HMT Rohna disaster. Survivor story from drone aircraft attack. Carl Schoenacker returns to service in China Burma India theatre. 5 Mules in a C-47
Copyright 2011 Franklyn E. Dailey Jr.
Triumph of Instrument Flight
Author's Foreword: Carl Schoenacker enlisted in the Army Air Corps in
1940 and after training at Mitchell Field on Long Island was deployed to
Iceland when the U.S. relieved the British garrison there before Pearl Harbor.
Carl was a radio support technician. That part of Schoenacker's military
life is told in "The Triumph of Instrument Flight; A Retrospective in the
Century of U.S. Aviation," ISBN 0966625137 pictured in the upper left. The
second major phase in Schoenacker's military life began when he was returned
to the U.S. for further training and then ordered to the China Burma India
(CBI) front with increased responsibility. He was embarked on HMT Rohna out
of Oran, Algeria, when the ship was hit by a German glider bomb (an early
drone) and sunk with the loss of over 1000 U.S military personnel. By
sheer coincidence, I had covered the loss of the Rohna in my earlier book,
Joining the War at Sea
1939-1945. In that book, I covered the sinking based on Rohna's
2nd Officer's official report. Schoenacker e-mailed me when he discovered
that book and his account here extends coverage of the Rohna tragedy by providing
a survivor's view.
Sergeant Schoenacker left advanced radio school at Bradley Field, near Hartford, Connecticut for the second half of his extensive World War II service. Most of the soldiers, sailors and airmen in that war went to one duty, served, and came home. Those, however, who enlisted early often served in more than one duty assignment. That was the experience of Sgt. Schoenacker, who relates the following episodes in his second tour of war duty in what would have to be called a charmed life.
"We sailed from New York harbor on a Liberty ship, the Nicholas Gilman. When I sailed for Iceland in 1941, watching the Statue of Liberty disappear did not bother me. Perhaps because we were not at war. This time it did, and frankly I was not sure that I would see it again."
"Before sailing, Sgt. Bill Reid and I became close friends. Bill was a quiet chap and aboard ship, we studied his book on the new Goren contract bridge system together. A fellow who knew cards and about everything else saw us, got himself a partner and challenged us. "You play the book, we'll play the cards". I do not recall the stakes. They were small. The difference was in the partial score hands. We would bid and make them. They would either pass or overbid to game. Slowly we accepted their credit. By the time we docked at Oran (Algeria) they owed us several bucks. You will soon learn why we never collected."
"I recall my disappointment when we passed through the Strait of Tangier. I had heard so much about Gibraltar, but it was so foggy that we could see very little."
"There was no room for us at Oran, thus we lived in tents at Arzew. My only recollection of this stay was extreme temperature shifts. It would be very hot, nearly l00°F at noon and freezing at night, daily shifts of 60 or 70°F. The cold came under the cots. Some lads bought straw from farmers. The fleas & lice came with it! I found newspapers to put under my sleeping bag. I have never seen so many grown men have bladder problems. Bed wetting in the cold was very common."
"This was my first real taste of war. In Iceland, we had blackouts, but I did not get into vehicle convoys. We left the docks at Arzew, near Oran, about dusk and traveled by truck convoy, at a surprisingly high rate of speed with blackout lights, which meant we were nearly in the dark following a truck very closely. The next morning I saw my first prisoners of war. There were German prisoners on the garbage trucks with an armed guard. A few days later I saw POWs on the truck but I did not see the guard. I was told that they were Italians and were glad to be out of the war."
