22nd Bomb Group
By Walter Krell
Computer transcription by his daughter, Michelle Krell Malone
Larry Hickey, President, IRPC
January 14, 1989
Now about the 22nd. They were privileged by good fortune to have had the late spring, summer, and fall of 1941 to learn how to handle that magnificent machine, the Martin B-26. How P.M. Magruder conceived and built the airplane is a wonder story. Totally new design, new engines, new propellers, remarkable streamlining, with its butted skin joints, flush rivets, and clean lines. The short wing, high wing-load factor, and high stalling speed made the airplane a challenge. Little wonder that Maj. Dave Laubach , C.O. of the 19th Squadron at Langley, Virginia, whom I took for his first flight kept muttering, "It's a young man's airplane."
The B-26 was bought on paper and without major testing. The first fifty or more off the assembly line went straight to the 22nd Group and eventually wound up in combat in the Pacific. There were growing pains. The Air Corps procurement people in their infinite wisdom bought the B-26 without guns, because it would of course be able to outrun fighters because of its great speed. Instead, there was in the waist section a batch of camera claptrap, minus the camera. The Glenn Martin people had the sense to provide adaptations for eventual installations of gun turret, and other guns. The first aircraft ferried out of the Baltimore plant arrived at Langley about 1,000 pounds light in the tail section. On landing the nose would slam down, the nosewheel would collapse and the props would be ruined.
I graduated from flying school 41C, Maxwell field, Alabama, and was assigned to Langley. When I arrived, there were B-26s parked all over the field with no props. Propellers were now the bottleneck. Finally the day came when the Group Engineering Officer, Olsen, talked about the "center of gravity," a new term to us. By loading 800 pounds of lead shot in the tail section, the airplane flew and landed perfectly. Why, one wonders, did so many propellers have to be wrecked before all this came to light?
About four ferry crews were assigned to take new B-26s from the Baltimore plant to Patterson Field, Ohio. I was co-pilot to Hap Salenou on quite a few trips. A core of 22nd pilots checked out on the B-26 at Patterson and returned to Langley to train other pilots in the Group. My first flight in the left seat resulted in two runaway props. I had Louis (Tad) Ford was my co-pilot, and nobody had emphasized the importance of the generators for takeoff. So, we had asked a civilian mechanic to ride as engineer in the navigator's compartment, thinking he would know what to do about generators. Making flat turns and hanging on just above stalling speed, the noise was deafening even through the headphones. With the rpm's winding up above 3,300 (not supposed to exceed 2,750), we could see people pouring out of hangars and buildings while we mushed along on the downwind leg. We made it around and landed, taxied in and got a good bawling out by a tough colonel about generators.
At this point, Tad and I wondered about the guy who had ridden in with us, so we went out to the aircraft to check on him. When we crawled back up in the airplane, he was sitting there staring straight ahead: he couldn't talk. Apparently riding right between the two engines must have flipped him, because two weeks later when I asked about him, the other mechanics said Ducky was still in the bughouse.
On Saturday, back at Langley, I was handed an envelope by the operations officer and told to fly up to a field in Philadelphia and deliver the envelope to a man who would be at a certain gate at a certain time. I was to take a B-18. When I got out to the line, the B-18 was out of commission but the crew chief said he would have it ready after lunch. Still not ready after lunch, I waited another hour, said the hell with it, and grabbed a B-26 and took off. Hays was my co-pilot and we had two non-coms with us. It was just about dusk when we arrived and the field turned out to be a nasty, short little runway, placed along an estuary practically within the city. It was hazy, smoky, and foggy, with very reduced visibility, and no runway lights. The place belonged to the Navy. There were some sailboats tied up off the end of the runway, which stopped just short of a high granite wall around the place. I grabbed the envelope, a message to Garcia, ran over to what might have been operations, woke up a guy in a sailor suit who told me how to find the gate, and ran like hell some more. The gate house was heavy granite, civil war stuff. There was a guard, and I explained my mission. Within a very few minutes, a dapper, well dressed businessman announced his name to the guard and before he could ask, I proudly stepped forward and handed him the envelope with his name on it. He smiled, thanked me, and proceeded to open the envelope and pull out two tickets to the Army-Navy football game.
