VanderfordFamily.com



Vanderford

Family

Web

Site

Book Cover



 

Floyd Raymond Jensen's
Southwest Pacific Tour of Duty
February 1944 to May 1945



Floyd Jensen served in the 345th Bombardment Group during World War II. He joined that group's 498th Bombardment Squadron "The Falcons" as a replacement pilot. Having finished his bomber training on January 21, 1944, he left South Carolina to join the squadron which was already established in New Guinea. The Squadron was settled in at Dobodura when he arrived. When he first arrived he flew a B-25D-1 and when the new B-25Hs arrived he flew one of those.

Floyd was decorated with the Air Medal for aerial flights in the Southwest Pacific Area from March 14 to May 15, 1944.


The 345th BG had been in the Southwest Pacific since June of 1943 and would remain there until the end of the war in September of 1945. The area of their operations included New Guinea, the north coast of Indonesia, the Philippines, the west coast of Indo China, China, and the south coast of Japan. Their bases were mainly situated in New Guinea and the Philippines.

New replacements arriving from the States, such as Floyd, had to be broken in. The "old hands" considered them inexperienced and, in many cases, poorly trained in their particular flying specialty. Intensive programs were set up to train the replacements for combat flying in New Guinea. The replacements, however, allowed the 345th to provide 72 trained aircrews to man its 58 aircraft.

Devastation at Dagua - February 3, 1944. February opened with the single squadron missions on the 2nd which sent a dozen planes hunting barges and supplies along the northwestern coast of New Britain and the New Guinea coast near Alexishafen.

DaguaDuring recent weeks, Japanese aircrews had been ferrying scores of new planes to the airfields around Wewak. There were so many that at Dagua there were not enough revetments to hold them and many had to be parked out in the open.

In a maximum effort, the 345th put 21 stafers over Dagua, 22 miles northwest of Wewak, precisely at noon. Advancing west along the coast in a shallow vee formation, the 498th Squadron passed above an AA barrage exploding aff the end of the airstrip and caught about 70 Japanese aircraft on the ground as it swept the airfield from end to end with machine guns blazing and parafrags tumbling from the bomb bays. A dozen Japanese bombers were caught lined up perfectly along the runway, props turning and pilots in the cockpits, apparently preparing to depart on a mission. The 498th departed blasting fuel dumps and AA positions.

Kavieng and its aftermath: February, 1944. Kavieng, on the western tip of the island of New Ireland, was a major supply and staging base along the Japanese logistic route terminating at Rabaul, 150 air miles to the southeast. From February 11th - 14th heavy raids by B-24s against the two airfields on the Western tip of New Ireland virtually eliminated Japanese air power on this part of the 225-mile-long island.

The Kavieng campaign climaxed on the 15th with an all-out effort by the B-25s to knock out the shipping and warehouse facilities at the base. The 498th was the third Squadron to attack, adding 59 quarter-ton bombs to the devastation below. Three hit among a group of float planes anchored along the shore, one demolished a large section of a wharf, and a fifth smashed into a 2000-ton tanker along the shore which was already ablaze from previous hits.

During the first half of March, most of the 345th's missions were flown against targets in the Admiralty Islands.


Nadzab - March 1944 to July 1944

Nadzab, the 345th new base of operations, was a pleasant and comfortable place. There was pleanty of room to spread out in the grasy valley along the Markham River. The flat, tree-dotted meadows gave way to the grassy hills which rose impressively over the broad river valley - with spectacular views and breathtaking sunsets. The officers built their hillside "mansions" with an eye to the view, as well as the clubs and mess halls.

Becoming expert at purloining lumber and other materials from depots and supply dumps, standard issue tents evolved into elaborate shacks with wooden floors and even screened-in porches.

Sinking a resupply convoy: March 19, 1944. A Japanese resupply convoy consisting of three merchant ships, a small "sea truck" and three 100-ton sub chasers had unloaded the night before at Wewak and were now trying to escape the area. Three squadrons from the 345th were hurridly scrambled during lunch for a mission to track down the ships. The hodgepodge of aircraft which seemed to include half the 5th Air Force flew together until the fighter escort reported the location of the convoy over the radio. The ships began to scatter in panic.

Two ships and one of the escorting sub chasers were pounced on by the faster A-20s. Three planes from the 498th spotted smoke to the north. The target was the 3221-ton Taiei Maru.

