Zero attack on a B-24 Liberator From YANK Magazine

Posted on April 28th, 2016 by:

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Zero attack on a B-24 Liberator From YANK Magazine

A B-24 looks for trouble and finds plenty of it trying to bomb a Japanese ship in the sea near Rabaul.

By Sgt. Dave Richardson

YANK Staff Correspondent

IN A B-24 OVER THE SOLOMONS SEA—I’ve wound up in plenty of strange places after beer parties back home, but none half so strange as the spot I’m in this afternoon, after my first New Guinea beer party last night.

It all started when Sgt. Buell Rolens of Murphysboro, Ill., public relations man for a U.S. heavy-bombardment outfit in New Guinea, asked me to the opening of his outfit’s EM

At the party, first time most of us had tasted anything stronger than chlorinated water during our several months in New Guinea, the talk turned inevitably to bomber missions. Someone asked why I had never gone on a mission for a YANK story. “Every correspondent from Cairo to the Aleutians seems to have written eyewitness bomber-mission stories,” I replied. “I want to do something different.”

“if it’s action you want,” Rolens suggested, “why not go out on an armed reconnaissance. Fly in a bomber that goes deep into Japanese territory all by itself, just looking for trouble. There’s one tomorrow if you want to go.”

After another beer I said I would. “And if you don’t come back,” said Rolens, “can I have your typewriter?”

So now I’m on that reconnaissance in a B-24 droning over the Solomons Sea toward New Britain, New Ireland and points east. We reach the coast of New Britain and skirt it for about an hour, meanwhile downing a lunch of oranges, canned tomato juice, cheese and dog biscuits. As we swing over St. George’s Channel near Rabaul, we spot a tiny dot in the water off the Cape.

Lt. F. E. Haag, our pilot, a former Rutgers University student from Pelham, N.Y., changes course and descends to identify the vessel. It’s a 4,500-ton Japanese freighter transport heading north. Now Lt. William H. Spencer Jr., ex-telephone man from Roanoke, Va., takes over command of the bomber from his bombardier’s perch. We make a bomb run at medium altitude.


Front row (l. to r.) Pfc. Bellmore, Lt. Spencer, Lt. Haag, T/Sgt. Nilsson and S/Sgt. Weisberger; back frow: S/Sgt. Brown, Lt. Johnston, T/Sgt. Dow, Lt. Vickery and S/Sgt. Nesevitch. Satan’s Sister was not the bomber they used on this mission

Two bright yellow demolition bombs tumble out of the bomb racks. Beside me S/Sgt. Mike Nesevitch, former coal operator from Olyphant, Pa., keeps his aerial camera clicking. The bombs describe a graceful, lazy curve as the ship below swerves sharply to the right.

The bombs hit the water about 100 yards from the freighter. Lt. Spencer had figured the ship would turn the other way.

“Let’s try it again,” Lt. Spencer hollers over the interphone. We wheel over the Cape lighthouse to make another run. Only now do we notice white puffs of ack-ack blossoming all around us. And only now do we spot another freighter, just as big, going south in the channel. Up from the second ship come two floatplanes, a biplane and a Zero with pontoons.

A hand grabs my shoulder. I turn to find S/Sgt. R.D. Brown, former cleaner and presser from Rusk, Tex., our assistant radioman, pointing out the left waist window. There, slightly below and to our left, are eight Japanese planes with flaming red circles on their dirty tan wings. Four of them are Zeros, the others twin-engined bombers. Evidently they are returning from a bombing mission in the Solomons.

Lt. Haag guns the four motors on our big plane and banks it southward, toward a far-off cloud bank. The bombers and floatplanes disappear. But the Zeros climb toward us. Everyone clambers to his machine guns.

Back in the rear turret S/Sgt. A.F. Weisberger, ex-sawmill worker from Rio Linda, Calif., gets in the opening burst. Soon most of the guns on our big bomber are chattering away. The Zeros split up and close in from two sides. They dart as swiftly and effortlessly as flies.

Nesevitch yells at me above the din, motioning me to his side at the right waist window. His cartridge belt has jumped its guide, silencing the gun. He yells for me to pull the end of the belt through the receiver slot as he works the belt entirely clear of the guide.