Back at the airplane, I told the guys nobody was expected to fly out of there with me. I would arrange their transportation home by other means. They all elected to take their chances. It was now dark. It took two guys with flashlights to maneuver me back between those wooden posts not to hit a prop and get back to the blacktop. Both engines were up to full power when I released the brakes and I left it on the ground the whole way to the end before hauling off. A left climbing turn seemed to put us over the heart of the city and suddenly we were on instruments with Hays pumping like hell because the wheels wouldn't retract and lock. About 20 minutes out of Langley, we broke out. It was a pitch black night but at least we were VFR and the lighted runway could easily be seen. I called the tower and told him to switch the lights to Runway 8, the widest, longest runway. He started to argue with me and I was in the process of throwing it back when all of a sudden Runway 8 lit up like a Christmas tree. We set it down, taxied it in, cut it off, thanked the guys, and Hays and I went over to the Club for dinner.
Until this time, night flying in the B-26 by the 22nd Group was neither attempted nor permitted. For some strange reason, the very next night we began night flying in earnest. About two weeks later, McCutcheon came up to me and asked if I knew who was in the tower the night I came in from Philadelphia. He went on to say that Col. Mark Lewis and about six of the top brass in the Group were all up there waiting for the worst. One evening at the club, I happened to look up and see Mark Lewis a few seats away regarding me with a steady unsmiling stare. Now I expected the worst but my so-called unauthorized use of a B-26 was never mentioned again.
I returned to Patterson Field where the accelerated service tests on the B-26 were underway. The rest of the Group went on maneuvers in Texas. Later we were on maneuvers in Savannah. Add up all the training, flight time, and air work coupled with the maintenance exposure of the line mechanics, and all this indeed presented a formidable collection of experience without equal for this new advanced airplane. What a tragedy, that following the loss of Lauback and Lewis in Texas, the 22nd had no leadership worthy of mention as long as I served it. This great potential fighting unit never realized a fraction of its inherent capabilities. The Group top brass may have done the best they knew how, but it would have taken a [Col. Brian] Shanty OÕNeill to do the job right.
Millard Haskins was C.O. of the 19th Pearl Harbor day. The Squadron departed for the west coast in a rush the next day. We left our cars and everything we couldnÕt cram into a B-4 bag. Past mid-morning, when we took off from Langley, first stop Mobile, got a bite to eat and hung around endlessly, waiting to get refueled. I do not recall any kind of a briefing whatsoever-- destination, weather, course, flight time, E.T.A., or alternate airfields, And the only maps were east coast sectionals. No mention of radio aids-to-navigation that might be picked up along the way if we got in trouble. Mil took off and we all rushed in behind him. It got dark, very dark, and we pounded along hour after hour it seemed, in a loose gaggle of a formation. The squadron had not been divided into organized individual flights, each with a responsible leader by any means. Formation lights on the B-26 were tiny little blue blobs designed to be obscure to the enemy as well as the wing men unless they stayed very close. Somewhere in the blackness over the Rockies, I lost oil pressure in one of the engines. I called, hoping I might get some kind of a position report, and all I got was a garbled response. We hoped it was just the gauge. Then a horror, I dropped off to sleep, woke up with the plane in a big left spiral, smacked Wingard the co-pilot in the chest and yelled, "You got it" He woke up and hollered, No, I have't. We straightened out and realized we'd lost a couple thousand feet of altitude. The formation was long gone. We picked up the general course we thought we'd been holding and started to climb back up, pulling power aplenty. No radio contact at all with the formation. Just dead silence. A red light suddenly flashed far off and a few degrees to our right. The light got brighter as we closed in on it in a climb and in the last fraction of a moment, we realized it was a light on a tower on top of a mountain peak. Sgt. Orr, the crew chief, standing between us helping us strain into the dark just about broke my shoulder as we all yelled "mountain" and veered off to the left. By some miracle, we overtook the formation, barreled right through it, scattering the bunch , and chopped power. The bunch went by me, I kicked it up again and damn near overran them a second time. You should have heard the noise on the radio, "Here he comes." ,"There he goes." "Where the hell is he now?", "Who the hell is it?", "Are we in enemy territory?". Never did I live that down and I took it because I deserved it. We never should have stayed up all night getting ready to go.