The planes from the 500th first came in strafing directly over the stern of the ship while the 498th circled to make a broadside attack. The deck gunners got off four shots, hollowing all three of the 498th planes before the 500th strafers cut them down. The 498th skimmed over the ship, dropping 500-pound bombs directly into the side of the ship.

A three ship flight of A-20s came in right behind the 498th and could see the huge hole blown in the ship's side and extensive damage to the bridge caused by the explosions of two of the 500-pound bombs. The bombs dropped by the A-20s alsofound their mark and the merchant ship went up in smoke and steam.

The sea was soon swept clean of ships, leaving the surface strewn with debris and Japanese sailors clinging to pieces of wreakage or bobbing in the waves in their life jackets. The 345th suffered no losses in the wild melee. Thereafter, the Japanese attempted no more resupply convoys to Wewak.

Wewak offensive continues: March 20-31, 1944. The 345th flew missions against Wewak almost daily, hitting troop camps, AA positions and patrolling the coast looking for barge traffic.

Under the intense attacks, the Japanese forces at Wewak began withdrawing into the jungle during the day to escape the pounding. This allowed single-plane bombing runs over the target with only a few wild bursts of flak to harass them. On the 25th, the Japanese 4th Air Army Headquarters withdrew to Hollandia, ordering the ground echelon of the air units to withdraw overland as best they could.

Hollandia. For every man in the 345th, the name Hollandia conjured up images of Wewak where strafers fought their way through acres of flak and hordes of fighters to wreak havoc and ruin on critical Japanese air installations.

Hollandia was a complex of three airfields was about 15 miles inland from either Tanahera or Humbolt Bay and 200 miles west of Wewak. Reconnaissance flights revealed that it was now the center of the Japanese line of resistance on New Guinea and the main base for their air effort. Like at Wewak earlier, the Japanese build-up had been so quick that as many as 350 aircraft had to be parked in the open since there were not enough revetment available to protect them all. The Japanese commanders believed the airfields at Hollandia - Sentani, Cyclops, and Hollandia - were at least temporarily out of range of the bulk of the 5th Air Force strike forces. WRONG.

The campaign to knock out Hollandia began on March 30th with two days of heavy daylight attacks by B-24s accomapnied by strong fighter protection. Aerial photography indicated that this effort destroyed over 200 planes on the ground. The stunned Japanese began withdrawing serviceable aircraft to bases further still to the west.


Strafers Attack Hollandia: April 1 and 3, 1944. On April 1st, 24 strafers flew through rain and heavy clouds to strike Japanese personnel and installtions around Tadji airdrome, near Aitape. It was the farthest west along the New Guinea coast that the 345th had ever flown.

On the morning of the 3rd the largest strike to date in the theater was launched by virtually the entire 5th Air Force. The 498th was the fourth wave to pass over the Hollandia airdrome. They were targeting the revetments containing aircraft and finishing up the bombing drop on Ifaar Village at the southeast end of Sentani Airstrip.

For the 345th Bombgroup, this much-anticipated mission turned out to be little more than routine. Not a plane was lost and only seven had been holed by the fairly modest AA fire. The airdromes had been pounded with 639 hundred-pound parademos, 522 parafrags and tons of thousands of round of machine-gun fire.

The Hollandia raids were a disaster for the Japanese. In less than a week, without launching a single significant attack of their own, the Japanese had lost nearly 400 aircraft. The Allies owned the sky over Hollandia and the Japanese would never again field a formidable fighting force in that area.

Introduction of the B-25H: April 23, 1944. On April 23rd the 345th began a three-day pounding of the Hansa Bay area. On April 23rd, the 498th Squadron also introduced a new weapon to the theater, A B-25 armed with a 75mm cannon in the nose.

The 498th Squadron had been chosen as the test unit in the Southwest Pacific for this weapon, designated the B-25H-1. On April 8th they turned in all but one of their B-25Cs and Ds and received 21 of the new planes. In addition to the cannon, the new model had four 50-caliber machine guns mounted in a row across the middle of the nose.

Instead of a co-pilot the new plane had a connoneer who was responsible for loading the gun. The cannon had an effective range of about 4000 yards and a skilled loader could get off four rounds from the powerful weapon during a typical attack run. The planes were nose heavy and almost seemed to pause in mid-air each time the gun was fired, knocking off several miles per hour of air speed. Moreover, the planes were a nightmare for the maintenance crews as the recoil and muzzle blast from the cannon popped rivets and sprang sheet metal panels constantly.

