SAIPAN, MARIANAS ISLANDS
"I suppose I was doing 600 plus: I never looked. But I broke two straps
getting into the air, fell out of my (parachute) harness about 2,000 feet,
and managed to save myself with one wrist. I have no business being
alive on this score or several others."
Bill Eustis 333rd Squadron
"Thanks for the strafing attack. Results excellent.
Troops have driven ahead 200 yards as result"
Unknown Marine Radio Operator
2.5 miles outside Garapan, Saipan
One thing was plain. This wouldn't be another Canton Island.
Lew Sanders was worried. The Navy was doing a number on that airfield. Those craters wouldn't make his job any easier. He had to get 73 Thunderbolts ashore to begin combat operations from it. The worse it was torn up, the harder his task would be.
Even before Aslito airstrip was secured, the 318th was in action. A detail of aviation engineers and technicians was sent in on D-Day +2 to get it ready for flight operations. They were led by Sgt. Randolph Wood. Wood's detail was with the 73rd Squadron, the "Bar Flies". They were a wild, go to Hell bunch. Their CO, Lt. Col. "Swearin' John" Evans, had boasted that his boys could "drink more whiskey, raise more hell, and keep more women happy than any other blankety-blank squadron in the Air Forces". But that advance team wasn't so cocky those first few nights. The airstrip was supposed to be secure, but wasn't. Japanese snipers were all over, there was lots of mortar fire, and the marines were taking no chances. The Bar Flies dug in. Aslito airstrip changed hands twice, then was finally taken for keeps. There was enough action that the advance detail was lucky just to stay alive, much less set anything up! (Aslito was renamed Isley Field after Navy Commander Robert H. Isely, killed June 13th while strafing Aslito: his name was misspelled, but it stuck.)
By June 22nd, twenty four 19th Squadron planes were launched off from the escort carrier USS Natoma Bay to their new home. Capt. Harry E. McAfee was the first 318th pilot to land on Saipan. They went into action immediately in support of the ground troops. The Marines were bleeding and dying for yards of ground against a tenacious and well entrenched enemy defense. Saipan, at 54 square miles, was big enough for enemy units to maneuver and had caves, cliffs, swamps, jungle, more caves, hills and valleys, reinforced defensive positions, plantations, and 22,000 Japanese colonists. Saipan pretty much had it all.
On June 23, 1944, four "Val" pilots missed a juicy opportunity. Somebody had screwed up. The Japs snuck in and dove: two went after the Manila Bay, two went after the Natoma Bay. They dropped their bombs, but somehow missed! They almost nailed the carrier Manila Bay while refueling with a bunch of P-47Ds from the 73rd Squadron sitting on her deck. They were lousy shots; they had caught a battleship, a tanker and a escort carrier dead to rights while refueling. The only damage was some parted fuel lines as the ships broke formation. Four P-47s were quickly launched, (Major D. J. Williams in Sweet Adeline, Lt. James Snyder in Damn Yankee, Lt. Keith Mattison in Azz's Dragon and Lt. Robert Anderson in Little Buckaroo) but the bandits got away clean.
Soon, all the P-47s were ashore. They went into action as soon as they could be armed and fueled.
Click here to see Webbirds.com 's 318th photos
Most of the group's sheet metal equipment was lost in a beach explosion. "Use Tojo's tools" said Master Sgt. Ray D. Hammer. Tools were scrounged up and an abandoned Japanese forge became a high speed kitchen range for coffee, canned meat, and beans. There were still snipers, nearby fighting, and infiltrators sneaking down at night from the cave ridden hills. At night, Japanese nuisance bombers, dubbed "bed check charlies", dropped anti personnel bombs. Sleep was problematical, and nerves were ragged.
In the pre dawn of June 26, Japanese soldiers got in and burned the P-47 "Hed up 'N Locked". Ground crews opened fire and yelled for reinforcements. Sgt. Raymond Murphy ran through a hail of fire and taxied the adjacent plane to safety. The Japanese tactic was to puncture gas tanks by bayonet and burn the planes. But they were all killed or captured and only got one plane. The same night, 300 Japanese broke through the lines and overran part of the field. Combat engineers, marines, and ground crews wiped them out. An enemy bomber managed to briefly ignite some gas drums very close to a large fuel tank. The fire was smothered by bulldozer. When it was over, the 318th had just become the first of only two Army Air Force units to fight in ground infantry combat in all of World War 2!
other is the 21st Fighter Group on Iwo Jima : their pilots would pay
for that distinction. )
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
The 318th went into action supporting American ground troops amongst this sort of chaos. The P-47D carried six 5" rockets and some bombs (up to two 1000 pounders) and eight .50 caliber machine guns with about 375 rounds per gun. The ammo was some mix of armor piercing, tracer, incendiary and regular ball, depending on the expected target. The ground support missions were "down and dirty", flown low level at point blank range. The 318th also flew missions against neighboring Tinian, just 3 miles away. It artillery was troublesome, and did cause some casualties. Those missions were some of the shortest of the war, often 18 minutes or so, and in a decision made thousands of miles away, pilots were only given credit for 1/2 a mission, no matter how badly their planes were shot up.
