|As part of
constructing the South Dakota World War II Memorial, we
want to preserve the stories of South Dakotans during
that period. Please share with us a story of your
experience during that time.
Lansford Trapp entered active
duty in 1940, was commissioned in the United States Army Air
Corps as a navigator late in 1941, and earned his pilot’s
wings in 1945. As a
navigator he served on a five man crew that ferried B-17 four
engine bombers from a base near San Francisco to Brisbane,
Australia, via Hawaii, and other small islands in the South
Pacific. With a
smile, he recounted getting five bombers across the Pacific
Ocean with what today would be considered primitive instruments.
“We didn’t have any modern equipment to speak of,”
Trapp said. “We didn’t even have hand-held calculators at
that time. All the calculations had to be done by hand with a
drift meter and a sextant.”
In the summer of 1942, he was reassigned to one of two
special crews that flew general officers in the South Pacific
theater of operations. He
got back to the United States in 1943 and married Frances. He
then helped train B-29 bomber crews before deciding to try pilot
training. He got his pilot wings in 1945, not long before World
War II ended.
Gordon was killed in action in the Battle of Tarawa.
James was a Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
He served as a pilot.
Clarence was killed in action.
His body was never found.
Bill was a Prisoner of War during World War II.
George was killed in action in France on June 22, 1944.
LaVern served in the European Theatre. He participated in D-Day, Battle of the Bulge and many other
T.J. served from August 28, 1942 to December 25, 1945.
He was first on the Battleship “Nevada.” He later
served on the heavy cruiser “Camberra” when it was
served in the South Pacific in many battles.
Arthur served in the WWII Army Corps—Armored Division.
Ole was drafted from Dewey County in December, 1943.
He was discharged on 5/12/1946.
He served in the army in the Pacific Theatre.
Cecil served as a Seabee in the U.S. Navy
Howard served in the Navy during World War II.
Elroy served in the army from April, 1941 to October, 1995.
Kenneth was a Prisoner of War in Germany.
Sammy served on the USS Ticonderoga.
Cecil was killed in action in 1945.
Leonard served in the U.S. Navy from October 11, 1942 to January 4,
1946. He was a
boatswain Mate First Class.
He served on the USS Crescent City.
Ralph enlisted in January, 1943 and was honorably discharged as a
Sargent in December, 1945.
He served in the Pacific Theatre in Guam and Siapan under
General Le Mae with he U.S. Air Force.
Richard served from 1943 until June, 1946. He received his basic
training in Middle, Georgia.
He received paratrooper training in Ft. Benning, Ga and
was assigned to the 541 RCT and shipped to the Pacific Theatre
in 1945. He was then assigned to the 11th AB Division in
1945. During the
Occupation of Japan, he was assigned to 187th RCT
Anti Tank Company. He
attained the rant of 1st Sergeant.
He served with the US forces in Japan for 10 years as a
Joseph entered the service on July 15, 1941.
He was wounded in action on January 9, 1945 and died on
January 13, 1945.
George served in World War II from February 18, 1943 to February,
Walter served in World War II from June 23, 1945 to November 9,
Reinhold served in the Army in Africa, Italy, France and Germany.
He attained the rank as Corporal.
Herbert was an Army Air Corps ground crew-man.
He completed his basic training at Sheppard Field in
Ted served overseas in Czechoslovakia.
Arthur was a veteran of the Italian and European campaigns.
He attained the rank of corporal.
Albert served as a Navy Seaman in the Pacific and received battle
stars for six major actions.
Alvin served in the Coast Guard aboard ship in the Pacific.
Katherine Kolb had seven of
her eight sons serving in the Army, Navy and Coast Guard.
They are Reinhold Kolb, Herbert Kolb, Ted Kolb, Arthur
Kolb, Albert Kolb and
Alvin Kolb. Arthur
and Albert are twins. The
oldest son, Lee, operated the family farm west of Bison and the
youngest son, Walter, who was in high school during World War
II. Walter served
in the Army from 1951 to 1952 during the Korean Conflict Mrs.
Kolb had 5 daughters.
Mahlon served from March 5, 1941 to May 23, 1945.
He participated in the New Guinea, Southern Philippine
and Bismarck Archipelago Campaigns. He received three battle stars, the Philippine
Liberation ribbon and one bronze star.
