Archive for the ‘Troop morale’ Category

REGROUP, RELOAD, RETALIATE

June 10th, 2016 by Ken & Phyl Bledsoe
Base at Cloncurry, Queensland, Austraila

Base at Cloncurry, Queensland, Austraila

After two weeks of R&R in Melbourne, Australia, the men of the 19th BG were reorganized and sent to new bases.  The 435th “Kangaroo Squadron” was assigned to the coastal base in Townsville.  The 93rd Squadron was sent to Longreach and the 30th Squadron to Cloncurry - interior areas of Queensland far from the reach of Japanese attack and the diversions found in Australian cities.  Vernon was sent to Cloncurry, which the men compared to a town in our “Old West.”  There was little for the men to do to unwind after their missions, so boredom quickly became one of their enemies.

 

Vernon's Camp at Mareeba (as seen from the air).

Vernon's Camp at Mareeba (as seen from the air).

Later, Vernon and the men of the 19th were relocated to Mareeba, which was closer to their enemy targets and was considered to be a great improvement over the dry, arid, lonely bases at Longreach and Cloncurry.  Mareeba provided better runways, trees for shade, camouflage for their planes, and cool, clear water from the Barron River.  The citizens of Mareeba did their best to welcome the Americans and planned social events to help the men recover from their long, arduous missions.

 

Part 2: Why Was Morale So Low When the 19th Reached Australia? 1941-42

May 29th, 2016 by Ken & Phyl Bledsoe

The 19th BG relocated to Australia in February, 1942, to ‘Regroup, Reload, and Retaliate.’  After fierce fighting and great loss of men and equipment, they were forced out of the Philippines and Java by the advancing Japanese.  This defeat resulted in extreme stress, fatigue, and frustration among these proud, fighting men.

Meanwhile, General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the SW Pacific, tried to defend the Philippines against the Japanese assault.  But by March 11, 1942, the general was evacuated to Broome, Australia, leaving behind his forces to hold out as long as they could.

By April 9th, however, 78,000 American – predominantly men from the 19th BG – and Filipino troops surrendered at Bataan.  The Japanese weren’t prepared to handle large numbers of prisoners, so this resulted in the Bataan ‘Death March,’ during which over 10,000 Allied soldiers were murdered – one of the most infamous atrocities of WWII.

The war in Europe, made it impossible for Great Britain to protect their territories/allies in the Pacific.  This was especially a concern for Australia and made them a vulnerable target for the Japanese.  So the Australians gratefully welcomed the surviving members of the 19th BG to their country.  The American men and equipment became pivotal in the defense of Australia.

Many of the airmen evacuated from Java were transported across Australia by train.

Many of the airmen evacuated from Java were transported across Australia by train.

The SW Pacific was a particularly grueling place to fight a war.  Weather, bad airfields, lack of navigation aids, inexperienced crews (both air and ground), and a constant shortage of spare parts resulted in more damage than did Japanese fighter pilots.  The B-17 crews were asked to fly many long-range flights, which increased wear and tear on both aircraft and crews.  On their missions, the airmen had to confront the possibility of dying themselves, as well as, seeing their friends die.  Flight crews in the 19th with over ten months of combat experience often developed severe operational fatigue and underwent extreme changes in their attitude toward flying.  Maybe they felt that their luck was running out and that they would never return home.

Between October and November of 1942, General George Kenney, 5th USAAF Commander, sent the exhausted 19th BG home and reassigned them to Pyote ‘Rattlesnake’ Bomber Base in West Texas.  Of the thousands of men who left their homes to fight in the Philippines and/or Java and who later flew missions out of Australia over New Guinea and Rabaul, only 161 arrived at Pyote.  For two years these war-weary men trained a new generation of pilots, navigators, and bombardiers to fly the improved version of the B-17, the new ‘Super Fortress’ B-29.

In September of 1945 my father, Vernon Elder, was honorably discharged from the Air Corps.  However, his traumatic year in the SW Pacific left him a ‘wounded warrior;’ and as far as I know, he rarely – if ever – talked about his war experiences and chose to never fly again after leaving the service.

 

Part 1: Why Was Morale So Low When the 19th Bomb Group Reached Australia? 1941-42

May 22nd, 2016 by Ken & Phyl Bledsoe

When war broke out in Europe, the United States adopted the Europe-first strategy causing substantial equipment and resources to be shifted from the Pacific to the Atlantic Theater.  This action was taken, in large part, because our leaders underestimated the power of the Japanese and overestimated our own power in the SW Pacific.

Therefore, the 19th Bomb Group was forced to fight a predominantly defensive holding action throughout the Philippines and Java.  Their B-17 bombers in the Philippines were expected to serve as a threat and deterrent to any aggressive behavior on the part of the Japanese.  However, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, they concurrently attacked Clark Field on Luzon Island in the Philippines.  The 19th Bomb Group had seventeen B-17s at Clark Field that day – twelve were completely destroyed and five more were damaged.  There were also heavy casualties among the 19th BG’s ground and air crews.

Vernon's friend from the 19th BG shares with native children upon landing in Java, from Ken Bledsoe collection.

Vernon's friend from the 19th BG shares with native children upon landing in Java.

Sixteen of the bomb group’s B-17s had been sent to Del Monte, Mindanao, the large southern island of the Philippines, and thus escaped destruction.  Within a month after the attack on Clark Field, however, the United States commanders in the South Pacific realized that the Philippines could not be held.  On January 1, 1942, the remaining air-worthy B-17s were sent to Java.

My dad, Vernon Elder, arrived in Malang, Java on January 23, 1942.  He was a tail gunner on a new B-17E which had been redesigned to add a belly gun and tail gun, allowing the crew to better protect themselves from Japanese fighter pilots.  Vernon and other members of the 19th almost immediately went into fierce, aerial combat hoping to slow down the advancement of the Japanese in the South Pacific.

However, the 19th and their Dutch and Australian allies couldn’t prevent the Japanese takeover of the Philippines and Java.  So on February 26, 1942 the Allies began evacuating their crews and equipment to western Australia.  Only a few Air Corps personnel got out – of 210 officers, 70 were left behind; and of 1300 men, 1060 were either killed or captured and imprisoned in the Philippines.  Later, many 19th BG men became part of the Bataan ‘Death March.’

Once again the proud men of the 19th had suffered defeat at the hands of the Japanese.  But this time they were forced to leave their fellow servicemen behind knowing that the chance of their surviving was almost non-existent.  Vernon and his best friends – T.J. Rice, Paul Lindsey, and Houston Rice – were all safe.  But how could they and others relocated to Australia reconcile the loss of so many friends with their own survival?

Watch for Part 2 next week … for the rest of the story.