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The Caterpillar Club

Portraits of Henry Wacker and John Boettner frame an illustration of their July 21, 1919, jump from a Goodyear airship, qualifying them as the first two members of the Caterpillar Club. NASM-00152652

A hundred years ago, tragedy struck the skies of Chicago just before five in the afternoon on July 21, 1919.  The Goodyear airship, Wingfoot Air Express, more commonly known as the Wingfoot Express, took off from Grant Park, destined for the White City Amusement Park balloon hangar. The Wingfoot Express had successfully made its maiden flight that morning and another later in the afternoon. As the airship passed over the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank, it turned into a “mammoth red ball of fire.” Four tiny parachutes became visible over the financial district. Only two survived—Henry Wacker, the chief mechanic, and John Boettner, the pilot. They became known as members one and two of the Caterpillar Club, an organization formed in November 1922 consisting of people who had used parachutes to make an emergency jump.

The wreckage of the Goodyear Airship Wingfoot Express falling onto a bank building in Chicago, Illinois, July 21, 1919, people and cars can be seen in the foreground. The photograph is signed, “To B.E. Walls, From First Caterpillar [sic] Club Member, July 21, 1919, Henry Wacker”, Wacker’s parachute can be seen below the falling wreckage. NASM-2007-72

United States Air Force 1st Lieutenant Harold R. Harris, served as the inspiration for the creation of the Caterpillar Club.  On October 20, 1922, Harris was testing experimental ailerons on a Loening pursuit monoplane at McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio.  As he banked in tandem with Lieutenant Muir Fairchild, Harris lost control of the plane. He slid out of his aircraft and attempted to open his parachute several times. It is estimated that he had fallen from 2,500 feet to 500 feet before successfully deploying his chute—marking what is thought to be the first successful use of a parachute in an emergency situation from an airplane.

At a 1943 dinner at the Wings Club, Colonel Harold R. Harris, commanding officer of the Air Transport Command (center), is presented the Switlik Trophy commemorating the first jump from an aircraft via parachute by Stanley Switlik (right) donor of the plaque and leading proponent of safety parachutes. Capt. Harold L. Foster (left) President of the Caterpillar Club looks on. NASM-00143229

Milton H. St. Clair, a parachute engineer at McCook Field, and Verne Timmerman and Maurice Hutton, journalists for the Dayton Daily Herald, figured that Harris was just the first of many future emergency parachute jumps. St. Clair suggested the term “caterpillar” from a description on the composition of a parachute: “mainsail and lines…are woven from the finest silk. The lowly worm spins a cocoon, crawls out and flies away from certain death.”  Thus was born the Caterpillar Club.

Irene McFarland

Irene McFarland became the first female member of the Caterpillar Club on July 4, 1925. A stunt jumper, McFarland was scheduled to test a parachute of her own design in a 3,500 foot jump. Government regulations required that she wear a backup Irving chute. Despite her protests, McFarland wore the emergency chute and used it when her original failed. The Club accepted her as a member even though she intended a parachute jump because she did not intend to use the emergency pack, which saved her life.

The parachute companies quickly got in on the marketing game, presenting pins to the latest emergency parachutists who could confirm which brand of chute they had used. While Robert Fitzgerald of Wright Field maintained the “official” records of the self-proclaimed “mythical organization.”

 

Leslie Irvin of  Irving Air Chute Co., Stanley Switlik of Switlik Parachute Co. and others kept their own lists. Members could be eligible for special deals. For example, on February 25, 1932, Keith’s Theater in Washington, DC, reserved a box for the estimated 17 local members to view the movie The Lost Squadron, advertised as having “more crashes than Wall Street.”

Milton H. St. Clair, parachute engineer and co-founder of the Caterpillar Club, points to a sign for Caterpillar farm tractors.

With the dawning of WW II, it appeared the ranks of the Caterpillar Club would grow exponentially. The Club decided to take its status beyond “mythical” to “organized” and officially incorporated on April 6, 1943.  Stanley Switlik provided office space and assistance with applications and credentials.

Today the ranks of Caterpillar Club members number in the tens of thousands. Both Irving (as Airborne Systems) and Switlik continue to register members. Famous members include John Glenn, Jimmy Doolittle and George H.W. Bush.  With four jumps to his credit, Charles Lindbergh is probably the member with the most pins.

Lt. Charles Lindbergh parachuting from his disabled airplane, circa 1926.

Maurice Hutton, co-founder of the Caterpillar Club and aviation editor for the Dayton Daily Herald, poses for a photo wearing flight gear and standing next to his plane

And how are Wacker and Boettner members one and two, if the Club was founded three years later with Harris as the first member? The Caterpillar Club was willing to add back-dated members. William O’Connor was the first to be added with a 1920 exhibition jump requiring an emergency chute, making him number one, then number three when Wacker and Boettner were added about nine years after the fact.

 

John Boettner continued to pilot airships for Goodyear and rose to the rank of Commander in the US Navy, flying in World War II. Henry Wacker went on to work for B.F. Goodrich and the WPA. He proudly autographed photos of his jump as “the first Caterpillar Club member.” And every year on July 21, the anniversary of his jump, he took his parachute out of storage and aired it out, in honor of the day it saved his life.

 

Story derived from a Smithsonian Museum article.

Please click on images to enlarge.

 

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Military Humor –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Jack P. Ancker – NM; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, 17th Airborne Division / Korea & Vietnam, Col. (Ret.)