Roland served in the US Army during World War II.
Arie served in the U.S. Navy from December 22, 1944 to June 18,
Howard served in the Army Air Force.
Rusty served in the U.S. Navy from 1942 to 1946.
William served in the US Army in Germany as a mortar gunner.
In the letters to home, he always asked his mother to
send him socks. His
feet were always wet.
Johnnie served as a sergeant in the Air Force from 1941 to November
5, 1945. He was
stationed in England.
Silas was in a Sergeant in the Army serving in the African and
Donald was a Marine who was killed in action at Iwo Jima.
Norman served from January 6, 1942 to January 4, 1946.
Virgil served from June 1941 to November 1945.
Paul was a test pilot in World War II. He was killed in a plane crash in June, 1944.
He attained the rank of Lieutenant.
Gordon serve in the Navy from March 19, 1945 to July 25, 1946.
fraternity ring which James A. Schneider, former bombardier, son
of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Schneider of Mobridge, thought was gone
forever, will soon be back on his finger. The
return of the ring brings to light an untold story of how the
Mobridge veteran eluded the Nazi Gestapo back in early 1944 and
made a terrifying two months’ trek from France, where his
plane was shot down December 31, 1943, back to his base in
start with the story’s end, Schneider’s ring is to be
delivered to him sometime this month by Harold Banbet Cockburn,
18, of Courin, France, a worker during the war in the French
underground, who returned early this month to his birthplace,
Des Moines, Ia., after 16 years residence in France. It
was young Cockburn and his mother, Mrs. Harold W. Cockburn, who
established first contact with Schneider after he had parachuted
from his crippled plane. It was they who gave him a safe start
on the perilous road back to England-furnishing food, shelter, a
hiding place for several days, and warm French clothes. Cockburn
did not know, upon his recent return to the United States,
whether the Mobridge man had been successful in his escape. But
he knows now. A story on young Cockburn, which
appeared in a January issue of the De Moines Tribune, made this
possible. The story was clipped by Des Moines residents, who
noticed Schneider’s name mentioned, and sent it to his
relatives here-the Henry Neidringhaus family. Nedringhaus
hastily contacted the veteran’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Carl
Schneider immediately wrote Cockburn in Des Moines
giving him her son’s address in Madison, Wisc., and urging him
to go to Madison or come here for a visit.
stated in the Des Moines write up that he had Schneider’s
fraternity ring and hoped to return it in person. It was during the Christmas vacation, 1943,
that Harold made his bow as an underground interpreter. “I did
it just for fun during vacations from school, before our
town’s liberation, August 5, 1944,” he said.
The first person
he questioned as an underground worker was the Mobridge
bombardier, Lt. Schneider Cockburn said Schneider hid in a
thistle clump for 37 hours after parachuting from his damaged
plane, before hunger and thirst and a need for sleep (not to
mention the cold, December weather) persuaded him to answer the
whistle of an underground worker.
explained that everytime an underground worker went searching
for allied airmen he always whistled “Over There” and
“Tipperary” to attract the fliers’ attention.
“Like most Americans, Jim was almost too cheerful when
he heard us speak English,” he said. While Schneider was waiting to be returned to England,
they received a scare when a party of Germans approached to
search the house.
Cockburn said “Jim and I
ran out the back door and jumped over the wall to hide in the
field, but it turned out that the Germans were searching for
Jews.” A few days later Cockburn and his
mother assisted Schneider in making contacts which enabled him
to join 26 other allied airmen who were secretly working their
way back to England. The party eventually made arrangements for
a French fishing vessel they discovered they had been
double-crossed. The French fisherman in charge of the boat had
sold them out to the Germans. They had been aboard only a few
minutes when the vessel was attacked
by German planes. Schneider decided as the first
bullets pierced the ship’s deck, that he had just as soon die
running as standing still. He made a hasty exit from the large
craft, leaping into the bay. Hiding amid wreckage in the water
Schneider was able to escape his would-be assassins. He slowly
worked his way up the beach and in the darkness spotted a
haystack a few hundred yards off the coast. He crawled over to
this and dug his way deep into its interior. It was here that
Jim spent one of the most nerve-wrecking nights of his life. As
he was edging his way up to the haystack, he was discovered by a
small dog from a nearby farm house. Dismayed by
Schneider’s disappearance into the stack, the young
canine proceeded to park himself nearby and howl the whole
night long. Schneider almost sweated blood as he lay gasping for
breath in the stuffy, dusty stack. He had heard about Germans
burning haystacks while searching for allied airmen and he could
vision them lighting a match to the one he was in. Schneider
yearned to get his hands on the excited, yapping canine but
dared not move from his hiding spot. Fortunately the dog gave up
his vigil at dawn and Jim was able to rest easier. He
knew, however, that the search for him would be thorough and
continuous, so he remained in the haystack for five days, not
even risking a night hunt for food and water. Hunger and thirst
eventually made him more nonchalant and he decided on the fifth
day that rather than starve to death he would risk going to a
small farm house, the light from which he could see in the
distance at night. It happened that an elderly French couple
lived in the house. They gave Schneider food and water and
agreed to let him hide in the house until he was fit to travel.