"We left Oran on Thanksgiving morning (1943). We had a Thanksgiving dinner aboard ship. It was calm but we were near shore where there were swells that 'rocked the boat' and spoiled some meals. Once out of the harbor it was rougher, perhaps five-foot waves. We were on a British ship, HMTS Rohna. There were nearly 2,000 Americans, some Army and our outfit and a few Red Cross workers. We had an Asian crew. I now know that it was British convoy KMF-26; we were not in it long enough to remember much. "
"I remember the goat, midship starboard, not knowing why it was there, and I recall noticing that the two huge rafts on forward well deck at a 45° angle were painted securely to the frame from which they were supposed to slide. We had been assured that the Mediterranean had been swept clear of Nazi U-boats. We stayed in sight of the African coast until the next afternoon, Friday November 26. After losing sight of shore, we came under air attack. I now know that we were almost due south of Marseille, and that there were about 35 planes. We were to stay in our bunking area and were warned not to crowd to the portholes. We were forward, port side near the stairs, down one deck. Some fellows went to the latrine to look out. During the attack, Reid said he was going to take a look, uncharacteristic of him. I played solitaire."
Above, the Dornier 217 aircraft with the HS-293 radio controlled glide bomb (an early drone aircraft) under the right wing. Under the left wing, not fully visible, is a wing tank for extra gas. It was the radio controlled rocket powered glide bomb, HS-293, that hit Rohna on her port side. This photo is borrowed from "Joining the War at Sea 1939-1945" now in its 3rd Edition as ISBN 0966625145. The official record report on the KMF-26 convoy and the attack that sunk the Rohna is covered in detail on pages 344-350 of the 4th edition of that book.
"Suddenly there was a thud. The lights went out. A strong draft scattered my cards in all directions. I can not call it wind because wind has direction. One of life's mysteries is what happened to Reid. I never saw him again. Where he went, I will never know. I looked, he was not in sight. After we were saved, I went to the docks each time a ship carrying survivors landed. No one had seen him. I now understand how one feels to have a missing relative. I have no idea of how long I looked for him, but recall seeing Sgt. Ekiss at the top of the stairs waving for us to come up. The ship's communication system was dead. We were dead in the water. Topside there was chaos. I expected to report for some duty. I saw Lt. Burton trying to free a huge raft that should have slipped into the water when the rope was cut. He saw me and waved for me to go over the side. I then looked over the port side. There was a huge hole above the waterline midship. It stuck in my mind that the plates were blown out. Obviously, there had been penetration then an explosion. We were listing to starboard and I did not go to that side of the ship. Many men were in the water. My son recalls that I told of seeing a huge number of Army 45 cal. pistols, almost a pile, on the deck."
"We had rubber belts with two CO2 cartridges, not Mae Wests. My first moment of truth-will it work? I squeezed mine. It inflated. Down the ropes I climbed. I hung near the water then tried to time my jump to hit the crest of a wave and be carried away from the ship. I missed and floated along side of the ship, by the huge hole. When behind the ship, I was pulled under twice. This was a second moment of truth. The first time I went down several feet and thought I was dying. I thought of Ruth, but stayed mentally calm but must have moved about because suddenly I was released and came up very quickly only to go down a short distance and return. I was free from the Rohna. I am guessing that I went down 10-15 feet, maybe more."
"To my left I saw a terribly overcrowded raft. To my right in the distance was a ship that seemed to stay. Suddenly two young soldiers appeared, scared stiff. They swarmed all over me but fortunately, an officer appeared. He outranked me so they listened to him and went with him toward the raft after we had removed our shoes. I went the other way. While on the crest of a wave, I saw three men with what appeared to be an airplane wing tank. They saw me, one said, 'wait,' two without authority wanted to go. I slid down that wave as fast as I knew how and grabbed the tank. We would tread water until we were on the crest of a wave then kick like mad to slide down it toward the ship."
We reached the ship quickly, while they were still firing anti-aircraft guns. I now know this because Ed Linville, of the ship's crew, told me that he dropped the cargo nets over the side when firing ceased."
"Then it was every man for himself. Two sailors would drop a rope then pull whoever grabbed it. When a rope came there were many arms in the air. We were orderly, first on our tank, first off. When the fellow ahead of me grabbed for a rope, the tank flipped over onto my head because he was on the leading edge and I on the trailing edge. The stars were bright for an instant! My head and shoulders hurt, and I was slow to grab the rope. Sailors were working rapidly. After being sworn at, I grabbed the rope the rope on next swing. As soon as my head was above deck, an arm went under each shoulder and I was sent sliding across the wet deck, surprised, smarting, but safe."
