“DUCEMUS – We Lead.”
That was the war cry — with meaning — of the 22nd Bombardment Group, a hell-bent-for-leather organization of men who flew a tough, fast bomber called the Marauder. They flew from Australia and Seven-Mile Drome at Port Moresby to strike at Japanese targets from Portuguese Timor to Lae and Salamaua, at Rabaul and other hornets nests of Japanese fighters and antiaircraft. Flying in early 1942, and through the summer of that painful year, they were the first airmen to start hitting the enemy on a consistent basis in his most strongly defended centers. While the Allies all about them foundered in the choppy sea of defeat, the 22nd’s Marauders acted like a bombing group that never accepted the fact that we were losing a war. Sometimes their losses were frightful, and certainly they were as crippled within their organization through lack of parts, supplies, and manpower as any other organization. But they kept on hitting the enemy, again and again, until the Japanese came to marvel at the grim courage of these pilots and their crews.
And the 22nd did it all in a bomber that was considered so dangerous to fly that-while the 22nd pounded into Japanese targets — that same bomber was grounded in the United States as a killer! When Air Force headquarters finally got around to asking the men of the 22nd if they were having any serious difficulties with the Martin B-26 Marauder, they received their response in an enthusiastic chorus that amounted to “Hell, yes, we got problems. Send us more of the damned airplanes!”
“There were a lot of pilots who called the Marauder a bitch and a killer.” remarked General Samuel E. Anderson (who commanded the Marauders in Europe during World War 11). But you could never prove it with guys like Walt Krell or Jerry Crosson [pilots with the 22nd]. They were wild about the B-26; they loved that airplane. They could just about make the B-26 sit up and sing songs to them. There were pilots in the States who dreaded flying in the B-26 under normal conditions. Krell, Crosson and the other pilots in the 22nd Bomb Group could fly that thing better on one engine — which Stateside pilots often said was impossible — than most fliers could with both fans going.”
Gerald J. Crosson was one of the old B-26 pilots who had ferried the third production airplane from its Baltimore factory before the war (and later flew it in combat), and became one of the outstanding bomber pilots of the war.
The 22nd made its headquarters at Garbutt Field near Townesville, Australia, dispersing its squadrons to Antill Plains and Reid River in the surrounding countryside. But this was strictly the home base; to fly combat missions the men had to stage on from Australia to Seven-Mile at Port Moresby in New Guinea, refuel, and then go after the Japanese still farther to the north. On April 5, 1942, the 22nd launched its first combat strike. This was a mission against the heavily defended bastion of Rabaul on distant New Britain Island. It was the first combat mission for the B-26 in any theater of the war, and also the first medium bomber attack against Rabaul, which had been officially listed as a target to be reserved for long-range heavy bombers. Top command didn’t have enough B-17s, so they tore up their official listings of targets and planes and gave the assignment to the 22nd.
Seven-Mile as an advance base was a crude, rough, miserable forward outpost, which the Japanese found delightful as a place for target practice by day and by night all through the week. It was worse than bad for the men who flew from Seven-Mile, and it was hell for the men who patched and fixed and worked to keep the planes going. The white-hot summer sun scorched the grass into dirty brown straw, blistered the air, and produced a savage combination of huge mosquitoes and the choking dust of the air-strip, and at the same time the dank and oppressive humidity of the nearby jungle and the sea.
A good example of what the ground crews went through came one day with the sight, to crewmen returning from a raid, of two Buddha-like figures in the burned grass on one side of the airstrip. The figures were mechanics Charles Fuqua and Bill Spiker, sitting perfectly upright, legs crossed beneath their bodies, and sound asleep from exhaustion.
If luck were with the ground crews (and the Zeros and bombers were busy elsewhere for a respite) they could get five or six hours sleep; more often they averaged three hours sleep a night. The men used to say that you didn’t live at Seven-Mile; you existed. Bodies became caked with dirt, hair matted with grease, hands and faces packed with grime. Cuts and bruises along the body were common because the men used makeshift tools and often slipped and fell from their precarious working mounts. “I’ll never forget the men who worked on my plane and those of the squadron whenever we got to Moresby.” Crosson asserted.
Through all this the men of the 22nd not only kept on working and fighting, but through some incredible strength shared by them all, they kept throwing themselves at the Japanese. General Anderson, who spent several weeks in 1942 with the 22nd, refers to their spirit as “the incredible morale of the men of the 22nd Bomb Group. And this was despite something that didn’t reflect credit on the Army Air Forces, or on the whole general military organization. These boys felt as though they had been written off by the United States. They were convinced that hardly anybody knew anything about them. I hate to say this, but it was largely the truth as far as the public was concerned. And despite all this, their morale was simply marvelous.”
Martin Caiden in THE RAGGED, RUGGED WARRIORS
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