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Nov. 1944 - Part 1


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9FS Unit History

October 1944 - Part 2



"D" day was set for 20 October, and our squadron was scheduled to debark on D plus 4 (Oct. 24th), to work out of Tacloban Airdrome. Capt. J. Spence, 9th Intelligence Officer, gave a security and general orientation lecture immediately following. Four days from our destination it was announced over the radio that the landing had taken place successfully on schedule and that General Douglas MacArthur had arrived to assume command. Two days later came the welcome news that both the city of Tacloban and the airfield had been captured by our forces.

The 24th of October was one never to be forgotten by personnel of the 9th. Before dawn star shells were seen dead ahead, lighting up the Jap positions. At 0800 our convoy reached San Pedro Bay and all seemed serene and peaceful. A native canoe raced alongside containing happy Filipinos, laughing and gesticulating. The harbor was filled with ships, a most impressive display of allied might. About 0830, 'battle stations' was sounded and things began to happen. We realized then the thought provoking fact that this was not a peaceful trip into a friendly land, but an invasion of hostile shores. Just ahead of LST 610 (which was, by the way, the flagship of the convoy - most fitting for the leading fighter squadron) a Jap fighter plane was seen falling in flames. Out of a large cumulus cloud came a Jap Betty bomber, also burning. It dived straight down and crashed into the bay. Over the hills ahead of our ship a large formation of enemy planes was being engaged by our Navy fighters. In the space of a few seconds, four Jap bombers came plunging down in flames in rapid succession. One hit the side of the hill, exploded, and rolled down the hillside, a spectacular ball of fire. During this time the men aboard were shouting and cheering, giving little thought to personal danger. A Sally bomber soon brought grim realization of the fact that LST 610 was also a target. One could hardly refrain from recalling that the colloquial nickname of 'Long Slow Target' was peculiarly apt. The Sally commenced its bombing run toward our ship. The anti-aircraft barrage was terrific, and the Sally was forced to veer to the right. It burst into flames and crashed into the side of a converted gun boat (LCI) which began to burn furiously. This was our first experience of seeing the famous Jap suicide dive. 

Our LST reached shore safely at 0900, but could not get close enough for unloading purposes. It was necessary to construct a jetty in order to unload the vessel. With the help of a bull-dozer and some native made sand bags a very credible job was done, making it possible for unloading to begin at 1600. During this time there was a continuous red alert and several bombing runs by solitary Jap planes were seen.

First on the program upon arrival at our new camp site at about 1630 October 24, was digging slit trenches and erecting tents. It was well that the trenches were available, as there were several raids that night with the airdrome and harbor receiving most of the attention.

The next day countless Navy carrier planes were forced to land upon the Tacloban strip, which was dirt surfaced and scarcely operational, due to their home carriers being under attack. We heard that a Jap naval task force had caught several of our carriers without adequate protection and had sunk or damaged an unknown number. Needless to say, rumors ran rampant. During the day 3 Navy planes were shot down by our own naval ack ack. Another Jap naval task force was reported about 60 miles east of Leyte headed toward our landing point, causing uneasy fear of naval shelling to come. It was afterwards disclosed that this was the fleet destined for Leyte but defeated decisively by Admiral Halsey's forces. During the day enemy planes came over regularly, surprisingly tenacious in their attempts to destroy shipping. In the night there were constant red alerts and bombings. A gasoline dump on the beach was hit making a most spectacular fire which lasted for hours, thoroughly illuminating several targets. For some reason the Japs took no advantage of this. Our 155mm howitzers shelled Jap positions during the nights of October 25-26, and this, combined with air raids made sleep impossible.

The following day, 26 October, we were raided 20 separate times by enemy formations of various sizes. The Commanding General ordered the Tacloban strip laid with steel matting, to be completed within three days. To do this, 32 enlisted men and several officers from the 9th were drafted to assist. They worked feverishly and the work progressed excellently. The P-38's of the 9th Fighter Squadron arrived October 27 in a blaze of glory. Cheers echoed throughout the area when the first land-based planes to return to the Philippines soared majestically overhead. Among the welcoming party were Generals MacArthur and Kenney, who congratulated the Group Commander upon arrival. The 9th squadron was refueled and at once went on patrol. Before the day ended, six enemy planes were definitely destroyed and one probably destroyed. Major Gerald Johnson shot down two enemy planes and Major Bong, Col. R. Morrissey (flying with the 9th), Lts. A. Hufford and B. Krankowitz destroyed one each. Lt. Krankowitz also got a probable.