"The ship that stayed behind to pick us up was a minesweeper, USS Pioneer. (Author's note: Pioneer, AM-105, was a Navy fleet minesweeper of World War II. 221 feet long, shallow draft) It pulled up 606 of us. My head and seat both hurt, I thought it best to go to sick bay, just to be sure. A mess hall was sick bay. It was crowded and awash with red water. I now believe that these must have been (Pioneer's) crew men injured during the air attack, because those injured on the Rohna could not have gotten there that soon. That sight cured me, I stopped hurting. I did not step over the bulkhead. I returned topside and asked a crewmember how I could help or where to go. He was too busy to talk. I now realize that he was busy trying to save lives and I had been saved. I was impressed with the way the crew worked. I saw the Rohna sink. I was cold. I found a spot about four feet square by the radio room door by a radiator. I was warm and out of the way. I spent the night there."
"A few men were wise enough to tie valuables in condoms before they abandoned ship. I didn't have any. I had the watch my mother had given me. I took it out. It was still running, full of seawater! I drained it. The watch stopped for all time at 8 PM. I still have it. We were hit sometime in mid afternoon. Less than half of us were picked up, most of them by the Pioneer. I believe the official count is 1015 American lives lost."
"The next morning we landed at Phillipeville. I was introduced to C-rations. First in line got the pork 'n beans. The night before we were scheduled to break camp I had tired of them and was in the huge tent alone when a British soldier entered looking for the Sergeant. When I asked, "What Sergeant?" He replied, "The Sergeant who wants the beer." I assured him that I was a Sergeant who wanted beer. He left quickly with a dollar. I had three large bottles of British beer."
"I don't recall who my friends were but that night we crossed the road, sat on the beach drinking beer. Later we joined a group of drunken Americans near the water. Somehow, I traded a beer for a bottle of Canadian Club. Don't ask me how. That is all I remember of Phillipeville. I've no idea how long we were there, at least a week and probably more."
"The next morning we hit the rails. It was the infamous 40 & 8. We were taken to Bizerte in these little boxcars, some straw on the floor, no water or any way to get rid of it. We had a terrible two-day journey and the 40 & 8 cars in parades (he refers to military parades today) are not a pleasant sight for me. Once there we had our own camp in an olive grove, three or four of us in a tent. We were there at Christmas."
"I recall going into town, seeing homes that had been shelled. I looked into bedrooms with clothing hanging from open bureau drawers. I saw so very many tanks parked on side streets. Somewhere along the line, I recall that we would take our clothes to a home to be washed. One night a couple of us would take my clothes and be given a glass of fine wine. Next night we would take his clothes. Then we had to pick up the clean clothes. We could get four glasses of wine a week. Always one glass per visit. If too many of us went, there was no wine."
"Sometime in February we sailed on HMT Takliwa, a slightly better ship than the Rohna. I do remember going through the Suez canal. It was the only time that I could not see the horizon. The land and sky were both the same color, pink. It was a perfect blend."
For another Rohna survivor story, go to the following link. There is a link there to return to this page. Rohna tragedy takes heavy toll. Four Mediterranean convoys provide marker for WW II in Europe.
This concludes the Rohna tragedy portion of Carl Schoenacker's varied World War II career. Next, his China-Burma-India assignment.
(2) "We landed in Bombay and started our long journey toward Assam. We went by rail, this time coach second class to Calcutta then on various narrow gauge tracks, by boat on the Ganges and on the Brahmaputra. We then 'flew the hump' in a Curtiss C-46 to the world's busiest airport at Kunming. At that time the Japanese had all but the inland of China. The wartime capital was Chungking."
"The radio equipment in China was the same as we had in Iceland. The men who had trained to use UHF equipment were at a disadvantage. Once we began to work, I got along quite well but I lost all of my gear shortly after arriving in Kunming. Somehow our tent caught fire. I went away one morning and I came back to a mess."
