Forgot to mention previously that there are a few women on this island, quite a few nurses and half a dozen Red Cross girls. We see them at a distance mostly traveling around in jeeps with majors and colonels. At least, they give most of the men a hint as to what they’re fighting for.
Flew for 1 1/2 hrs on the 17th; skip bombing1, including evasive action. The ocean is mighty close beneath and the action is hair raising at times. Meat and drink to old “H”2 crews like ours.
I spent the afternoon trying to get ahead of my mail problem. Not there yet, though.
The 18th passed quite swiftly. We were informed that we are going back to Stirling Island for practice on low level strafing and cannon firing attacks. We’ve drawn all of our field equipment for the big move. Expect to go to some place that hasn’t been taken yet. Wonder where? Have my ideas, but aren’t talking about them. Am all set at any rate.
I have been to the dispensary for blistered feet and another boil over my left eye brow. The dispensary is up on the hill and is a half-sized Quonset hut.
We are staying in the 390th Squadron area. Ours is at Stirling.3 We are wondering if we’ll get to Sydney for our 9 days rest. One never knows anymore.
Wrote letters to Bonnie this afternoon as well as to Mom, Bob, and Shorty.4 I sent Shorty a $25.00 money order. This is so he can have Aileen and the baby with him before he ships overseas.5 Good investment. Bob seems to be having a little trouble, hope he comes out of it all right.6
A bunch of us were driving back from the show, “Jack the Ripper”7 when we passed a jeep with a Red Cross girl in it with two sailors. Her dress was up as were the Sailors sleeves. We pulled ahead, ducked into a side road. After they passed, we drove out, caught them, coming along side the jeep. One of the boys yelled “This is Malaria Control talking. Get that damn dress down and those sleeves down.” The girl was greatly frantic and almost jumped out of the Jeep in her effort to pull it down. Laugh, I thought I’d die. It was a rather cheap trick but that ride was hair raising. Going on these crooked roads at top speed is like taking your life in your hands. Won’t take any more such wild rides.
Received three more letters from my Bonnie girl today, as well as one from Mom and Tommy. Bonnie had an accident with a filing cabinet and I’ve been worrying ever since. If anything should happen to her life would be pretty empty for me.
Today passed quickly. I spent this morning washing clothes and all afternoon and evening writing letters. I wrote Mom, Nordy,8 and Bonnie this afternoon. I must write Tommy9 tonight. That will put me on top of the letters at last. I will be able to find a little time to devote to my book. I haven’t had the opportunity of writing in it for several days now. Times a wasting. Must finish it and get started on another.
I need polish and must write like mad now to gain that polish and a style of writing to boost. I am getting my little Bible lessons every night.
As for the war, the Russians are shelling East Prussia moving in on Lvov and Brest Litovsk. The Allies took St. Lo in France. The 5th and 8th Armies in Italy are out flanking Livorno. Guam is still being shelled and Yap bombed. Premier Tojo of Japan resigned. This alone is admission of defeat. Jap ambassador to Pope Pius is seeking peace terms. It is Ironic that they seek peace from Christ’s followers when they’ve been attempting to destroy all Christendom. Nothing but unconditional surrender. That’s our final answer! Goodnight all!
Notes & Commentary
1 Skip bombing involved bouncing a bomb across the water at a ship. It required a high-speed, low-level bomb release with split-second timing to be effective. The bomber would dive down from altitude, level off, and approach the target at low altitude, 200 feet or less at a speed of 200 to 250 miles per hour, i.e., traveling from 295 to 367 feet per second. When the bomber was about 300 to 600 yards, i.e., 900 to 1,800 feet, away from the target, two to four bombs would be released. If all went well, the bombs would skip across the water’s surface and into the side of the ship and detonate or submerge and explode next to the ship. If the bombs were released a second too soon, the bombs would sink and explode without damaging the target. If they were released a second too late, they would bounce over the target and miss.
Timing was everything. The bomber was flying directly at the side of an enemy ship which allowed the ship to bring a maximum amount of its antiaircraft weaponry, cannons and machine guns, to bear. The plane was flying level and head on toward the enemy ship. While it presented a limited target, the slightest damage could cause it to immediately crash catastrophically into the sea. Between 3 and 6 seconds out from the target, the bombs had to be released. Too soon and they would explode harmlessly; too late and they would bounce over the ship. After the bombs were released, the bomber was still heading directly toward the enemy ship and continued to be subjected to antiaircraft fire as it pulled up and exited the area.
The phrase “nerves of steel” comes quickly to mind when thinking of this. To have flown such missions, the aircrew on these bombers had to have the utmost faith in their pilots.
