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July 1944


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9FS Unit History

June 1944



On June 1st the gound echelon left Hollandia bound for Biak Island, one of the Schouten Group in Geelvink bay, Dutch East Indies. Biak, containing 3 Jap airstrips, was invaded by American forces May 27th. When our ground echelon left Hollandia, fierce fighting was going on at Biak, and the ground forces were making little if any progress. The outcome of the battle for Mokmer strip, to which our unit was destined, was still very much in doubt. Our LST's arrived at Biak on 3 June, landing near Bosnek village where the infantry had originally landed.

A temporary camp was quickly set up about one-half mile from the beach and approximately two and a half miles from Bosnek on the road leading to Mokmer strip, which was still in Jap hands. Mokmer is due West of Bosnek on the southern part of the island. The next day was spent unloading equipment and erecting tents, and our men spent succeeding days unloading ammunition, supplies and gasoline from the constant stream of LST's which came into the area. All work was done to the accompaniment of a continuous barrage being sent over their heads by friendly artillery. It was the closest the ground personnel had come to actual combat conditions.

A detail of men was sent by each squadron in the Group to assist the infantry in holding the perimeter. They were placed in reserve as a secondary line of defense, but inasmuch as no infiltration of the perimeter was made, no actual contact with the enemy occurred. Oddly enough, using the Air Force as infantry had an uplifting effect on morale as it gave the men something to brag about and was better than acting as stevedores!

Succeeding days were routine with continuous alerts at night. The number of alerts was far out of proportion to the raids, none of which hit nearby. As a result it was only natural that some of the men grew careless, in spite of warnings about the imminence of air action.

The early morning hours of 12 June were the blackest in the history of the 49th Group. About 0230 an undetermined number of enemy planes came over and dropped bombs in the midst of the Group camp. Many were caught unaware, out of slit trenches or even in bed, chiefly as a result of the many false alarms. The results of the bombing were out of proportion to the approximately six bombs dropped. Four officers and fourteen enlisted men were killed and thirty men wounded, with great damage to material. The 9th did not fare as badly as the other 2 squadrons. Group was particularly hard hit. In our unit Lt. Hayward, Supply Officer, and two enlisted men, Sgt. R. Stoor and Sgt. O. Johnson, were killed. Ten were wounded, one of whom (Pvt. M. Pinnelas) died later in the hospital.

The following week was spent in further unloading LST's and aiding the infantry on the perimeter. June 21st the squadron moved to a newer and better campsite about 4 miles of the West end of Mokmer strip, adjacent to the beach. Routine camp duties occupied the next few days. The air echelon arrived safely from Hollandia the 25th, and once again the squadron was united. However, the air echelon which stayed at Hollandia awaiting the setting up of the Biak base again had tasted combat. On an escort mission to Babo on June 3, 19 of our '38's ran into 15 to 20 Zekes and Oscars over Babo. The final score was nine Oscars and two Zekes definitely destroyed and one Zeke and three Oscars listed as probables. Ten enemy planes were destroyed by tail shots, and the eleventh by a 20 degree head-on deflection shot. Lt.Col. David Campbell, our Group C.O. who was flying with the 9th on this mission, failed to return and is reported missing in action. Two of our pilots saw Col. Campbell chasing a Jap plane into a cloud, but nobody saw either plane come out. Another pilot saw plane parts falling out form the bottom of the cloud, and we suspect a collision inside the cloud. The following pilots were credited with one victory each: Lt. J. Poston, Maj. R. McHale, Lt. E. Howes, Lt. W. Williams, Lt. L. Nelson, Lt. A. Lewelling, Lt. C. McElroy, Lt. H. Norton, Lt. W. Curton, Lt. F. Helterline and Lt. A. Datzenko. Eight pilots got their first victory in this engagement.

Due to the success of this combat the morale of both officers and men was raised considerably. It proved that given the opportunity, the 9th could hold its own and also live up to the excellent record set by previous pilots.

An extensive search was made for Col. Campbell, and the Geelvink Bay area was combed, but no sighting was made of a crashed plane.

On the 5th twenty of our '38's escorted A-20's to Babo, but no enemy planes were sighted and our planes returned uneventful to base. It seemed we were returning to routine patrol missions, because that was our assignment for the next few days. Word came on the 7th that Lt. J. Todd, Assistant Group operations officer and a former 9th member, was killed when taking off from Tadji. He took off on the 6th for a trip to Tadji to investigate and identify a crashed P-40. Upon leaving Tadji, his plane failed to clear the trees at the end of the strip and his plane crashed and exploded. Lt. Todd was well liked by both officers and men, and his loss was deeply felt.

Four of our planes escorted a PBY to Noemfoor Island June 12. Biak was bombed by Japs about the same time as our flight was in the area, but no enemy planes were sighted. Since our flight had to cover the PBY, nothing could be done as far as chasing the Jap planes which had already left the target area.

The squadron's first dive bombing mission was performed on the 24th, the target being the air strip at Kamiri on Noemfoor Island. One 1000 pound bomb (instant demo fuzed) was loaded on each plane and the pilots took off eager to see what they could do - that is, all took off except Lt. Maddox who inadvertantly dropped his bomb on the taxi strip while awaiting take-off! Luckily the bomb did not go off, and the rest of the squadron carefully taxied around it as they got into position. With Capt. Wandrey leading, our planes reached the target area, but no serviceable runway was found, so all bombs were dropped by some shacks and a radio tower by the strip. Results were the flattening of the targets plus some new craters in the coral of the area. This mission broke the monotony of uneventful patrols and escort missions and was also a novelty for the pilots.

The evening of the 24th we were ordered to pack, as we were due to leave by air transport for Biak in the morning. The transports were soon loaded, and the next morning we were on our way. All transports landed safely at Biak, and personnel and equipment were unloaded and taken to the temporary camp area which the ground echelon had set up.

Once more the whole squadron had a taste of bombing raids as Jap planes regularly carried out night raids. Several of the men took to sleeping in caves along the beach pending completion of slit trenches, as the hard coral made difficult digging. On one raid the camp of the 7th squadron adjacent to ours was hit by several bombs, causing a few casualties - none fatal.

The final days of June were spent making our temporary camp a bit more liveable and digging bigger and better slit trenches. The many batteries of friendly artillery which were located very close to our camp area seemed to fire continually - night and day. This, combined with many red alerts, caused sleepless nights for most of us. To a good many it seemed they were seeing more actual warfare than had been the case previously.



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