We made it to Albuquerque, and here again, the leadership might have told the pilots about the 5,000 foot altitude. All the prior flying at sea level had not prepared them for the thinner air loss of lift. Thank Martin again for putting a sturdy main gear on the B-26. I didn't talk to anyone who hadn't dropped in from too high.
With the loss of Lewis and Lauback, Haskins took the Group. Haskins did appear at Moresby on and off during those early days. One day, he told me that he had found that pass through the mountains. We took off with Mil in the lead, a loose formation with me off the right wing and a couple of B-26s trailing. We flew for some 25 minutes northwest, skirting the foothills of the Owen-Stanley Range which was covered with a heavy cloud mass. Mil abruptly turned northeast toward the mountains and started climbing, and I assumed the "pass" must be somewhere up ahead. Suddenly and without a word, Mil swung off to the left and made a full turn back to Moresby. We followed. Once back on the ground an HQ man, who had been riding in Haskin's B-26, came over and asked me why I hadn't continued on to the target when the Col. had to abort the mission. I explained that I hadn't been told what the target was, that the other B-26s hadn't been told to follow me in that event, and that I had no idea the Col. was aborting. I had just thought that he was looking for another hole in the clouds. Then the HQ man said that the Col. had announced his situation over the air. But none of us had heard this. Haskins himself never came over to talk to us about this strange little flight. Had there been a briefing prior to takeoff over maps designating targets, the navigators would have been helpful in laying out a course and might have made the engine time worthwhile.
Late one afternoon at Moresby, Mil Haskins told me we were heading for Townsville. I got on his right wing; there were just the two of us. Mil pushed hard straight ahead and we made good time. About an hour out of Townsville, we started into scudding clouds. We were about 5,000 feet, now getting dark. Mil was now doing some weaving to avoid some clouds. At times he was totally on instruments. It was now getting so dense and black that I had to crowd in too tight for safety just to be able to hang onto him. Then of course it happened, I lost him. On instruments now myself, I made about a 20-degree turn left away from possible land masses and bit by bit bled off the altitude. Grauer, our own navigator, had not been tracking us for position and wind changes, which often varied 180 degrees between New Guinea and Townsville. The danger here is that on a 600 mile flight, winds could move an aircraft miles off course, and to be letting down through dense clouds with a mountain poking up where there should be water makes for a sweaty situation in the cockpit. We finally broke out at about 1,500 feet and over water. I was always grateful for the iridescent quality of the ocean waters there, because no matter how dark the night, even slight wave action told you where the water surface stood. So here we are in that situation pilots dread the most--lost and getting low on fuel, and in the blackness of night. With the bombardier in the nose peering intently ahead to try to spot any of those offshore islands which jut right up out of the water, I was making wide circles at about two or three hundred feet altitude. Suddenly far in the distance we spotted a flash of light. It seemed we had to fly for the longest time toward where we had spotted that faint flash before other lights started to appear and we found Townsville and Garbut.
To push on with this leadership theme here, a Group order came forth requiring officers to grow a mustache and carry a swagger stick. I cringed to think of how the non-coms would regard such an absurdity. Imagine some lieutenant presenting himself to a weary, grimy, mosquito-plagued, ground crew to suggest an order. The implied conceit was appalling. Why not tuxedos for the officers at evening mess? Who the hell did we think we were supposed to be in front of the mechanics who were clearly the most important people in the outfit? It took longer to train a good mechanic than to turn out a pilot, and until the mechanic said the aircraft flies, the pilot is useless.
Then came the ultimate effrontery: a Group order prohibiting squadron commanders from flying combat missions. They had wings, why shouldn't they fly? Who, I wondered, is supposed to carry this war to the enemy? Shanty O'Neill told me how he argued all night with Haskins for permission to fly missions, Shanty being a squadron commander. Haskins finally gave in.