2 B-25H model aircraft configured for low-level strafing.
3 The five squadrons of the 42nd Bomb Group rotated between Banika Island and Stirling Island, from which combat missions were staged. The squadrons, as they rotated, shared squadron areas.
4 After completing the Flexible Gunnery school at Yuma Army Air Field in Yuma, Arizona; Wayne’s brother, Verne R. Gray, went to Los Angeles to visit their mother. While at Los Angeles, he sent his father a Father’s Day card with a note saying, “Am heading home today as fast as my thumb will take me.” Home was in Colorado, 1,100 miles across deserts and mountain passes from Los Angeles. Hitchhiking was common in those days.
Fathers Day card postmarked June 14, 1944, Los Angeles, California from Verne R. “Shorty” Gray (AAF Flexible Gunnery School, Yuma Army Air Field, Yuma, Arizona) to Mr. Thomas Gray.
5 After leave at home with his family, Verne R. Gray reported to the 12th Heavy Bombardment Processing Headquarters at Lincoln Army Air Field, in Lincoln, Nebraska. His monthly pay was $65.00 plus flight pay of $32.00 when he qualified for it. Lincoln Army Air Field was a combat aircrew processing and distribution center. The 616th Flying Training Group, which was also located at Lincoln, provided flying training instruction for B-17 and B-24 bomber aircrew.
Lincoln Air National Guard Base (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_Air_National_Guard_Base : accessed 17 July 2014)
6 Wayne’s brother, Robert Searls Gray.
7 The Lodger, released in January 1944 and starring Merle Oberon and George Saunders, was also referred to as Jack the Ripper. The movie was produced by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. The Lodger (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0037024/?ref_=fn_al_tt_3 : accessed 17 July 2014).
8 Wayne’s brother, Harry Nordman Gray.
9Wayne’s older brother, Thomas Alva Gray.
The description of skip bombing was most informative.
The attack on German Ruhr dams during the night of May 16/17, 1943 by RAF 617 Squadron, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Chastise), is another example of skip bombing. A dramatic presentation of that attack can be viewed on You Tube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCRIsjJFRNo.
I knew that kind of missions by the RAF.
I knew the B-25 was using such a technique but not the danger involved in those.
B-17s used the skip-bombing technique during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.
A number of different aircraft used skip bombing in attacking various targets. I find it hard to comprehend how a four-engine bomber on a skip-bombing run against a target must have appeared. I wonder what the loss rates were for such attacks by B-17s and/or other four-engine aircraft used in similar attacks.
The loss rate is a very interesting thing to ponder. Also wonder if there are video clips somewhere showing those particular bombers skip-bombing targets. Found a different skip-bomb demo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDdIU6lk6JU
I’ve not found any video footage that I felt actually showed aircraft skip bombing during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. The are videos that show strafing attacks on ships and they could have been taken from aircraft engaged in skip bombing. Any aircraft approaching a target would certainly have been firing at the target in an attempt to suppress the target’s defenses. I suspect that the only videos that show skip bombing are going to be those related to training or practice missions.
At http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JqBiMgC2Wg there is footage of Lancasters and Mosquitos practicing skip bombing using the “bouncing bomb” employed by the Dam Busters. About 38 seconds in, the footage shows how dangerous such missions were. In this instance, the bomb bounces off the water and hits the aircraft. There is also interesting silent footage to be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8zBp1NCbAr0 of Mosquitos performing “bouncing bomb” tests.
It is easy, I think, for a present-day historian to write casually about skip-bombing missions, but when one watches these videos or performs the calculations of what was going on in such an attack, the extreme danger of such missions become immediately apparent. In the two videos, the aircraft on engaged in practice. They are not confronted with concentrated anti-aircraft fire from the broadside of ship. These pilots, no matter what service or country from which they came, truly had guts.
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I will look it up.
Thank you for stopping by History Undusted! And thank you for sharing your uncle’s journal – it’s a precious insight into history.
Wayne’s Journal is unique because it provides an insight into a time so removed from our own.
I venture that there’s no shortage of footage from US warships trying to knock down Kamikazes … just change the decals and you’d get a fair idea of what one was up against—?
Excellent thought. I hadn’t thought of the similarity of the attack pattern. Thank you for providing this.
And flying at a steady no-zigzag height against a ship provides the gunners with (visually) a static target (no crossing rates). But even then not easy—
—I was in the lead ship of a column once doing a night anti-aircraft exercise against descending para flares. Every few ships along the column someone would launch a rocket-flare and whoever thought themselves handy would fire at it … very interesting in that with all the different colours of tracer, no-one gave enough deflection, even against a slowly descending flare. From our vantage we could see all the arcs falling away well clear—to the gunners involved it would have looked as if they were ‘spot on’ but missing. (Think their line of sight as a tangent to the actual arc.)
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