the Japanese had a heavy concentration of ships, anti-aircraft guns, several air strips, offices, warehouses and tremendous supplies of all kinds including ammunition, food, machinery and nearly all types of naval and mercantile boats in sizes from the small barge to heavy cruisers.

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General Walker at the office

General Walker was anxious that Rabaul be hit soon and hard and was himself going out on many of these missions returning some times after having some narrow escapes from the terrific amount of flak which the enemy threw up at our formations from guns located at all positions near Rabaul harbor. The general had a heavy burden of work cast upon himself with supervising the raids and also doing everything in his power to see that the enlisted men as well as the officers were being taken care of. He demanded that the food be improved in the enlisted  men's mess and was indeed an "enlisted man's general". When both officers and men had to wait in the same chow line an incident occured which the men talked of for many months to follow. The general came to the chow line when it was about a block or more long and took his place last in line. A corporal offered him his place, one step closer to the food. The general refused saying he could wait his turn behind the corporal. About that time a young, arrogant, self defied second lieutenant with head overcome by the "commissioned drug" walked ahead of the whole line, edged his way to the food counter. General Walker, standing at the end of the line, stepped up, took the upstart by the arm and led him to the rear of the line to wait his turn demonstrating to the offender that it sometimes takes more than an act of congress to make a gentleman.

vbc23.jpg (95285 bytes) General Walker waiting his turn in the Chow Line
vbc24.jpg (78318 bytes) General Walker waiting his turn in the Chow Line

December 19th marked the first air raid for the newly settled members of the Fifth Bomber Command at their camp behind the bluffs and the big ridge which protected the camp site from the surrounding country. The sky was lighted all around as the sharp piercing-searchlights with their brilliant white shafts probed the air for the oncoming raiders. Deafening ack-ack was set up as the enemy came within range and as the Nip bombs pounded near some of our air strips. Jackson and Wards strips, two of the largest were often targets. A few days later the raiders came again, but damage was not severe. On Tuesday, December 15th the Nips wounded seven men at a nearby drome as several fragmentation bombs burst near them. Schrapnel whizzed around as ack-ack would fall to ground following bursts. Men of the Fifth Bomber Command crouched in slit trenches and in a small ditch which cut through the center of the camping area. Three Nip planes came within the crossing of the searchlights and as the ack-ack guns from surrounding territory, including the Moresby area, cracked out one plane was hit. Its motor let out a terrific roar as it headed earthward. The other two planes, clearly visible in the light and flying high and straight proceeded out toward the sea as hundreds of shells exploded around them. The sky was ablaze from the tracer dots and anti-aircraft fireworks.

Christmas of 1942 was one of the most cheerless and uneventful holidays which the officers and men of the Bomber Command had ever observed. All members of the command at Christmas dinner sitting out in the rain drenched from head to foot with mess kits half full of rain water. New Year's Day came off in the same manner probably with less rain, but with spirits just as damp. Young as the war was at that time nearly everyone wondered what the year's end would bring and many of the forever-hopeful even went so far as to predict a Christmas at home and a world at peace at the end of 1943. Little did some of them believe that the prospects for such as Christmas would look dim even when stationed in the Philippines in the year 1945.

vbc25.jpg (80300 bytes) Fifth Bomber Command Headquarters staff taken in December, 1942. General Kenneth Walker is talking to an RAAF officer on his left and Lt. Grimes is kneeling in front. Note that there are a number of RAAF officers among those in these photos.
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Fifth Bomber Command Headquarters staff taken in December, 1942. General Kenneth Walker is standing towards the right with dark glasses. Kneeling directly in front of him is Lt. (later Maj.) Victor Grimes.

Back row (left to right): Lt. Crandon (or Brandon) A-2; Maj. Chaffen (or Chaffin) A-3; Lt. Beebe Sig.; Maj. ? Ord.; Lt. Allard A-3; Capt. Morrison Sig, Capt. Loewenberg A-2; Lt. Palmer Sig.; Capt. Gaddis Sig.; Lt. Garret Stat.; Lt. Sullenger A-3.

Second row: Lt. Bundy A-2; Maj. Deihl A-4; Maj. Cox Eng.; Maj. Konapacki; Capt. Crowley A-2; Capt. Michaelis A-3; RAAF Officer; Col. Hobson A-3; Gen. Walker; Col. Lander A-2; Lt. Nauman A-2; Capt. Hoover A-3; Lt. Overturf (Gen. Walker's aide) A-2.

Front row: Lt. Jay Morrris A-2; Lt. Griffin A-3; Lt. Alexander Sig.; Mr. Jacobson Australian; Lt. Gillespie Sig., RAAF Officer; Ens. Carpenter (USN?) A-2; Lt. Grimes A-3 (Leslie's father); Capt. ? Ord.; Maj. Hughes A-3; Capt. Kani A-2; Lt. McIntyer (or McIntryer) A-3; Lt. Leke A-2.

 

The second photo is a much larger file and has names written on the photo.

vbc30.jpg (98449 bytes) The men of Fifth Bomber Command
vbc34.jpg (68315 bytes) The men of Fifth Bomber Command
vbc35.jpg (80453 bytes) The men of Fifth Bomber Command
vbc29.jpg (68390 bytes) Some men of Fifth Bomber Command

Can anyone give me their names?

vbc33.jpg (66636 bytes) Some men of Fifth Bomber Command

Can anyone give me their names?

vbc41.jpg (183360 bytes) Can anyone give me their names?

Major Victor W. Grimes is 3rd from the right in the centre row

vbc31.jpg (29277 bytes) Time to relax at Fifth Bomber Command. Captain Grimes is on the left.

On January 5th a tragedy happened which cut into the heart of every enlisted man and officer in the command. Everyone felt a keen loss, and, the command itself, as future events pointed out, lost heavily when its commander General Kenneth N. Walker disappeared while on a mission over Rabaul. The general went out on a bombing raid with a big flight of B-17's. They had bombed the target at Rabaul and when leaving it General Walker's plane was last seen by the rest of the squadron as it headed into a cloud followed by five Jap Zeros. One of the B-17's motors was already on fire. This was the last seen of the general who had earned such a fine respect among his men. A number of recco planes were sent out to hunt for him the next day, but no reports were turned in of his plane being sighted.

Photos from the raid on Rabaul on 5 January 1943

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The kindly and amiable General Ramey, an elderly man, replaced General Walker and, like his predeccessor, General Ramey was one who won many friends in the command and one who also worked hard and went on many missions with the fliers. He. too, was soon to meet a similar fate a short time later when he disappeared while on a flight toward Merauke.

Bombing raids were now quite frequent and on January 24th, 25th, and 26th Jap planes came over steadily.On the 26th three came in formation and one was shot down by a P-38 which dove through ack-ack to take a sporting shot at the intruder.

