The first of the New Year found the squadron again split in two camps.
The Ground Echelon celebrated New Year's eve by watching the enemy become the focal point
of our ack ack on Mindoro, and the Air Echelon, crowded into the Group Area, on
Year's Day found our heavies over Manila again, with the 7th and 8th Fighter Squadrons
affording top cover, while the 9th escorted a C-47 to a guerilla strip on
turned out to be a dull mission.
The next five days, the squadron flew routine missions of convoy, C-47, or PBY cover
uneventfully, though increasingly bad weather affording the pilots a few bad moments
getting back to Tacloban strip. On the 5th, five of our planes landed on Mindoro because
of weather and set up operations in a jeep on Hammer Strip (Elmore). On the 6th, the
remaining ships flew up and started work in their new house.
Mindoro lies nearly due South of the central part of Luzon Island. It is 1855 mi.
northwest of Darwin, the starting point in the exploits of the squadron, and camp was set
up on Mindoro on the 30th of December, 1944, two years and ten months after our first
tactical camp at R.A.A.F. strip, Darwin. The island itself is oval is shape about 95 by 50
miles with an area of about 3,794 square miles, the seventh largest island in the
Philippines. It is very mountainous in nature, the cultivated and populated areas being
along the East and West shore lines and extending ten to fifteen miles inland. The
mountain range along the middle of the island from North to South produces two different
types of climate in the two lowland areas.
The unit landed at the San Jose area via Mangarin Bay on the southwest corner of the
island directly exposed to the southwest seasonal monsoons from May to October but at this
time of the year, a very favorable climate.
The town of San Jose itself was the sugar refining center of the southwest plains and
contains large factory buildings with bright roofs visible from the air for many miles. It
boasts a network of small gauge railroads, and the area was devoted to sugar production
before the war. The 9th set up camp on a deserted sugar plantation about two miles from
town. Our campsite was a field overgrown with weeds which were 5 to six feet tall in
places. These were quickly mowed down by hand with every available cutting implement and
tents were set up in fairly even rows. A small road paralleled by a small clear creek on
the South ran just to the North of the area, forming a natural boundary. The motor pool
was set up across the road, thus insuring a rut-free entrance to the camp itself. Our mess
hall, 90 feet long, made from sections of portable buildings, was divided into 2 sections
separated by the kitchen. The smaller of the two divisions became the Officer's mess and
Water tanks and a pump were set up alongside the creek and showers were built - the
first since Gusap, and most welcome! A volley ball court was set up and Supply Officer J.
Pienezza arranged with an engineering unit to have a ball diamond leveled off in the field
south of the tents. Both sport arenas are now doing yeoman service.
Two airstrips were in operation when the 9th arrived. Elmore strip (Hammer Tower) was
located about a mile from San Jose, adjacent and parallel to the Bugsanga River. Hill
strip (Freeboot Tower) was about five miles South near a branch of the railroad.
Operations was set up on the latter strip. It is a 6,000 foot dirt strip running
North-South with a parallel taxi strip and revetment area on each side; a "C"
shaped taxiway and revetment was to the West. On the Southern curve of the "C"
the 9th set up the Pilots' Alert tent. An excellent all weather gravel road runs from the
strip to within a half mile of camp, and an equally serviceable secondary road was quickly
improved to reach the remainder of the way. It is dusty, but much better than the mud
holes of Leyte!
This is the dry time of the year with a few rainstorms (usually the cloudburst variety)
lasting for less than an hour. The temperature during the day is fairly hot, but a
constant breeze makes it bearable, and at night it falls to a comfortable "one
blanket" degree. Average rainfall for the area during the Winter is from 5-10 inches,
but in Summer reaches 200 inches! For operational reasons it is fortunate that this is the
dry season, as a heavy rain usually puts at least one of the strips out of commission. A
third strip is under construction along the coast north of Mangarin Bay. Operations were
chaotic for several days when our strip (Freeboot) was out of commission after a rainstorm
and we flew off Hammer, sandwiched in between A-20's, C-47's and various other aircraft.