Here again the Mobridge bombardier had a narrow, hair-rising
escape from capture. Just as he was preparing to eat supper one
night the Gestapo knocked at the door. Jim made a hasty climb to
the attic, hiding behind a trap door. Not choosing to overlook
any bets the Gestapo searched the attic, passing within inches
of Schneider, who snuggled down behind the door, hardly daring
to breath. Determined he would not give up without a fight,
Jim had pulled off his heavy flying boots and was holding one in
each hand, all set to conk a Nazi on the head in case he was
discovered. But after a quick look around the Germans went
back down stairs. Long after the house had grown quiet,
and after crowing cocks had announced the approach of dawn, Jim
slipped out of his hiding place and went to see how the French
couple had made out. He found them gone.
The Gestapo, evidently tipped off that they had been
shielding an airman, had ushed them off to a concentration camp,
or something worse. Fearing that the Gestapo, through
their notorious torture tactics, might force the old couple to
divulge their secret about him, Schneider decided to vacate the
French house immediately. The next several days he spent
hiding in chicken houses, barns, weed patches, groves, grabbing
only occasional snatches of sleep. At night he would walk.
By this time Schneider had grown a long beard. With has
clothes soiled and wrinkled, and having mastered a few French
phrases and words, Jim was able to pose as a French wanderlust
lost his home and family. The
underground had furnished him with an excellent set of French
identification papers. These
provided to be very valuable before he left France.
One day after had had again teamed up with two other
airmen-also posing as French men-Jim was stopped by the Gestapo.
Playing the role of a nitwit suffering from the effects
of war, Jim was able to get by without answering a lot of
questions and was permitted with his two pals to go his way.
The men hiked south down the French coast, crossed the
Pyrenees mountains, where they encountered some extremely cold
weather, and then hiked all the way across Spain, eventually
making their way to the coast and back to England.
Schneider now knows that he was the only member of his
crew to survive the forced landing in France.
He was the only one to parachute from the plane.
He saw the plane crash and burn in the distance, but
fearing capture, never went near it.
After his return to this home here in April, 1944,
approximately six weeks after had had made his escape from the
Gestapo, Schneider did not choose to give the details of his
experience, fearing for the safety of the Frenchmen who had
rendered him such valuable aid.
He knew that published tales had a way of getting back.
Not until Cockburn’s tale had been recorded in Des
Moines was his story released, and then only in part.
To get back to Cockburn’s story, he and his mother were
the only two Americans living in their sections.
His mother assumed the duties of interpreter in French
underground in 1941 and her particular “outfit” safely
Americans and about 100 Britishers
job was to question the fliers as they came in, checking their
identification and verifying it through radio contact with
Britian,” Cockburn said.
“This was necessary because Germans often tried to
crack the underground by posing as American fliers.
If we discovered the ruse-well, we had to dispose of
slim youngster spread his hands out flat as he had said it, and
smiled a little.
The airmen were returned either by British air service,
submarine or fishing boats.
The latter handled the most traffic.
“When the fishermen took fliers to England, they had to
buy fish there to show the Nazis upon their return,” Harold
laughed. “That proved their innocence.”
French passport issued as soon as Schneider was able to
contact French underground and all personal items were given
underground and he was issued all French personal items and
clothing to pursue the image of nitwit French bicycle repair
man. Three months
time with underground before walking to Spain.