"My first assignment was to go to Mengtze. This was about 20 miles from what is now North Vietnam, by road about 40 miles from Lokay where the enemy was. We went by rail. I made the trip twice, once to take a two-cylinder generator. Normally it was a day's trip but this time we had an unexpected overnight. Two of us slept on a marble floor in a hotel lobby without a mosquito net. We were bitten many times. My friend, Sgt. White, got malaria."
"Mengtze had a grass emergency landing strip. There were American soldiers, the Y-Force, training Chinese in the hills nearby. We were the radio link for the Chinese air warning system. We were three to five Army Air Force men stationed there. There were no troops between us and the enemy. If they decided to come, on the ground or by air, we were a statistic. Once one got accustomed to that, it was a fine assignment."
"It had been a Flying Tiger (AVG) base. We lived in a large house with thatched roof. We had Charlie, a fine Chinese cook. Next door, we had Murphy who had worked for British customs to advise us. Charlie had American rations plus money to buy food on the market. We ate well, cheese omelet every morning. We had to call in a weather report to Kunming every half-hour. We needed only one man on duty. We could go into town. You did have to find things to do. I enjoyed talking with Murphy. We had two jeep motor, 5,000-KW, generators. We did not have to get our own fuel. I do not recall getting fuel but I remember fueling the generators."
"The monsoon rains were warm, and probably caused me to lose everything again. Our quarters were on the second floor. We tossed empty mailbags onto a second story porch where they got wet. Suddenly there was a fire in the mailbags, spontaneous combustion I expect. It got to the roof quickly and could be seen for miles. Fortunately, we had other quarters in the compound, but we were cut off from the world until we got new radios. We saved almost nothing. The transmitter needed a rectifier that it took four men to carry, so we could not save that. None of us reacted well to the emergency. I left my billfold for the next trip and never got back up the stairs. We were completely out of contact with headquarters for a day or so. I had lost all of my gear three times in less than six months."
"We depended on the YF (Yoke Force) for our medical needs. A colonel would stop by periodically. He was a fine southern doctor. Malaria was feared whenever there was illness. I developed a high fever. He came, I did not improve, so he sent two men in a jeep to bring me to the camp. I was completely covered with blankets to be sure I did not get chilled. I was not to even peek out. The monsoon flood had covered the road. The jeep stopped. I peeked. The men knew there was a curve, so one man got out, and waded in knee deep water, walking the road's edge to insure that we would get through. Then when we got to the camp, the doctor was there in the rain to greet us! I did not have malaria, and was there a few days. I was impressed by the attention given me."
"Because of the possibility of enemy infiltration, the Y-Force personnel wore no insignia. One night I had a good discussion with a group who I later learned were all officers."
"I believe that I was still in the 322nd at this time. I think that I was transferred into the CACW, the Chinese American Composite wing after Mengtze, but I am not sure."
"My next major assignment was to Pieshiyi, the main airport for Chungking, capital of free China. There was an airstrip closer to town, but it was very short with a mountain on one end and the Yangtze river below the other. Pieshiyi had a 4,000-ft. landing strip with a Chinese cemetery (mounds) at one end, a ditch at the other, low mountains along one side and a 3,000 ft. peak off one end in the distance. Landing was usually over the mounds toward the ditch. Major Durfee was operations officer. Reportedly he had three planes shot out from under him in Europe and he was here to rest his nerves. He could shout, bellow, and scream, but not at me. We seemed to appreciate each other."
"I was assigned to the control tower and soon was in charge of it. I spent more than the assigned hours at the tower. I soon learned to monitor several frequencies, listen to jazz and read a book or carry on a conversation simultaneously. I think that he liked the way I responded to a crash also. A plane I had cleared to land got involved in the mountain range, no fault of ours. Suddenly there was no response. I reported it and waited, and waited in slim hope. He finally ordered me to close for the night. There were no night flights."
"We lived in a large room, about 10 bunks around the side and a card table in the middle. We ate, worked, saw movies and played cards. The fog moved in for days at a time, at which time we had a continuous bridge game. Partners might change if someone had to go to work, but the game went on. When there was fog, I had no work."