Carl Bell – Gresham, OR; US Navy, WWII, USS Pickens

‘Last Flight’, by Rhads

William B. Clarke – Smyrna, DE; US Navy, WWII, PTO, USS Vincennes / Korea, USS Worchester

Joseph Damico – Poughkeepsie, NY; US Army, WWII, ETO, 76/3rd Army

Kenneth E. Ford – Albia, IA; US Army, Korea, Cpl., Co. C/1/32, KIA (Chosin Reservoir)

Louis Kulma – Parisville, MI; US Merchant Marines, WWII, chief radio operator

Isabelle Messenger (100) – Peru, MA; Civilian, Red Cross, WWII, ETO, Medal of Freedom

Nicholas Panipinto – Bradenton, FL; US Army, Korea, Spc., 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team/1st Calvary, KIA

Lonnie Ware – Marrero, LA; US Army, 11th Airborne Division

Robert Waring – Fredericksburg, VA; US Army, Korea, 101 Airborne Division / US Coast Guard Res., Cmdr. (Ret. 40 y.)

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“Violet Lightning” and “Mighty Wind” – Japanese Late War Fighters

N1K Shiden

Two planes fielded by the Japanese late in WWII, the Kawanishi N1K1-J and N1K2-J fighters, became popular with the Japanese military, despite having an unusual development history.

In the history of aircraft design, it hasn’t been that unusual for land-based planes to be converted into seaplanes. It’s a natural step from the more familiar role to a somewhat more unusual one, removing wheels, adding floats, and making other adaptations.

For the Kawanishi N1K1-J, however, the pattern was the other way around. The N1K1-J Kyofu (meaning “mighty wind”) was a seaplane fighter. It was successful enough to be adapted into the land-based N1K1-J Shiden (meaning “violet lightning”).

By the time the N1K1-J Shiden went into production, the tide of war had already turned against Japan. The Allies, particularly the Americans, were pushing them back across the Pacific, island by island. On the mainland, the Chinese kept fighting with the help of international support, while the British pushed back in Burma. As the sphere of Japanese control shrank, so did the safe territory that the nation’s factories could operate in.

The result was production problems for the N1K1-J. Raids by Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers on factories on the Japanese mainland added to existing difficulties of supply and production.

The N1K1-J Shiden came into service late in the war. It started to be fielded across the Pacific theater in May 1944. Despite the production problems, large numbers of N1K1-J Shidens were produced – over 1,400 by the end of the war.

The titles given to these fighters by their creators were full of dignity and drama. The codename given to them by the Allies was less so. The Japanese used “Mighty Wind” and “Violet Lightning” whereas the Allied forces referred to the planes by the codename “George”, a Christian name common in England at the time.

One of the most successful features of the plane was its automatic combat flaps. This unique feature helped pilots to make extreme combat maneuvers by giving them extra lift. This made it one of the most successful all-round fighters in the Pacific theater, able to take on fighters and bombers alike.

The N1K1-J Shiden’s biggest downside was that it perform well at high altitudes. This was a problem for the Japanese air force, as they faced, the most powerful bombers of the war. The B-29 could reach an altitude of nearly 32,000 feet for bombing runs on Japan, and from the end of 1943, the Americans decided not to use any other bombers in their raids against the Japanese. Any Japanese plane that couldn’t perform well at high altitude would struggle to defend the homeland.

Early models of the Shiden had further problems. The mid-mounted wing produced poor visibility, a serious problem for pilots caught up in dogfights. The landing gear, the most important change from the seaplane version, was also inadequate. Changes needed to be made.

N1K2 “Violetbolt”

The result was a new model, the N1K2-J Shiden-Kai. The prototype for this version first flew at the end of December 1943 and it was soon rushed into mass production.

The N1K2-J was so successful that it soon became the standard land-based fighter and fighter-bomber of the Japanese military. It could hold its own in combat against almost anything the Allies threw against it. Though the tide of war was against them, Japanese fighter pilots at least had an edge in the skies.

The N1K2-J wasn’t just better because of its superior flying abilities. As with several of the best weapons in history, its advantage also came from being easy to produce. An N1K2-J could be completed in half the time it took to build one of its predecessors. With the losses mounting and the pressure on, this was a vital feature for the Japanese.

The N1K2-J was equipped with a mix of weaponry – in the wings were four 20mm cannons, while a pair of 550lb bombs were fixed underneath. This allowed the plane to act in a support role, not just as an interceptor. It could use its cannons in the skies against other planes, or to strafe enemy infantry and ships, which were also the targets for the bombs.

The presence of cannons rather than machine-guns was important. In the early war, many fighters on both sides had relied on machine-guns. But the experience of combat had taught the military that bullets were not enough to take out the latest planes and that cannons firing explosive rounds would be needed instead.

“George”

The N1K2-J had a maximum speed of 370mph and a rate of climb of 3,300 feet per minute. This put it on a par with the Spitfires and Messerschmitts doing much of the fighting in Europe. It also made it superior to the Grumman F4F Wildcat, a fighter widely used by the Americans in the Pacific.

It was, however, slightly out-matched for speed and climb by Grumman’s major late-war plane, the F6F Hellcat. The Shiden-Kai was a good enough plane to compete with its main adversaries, but American industry still held the edge.