Jim carried a French passport, rode a bicycle and posed
as a French nitwit bicycle mechanic as he and two British airman
began their bitter cold six week trek over the Pyrenees
Mountains through Spain. After
catching a ride to England on a fishing vessel, Jim was
hospitalized die to the stress and trauma of the harrowing
experience. In 1945
after returning home to a United States military hospital, he
was awarded an Honorable Discharge for the 8th
Airforce. In January of 1945 Jim was sent to his hometown of Mobridge,
South Dakota. It
was there that he met the cadet nurse and soon to be wife,
Lucille French. That summer he was employed as a brakeman on the Milwaukee
Road Railroad. The
fall of 1945 took hime and his wife to Madison, Wisconsin where
Jim studied under the Frank Lloyd Wright In Home Building
Program at the University of Wisconsin.
Dakota Unit 147th FA WWII
for the Philippines, the ships of the Pensacola convoy received
word that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.
In the late 1930s, with a war between the United States
and Japan looming on the horizon, General Douglas MacArthur was
confident that the Philippine Islands were defensible. He
place can be defended, any place taken provided superior forces
can be assembled. To say that the Philippines are indefensible,
is merely to say that they are inadequately defended…
We are going to make it so expensive for any nation to
attack these islands that no nation will try it!”
A few months prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt formulated a plan to
send a military convoy to the Philippines in order to reinforce
Mac Arthur’s undermanned garrisons on the islands.
On November 14, 1941, Operation Plum was given the go
ahead to sail for Manila. The flotilla was comprised of seven
transports and cargo vessels: Willard A. Holbrook, Republic,
Meigs, Bloemfontein, Admiral Halstead, Farmer and Chaumont. Two
naval vessels were assigned to escort the ships, the heavy
cruiser Pensacola and the submarine chaser Niagara. A week later, approximately 4,600 National Guard troops
arrived at San Francisco to embark for the Philippines. The 1st
Battalion, 148th Idaho Field Artillery, and the 1st
and 2nd battalions of the 147th South
Dakota Field Artillery marched aboard Holbrook. Bloemfontein
carried the 2nd Battalion of the 131st
Texas Artillery. In
addition to troops, the ships of the relief force were packed to
the gunwales with 20 75mm guns, 52 Douglas A-24 Dauntless dive
bombers, 18 Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk fighters, 340 vehicles, a
half-million rounds of .50-caliber ammunition, 9,600 rounds of
37mm shells, 5,000 bombs and 9,000 drums of aviation gasoline.
The expedition quickly became known as the Pensacola convoy.
Corporal Willard Heath, of the 148th Idaho
Artillery, stated, “One aboard the ‘rustbucket’[Holbrook]
any preconceived ideas of a pleasure cruise soon vanished.”
Holbrook originally had been a passenger vessel of the American
President Lines. But the ship had outlived her usefulness in
that capacity and, after conversion to a freighter, steamed the
ocean routes between the United States and the Orient. The
pungent odor of copra and jute permeated her holds, and she was
given the ignominious nickname “Stinkin’ Old Holbrook.”
Causton, of the 148th Idaho Artillery, remarked: “I was
one of the first men to draw KP on the vessel. The first day out
we had mutton stew. The nauseating smell of several cauldrons of
meat bubbling away in the galley made me thankful that we had
stairs leading up to the main deck. If I had been forced to
climb a ladder, I never would have made it topside to the
rail.” On November 27, Holbrook arrived at Pearl Harbor
the same day that Houston, flagship of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet,
received orders to be “fully fueled, provisioned, and ready to
sail at a moment’s notice.” Three days later, the ships of
the Pensacola convoy formed up and began their journey across
the Pacific. First Sergeant Henry J. Bartol recalled: “I was
standing on the upper deck of the Holbrook as we steamed out of
Pearl Harbor. Hearing propellers overhead, I looked up and
noticed the sky covered with planes. I remarked to several
officers standing nearby that the aircraft didn’t look like
ours. I was then told, with confident authority, that if
they were not our planes, Army Intelligence would have notified
us.” On December 5, the Pensacola convoy crossed the
Equator. And the following day, a foreboding event occurred. A
scout plane, catapulted from the cruiser, failed to return.