Japs continued their air raids on the Moresby area through the month of January 1943 and the American forces hammered awy steadily at Rabaul with an especially big strike on February 14th doing much damage.

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29 May 1943 - "Vera G" Fifth Bomber Command Boat

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29 May 1943 - Picture Theatre in New Guinea

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New Guinea native

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Typical native village

By this time the construction work had abated somewhat and the command officers and men were taking turns going on short trips up the coast in the Fifth Bomber Command crash boat which had been taken north from Australia. Lunch was provided and about 15 men at a time were taken along going about 30 miles where they could visit Tupecilli, a typical native village. Here many photos were taken of the New Guinea natives where they lived in their real aboriginal style. Souvenirs of various kinds were alo attainable. Good swimming was affored in the Laloki River just about a mile and a half from camp and also at the ocean beaches. Camp movies were also provided to augment the entertainment and movies in other camps were within easy walking distance of Bomber Command location.

BISMARCK SEA BATTLE

Japanese convoys coming in toward Lae, numbering 15, were sunk and a short time later more ships coming toward Wewak where an eventful landing was planned brought about thebiggest single piece of action with which the planes and the offices of the Fifth Bomber Command had to contend. The great air battle raged for five days from March 1st to the 5th. The sky was flecked with formations of bombers representing every group under the Fifth Bomber Command as they headed for the Vitiaz Straits where the Jap boats were sighted. Numerous fighter planes, too, dotted the sky above the bombers. Reports at noon on March 3rd had it that four Jap ships hit the bottom. One of our B-17's was shot down and planes were returning from the battle all day, reloaded with bombs and took off again. At evening time the Nips were reported a short distance off the New Guinea coast. Back at the Bomber Command offices this meant a flood of preliminary and final mission reports flowing through the 405th Signal Company offices day and night for the duration of the battles. From the time the first enemy ship was spotted until the last one was sent to the bottomthe command had a real job. Film was sent in by the yards and photos by the hundreds were made and studied when the bombers returned. The periodic report section of the Fifth Bomber Command was exceptionally busy going through all the mission reports and getting out a summary on all that happened during the days of the famous Bismarck Sea Battle. Twenty-two Japanese vessels, allsent to the bottom of the sea, was the final tally for this bit of action which is written down in history as one of the greatest chapters in the life of the Fifth Bomber Command. Much of the high over-all strategy for the victory was to the credit of the elder General Ramey and his staff who were busy 24 hours a day during the action.

The second general of the Fifth Bomber Command was to disappear when General Ramey in company with Navy Lt. Commander Manouci, Major Chaffin, Capt. Stanley Lowenberg, Capt. Griffin and Lt. Leif took off on an ill-fated journey in a B-17 never to return. They were on an operational flight out toward Merauke located west and north of Moresby up the south seacoast of New Guinea. Scores of reccos were sent out in a vain attempt to locate them. Strange things General Ramey was succeeded by another Ramey, no relation. The second Ramey was a young man, a colonel who later became a general.

THE 100 PLANE RAID 12 APRIL 1943

Next to the Bismarck Sea battle when scores of heavies, mediums and fighters  went in to high level bomb, skip bomb and strafe the Jap convoy and sink it came another of much importance. Going down in Bomber Command's history as one of its biggest and most exciting days was that of the Japanese 100 plane raid. This great scare happened on April 12th. An air raid alarm had sounded early in the day but turned out to be a false warning. About 9.30 a.m. it sounded again, and men from all parts of the camp, from the tents and office buildings ran to places of cover. Some hit slit trenches, others took to the ditch while others availed themselves of the wonderful vantage points high on Bovine Ridge just back of the camping area. Following the air raid signal all was quiet and men listened apprehensively for that characteristic sound of the Jap airplane motor which seems to run uneven sounding like a washing machine engine or as if the carbueretor were missing every now and then. All remained quiet until the unmistakable sound of Nip motors was slightly audible, then became louder. Looking to the northward and high in the clear blue sky was a sight that chilled the blood of many as 100 or more Jap fighters and bombers (estimated to be 45 bombers and 60 Zero fighters) were coming directly over the area of the Fifth Bomber Command camp. The visiting enemy ships were like silver dots against the blue of the sky and were flying in perfect formation. The anti-aircraft guns began to pound away and black puffs of smoke following the bursts could be seen to the front, sides and sometimes behind the huge formation. For a time the men thought that the entire bomb load would hit the camp area, but when the planes almost reached overhead they had swerved to the left and others turned right towards the Moresby docks. The group that went to the left of the camp unloaded its bombs in an attempt to hit Berry Strip and the explosion of the entire pattern of bombs could be seen by the members of the Fifth Bomber Command who chose the positions on Bovine Ridge.

"Had that pattern which landed only about a mile and a quarter from our camp had hit this area we would have been wiped out to the man," stated Sgt. Peter Pantuso of Chicago, Illinois who was one of the men on the hill witnessing the action.

The Nip bomb pattern while falling just off the strip destroyed several B-25's besides ruining a small amount of supplies. Shortly after that terrific explosion of bombs occurred smoke was seen over toward the Moresby area where the group of Nip planes which left the formation had bombed and hit a large gasoline tank. A few ammunition dumps were also hit and smoke rose to 5,000 feet. Later reports had it that nine men were killed within the nearby vicinity which was not a heavy casualty for so many planes bombing an area concentrated with so many men. At the beginning of the raid the American planes did not give the invaders very good interception, but later a great air battle took place far out at sea where 19 Japanese bombers were shot down. Ten Zeros also fell in the sea. This aerial action marked the largest number of ships that the Japs had sent against the area in which the Fifth Bomber Command was located, the raid being the largest single enemy air action  which the Nips ever attempted against the command and groups in the New Guinea campaign.

By April 16, 1943 the Fifth Bomber Command had instituted a policy of sending men on furloughs south to McKay (this should actually read as Mackay) and to Sydney, Australia. The furlough personnel were flown down to their destination, given a ten day stay and then flown back to the Moresby area.

An idea of how the men felt during their stay in the Moresby area of New Guinea is taken from a soldier's diary in which he wrote: "How does one feel here? Answer: Lack of energy, lazy, heat burns into ones feet -- it is humid and muggy -- the atmosphere is hot, damp and stifling -- seems to be an effort with every physical exertion." Another excerpt shows what a typical soldier's day was like -- "Got up this morning, ate breakfast, went to work, got off for dinner, ate bully beef and dehydrated potatoes with battery acid for a drink, went back to work. Got off work at 5 p.m., ate supper, took shower and went to tent. Within a few minutes it got dark went to bed -- too tired and listless to attend the movies." With the exception of a mo? now and then the soldier had just added ditto marks in his diary giving an idea of how drab life was from one day to the next.