On June 24th, McAfee and another pilot guided the 2nd and 4th Marines ashore on Tinian. They flew low over the landing craft turned, and flew over again and again, guiding the boats exactly were they were supposed to land on path finding sweeps. When Tinian fell on July 31st, Major McAfee became the first American flyer to land on Tinian as well.
This was deeply resented by the pilots. Not only did the number of missions flown affect qualification for medals and points toward going home, but you could end up completely dead on these half missions. Lt. Wayne F. Kobler (19th) became one of the first army pilots killed. On June 27th, he and six other pilots flew a rocket strafing mission against enemy positions on Gurguan Point. During the low level attack, the Japanese set off a buried 500 lb. bomb that caught two T-Bolts full blast. Lt. Richard B. Whitzig was missing as the flight regrouped and was never found. Graves Registration found Kobler weeks later. The Japanese had buried him, marked his grave, and covered it with a parachute. The new number two strip by Isley Field would be named Kobler Field in his honor. (So is Koblerville on present day Saipan.)
By June 26th, the ground troops had captured the high ground on Mount Tapotchau and after 3 tries, finally took Hill 500. It was the turning point in the ground battle. By July 1st, they had captured 1/4 of Garapan. Garapan was pretty well destroyed in the fighting, but by July 4th, 7/8ths of Saipan including Garapan was captured. 318th planes were often shot at by snipers in caves as they took off. The big Pratt and Whitney engine did offer the pilot some frontal protection on these missions. US Marines on the ground were often showered with empty cartridges from the P-47s .50 caliber machine guns as T-Bolts flew their strafing runs. The 318th flew about 80 sorties per day during the ground fighting. Part of the 318th's job was to protect the Marianas invasion area against air attack, but not a single Japanese daytime raider flew in during this period. The simultaneous attacks on the Bonin Islands and Truk, and the Battle of the Philippine Sea, AKA "The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot" probably had a lot to do with that. Europe might still have top priority, but the war in the Central Pacific wasn't being fought on a shoestring anymore by 1944.
But no one there will ever forget what went down at Marpi Point on July 11th: it was dreadful to behold.
The local Chamorro natives, after years of mistreatment by their Japanese overlords, were eager to help the Americans and did, but the local Japanese colonists and farming families were another matter. They mostly retreated with their ground troops, assisted them, and died in the caves with them. As the last Japanese units held the advancing Marines back with their last bullets, terrified Japanese civilians killed their children and leaped to their deaths off two low cliffs at the north end of the island.
The Japanese Army had convinced them of terrible fates at the hands of the US monsters and all the American pleading through loudspeakers was in vain. Few were saved. No one knows how many bodies of the island inhabitants ended up floating in the sea below the cliffs, but it was a lot. Certainly hundreds of families. Most estimates that have a number at all peg in around 8,000. But no one really knows. The Japanese soldiers, as usual, tried to fight it out to the last man. No surrender. No disgraced ancestors. No dishonor. That almost all of the 22,000 Japanese civilians on Saipan chose to commit mass suicide rather than be captured was a grim harbinger of later things to come in the Pacific War. Also committing suicide on Saipan was Admiral Nagumo, who had commanded the Pearl Harbor Strike Force. And there were smaller mass suicides on Tinian also.
So ended organized resistance on Saipan. Disorganized and individual resistance continued somewhat longer, but Saipan was secured. (There were Japanese holdouts in the Marianas well into the 1960s).
From June 22 through July 17 the P-47s flew 2,500 sorties and dropped 260 tons of bombs, 500 rockets, and fired 530,000 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition. With Saipan secure, the focus now turned to Tinian and Guam.