Despite its superiority in the air, some N1K2-Js were deliberately crashed by their pilots.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – 

The official Taliban Suppository

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Robert Armstrong – Albany, NY; US Army Air Corps, WWII, 11th Airborne Division, Honor Guard

Milton Beatty – Baton Rouge, LA; US Navy, WWII, PTO, Sea Bee

Leonard Davidson (99) – Auckland, NZ; NZ Home Defense, WWII, Sgt.

Jack Gucker – Seattle, WA; US Army, WWII, APO

Nicholas Kakos – MN; US Army Air Corps, WWII

Norris Leafdale – Banner County, NE; US Army, WWII, PTO

Quentin W. McCall – Union Church, MS; USMC, WWII, PTO, KIA (Tarawa)

Chester Posey – Clifton, TX; US Army Air Corps, WWII & Korea, navigator/gunner

Lyle Spalding – Louisville, KY; USMC, WWII

Garth Youd – Lakeshore, UT; US Army, WWII, ETO, 401st Field Artillery Battalion

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The Survivors: Imperial Japanese Navy Kawanishi N1K Kyōfū Floatplane Fighter

An excellent post about the Japanese aircraft of WWII from an exceptional researcher!!

Aces Flying High

Designed during World War Two to provide air cover for Imperial Japanese forces deployed for amphibious beach landings in advanced locations that lacked prepared airstrips or aircraft carriers, the Kawanishi N1K Kyōfū (“Strong Wind” or “Mighty Wind” depending on the translation, Allied reporting code name “Rex”) floatplane fighter must have seemed a great idea to the Imperial Japanese Navy when work began on it in September 1940 (the first prototype took flight on May 6th, 1942). The rugged fighter was able to take off from the water around islands, was fitted with a powerful engine and we’ll armed to take on Allied fighters but by the time it became operational in July 1943, the tide of war had turned.

Kawanishi N1K1 Kyōfū ( Kawanishi N1K1 Kyōfū (“Strong Wind”, Allied Code Name: Rex) floatplane fighter of the Imperial Japanese Navy

By 1943 Japan was on the defensive and in gradual retreat. The Kawanishi N1K 

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79th U.S. Airborne Birthday

16 August,  National Airborne Day

The history of United States Airborne Forces did not begin on the training fields of Fort Benning, Georgia, as some believe. In fact, the origin of Airborne Forces in the U.S. military began with a familiar name to American military history, Brigadier General William L. “Billy” Mitchel (1879-1936).

As well as being considered the spiritual father of the United States Air Force, which he advocated for fiercely during his tenure in the military, BG Mitchell was the first to imagine airborne tactics and sought the creation of U.S. Airborne Forces.

BGeneral Billy Mitchell, the father of the U.S. Airborne


It is not recorded exactly when he organized a demonstration of Airborne Infantry for U.S., Russian and German observers. However, according to records
 at Ft. Benning, Georgia, it is confirmed that BG Mitchell held the demonstration “shortly after World War I” at Kelly Field, in San Antonio, Texas. During the demonstration, six soldiers parachuted from a Martin Bomber. After landing safely, the soldiers assembled their weapons and were ready for action in less than three minutes after they exited the aircraft.

11th Airborne Division, 1943 Yearbook

Reprinted and broadcast countless times, High Flight is regarded as one of the world’s great war poems and the greatest anthem of aviation. It is the official poem of the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Air Force. First year cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy are required to memorize it. Extracts have been quoted in a variety of occasions. The most famous example occurred on Jan. 28, 1986, when President Ronald Reagan, speaking of the Challenger, Space Shuttle disaster, closed his address with the sentence: “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of Earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’”

11th A/B trooper Wiiliam Carlisle on the cover of “Yank”

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

of sun-split clouds, – and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,

I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air . . .

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace

Where never lark nor even eagle flew –

And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

                                     – Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

11th Airborne Division Chapel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Military (Airborne) Humor – 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ATTA BOY!!

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Farewell Salutes – 

John Astin – Mise, MS; US Army, MSgt. # 39111 (Ret. 21 y.), 82nd & 101st Airborne, 187th RCT Airborne

Ronald Boyd Sr. – Massillon, OH; US Army, 82nd Airborne Division, Green Beret

Booby Frier – Lubbock, TX; US Army, Vietnam, 82nd Airborne Division

James Glidewell – Springfield, MO; US Army, Korea, MSgt. 187th Regimental Combat Team Airborne

William Herring  – Woodville, FL; US Army, 173rd Airborne Division

Scott A. Koppenhafer – Mancos, CO; USMC, Iraq, GySgt., Force Recon Marines, KIA

Frank Krhovsky – Grand Rapids, MI; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 511/11th Airborne Division

Archie McInnes (100) – UK; RAF, WWII, ETO, 601 & 238 Squadrons, pilot

Michael Wood – ID; US Army, MSgt., 7th Special Forces, Afghanistan / FBI

Thomas Yarborough – Jacksonville, FL; US Army, Korea, 187th Regimental Combat Team Airborne

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How a Combat Unit Passes the Time While Standing Down

RRR-cover

Keeping the troops focused and in shape while not in combat….

IHRA

After approximately nine months of combat missions, the 22nd Bomb Group’s B-26s had reached the age of being designated war-weary. Due to the “Europe First” mentality, those fighting in the Pacific Theater had been receiving far fewer replacement aircraft than they desperately needed. In the case of the 22nd, this was a breaking point for the Group. Headquarters did not feel that men could safely fly in their B-26s any longer and ordered the Group to stand down on January 11, 1943.