Jap air raids continued every other few days but not much damage resulted near the bomber command vicinity.

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A huge combined officer's club and mess hall was constructed and parties with orchestras and nurses were held every now and then. Besides the reading room, dining hall and kitchen the club had a nice bar room where many brands of Australian liquor were served and beer occasionally. In the officer's camping area the tents were near the club, most of them being pitched close to the side of the hill. Some of the tents were provided with wood floors and framework depending upon how much work the individuals accomplished on their own quarters. In the enlisted men's area it was the same. Some of the ambitious ones had floors in their tents, framed sides, screen doors etc., all of the tents in both enlisted and officer areas which did not have wooden floors were provided with gravel flooring. Electric lights were set up throughout the area and at night the camp presented the view of a small city.

An enlisted mens' club was set up near the top of Bovine Ridge and was equipped with electric lights, bar, ping pong tables, magazines and a huge room for lounging. Only one mistake marred the feeling in connection with the club and that is that it was set up as a "sergeant's" club and lower grades than buck sergeant were not allowed to attend the club or drink there without special invitation. That rank distinction should ever touch the enlisted ranks was indeed taken with a sour note, and justly so. As an example: Here was a buck private 44 years old who was not allowed to drink at a club and a young tech sergeant 21 years old who could drink there because of his rank. The silly note in the affair -- that the old man probablytook his first drink before the youngster was born and yet, because of rank distinction was not allowed to drink because he did not have three stripes or better. The "Sergeant's Club" had an unfair start, and, toward the last days when buck privates were allowed to attend, the club's generosity was taken as a condescending appeasement.

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Sergeants of 5th Bomber Command
Warning - this file is large - 326Kbytes

Front Row: M/Sgt. Jim A. Applewhite, Cpl Benjamin Sogol, P.F.C. Clemon Beck, Sgt. Lawrence F. Long,Sgt. Morris N. Levine.

Middle Row: T/Sgt. Michael J. Hennegan, S/Sgt. Albert Authier, T/SGt. Larry M. Koeck, S/Sgt. Henry Taggart, S/Sgt. Jim H. Wachter, Sgt. Theodore Norelius, T/Sgt. Sam Tatalbaum

Back Row: M/Sgt. Charles Raymond, M/Sgt. Bernard Bopp, S/Sgt. Raymond Kierce, Sgt. Francis A. Bradford, T/Sgt. George L. Stangl.

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Names and addresses, etc,   for the above personnel

Jap air raids continued every several days and occasionally the anti-aircraft fire would send one down in flames in full view of the Bomber Command men who watched the action with eagerness. May and June of 1943 passed with the same dull routine with only nightly movies and a swim in the river to break the monotony. Sometimes for another diversion the men who ride into Port Moresby 14 miles distant and spend the day. Moresby had nothing but canteen operated by the Aussies and another by the American Red Cross serving some "GI" biscuits and the usual "battery acid" drinks. "Battery Acid" was a dehydrated lemon mix. Other entertainment consisted of that abomination called the "ping pong game", the game which could rightly be labelled "a mold introduction to insanity". Besides "ping pong" there were the usual six and twelve months old magazines. One could read all the news of one and two years ago which then was a good deal healthier and happier than that which was taking place in the world at the time. Outside of all this one could walk around the hot, dusty streets of Port Moresby, gaze in pensive mood at the ships in the harbor and wonder inquisitively as to what ship or when a ship would eventually take him home. It was also possible to board a tug at the dock or one of the many launches and motor out to a nearby island where there was a fine sandy beach for swimming.

The month of June 1943 was a little cooler than previous months it being one of the winter months in New Guinea. June, July and August are more pleasant there with breezes blowing almost every afternoon. Perhaps it was just because the temperature dropped from sizzling down to just plain hot that this difference was noted.

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1 August 1943 - Motor Pool Construction,
HQ Squadron, Fifth Bomber Command

 

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Orderly Room, 5th Bomber Command
Vine Street running left to right

 

Men were leaving every other day for furloughs to the South and the personal accounts of the many escapades the men had down there filled in a good part of the entertainment for the men. All were favourably impressed with the Australian trip especially the one to the city of Sydney where the real fun was had.

Note from a diary taken on July 16, 1943: -- "New Guinea -- hot, sultry and sweat perspiration seems to hang on a person like a damp wet cloth. The soggy heat seems to give the bare flesh a cadaverous feeling. Feverish and clammy we work on, oblivious sometimes and unconscious of what we endure."

Another note from a few days later: -- "Goddam continued heat. Its enough to make a man crazy. And now come flies and mosquitos. Insects are all over biting and pestering one all day long. Ordinary house flies like back home. One of the natives here even said, 'Papua -- too hot!'"

During the month of August some of the men found entertainment hunting in the steaming jungle swamps for ducks with fair success. Others hunted and killed a few deer and a party from the 405th Signal Company killed a large European Rusa Stag. The meat was cut up and served at the mess hall to the hunters and friends. Other parties went out in quest of wild pig, jungle hens and other game, getting for themselves a pleasant change from the dull routine of army life. The surrounding country of Port Moresby is very scenic and the many well-developed roads built by army engineers lead through some beautiful valleys and past some fine stands of timber in the country north of the Leleki River. One scenic trip which many men of the Fifth Bomber Command took was out to Bona Falls about 35 miles northeast of the camp on a steep climbing road in the mountain country. In the distance could be seen the long ranges of the Owen Stanley mountains, green with vegetation of the heaviest type and over which some of the most striking cloud formations and sun rises would occur. At eventime the sunsets over the ridge near the Bomber Command camp are most unusual.

The command was busy all during June, July, August and September handling scores of strikes against Lea, Salamaua, Rabaul, New Britain and Kavieng, New Ireland. The Nips had been driven from Milne Bay and from some of the southern sir strips in the Solomons around Guadalcanal. They had been bombed at Choisuel, at Buka and Bougainville and Wewak had been heavily blasted by the American heavies knocking out dozens of Jap planes on the strip and in the revetments there. It was believed that some of the Jap concentration of planes at Wewak was brought about when they moved them from the strips at Rabaul where the pounding bececame too severe. Targets up the coast continued and planes regularly hit were Salamau, Lae, Gasmata, Madang. Wewak as well as shipping up toward the Admiralty Islands and off the north coast of New Britain and New Ireland.

During the stay of the Fifth Bomber Command in the Moresby area many tragic accidents occurred to plane crews and to ground men who befell many kinds of hard luck, everything from rolling over in a truck, drowning while out shooting ducks, to getting hit by bomb fragments. To list all of these would be impossible but the writer will jot down a few here which stand out in memory. On April 23rd a flying boat from Australia headed for Moresby went down at sea with 36 aboard. The report came in that 18 survivors were picked up. The seaplane was over the Port Moresby area during a heavy rain and then went out to sea 30 miles to make the landing in order not to risk coming down in the harbor with such poor visibility because of the many seaplanes and ship riding in anchor there. The plane came to a safe landing on the water, but floated up against a reef, crashed open and went down.