Things began to shape up on Luzon. We flew one recco mission to the Clark Field area
while based on Leyte, and now we received dive-bombing missions and flew cover for A-20's
thru the central plains between Manila and Lingayen Gulf. We found the valley surprisingly
devoid of obvious targets as the enemy was camouflaging, dispersing and otherwise making
himself invisible to us. Heavy bombers continued to pound the larger Jap held strips. Our
7th Fleet, assisted by the 3rd Fleet Air arm, was softening up the Lingayen Gulf area, and
the 9th flew cover over large convoys streaming Northward. Rumor had it nearly every day
that we had landed on Luzon, and on the 6th of the month the Navy occupied Lingayen Gulf
followed by Army landing forces January 9th. The invasion was now an actuality.
A meeting of all pilots in the Group was held in the 9th Mess hall to stress the
importance of our mission at this time. Lt. Col. Gerald R. Johnson, Group Deputy
Commander, pointed out that the success of the Luzon campaign depended on close
coordination of air and ground forces. The schedule kept us busy; only 23 pilots were
available in the 9th, and 12 to 16 flew each day. This meant three days flying and one off
as an average. No enemy air activity, bombings or mosquitoes combined with good food and
pleasant weather kept the morale of everyone at a high peak in spite of the hard work.
Freeboot strip had opened again after several rainless days, and we had a roomy
efficient set up for squadron operations. On the 11th of the month after several false
starts, the entire squadron was scheduled on a fighter sweep thru the Lingayen Valley.
Heretofore our flights had been divided between A-20 cover and convoy cover; now we could
do a little shooting up ourselves! Eleven of our planes arrived over the target area on
the west coast of Luzon, strafing several strips there and then swinging inland near the
Tarlac-San Miguel area. Eight planes spent a happy hour destroying those areas, setting
many fires in camps along the road. The other three planes, led by 1st Lt.
swept the southern part of the valley at minimum altitude where they proceeded to attack a
convoy of trucks and staff cars on a road east of Mt. Arayat. Lt. Lewelling hit his wing
tip on the 2nd pass and had to circle overhead while the others set fire to 4 trucks and a
car, destroying or damaging the rest.
Weather grounded everyone on the 12th, and the welcome news that 10 of the pilots were
going home led to a large celebration that night. The pilots were: Captain
1st Lts. E. Cooper, Davies, R. Hamburger, C. Estes, Les Nelson, W. Lewis, F.
Helterline, D. Fisher and W. Curton.
From the 14th-17th the squadron flew very routine patrols over convoys between Lingayen
and the southern tip of Panay. The landing on Luzon was moving forward with very little
opposition, as the enemy refused to commit himself at any point. The beach-head was
consolidated and large amounts of supplies were put ashore and moved inland. Agno river, a
natural barrier which we supposed would be heavily defended, was crossed without incident
on the 14th, and our forces reached as far north as Camiling. On the 18th we flew another
squadron fighter sweep to Luzon. Our target was Aparri, but weather restricted us to the
central plains and we found few things to shoot at.
The 19th we were scheduled on a Group Fighter sweep to Formosa. This mission had been
scheduled before and then canceled. This time the Group formation actually got as far as
Lingayen Gulf before the controller called it back. After landing and getting refueled,
Red and White Flights led by Capt. R. Wood and 1st Lt. McElroy, took off on another sweep
They saw nothing of interest along the west coast of Luzon. Upon rounding the northwest
tip of the island they noted bad weather ahead, with low overcast and rain extending in a
long front from land Northwest over the sea. Captain Wood swung around at Pasaling Bay to
return when he spotted a ghostly shadow of an airplane flitting along under the overcast
to his right. The eight planes flew over to investigate, and identified a twin engine
enemy bomber. The enemy plane headed for the storm front with our P-38s in rapid pursuit.
He disappeared momentarily in the rain, but apparently lost faith in his instrument flying
and made a right turn which brought him out in the open again. Three of our planes closed
on him at once, and a few seconds later a ball of fire on the sea was all that remained of
the bomber. The kill was credited to 2nd Lt. J. Forgey, and was the first since 18
December when Capt. Williams destroyed an enemy Dinah over Mindoro.
While returning to base the flights were flying low over strips to the east of Manila
looking for possible targets. They were fired upon by medium ack ack and 2nd Lt.