The drive westward accelerates. While the other squadrons were conducting the big supply drop to the Allied forces at Hollandia on the 27th, the 498th sent nine of their new cannon-armed planes to hunt at the island off Wewak. The B-25Hs worked over the seaplane base on Kairiru Island and villages and huts along the shore with 100-pound paradems and 200 rounds of cannon fire. Secondary explosions were still rocking the base 15 minutes after the planes departed.

The Allies while pleasantly surprised by the quick collapse of Hollandia but were diappointed that the swampy ground between the coast and airfields meant it lacked the potential to replace Nadzab as the major forward base for the 5th Air Force. Biak, however, appeared to be suitable to contain a major base.

Biak was a large coral island in the center of Geelvink Bay about 185 miles west-northwest of Wakde. The Japanese had heavily garrisoned the island and were rushing three airdromes to completion there. Two of them, Mokmer and Sorido, were operational by early May.

The seizure of the mainland adjacent to Wakde was to begin on May 17th with the island itself scheduled for attack on the following day. The airfield at Wakde was to be reopened immediately to Allied air units, which would be rushed in to provide support for a May 27th landing on Biak. The 345th was also scheduled to be moved forward to Hollandia in time to support the landing there.


Generals Whitehead and Crabb arrived at the 345th baseball field on May 13th to hold the first formal presentation of decorations since the unit arrived overseas. The field was muddy, but the medals were a welcome acknowledgment for a job well-done.


Allied offensive continues: May 14-26, 1944. The weather finally lifted on the 14th, and the flight crews conducted four days of intensive attacks against the Wakde - Sarmi area at both minimum and medium altitude.

While Allied troops were seizing Wakde, the B-25s hit Japanese positions from Boram to Dagua on the 18th, beginning ten days of concentrated attacks on troops and supply dumps around But and Dagua. Although the Allies owned the skies over the area, the ack-ack could still be dangerous and several planes returned from these misions sporting new holes.

Air support at Biak: May 27-31, 1944. The Allied troops splashed ashore as planned on May 27th against practically no opposition. A Japanese counterattack the next morning included several light tanks so six B-25Hs from the 498th were called in to help stop them. So far the performance of the B-25Hs had been disappointing due in large measure to the nature of the targets the Group was hitting. It was thought that the 75mm cannon would prove particularly suitable for knocking out Japanese tanks.

By the time the 498th staged through Wakde and reached Biak, however, the Japanese tanks had already been knocked out. The B-25s proceeded to shell enemy artillery positions with their 75mm cannon.

Reaching westward: June 1 - 10, 1944. The end of May found the men of the 345th standing by for the move to Hollandia, which appeared imminent. But as the days slipped by and no order to depart arrived it almost seemed as if the war had passed them by.

There was a flurry of activity on June 4th when a Japanese task force was sighted. A large concentration of forces, including the 345th, rushed to Wakde. In the late afternoon they departed for Hollandia Airdrome where the pilots had to use their instruments to land through thick clouds of dust. They spent the night sacked out under their planes, sweating out the on-again off-again shipping mission.

Strikes on Jefman - Samate: June 16 -17, 1944. The last important concentration of Japanese air strength remaining in New Guinea was the airstrip at Samate, on the extreme northwestern tip of New Guinea, and a sister strip on Jefman Island, only four miles away across a narrow strait. The 498th flew the strike with B-25Ds borrowed from other squadrons. The towering plumes of oily, black smoke which characterized a successful airfield attack were much in evidence as the planes departed the area.

By June 28th, Allied intelligence estimated that Japanese air strength on New Guinea had declined from 162 aircraft on June 1st to only 37.

Support for landing on Noemfoor: June 28 - July 2, 1944. Many of the 345th planes and ground crews were staged to Hollandia for a week in order to conduct operations in support of the Allied landing on Noemfoor Island. The weather was so bad that some of the bombing and strafing was done on instruments, and the crews weren't even sure if they'd hit the target.

The 345th aircraft began returning to Nadzab on July 8th in preparation for the Group's move to Biak during the middle of the month.


