By R. F. Warner, 822nd BS
The Pacific Ocean is a large body of water and navigators carried the burden of locating the target for each mission.
Since the ninth of February 1945, five weeks ago when I had moved to the Air Base at Lingayen Gulf on the northwest central coast of the Island of Luzon in the Philippines, I had flown missions number thirty two through forty, and today the fourteenth of March, we were preparing to fly number forty one. By now I could practically count the days that I needed to complete my "TOUR of DUTY". I was considered an old hand at the navigational duties.
Particularly what were expected on a combat skip bombing and strafing attack mission against the Japanese surface vessels that was sneaking through the dense ground fog up north in the Straits of the Pescadores in the South China Sea off the coast of China, north of Hong Kong and south of Shanghai. The fog would be particularly bad today according to the meteorology report. There would be four squadrons of nine planes each covered by thirty six fighter planes from the adjoining strip at Dulag. This was turning into quite a show, hope the intelligence information was right and those convoys of Japanese ships were where they were reported.
Normally on this type of mission the lead navigator was either the most experienced or the highest ranking flying officer. Since most of the experienced 822nd navigators had gotten their combat time crammed into a six week period no one had time to receive any promotions. We never had a problem like this before since all of us were of equal status. However a new replacement had just arrived from the states, he had been a squadron commander of the advanced navigational school at Hondo , Texas, with plenty of rank,a captain. The very commander of the very section that I had guarded so diligently each Saturday in the last weeks of my stay at Hondo. See "By Act Of Congress") Our squadron operation officer had no recourse but to "assume " that this captain knew how to navigate, knew how to lead a squadron that was leading a group of B 25s on a skip bombing mission, and how to get back to the base after the completion of the mission or to the secondary target which-ever happened to be the case. Our Intelligence Officer Karl Henzie must have had a bad feeling before we headed to the planes for take-off. He called me over and gave me some special instructions. I was flying in the number seven spot--- in the lead plane of the third flight--- Karl had told me to keep a complete record of every move , know where we were at all times and if anything looked amiss to immediately call the squadron commander and take over navigation from the number seven spot. Henzie knew that Capt. Long had never flown in a B 25 before and he possibly had not navigated for some time. I was to be the safety valve in case any thing went wrong. The squadron leader was in on the plan.
Our take-offs were normal with our squadron in the lead and all thirty-six B25s and thirty-six fighter escorts gleaming in the sun-shine as we flew northward alone the coast of Luzon toward our destination to the north west where the Japanese convoys had been reported. As we cleared the tip of Luzon and the small island off shore my thoughts projected back two weeks when a B25 from the 822nd squadron was returning to base from a bombing mission on Formosa. This plane had been shot-up rather badly and only one engine was functioning. The pilot was Lt. Mayer who had recently been advanced to first pilot seat on the left and given command of the plane. As he was approaching this small island off the coast of Luzon, he decided that he could not control the plane much longer and since he was in friendly territory that he would "Ditch" the plane and take his chances on being picked-up by air sea rescue.
The squadron was in complete contact with Mayer during this entire event and stood -by as he put the plane into the water. Every one ,all six crew members, got out safely climbed into the life raft that emerged from the plane, and waved to the other planes returning to base. Air Sea Rescue was contacted and it was"ASSUMED" that all was well and this crew would be back at base in a few hours. Every one present felt that Mayer had done the right thing and that they would be picked up in a few hours. Wrong!!! There was some confusion among the returning planes as to the exact location of this life raft. The weather was beginning to close in somewhat and the visibility was reduced. Also a variable ocean current passed this point where the ditching took place and the life raft would move very rapidly from the initial contact point. Time was of an essence at this point but these points were not known back at the base. It was decided since it was late in the day, without any navy vessels in the neighborhood, that rescue efforts would take place the next morning when conditions were more favorable. This seemed like a good decision to all, since total crew members had escaped the downed plane and climbed onto the life raft, waved to the circling planes and sat back for the next phase "rescue".
The squadron had been returning from a mission over Formosa which was not a great distance away but there was always the possibility of some confusion as to exact location when attention was diverted from the main course. Mayer had limped badly all the way back from Formosa and probably felt relieved when he saw the first contact with Luzon. Rather than try to stick it out to a spot closer to base he made the decision to terminate his flight several hundred miles away believing that the sight of the first land near Luzon meant safety. As it turned out this location for rescue was a bad choice. The prevailing ocean current off the tip of Luzon was variable and it could not be established in what direction that the life raft had gone. Several planes attempted a search of the area but no contact was made all that day. The search continued on for several more days but no contact was ever made. Mayer and crew were listed as MIA. This event really disturbed me and I promised myself if I was ever in a situation similar to this that I would react more positively and make sure that the information that I would be passing on was correct. I had not been on that bombing mission two weeks ago and only heard the "reports" of others who were there.