"Some of the war's leaders landed here. You would expect a trained tower operator. However, no combat planes landed here. When VIPs came, the weather was good and the air corridors empty. I saw Generals Stilwell and Chennault, President and Madame Chiang Kai-shek. Their pilots knew the territory. I was nervous when I knew that our Secretary of State, Edward Stettinius, was coming. Actually, there was no need to worry. His plane came straight in. I am sure that the general area had been cleared of all other flights."
"One day, Major Durfee invited me to go to the other field with him in a twin Beechcraft, to get some blankets. We began to taxi, swung around and the Major shouted, 'Sergeant did you know you almost got killed?' I was not aware of any problem. The plane had been redlined for faulty brakes. Somehow, the redline was removed and the brakes not fixed. The Major discovered it at once so it was no big deal, except to the mechanic who did not fix the brakes. When we did go it was a bigger deal. We landed and the major disappeared. The blankets came, I accepted all of them. I had no word about load limits. When the Major looked in, he asked calmly how I though he would get that plane off the ground. I suggested removing some but he declined. He simply told me that if we crashed it would be my fault. We were barely airborne at the end of the runway. When we got over the river, we dropped several feet but slowly climbed up the river valley, then over the mountains and home."
"CACW had to ferry supplies to the various small air bases in China. We had a freight C-47 and one converted from passenger service that was a mess! We had to go into a small dive to retract the landing gear and sometimes shake it down. The cargo floor of the freight plane looked like someone had worked on it with a can opener. I was always afraid something would drop through and jam the control cables. I was assigned to flight duty. A crew consisted of pilot, co-pilot, radioman, and the Crew Chief sometimes went with his plane."
"We were under Captain Luce. I'm not sure of the name but I remember the man! He had a flair for the unusual. He wanted us to make the newsreels back home. One fine day we were returning from Kunming empty, most unusual. The Captain was copilot. The pilot mentioned that he had never landed a plane on only one engine. "It's time you did," said the captain as he killed one engine and feathered the prop. Peishiyi had more emergency vehicles than I had realized."
"The captain wanted a record for tonnage moved in a day. We took off very early for Enshih with both planes. Enshih field was not a strip, but almost a plateau, very broad. When we left, the Captain asked permission for a formation takeoff. Not granted, but as a consolation he was allowed to 'mow the grass.' We assembled and came down. I would have liked to have seen it, two C-47s, wingtip to wingtip and according to our altimeter, which had just been set, we were five feet under ground. That must have been something to watch."
"The two planes were flown to India for total overhaul. I did not go. The floor must not have been a danger because it was not fixed. The other plane was junked for parts. Then the Captain wanted and got a record for total hours flown by a plane in a month. He had that plane in the air most of the time. We held the record for a short time, so I was told. I was also told that this was on the newsreels in the theaters back home."
"Before it was junked, I had an anxious moment. We were en route to Chihchiang, nearest base to the enemy. I was half asleep and thinking that we were almost there when the Crew Chief jarred me by asking for a fix. I could reach only one station, and a one-station fix is worthless. I cranked up but fortunately, the pilot found his bearings. The best came after we got there. Landing was aborted at the last moment, but instead of gaining altitude, we just mushed along near the ground for too far before finally regaining altitude. There was snow and the pilot had mistaken the side of the runway for the middle. The Crew Chief had tried to help and we had too many cooks. We had no flaps when we needed them for lift and flaps when we did not need them. Wheels were down when they should have been up too. It was a good lesson on how not to fly a plane. On the next pass, we landed with no problem."
"I had one other experience. One night we had to return to Pieshiyi. Construction workers had mistakenly cut the cable for the runway marker lights. We had only our own lights. A disabled truck sat facing the runway and a jeep was parked on the opposite side. We were told to land between the lights. The jeep did not line up perfectly. The pilot made the first pass across the runway! I learned this the next day after talking with a guy who thought we would crash into his hut. After that, a grounded fighter pilot went to the tower to try to talk us in. We made many passes, each time too high and too fast and after each, we seemed to slip out further toward the 3,000-ft. hill. I was scared. I decided that I would rather be grounded than ground. I went forward and asked, 'Pardon me Sir, but aren't we coming close to that mountain?' The answer, 'What mountain?' left me speechless."