Biak - July 1944 to September 1944

Biak was one of the worst possible places to put a camp. The allied landing at Biak had been one of the bloodiest scraps in the Southwest Pacific and the place certainly looked it. Biak had been an old fuel dump and the 345th had helped to bomb the hell out of it. Right afterward, they had to move in and start picking up the pieces. It was burned, blasted, discarded, and covered with exploded gas barrels but now it was home.

About a half mile down the road the infantry was still fighting the war. The Japanese had retreated to the coast line cliffs filled with caves and our side was blasting away with tanks, machine guns, grenades and big mortars. It sounded like an over-sized Fourth of July celebration night and day.

It rained sixteen days out the first fifteen so filling up 50 gallon barrels with rain water was first order of the day. It was a huge improvement over the local water supply.

Westward to the Halmaheras: July 17-26, 1944. Operating from Biak, the Japanese airfields between New Guinea and the Philippines were all within range. This meant many interminable missions searching the coastline around the perimeter of Western New Guinea and long over-water flights to the scores of islands making up the northeastern portion of the vast Dutch colonial empire known as the Netherlands Indies.

Japanese forces in this huge area were widely scattered and few of their bases were worth a concentrated attack by the entire group. Thus, on many days the squadrons split up into smaller elements to search a wide area for targets of opportunity.

The 498th was the first squadron to get back into action after the move. A typical mission was to prowl the shores for ships and barges. A three plane run in McCluer Gulf sank a small coastal freighter, a barge and a lugger and damaged several other small vessels. Four other planes on the the east coast of the Halmahera Islands left a 1000-pound freighter sinking.

The 498th Re-Equips with the B-25G - August 1944. Most of the 498th aircrews and maintenance men left Biak in early August for Nadzab and Townsville to pick up new aircraft. The B-25Hs had been a disappointment and were to be turned in for the B-25Js. After initially assigning the new aircraft to the 345th BG, 5th Bomber Command shuffled its priorities and decided to re-equip the 38th Bomb Group with the new J model first.

On August 26th the 498th Bomb Squadron received 14 old B-26Gs which had been turned in by the 38th Bomb Group. The planes and crews returned to Biak in late August. They were not the least bit happy with turn of events.

Prelude to the Philippines - September - October 1944

The 498th crews which had returned to Biak with their old B-25Gs contributed to an attack on Djailolo Airdrome in the Halmaheras on the 5th. Sixteen planes flew the mission, dumping parafrags and parademos over the runway, dispersal areas and nearby village, but no significant results were observed.

Bone RiverThe 345th also did its share to reduce Japanese capabilities on September 16th. The day before, a reconnaissance plane had returned with excellent aerial photos of a major supply base which had recently been completed at Gorontalo on the south-central coast of Northeast Celebes. Neat rows of warehouses crammed with supplies lined the mouth of the Bone River. It was a rare "virgin target" which had never before been bombed.

The planes staged through Middleburg and met their fighter escort exactly as planned. The 498th was led by Captain Brigham who was in charge of the 13 B-25s which reached the target. The planes circled inland over the mountainous terrain, then dropped with terrifying speed - one pilot remembers the air speed indicator showing 400 miles per hour - into the narrow canyon containing the river.

Aeirial photographs taken three days later revealed that 21 large warehouses and five smaller buildings in the main complex on the east bank of the river had been totally destroyed by the bombing and subsequent fires. All that remained standing was a headquarters building and two other small structures. It was a devastating blow to the rapidly deteriorating Japanese supply situation in the Celbes.

End of September 1944. Even though combat missions were scheduled almost every day they were often cancelled due to rainstorms at Biak and frontal systems over the Netherland Indies. The crews began checking out in the first of the new B-25Js, which were billed as "the heaviest armored planes in the world". The 498th had three of these planes on hand by the end of the month, although the general re-equipment of the Group with the type did not occur until October and November.

The most noteworthy feature of the new planes, besides heavier armor protection for the crews, was the rearrangement of the armament. Like the B-25Hs, the Js had a built-in tail-gun positiion, enclosed waist-gun positions, and the top turret had been moved forward to just behind the cockpit. The planes came with factory-installed side package guns and two axed forward-firing machine guns. In addition, two more machine guns were added through the navigators greenhouse to complete the strafer armament for the new planes.