On May 13th a flight of Japanese bombers dropped a load of delayed action bombs near the camp area and men could see the flashes of the explosions for many minutes later.

Two Jap raids of six planes each occurred on the night of May 15th. One Jap bomber was shot down by one of our night fighters. The ack ack fire around the area was terrific with guns, bug and small firing from all positions for miles around.

On the morning of June 14th ward reached the command that 40 men of the 38th Bomb Group were killed in a B-17 while returning from a furlough trip. The big ship overloaded, took off from the MacKay strip and shortly after getting airborne two of the motors failed, caught fire and the ship crashed. Bodies were strewn over a wide area. At the time it seemed that the army was careless on overloading, using fields with too short runs and worn out planes.

June 26th two B-17's were reported lost over Rabaul in a heavy raid there. Captain Scott, well known in the command was one of the victims.

A young major went out hunting ducks in one of the heavy jungle swamps a few miles north of the Fifth Bomber Command camp and drowned when his rubber boat upset.

Several B-24's crashed on take-off when heavily loaded with bombs and ammunition. Many of these ships were equator reccos and men who served in and around the Port Moresby area at the time can well remember the terrible concussions these explosions would make as they crashed at take-off time just at dawn. Crews were wiped out to the man when these tragedies occurred.

Among the tragedies which happened in the vicinity was one which will never be forgotten by the men in the intelligence section A-2 who gathered around the radio to hear the broadcast of a B-24 crew coming in late and flying in the rain after a long recco flight. The plane was a short distance out, wired for lights on the field and directions for landing. Outside the motors of the plane could be plainly heard and then it flew over the landing field while ground operators tried in vain to bring the plane to a landing. Rain fell heavier until it seemed in solid sheets. To bring the plane in on a beam was impossible. The ship circled the field again, lined up with the runway but the pilot zoomed again, just then changing his mind about risking a landing through the heavy weather. The conversation between the pilot and the ground crew was picked up plainly on the intelligence radio and it was very apparent the pilot was tired and discouraged beyond human comprehension as his voice faltered and he answered the ground station in a fatigued and despairing manner, "can’t find the field, nor see a thing--gas for only a few minutes" were the words he sent out when radar plotted the ship now 10 miles out from the field. His last report---"gas giving out--two motor quit--other coughing. .....We are bailing out--good bye". That was the last. The giant B-24 plunged to the ground and the next day, August 10th the wreckage was found. A parachute or two had opened, but too late. The entire crew had perished.

A P-47 fighter about to land at Durand strip zoomed over the field and when at the end of the runway climbed fast and suddenly veered in a falling turn to the right, hitting the ground in a puff of dust, then bouncing off near the road it stopped and burst into flame consuming both pilot and machine. At seven mile strip on September another recco ship, a B-24 crashed killing the entire crew.

On September 5th another armed recco crashed at Seven Mile strip causing a tremendous concussion and also producing a miracle. The gunner who stayed the gunner who stayed in the tail compartment, when that piece broke off, walked away from the accident. The tail piece was blown many yards away from the other part of the ship. It was one of the most freakish escapes of the war.

Of such as mentioned above were some of the tragedies and accidents which occurred with such regularity that they sometimes went by unnoticed.

August 8th--General MacArthur was reported to have put out a memorandum that no one was to go home until the war was over. News came over radio about the Russian advance near Kharkov. Some stated even then "Boy, it won’t be long now! These Nips too will son quit. Shucks, this New Guinea deal is just a "holding action." (It proved to be a holding action alright--holding out for three years or better.)

The Furlough

The Furlough had two parts to it--the actual furlough and the part of telling it to the men after the return. Both parts were enjoyable as those on the furlough had fun and those back at camp found enjoyment in listening to the reports from the boys whose return they awaited with eagerness. Rare indeed were some of the tales of conquest and some of the photos which came back into the Fifth Bomber command giving from every angle an idea of the fun which must have been had. The furlough men arrived back from their Australian stays after having been gone from 7 to 35 days depending on how well they could manipulate things or how they knew how to go AWOL under some other more respectable designation such as "inability to arrange transportation", "forced to turn in at hospital for malaria", "couldn’t get priority on flight manifest", or "engine trouble" the latter excuse which was good for more than one extension of a happy Australian vacation.

Here is a story of a furlough trip which three soldiers took to Sydney during the middle of 1942 and which might be considered quite typical of trips and happenings which many others enjoyed. It will be brief and taken direct from the pages of a diary. The writer will label it "Sam, Joe and I" to add an intimate touch to the narrative.

The Sydney furlough trip from a diary:-

"Sam, Joe and I got our furlough papers on May 17. We planned on first going to Mackay a small Aussie town down the coast from Townsville, but after hearing reports of Sydney, a city of over one and a half million, we figured that there must be lots of pubs, pussies and places to ear. Mackay was good too, but we couldn’t waste our shots. It was like going out to hunt something to eat--we felt that if the three of us would fire our fine bird shot into a big flock that we would be more likely to get some game--so Sydney it was. May 18th: Sam, Joe and I took off at Seven Mile Strip in a B-24 Liberator bombing plane, the "fat cat" ship for the south. It was the first time we ever took off standing in the bomb bay and that thrilled us to the point where we had to walk to the tail end of the ship real tense-like to keep diarrhea from spoiling the trip. About a hundred miles out I had realized that I forgot my furlough papers. From than on someone produced other papers and then I was somebody else for the rest of the trip. The Lads even called me by the other name and this scared me, especially during times of drunkenness. The ship flew across the Coral Sea, landed in Brisbane 6 hours and 10 minutes from Port Moresby. We got off, went to Red Cross and ate. Next thing we did was to date up the chambermaid but after getting out on the street and getting a view of some of the delicate little feminine hors d’oeuvres we decided that we had been too hasty in dating up that chambermaid, so there was only one thing to do--ditch the chambermaid. We then ate supper, went to the Coconut Grove, dated up a few girls who went home with somebody else. We then crossed the street and went to an Australian square dance or something. After getting tangled up in a "progressive barn dance". "pride of Erin", and a few other regimented dances and making a mess out of the whole damn thing, much to the consternation of the crowd, we went back to the Red Cross.

"At the Red Cross we learned that our chambermaid sweetheart had waited a couple of hours for us and then left in disgust. We couldn’t figure out why she was disgusted, because now that the three of us had lost all our other dates we were perfectly willing to take her out and show her some new games.

The next day, May 19th, we got papers from the R.T.O. (Railroad Transportation Office) and boarded the train for Sydney. Fortunately we had a few bottles of gin and after some drinks we sat down with some Aussies from the "out back" country or "back out" as we would say it in American.