"When we finally touched down, we were on the left side of the runway. The pilot thought we were on the right side. He thought he was taking us to the middle when he was taking us off the runway to the left. The farther we went, the deeper the mud, the more we slowed. We came to a halt with the tail in the air and prop damage. We were coming in very fast and had we stayed on the runway we may have gone in the ditch at the end. The next morning the pilot thanked me and promised to learn the letdown procedure and topography of his airports in the future. That made my day. I don't recall any other night flights."
"There was one other adventure. We had a fighter base behind enemy lines. It had to be supplied totally by air. I was picked on a volunteer crew to ferry in gasoline in 55-gal. drums for a day. I don't know how many runs, but I really did not care, one was too many. I had been in China quite some time and suggested that one of the younger, single men could do a better job than I. He probably did. The mission was delayed, but was eventually flown successfully."
"In the spring of 1945 we were winning the war on all fronts but ours. The Japanese were advancing toward Chihchiang. We needed to open another base between there and Pieshiyi. I was asked to select a crew of 5 or 6 men, take a weapons carrier with 10 extra gallons of gasoline, supplies, and set up communications at Liafang. My first question was, 'Why me, why not an officer?' The question was not answered. I liked the challenge but was very insecure."
"The first man I picked was Vinny Orlando. Vinny was one for whom languages came easily. He liked to be away from headquarters. He had served at that base behind the lines. A fine Polish lad, Sgt. Mike Havern, ran the motorpool. He gave me an extra 55-gal. drum. I was told that there were no turns, but none of us had driven the road. We had nicely gotten started when we came to a fork! We guessed, and as soon as we saw people, Vinny learned that guessing right had been correct. When we arrived, all of our extra fuel tanks were empty. We may have gone where Americans had not gone before, but would not have made it without the extra fuel Mike gave us."
"Now I had to set up the station. I tried to apply what I had learned from Lippert to calculate the length of the antennas for each frequency. I had no idea of how we would get them up, but the men took care of that. My figures were wrong, but we had compensating errors, and by some switching, we got the station operational with strong signals. I knew little about radio but I knew how to pick a fine crew." (Lippert was Carl's first radio tech mentor in Iceland and came back with Carl to Bradley Field at Hartford to learn UHF technology.)
"Now, I had diplomatic chores. The mayor invited me to dinner. I could not refuse. There would be many toasts and I was expected to 'gombay', turn your glass upside down after each toast. Toasts were with a distilled rice drink. I had to drink every toast, they did not. If I played the game, the American would be under the table and they would have a good laugh. I did not bottoms up every toast. I did not get drunk and they respected me for it."
"We were operational when President Roosevelt died. That morning a command car appeared from I know not where carrying a Lt. Col. from Missouri and his driver. He was making a survey! When I gave him the news he kept repeating, "So my old friend Harry Truman is President!" I wondered where he came from and where he went. "
"About this time, I gained another stripe. I had been a Staff Sergeant for about two years, and finally made Technical Sergeant."
"I recall using a bayonet and pliers to stir coffee but I do not recall our eating. From whatever I got dysentery. I went to Peishiyi on sick call and that cost me several months in the Army. I was in Peishiyi on VE day and when the point system to get veterans home was implemented. High point men were assigned 'Green Project.' This had top priority and all else waited. Had I been in Liafang, I would have gone directly to Kunming and been send directly to the states, and out of the Army in July. As it was I had to go back to Liafang to collect my gear then a circular route taking 12 hours to Kunming. The day I arrived at the processing center, Green Project lost its top priority. I sat for three weeks in Kunming and another three weeks in Karachi."
"Once I left China, my dysentery was cured. I was very thin. In Karachi, we went into town each Thursday evening. We had the best iced tea I have ever tasted, and a fine steak dinner, after which we would rent bicycles for about a nickel to ride around town. A cow got in front of me one night. I had instant fear, for a moment."