October-December 1944October 1944

With a serious lack of targets and the ground echelon departing for the Philippines, the few hundred men left behind made the best of the break in combat activity. Although it was a period of relaxation for many of the fliers, crews kept busy with weather reccos, courier flights and shuttling to Townsville to pick up new B-25Js.

Bombing Borneo - October 23-24, 2944. Aerial reconnaissance had detected a considerable amount of shipping moving along the northeast coast of Borneo. This was far out of range of Biak, but 17 B-25 Mitchells from all four squadrons took off for a newly-won Morotai in the Halmaheras in order to stage for a mission the next morning. They proceeded to sink the shipping vessels and then bombed the shore and harbor installations.

Those planes were out nine hours and the creaws were sweating the fuel situation as Morotai came into view. One plane didn't have enough fuel left to taxi to the hardstand. The pilots had learned a lot about leaning down the fuel mixtures and reducing the power settings to get the maimum range out of their planes but this was just cutting it too close.

Quiet times at Biak - November 1944. The aircrews on Biak continued to busy themselves with training missions and courier flights. The 498th Squadron got a new C.O. during the hiatus in combat operations at midmonth when Captain Theodore R. Wright took over from Major Magee, who was soon headed home.

December 1944. With most good targets in the Philippines out of reach, the aircrews continued to mark time back at Biak. It was decided that more air strength was needed in the Philippines regardless of the conditon on Leyte. The air echelon at Biak was closed down at the end of the month.

Tacloban - January - February 1945

The arrival at Leyte of the 22 planes and aircrews on the morning of December 27, 1944 caught the ground echelon by surprise. Work had been progressing on a new camp area near Tacloban Strip since mid-December, but it was far from ready for the large influx of personnel who arrived over the next few days. Moreover, the airfields at Leyte were already jammed and no single strip could accomodate all of the group's aircraft. So, for several days planes were scattered almost haphazardly at three airfileds under construction along the east coast of the island, Tacloban, Dulad and Tanuan.

Tacloban AirstripSince the main camp was still located outside Dulag, about 30 miles by mud-rutted road south of Tacloban, small detachments were sent to the various airfields or shuttled back and forth from the airfields to the camps to keep the planes serviced and maintained. It was an organizational and logistics nightmare with ordance crews loading up aircraft from mud-moated bomb dumps in the middle of rain-soaked nights, and crew chiefs literally camping with their aircraft.

With the change in location the focus of the 345th's operations shifted from Mindanao to the Northern Philippines. The new year also brought promotions and transfers, so a "prayer meeting" was held to celebrate. these wild affairs, which included serious drinking and boisterous song, were held at any opportunity when sufficiant spirit and spirits were available. Morning would find the carousers with butterflies in their stomachs and splitting heads, but the night was alive with gin, sweat, cookies and song.

Neutralizing Clark Field - January 1945. Missions continued with small harassing attacks on enemy airfields.

Seven Allied ships were damaged, including two cruisers and a pair of escort carriers, when Kamakazes attacked the invasion fleet steaming past Subic Bay. On the 6th, the suicide attacks continued against the fleet, damaging sixteen more ships as the advanced echelon of the invasion frce assembled at Lingayen Gulf.

January - March 1945
By the beginning of January, Allied air attacks on Luzon had reduced Japanese air strength to about 75 aircraft, some 50 of them fighters. These few planes that remained were being reserved for use as Kamikazes against the American naval task force, which was expected to launch an invasion of the island at any moment. Clark Field had to be neutralized.

Mission against Clark Field - January 7, 1945. Shortly before 0700 hours on January 7th, 40 B-25Js began their runs down the strips at Tacloban. As the forces crossed the coast, only a low mountain pass lay between the large aerial armada and its target. But low broken clouds hovered over the mountians, creating a serious obstacle to the two massive formations containing nearly 150 aircraft. As the formations advanced into the pass, they lost some of their cohesion as squadrons.

S/sgt Ira Schaub, a top turret gunner with the 498th Squadron, spent these tense seconds nervously eyeing a propeller spinning only four feet above his head. The planes in his flight had pulled together so closely to navigate the cloud-constricted pass that some aircraft were actually flying overlapped.

Over Clark FieldDue to the low cloud base over the hillsides which rose on either side of the complex, the planes on either end could not spread out as far apart as had been planned and the formation had to squeeze togeher as the attack began. The unexpected crowding of the formation plus the slightly greater speed of the A-20s created another deadly problem. Some of the faster A-20s began edging across the flight path of their slower cousins, forcing some B-25s to fly through the prafrag strings of the A-20s.