Early the next morning, word was piped over the convoy’s
public address systems that the Japanese had bombed Pearl
Harbor. Corporal Heath described the instant flurry of
activity that followed: “Trouble must have been
anticipated. Brushes and paint cans suddenly appeared from
nowhere and were immediately slapped into our hands. The
red, white and blue colors of the Holbrook were quickly changed
to battleship gray as hundreds of men scrambled over the ship
repainting her from stem to stern and waterline to topmast. Any
slowpokes who didn’t move fast enough were also painted
battleship gray.” Lookouts were posted and cautioned to
keep their eyes peeled for Japanese planes, submarines and
surface ships. Life rafts were lashed near the railings. All
personnel were instructed to wear life jackets at all times and
carry full canteens of water. When news was flashed over
the radio that the United States had declared war on Japan,
unconfirmed rumors flooded the airways including a report that
Holbrook had been sunk or lost at sea. But the freighter was
still very much afloat and making preparations to battle the
enemy. Machine guns and ammunition were hauled up from the hold,
and the .50-caliber weapons were mounted on the ships’s bow,
stern and bridge. Meanwhile, back in the States, a
controversy developed as to what to do with the convoy. Admiral
Richmond Kelly Turner, director of the Navy’s War Plans
Division, wanted the flotilla returned to hawaii to reinforce
the Army’s decimated garrison. General Leonard T. Gerow, head
of the Army’s War Plans Division, stated that if the
troopships were not recalled to Pearl Harbor, then they should
be sent back to the United States. However, General
George C. Marshall, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, felt
obligated to send help to Mac Arthur. President Roosevelt, at a
meeting held at the White House on the morning of December 10,
concurred. Later that afternoon, a decision was reached to send
the flotilla to Brisbane, Australia. Heath recalled the
tense voyage: “The convoy continually zigzagged, with
the slowest ship determining its speed. We began to run far
behind schedule. Meals were cut to twice a day. Bread molded,
meat spoiled and drinking water tasted salty. The weather became
very warm and humid. We had no idea where we were headed. Rumors
flooded the Holbrook, but then slowed to a trickle with the
gradual realization that our destiny was completely out of our
hands.” General Mac Arthur was elated when he received
the news that
were on the way. He immediately conferred with Admiral Thomas C.
hart, commander Asiatic Fleet, on the possibility of the Navy
providing additional escort vessels for the dangerous trip from
Brisbane to Manila. Hart, however, was pessimistic. He remarked
that the Allies were fully engaged at Singapore and along the
Malay Barrier, and that he could not take responsibility for
protecting the Pensacola convoy with the few ships he had at his
disposal. Hart also believed that the Japanese would have the
Philippines blockaded before the reinforcements could arrive.
Mac Arthur was boiling mad. He stated emphatically that
the flotilla would be able to make the trip safely if adequate
sea and air protection were provided.
On December 22, 1941, Japanese troops landed at Lingayen
Gulf in the northwest of the Philippine island of Luzon. That
same day the Pensacola convoy steamed into Brisbane Harbor.
ocean weary soldiers disembarked from their ships and paraded in
perfect order through the city. Heath remembered:
“Crowds of people lined the streets and cheered. We
were the first American contingent to land in their country. The
Australians knew that the Japanese were moving south in their
direction while, at the same time, most of the Aussie army was
fighting in North Africa. The home front felt very vulnerable
and they were. “We
marched to the Ascot Race Track, which had been turned into a
military camp, and were quartered in pyramid shaped tents. The
next morning we lined up for what I thought would be a long
awaited real breakfast. The soldiers passed down the chow line
in single file. As each man held out his mess kit to the
amiable, jolly cook plop! A cold, greasy mutton chop was slopped
into his plate. To the Australians, this was their idea of
treat. Fortunately there was plenty of fresh bread available. I
had hoped for a cup of good coffee. No such luck only weak tea
with ‘generous’ amounts of milk and sugar stirred in.” While the American troops were enjoying the sights of
Brisbane, their fate was being decided thousands of miles away.
Mac Arthur continued his efforts to convince Washington that the
Philippines could be successfully defended and it was the U.S.
Navy’s responsibility to keep the supply lines open.
Mac Arthur insisted that the artillery brigade,
languishing in Brisbane, be sent to Manila as soon as possible.
