RAAF CO-PILOTS WITH THE 435TH BOMB SQUADRON,
19TH BOMB GROUP DURING WWII

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The 435th Bomb Squadron, 19th Bomb Group was assigned a batch of six RAAF sergeant co-pilots who were all attached to RAAF Headquarters North Eastern Area as follows:-

George Stewart Andrews (6694) from Brisbane
Seabrook
Keith Nichols (flew with George Munroe's crew)
Mervyn Colin Bell (405568)
David Rowley Sinclair (407809)
Hopson

RAAF Sgt George Stewart Andrews (6694) went Missing in Action on 14 August 1942 when B-17E #41-2656 "Chief Seattle" piloted by 1st Lt. Wilson L. Cook of 435th Bomb Squadron failed to return to its base.

 

Crew L to R:- Lt Simmons Pilot, RAAF Sgt Mervyn Bell co-pilot, Lt Hobbsy Navigator, Sgt Olsen Bombardier,
Sgt Russell Flight Engineer, Sgt Sorrenson Radio, Cpl Zene Gunner, Cpl Hone Gunner.

 


 

Diary of Sergeant Mervyn Bell RAAF

 

11 June 1942 Thursday Port Morseby, B-17 Flying Fortress aircraft:

Detailed for extensive reccon to check Jap movements at Kavieng, Rabaul, Finchaven, Salamoa, Dampier Straits and Lae. Set out at 0730 for Rabaul.  Weather was dirty for most of the trip. Approached Rabaul at 30,000 ft. Heavy cumulus tops and broken formation. On nearing, ack ack from shore batteries and ships opened on us. Still considerable shipping concentration at that point, with Coral [Sea Battle] and Midway Battle remnants sheltering [there]. We made good run over runways and harbor, getting good photos. Many aircraft below, while a formation of three emerged from clouds some 6000 feet below. We were now heading for Kaviang. The Zeros broke formation, one on each wing and one on our tail. Our gunners were awake to their tactics and kept them well out. We eventually lost them in the clouds after our gunners had given them some nasty frights. Adverse weather over Kaviang caused us to leave this base without information. Bottom gun turret went out of commission about this time. Rain and cloud forced us down to 5000 and later to 1000 feet for observation of Dampier St, and Finchaven where we made good photos, and usual surveys. Proceeded in low-based clouds to Salamoa where we made a good survey of town, aerodrome and waterfront, pushing on to Lae. Clouds and rain forced us down to 1000 feet which meant we would not be able to pass over Lae, so decided to make oblique shots from the cloud’s edge. On emerging from the cloud sat approximately 2000 ft and two miles from Lae we ran into five Zeros who had evidently been waiting for us. The “blinkers” had worked overtime from hill top to hill top from Salamoa to Lae to tell of our coming.

We banked steeply to the right. I grabbed the superchargers and pulled 36 inches and 2300 rpm. Our cameraman was on the job and made his shots while we banked. As we turned, a four-engine Jap flying boat which evidently thought we were going to strafe them started to take off directly under us. As we were banked steeply on the left wing, the side gunner opened up on the flying boat but a stoppage after two shots occurred. We were now flying for all we were worth for the clouds 500 feet above us and one mile away. The Zeros had by now closed in on us. One was on each wing while the other three came straight in from the rear but we knew we were going to make the cloud before they were in range; but it was going to be a race with the Zero on our left. He was now banked and turned from 10 O'clock to make his attack. He was about 200 feet below and 500 yards out. In he raced with four red fangs spitting shells & tracers. The red streams seemed to be coming right into the nose and cockpit but in the last few feet swerved away to mid-ship and tail. He flashed under our belly, raking the tail with cannon shot, three of which blew great holes in the under-surface of the elevator stabilizer. The shrapnel passed through the top surface in hundreds of holes. The tail gunner Private Rhodes received shrapnel in his thigh and backside but with great courage he stuck to his guns and as the Zero flashed out past the tail he gave him the real works and almost certainly bagged him, passing into clouds, beautiful clouds prevented confirmation. In the meantime Zero two on our right wing had turned to give us his all as we went into the cloud. With our bottom turret not working and the left side gun with a temporary stoppage it made the aircraft's attack from the under left possible. After reaching the safety of the clouds we called up all stations to check on injuries to our crew and damage to the aircraft. We found that the side gunners were busy putting out a fire (small) that had been caused by tracer ammunition striking the woolen covers of our life jackets. Our flight engineer reported tail gunner injured and considerable havoc played on the fuselage and tail plane.