They engaged us in conversation about sheep raising in Western Australia. After a few shots of gin we felt confident enough to converse upon any subject so with our limited knowledge on sheep we led our Aussie friends on and soon found ourselves tied up in one of those atrocious boring situations from which it seems only death can bring proper relief. The talk went from sheep to Marino rams and then wool-carding and cross breeding of different types. Several times Sam excused himself to go to the toilet and when he returned he had his hair combed, shoes polished, face washed and other incidental personal improvements to indicate that he had tried to escape as much sheep talk as possible. All this time I was so mortified that to me it seemed as if the very air in that train reeked of sheep dung. I felt like saying so but a certain ingrained trait of politeness which has at times kept me innocent of committing sheer murder helped to restrain me and hide the aggravation which two constant hours of sheep conversation had brought to a fester. Now Sam, Joe and I were all sitting opposite the Aussies and our "going to the can" excuse was worn out--what next? Gin, tat was it. I told Sam and he passed them the bottle which the two sheep raisers started to empty. Joe who wanted a good slug to get a little unconscious and seek conversational relief, stared wild eyed at the "out back" shepherds. By this time not only my mind was tired and worn out but the constant talk of sheep, mutton and wool-carding had made my throat dry and stomach nauseated. The last sheep herder took a terrific gulp of the gin and he belched. " So help me Christ" Sam said later, "if he’d have said "Baa!" instead of belching I’d have left the train through the window!"

"The end of the ordeal came when the three of us had spied a couple of neat looking Aussie gals a few seats ahead and every now and then we peered out and around the partition to get a better look. They smiled at us and the prospects of a pleasant trip commenced to look up. About this time the tenders of the sheep began to discuss castrating rams and that proved to be the last straw.

"Sorry man", we said, but we might have to get off here!" Thereupon the three of us moved ahead in the train coach where the itching wool of the sheep talk would bother us no longer.

"Now dammit," said Joe, "be careful who you meet and don’t start anymore conversations if you don’t know what in hell you are talking about--worse yet--if you aren’t a damn bit interested."

"After this advice and escape from what seemed to be an eternal boredom we pulled the cork on another bottle of gin, bought some lemon mix and ice at one of the frequent railroad stations at which these Australian trains pause. After lifting some more delightfully cool and refreshing drinks we made the rest of the journey enjoyable.

"Arriving in "Sydney at 7:30 we got off at the big depot with the galvanized tin-roof. Here a city of one and one half million is nestled on the rocky shores of what is one of the most beautiful harbors in the world. With its fine bays, inlets and small coves the surf of the Pacific washes the sands a clean white and gives the city a cool, healthful breeze making it comfortable and fresh as the sea itself. The business and residential sections are modern as any American city, with certain reservations, and the streets and boulevards are lined with shrubbery, flowers and trees. Sydney is lovely beyond a word picture and the only way to appreciate its physical beauty and its innate hospitality is to see it.

"Going to the Red Cross we arranged for beds for the evening, but before evening came we had rented an apartment for the week at 32 Cranbrook Road out at Rose Bay. The cozy little spot included three bedrooms (very essential for our plans), a bath, parlor, kitchen and veranda overlooking the sea.

"Sam and I went to King’s Cross, the place that everybody who ever visits Sydney goes to or learns about. It’s the social market of the city, the same as Greenwich Village in New York. Here King’s Cross is the clearing place, the booking house, the hang-out, the parade grounds, the rendezvous for every type and age of human beings. It is the gathering place of the good and bad, the lame, the crippled, the halt and the blind, the young and carefree, the sober and drunk, the Protestant, Jew, Atheists, Mohammedan, Catholic, Holy Rollers, Seven Day Adventist, Salvation Army, the pimps, prostitutes, pick pockets and homo-sexuals. It has virtually every race and type of man, mouse, cheat, beggar, saint and devil who can walk, crawl or swim, making up all the flotsam and jetsam in humanity’s garbage including the young, virtuous and cantaloupe-breasted, firm-bellied doves whose tantalizing limbs and provocative hips seem to re-fresh that part of the human lot which has become physically stale and sort of adds a new tartness to life itself---like vinegar on slightly spoiled cabbage.

King’s Cross gives Sydney something which has characteristic flavor, the flavor of King’s Cross itself. One is asked two questions. Have you been to Sydney? The other question is "have you been at King’s Cross?" As mentioned before the Cross has everything--a reputation which the pious cast aspersions upon and a charm which even the pious come occasionally to seek---so that they may cast more aspersions. How they enjoy it! Here the visitor to the city can make elaborate plans from everything including a mysterious murder to a clandestine affair with some janitor’s wife, or, he can go on a good, genuine drunken debauch with a knock-down and drag-out finish complete with jail bed and court house dramatics. He can enjoy a delightful evening at bridge with prissy old-maid partners including tea and light sandwiches. One needn’t be lonely at King’s Cross. Money gets everything. Even on a rainy night anything can be purchased from a woman’s pelvis to a cake of soap providing you have "the bloody quids".

"When everything goes dead in downtown Sydney around 11 p.m. the populace hits for King’s Cross. At the Cross the street is teaming with all kinds of souls. Here are thousands of men and women pleasure bent, the older ones being bent from too much pleasure. You can buy everything from a bouquet of orchids to a left-hand nut off the manifold of a 1926 model Ford or you can arrange any kind of a party from a visit to a museum, seeking the vestiges of a virgin, to an attempt at seducing a 60-year old widow giving her Freudian theory that sexual rejuvenation will in the years of her twilight lead her toward vim, vigor, health, babies and happiness. People at King’s Cross are sociable and eager to listen to any type of idea or promotions you have in store for them. When you are through suggesting just what type of sofa you would wish to court the little woman on, or where you’d like to dance her, feed her, walk her or get her drunk she is perfectly willing to listen and the greater percentage of cases

to come along and throw in all the tricks she has got to make the evening one to be remembered blotting out at least temporarily all memories ye soldier has of the unpleasant days in the jungle. King’s Cross people love a proposition whether its an invitation to a bridge game or a plan to get rid of a husband or wife.