As the planes emerged from their runs, half a dozen large fires were darkening the sky to 1000 feet. When the intelligence officers, photos interpreters and statisticians were finished they concluded that the raid cost the Japanese 19 fighters and 12 bombers.

After the January 7th mission the Japanese suicide attacks against the invasion fleet approaching Lingayen declined sharply, no longer presenting a major threat to the landing. Over 1500 wrecked or damaged Japanese aircraft were found at Clark, Nichols and Nielson Airfields, the large majority of which were put out of action by air attacks.

Railway on LuzonShooting Up the Railroad - January 9-13, 1945. The rail and highway systems between Lingayen and Manila were tailor-made for the strafers which cut a wide swath of destruction cross eastern Luzon. These missions were real crew pleasers as targets were plentiful and the results readily apparent. The railroads took a tremendous beating as did Japanese highway traffic.

Camp life at Tacloban. The daily rains kept the camp areas vitual quagmires. Camp life at Tacloban was not pleasant. The continuous combat operations kept the flight and ground crews near the point of exhaustion. The poor diet, incessant operations and numerous cases of jungle rot combined to create serious health problems.

New Replacement Aircraft - Mid-January 1945. By mid-month the squadrons had received a number of B-25Js as replacements for their rapidly dwindling J-6s and J-11s. The J-22s had the new, solid eight gun nose which was standard on all replacement aircraft. Although the increased firepower and pleasant handling characteristics of the new plane were welcome features, the extra weight in the nose slightly reduced airspeed and made the already tricky single-engine flying almost impossible.

Wrapping up the Month. The 345th concentrated on hitting Japanese targets on the Bataan Peninsula and the small islands in nearby Manila Bay. The Japanese position on the Philippines was crumbling but the 345th was paying a heavy price. Sixty-one personnel were lost during the month and 16 aircraft - an entire squadron - were shot down or written off during 30 combat missions. At an earlier time this attrition would have cripled the 345th, but now the pipeline of men and machines reaching into the soouthwest Pacific was fully flowing. The 345th actually finished out the busiest month of its career with a net gain of three aircraft.

Running Out of Targets - February 2-8, 1945. For the next week, the 345th concentrated all its efforts on Luzon, hitting Japanese transportaion routes and troop positions in the Cagyan Valley. The battered airdromes at Tuguegrao and Adarri were hit on the 2nd and 3rd. Flying 53 sorties along the east coast of Luzon on four missions through the 8th, only one servicable fighter was destroyed at Aparri and the coastal searches produced only a few barges, luggers and a floating crane. Once again, th 345th was running out of targets.

Following the mission on the 8th, the group stood down for a week to move to San Marcelino on Luzon, the next stepping stone in the march northward. From there the entire perimeter of the South China Sea was within range of the straffers, including the coastline of French Indochina, China and the island of Formosa. Shipping lanes vital to Japan's survival would soon reverberate with sounds of the Air Apache warpath.

San Marcelino - March - May, 1945

Move to San Marcelino. It was the dry seson on Luzon and the airfield at San Marcelino was quickly made operational. It was a clay-based, gravel surfaced strip set in a verdant valley near the foot of low wooded mountains. But the base was crowded and had a poor runway surface, so t was decided to build additional hardstands for the 345th.

San Marcelino was a pleasant respite after the mud and crowded conditions on Leyte. The grassy plane provided plenty of room to spread out the camp which was set up about a 15 minute walk from the airfield. The days were hot but the nights were cool and required a blanket for comfortable sleeping.

Pyramidal tent

The occupants of some tents acquired houseboys who not only cleaned and ran errands but also bargained with the local natives for food, services and souveneirs. Undershirts were particularly prized by the local population.

Off duty, the men kept busy with horseshoe pitching, sandlot football and volleyball. A group movie was shown nightly from the back of an amulance and the presence of a large Navy installation nearby offered the opportunity for inter-service get togethers. Nearby towns and villages also provided diversions.

Ground Support on Luzon - February 15-19, 1945. The squadrons were finally ready to resume operations and the strafers flew five consequtive missions in support of the American drive towards the Bataan Peninsula.