"Once we left Karachi, we flew directly. We had an overnight in Cairo. I broke restriction and went to the pyramids. We flew in a C-46 to Casablanca. We were in a C-54, four-engine plane, from there to Dakar and across the south Atlantic to Natal, Brazil. We had 14 flights from Kunming to Miami, a total of about 80 hours. My weight was up to 116 lbs. when I arrived. From there, we came by rail to Ft. Dix, N.J. All Air Force men were declared essential, given a two-week furlough and two-week delay in route. I was to report to Greensboro, NC. On the train coming home I read that an atomic bomb had been dropped. I tried to recall my chemistry to figure that out."
"It was over. Greensboro was now a holding tank. To pacify us we were fed our three meals plus three snacks with unlimited ice cream. The local paper ran an article titled, 'Haven For Heroes.' I met Bob Burns, also from Phelps. We went to some football games and spent time together. We were discharged on October 4, 1945, my father's birthday."
"Some incidents that I recall:
My guns. I referred to the pistol in an earlier paragraph. In Iceland, I fired it at the range. Anyone directly in line between me and the target was quite safe. Later I was issued a Garrand, a carbine and a Thompson submachine gun. I liked the lightweight carbine but it would come apart when fired. The range officer grabbed it, showed me what to do and fired it. It came apart again and was his problem. I was issued a new rifle. I hated the machine gun for its implications. Were my superiors confident that I could hold off the hordes, then escape, or was I expendable? It and the ammunition were heavy and it was highly susceptible to rust. I was good with the rifles and excellent with the machine gun. Unlike modern movies we fired in short bursts. Mine were on target and never more than three; often, I would fire single shot. I had a fine trigger finger."
"We were in the Army Air Corps, thus Army Generals sometimes came to inspect the field. When this happened, we were instructed to get busy or get lost. At Mitchell Field, a crew chief got lost by going to sleep in the bomb bay of his plane. When the General ordered, 'open the bomb bay,' out rolled the sergeant at his feet."
"Also, at Mitchell a recruit was told to put oil in a P-40 one morning. When the crew chief returned from lunch the recruit continued his work. It was then discovered that he was pumping oil into a gas tank!"
"In Iceland, the coffee was reported to be better than usual one meal, until later when one of Pvt. Factor's socks was fished out of the drum."
"A $10,000 term insurance policy was optional but great pressure to be 100% insured was exerted in each unit. In the 322nd, I knew two men who had policies because of this pressure. T/Sgt. Jones was wealthy and had no dependents. He made Chase National Bank his beneficiary. A Polish sergeant with no relatives in U.S. made relatives in Poland his beneficiary. I believe that both were killed in the war. T/Sgt. Jones was lost when the Rhona sunk. My friend Bob Burns from Phelps, N.Y. had suffered a broken neck in an auto accident before he enlisted. In Africa he was pressured, so he applied but was turned down- he was not insurable! He demanded a discharge but did not get it. He was healthy enough for overseas duty but not insurable."
"I do not recall being in a bombing raid while on land but there were raids in China. One dark night an airman was walking back to the barracks when suddenly, bombs began falling. He dove for cover under a truck. The next morning he was curious. There should not have been a truck there, he thought. He discovered he had been under a gasoline truck!"
(3) We stay in the CBI , and are indebted for this next story to Alex Kaplan, now living in Broomall, Pennsylvania..
Alex Kaplan sent this story to me via snail mail. It had a super title, "Old China Hands-Tales and Stories" with a subtitle, "Chinese Mule Plane: A Mule Skinner's Tale" and is credited to 'OCH #4.Phil.' (Translation: Old China Hand #4, and 'Phil' is the name of the pilot and narrator.) Alex Kaplan later clarified that 'Phil' was Phil Dunning from Huntsville, Alabama. At the bottom of the title page there is a date, 6/8/2004 with a web address. I (Frank Dailey) tried to go to that web address on March 21, 2009, but the search engine could not find it. Here, in quotes, is the story as Alex Kaplan forwarded it to me. The story was triggered by a phone call that Alex Kaplan, the radio operator, made to a pilot war buddy (Phil), who then fleshed it out.