We contacted all concerned and arranged to have the ambulance waiting at our base at Moresby for our arrival, which was made at 1620. Naturally we couldn't get out fast enough to inspect the damage. The honest old B 17 can take it. After making arrangements to have our ship patched up we set off for a well-earned meal and rest. News from hospital stated the condition of Dusty as OK.

 

Milne Bay Connection- co-pilot with Captain Fred Eaton’s crew

4 August 1942 Tuesday, Port Moresby

Up 0400 breakfast then briefing for shipping recco take-off 0600 Moresby, over-fly Fall River (Milne Bay) take photos then sea search George's Channel Gasmata, Dampier and Vitiaz Straits, Louisiade Islands and Solomon Sea. Took off 0600 dirty weather to within few miles of Fall River, made two runs over airstrip at 4000 feet. Kittys [P-40s] from 75 and 76 sqd came up to intercept. They made many dummy attacks before we left the area. Completed our assignment. No shipping sighted. Returned Moresby 1630. Total flying time 10 1/2 hours.

 

18 August 1942 Townsville

Combat meeting this morning. Our crew on standby for noon take off. Two weeks ago three LB-30 Liberator aircraft were delivered to sqd. We had no pilots with LB-30 hours so Fred Eaton and I did the conversion from the Liberators flying manual. Our detail was to ferry a Bofors gun and crew from Townsville to Fall River direct, in a Liberator. We took only a skeleton crew of six: pilot, co-pilot, engineer, navigator, radio operator and tail gunner. Our engineer supervised the loading of Bofors gun and equipment, ammo and six American gun crew. We set course for Samarai, our New Guinea landfall and made it trouble free.

On our last short leg to Milne Bay, flight deck received urgent call from the engineer for a fire extinguisher. We had an electrical fire at the base of the upper gun turret. I broke all records with my dash back to the fire with the extinguisher. This plus a leather flight jacket and two canteens of water soon had it out. Meantime Fred had poured on the power to reach the landing strip so he was relieved when I returned to the flight deck to say all was well.

We landed on a metal strip and did it make a hell of a noise when all of our 25 tons hit it. We unloaded, refueled and took off for Townsville at 1800 where landed at 2200.

 

19 August 1942  Townsville

At combat meeting this morning our crew again on standby to make another ferry trip to ball River in a Lib with another Bofors Gun, crew, gear and ammo. Take off tomorrow at 1130.

 

20 August 1942  Townsville

Aircraft loaded and ready for take off. Departed 1150. Two extra army bods with the American gun crew making 14 in all with our skeleton crew. We made an incident-free flight and were in the circuit area over Milne Bay at 1530. We prepared for the landing, having decided to make a low approach with plenty of power because of our big load. We selected wheels-down, but nothing happened. After four attempts and no joy we called the engineer to make a check. After ten minutes he called up on the intercom to confirm total hydraulic breakdown. We then decided to attempt a manual release. We flew down the bay away from the hills and commenced to circle at 1500 feet just under the cloud. After an hour with the cloud and rain forcing us down to 600 feet we had the port wheel down and locked, the nose wheel down but not locked. Fred and I took half-hour turns to assist the engineer. Flying conditions were filthy. We were on instruments most of the time. We spent another half-hour on the starboard wheel but it would not release. We decided to make a crash-landing so prepared the loading, most of which was well tied down before take off.

The Bofors gun ammo was our main worry. There were over 2000 pounds of it. Fred and I and the engineer decided to dump it. We got manual gear on the bomb bay doors to operate, then open.  I stood on the catwalk, about eight inches wide, and two of the crew handed the ammo containers to me. Then I dropped them into the water. The engineer relieved me after 15 minutes. I went back to the flight deck and took over while Fred went back for final check. All the members of the Bofors crew with their bedding were moved to the floor of the mid compartment, the other four of our crew packed on the floor of the radio compartment. Fred returned to the flight deck and we ran through our crash landing drill. By now visibility over the bay was about half a mile, the ceiling 400 feet with rain. We were also fast running out of daylight. Time now was 1645. We had been in the area since 1530.

We made two low passes over the landing strip. Every army and air force bod from the area had lined the strip. We made a long low approach and touched down on one wheel on the muddy strip beside the steel runway. As we lost speed we went down on our nose, the starboard wing-tip and two props touched, at 90 mph we made a belly skid to the right, finishing up the way we had approached. Everybody climbed out without a scratch.

The boys of 75 and 76 sqd provided vehicles to tow or drag the aircraft away from the edge of the steel strip, after the Bofors gun was unloaded. It was now almost dark. I was invited to the camp of 76 sqd at Giligili Mission. We had expected to return to Townsville that night. We only had with us what we were wearing. Sqd Leaders Turnbull and Truscott soon had organized a cot with their pilots. A bottle of beer each followed a good meal.