Strom was hit in the outer wing section; a large hole was torn making aileron control
difficult, but he managed to land safely back at base.
On the 20th Lts. Fisher and Davies left for home and Lt. Estes arrived from leave in
Sydney, resulting in a large bull session about the famous place and making those next in
line to leave impatient to be off. Lt. Estes' going home orders were waiting for him and
he left for the States 2 days later.
A gift of sports equipment sent to the 9th by Capt. Ralph Wandrey from home was put to
good use, although the 9th lost its first softball league game to the 7th by a score of
3-0. Volleyball also again became popular.
The long pending mission to Formosa was finally completed the 21st. Flight leaders were
Capt. R. Wood, Lt. C. McElroy and Capt. W. Treadway; Capt. J. Petrovich and
Lts. J. Forgey, Warren Fowler, N. Williams, T. Smith, Jack Lewis, Ken Clark,
Moeller, W. 'Bud' Tiffany and D. Holladay made up the rest of the formation. The Group
rendezvous was at Donagon Point at 8,000 feet. At 0845 they arrived at the southern tip of
Formosa, and at 1130 were flying around heavy ack ack at 18,000 feet in the Clark Field
area which was being bombed by B-24's. The day was bright and the weather excellent at
9,000 feet, though the usual overcast lay over the Cagayan Valley extending unbroken to
Formosa. The target was Cavu, and even from 20,000 feet objects could be discerned on the
ground. The flights began looking for trouble which never occurred. Fires in the Takao,
Heito and Kagi areas set by Navy bombers were seen; otherwise the valley looked peaceful
and beautiful in the noontime sun. Nice roads, excellent airstrips and extensive
cultivation of the land was noted, but nothing marred the day for the 49th, making the
first flight over Formosa by Army Air Force fighters.
Lt. A. Datzenko returned to the 9th from the hospital after his recovery from a broken
arm, the result of falling off an ambulance at Tacloban strip nearly a month ago.
On the 22nd of January, while most of the squadron flew an uneventful mission to
Formosa, Lt. McElroy led a flight to dive and skip bomb small boats and docks in the mouth
of a river near Pagbas Bay with the new napalm bomb. It was the first mission of this type
for the 9th. The flight was to be coordinated with two B-25's and two PT boats directing
the aircraft to targets not readily seen from the air. The bombs used were 100 pound
combined with phosphorus and gelled naphtha, type M47-A-2, an outgrowth of the
"belly-tank" gasoline bomb used to effectively against ground troops on
Unfortunately for the success of the mission, two Navy F4U's mistook the identity of the
PT boats and strafed them, causing them to retire from the operation and our planes
proceeded without ground direction. Lt. McElroy reported the bombs seemed
unsound since they had an erratic trajectory and were difficult to aim accurately. Small
fires were started from the few hits in the target area.
The next day Capt. W. Williams, C.O. of the squadron and one of the outfit's best
liked officers, left for a well deserved tour of duty in the States. Captain Williams has
been with the squadron since July 13, 1943, when the 9th was flying out of
Guinea. He has amassed nearly 600 flying hours and has 4 enemy planes to his credit, the
last victory being over Mindoro on December 18. Captain Petrovich became his successor.
Lts. Curton, Cooper, W. Lewis and Estes left with Capt. Williams. The night before they
left camp, we had the first red alert in many days caused by a lone bogie entering our
area. The audience at the Group movie had several extra intermissions that evening.
On 29 January the Group had another mission to Formosa, this time the target being
Toyhara Airdrome - quite a distance up the west coast. One lone enemy plane was seen when
it made a pass on Lt. A. Lewelling's flight. They fired at the enemy without scoring
visible results, and did not pursue it due to the necessity of remaining to protect the
bombers. Lt. P. Nahnibida crashed on take-off due to engine failure, but was fortunate in
being able to extricate himself quickly, suffering only a few minor burns. That night an
escape and evasion lecture covering Formosa and southeast China was received
enthusiastically by the pilots.
Amphibious landings were made above and below Manila on the west coast of Luzon January
29th and 31st. Both landings were practically unopposed; on the 31st our squadron was on
the scene ready for ground support missions which proved unnecessary. Several new pilots
were assigned to the squadron during the month.