Not long after the orders were received, the 19th and 33rd Bomb Squadrons were told that they were moving from Iron Range back to their old camp at Woodstock. The 500+ mile trip was filled with torrential downpours, delays and crowded conditions aboard the S.S. Paine Wingate. Once the men made it back to Woodstock, though, they happily found that their camp had been improved since their…

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THE “BETTY”

Mitsubishi Type 1 Attack Bomber Model 22 ‘Betty’ by Shigeo Koike

The G4M was a Japanese high-speed bomber-torpedo carrier. During World War II, it was in service with the naval aviation. In the system of codes of allies, this aircraft had the designation “Betty”.  The Mitsubishi G4M combines high speed, long range, and excellent aerodynamic shape. Due to these qualities, it was a symbol of Japanese naval aviation.

In all 2,416 Bettys were produced by Mitsubishi and saw action in almost every engagement in the South Pacific. They also served as transports and special-attack aircraft. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was aboard a Betty when it was shot down in 1943. Late in the war Bettys were used as Kamikaze aircraft. Indeed the Betty, which was there at the very start of the conflict, was also there at its end, being used as special transport aircraft for the Japanese delegation who arranged Japan’s surrender to the Allies in August 1945.

Betty bombers

The basis for the aircraft was a monoplane scheme with a mid-mounted wing and a large fuselage. The large fuselage of the oval section allowed to accommodate large loads and created comfortable working conditions for the crew. The wings of the aircraft had a trapezoidal shape, and the average position of the wings allowed even at high load to keep the centering of the aircraft.

On the G4M, instead of hydraulic drives, electric drives were used. They seemed more reliable in conditions of low temperatures and high altitudes. The design was all metal with two spars and a retractable landing gear. The power plant consisted of two, star-shaped two-row 14-cylinder air-cooled “Kasey” 11 engines. The maximum power of the engine was about 1530 hp (take-off). The engines were additionally equipped with a single-stage supercharger. The maximum speed was about 428 km/h. The G4M was equipped with screws with three blades and a diameter of 3.4 meters. Fuel equipment included eight fuel tanks with a total capacity of 4780 liters. They were located between the wing spars, electric gasoline pumps, and fuel lines. The maximum range was 6034 km, and an altitude of 9220 m.

Small arms included four 7.69mm “Type 92” machine guns and one 20mm cannon. Machine guns were placed in the cockpit of the navigator, in two lateral and upper blisters.  Type 92 Machine-guns were a copy of the English Vickers machine gun. The ammunition was from six to seven disc stores for each shooting point. On the ceiling between the blisters could be attached one spare machine gun.

Japanese Navy Type 1 land attack planes (Mitsubishi G4M1 “Betty”) fly low through anti-aircraft gunfire during a torpedo attack on U.S. Navy ships maneuvering between Guadalcanal and Tulagi in the morning of 8 August 1942. The burning ship in the center distance is probably USS George F. Elliott (AP-13), which was hit by a crashing Japanese aircraft during this attack.

The G4M excellently showed itself at the initial stage of the Second World War. They bombed the territories of China and the Philippines, Port Moresby in New Guinea and Darwin in Australia. On December 10, 1941, near the coast of Malaysia, torpedoes of an G4M aircraft destroyed the British battleship Prince of Wales and the cruise liner Repulse.

In January 1942, 17 bombers (including GM4) took off from the Japanese military base in Rabaul and attempted to attack the US aircraft carrier Lexington. However, the American “Wildcat” fighters destroyed 15 of the Japanese bombers.

In the future, because of weak armor, G4M bombers became increasingly easy prey. They received the unofficial nickname “One-time lighter” or “Flying cigar“. During the war, the G4M was produced only at Mitsubishi plants, and 2,414 in all.

After the surrender of Japan, almost all Japanese aircraft were destroyed. The only surviving plane is a G4M1 located in the Museum of Aviation in Santa Monica, USA.

 

Guadalcanal-Tulagi Operation, 7-9 August 1942 Largely intact floating wreckage of a Japanese Navy Type 1 land attack plane (a type later code named “Betty”), which crashed during the aerial torpedo attack on the Allied invasion

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Military Aviation Humor –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Moses Attaya – Picayune, MS; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, B-17 waist gunner

Edward Corr – Lakeville, MA; USMC

Michael Ferazzi – Contoocook, NH; USMC / RI National Guard

Albert Mazza – Haverhill, NH; USMC

John Nock – St. Augustine, FL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, Co. C/152nd Artillery/11th Airborne Division

Aaron Perry – Union, NH; USMC / NH Attorney General’s office

Daniel Pereira – Riverside, RI; USMC

Joseph Teriaca – Kansas, OH; US Navy, WWII, PTO, Flight Engineer

Patsy Verrico – Brighten, PA; US Army WAC, WWII

Franco Zeffirelli – Florence, Italy; Italian partisan forces, WWII, POW / opera & film director

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Canadian Hero – Leonard Birchall RCAF

Leonard Birchall

One of the things Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Air Commodore Leonard Birchall is most remembered for is being the “Savior of Ceylon.” He was the pilot who warned the Allied forces in Colombo of the Japanese surprise attack that was on its way, thus allowing them to prepare and preventing a repeat of Pearl Harbor.

However, he showed the true breadth of nobility and valor of his character in Japanese prisoner of war camps over a period of three years, in which he saved many men’s lives and took many prisoners’ beatings for them.

