Friday, September 09, 2005

(18-3) Hickham Field, December 7, 1941 [Part 4] by Jim Fulton

There were six B-17 “Flying Fortresses” in our flight led by our squadron commander, Blondie Saunders, but I don’t know which squadron has supplied the planes and crews. Nor do I know in what direction we made our search for the Japanese fleet, but in 1983, at the second reunion of the 23rd Bomb Assoc., Blondie told us he’d protested that “they” were sending us in the wrong direction. It didn’t seem very long before we spotted a “log-carrier” (float plane) boring in on us on our port side. We figured he was a U.S. Navy, but he kept on coming, so Blondie ordered us to open fire. The float peeled off in a hurry. I doubt we shared any radio frequencies with the Navy at that time.

Our flight started climbing and we crawled into our sheepskin clothes. It was at 27,000 feet that I felt the pain in my left knee---bends, for the first time. I don’t know how high we’d have gone, but Blondie leveled the flight off at an altitude where I could stand the pain. It didn’t seem we continued the search very long,--we never found the Jap fleet.

For about the next two months our crew flew patrol almost daily. I recall that we flew a fan-shaped route: about 600 miles out, 300 across, and 600 miles back. We flew at very low altitudes. Ours was the #2 crew, with Capt. George Blakey pilot, Lt. “Tex” Burns co-pilot, Lt. Hugh Mahoney navigator, M/Sgt. James “Shanty” O’Shea bombardier, T/ Sgt. Joe Anselmi engineer, Sgt. Lee Benbrooks radio op., Cpl. Jim Fulton, (me) asst. radio op. George Sherba and perhaps Harold Fishencord gunners.

On one very calm day we spotted the wake of a submarine traveling with “scope-up”. He left a white ribbon about a mile long behind him on the glassy sea. We flew down the ribbon, but when we were over the sub our bombardier, O’Shea, said he wasn’t ready; so we swung around and made another pass. Shanty dropped this tie. We estimated he missed by about 75 feet. Tho we saw oil, most of us figured we’d missed him, but the Navy gave us credit for a kill. Shanty was sure he had a hit.

An Old, slow B-18 of another squadron on patrol came on a “mother “sub towing two mini-subs on the surface. Their drop was a direct hit on the big sub, but when they saw the bomb bounce off the hull, they realized someone had forgotten to remove the arming wire from the bomb’s fuse. The sum dove immediately and got away, but I’ll bet that sub crew had a ringing noise in their ears for a month!

On 16 Jan. 1942, our crew, two others from the 23rd, and three from the 50th Recon Sq. of the 11th Bomb Group, left Hickam Field with secret orders to the Malay Peninsula. We carried a M/Sgt. instrumentation expert on our plane as a passenger (“sandbag”); and had a 2nd Navigator, Lt. Cecil Smith., aboard. A B-17 of the 50th landed short on Palmyra Island and tore off its tail wheel on a gun emplacement. We left it there. Between Palmyra and Canton Island, Shanty claimed another sub – I never saw it, but then I was busy reporting to Pearl. We also got lost, with two navigators on board! Canton didn’t want to turn on it’s radio beacon for us, fearing the Japs would home in on it, but eventually B3nbrooks picked up “MO’s” on Canton’s station, but years later Dean Gregg, so-pilot on Lt. Ralph Wanderer’s crew, told me that they had taken off again and circled over Canton while Johnny Straight sent the “MO’s”. We picked him up just before we carried out our plan to ditch beside a tiny atoll we’d found, so we made it safely to Canton.

Returning from a patrol out of Canton a few days later, we had no head wind to help slow down on landing. I felt the braked take hold, then let go. Probably the brakes had been over –stressed when she landed on that fighter strip on Dec.7th. We went over the side of the runway which was raised 4-to- 6 feet, Damaged two props, and the landing gear. Another plane flew back to Palmyra and scavenged parts from the plane we’d left there and we were soon in the air again. The five planes flew down to Fiji, where, after a day or two, we got the word that the Japs had taken Malaysia. We were ordered back to Hickam, leaving Wanderer’s crew and crippled plane in Fiji. When I checked in at the 23rdBomb orderly room at Hickam, they told me to pack my bags; I was leaving on a boat the next day for enlisted pilot training in Calif. So, on 1 Feb 1942, I said goodbye to the outfit I’ve cared for most in 22 years of service.

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