However, Admiral Harold Stark, chief of Naval Operations, had
already determined that the Allies first line of defense would
be the Malay Peninsula and the chain of islands north of
the Joint War Board agreed that the Philippines could not be
defended, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson urged that the
United States had an obligation to support the Filipinos or else
lose face in Asia. Therefore, Hart was ordered to cooperate with
the Army in transporting urgently needed supplies and equipment
to the Philippines by air.
General George H. Brett was sent to Australia to
establish an air base. The planes packed in crates aboard the
convoy ships were brought ashore and assembled. As the aircraft
were being reassembled, however, it became clear that various
critical parts were missing including trigger motors, gunsights
and self sealing gas tanks. The circumstances surrounding the
missing parts whether they were left behind unintentionally or
the cargo had been deliberately sabotaged have never been
the afternoon of December 28, the Idaho and South Dakota
artillery battalions marched aboard Holbrook and Chaumont. With
Pensacola as their escort, the vessels were ordered to attempt
to reach Manila. The following day, Bloemfontein, carrying the
Texas battalion, headed for Surabaya, Java.
Unfortunately, valuable time had been wasted. While the
Allies engaged in rhetoric, the Japanese had quickly established
bases in Sumatra, Java and Borneo. It soon became apparent that
the Pensacola group’s prospect of dodging enemy naval units
and aircraft were slim, if not impossible. They were directed to
change course and steam to Darwin, Australia. The convoy raced
northwest, through the Torres Strait and across the Arafura Sea,
and arrived safely at Darwin on January 6, 1942.
Because of 28 foot tides, however, the vessels were
required to drift into the Darwin anchorage with the flood tide,
When the tide was out, the ships rested with their keels on the
bottom of the harbor.
Tomecek, a gunner with the 148th Idaho Field
Artillery, stated: “When
we pulled into Darwin, I was able to look down on the wharf from
the deck of the Holbrook. But by the time we disembarked, the
tide had gone out, and I had to walk up the gangplank to the
the Japanese army continued its advance down the Malay Barrier
and, by the middle of February, had reached Timor, at the
eastern end of the Netherlands East Indies. The capture of that
island would put enemy land and air forces within 400 miles of
Darwin. A frantic
decision was made by the Allied high command to reinforce Dutch
and Australian troops on Timor in hopes of stopping the Japanese
advance. The operation was given the code name Sparrow Force.
Four small converted freighters were assigned to carry
the expedition. The 148th Idaho Field Artillery got
the call, along with a battalion of Australian infantry and an
anti tank detachment. On
February 14, the American contingent boarded Tulagi and Port
Mar. The two cargo vessels had previously been hauling
pineapples, sugar cane and cattle. With the oppressive heat of
the Down Under summer, the stench from belowdecks was over
powering. The Australian soldiers were packed into the holds of
Miegs and Mauna Loa. In the early evening, the convoy sneaked
out of Darwin, escorted by the American heavy cruiser Houston
and the destroyer Peary. Two Australian corvettes protected the
flanks of the flotilla. No air cover was provided. The cruiser
Pensacola was ordered back to Pearl Harbor. The following morning, a Japanese Kawanishi H6K flying boat
sighted the convoy and began to trail the vessels. Captain
Albert Rooks, commanding officere of Houston, radioed Darwin for
fighter protection, but there was only one P 40 at the airfield.
Lieutenant Robert J. Buel jumped into the plane and took off in
the direction of the convoy. On sighting the flying boat, Buel
dove out of the sun at the Kawanishi. The enemy pilot quickly
dropped his bombs narrowly missing Port Mar and then took
evasive tactics. Topside in the flotilla, every eye was on the P
40 as the Australia based plane dashed in hot pursuit of the
flying boat. A minute later there was a bright flash on the
horizon as both planes disappeared from view. Lieutenant Buel
never returned to base. Neither did the Kawanishi. The Timor bound convoy immediately became a top priority for
the Japanese air force. Early the next day, 36 enemy land based
bombers and 10 floatplanes roared across the sky at 20,000 feet. Four flights raced in from different directions all in
perfect V formations. Five of the aircraft circled like vultures
above the ships, waiting to pick off any vessel that might stray
too far from the defensive perimeter. It became rapidly apparent
that the Japanese intended to sink Houston first and then
concentrate their attention on the vulnerable troopships.