It was always great to encounter Shanty at 7-Mile. If Hugh Manson or George Anderson ever made it to New Guinea, I never saw them. They both knew the B-26 well. Manson had been one of the ferry crews on the Baltimore-Patterson run and Anderson had once ferried another B-26 along with me to Sacramento. Joe Reed, 19th C.O., had not had sufficient experience with the B-26 to put him out in front. We liked him so well that we excused him from the detail and were grateful he stayed out of the way. I don't know who excused the operations officer from flying. Al Moye went down on that first raid on Rabaul. Thereafter, he was our operations officer and never flew again.
Fred Kraft was the next operations officer and absolutely never did a thing. One time, though, he did take a ride to 7-Mile and over the target in one of the aircraft behind me. Once back on the ground, Kraft lectured me on how we were supposed to fly out and circle the marine navigation light at the head of the channel entering Port Moresby before flying on in. This caper was intended to announce to one and all that we were friendly. I had to explain to Kraft that in the early days when things were tough, that on two occasions Zeros had followed us all the way back, waited for us to get strung out in the Emily Post routine around the light, jumped us and scattered the B-26s in all directions. The Japanese loved to get an aircraft singled out.
Earlier we had learned that arriving back from a mission there was often a red alert. The only way we knew this was the appearance of a red flag run up the spindly pole alongside the grass operations shack near the runway. We were not the ones who kicked off the red alert we were told, but that friendly spotters hiding out in the hills had radioed in that we were followed. In these instances, I held the formation intact and flew off over the water where we could get a clear view of any attackers. I didn't want the formation circling too close to the strip. The red alert could also mean a bombardment attack, and if their bombing was as lousy as ours, there's no telling where they would have dumped. Usually the red flag was pulled down within 15 or 20 minutes of our arrival back from a mission. Later, as Moresby got some AA guns and some fighters to get off the ground at a red alert, the Zeros were less venturesome. They need not have worried. The B-39s were as useless as Kraft.
Larry, We're still on this leadership kick, and it's all boring me as much as I'm sure it's boring you. You won't hurt my feelings if you throw it out without reading it, but at least it's off my chest.
The 22nd Group command passed from Haskins to Dwight Divine. Regarding Mil Haskins, I'd like to say that in spite of our delightful air time together, I liked him. I got along with him and he did listen. I respected him and felt he was more the technician engineer than the Shanty O'Neill type.
So here comes Divine; unfortunately nothing changed. We even found ourselves missing Haskins. One area that demanded Group leadership in the worst way was the need of authoritative policy during times when different squadron units arrived at 7-Mile at the same time to run over the same target. After my first few missions, I never again flew on anyone else's wing. I never presumed that any other squadron was obligated to fly on my wing unless prearranged in Townsville. Since the 19th was still stationed out behind Garbut, and the rest of the Group was out at Woodstock, we often departed Australia independently. How many times I wished Divine had what it took to call the entire bunch together in a church somewhere and in clear stentorian tones, say, "This is the way it's going to be." .
Example: July 4, 1942. I arrived at 7-Mile from Townsville with four aircraft with orders to attack Lae the following day. A George Kahle from the 33rd arrived also with four aircraft and the same mission. That night we gathered pilots, navigators, and crew together to discuss the next day's work. We went over radio frequencies, direction of approach to the target, altitude over the target, course en route to the target, and best use of the type of bombs we had. Kahle, a hangdog, introverted type who always reminded me of a mole when we were in flying school together, was noncommittal during this discussion. The next morning we were told the Aussie Reco aircraft reported heavy clouds over Lae. Takeoff would have to be delayed until afternoon. Twice that morning, I approached Kahle and asked him what his flight plans were; twice he grunted that that was his business. After our bean sandwich and tea lunch, I once more went up to Kahle and in a hell of an unfriendly way I said that I didn't care what he planned to do, but I would make it clear to him what he wasn't going to do, and that is mess up my flight. I flatly told him what time I planned to take off. That I would see to it that he, Kahle, would either take off an hour sooner or one hour later and run his own show. If, however, Kahle intended to accompany my flight to the target, he would follow closely and below my formation. I didn't want the fool to give any more information to the spotters than they would already have. We thought we'd learned that if we stayed below the mountain ridge on the west side particularly if clouds were banked over the Owen-Stanley mountains, we could fly the cloud margins and confuse the spotters as to number of aircraft, course, and altitude. This often seemed to enable us to surprise Lae.
