South Pacific

A third water landing during this period took place when Capt. Bud Main, leading a second strike on Rabaul’s Simpson Harbor installations, dropped out of formation with a bad oil leak. Recognizing he could never make it back to Torokina, he jettisoned his unexploded bombs, turned back, and made a safe water landing in the ocean near a Navy PT Boat that had been damaged slightly during a nocturnal prowl up St. George’s Channel.

Main and his crew were picked up by a “Dumbo” PBY and returned directly to our Torokina base.

***

Going down in the open sea was a threat we all learned to live with. Surviving a crash landing in the water, or getting lost in the open sea, or fending off shark attacks were all a part of the drill, along with one overriding danger we seldom talked about. That was the spectre of getting captured by the Japs.

The brutal Japanese atrocities in Nanking, Singapore, Bataan and Guadalcanal were still fresh in our minds. And the infamous “Tunnel Hill Incident” at Rabaul had taken place shortly before our arrival on Bougainville. That was when the Japanese Secret Police, the Sixth Field Kempei Tai, executed a group of Allied POWs who had been forced to work on the maze of tunnels and caves in the surrounding Simpson Harbor hillsides.

Allied POW data released in 1945 gave credence to our wartime concerns. Almost 38 percent of all military POWs in the hands of the Japanese during WWII died in captivity, compared with less than 2 percent of all military POWs in the hands of the Germans.

***

After suffering heavy losses in the Battle of Piva Yoke and after several unsuccessful attempts to penetrate the Marine defenses at the Torokina perimeter, the hungry remnants of the Japanese forces in the Empress Augusta Bay area settled for continuous harassment.

Working their way through the jungle and over tortuous mountain trails, the persistent Japs packed some artillery and ammunition from Buin at the southern end of Bougainville, all the way up into the mountains overlooking our perimeter. From somewhere up in those mountainous jungles, the Jap artillery would sporadically shell our airstrips at night. Just after dark, the shells would start falling—blasting craters which were quickly refilled. Damage was moderate. A few planes were hit and a few shells exploded perilously close to our tent area. That kept us on edge, for sure. And it led to many sleepless nights.

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