Your evening or daytime on the Cross is easy and indeed colorful. All you wear is what you wear. Standing on the square and viewing the crowd one sees a gray-haired man with celluoid horn-rimmed glasses walking around in his night robe trying to buy a pint of milk for his cat. Next person is an orchestra man, restaurant waiter or social lion in a tuxedo or dress coat, then comes a street sweeper with cigar and white coat with dirty blue denim pants. Soldiers and sailors from the American, British and Dutch navies are mixed in the crowd wearing every type of uniform from army fatigue suit to a naval commander’s uniform. One man comes along in overalls, another in business suit, another in loud golf knickers, the uniform of the Salvation Army, women come in furs, silks, mens’ clothes for those who have homo sexual inclinations, and in the gingham dresses of the washwoman. There are preachers, priests, rabbis, shoppers, military men, sheep raisers from western Australia, business people, bootleggers, whores, thieves, musicians, tourists, gaping sight-seers, reformers, lecturers, boys and girls and men and women looking for dates and every kind of person intent on shopping, seducing, stealing, getting drunk, eating, attending church or social functions such as dinner parties, dances or card playing. There are women out trying to make the men and vice versa; some asking for money, others for pleasure and some for the mere fun of perfecting or preserving their technique.

"At a Salvation Army religious service one sees all ages of people listening intently and some not so intently but listening just the same. Fat, potbellied women in their forties with arms laden with groceries baskets and stalks of celery sticking out from one pocket of a torn and frayed red-clothed shopping coat, glasses half way down around their noses and a bland expression upon their faces stand around seemingly as if they are wondering whether they should go home and fix late supper for their families or forsake the home life, grab a tamborine and sing and shout like hell dedicating their lives in picking up some of the many lost souls staggering and high stepping around King’s Cross.

"As the services continue and the reformer shouts loud above the traffic noises and the din of the Cross a sailor staggers out to the curb and with a resounding "wump" and a conglommeration of choking, gurgling and sputtering disgorges his last three meals, slumps to the sidewalk in a virtual ball, his cap rolling three yards from his body and with his recently laundered white ice cream suit sodirty that he takes on the appearance of one who copped first prize at a national coal shoveling contest.

"Exhorting his listeners to give up their evil ways and lay aside the evil of drink the reformer finds that he has no more ardent or faithful audience than the middle-aged ubiquitous drunk hanging on to a lamp post, head a waying and with bleary eyes one who attempts vainly to interpret the heavenly message through a brain fogged by alcoholic clouds which have befuddled him during a three-day drunken rain storm through which he was soaked by every brand of whiskey, brandy, rum, beer and light wine in Australia.

"Night time comes and there is a feverish rush around the Cross. This is "dating time" and it seems everybody is eager for a date with someone. Ladies, young and a little older stand on corners waiting for street cars yet let all the street cars pass. It’s easy to walk up to them and say, "How do you do--are you having a hard time to get a ride?" Whereupon her retort will say "Oh no--we could go over to my apartment. Its only a short walk." And there you have it--she saw you before you saw her and probably watched you cast carnal eyes at some of the silken clad beef roasts that were wiggling up and down the street. In other words King’s Cross know its people and knows what they want and it helps them get it. The frankness and honest approach which the Cross denotes toward the solving of biological, spiritual and gustatory problems is without parallel in this part of the world.

"Going to the King’s Cross square Sam, Joe and I noticed a rather buxom blonde, a woman of the world--the world of King’s Cross. Taking her to the Mayfair lounge and after partaking of seven or eight highballs she engaged us in an intimate conversation which made us feel as if we had known her for at least forty years. Modesty prevents the writer from telling in detail just what she discussed regarding her social skill but it could aptly be called a "Heinz Catsup subject" because she talked of the fifty-seven different varieties.

"After leaving the Mayfair we dated up three girls and then a few hours later after forgetting about the dates we told to come to the house we dated up three more. That evening with three of the girls in the upstairs of the apartment things were going well until the lady of the house informed us that we had three waiting downstairs. How to get rid of at least the three upstairs women or the three waiting below became a perplexing problem.

"Take the downstairs three over to the cross" said Sam "and try and ditch ‘em. Then come back here."

"To the Cross this person went and spent the evening trying to get away, but in futility while back at the apartment the other boys had one extra girl who had to be chaperon against her wishes and with her very presence interfered with some of the cozy little plans that Sam and Joe had in store.

"Soldiers from all over complained that Sydney offered too many dates and too much to do so that plans became complicated and wires very easily became crossed.

"Trips about the city took the furlough men out to Bondi Beach to the hotel there where several highballs started a gay afternoon on the sand. Other entertainment took them to Manly Beach reached by crossing the bay in the ferries which operated from the Circular Quay to Manly. A trip out to the Blue Mountains, 100 miles, also attracted many. Katoomba is the town at the mountains and has a population of 60,000 attracting many visitors annually. The Twoomba National Park and the Tsrong Park and zoo were other points of pleasure although the Aussie girls used to say, "come on boys--don’t kid up--you didn’t come down here to see the zoo."

The Australians were very hospitable to all the Americans and the girls were very generous with their dates helping the soldiers to see and do everything that was interesting. There were the horse races at Parametta, Randwick, Rose Hill tracks and others; dancing at the Trocadero and other halls about town; good food at Romano’s Carleton Hotel and Adams Cafe and sea foods at Ferandez Cafe to mention but a few of the outstanding ones, fine food and accommodations in all the suburban sections and along the coast at Bondi, Manly, Maraube Beaches; besides trips up to New Castle and the Blue Mountains to the various parks, museums, galleries and countless places near the city.

May 29th and the first seven day furlough from New Guinea to Sydney was over for the threesome and before leaving Sam, Joe and I went to Mark Foy’s store tired by happy after a week of eating, drinking and love making in Sydney. At the huge department store each of us bought a marino ram fug to send home. Probably the conversation with the Aussie sheep herders on the train coming down inspired us. Boarding the train at 7:30 we moved north to Brisbane where we planned to have T-bone steak dinner. The notes from the diary read on as follows: "Went to Red Cross, signed in for beds, M.P.’s examined our" papers, found we were a day AWOL, called patrol wagon and instead of ending up in big cafe eating T-bone steak we found ourselves in jail with three drunk Indians."

To demonstrate how well it is to know people one of us called the head lieutenant, got to talking, found out we were from the same state. He knew someone the other fellow knew and "what the hell--you know him? Well! What are you boys in for?" "Well you see ..it was like this". It was fixed up. After getting out of the "jug" following a seven hour stay we went back to the Red Cross to eat and sleep.

"Catching a B-25 "Red Headed Gal" Fifth Bomber Command "fat cat" plane we were about to head north for Townsville on the return trip to New Guinea’s jungles. However, as the engines were warming up the left one caught fire and the trip had to be canceled for a seek as the ship had to undergo repairs and tests. This fortunate occurrence gave us another week on our furlough. Sam, Joe and I then commenced to enjoy ourselves stepping out, dancing, eating and attending shows. One of the first things we did was to promote a date with one of the chambermaids at the Red Cross who was just about 15 years our senior but who seemed in rather serviceable condition for a night of good home fun. Joe had a girl all to himself, but due to the fact that Sam and I had to put on such a wild salesman’s talk to get our date we were both quit satisfied with the game we had flushed.