Things happen fast in combat and the right decisions were not always the ones from which we operated. Probably why the correct location was not determined for a number of reasons: confusion that arose on the way back from the target: circling the crash site loosing tract of position and time: continuing onto base without positively establishing the exact location. All this crossed my mind as we crossed this location again on our way to the China coast. The weather was beginning to set in and up ahead a definite line could be seen from the southern tip of Formosa out to the west past Pratas Island on over toward the coast of China of a fog bank from above our flight altitude (which was 3000 ft.) right down to the deck.
As we crossed over this line it was quite evident that you could not observe the water surface from 3000 ft so we dropped down to mast head level for better contact. As we approached the designated target area the weather got even worse than it was and it became even difficult to see the wing tips. We were in a formation for attack of three planes abreast the leader was the one in the middle, on each wing tip over lapped by six feet was the number two and three plane. This made up the first flight; the second flight was at a lower level about six feet below the leader with each of his companions overlapping his wing tips by six feet. These were planes number four, five, and six. Under this flight another six feet was the third flight- the leader good old Tate with Woody by his side, and his companions overlapping each of the wing tips of plane number seven. You could not get any lower than we were flying at this time. If the convoy was sighted at this location I do not know how we could of attacked. But right there in our path and we had to pull up to avoid them was a convoy all right but of the classic Chinese Junk. There were Junks scattered all over, but these were not our targets. Of course the Japanese naval ships could be near in this massive fog bank but they certainly were not apparent. After several hours of searching the mission was abandoned and we were directed to the secondary target down the coast of Luzon.
During this search we must of turned twenty-five or thirty times, we had been in this fog mass all this time, without once encountering a check point to verify our position. With a brand new inexperienced navigator in the lead making the decisions, I was beginning to understand Karl Henzie's concern. I had been down this route a number of times and had devised a simple method for keeping tract of our position. Woody and I worked together and he called out the new time and compass heading each time we made a turn. All this data went down on my E 6 B computer, a circular slide rule that I carried with me on every flight. When the order to turn to the secondary target was given it was quite simple to plot a course to the secondary target. We made our turn and started on our way back, but my estimate was that they must have changed the secondary target to the west coast of Borneo because the heading we were flying was about sixty degrees off my heading to the secondary target.
I waited to see what the captain was going to do. After all this may be a new procedure that was developed after I served my tour guarding Capt Long's office back at Hondo, Tex. On weekends prepairing me to be an officer and gentlemen. Being the gentleman that I had been acclaimed I held off my comments until I was assured that this was an obvious mistake. We were proceeding in a general southerly direction, the gas supply was adequate and we had not as yet come to what is generally known as a" Land fall " the exact location that a direct ninety degree turn must be made into your destination. We were rapidly approaching this point and I made contact with another experienced navigator my peer in the number four plane. We had worked out a code that we would contact one another at this turning point by simply mentioning the word "check" if we both agreed on this location. Lt. Fred Ware in number four broadcast the word "Check" to my inquiry. It was time to act.
I contacted the squadron leader that we were headed for Borneo and to fly to the secondary target we must turn of a heading of due east right now. He responded immediately and turned the entire group of thirty six B25 s; the fighters had left us some time before.We were off shore quite a distance, about one hundred and twenty miles, at the time we made our turn. This was better than a half hour flying time to the coast. We were flying at 3000 ft. once again. Ten minutes after we made the turn I saw a flash from the surface of the water. It appeared to be the reflection of the sun from a mirror directed at us. I immediately notified Tate who contacted the squadron commander, we asked permission to go down and investigate. Permission was granted and we descended to the surface of the water. There floating in a May West inflated vest was a man trying to get our attention, which he definitely had. We called the leader and got an ok to stay with the man in the water until some relief arrived. Air Sea Rescue was contacted and another B25 from our base back at Lingayan was sent out to relieve us. In the meantime we were still carrying our four 500 lb bombs with 4/5 sec delay fuses. We got an ok to salvo the bombs, but before we dropped them. I suggested that we check the area and make sure that no one else was around. We decided to let that guy down in the water use our six man raft that was stored in the top of the fuselage. This equipment was designed to be removed from this compartment after the plane was sitting in the water after a water landing. No one had ever attempted to, our knowledge , to discharge a life raft while the plane was flying along at 200 mph, but we were going to do it. Just as we were about to line up for our pass over this downed flyer we saw a second person about 100 feet away. We changed our pass to drop it part way between the two. Away it went but a thud happened as we released it. The cover, raft and all rammed the tail after the implosion from the compartment on the way to the water. There was no apparent damage and the raft landed a few feet from the first man that we had found. In a few minutes this man swam to the raft and climbed in and started to propel it toward the other man. After finding the second man and still carrying our bombs I suggested that we search the surrounding area for others then drop the salvo when we were sure that everyone was clear .