 

21 August 1942 Milne Bay

All sqd pilots up and about long before daylight. Still raining. We had an early breakfast and climbed onto vehicle. It is a three mile drive through the mud to the strip. Fred and I removed the bomb sight and the gun sights. The ground crew were working to jack up the starboard wing and nose. The aircraft was again on three wheels by mid morning. Convoy of three ships entered the bay with army bods. They picked a good day, rain and low cloud will prevent Jap aircraft finding the place. At the same time will prevent an aircraft arriving to pick up our crew. Received a lift back to camp with our gear.

 

22 August 1942 Saturday Milne Bay

Still raining, however flying boat due this morning, they can take four bods. Fred and I hope to get away tomorrow. Went over to 75 sqd where I found more coarse[class] mates. One took me to the canteen where Comfort Funds fitted me up with toilet items and a pair of socks. Also was able to 'borrow' a pair of shorts and a shirt.

 

23 August 1942  Sunday Milne Bay

Aircraft won't find this place. This morning low cloud and buckets of rain. My mates in 76 sqd have been here five weeks with only a few days of fine weather. About noon a red alert sounded. We could hear aircraft above the cloud. Two Zeros and a Kitty had a short engagement. No damage either way.

 

24 August 1942 Monday Milne Bay

Wet morning. No rescue flying boat today again. Soon after midday the rain and cloud lifted. About 1400 hours 75 and 76 were flying patrol when a force of Jap aircraft was sighted. I was at Gili Mission. Following a red alert, we hit the slit trenches.

I was feeling very safe as I shared a trench with a crucifix of Christ on the Cross. It had been removed from the mission church for safe keeping. When we were sure there were no bombing aircraft involved we left the trenches to witness the combat between Kittys and Zeros. This took place from 1500 to 6000 feet and lasted 15 minutes. We did not see any aircraft shot down. However the ack ack boys claimed one and the Kittys four, without loss to themselves.

 

25 August 1942  Tuesday  Milne Bay

Awakened four am, told to be at the area where ships unload at 0730. Rained most of the night. I am sorry for the Army bods camping out in this area. Early breakfast. Didn’t take long to pack up. Transportation advises us that their vehicles were bogged down. They phoned Marine Section to send the tender that serviced the flying boats. The mission is near the water at the head of Milne Bay. The tender beached at 0700. We, Fred and I, loaded the bomb and gun sights and scrambled aboard. At 0815 the Empire Flying Boat “Coiolanus” touched down. It unloaded and loaded in half an hour, and we were away. This is no place for an unarmed aircraft. My first trip in a flying boat. Plenty of comfort. Not much speed. Landed at Townsville mid-afternoon. Reported to sqd to find all crews on standby. It was a pleasure to get away from all that rain and mud to dry quarters.

 

26 August 1942 Wednesday Townsville

Reported to combat meeting at 0800. Big news for Milne Bay. Jap invasion force landed last night at Goodenough Island, just off the coast from Milne Bay, also Tufi and Milne Bay at Wandala about four miles from airstrip on north shore.

Our crew detailed to depart for Port Moresby at noon in new Fortress B 17F. Uneventful flight to Moresby, moved our kit to 'Arcadia' camp. Then reported to operations HQ. We were advised a strike force of many aircraft was being assembled at Moresby, the target to be the airfield at Band and any aircraft that would be supporting the Jap land force at Milne Bay. Our crew was detailed to take off at 0330 tomorrow morning direct to Band arriving first light to observe aircraft on the ground and report to Moresby, then to proceed to Milne Bay then to carry out a reccon and shadowing mission over the bay and the seas adjacent to the bay to locate the invasion fleet.

 

27 August 1942 Thursday Port Moresby

Awakened at 0130 hours. A meal, then transport to our aircraft at 0330. We flew to a point 20 miles south of Band airstrip. However it was still dark so we flew to sea for ten minutes, then circled for ten minutes before we were able to pick out an island below in the area. The weather a few miles off the coast was filthy. We set course for Band at 10,000 feet. We could make out the coastline now. It was clear over the airstrip. We had no problem seeing the Zeros and Val dive bombers, over 30 in all. We radioed the weather, and aircraft numbers back to Moresby then set course for Milne Bay. Approaching the mouth of Milne Bay, rain and cloud forced us down to 2,000 feet. No sign of the Jap convoy in the bay. Their tactics were to come in after dark and return to the filthy weather near the islands outside, with cloud down to sea level, before dawn.