During the night there were countless raids and alerts, making it impossible to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time. October 28th the unit had several patrols and 2 dive-bombing missions over Ormoc. On one of the latter an ammunition dump was hit, causing an entire city block to be obliterated. Another block also was set on fire. In the afternoon Major Bong led a flight of 4 planes. He shot down an Oscar near Ormoc and then went to Masbate where he encountered another Oscar, this one carrying bombs. He chased the enemy plane so persistently that while attempting to escape, the enemy pilot jettisoned his bombs which struck the tail of his plane and caused it to crash into the water. Major Bong did not have to fire a shot. Another formation of enemy planes engaged the flight which was forced to head for home. All came in safely, although the coolant system on Bong's plane was damaged. On another mission, 1st Lt. R. Swift also destroyed an Oscar.

During the night and early the next morning there were only 3 raids, so everyone was able to have the most restful night to date. Three Zekes made a surprise raid at 0745 on our strip. Although a red alert was on, the crew chiefs remained loyally with their planes, getting them ready for flight. Despite the alert the raid was a complete surprise, as the enemy evidently sneaked in low over the hills. S/Sgt. J. Hedgepath, one of our oldest and most highly regarded men, was fatally wounded while at the side of his plane. Seven of our planes were damaged by the strafers. The main road from the strip to camp was washed out, and it was necessary to use Cancabato Bay by LCM or take the long road by the beach and down towards Palo to reach our strip. There were snipers active at sporadic intervals on the road, but no casualties were suffered. To add to the confusion caused by communication problems we were warned by the Navy that a 50 knot wind was expected. A fierce wind did blow all night, and several tents in camp blew down.

30 October was the quietest day to date, with no raids during the day. It is thought that the typhoon was as much to the enemy's disadvantages as to our own.

31 October made up the excitement missing the day before. To start the day wrong, the ack ack shot down a P-38 from the 7th squadron while it was landing. There was a strafing raid in progress, but that was a scant excuse for the tragic incident. Just at dusk that night, 3 Vals made a surprise strafing and bombing raid hitting our strip with four bombs. Shrapnel from one blast struck 9th C.O. Major R. McComsey, who was in a nearby jeep, seriously wounding him and causing his subsequent evacuation. There was no warning whatsoever of the presence of enemy planes, and the Major had no time to take cover. None of the Vals escaped as the ack ack destroyed one, and two of our newer pilots, Lts. N. Williams and E. Ambort each got one - their first kills. The destruction of the enemy was little consolation for the loss of our commander, from whom the squadron had expected big things. He was no stranger to the 9th, for although he had been commanding officer only a few days, he was on his 2nd tour of duty with the squadron, being one of the old Darwin pilots who returned to the States in June of 1943. His leaving the scene will be a definite loss to the unit.

It seems in order to summarize the situation and physical features of this move into the Philippines. Everyone felt it was an honor to be the first unit based there. Filipinos made the "V" for Victory sign and shouted 'Victory' whenever one passed. Being in a community with vestiges of civilization was a relief after the jungles of New Guinea and the barreness of Biak Island. Seeing and hearing the voices of children and the crowing of roosters brought touches of nostalgia to men who had been away from home over 34 months.

Our camp site was about 4 miles from the strip, Tacloban Airdrome, on Cataisan Point, a narrow strip of land shielding Tacloban township from San Pedro Bay. To reach the camp one headed toward the town along the shore of Cancabato Bay - formed by Cataisan Point. Our camp was located in a coconut grove, and several Filipino families lived nearby. The mosquitos were a distinct annoyance, but one consoling fact was the comparative absence of malaria, there being a low incidence of the disease here. Leyte Island is approximately 115 miles long by 15 miles wide at its narrowest point, with an average width of 40 miles. The town of Tacloban is the capital of Leyte Province and the only sizeable port; it is about 30,000 population. A good all-weather road runs along the east coast, but the road from the strip to our camp soon became impassable, making the use of LCMs necessary to cross Cancabato Bay. For a few days we were able to procure the loan of a 'Duck' which solved nicely the transportation problem for personnel. Before the month ended the squadron was settled as comfortably as could be expected in what was intended to be a temporary encampment. We hoped the coming month would see us permanently settled in our new area.



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