On Saturday, July 27th 1944, the 318th became the first Pacific Air Corps unit to use a terrible new weapon: napalm. The 318th had gotten some napalm powder from the Navy, experimented until they got a good mix and put it in 300 or 165 gallon belly tanks rigged with a detonator. (No I will NOT post the recipe on this web site!). The result was a sheet of liquid fire about 300 feet long, 100 feet wide and 50 feet high that burned away cover, and penetrated pillboxes, caves and other strong points. This was first used on Tinian, just 3 miles away. When ground personnel went down to the beach to watch, the results were clearly visible across the water. The marines were quite enthusiastic about this new weapon. Reports from captured Japanese defenders indicated quite the opposite: they were both terrified and demoralized by it. Soon napalm was dropped on enemy strong points on Guam, Rota, Pagan, and Ascuncion Island as well. (I should probably make clear the use of napalm in flame throwers by ground troops was nothing new, but a marine couldn't carry anywhere near 20 gallons on his back.)
About this time the 6th Night Fighter Squadron was attached to the 318th and brought the Northrup P-61 "Black Widow" night fighter into action. It was the first US plane built as a night fighter from the wheels up. They would kill several nighttime raiders in the nights ahead. Also joining the action on July 23rd were 11 B-25 Mitchells from the 41st Bomber Group. They were "solid nose" Mitchells with a 75 mm cannon and up to eight .50 cal. machine guns in the nose.
Northrup P-61 "Black Widow" night fighter
Meanwhile, fighting on Tinian and Guam continued. From June 22nd to July 31st, everyone flew 762 strafing sorties, 1322 bombing/strafing sorties, 74 firebomb/strafing sorties and 1796 combat patrols. The Japanese defenders in the Marianas were hit with 532 tons of bombs, 21,000 gallons of napalm, and 1.7 million rounds of machine gun ammo. This doesn't include what the ground troops and US Navy brought to the gig.
The 318th got a commendation from General "Howlin' Mad" Smith and Admiral Kelly Turner for their efforts in the Marianas campaign.
About a dozen planes from each squadron were shot up and there were 4 losses, all from 19th Squadron. The saddest loss was Art Schaffle. He was shot up over Tinian on July 2nd, bailed out off Saipan, and signaled from his raft that he was OK. A PBY Catalina flying boat was on the strip, having delivered some Marine General for a front line inspection. The crew wouldn't budge without the General's OK, and by that time, it was dark. The search was put off until morning, and Schaffle was never found. On July 28, both Capt. Robert Viles and his wing man James Porter misjudged their altitude while pressing an attack and hit the brow of a cliff. Both died.With the islands secure, a massive construction project began. The new B-29s had the range to bomb Japan's home islands from the Marianas airfields. But they required a runway 8,500 feet long and 200 feet wide to fly from and taxi ways almost as big as a fighter strip. The Seabees and army engineers went to work. Six huge air strips would be constructed on Tinian and two more on Saipan to accommodate the B-29s. But the P-47s had the right of way (at least for a while) over heavy equipment, and missions continued up the line to Pagan, Rota, and other targets.
The lack of fresh water for bathing and laundry at the new field left everyone gritty and even more ill tempered. What few amenities the group had were left at Isley Field. They had to start over from scratch. The rains came in August, bringing mud and a dengue fever outbreak. Ingenuity, sense of humor, and psychology solved many problems. One amusing story had to do with tent flooring for one of the squadrons. Knowing that ordering his men to build flooring would bring a siege of griping, Squadron Commander Capt. Thomas E. Smith had the lumber unloaded nearby with a sign saying "Government Property" on top. Night came, and by morning, even the sign was missing, but his men were busily sawing, hammering, and building floors in their tents.
August brought some mishaps. An engine failure on take off clamed 73rd pilot Lt. Robert L. Crumpstone. Lt. Lewis G. Clark, (also 73rd) was shot down a half mile from Pagan and never found. On the 28th, Lt. Carson F. Greek landed with a unreleased 500 lb. bomb on one wing. It exploded, flipped his plane and killed him. Paul "Fearless" Fotjik, the 333rd CO, returned from a mission with a "hung" tank of napalm and did better. Noted Crew Chief Elmer Rund, "He greased in just like landing on velvet". (Rund had seen enough landings to know a good one. He had pulled a mortally wounded pilot from his shattered P-40 cockpit at Bellows Field on December 7th: he had seen a lot of planes land in the 2 & 1/2 years since.) The 333rd lost 3 P-47s in a freak ground accident. One caught fire during pre flight and it's bomb load destroyed 2 other planes. Ground crews moved other planes to safety and no one was hurt. By September, about the only target in range was Pagan. It was used as a testing ground of sorts for various bomb loads and methods of delivery. There were no losses, but there was a healthy respect for the battered garrison and it's remaining AAA guns.
end of September, B-29
Superfortresses were flying from the Marianas air fields. The Japanese
islands were now being bombed. It took a B-29 16 hours to make the 2,700 mile round trip if all went well.
