South Pacific

Most of these were low-level raids in six-plane formations. Three two-plane sections. And we took advantage of low flying clouds to conceal our approach. We’d fly in across the jungle at almost tree-top level, under the mist and low-hanging clouds that piled up against the mountains.

Numa Numa, Buka Passage, Mamagata, Sorum, Burako and the east bank of the Jaba River—all were targets we hit at one time or another.

On one of these raids, I missed the primary target area and wiped out a big, thriving Japanese vegetable garden. On another, towering explosions erupted from a fuel dump totally hidden in a coconut grove. And after one low-level raid, I returned with palm fronds in my bomb bay. The most hazardous of these Bougainville missions for me, however, was our attack on the guns at Buka Passage.

***

A key channel between the Jap-held island of Buka and the northern tip of Bougainville, Buka Passage had a deadly concentration of Japanese firepower.

During our first week on Bougainville alone, the gunners at Buka Passage shot down two US fighter planes, killing both pilots. And they heavily damaged a fast-moving, US Navy PT Boat, severely injuring the skipper and several crewmen.

Firm orders from the Bougainville Command came down to VMTB-242: “Destroy the guns at Buka Passage

The job went to Capt. Hank Hise,

Hise planned a fast-moving, four-plane attack—each plane carrying a powerful, 2,000-pound bomb with delay fuse. He selected his three tent mates to join him on the mission. I was picked as Hise’s wingman. George “Tonto” Manning and Bill Batten formed the second section.

We took off at dawn and headed straight into trouble as we neared the far upper end of Bougainville. We had reports of rain squalls and heavy clouds. But we hadn’t expected the kind of appalling weather that had built up overnight. We faced huge tropical thunderheads that towered well over 40,000 feet, with blinding flashes of lightning. Violent down and up drafts began breaking up our formation. Then came the blinding, torrential rain.

Hank Hise smartly aborted the mission. We turned back and returned safely to Torokina.

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