War news from Europe sounded good, even then in 1943, and as we stood in the pubs and got fairly well into our cups it looked better and better.

"It just can’t last much longer" we stated after the sixth drink, "Germany just can’t stand the pace." Neither could we as the idea of drinking heavy Aussie stout on top of the whiskey was too much for us for that day.

A visit to the Brisbane Telegraph & Courier News plants was of interest. The Australians have practically the same equipment as used in American plants. June 4th the diary states: "we went to Archer Field for take off--motor on right engine failed and trip was canceled again---16 mechanics worked on plane for whole week. Few days later---took off with full load--several tons of beer and whiskey, 14 men and the pilots. Hit bad weather up coast and flew thru rainstorm coming into Townsville. Couldn’t find place at first. Col. Ellis made perfect landing. Time about 3 hours from Brisbane. Spent rest of day and night there. June 6th: Went to Garbutt Field for take off in "Red Headed Gal", but one of the engines failed to start--needed new generator so we laid over another day in Townsville. June 7th: Woke at Red Cross in Townsville, ate and rode to Garbutt Field. Took off--found weather excellent most of way until we arrived at New Guinea coast. Found Seven Mile Strip through fog then had to circle drome four times as right landing gear did not come down immediately. Manual crank was used on landing device and we came in safely."

This report ends what many of the furlough trips were like for the "GI’s" and officers of the Fifth Bomber Command. Australia gave them all the food, drink, accommodations, hospitality and friendship that could possibly be offered and the men of the air forces deeply appreciated the wonderful times enjoyed down there and will remember for many years the fine cooperation which Australia and its people afforded them.

Many strikes with both heavies and mediums went out from the Fifth Bomber Command groups during the summer and fall of 1943 hitting all the Jap strongholds on the north coast of New Guinea as well as the shipping along that coast and islands of the Solomon group, New Britain in and New Ireland besides making many missions to the harbor of Rabaul where our heavies, and mediums too, pounded at shipping, shore installations, supplies and at the Nip air strips there, Vunkenau and Rapopo.

During the early days of September 1943 an order came through that all enlisted men over 38 years of age could be sent home for discharge. None over that age had to be coaxed. They were flown to Brisbane where they embarked for the states getting the boat for home at that place.

The headquarters squadron was getting good mail service at this time with letters from home arriving sometimes in only ten days.

During the early part of 1943 the Fifth Bomber Command had the 3rd, 38th, and 345th medium Bomb Groups and the 90th and 43rd heavy Bomb Groups operating out of the Port Moresby area but in October the 3rd Group was sent to Dobodura which had been in American hands since the battle of Buna ended late in January 1943. At Dobodura the Fifth Bomber Command had a forward echelon and late in the year the 43rd Bomb Group with its heavies went up there to get a closer operating base against the important Jap held port of Rabaul and to carry bigger bomb loads on shipping strikes. Getting on the other side of the "hump" as they called it or in reality the Owen Stanley Range was a great aid in carrying out missions when rough weather in the mountains prohibited the planes in the Moresby areas to get through. The strips at Dobodura were in fine condition and living conditions there were by the end of the year being improved to the extent that Dobodura was sometimes referred to as the best area in New Guinea.

The first skirmishes which the American troops had with the Japs in northern New Guinea and around Buna brought some stories of atrocities into the camps. Aussie soldiers too, who spent much time visiting with the Yanks, often told incredible tales of Jap brutality. Not only the infantry, but the air corps as well commenced to substantiate some of these tales as born out in the paragraph below which tells of the misfortune of an American pilot who fell a victim to the Nips, when the transport plane which he was flying, fell within Jap lines near Salamaua. The story is said by authoritative sources to have been taken from the diary of a Jap soldier. It was given wide publication back in the States by the

Associated Press and its veracity seems to be unquestioned.

Following is a brief account of the atrocity committed upon an American pilot as the Jap’s diary had it. The Japanese "Carnival of Blood" as the Yanks called it tells of "a young lieutenant, age 23 belonging to an American transport command and who was captured when his C-47 plane was shot down, march 1943 near Salamaua." The incident of the sadistic slaying is described by the Nip soldier who said, "taken from the guard house the lieutenant was given a drink of water--then led to a shell crater surrounded by a circle of Jap guards with fixed bayonets. At the time the American lieutenant was led to his place he seemed to sense what was coming. The Jap commander said, "You are going to die. I am going to kill you with this sword according to the great Samurai Code." Gazing into the sea and then at the ground the American was still well composed. The Jap officer touched the gleaming sword against his neck, drew it slightly across the skin and then raised it over his head, his muscles bulged and flexed as he let the blade descend severing the lieutenant’s head from his body. A noise "shh" sounded as the blood spurted from the trunk." The Jap went on to relate that he first felt human sympathy for the condemned man and then was thrilled by the "magnanimity of the occasion" watching the doomed man become a "chivalrous Samurai".

On September 30th another member of the Fifth Bomber Command and one who was well known in the A-2 section met death. He was Captain Gentry, one of the duty officers on the intelligence desk, who was killed when his plane crashed into Mt. Hagen while flying a mission to provide medical supplies to some inland base.

On the first of October news hit the Bomber command which was just as good as somebody finding a bonanza of gold. It was reported that a soldier was caught with a still. He had been brewing "jungle juice" and selling it for a fair price. It was claimed that he made $65,000, was fined $25,000 put on detail for a few weeks and all the rest was clear profit. This incident made good talk for at least three weeks and the speculation regarding the making of such riches filled in many a lonely evening with "spirited" conversation

Weather which brought constant rains held up quite a few strikes during the first part of October and there were days when the Fifth Bomber Command could take it a little easy. Our forces were fighting at this time near Bogadjim wresting the road and the settlement there from the Japs.

On October 4th some of the hunters who had been ranging the territory north of Fourteen Mile strip brought a deer into camp. The venison was prepared in the mess hall and the hunters and their friends enjoyed a luscious repast. A few days later, on October 26th Floyd Demita, the barber, and two others shot 27 ducks. The birds were of a rusty brown, but not so fat nor good eating as those of the north countries.

November 4th the medium bombers tore in at Rabaul at low altitude and damaged 100,000 tons of shipping in a bombing attack which caught the Nip completely off balance. Our forces lost 12 B-25's in this action and about the same number of fighter planes. Most of the dead pilots and crews had just come overseas.

On November 26th one of the equator weather ships took off at one of the nearby strips, the motors sputtered when a few hundred feet above the ground and as the pilot tried to turn the B-24 for a landing it had lost speed, crashed and blew up, bursting into flames on a nearby hillside. Thirteen men lost their lives including a member of the Fifth Bomber Command Headquarters Squadron by the name of Jefferson. Following this tragedy a courier ship operating on the run from Guinea to Brisbane went down near Port Moresby with all personnel losing their lives. Some frightful accidents happened every once in a while. Heavy, rocking explosions during the night reminded one every now and then that an armed recco, weather or equator ship had crashed killing another complement of trained young men.