In October 1944, 318th P-47Ds escorted some B-24 Liberators to Soral Island in the Caroline chain and back partly to do gas consumption tests. The distance was exactly 1,207.5 miles. They were preparing for a 1,500 mile strike. Entirely over water. On October 21st, 10 planes each from the 19th and 73rd took off with belly AND wing tanks to escort 32 B-24s. On earlier missions, the enemy had followed the bombers back as far as Minami Island (Minami Rock) after they had bombed Iwo Jima. The plan worked, but the enemy didn't co-operate. Only one twin engine "Nick" came out. It was shot down by Capt. Charles W. Tennant (19th). The mission flying time was 6 hours and 38 minutes. The concept caught on. The 318th would be experts in VLR (Very Long Range) missions before long.
Lockheed P-38 "Lightning"
Republic P-47D (with a bubble top canopy)
By mid November, 36 P-38 Lightnings were delivered to Isley field. They had slightly longer range than the P-47D. Some T-Bolt pilots with no previous experience in twin engine fighters were assigned to fly them. They got a 4 or 5 hour training check out over Saipan, then flew their first escort mission in them on November 22nd. The target was Truk. Twenty six Lightnings from the 19th, 73rd, and 333rd joined 26 Liberators and flew top cover. It was the first time the US had flown land based escort fighters over Truk,and they dove in from high out of the sun and took the enemy by surprise. Major DeJack Williams (19th) got a "Zeke." Lt. Boone N. Ruff (19th) got another over nearby Ozen Island. Major John J. Hussey (73rd) got still another and Capt. Winston H. Park and Lt. Joseph G. Sullivan (333rd) shot one down just north of Moen Island. Capt. Tennant (19th) shot up one too, but lost it in a cloud. He couldn't find any wreckage and had to settle for shooting up a small boat.At noon on November 27, 1944, thirteen enemy planes based on Rota flew in under US radar and attacked the B-29's. The 318th scrambled after them. I couldn't find many details on this action, but 73rd pilots Glenn Anderson, Donald Kane, and Robert Miller split a kill near Saipan, William Fancher and James DeYonker (333rd) got two kills up by Pagan and 19th pilots William Loflin, and Roy Jacobson got one each near Iwo Jima with Stanley Lustic (19th) getting another kill near Tinian that day. And, sadly, 1st Lt. Owen R. McCaul (73rd) was killed by US Navy gunfire when he flew too close to a U.S. ship.
Top row: Wayne Petty, Hal Dunning, Stanley Lustic.
Bottom row: Boone Ruff, Noble Kendle.
On Dec. 6 1944, the Lightnings and their pilots from the 318th were formed into a group known as "Lightning Provisional". That month they would fly over 500 hours including 3 strikes on Iwo Jima and another to Truk. Those strikes averaged 1,500 miles each. 2nd Lt. Warren J. Sheneman was 25 feet above the water on one of these strikes when an engine quit, his wing dipped and he crashed. Only an oxygen bottle remained bobbing on the water.
(L best F-5 photo I could find, I don't know whose plane or where; R cropped recon photo taken by the 318th over Iwo Jima)
They flew about 800 miles over water, made a mad dash at tree top level through antiaircraft fire while clicking off three 5x5 photos per second, then flew 800 miles back. Other P-38s flew strafing runs as well. These risky and challenging "photo joe" missions paid off with 1,170 negatives as the enemy began to disappear under ground, and led to the destruction of scores of gun positions saving uncounted marines lives (those big guns in the caves that rolled back behind steel doors didn't show up in the high altitude photos.) The P-38s had to rely on surprise, speed, and maneuverability to get through 50 AAA guns, about 150 automatic weapons plus small arms fire during a 40 second low level run over Iwo Jima, the other 6 to 8 hours flight time was over water in a cramped, uncomfortable P-38 cockpit coping with stress, weather fronts, no bathroom, and a sore butt.
Usually, the faster fighters escorted the slower bombers, but on Jan. 24th, 1945 it was the other way around. Lt. Fred Erbele (333rd) was on a strafing run 300 feet above Iwo Jima when a shell blew a 12" hole in the back edge of his right wing, freezing the control surfaces and starting a small fire. Then a 20 mm shell hit the prop governor on his left engine. He continued his strafing run, tried to feather his prop and was able to pull up without hitting the ground. He turned the engine off letting the prop windmill, ditched his canopy, and considered bailing out. The fire burned out. He got his 2nd engine restarted, reconsidered, and managed to get back to 5,000 feet, but he could only fly at 135 MPH. His flight had to leave him with some B-24 Liberators as escort. The cumbersome bombers had to slow way down, zig-zag, and lower their flaps just to stay with him. He couldn't completely feather the left propeller and the vibration from the windmilling prop shook his plane and flight instruments badly all the way back. He ran into a storm front and got drenched. Finally, long after everyone else landed, he limped in after 8 & 3/4 hours with maybe 20 minutes of fuel left. His big mistake was ditching his canopy: he about froze to death flying back. The photo taken of his damaged P-38 "Ripper" from one of his escorts became a famous World War 2 photograph.