There is no doubt the Nips have picked the right weather to suit their navy for this campaign but it was prevented supported by their airforce most of the time. We flew along the north shore. Only half a dozen wrecked Nip barges to report. We flew over the strip, our old Liberator had been strafed and burnt by Japs on the 25th unknown to us. Not a pretty sight.

We set off for our sea search. Time now 0700. Cloud now 1500 ft. Made a further report to Moresby. Halfway down the bay we ran into a 12 group of Val dive bombers and their Zero escort. One Zero peeled off from the formation and attacked us. We pulled up into the cloud. He was only able to make one pass at us. One bullet cut our oxygen supply line to the flight deck. Others entered the radio compartment. No further damage. No one injured. We won't require oxygen today so continued with our search. Weather was going to be our problem.

As soon as we left the bay rain and cloud was down to sea level and visibility down to a quarter mile. There are high mountains on the islands, so it is dicer at this altitude. We continued our search in the area until 1230 without a sign of the Nip convoy, most of the time we could have flown over them without seeing anything, so dirty was the weather. We set course for Moresby, landing at 1430 after 11 hours in the air. After being debriefed intel [intelligence] advised us the raid on Band destroyed 14 Jap aircraft on the ground. The group we ran into at Milne Bay must have taken off from Band soon after our visit.

 

28 August 1942 Wednesday Port Moresby

Our crew have been rested today so went to town for a swim and a meal at the RAAF mess in town. Came home early to have a sleep as we had two alerts last night. Surprised to see my mates from 75 and 76 sqd in the mess for the evening meal. They told me the Japs got as far as the uncompleted no. 3 strip last night. All serviceable aircraft Kittys and Hudsons were ordered to Moresby late in the afternoon. If all goes well at the Bay tonight they will return in the morning.

Our crew briefed for a recon job tomorrow. We are to take off at 0500 for a visit to Lae, Salamoa, Vitiaz, St Dampier, St George’s Channel, Rabaul and Gasmata to observe shipping and aircraft at each base. We are to use the camera where possible. Intel are concerned the Japs may have a convoy on its way with men and supplies for Milne Bay.

 

29 August 1942 Thursday Port Moresby

Up at 0330, a meal, then transport to our aircraft. All checks completed airborne at 0500. Headed straight for Lae, then Salamoa. No shipping either place. Took photos of airstrip. No interception. Weather clear. Proceeded with sea search to Vitiaz St. There sighted a 8000 ton merchant ship with cruiser escort on N/E heading possibly to Rabaul. Signaled details to base. Took photos. Sighted and reported three large merchants with their destroyer escort heading south in George’s Channel. As we neared Rabaul in clear sky we could see the harbor crammed with navy and merchant ships and could also see fighters taking off from airfield at Vunakanau. We were at 28,000 feet with ack ack bursting around and below us. Just as we finished our final photo run over the harbor and three airstrips we sighted a group of seven Fortress aircraft coming in on a bombing run from the north on Vunakanau airstrip where there were many aircraft parked. They were some miles to our right.

We decided to join them for greater fire power to fight off the Zeros that were now at our height. Two of them attempted to cut us off from the strike force. The first did a stall turn from two o'clock and attacked with machine guns and cannon. We turned outside his turn. He fired one of the longest bursts I have ever experienced but did not make a hit. He flashed past our nose. Our turret and nose guns picked him off. We could see our tracer hit the Zero. He dived away burning and smoking. His mate was now above our altitude at 12 o'clock. He swung to the right, dived below us and closed to fire at us from below. He had commenced to fire when the belly turret picked him off. The Zero blew to pieces. The other Zeros had headed for the strike force who were in close formation now, below us to our right. We gave our engine maximum power in a shallow dive. It took us ten minutes to catch up to strike force aircraft. By this time it was getting close to the Zeros' endurance at max revs. The five of them broke off and headed for home.

We stayed with the formation for another ten minutes, then broke away to complete our detail. As we headed west we ran into dirty weather. We dropped to sea level. The rain poured down. When we thought we were near Gasmata it was hoped to make another observation but it was hopeless so we climbed to 7000 feet and headed for Band. We had been on instruments for 90 minutes. We could not let down as we had mountains to cross. We broke cloud over the sea 20 minutes from Moresby. We landed at 1400 hours. Made our report and handed in our film. 75 and 76 sqd and the Hudsons returned to the bay soon after we took off this morning. We were shocked to hear Sqd Ldr Turnbull was killed in a low level crash yesterday, strafing a Jap tank.

 

Can anyone help me with more information ?

 

 

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This page first produced 20 April 2010

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