South Pacific

The following day, Old Tank proved to be a man of his word. With Rabaul looming ahead, he led us off course and around the back side of the Mother and Two

Daughters. When we banked out from behind the volcanoes on attack, the antiaircraft guns came alive. Flak started to fly. The flash of shell bursts spread below us. We came down in a slanted, high speed approach. At about 8,000 feet, we split the formation, peeled off into our dives, and hurtled down on Vanukanau through a spreading firestorm.

George “Tiny’’ Thompson and I were the “Tail-end- Charlies” on this attack. Up in the lead, one Anzac pilot veered to the right in the middle of his dive and went after the Vanukanau control tower. One of his bombs brought the tower to the ground. A direct hit. Those Kiwis were good.

I homed in on the far end of the left runway. A good, straight-line target. Two of my bombs hit beyond the runway, outside the assigned target area. But the other two blasted the entire end section of the runway and several nearby revetments. On target.

Coming out of my dive, I rolled away in a high-G, horizontal turn, strafing with both ,50-cal wing guns while Linsmaier swung his .50-cal turret gun into action. Strafing to the side, he was able to suppress some dangerous incoming ground fire. Further south, I escaped with minor flak damage and a couple of bullet holes in my right wing.

Other planes endured damage during this strike. One Anzac had his center hatch shot away. Shrapnel fragments cracked the front windscreen of Jake Nevans’ plane. A close call. Bob Gilardi lost his plane’s left wing flap to AA fire. Ed Lupton took several bullet holes in the skin of one wing. And similar holes showed up in the fuselage of others.

***

Francis E. Lee, one sweet-talking southerner in our squadron, suffered the most traumatic problem that day over Vanakanau. Lee’s plane was hit by two, maybe three 40 mm shells during his final dive.

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