""I don't remember the name of my co-pilot, nor did I remember that Alex was my R/O. (Likely stands for Radio/Operator) I just remembered having to abort a landing at Chanyi, China, and going around the mountain side, at tree top level, skimming the trees, with five mules sliding around the cabin, until I managed to level out toward the valley."
"Alex and I were stationed at Myitkyina, Burma, assigned to the 1348th AFFBU, ATC, flying C-47 aircraft. We had been flying Chinese troops into the Kunming, China, area for their push against the Japanese. Our unit was given the job of flying horses and mules belonging to the Chinese 5th Army to China. (It may have been the 6th Army - I don't really remember.) I was the first, or at least one of the first, to fly mules to Chanyi, China."
"Anyhow, five mules were loaded aboard our C-47 that night, along with two Chinese soldiers who were to take care of the mules. The mules wore bridles, and each was tied to the tiedowns on the floor with no other restraint. The two soldiers immediately retired to the latrine and closed the door. We took off and climbed to altitude, normally 12,500', and headed for China on Dog Route. Being a compassionate person, I didn't want the mules and their keepers to be uncomfortable while at altitude, so I turned the cabin heat on.What a BIG mistake! We had an uneventful flight over China, arriving over Chanyi, and beginning our letdown on the radio beacon. This was also uneventful."
"Every flight crew flying into Chanyi was familiar with the approach, but for those unfamiliar with the area, a description is in order. The landing strip was located at the north end of a long, flat valley, I believe 20 miles or so long. Immediately north, the landing strip was surrounded by mountains which extended to the south along each side of the valley, over which we made our approach from the south. Upon arrival over the radio beacon, which was just south of the landing strip, we turned south and proceeded to lose altitude, flying a specific time/distance letdown, then turned back north, continuing the letdown toward the radio beacon until at final altitude for the landing approach. This particular night the weather was good over the valley, however my letdown was according to instrument procedures, in order to stay clear of the mountains on each side of the valley."
" I letdown to landing approach altitude, arriving over the radio beacon. beginning the landing approach, with gear down, quarter flaps, and reduced power, then full flaps, for final approach. I don't remember when it happened, but the MULES HAD ALL BROKEN LOOSE AND SLID TO THE FRONT OF THE CABIN, ALL BUNCHED UP. The ship nosed over and we went into a dive. At this point, Alex said that one of the mules stuck her head in the door and looked at him. With only a couple hundred feet above the runway, I cranked nose up trim, put full power on, retracted gear, bled flaps and proceeded to climb. Alex said he thought something was going on, from his radio position, when he saw everything in the cockpit moving forward. We started to climb out for another approach and the mules slid to the REAR OF THE CABIN. I had to trim again, fast. With the mountains ahead, I had to start a steep turn to the right, trying to climb out without clobbering into the mountains. We continued a climbing turn, with the treetops on the mountain slope almost brushing the bottom of the ship. Anymore movement of our cargo would have meant disaster."
"We finished our turning climbout to landing approach altitude and flew south for quite some distance. I used a procedure taught to me by an airline pilot who had been recalled from Reserves. With gear down, about quarter flaps, and somewhat around half power, I made a shallow letdown (which was normally used for the comfort of airline passengers though not necessarily used today), all the way to the runway, keeping the cabin floor as level to the ground as possible. We landed without any problems. I guess the mules stayed put, wherever they were. When we returned to Myitkyina, I reported the incident and changes were made. Instead of five animals being loaded, only four were hauled on later trips. A bamboo pole was placed fore and aft in the cabin and another short pole was installed across the fuselage, dividing the cabin into four corrals. We also kept the cabin heat OFF in order to tranquilize thee critters. All later flights with horses and mules were uneventful."
:"Alex's call was really appreciated. I can now confirm this WW-11 story to my barbershop buddies who may have had reservations, and restore my credibility. I only hope our co-pilot on this flight reads this and can be recognized."
(Courtesy of Rohna survivor Carl Schoenacker)