USAAF B-17’s in Java – Part Seven

True unsung heroes…


To say that their orders were rather vague is putting it very mildly. The LB-30 crews lacked accurate target information and it took them 20 minutes to locate the airfield. By the time they had found the airfield, twenty miles south of Menado, and had dropped their bombs, 5 Mitsubishi Zeros aggressively attacked them and raked their unprotected bellies. The bomber crews fought them off, claiming one Zero shot down, but on the way back to Malang, it was clear that two LB-30’s (Dougherty’s AL535 and Basye’s AL576) were really in trouble.
Dougherty found that that not only was he very low on gas but the LB-30’s damaged controls made it increasingly difficult to keep his plane in the air. Halfway across the Java Sea, Major Straubel saw the bomber disappear from sight, with a smoking engine and four injured men aboard. Dougherty somehow managed to crash-land the LB-30 on a streak of sandy beach on Greater Mesalembo Island. The crew survived but the weather turned thick. Huddled in their wrecked plane, they waited for nine days, with little else but coconuts to live on and no proper shelter or medical care for their wounded. Their only hope was for the weather to clear so the wrecked plane could be spotted by a friendly aircraft. This finally happened after eight days, when – on January 24 – they were spotted by a very low flying B-17E (Flown by the 7th Bomb Group’s CO Major Stanley K. Robinson). The next day a Patwing 10 PBY came to pick them up.

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First Blood – The 7th Bomb Group to Menado

While the 19th was ‘showing the flag’ way up north, a critical situation developed in Northern Celebes. The Japanese were invading Menado. Orders were issued to strike ‘with all available force’ at Menado airfield and the Japanese shipping in Menado Bay.
And all available force meant the recently arrived 3 LB-30’s and 2 B-17E’s that had been at Singosari for 4 whole days…
Watched by a few even newer arrivals, that had trickled in that day via the African Route,  the five bombers took off at 12.10 on January 16 and disappeared north, towards the Kendari II (K2) staging field at the South-Celebes coast. There they would stay overnight and carry out a dawn attack against Japanese forces in the Menado area on January 17. The LB-30’s were to attack Menado’s Langoan airfield; the B-17’s were to attack shipping in Menado…

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USAAF B-17’s in Java – Part Six

Part Six of US Bomber Operations in the Dutch East Indies

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ABDACOM and the Sungei Patani Raid

The American – British – Dutch – Australian (ABDA) Command came into being early in January 1942. It was a direct result of the Arcadia conference during which Roosevelt and Churchill agreed on a unified command for South-East Asia. It was an attempt to coordinate intelligence gathering and distribution, target selection and resource commitment. But these high hopes were never fulfilled, and the overall command situation in Java actually deteriorated, since the ABDACOM bureaucracy made an absolute hash of intelligence gathering and distribution.
Just as an example: Under Dutch command, sighting reports from flying boats would be delivered to submarines or surface units within 10 minutes.
The ABDA intelligence clearing house took 6 hours or more to ‘process’ these same reports, and by the time they reached the intended recipients, they were completely useless. And target selection was whimsical to say the least– as…

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USAAF B-17’s in Java – Part Five

Part Five of US Bomber Operations in the Dutch East Indies

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The arrival in Java of the 7th Bomb Group.

On January 11, while the 19th was under way to Tarakan, three Consolidated LB-30’s arrived at Malang’s Singosari airfield at 13.05 local time. Major Austin A, Straubel flew in AL 609,  1st Lt John E. Dougherty AL535, and 1st Lt Horace M. Wade AL612. These crews, belonging to the 11th Bomb Squadron, were the first of the 7th Bomb Group to reach the Dutch East Indies. Over the next few days, more planes trickled in via the 21.000 mile Atlantic – Africa – India Ferry Route, all flown by crews from the 9th and 22nd bomb squadrons. On January 16, the strength of the 7th Bomb Group in Java was up to four LB-30s and six B-17’s.
The B-17’s were factory-fresh ‘E’ models (as shown in the banner above). It was the long awaited type with a top-turret, tail guns and…

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USAAF B17’s in JAVA – Part Four

Part Four of US Bomber Operations in the Dutch East Indies

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Banner_The BombersOn January 8, the seemingly indefatigable Combs took nine of the B-17’s to Kendari II (also known as K2) at 07.15 a.m. They arrived 11.30 a.m. and took off at 17.00 p.m. the same day on a second mission against Japanese shipping in Davao Gulf.

Mechanical difficulties plagued the flight; four of the nine B17’s had to abort. The remaining five succeeded in reaching the target area and, as they had to attack in poor visibility, their bombing runs brought only uncertain results (1). The crews returned to K2 and stayed there overnight; next day, January 9, they fixed their mechanical difficulties and on January 10 at 07.00 a.m. they took off for the return flight to Singosari.

At that same January 10, the Japanese Empire officially declared war on the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Only hours later, a Dutch Navy Dornier Do-24K spotted a Japanese invasion fleet heading for…

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USAAF B17’s in Java – Part Three

Part Three of US Bomber Operations in the Dutch East Indies

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Darwin – Next stop: Java

On December 24, four days after the last B-17 had left for the safety of Darwin, the Japanese launched their heaviest air raid on the Manila area. They concentrated on the waterfront, destroying the area so completely that whole streets became impassable, even on foot.  This carnage and the rapid advance of the Japanese invasion forces on Luzon prompted MacArthur to order Major General Lewis H. Brereton to shift the headquarters of what remained of his Far East Air Force (FEAF) to where his bombers were: in Darwin, Australia.
Brereton would have liked to hitch a ride in one of his own B-17’s, but that was impossible so Admiral Hart surrendered his place aboard a PatWing10 PBY and off he went. First to a false start – their ‘boat’, overloaded with 21 passengers, hit a patrol vessel during their take-off run in the dark. Brereton…

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USAAF B-17’s in Java – Part Two

Part Two of US Bomber Operations in the Dutch East Indies

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The Clark Field Disaster and Retreat from the Philippines

Brereton’s impression that the organization of the FEAF left much to be desired was confirmed the next day, after a hurried inspection tour of his command. The November 5 entry in his diary reveals that his orders, to build up a functioning air force in no-time, were literally a mammoth task.

‘…The heavies and mediums were all based at Clark Field. Half the fighters were stationed at Nichols Field, the remainder at Clark Field. There were no anti-aircraft defenses available at either of these fields or at any other airfield in the Philippines. Additional landing fields at Iba and Del Carmen were under construction. The air depot at Nichols Field was completely inadequate and plans for expansion to care for enormous increase in the Air Forces had not been implemented. Most of the B-17s were still uncamouflaged and from the air…

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USAAF B-17’s in Java – Part One

Part One of US Bomber Operations in the Dutch East Indies

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Banner_The BombersBombers to the Philippines – Quick!

Part One of  US Bomber Operations in the Dutch East Indies”. 

As the summer of 1941 drifted into fall, even the diplomatic diehards at the State Department were forced to admit that a war with Japan was inevitable. Early in August 1941 the Secretary of War approved a program which would send modern planes and equipment when available to the Philippines. Thus, after many years of neglect, the Philippines were finally receiving some attention and replacements for its obsolete aircraft started to trickle in; confiscated Swedish P-35A’s to replace the antique P-26 ‘Peashooters’ and some secondhand B-18 “Bolos’ to replace the ancient B-10’s. They were later followed by Curtiss P-40’s.
However, precious time had been lost; time that could never be re-gained.
A War Department galvanized into drastic action by the threat of war recalled retired General Douglas MacArthur to active duty on July…

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