Bombs began splashing on all sides of the cruiser as she
weaved in and out of the convoy, repelling each air attack.
Firing more than 900 rounds in less than 45 minutes, Houston’s
decks, but she bounced back like a cork while her red hot guns
continued to blister the air with shrapnel.
On the bridge of one ship, the captain lay flat on his
back and followed the incoming planes through high powered
binoculars. He knew the altitude of the bombers and the time
required for the missiles to fall. As soon as an enemy aircraft
dropped its stick of bombs, the captain would shout his orders
to the helmsman, and the vessel would swing hard right or left,
the bombs splashing harmlessly nearby.
Jack Allured, an Idaho artilleryman, was topside on Port
Mar when several bombs exploded close to the freighter: “Our
turn came when a formation of planes flew directly overhead. The
sound of falling bombs was new to us but, once heard, is never
forgotten. It began with a faint rushing noise which quickly
turned into a hiss, becoming louder and louder until it sounded
like an escape valve going off on a steam engine. The rumble and
shock of the underwater explosions caused our ship to shake so
hard that rivets popped.”
After an hour, the Japanese discontinued their attack.
Amazingly, the flotilla had escaped unscathed, but now that the
Allied ships had been discovered, the expedition was in
jeopardy. In addition, an enemy carrier force had been reported
in the Flores Sea. Houston was ordered to return with the convoy
to Darwin. Heath
commented on the nearly tragic mission: “In retrospect, the
entire operation was ill conceived. We had to cross more than
400 miles of open ocean with no air support then establish a
beachhead on an island that already might be crawling with
[Japanese]. There was also the problem of transferring our
artillery ashore. Barges had been constructed from 50 gallon
drums and wood planking. Our 75s were to be loaded onto these
rafts. Although the ships carried trucks to haul the guns, the
vehicles also had to be floated to the landing site. It would
have been a horrendous task even without enemy interference.
But, as it was, the entire venture had all the earmarks of a
disaster along with the frightening possibility of losing nearly
800 men in the attempt."
The tired soldiers, after sweating out the air attacks on
their vessels, breathed sighs of relief as their flotilla
steamed into Darwin Harbor on the morning of February 18. The
rejoicing proved to be only temporary, however. Unknowingly,
they had sailed into a trap.
Meigs and Mauna Loa were directed to unload the
Australian soldiers at the dock. Because of a shortage of wharf
space, Tulagi and Port Mar, carrying the American troops, were
instructed to anchor out in the bay.
Among the ships moored in the anchorage was USS William
B. Preston. She was a former four stack destroyer that had been
converted to a seaplane tender. Preston’s crew, however, made
a respectable warship out of their vessel by scrounging up 17
machine guns salvaged from wrecked aircraft and mounting them
wherever there was space. Meanwhile,
Houston and Peary hurrriedly refueled. They had received urgent
orders to join Dutch Admiral Karl Doorman’s Allied fleet near
Java. Soon after
departing Darwin, Peary picked up a submarine contact and
conducted an aggressive search. The enemy boat managed to
escape, but the cat and mouse game exhausted much of the
destroyer’s fue, and she was ordered to return to Darwin.
After Meigs and Mauna Loa had finished unloading their
troops, the freighters moved out into the bay, relinquishing
their wharf space to the British ammunition ships Neptuna and
first flight of bombers blasted the dock area. The ammunition
ships took direct hits and disintegrated in tremendous
explosions. A second enemy formation destroyed the Darwin
airfield and plastered the town with incendiaries, setting
buildings and warehouses ablaze. Moments later, a squadron of
Japanese dive bombers darted over the bay. Mauna Loa caught tow
enemy missiles down and open hatch and sank like a lead bar.
Meigs was clobbered by three bombs and an aerial torpedo. She
disappeared under 20 fathoms of foaming sea.
Admiral Halstead had a hole blown in her hull. While the
ship was slowly sinking, her crew unloaded the vessel’s
valuable cargo of aviation fuel and floated the precious
gasoline drums ashore. In
the midst of the lung choking smoke, spreading flames and
resulting chaos, Peary and Preston careened at high speed
through the water, their tracers seeking out enemy planes that
dropped down through the rolling clouds of black smoke.
