LYNDON BAYNES JOHNSON
HIS TIME IN TOWNSVILLE AND THE
BOMBING RAID ON LAE
"TOW 9" - 9 JUNE 1942
Lyndon Johnson had been appointed as a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Naval Reserve on 21 June 1940. He reported for active service on 9 December 1941, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He was initially assigned to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Navy Department, Washington, D.C. After completing his training in Washington, Johnson transferred to the Headquarters of the Twelfth Naval District, San Francisco, California for inspection duty in the Pacific area. While stationed in New Zealand and Australia, he worked as an observer on bomber missions.
The following is an excerpt from the diary of Lt. Commander Lyndon Baynes Johnson's diary. I have reproduced it "as found" on the typed piece of paper that I was given by Bill Bentson in September 2000:-
|"Saterday, June 6, 1942: Up at 4:30. Left Brisbane 6:20AM en route to Townsville. Arrived Rockhampton people wearing shorts, Soldiers guarding plane B-17s in shorts. Stubby cut over country. Little vegetation. River circles through. Arrived MacKay -- small shock (city population 50,000) says guards in shorts. 10:00 AM left MacKay 10:15 AM, won half pound from Steve pitching dollars. 1:30 PM near Townsville. See our planes shooting at target ship on water. 11:00 AM circling airport, Townsville. See many of our big planes -- airport only few yards from water -- long level runways -- hills around water -- new construction. Hot now. We are at warm North having come from cold South. Arrived Townsville airport 11:45 AM. Dummy planes all over field. Met by Army car. Departed Townsville Sunday June 7 at 1.00 PM for Charters Towers."|
Mary Spence (WNEL) was probably the driver of the above Army car which picked up LBJ at Garbutt airfield.
Whilst in Townsville on 6 June 1942, Lyndon Johnson stayed in Queens Hotel US Officers Club and had dinner with Robert Sherrod, a US Reporter for Time Magazine. Sherrod handed a report to Johnson on a riot at Kelso near Townsville by the Negro soldiers of the 96th Engineers General Services Regiment and asked him to take the report back to the States as the story had been censored in Townsville.
Townsville during WWII, LBJ visited some
American officers who were staying in
Buchanan's Hotel in Sturt Street. He also signed the Hotel's
Visitors Book. The Hotel had
been taken over by the American forces during the war and used as
accommodation for senior American Officers. It was located about 2 doors away
from the North Eastern Area Command Headquarters. Unfortunately
the beautiful old hotel was destroyed in a fire in 1982.
Buchanan's Hotel was built in 1903. Lyndon Johnson revisited the Townsville area on 23 October 1966 during his term as President of the United States and revisited Buchanan's Hotel in Sturt Street.
During his speech at Garbutt Airfield on 23 October 1966 (I was there - Peter Dunn) he said:-
9 JUNE 1942 - "TOW 9"
Eleven B-26 Marauder's of the 22nd Bomb Group departed Townsville at 1330 hours on 8 June 1942 and arrived in Port Moresby by 1746 hours. They then raided Lae on 9 June 1942 (See Note 1). This mission was called "TOW 9" in the official records. Lieutenant Commander Lyndon Baines Johnson, United States Naval Reserve, the future 36th President of the United States, went on this raid as an observer.
Lyndon Johnson travelled from Townsville to Port Moresby by B-17 on the morning of the raid.
The raid was delayed by an hour waiting for the VIP's that were to accompany them on the raid. The VIP's were Congressman Lyndon Baynes Johnson (USN), General Marquat, Col. G. Anderson (Gen Staff), Lt. Col. Dwight Divine II and Lt. Col. Francis R. Stevens.
Lyndon Baines Johnson (on right) shaking hands with Brigadier-General Martin Scanlon on the morning of 9 June 1942 at 7 Mile airfield in Port Moresby prior to him taking off for a bombing raid on Lae
Lyndon Johnson was initially assigned to Lt. Bench's aircraft, "The Virginian" #40-1508. But he apparently left the aircraft to retrieve his camera and on return he found that Lt. Col. Francis R. Stevens had taken his place on "The Virginian". Lyndon Johnson then changed aircraft from "The Virginian" to Arkie Greer's "Heckling Hare", #40-1488 just before he took off on the mission from 7 Mile airfield in Port Moresby. The crew of "Heckling Hare" apparently also knew their aircraft as "Arkansas Traveller".
This was fortuitous for Lyndon Johnson, as Bench's aircraft, "The Virginian", was boxed in so low by "Shamrock", Thunderbird" and "Boomerang" as they departed the target, that "The Virginian" flew into the water off Salamaua killing Willis Bench and all of his crew. (See Note 3).