I prepared a sketch of the area with the raft in the center and we started our search. I felt that these guys had jumped in parachutes since they were separated so far. If they had ditched from a downed aircraft then a group would have been present with the guy that flashed us a signal on the sighting mirror. So we started off in tight circles around the raft and gradually expanded the radius of each circle. On the second circle I spotted another man down in the water. I estimated his distance and position from the raft and marked the chart. This man waved to us and I could see his life jacket but he didn't seem too strong. Just as I had finished plotting the position two more downed fliers were spotted. This made a total of five men in the water. We continued on our search expanding our circles as we continued to look. In a couple minutes we spotted four more a total of nine men in the water floating in their life vests or in the raft that we had dropped. To keep contact we flew low over each of the men to assure him that we knew that he was there. Every position was plotted on my chart and now I felt it was ok to jettison the bombs. The biggest crews that I knew were nine men on B24 s and we had just spotted nine men. It was highly unlikely that a transport plane carrying this many people would be in this area so I made an "ASSUMPTION". This was a B24 crew on returning from a night mission over Hainan, apparently they had a problem and lost their plane in the process. Each man had parachuted and were scattered out in a circle five miles in diameter. If we were to fly out side this circle a couple miles we could drop our bombs without affecting anyone. We were going to salvo them anyway which meant that the arming wires would still be attached and the bombs would not explode. So we moved out of the circle and salvoed the bombs and returned to keep the company of the downed flyers.
We had been flying for nine hours and our gas supply was getting low. A few problems still remained, and some of the questions that had been raised from the Mayer incident had not been resolved. I wasn't sure of our exact position. We had been out all this time and the last time that I had made a positive ID of a check point was eight hours ago before we flew into the fog and made all those turns off the coast of China. I had better come up with a positive plan and soon, I didn't even know what had happened to the rest of the squadron that I had sent on to the secondary target.
This is what I told Tate ---We would depart only after we were properly relieved. We had been in contact with Air Sea Rescue and a plane was on the way but if we didn't know where we were. How could they find us to relieve us when we weren't sure where we were? The best chance was that our squadron was able to properly locate the spot after all Fred Ware had been with them. We were still out of sight of the coast of Luzon and there were nine men down in the water who were depending on us. What would we do if we were not relieved in time? We collectively decided that there would be fifteen people down there soon if we weren't relieved. We decided to go back to the raft and take some pictures with our combat camera that was installed in the underside of the tail area of the plane. At this point I felt that we had less than one hour of flying time left. At best it was at least a forty-five minute flight back to the base. We were determined not to leave before being properly relieved. But this was really calling it close, we had given up our own raft some time ago and it would mean that we only had life vests if we hit the drink. Just about the time that we were counting minutes to disaster time a bright shiny B25 arrived from down Lingayen way. We gave him a quick rundown on what the score was, where all the guys were located in relation to the raft and all nine seemed to be very active, except the one to the farthest north.
Then the crew expected to fly directly to Lingayen in a bee line from where we were but I would not permit this. I had to have an EXACT location and not depend on anyone else's estimates. So I had to lay this on my crew! We would fly due east from the location of the raft to an exact location on the Luzon coast line. The time it took us on this leg and the exact position that it would put us on coast would tell me exactly where the raft was located. I needed this information when we got back to direct a rescue mission for the nine flyers swimming around in the water now. The problem that we were facing now was that we were running out of gasoline, in the next few minutes. I wasn't sure of the time required on the next two legs of this flight. That was the reason that we were flying due east to determine where we were. Of course if these legs were too long then all the information that we had developed would be meaningless. Fortunately the east leg was only eleven and one half minutes, then down the coast to Lingayan another twenty-six minutes. We made it, I thought that we would, but I was sure glad that the relief plane arrived when it did. Another little trick that Woody pulled was to lean way back on our propeller pitch and rpm some time ago. This cut way back on our gasoline consumption and gave us a little reserve that only he was aware of. This did reduce the airplanes performance somewhat but not enough to affect our operation. We finally landed and I got back to Karl Henze right away. He assured me that the squadron and group bombed the secondary target with no problems after they made the correction that I had suggested. Capt. Long at this point was still trying to determine where he went wrong, but he wasn't asking for my assistance at this point in time. I had insisted on the location of the floating survivors that I had just determined and for him to go down to Air Sea Rescue Headquarters right now and get some immediate action for rescue. Also I wanted to go back out immediately with any planes going out to direct them. By now it was getting late in the day and the planes had all been called back to base. Next day I insisted to go along on the rescue search. The Navy had sent a number of destroyers into the area for the actual pick-up of the crew.