For the next four days the 345th flew daily ground support missions for American troops advancing down the Bagac - Pillar Road. The most impressive strike was on the 18th when four squadrons flew 61 sorties into the area. The planes repeatedly bombed and strafed Japanese positions, then returned to base to rearm for further attacks.

According to a congratulatory message from the Army, the infantry followed "... behind (a) rolling barrage of fire and bombs laid down ... in the largest and longest close support mission in this sector. Troops advanced then without oppostion to within firve miles of the west coast of Bataan."

First Mission to Formosa - February 10, 1945. One of the primary objectives was the neutralization of the Japanese bastion of Formosa, a 250 mile long island located a hundred miles off the China coast. Agriculturally, it produced rice and sugar to feed Japan's population but many of its sugar mills had been converted to produce fuel alcohol - butanol - an important component of aviation gasoline. Formosa hydroelectric power refined about 10% of Japan's aluminum and the island had a highly developed road and rail system. It also had an elaborate air defense network which inclduded about 50 airfields.

ChosuA large force rendezvoused off the southern tip of the island and proceeded inland towards the target. The weather progressively deteriorated and the 32 Air Apaches diverted to the secondary target, the area around Chosu. They began a low-level sweep down a long valley strafing and bombing anything of significance along their flight path. Flying in loose-knit line abreast or three plane formations, the B-25s shot up and bombed trucks, sugar mills, railroad faciities, rolling stock, transmission lines, railroad yards, bridges, barracks, warehouses and a possible chemical plant.

Ship Hunting in the South China Sea - February 21 - March 1, 1945. From San Marcelino the Air Apaches were also in a position to participate in another primary objective - the blockade of Japan's strategic shipping lanes across the South China Sea. These sea lanes provided Japan with petroleum products from Borneo, tin from Malay and rubber and rice from Indochina. This area was soon reverberating with the thunder of Wright Cyclone engines as Air Apache war parties skimmed the sea lanes seeking out and destroying the shipping upon which industrial Japan depended on for its survival.

These missions were always terrifying for the aircrews who flew them. More than one pilot felt his courage fail as he turned back prematurely from an eight- or ten-hour overwater flight, where the loss of an engine or a well-aimed flak burst spelled almost certain death. The range of the aircraft was streched to the limits almost daily and the perfect functioning of this noisy, sometimes balky, machine for ten and sometimes even eleven hours determined whether a man lived or died.

The airmen were briefed that no 5th Air Force crew had ever returned after losing an engine over the mainland of Asia. The Air Apaches would soon break that jinx, but the cost would be fearsome. the loss rate would be the highest, by far, of any sustained period in the group's history. Within weeks, an entire squadron of planes and aircrews would be lost in areas where there was almost no chance of survival. As Floyd and the other fliers watched their squadron mates go down, each man, whether openly or in the depths of his heart, wondered if the next dawn would bring his death in the depths of the China Sea or on some alien oriental shore.

Worse yet, considering the danger of the missions, the targets were slim. The weather was bad, it was a "big" ocean and the Japanese were moving under the cover of darkness. Only one ship of any size was sighted, the 1679-ton cargo-passenger ship Luzon Muru was found steaming in Henghai Bay off Swabu.

Toyohara AirdromeAttack on Toyohara Airdrome - March 2, 1945. In a mission coordinated with a strike by the 38th Bomb Group on the town of Taichu, 33 planes from the 345th hit Toyohara Airdrome and near by towns and rail yards. The 498th strafers descended from 1500 feet to build up speed for their attack run. Hugging the ground and flying line abreast in squadrom formations, the planes swept Toyhara Airdrome from end to end, stringing parafrags and strafing through revetments, AA postions, supply dumps, hangars and administrative buidings.

"Fort Drum"The Offensive Continues - March 3-6, 1945. On March 5th, six planes from the 498th were dispatched to bounce 1000-pound bombs off the seemingly impregnable battleship-shaped concrete fortress in Manila Bay known as Fort Drum. The effort turned out to be futile and the small Japanese garrison inside wasn't elimated for another five weeks when Army engineers filled it with 3000 gallons of fuel oil and 600 pounds of TNT.

The Fifth Air Force laid plans for a major attack against Samah Airdrome on March 6th. A strong contingent of fighters was assigned to the mission but they didn't have enough gas to loiter long over the area. While the 345th formation was still 60 miles from the target, they learned over the radio that the fighters were running low on fuel after covering the earlier attacks and were returning to base. Concerned, but undaunted, the pilots of the 34 strafers pressed onward towards Samah.

