The Big One
Raid on Palau
Like About Bob
WWII – Pacific Theater – The Air
by Lt. Col. Robert W. Hulme, USAF (Ret.)
I flew a B-24 in my last mission of World War II. That was sixty-four years ago (as of 2009). But I also flew B-25's.
The 22nd Bomb Group of the 5th Air Force South West Pacific Area, equipped with the "Martin Marauder" B-26's, was the first bomb group dispatched to the South Pacific after Pearl Harbor. The B-26, a medium bomber, was termed by some a "Flying Prostitute" – having no visible means of support because of its short wings.
By September, 1943, the 22nd Bomb Group had lost so many men and aircraft that it pulled back to North Australia to regroup. It was only able to form one squadron from the surviving B-26's. Since B-26's were out of production, the other three squadrons were given B-25's.
Several B-25 crews from Greenville and Columbia, South Carolina, had joined the Group in late summer, 1943, at Reid River in Queensland, North Australia. I was in one of those crews.
After flying three months as a co-pilot in B-25's, I was made First Pilot. Soon after, the 22nd Bomb Group got rid of its B-25's-and its one remaining squadron of B-26's. I flew my last mission in B-25's on January 30, 1944. I flew a total of 35 missions in B-25's.
Once again the 22nd Bomb Group changed aircraft. After about a month with no planes, B-24's from the States started to arrive. We had been flying out of Nadzab, New Guinea, since the fall of 1943. The Group pulled back again for transition training in B-24's. The 2nd Squadron went to Port Morsby, New Guinea. After about six weeks we were back in Nadzab. And the 22nd was now a heavy bomb group.
I flew as co-pilot on the first mission to Hollandia, New Guinea, on April 16, 1944. We bombed runway and dispersal areas. Ack-ack was minimal, and there was no fighter opposition. Then we headed back to Nadzab.
The mission plan was to cross the Peganungan Van Rees Mountain Range south of the target. We were then to follow the long, Kunai-grass-covered valleys of the Sepik and Ramu Rivers back to Nadzab.
There was one hitch in the plan: A tropical front – we were within two hundred miles of the equator – had closed in. We couldn't get to the pass where we were to cross the mountains. The squadron leader advised us to proceed on our own.
Our ship turned back toward the coast and decided to follow the northern coast of New Guinea southeast around the Huon Peninsula to Lae, then fly up the valley to Nadzab. This option had a serious problem, too – our destination was about two hundred miles farther away. We didn't have enough gas; so we decided to follow the coast until we ran out of gas and ditch near the shore.
When we were about out of gas, we noticed much commotion ahead. U.S. aircraft of all descriptions were buzzing around Saidor, a small Fighter airstrip east of Madang. The whole 5th Air Force was trying to land there. The control tower, mounted on coconut palm poles, was trying to direct traffic with a "biscuit gun" – a six inch light with green and red lenses. Green meant clear to land; red, go around.
No one was paying any attention to the control tower. We made a straight-in approach and landed. We pulled up into the revetment area as far as we could. Aircraft of all kinds were lined up ahead of us. We cut our engines and climbed out.
I have never seen such a mess. Airplanes were ditching along the beach. Some were parachuting above the field. One crew that ditched and parachuted landed about a mile from the field. It took them a month to hack their way out of the jungle.
I looked back to the landing strip. A B-25 was landing. A B-38 was landing from the opposite direction. They tried to miss each other in the middle of the strip. They didn't. Their wings clashed, and they spun around in flames. Ammunition was exploding in all directions. Other ships, in landing patterns, attempted to miss the wreckage as they landed. They didn't and piled up too.
Most of the planes on that raid to Hollandia had tried to land at Saidor. B-24's, B-25's, A-20's, P-47's, and P-38's – all tried to land on that small strip. All were running out of gas. I don't know how many aircraft the U.S.A.F. lost that day, but I would like to find out. If the Japanese had known of this event, the war could have been made worse for us.