I took off and flew straight out the usual number of minutes in order for the other aircraft to be gathered, made a wide 180, and flew back paralleling the strip. My flight was collected, in place, and we started to climb. Sure enough, down on the runway I could see KahleÕs bunch taxiing out. I continued easterly to allow Kahle to get airborne and assembled, then I turned about 110 degrees northwest to enable him to cut off and get in behind, and close the gap. Instead, he trails me out and around and maintains the two to three mile gap. By the time I reached the Markham Valley, which feeds into Lae, Kahle was still trailing about a mile, back1,000 feet higher and off to the right. The clouds over the mountain crest had thinned and surely Kahle's position had signaled the Japanese we were coming. I turned easterly down the Markham Valley and completed our bomb run over Lae then, instead of turning south and diving for the deck, I held altitude and continued easterly, then a wide 180 degree right turn back toward the shore in hopes that as Kahle came off the target he would cut off and get in behind us. Kahle couldn't have set himself up for a worse situation. By lagging through the target, he gave the Zeros every chance to get set, and they were on him like hornets. When I called to Kahle and said we were trying to wait for him, he told me to go to hell and that he had enough trouble. In spite of this, he did cut off and get in behind us as we turned south and hit for the deck. At this point we had plenty of Zero company but with the added guns, diving speed, and collected and tightened formation, the Zeros lined up off to our right in their usual manner to get in position for their attack interceptions, which would come as we slowed down and they gained enough lead. One Zero attacker seemed unusually persistent and as I turned into him to spoil his interception, he kept pulling down into us. So, as he passed over my left wing, he was nearly inverted with all guns blazing. An instant later, this Zero had rammed Moe JohnsonÕs B-26 in Kahle's number 4 position. Grauer in the navigator's bubble told me both B-26 and Zero had hit the drink, so we proceeded on home to Port Moresby. When we arrived at 7-Mile, Divine had arrived and was standing near the runway. Both Kahle and I approached Divine from different directions. As I walked up, Kahle was babbling away, making no sense. Finally I spoke up and told the Col. that whenever he was ready to talk about this mission, I was ready. Now, thought I, the Group Commander would take steps to coordinate his squadrons, and use this as an example of how not to fight the enemy. Leadership? I never heard another word about it.
A mission was planned as a big, coordinated attack on Lae. B-17s were to come from Darwin, a force of B-25s from the 3rd Group were to come in from the water, and the B-26s were to come in from land. Attacks on the target were to be in timed sequence. I was to lead the 22nd Group, with aircraft from the other squadrons following. Just prior to takeoff time, I was ordered to hold and wasn't told why. For some 20 minutes, I fumed at the delay, watching a flag that served as a wind sock pick up to tell us we would be taking off downwind, fully loaded on that mushy, gravel, bombed-up 7-Mile runway. A B-17 landed, taxied up to where we were collected, and a group of men unloaded. One came directly toward me and said, "Walt, can I ride with you?" It was Col. Sam Anderson, whom I had known at Langley. We grabbed a spare chute for him, and the other B-17 passengers got into the other B-26s, and we got the hell out of there late. Just a few minutes from the target, I saw up ahead a batch of aircraft closing in, diving and twisting in our direction. We were still climbing, just clearing the banked-up clouds, totally vulnerable. I gave my wing signals and instantly my wingman closed in tight, all gunners alert. Flying the B-26 in my number 4 position was a guy by the name of Powell who to the best of my knowledge had never made it over a target, usually managing to abort every time he could be gotten to New Guinea. Standing behind Powell was Col. Divine as passenger. Powell was lagging behind and, not knowing my wing signals, didn't respond quickly. The 3rd Group B-25s slid by off our left so close I recognized the leader pilot. Some 24 Zeros, according to Henry Sakaida wiped off on us and Powell's aircraft took some lead, and was quick to get in where he belonged, probably with Divine's help,