Leonard Birchall was born in July 1915 in St Catharines, Ontario, Canada. After graduating from school he worked a number of jobs in order to pay for flying lessons.  He eventually decided to embark on a military career, and enrolled in the Royal Military College of Canada in 1933, after which he was commissioned as a RCAF pilot in 1937.

Royal Air Force mechanics at Royal Air Force Station RAF Koggala, Ceylon

It wouldn’t be too long before he saw action: the Second World War broke out in 1939.   His first duties involved flying a Supermarine Stanraer with RCAF No. 5 Squadron over Nova Scotia on anti-submarine patrols.

In 1940, he managed to virtually single-handedly capture an Italian merchant ship in the Gulf of St Lawrence by making a low pass over it, feigning an attack, which caused the captain to panic and run his ship into a sandbank. Birchall landed nearby and waited patiently for the Royal Canadian Navy to get there, whereupon they arrested the Italian seamen.

In 1942 he joined No. 413 Squadron, and shortly thereafter was transferred to Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka).  Less than 48 hours after touching down, he was flying his Catalina on a patrol mission when he caught sight of an Imperial Japanese Naval fleet which was clearly on its way to attack Ceylon.

Birchall didn’t have much time to act, for not only had he spotted the Japanese, but they had also spotted him. Despite the imminent danger, Birchall flew closer in order to gather details about how many ships and aircraft he could see.

He desperately relayed details to the Allied base even as anti-aircraft fire starting ripping past him, while Japanese fighters took off from the aircraft carriers to shoot him down.

He managed to get a few messages through to the base before anti-aircraft fire tore through his Catalina and disabled the radio. Further fire crippled the plane, and he went down, crash-landing into the ocean. He and the other surviving members of his crew were picked up by the Japanese and taken onto one of the ships. Thus began three years of imprisonment.

IJN destroyer “Isokaze”

As soon as Birchall was brought on board the Japanese destroyer Isokaza, he was singled out as the senior officer and brutally interrogated.

The Japanese eventually believed he had not radioed out, and went ahead with their attack – but they found the Allied defenders prepared for them, and their raid was a failure.

Birchall was then transferred to mainland Japan.  He was placed in an interrogation camp in Yokohama where he was subject to solitary confinement and daily beatings. In this camp – in which no speaking (except when answering questions) was allowed – Birchall spent 6 grueling months.

He was then transferred to a POW work camp that had been erected in a baseball stadium. The conditions were harsh; rations were scarce, and the prisoners were basically on a starvation diet. Beatings were commonplace, and everyone, regardless of their physical condition, was forced to work.

Birchall immediately began to earn the respect of the other prisoners by arranging a system in the camp whereby he and the officers displayed the food that had been dished out to them, and if any enlisted man thought that the officers had been given better food, or more food, he was free to exchange his rations with the officer’s.

Despite the risk of severe punishment, he also argued with the guards and demanded better treatment and rations for his men. If a guard was beating a particularly weak prisoner, Birchall and the other officers would step in and take a beating from the guards on that prisoner’s behalf.

Air Commodore Leonard Birchall Leadership Award, at Royal Military College of Canada; bas-relief bronze by Colonel (ret’d) Andre Gauthier Photo by Victoriaedwards CC BY-SA 3.0

Birchall kept detailed diaries of his time in the Japanese POW camps, and these were used as evidence in post-war trials. He was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions in Ceylon, and made an officer of the Order of the British Empire for his actions in the POW camps.

Leonard Birchall, WWII Hero

Leonard Birchall retired from the RCAF in 1967, and then worked at York University, Ontario, until 1982. He passed away at the age of 89 in 2004.

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Military Humor – 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

John Bullard – Stone GA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, HQ Co./188/11th Airborne Division

John Crouchley Jr. – Providence, RI; US Army Air Corps, WWII, pilot, KIA

Carl Gloor – Bolivar, PA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, 17th Airborne Division

Robert L. Miller Sr. – South Bend, IN; US Navy, WWII, PTO, Purple Heart / Korea / Judge / Veteran’s advocate

Domonica Mortellano – Tampa, FL; Civilian, MacDill Air Force Base

Alberta Nash – Saint John, CAN; Civilian, WWII, Canadian Red Cross

Alan Seidel – Montreal, CAN; RC Army, WWII, tank commander

Alan Smith – Fort William, CAN; RC Air Force, WWII, ETO, Flight Sgt.

Edsel Teal – Chicopee, MA; US Navy, WWII

Doris Whitton – Ft. Simpson, CAN; RC Air Force, WWII, radio/telephone

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The Final Combat Mission – 15 August 1945

Captain Jerry Yellin flew the last combat mission of WWII on the morning of August 15, 1945, out of Iwo Jima.

Cruising above the Pacific under the morning sun, the Americans had approached the Japanese coastline without incident. Jerry wondered how many more missions like this he would have to fly. They’d all thought the war was over, but now, here he was again, heading to strike a stubbornly resistant enemy.

But down below, in the nation they were about to attack, a philosophical battle was raging on whether to surrender or fight on. The “Big Six”—the six military officers running Japan—had been split by a vote of 3-3 on when and how to end the war with honor. In general, hard, passionate divisions of opinion existed among the Japanese military: some of the older officers wanted to surrender to prevent the destruction of Japan, while others wanted to fight on to the death and kill as many Americans as possible.