Four dive bombers pounced on the lightly armed seaplane
tender. But Preston’s fierce anti aircraft fire proved too hot
to handle for two of the Japanese pilots, and they veered away.
The other two planes slipped through the curtain of steel. The
explosive fury of three bombs quickly ripped the tender, lashing
the ship with shrapnel. Preston was severely damaged but refused
to sink. She kept on firing and was one of the few ships to
survive the enemy raid. Peary
also remained in the thick of the fight, zigzagging across the
wreckage strewn harbor, narrowly avoiding burning and sinking
ships, aerial torpedoes and bombs. The destroyer’s luck soon
ran out, however. Two bombs crashed into the vessel, one
exploding on the fantail, demolishing the depth charge racks,
shearing off the propeller guards and flooding the steering
engine room, and another an incendiary plowing through the
galley, turning the ship into a flaming pyre. Damage control
crews kept up a brave fight against the flames for nearly three
hours while Peary’s anti aircraft batteries continued to
battle the Japanese planes.
At about 1 p.m. more bombs clobbered the destroyer
including another incendiary that exploded in the aft engine
room. Peary began to break up and sink. Her guns were still
firing as the clutching sea lapped over her decks.
Meanwhile, in the middle of the harbor, the men of the
148th Idaho Field Artillery were mad as rabid dogs.
Not only had the Australians refused to let them land the day
before, but now they were trapped aboard two freighters sitting
ducks for the swarming enemy air squadrons. The soldiers aboard Tulagi and Port Mar grabbed every weapon
they could lay their hands on. Machine guns and ammunition were
rapidly hauled topside and put to immediate use. Oppressive heat
and blinding smoke blanketed the decks of the vessels. Swift
dive bombers plunged down on the angry, frustrated artillery
men. One Japanese
pilot, with a single bomb remaining, decided to make a run on
the port side of Tulagi. He raced in with his wing guns blazing.
But a pair of artillery men did not budge. They cut loose with
their .50 caliber weapons, firing point blank at the onrushing
aircraft. At the
last moment, just before crashing into the freighter, the
Japanese pilot swung away, dropping his bomb alongside the
vessel and rupturing her hull. The captain of Tulage immediately
headed for shallow water and ran his ship aground.
Louis Kohl recalled what happened next:
“We were ordered to abandon ship. Some men jumped in
the water, while others clambered down ropes which had been
tossed over the side. We swam or grabbed anthing that would
Smith, of the 148th, recalled:
“I found a small board in the water and began paddling
toward shore. I noticed the first engineer struggling nearby. He
cried out that he couldn’t swim. I shouted back that if he
touched my plank I’d kill him. But then I got soft hearted and
shoved the board to him. “The
ship’s captain yelled a warning for us to watch out for
sharks, let ‘em look out for themselves!”
Mar was also whip lashed during the savage air attack. Second
Lieutenant Lloyd Henrichs stated: “We were directed to abandon
ship. The Port Mar carried life rafts which had been constructed
from wood planks and oil drums. I ordered my men to board one of
thr rafts, but it sank from too much weight. We climbed back on
the freighter just as the vessel got up steam and headed for the
beach. Our empty raft was dragged into the ship’s propellers
and chewed to pieces. A few weeks later, I noticed Port Mar in
dry dock. The vessel had 98 holes in its hull.”
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Japanese
bombing raid on Darwin was the lack of any warning. Corporal
Heath explained: “At 0930 on the day of the attack, a Catholic
missionary at Bathurst Island 50 miles north northwest of Darwin
observed four squadrons of planes. The priest transmitted a
radio message which should have given authorities at least 20
minutes notice before the enemy arrived. The communication was
received and the [Royal] Australian Air Force notified. However,
the RAAF assumed that the aircraft were P 40s returning from
Java and the report was ignored. When an air raid alarm finally
was sounded just as bombs were beginning to fall ironically, it
was an ‘All Clear’ signal.”
Although the Pensacola convoy failed to reach Manila, the
148th Idaho Field Artillery completed the mission.
The soldiers of the 148th did it the hard way
battling the Japanese across New Guinea, New Britain, Leyte,
Mindoro and finally landing at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, on January
9, 1945. By then the liberation of Manila was less than two