After the mission, Lyndon Johnson returned to Australia in General Brett's B-17 Flying Fortress, #40-3097 "Swoose" flown by Captain Frank Kurtz. They almost ran out of fuel when they became lost heading for Cloncurry. They landed in the bush on Carisbrooke Station near Winton. This B-17, "Swoose", then flew back to USA with General Brett. The aircraft is on display at the National Air and Space Museum (N.A.S.M), in Washington.
The Marauders took off from 7 Mile, Port Moresby at 0851 hours. "Heckling Hare", Johnson's aircraft, developed generator problems and was forced to drop its bombs 80 miles short of the target. It returned to base arriving back at Port Moresby at 1008 hours.
Nine days after the raid, Lyndon Johnson was awarded an Amy Silver Star medal, the nation's 3rd highest medal for valour, by General MacArthur's chief of Staff, Major-General R.K. Sutherland for his participation in the above bombing raid. He often wore this medal during his term as President of the United States. He refused to discuss the details of how we won the medal. His citation read:-
"For gallantry in action in the vicinity of Port Moresby and Salamaua, New Guinea on June 9, 1942. While on a mission of obtaining information in the Southwest Pacific area, Lieutenant Commander Johnson, in order to obtain personal knowledge of combat conditions, volunteered as an observer on a hazardous aerial combat mission over hostile positions in New Guinea. As our planes neared the target area they were intercepted by eight hostile fighters. When, at this time, the plane in which Lieutenant Commander Johnson was an observer, developed mechanical trouble and was forced to turn back alone, presenting a favorable target to the enemy fighters, he evidenced marked coolness in spite of the hazards involved. His gallant action enabled him to obtain and return with valuable information."
Lyndon Johnson's diary records the following regarding this mission:-
"After we were off the field with Prell and Greer leading, Greer's generator went out: crew begged him to go on. For the next thirty minutes we flew on one generator."
After President Roosevelt ordered all members of Congress in the Armed Forces to return to their legislative duties, Johnson was released from active duty under honorable conditions on 16 June 1942. In 1949 he was promoted to Commander in the Naval Reserves to date from 1 June 1948. During his time in service, Johnson was awarded the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal. After he became President following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Johnson's resignation from the United States Naval Reserve was accepted by the Secretary of the Navy effective 18 January 1964.
The following Mission Records for "TOW 9" were sent to me by Cy Klimesh:-
** There is some confusion about whether #1508 is "The Virginian" or "Wabash Cannonball"
|On 9 June 1942, B-26 Marauder, #40-1363 "Rum Runner", of the 33rd Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group based at Woodstock, experienced undercarriage problems, and belly landed at Jacksons field, in New Guinea. They had just raided Japanese positions at Lae. Group C.O. Lt. Dwight Divine is standing on the aircraft on the left and pilot Pierre Powell is on the right. Divine took over the controls and made a perfect wheels up landing with both engines dead and props feathered. They were able to fly the B-26 back to their home base at Woodstock the next day with the engine bay tied up with wire. It was then flown to Tocumwal RAAF Air Depot for proper repairs, after which it was flown to Essendon, Melbourne where it is believed to have been used for administrative flights by (Col.?) Haskin. It is at this point it would have been named the "Rum Runner".|
Lyndon Baynes Johnson in Air Force One
1. Noel Tunny's book indicates the raid on Lae was by 12 Marauders on 6 June 1942, while Michael Claringbould's book states it involved 11 Marauders on the 9 June 1942.
2. Noel Tunny's book indicates that Lyndon changed aircraft at Woodstock, near Townsville, from Lieutenant Willis Bench's aircraft, "Wabash Cannon Ball", #40-1508, to Arkie Greer's aircraft, "Heckling Hare", #40-1488, while Michael Claringbould's book, states that he changed from Lt. Bench's aircraft, "The Virginian" at 7 Mile airfield in New Guinea due to insufficient room in the aircraft.
3. Noel Tunny's book states that Bench's B-26 was shot down over Lae with the loss of all personnel on board.
4. Cy Klimesh told me on 13 June 1999 that he believed the most accurate narrative on TOW 9 was written by Henry Sakaida. The title was "LBJ'S SILVER STAR - THE MISSION THAT NEVER WAS. The Group report of the mission conclusively shows that Johnson's plane could not have made it to the target. Quote:-
"SHIPS RETURNED & REASON: 1488 by 1008 engine trouble." "TIME OVER TARGET: 1002L/9."
1488 was flown by Lt. Greer of the 19th Sqd. The co-pilot is identified as S/P McMullin, G.A. (RAAF)
By Noel Tunny
The Forgotten Fifth
A Classic Photographic Chronology of the
Fifth Air Force in Action in the Pacific in WW2
By Michael Claringbould
"Australia @ War" WWII Research Products
© Peter Dunn OAM 2020
This page first produced 30 June 1999
This page last updated 01 March 2020