The previous night, while another 300 American B-29s strafed Japan again, a group of rogue Japanese officers had started a coup against Prime Minister Suzuki and Emperor Hirohito. The officers burned the prime minister’s office and surrounded the Imperial Palace, hoping to kidnap the emperor, all in an effort to prevent Japan’s leadership from thinking about surrendering. For these officers, and for so many of the Japanese people, surrender was not an option. There was glory in death, but only shame in surrender; Japan, for its part, had never been invaded or lost a war in its history.

Capt. Jerry Yellin, 78th FG

Fortunately for the rest of the world, the coup did not succeed. A group of senior Japanese officers talked the insurgents off the ledge, convincing them that there was nowhere to go. But while the revolt ended, the war did not, and so, with the shoreline of the enemy territory coming into view and Phil Schlamberg, his dear friend and fellow pilot, on his wing, Jerry knew it was time to go back to work.

On Jerry’s order, all the planes in his squadron dropped their eternal fuel tanks over the ocean, then started familiar aerial trek over the great, snow-capped peak of Mount Fuji. As of yet, there had been no radio signal with the word “UTAH,” signaling the end of the war.

As the Americans approached the Japanese capital, they began to identify targets. Within minutes, they swooped down over airfields and attacked despite heavy ground fire. Tracer bullets flew up from the Japanese guns as the 78th made multiple passes at each target.

After strafing the last airfield, Jerry checked his fuel gauge and saw he was still in good shape. But when one of the pilots radioed that his tank had reached the ninety-gallon mark—the amount a Mustang needed for the return flight—it was time to pull up and begin plotting the course back to Iwo Jima.

78th Fighter Group

Jerry looked over at Phil, who was still on his wing, and give him a thumbs up.  Phil looked back and returned the gesture.

With the battle of Tokyo complete, Jerry set his course back out to the ocean and banked to the south. The three other Mustangs in Jerry’s squadron returned with him. A few moments later, as they approached the coast where they would rendezvous with the navigational B-29s, they neared a cloud cover in front of them, often the case when approaching the atmospheric temperature inversions near the coast. With Phil still tight on his wing, Jerry led the four Mustangs into the cloud bank. Flying at an altitude of about 7,000 feet, Jerry focused his eyes on his navigation instruments, as the interior of the white, puffy clouds blocking his view of everything else.

But when the Mustangs emerged on the other side of the clouds, a devastating reality soon surfaced. Phil was gone. Most likely, he had been brought down by antiaircraft bullets fired into the clouds. There was no sign of him.

Jerry was devastated. When he landed at Iwo Jima, meanwhile, he learned something else: the war was over. The emperor had announced Japan’s surrender three hours earlier.  The code word UTAH had been broadcast to U.S. aircraft over the country, but the word had not reached the planes of the 78th until they landed.

Capt. Jerry Yellin

It was a surreal feeling as Jerry climbed out of his plane and jumped down to the airfield, standing on a once-bloody Pacific island. Now, suddenly, it was a world at peace. The men of the 78th had a saying, “Alive in ’45.” That had been their goal, and now it was their reality.

As Jerry walked away from his plane, another realization hit him: he had just flown the final combat mission of the war, and Phil was the final combat death of the great war. One day, after Jerry had time to collect his emotions and his thoughts, the great historical significance of the mission he’d just flown would sink in. But for now, one thought consumed his mind.

At last, it was time to go home.

I previously did an article about Captain Yellin when he was still helping to teach us about WWII.

Captain Jerome Yellin – 15 February 1924 – 21 December 2017

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Military Humor –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Zach Brown – Chehalis, WA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, Co. C/457th Artillery/11th Airborne Division

Allan Carson – Nelson, NZ; RNZ Air Force # 421317, WWII, pilot

From, Anna, Maiden On The Midway

Robert DeBusschere – Detroit, MI; US Army, WWII, A/B

Marvin ‘Curly’ East – Denver, CO; US Army, WWII, ETO, 110th Antiaircraft Artillery

Joseph Goodman – New Boston, PA; US Navy, WWII, USS Benson

Elizabeth (Meadows) Huey – Homer, LA; US Navy WAVE, WWII

Jesse James – AL; US Army Air Corps, WWII

Willard Lantz – Mapleton, MN; US Navy, WWII, Seaman 1st Class, USS Elkart

Wayne Pomeroy – Mesa, AZ; US Army Air Corps, WWII, B-24 tail gunner

Doris Ward – ENG; British Army ATS, WWII, ETO

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Reporting From the Front

The Writing 69th

After writing one too many stories about troops who had taken off to bomb Germany never to come back, Andy Rooney, along with seven other World War II correspondents, wanted to see the action.

After weeks of begging, the reporters finally got their wish and were sent to gunnery school for a week of intensive training to prepare for the assignment. Despite their noncombatant status as journalists, the military insisted the reporters, who dubbed themselves the “Writing 69th,” needed to have enough combat knowledge to be helpful in case something went wrong during the flight.

Andy Rooney

“We were shot at,” Rooney told On Patrol in 2011. “I was at mid-side gunner. I operated a gun even though I was a correspondent. We weren’t supposed to, but I mean I was up there, and all the other guys were shooting so I had to pay my way.”

“I fired at every German fighter that came into the neighborhood,” Walter Cronkite wrote in his 1996 book, “A Reporter’s Life.” “I don’t think I hit any, but I’d like to think I scared a couple of those German pilots.”

Their planes were damaged, but Rooney and Cronkite made it back alive. One of their colleagues wasn’t as lucky. New York Times reporter Bob Post and the B-24 bomber he was flying in were never found.