This was actually the IDES OF MARCH the 15th of the month. I flew with Dean Clark who flew wing man to Major McClean at Ormoc Bay. Dean was also from near my hometown at Leechburg, Pa. I flew as an observer, not as a regular crew member. We arrived at the rescue area and it was nearly complete by the time that we arrived at 7AM . Eight men were picked up the ninth having slipped out of his may west during the night, probably the guy furthermost to the north. This time the correct data was available to the rescuing people, and they were able to proceed immediately to their job of picking up survivors out of the water.. The introduction of the six man raft helped tremendously since the guys in the water went around and picked up their comrades themselves, and the raft was easier to find than the single man floating in his vest. The incident was closed. Or was it? If we hadn't been so far off course in the first place we would never found this crew. Capt. Long must have had reason for being so wrong on his first mission. Or another crew less devoted than old 4-C-12, one that had not encountered the mistakes of two weeks previous when we waved to some of our buddies as they disappeared after a successful landing on the water. This was all meaningful and provided a reason for our being.
A month later I had completed my tour and was on my way home on the General Pope a troop ship out of Tacloban, Leyete, bound for San Francisco. The officers had been given first class quarters above deck in a room about twenty-five feet by twenty- five feet. There were ninety of us expected to share this quarter in bunks stacked to the ceiling. This was actually a space equal to three and one-half feet by two feet for each officer assigned to this billet. If this was first class I would hate to see what the rest of the guys had to put up with. We sailed in convoy down to the island of Biak just south of the equator, there we evacuated a hospital. The medical corp needed quarters near their facilities on deck for the new passengers so we made a deal and gave up our "First Class Quarters" for some rather unranked facilities down in the bowels of this ship. Here the bunks were really stacked five high, but there was room, and it was cool enough to breathe. I recall two of the persons who shared the same stack of bunks with me. Directly above me was a Catholic priest who had gone" Asiatic "and was being rotated back to the states for rest and recuperation. He normally conducted all the masses on the ship but when he was back at his bunk all he could do was "Cluck" a sound developed by persons in the Philippines who drove the little two wheeled pony cart , this was a continuous sound that appeased the pony as he trotted along, a comforting sound to the pony I guess but once removed from this environment this sound hardly fit into most conversations. This old priest "clucked" all the time. One day I engaged him in conversation and discovered he was from a small village in north western Mindanao. This was getting too close to home.(See Thanksgiving 1944)--- I asked him the critical question--- "Had he ever experienced a bombing raid in this little barrio?" "Oh yes. Late last November there was a night bombing raid on the small air strip out-side of town. This air strip was so highly concealed that the Japanese did not think that the Americans could have found it." I said "They left the lights on that night" That was enough--- I didn't want to hear any more. The fellow who had the bunk directly above the priest was a young officer who had been on his first mission overseas as navigator on a B24. Last month on March 14 they were coming back from their target on the China coast near Hianan.
They had been shot up pretty bad and had to "jump" before they had got back to the coast of Luzon. They had been in the water for over four hours when a flight of B25s flew directly over them. One of the planes veered off and stayed with them, even dropping their own life raft until a second plane came up about an hour or so later. The second plane stayed with him until dark but they had to endure those long lonely hours alone in the water. I think that the guys in the raft went around and tried to pick up as many crew members as possible but one guy who we knew was hurt very bad had slipped his harness during the night and disappeared. The comments to me were; "I'd sure like to meet those guys in that B25 and shake their hand. "Bo was with me when the young man made this statement. He had also been aboard during that eventful flight on the eve of the Ides of March. We each extended our hands, shook and said nothing.