Ewbanks with about 3 aircraft, 2nd Squadron, and 3 more from HQ Squadron. Ewbanks had cleared right after me, then the HQ aircraft, so it's to be expected that HQ aircraft would tuck in behind Ewbanks. Ewbanks had trailed me to the target at some distance and off to the right. When Ewbanks saw the mess I was in, he made a right turn and ran like hell, and dumped his bombs on open ground at Salamaua. The HQ aircraft went with him. If Ewbanks had come up into position behind me where he belonged, in order to make an effective military formation, the combined gunnery potential could have accounted for some Zeros. Typically, the 22nd Group, with its lack of Group leadership, finds the individual squadrons doing as they damn well please, and so here for once we have Col. Dwight Divine, Group C.O., seeing firsthand what kind of a show he runs, and the very B-26 he is riding in has taken a thumping. Surely, if we make it back, heads will roll. And what finally happened? Absolutely nothing, of course.
And now here I am just about to make a bomb run on Lae--not knowing how badly Powell's aircraft may have been hurt. His engines seemed OK and he was flying all right. Trouble is, his hydraulics and electrical system may have been knocked out. His bomb bay doors or his bombs could hang up. This had happened to me. To get us over the target and have Powell drop back again with the big AA guns working us over meant to once again expose the entire flight. The Zeros would back off from getting into their own AA range. Once over the target, we could scream for the deck where we could handle them. I decided to abandon attacking Lae, turned south to Salamaua, and headed downhill fast. To listen to Ewbanks' bunch tell about what they did to Salamaua was a laugh. When I came by some minutes later there still was a little dust where they had dumped, nothing there to hit. So we wasted our bombs too, but I don't remember bragging about what we hit. We got back to 7-Mile and Divine circled while the rest of us landed and got off the runway. Somebody ran up to me and said Divine wanted to talk to me on the radio. I jumped into the nearest B-26. Divine asked me if he should land wheels up or down. I immediately told him by all means don't try to dump his wheels, one might drop, the other hang up, and maybe he would have no brakes. If he could get his engines stopped and feathered, he could save the airplane with only some bent prop blades. Divine did a superb job bellying in. No one ever said he wasn't a good pilot.
Divine used to wince when I sounded off about how squadron commanders should be the flyingest SOBs in the squadron. That's the way Shanty had it in the 38th. Cheli an Tanberg did more than their share. The sad thing about Cheli was that he had said about two days before he got lost that he would be a colonel before he was 25 years old. I'd been at it almost a year by then and Cheli was still gung-ho fresh. I remember thinking it was dangerous talk. Little wonder, though, that I wanted to follow Shanty to an outfit that worked from top to bottom.
An area of particular annoyance was the difficulty of getting any rest or food, especially in the early days of 7-Mile. The guys would have to sleep on the wings or in the airplane. The Aussie ground people quartered back in the bush were very kind and generous with their bunks and food. I remember several times being back to back with Grauer on one cot just for the protection of the mosquito bar. It didn't take too much of this to chop down on one's flying proficiency. It was beyond the imagination of the 22nd leadership to find the thoughtfulness and consideration to send cots, mosquito netting, tents, and a small, detached mess to accommodate the crews.
By the time the paddlefeet felt it safe enough to go to Moresby and provide this, the war was ready to move on.
Larry, I hope I haven't painted myself into a corner to look like Prince Charming. God knows I goofed horribly every time I went near the airplane, but it just seemed that those of us trying to carry the battle to the enemy felt pretty much alone without support from the proper places. I could go on, but if I've made the point about "leadership', I'll quit. You probably can't use any of this, but at least it has been said.
Written by: Walter Krell
Transcribed by: Michelle Krell Malone in "Micro Soft Word"
Title: A Young ManÕs Airplane