Over 1,600 war correspondents flocked to the European and Pacific theaters during WWII to report back to millions of Americans back home.

Some correspondents, like Associated Press reporter Daniel De Luce, were newly minted storytellers with little experience. He worked at the AP for a decade before the war, first on and off as a copyboy and later as a reporter in Europe in 1939.

Dan DeLuce and his wife Alma

Dan De Luce and his wife, Alma pose for a photo during a farewell gathering in March 1939. A few days later they were in New York waiting to travel to Normandy, France. | Photo credit Photo courtesy of Richard De Luce

De Luce wrote stories from the European, African and Russian fronts, including a 1944 Pulitzer Prize-winning story about partisans in Yugoslavia.

“Gee, I was thrilled to death, it seemed so romantic,” De Luce said in Karen Rothmyer’s book, “Winning Pulitzers: The Stories Behind Some of the Best News Coverage of our Time.” “I had this idea that I wanted to go over and see what was happening.”

Walter Cronkite’s War

Other correspondents, like the United Press’ Cronkite, were experienced but relatively unknown journalists at the beginning of the war. They hoped reporting overseas would help them make a name in the business. Cronkite, who dropped out of the University of Texas for a reporting job at the Houston Post, worked a series of print and radio gigs before joining the UP in 1939. After years of begging to be sent to cover the war in Europe, he got his wish in 1942.

Far from a veteran reporter, Cronkite still started the war off with considerably more experience than Rooney, a Stars and Stripes scribe who edited his college newspaper

Though journalists battled both technology and censors, they were mostly free to report anything they dared to get out and see.

“They let those guys do what they needed to do,” said Brian Rooney, who covered the Gulf War. “There was some censorship [in WWII], but they allowed them to be reporters.”

Brian Rooney

From the beginning, Stars and Stripes gave Andy Rooney his own jeep, which allowed him to roam and write poignant profiles on officers, GIs and everyday people at war.

“My father did a story about this touching scene about a popular officer dying,” Brian Rooney said. “And [the military] would allow that kind of stuff to be published because they had free access.”

From Correspondents to Legends

After the war, a few of the correspondents who gained fame at war went on to become journalism icons.

Cronkite worked for years at CBS as an anchor and editor, earning the reputation as the “most trusted man in America.” Rooney also made a name for himself on CBS and hosted the “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney” segment on “60 Minutes” from 1964 to 2011.

De Luce, never transitioned into the broadcast world, but he reported for AP as a foreign correspondent for 17 years before ending his career with the organization as an executive in New York.

They all said their time as WWII correspondents were some of the most formative years of their lives.

“It was an exciting time,” Rooney told On Patrol. “It was a great experience and I was lucky to come through it alive.”

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War Correspondent Humor – 

 

Political cartoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Donald Carragher – Newark, NJ; US Navy, WWII, ETO, SeaBee signalman

Margery Deluco (100) – OH; US Army WAC, WWII, ETO, nurse

Burt C. Frank – Ravenna, OH; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, pilot

Owen Garriott – Enid, OK; US Navy, / NASA, pilot, Astronaut

David Hart (101) – Montreal, CAN; Canadian Army, WWII,Sgt. / Lt. Colonel (Ret. 24 y.)

Robert Oakley – Long Island, NY; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 511/11th Airborne Division

Salvatore Privitera – Hartford, CT; US Army, WWII, combat engineer

Robert ‘Bruce’ Strick – Portland, OR; US Army, WWII

Richard Thomson – League City, TX; US Navy, Pearl Harbor, Seaman 2nd Class, USS Oklahoma, KIA

Robert Wallace – Pensacola, FL; US Navy, WWII, ETO, PBY pilot

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Japan’s Underwater Aircraft Carriers – part one

Lieutenant Commander Stephen L. Johnson had a problem on his hands; a very large problem. His Balao-class submarine, the Segundo, had just picked up a large radar contact on the surface about 100 miles off Honshu, one of Japan’s home islands, heading south toward Tokyo.  World War II in the Pacific had just ended, and the ensuing cease fire was in its 14th day. The official peace documents would not be signed for several more days.

As Johnson closed on the other vessel, he realized it was a gigantic submarine, so large in fact that it first looked like a surface ship in the darkness. The Americans had nothing that size, so he realized that it had to be a Japanese submarine.

This was the first command for the lanky 29-year-old commander. He and his crew faced the largest and perhaps the most advanced submarine in the world. The Japanese I-401 was longer than a football field and had a surface displacement of 5,233 tons, more than three times the Segundo’s displacement. More troubling though was the sub’s bristling weaponry that included a 5.5-inch gun on her aft deck, three triple-barreled 25mm antiaircraft guns, a single 25mm gun mounted on the bridge, and eight large torpedo tubes in her bow.

During a brief ceremony aboard one of the aircraft carrier submarines, the Japanese naval ensign is lowered and replaced by the Stars and Stripes as the vessel is turned over to the control of the U.S. Navy after Japan’s surrender

The large sub displayed the mandatory black surrender flag, but when the Segundo edged forward, the Japanese vessel moved rapidly into the night. The movement and the continuing display of the Rising Sun flag caused concern.  Johnson’s vessel pursued the craft that eventually slowed down as dawn approached. He brought his bow torpedo tubes to bear on the craft as the two vessels settled into a Mexican standoff.