Today when I see a reflection from a mirror or my watch crystal I think of this event. This was probably one of the finest things that I did in my flying career, I'm proud of the Ides of March. (Epilogue:) It is November 1997 that I am writing this post script. The comments that I had written in the "IDES OF MARCH" were from recollections, no diaries or notes just my old Form 5 as a reference. Of course these are official records of events that occurred which affected me personally as a squadron member of the 822nd and were documented at the time that they occurred by members of my squadron. Such details as dates, times of flight, targets etc. are clearly recorded, hence I am sure of the date of this event , the 14th of March. Since it is clearly recorded on the Form 5 Mission – 40 # 73C3A --- 14 Mar 45 ---- Ship.- - China Coast Combat Hours 244:30--- a nine and one-half flight. The conversation with the young officer on board the General Pope is rather indefinite and I am sure that most of the details as to where this plane had been and where it was heading is probably a supposition on my part at this point in time. I had made a supposition that the downed crew was from a B24 and I also thought that they were returning from a bombing mission over Hainan, a very well protected target of the coast of China south east of Hong Kong. I also assumed that their problem had been from engaging anti-air craft fire over this target area. The reason for this assumption was that I thought that they were headed for the air base at Lingagen because of their downed location. Where they were actually located was far of f the regular flight paths of planes returning from the Formosa area to Lingayen, but they were in the approximate location of a flight from Hainan to Lingayen. As will be revealed this plane was not flying to the Lingayen base but to another one on the island of Mindoro.
I have very recently returned from a trip back to Pennsylvania for my high school reunion. While back there I took the time to look up the pilot of the flight that I had made on March 15, Dean Clark. He was quite enthusiastic about our phone conversation as was I. Dean wrote to me before I was back in Calif. and told me about an adventure in progress to write a history of the 38th bomb group being conducted by Larry Hickey in Boulder Colo. I immediately called Larry and had a pleasant conversation. Larry asked me what was the most memorable event that I had encountered in my experiences with the 38th Bomb Group. I immediately referred him to my "Ides of March" experience. This struck a familiar note in Larry's memories and he wanted to check an account and call me back, which he did. The events that he then related to me were astounding. He had a copy of article published in the Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 83-90348 by Glenn R. Horton, in 1983 " King Of The Heavies". On pages 84 & 85 an account by the navigator Lt. Harry Hagen, of Lt. Carl Ortman's crew of the 528th Squadron the 380th Bomb Group reveals his experiences of that day. Lt. Hagen's flight had been on a weather recon up to Formosa. The flight had left its base in Mindoro at 3:00 AM flew to Formosa and probably searched for an hour before checking in with the weather data. My guess at the elapsed time at this point would be three to four hours. At this point in time the plane started developing engine problems on the return trip home. The problems kept becoming more severe until quite serious and the pilot ordered "Bail Out". This location was about one hours flying time from Formosa. My guess is that the plane had been in the air about four hours when this "Bail Out" occurred or the local time was seven AM, about an hour after we had taken off for our sea search east over this exact area where the weather recon was in progress. As indicated above the weather was perfect for moving enemy shipping around but impossible for finding them in this mess. Lt. Hagen thought that he had been in the water for nine and one-half hours before he had an opportunity to signal a" search plane. (Actually that particular rescue plane was a attack B 25 fogged out of their primary target area and heading to their secondary target on the Philippine Island of Luzon east of Vigan near Bangued. Luckily we were so far off our course that we were able to intersect the location of the downed crew from the B24 completely by accident). He accounts that the" search plane" dropped a life raft equipped with a rescue radio. (I can't remember the name for this equipment but it was built to fit between ones thighs while the handle was screwed to generate power for transmission. ) Lt. Hagen called it a" Gibson Girl." The time of nine and one-half hours would correspond to our approximate arrival time about four in the afternoon. Our recorded flight time was nine and one-half hours that day and we were one and one half hours to landing at 17:30; this agrees.
Tne item that I mentioned in "Ides Of March" was that we flew over the raft after the person who was signaling crawled inside. This picture was lost along with all remaining strike photos ten years ago, but last week while looking for a part for my grandson's paddle boat there was the original envelop that Karl Henzie had sent to me back in 45 and low and behold on top was the strike photo of 14 Mar45 of the 822nd plane 992. Now after all these years I can put a name to that person in that raft---Lt. Harry Hagen-- and as indicated to Larry the most memorable event that occurred to me during my combat experience. I am sending two copies of this account to Larry and if he can I would hopefully request that he sends the second copy to Harry Hagen.
Ray Warner -- 822nd Bomb Squadron
38th Bomb Group