The 498th Squadron was third over the target and had three planes damaged by AA fire. After fighting off passes from several aggressive Japanese fighters the squadrons joined up and headed back towards Luzon leaving plumes of smoke rising from the airbase which could be seen for 20 miles.

Blockading the Indochina Coast - March 1945. On March 10th the 498th and 500th squadrons sent six planes each to the east coast of French Indochina. There they destroyed a 10,000 ton freighter, a 5239 ton tanker, a 2500 ton tanker and set fire to a large oil storage tank.

Poor weather and an enemy which was sailing only during darkness or inclement weather made target finding difficult. As a result many shore targets received the fliers wrath.

Off the Indochina coastThirty-one strafers from the 345th set out early on the 29th to track down the convoy missed the previous day. It contained 17 ships - six cargo vessels and tankers with an escort of 11 warships. The 15 aircreaft from the 498th and 501st comprised the first wave. The convoy was using an extensive area of fog and rain squalls for cover as it proceeded up the Indochina coast. However the two rear guard frigates were spotted just before they disappeared into the mist behind the rest of the convoy.

Saigon to Formosa - April - May 1945

On April 4th a dozen strafers set out for the Pescadores Islands, off the west coast of Formosa, where intelligence had located some Japanese merchant shipping. With the 498th Squadron leading, the planes flew up the east coast of Boko To Island until they were opposite the harbor at Mako. Merchant ships were tied up on either side of the main pier and several smaller coastal freighters were inside the harbor.

Flying in three two-plane elements in a single pass stright out of the north, they dropped 500-pound bombs on naval warehouses and barracks near the harbor. Emerging over the docks a bomb was dropped into a 834-ton tanker which was unloading fuel at the time. The planes continued over the harbor and hit military installations on Tokichito Island. A direct hit on a revetted building, probably loaded with ammunition caused a terrific explosion which rocked the aircraft.

Off Hong KongOn April 6th, 24 strafers from all four squadrons took off to intercept a convoy between Amoy and Swatow. They spotted two frigates steaming north-northeast at almost the exact spot that intelligence had predicted. They sank those two and headed north looking for the rest of the convoy. Not finding any ships they reversed course. The 500th Squadron raced at a grey outline on the horizon only to discover they had taken on a warship not a merchantman. The 498th drawn by the 500th radio chatter sank a Japanese destroyer sailing towards the 500th's engagement.

The rest of the month was spent on routine missions, more often than not hitting shore installations out of lack of visibility and shipping targets. They also flew several ground support missions for American troops battling their way through Japanese defences on Nothern Luzon.

Formosa Offensive - May 1-10, 1945. The Air Apaches returned to Southwestern Formosa on the 6th with a major attack by 39 strafers against the Mato area. They then turned their attention to the only remaining supply route left to the Japanese through the area - their railroad which followed the coast of Indochina northward from Saigon towards China. Fourteen Mitchells from the 498th and 500th Squadrons disrupted this vital lifeline by dropping 250-pound bombs on tracks, trains, depots and bridges along much of the Annamese segment of the railroad on May 7th.

Reassignment

As the rest of the 345th folded its camp at San Marcelino and prepared to move to Clark Field, Floyd was transferred back to the States.

Floyd was one of a few war seasoned pilots chosen to return to the States to become instructors. The impending invasion of Japan had every appearance of becoming a foot by foot, man by man battle. The Japanese had shown that they were willing to fight to the death even without supplies or support.

When he left the Philippines, the flights going back home were giving priotity to the wounded from Okinawa. Floyd, never good at sitting around, hopped a freighter which at least was moving eastward. He got back about the same time as if he'd waited for a flight, very bored from that long at sea with nothing to do but rock and roll.

Back home he reunited with his wife and year old son he hadn't seen yet. They set up housekeping in Columbia, South Carolina and Floyd began instructing the new pilot classes on how to get the most out of their planes and hopefully, stay alive. This was not a comfortable duty since he would rather be doing the flying, knowing that many of these young boys would probably be going to their deaths.

He was very happy when the Japanese surrendered.


This document maintained by sherry@vanderfordfamily.com.
Material Copyright © 1998 {CDAccess.com, Inc.}