Johnson and his crew had received permission by now to sink the reluctant Japanese vessel if necessary, but he realized he had a career-boosting and perhaps a technologically promising prize in his sights. Much depended on this untried American submarine captain and his wily opponent in the seas off Japan.

Little did Johnson know that the Japanese submarine was a part of the I-400 squadron, basically underwater aircraft carriers, and that the I-401 carried Commander Tatsunosuke Ariizumi, developer of the top-secret subs initially designed to strike the U.S. homeland in a series of surprise attacks. Ariizumi was considered the “father of the I-400 series” and a loyal follower of the emperor with years of experience in the Japanese Navy, so surrender was a disgrace he could not endure

Johnson also had to contend with Lt. Cmdr. Nobukiyo Nambu, skipper of the I-401, who traced his combat experience back to Pearl Harbor. He now commanded the world’s largest submarine designed to carry three state-of-the-art attack planes in a specially built hanger located atop the vessel. These secret Aichi M6A1 planes were initially designed for “a second Pearl Harbor” or another surprise attack, possibly even against New York City or Washington, D.C. The I-400 series submarines were themselves full of technological surprises.  They were capable of traveling around the world one and a half times without refueling, had a top surface speed of 19 knots (or nearly 22 miles per hour), and could remain on patrol for four months, twice as long as the Segundo.

Neither Nambu nor Commander Ariizumi readily accepted the emperor’s surrender statement when it was broadcast on August 15. The subsequent communiqués from Tokyo were exceptionally confusing, especially Order 114, which confirmed that peace had been declared – but that all submarines were to “execute predetermined missions and attack the enemy if discovered.”

It was Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of Japan’s Combined Fleet and developer of the Pearl Harbor attack, who called for the construction of the I-400 series some three weeks after Pearl Harbor.  Once Japan was committed to war, he believed that submarine aircraft carriers dropping bombs “like rain” over major U.S. cities would surely cause the American people to “lose their will to fight.” A second surprise attack with even more to come would prove psychologically devastating to the Americans.

Yamamoto called for the construction of 18 of the massive submarines carrying a total of 36 attack planes. The name of the special submarine class was abbreviated to Sen-toku.

The attack planes had to be designed from scratch. The need for speed, range and a decent sized bomb payload required tradeoffs. The wings had to be foldable to fit inside the tube, or hangar, atop the submarine. The design work, testing, and building of the plane was outsourced to the Aichi Aircraft Company.

The I-400 program did have its detractors in the heavily bureaucratic Imperial Japanese Navy.  After the defeat at Midway in early June 1942, Japan became more focused on defending the homeland and far less on possible attacks on the U.S. mainland using the large submarines. The death of Yamamoto in mid-April 1943, played further into the hands of conservative Japanese commanders. Cutbacks were ordered in the number of submarines to be built.  .

The first test flight of the Aichi attack plane occurred on November 8, 1943. The plane, called Seiran or “storm from a clear sky,” reportedly handled fairly well as the world’s first sub-borne attack bomber. The Japanese began compiling limited available information on the heavily fortified Panama Canal. Their analysis showed that destroying the gate opening onto Gatun Lake would create a massive outpouring of water, destroying the other gates in its path while rushing toward the Caribbean Sea.

After weeks of planning, the Japanese came up with a strategy to attack the Gatun locks at dawn when the gates were closed and presumably the defenses were lax. The planners had nearly a full year to formulate the attack for early 1945. But there were problems ahead because none of the submarines were complete and the planes were not yet in the production stage.

I-400 Class submarine

The Japanese labored on, and by the end of 1944 the I-400 and the smaller I-13 were completed and turned over to the Navy. In early January 1945, the I-401 was commissioned  and the I-14, the last of the underwater aircraft carriers, was put into service by mid-March 1945.

As an important aside, it should be noted that while preparations for the attack on the Panama Canal went forward, Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, vice-chief of the Naval General Staff, floated another idea for the use of the Sen-toku submarines. He suggested arming the Seiran planes with biological weapons to be unleashed against a populated area on the West Coast of the United States.

Dr. Shiro Ishii, Japan’s top virus expert and head of the Army’s notorious 731 unit in Manchuria, was consulted. He recommended that the planes drop plague-inflected fleas, something he had tested with success in China, on the United States with San Francisco, Los Angeles, or San Diego suggested as targets. The plan was discarded in late March by the head of the Army’s general staff who called it  “unpardonable on humanitarian grounds.”

In effect, the Japanese Army, which had led the development of biological weapons and had tested them on Chinese and American captives, nixed the idea of using the weapons late in the war on American civilians, perhaps in the belief that the war was already lost.

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Military Humor –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Ernest Bargiel – Trafford, PA; US Army, WWII, medic

Alzena McNabb Bibb (99) – Corbin, KY; US Navy WAVE, WWII

Paul Copenhaver – Syracuse, NE; USMC, WWII, 3rd Marines

Ewell Foglemann – Dallas, TX; US Army, WWII, ETO, Pfc, Co. C/112/5th Engineer Corps

Ada Kirk (100) – Waipukurau, NZ; RAF # 895704, WWII, Cpl.

Donald Lawson – Elgin, KS; US Navy, WWII

Meddie Mojica – Asis, Cavite, PI; Filipino guerrilla & US Navy, WWII

William T. O’Keefe – Broad Channel, NY; US Navy, WWII

Mark Smith – Indianapolis, IN; USMC, Iraq, Colonel (Ret. 32 y.)

Jesse Weber – Arvada, CO; US Army Air Corps, WWII, pilot

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