There’s a Zero riding alongside us—ready to wing over and make a pass. If the Zero makes its stab right now, Sgt. Rolens will be the new owner of my battered Remington portable. But we fix the gun. Nesevitch blazes away at the Zero who noses up to escape the tracers.

Then the Zero rolls over and curves in toward our nose. It races toward our bomber at 12 o’clock—a head-on pass. Pfc. Don Bellmore, former factory worker from Clinton, Mich., draws a bead from his nose turret and squeezes his trigger for a long burst. At the same time T/Sgt. Edgar F. Dow, ex-rayon maker from Lumberton, N.C. draws a bead from the top turret.

Tracers from the guns converge on the hurtling Zero. It falters a split second, then dives under our right wing to vanish in the clouds below.

Now there’s one Zero to the right of us, just beyond range, and two to the left. They ride along beside us for several minutes, eyeing us like three hungry hawks ready to pounce on a plump chicken. Short burts of our guns keep them at a safe distance.

“Don’t waste bullets, fellas,” drawls Lt. D.P. Johnston, the co-pilot, over the interphone. He used to be an ornamental-iron designer in Memphis, Tenn. “This heah looks like it’s gonna be a long-fight.”

Suddenly tracer bullets streak by from in front of our plane. A second Zero is making a 1 o’clock pass—coming in from almost dead ahead. Dow and Bellmore in the top and nose turrets blaze away. The Zero rolls off to the right of our plane, exposing its belly as it stands on its right wing in a sharp turn. The tracers from our top and nose turrets seem to go right through the Zero during this maneuver. The plane dives out of range, wriggling queerly. Before we can see whether it ever comes out of that dive, the Zero passes into a fleecy cloud. We score a probable.

“Look out—10 o’clock pass!” yells Lt. Haag over the interphone. A third Zero flicks in with smoking guns from slightly below and in front of us. None of our guns can follow its lightning quick course. But the Zero never reaches our level, diving away instead. I pull the belly gun triggers. It zips right through the tracers.

The last Zero flips up in a tight Immelmann turn and leaves us without attempting a pass. Now everything is silent except for the roar of our four engines. We are at last alone in the sunny, cloud-flecked sky. The running fight has lasted 12 minutes.

Over the interphone comes Lt. Johnston’s Memphis drawl: “Anybody hurt?” Nobody is. “I think we took a few bullets in the nose,” he says. We light up cigarettes, grin at each other and trade comments on the fight.

Ah, I think, now back to New Guinea. I was shivering under my fleece-lined jacket before the fight, now I’m sweating. I get all the action a guy could ask for and still live to write in YANK about it. But wait a minute. Lt. Haag’s voice comes over the interphone. “We’ll use up our other bombs on Salamaua,” he says. My heart sinks. Migawd, hasn’t he had enough for one day? Rolens will get my typewriter yet.

We fly 500 miles down to the Huon Gulf. There is a sunken freighter seaward of Lae’s airstrip and Salamaua lies bomb-pocked along the narrow neck of a fat peninsula. We come in for a bombing run as the bomb-bay doors grind open. Black puffs of ack-ack surround us and some of the stuff hits. It sounds like pebbles being thrown against a tin roof. The plane lurches and reels. Our last yellow bombs angle down toward some buildings near Salamaua’s ruined air strip.

We plunge into big storm clouds and thread our way through the towering Owen Stanley peaks. It is dusk as we set down gently on our home field. In the nine hours we’ve been away we’ve covered more than 1,500 miles. Now the crew admits this was the first time they’ve been jumped by the Japanese in their 11 bombing missions.

“We had a feelin’ we’d get jumped when you came along with us,” says Lt. Clyde W. Vickery, ex-banker from Atlanta, Ga., our navigator. “They say women are bad luck to have on ships. Well, correspondents always seem to bring plenty of action when they go on missions.”

T/Sgt. Roy I. Nilsson, former insurance underwriter from Chicago, our radioman, tells us surprising news. “Operations has been sweating us out,” he grins. “They thought we were missing after I radioed we were being jumped and then we took so long getting back.”

At this point I head for the nearest telephone. I want to tell Rolens that he’ll have to wait until I go on another mission before he can have my Remington portable.

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