To the south, Truk was still in the war. The 333rd flew escort for a bomber raid there on January 14, 1945 and downed 3 "Zekes"(1st Lt. Marsden Dupuy, Capt. John J. Ottenstein, 2nd Lt. Donald T. Rivas). But Bill Eustis (333rd) went into a cloud after a "Zeke" in a 500 MPH dive and never came out. Everyone thought he was killed, but he wasn't. Inside the cloud he and the "Zeke" collided at 600+ miles per hour. It was the second time he had survived a mid air collision and this one was nasty. He lost a wing. He broke two parachute straps getting out, fell out of his harness and went maybe 2,000 feet down hanging on by one wrist. He swam an hour to get to an island, and was captured after 3 days of hide and seek. He was interrogated/badly beaten up, and nearly starved by the Japs and ended up in solitary confinement outside Yokohama until April. Next he was put in the main part of the POW camp, and later survived a vicious carrier attack while on a train transport to Miswa Naval Air base. As he said in a letter to his wing man Harry James after the war, "I have no business being alive on that score or several others."
2nd Lt. David Ducket (333rd) was lost on Feb. 3rd, in a mishap similar to Sheneman's near the Bonin Islands.
February 10th was Japanese Empire Day. Expecting holiday greetings, and realizing it is better to give than receive, the 318th beat the enemy to the draw. Flying P-38s to Iwo Jima, they shot down 4 enemy bombers and 3 fighters (1st Lt.Everett Balkum (333rd) , 2nd Lt. John R. Donahue (19th), 1st Lt. Wayne A. Duerschmidt (333rd), F/O Harry W. James (333rd), Lt Harry M. Stampme (19th), and Capt. Judge Wolfe (333rd), with Wolfe getting 2 kills.)By mid February, Truk and Pagan were offering little resistance. Over Sanders objections, one last napalm strike was ordered against Pagan. With two 165 gallon belly tanks of napalm and a 165 gallon fuel tank, the load was over 3,000 lbs. on each battle weary P-47. Making the best of a bad situation, he picked only his best planes, had the tanks filled with only 100 gallons of napalm, and sent DeJack Williams to lead the useless mission. Later recon photos showed only some scorched woods in the target area.
The P-47N had about 800 more horsepower, a bubble canopy, rear warning radar, better maneuverability, better synchronized controls and an extra 3 feet of wet wing to carry more fuel in, and could carry 10 5" HVAR rockets (vs 6 on the D models), among other things. It could also lift it's own weight in fuel and ordinance, and had even longer range than the P-51 Mustang. The new Ns were flown from Oahu to Johnston Island, to Majuro, to Eniwetok, to Saipan, (4,182 miles) and later 1,425 miles nonstop from Saipan to their next home. With the 318th's VLR experience, they were in good hands. They checked 'em out on some missions to Truk. Lt. Earl Harbour got a "Emily", but Truk's AAA claimed Lt. Warren Beecroft and his new plane. They also escorted a bombing mission to Marcus, but the bombers couldn't find the island.The flight surgeon was reporting the average man in the 318th had lost 10.7 lbs. Calcium deficiency was evident in 40.5% of personnel. 34.5% had various fungal diseases. A lot of the guys had fought dengue fever. Or malaria. Or dysentery. Of 111 planes, only 80 well worn planes remained. Lack of replacements had cut engineering staff by more than half. The legal affairs officer was seeing a big increase in domestic relations cases. There was some talk of rotation or a breather, as the group was tired and worn down.
Instead, the 318th was the first fighter group to get the new long range P-47N.
And when orders came, the move was forward.
Up to this time, the 318th had only 48 kills. The areas they flew were vast and empty: enemy encounters were few. That was about to change. On April 1st, Okinawa was invaded. It turned into one hell of a fight!April 6, 1945 found a tired collection of equipment and men boarding the cargo ship S. Hall Young and the transport Xenmore for a 3 week cruise. Only enough men were left behind to handle paperwork on the new planes, service them, and ferry them. Stuck aboard ship at Ulithi, they heard about the death of President Roosevelt. And soon afterward of Ernie Pyle, the beloved war correspondent, dying at their next destination.
The 318th arrived 2 miles west of Okinawa in the height of the Kamikaze season.