Fifth Bomber Command officers had at this time been enjoying their club immensely and with plenty of liquor arriving on the food plane the club had most always a good stock on hand. Singing, shooting guns and making a loud racket testified to the fun that the commissioned men enjoyed.

Along about the first part of December the shower bath water in the Fifth Bomber Command camp was scarce and many men resorted to the river for their daily bath. The Leloki River, only about three quarters of a mile away, was excellent for swimming. Sometimes the shower baths were only on three days per week. Food in the enlisted men’s mess hall was terrible, of poor quality and poorly prepared. The men complained constantly about it but to no avail. At this time of the year the heat around Port Moresby and that part of New Guinea is terrific and tiring.

Christmas rolled around again and this December 24th in New Guinea after more than a full year here was passed by with little spirit or feeling other than that to be back at home as in past years.

The stifling heat made the season impossible especially for those who associated cold snow with the holiday season. Strauss waltzes were played over the loud speaker system as well as chimes. The music rang clear through the night air of this jungle valley and was played all through Christmas day from dawn to dusk.

SIXTEEN DIE

A very tragic thing happened with some of the Christmas celebrants over at Port Moresby who drained the alcohol out of a torpedo tube and had a big party. Sixteen men, some three or four Americans and the rest Australians, died from the effects of the lead poisoning which the drink contained. The men had mixed the "jungle juice" with the alcohol. Drinking of any kind of liquor in the territory of New Guinea left a very undesirable effect the following morning and the boys reported many times that few illnesses could rival the misery of a tropical hang-over.

1943 ENDS

As a soldier’s diary stated on December 31--"This page indeed ends the most tiresome, boresome, miserable and monotonous year of my life. Thank God that 1943 has rotted away!"

The new year of 1944 started out in Fifth Bomber Command Headquarters camp near Port Moresby, New Guinea with a big party at the officer’s club and also one at the enlisted mens’ club which in spite of the long, hard ordeal ahead the men cheered in the year 1944 with a lusty acclamation.

January 6th brought good news to the men of the Bomber Command as on that day a signal came in to 5th Air Force that after 18 months overseas the men will be allowed to return to the States.

A meeting was held in the war room of the A-2 section where the new plan was explained to the men and as one major stated, "some of you men will go home in June, July or August, others might have to wait until October, but at least all of you will be home this year, 1944." Little did anyone realize that many of the men would still be overseas at the middle of 1945.

During the latter part of January 1944 dozens of transport planes were taking off daily for Nadzab carrying equipment of the bomber command north to the new camp location. Bomber command had now been in one place for a period of 14 months and the men were happy to move to a new place.

Office work let up during the last of January and loading the airplanes for the hop north over the Owen Stanley Range to the beautiful Nadzab valley took up the main effort.

Rains fell heavy during the first of February. Men entertained themselves by going to the river to swim and having a few drinking parties with furlough personnel who had returned from Australia with liquor.

February 19, 1944 this writer flew to Nadzab and so will continue the story from there. Landing in a B-17 the big load was put on trucks and after traveling on dusty roads arrived at the new camp site on the side of a large sloping hillside, a place swept by winds which came up the valley every afternoon and located near a good flowing fresh water creek. The trip over the Owen Stanley Range had been interesting as it passed heavily vegetated mountains, took the plane over deeply cut gorges and some of the heaviest jungle terrain to be seen anywhere. Land never touched by the foot of white man passed beneath, and here and there a grass shack of some inland native tribe could be seen perched high on a lonely crag. White rivers, whipped into a lather of foam and falling hundreds of feet to seek sea level could be seen interlaced like ribbons through the incredible wild of the hinterland. A huge, silvery water falls far in the distance could be spotted, majestic against the green relief of the surrounding vegetation. Mountains and valleys were heavily carpeted with jungle growth, trees, bush, vines and jouni grass. The great plane then circled over Salamuau and Lae, scenes of much fighting between Anzac-American and Jap forces. Flying up the valley from Lae Nadzab came into view.

Arriving at the camp the members of the forward echelon were greeted. They had done a fine job in setting up a new mess hall, much bigger than the one at Moresby, a swimming pool fed by the small creek and also a fine shower bath with water on 24 hours of the day.

Food was lamentable and for days it was nothing but corn willy and more corn willy. Nights were cooler here than Moresby and a slight overcast in the skies every other day gave us a few cooler days.

One of the most elaborate and extravagantly expensive officer’s clubs to be erected in the Southwest Pacific was set up for the Fifth Bomber Command Commissioned men. It had a huge parlor and dining room, a huge barroom, plenty of liquor and a gigantic kitchen. As ususal the food served there was of a much finer quality than that which the enlisted men, the "hoi poli" of the army, were fed.

On March 7th, 1944 the command learned that men would be sent back to the United States on the point system; three points for each month spent in New Guinea and one point for Australia.

Nadzab was the first sound step in the direction of the Jap homeland and from this point on the progress became determined and moves from here on came quicker than one could realize.

 

END OF PERSONAL ACCOUNT OF BOMBER COMMAND STATION LIFE PREPARED BY MAJOR BERNHARDT L. MORTENSEN


 

vbc28.jpg (38501 bytes) Major Victor W. Grimes
Air-Sea Rescue
vbc42.jpg (88660 bytes) Major Victor W. Grimes
vbc43.jpg (46479 bytes) Major Victor W. Grimes on the right
vbc45.jpg (40604 bytes) Major Victor W. Grimes on the right
vbc44.jpg (19250 bytes) Pinning of Major Victor W Grimes' Major's oakleaf by a WAF Officer
vbc27.jpg (90795 bytes) The front of an envelope from Townsville, which contained a letter to Major Grimes' wife. The envelope contained a series of color drawings of Townsville on a single sheet that folds up into the envelope. Some of these drawings appear on this page.
vbc46.jpg (160995 bytes) Letter from Gen. Kenney to Mrs. Grimes concerning the awarding of the Air Medal to Capt. Grimes
vbc47.jpg (154946 bytes) 1943 VBC Christmas Card sent by Capt. Grimes to his wife.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Leslie Grimes Moser (daughter of Victor W. Grimes WWII vet of SWPA 1942-1945) for her assistance with typing out approximately half of this rather large document.

I'd also like to thank Rick Brewer for his assistance with this web page. He is the son-in-law of S/Sgt. Raymond Kierce of 5th Bomber Command.

I'd also like to thank Douglas Walker, son of General Kenneth Walker.

I'd also like to thank Richard E. Nauman, son of Lt. Nauman A-2, for his assistance with this web page.

 

 

 

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This page first produced 24 November 2000

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