Took off at 5:45 am on a photoreconnaissance mission over Ambon, Ceram Sea.1 Nice day, five hours of combat time. We drew fire, heavy and close, about 20 minutes. Came back dead tired as usual. Taking pictures is no cinch, especially out of an open hatch with, open escape hatch just above and alternating from one to another. That slipstream is really rough at 240 mph.2
One of the boys that came over with me is a hero, another died and another has a broken leg. The water landing made in the dead of night. The navigator was killed when the top turret fell on him. The tail gunner, Dick Joyce, was also killed. Red Sutton, engineer, a broken leg, he was behind the pilots seat. Nick LoPresti pulled him out when they ditched the ship and paddled to shore with him in the rubber raft. Lt. Ingram was posted at one end of the beach. Lt. Fiezl at the other. The other three stayed in the middle to fix Suttons leg. Colonel Spencer, and Nick, that is.
Five Japs and a native sneaked up on Ingram, throwing a rope around his neck and pulling him to the sand. His gun would not fire, but he yelled “Japs”. Lt. Fiezl heard the yell and ran to the middle. The Japs tied Ingram up and marched him to the middle. Everybody threw up their hands empty except Nick who lifted his gun with his hands. They waited for the Japs to arrive. Only one Jap had a rifle, the other swords and bayonets. When they got to a distance of six feet, Nick dropped his hand, shot the gun carrier between the eyes, and another in the chest. One made a bayonet lunge at the Colonel. The copilot grabbed the naked blade with his hand, cutting his fingers to the bone. Nick ran around behind the Jap and let him have it. Another charged, Nick pulled the trigger. The gun didn’t fire so he reversed it and smacked the Jap knocking him sprawling. He cleared the action and shot the fifth Jap. The native ran away. In he commotion of his departure, the knocked down Jap sprang up and ran also. In the fight, Lt. Fiezl thought the boys had made a break for it. He sprang for the bush and hiding. This was a mistake because the other boys had to move fast to save themselves. This was done by climbing back in the rubber raft and going fifty miles down the coast. It was 5 days before someone spotted our boys. A B-25 flying along the coast of the Ceram Sea saw the words “Spencer Food” written in the sand and sent a PBY, Navy flying boat went out and picked them up.3
So another epic of the South West Pacific came to an end. The box score. U.S., Two men dead, one missing. Japan, 4 dead!
Notes & Commentary
1Ambon, Maluku (Moluccas), Indonesia, was occupied by the Japanese on January 30, 1942 and remained under Japanese control for the remainder of the war. The site of an airfield and a seaplane base being developed by Marineluchtvaartdienst RNNAS as one of four medium capacity seaplane operating bases in the East Indies. Ambon was used for staging air raids on Australia.
2 Wayne flew on one of the two B-25Js which flew Mission No 115. The flight plans called for weather reporting every half hour and photography of assigned targets. Slight, heavy and accurate antiaircraft fire was reported over Ambon Town. That the mission was tasked by the 13th Air Force Fighter Command, it was likely an attempt to gather intelligence for a fighter strike against communications and radar facilities.
The following report describes the mission.
1. Pursuant to the 13th Fighter Command Field Order #14, two B-25Js of the 100 Bombardment Squadron accomplished an armed weather reconnaissance and photographic mission on 14 October 1944. The two B-25Js carried four 500 lb. general purpose bombs and a full load of ammunition. The mission was to report weather in the target areas every half-hour and to take photos of assigned targets in Ceram Island areas.
2. Off Marr Field 0545 and 0600, the two planes departed on a course to Dampier Strait, there and left direct to Ceram Island. Circling to the West around Ceram to Ambon bay.
3. The two planes made attacks hitting targets of opportunity. Attack on Ambon town was made by one plane at 0815 from 11,000’. All for the 500 pounders were dropped, two on Ambon Town and near a small sailboat in the water. One small fire with blue smoke was observed in Ambon Town. The second plane attacked shipping in Ambon bay from 7,000 feet scoring near misses among small vessels. Photographs of the radio station, Ambon town, radar screen and signal light tower on the island north of shore of Ceram.
4. Following a lively mission with successful results, the planes landed at Mar Field 1100.
Narrative Combat Report, 14 October 1944, 100th Bombardment Squadron (M). Office of the Intelligence Officer, microfilm A0576, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1972, frame 1217.
3 On October 13, two B-25s from the 69th Bombardment Squadron were dispatched from Sansapor at 0505L. Their mission was to conduct a special weather mission in the Ceram area, take photos and search for shipping.
At 0920L one of the aircraft observed three men on the beach of Ceram at 03°00’S 130°08E. Several circles and passes at minimum altitude were made over the spot and observed the words “Help, Spencer, Food” drawn in the sand. They were white and active. Emergency kits were dropped and their position radioed in. The spot was circled for 30 minutes.
Mission Report, Mission No. 285, 13 October 1944, 69th Bombardment Squadron (M). Office of the Intelligence Officer, 13 October 1944, microfilm A0565, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1973, frames 457.
Unknown to the crew of the B-25 from the 69th Bombardment Squadron, Spencer and his crew had been spotted by a flight of P-47s the previous day and a rescue PBY Dumbo was already on its way.
WATER LANDING OF B-25-J PILOTED BY LT. COL. TRUMAN A SPENCER
The following is a narrative account of a water landing in a B-25 J airplane, and the subsequent rescue of five survivors after an eight-day sojourn in enemy territory. The airplane took off with an eight-man crew from Mar Field, Cape Sansapor, at 1906 October 5, to execute a night heckler mission over Ambon Town located south of Ceram Island.
The plane arrived on station at 2130 and by 2334 had dropped their total load of four 500-pound bombs on targets throughout the area. The last bomb was dropped on Namlea airdrome which was clearly recognized and a course was set for base. No enemy opposition had been encountered over the target area except for a few scattered bursts of AA. The weather was entirely clear over land with a few scattered thunderheads over water areas in the vicinity of the target. The moon was full. An in-flight report stating that the mission had been successfully completed, and including an ETA at 0145 was transmitted and receipted for by Sansapor prior to 2400.
When flying at 10,000’ over Dampier Straits approximately 90 miles from base, the pilot was on instruments spasmodically and had started a gradual let down hoping to find improved weather conditions. At 3,000’ still unable to get into the clear, the descent was stopped and he climbed back to 5,000. It was now 0137. The plane was on a magnetic course of 80° and the exact position unknown. The radio operator asked for a QDM (What is magnetic course to steer with zero wind to reach you?) from Sansapor. A reply gave QNN 165° (The approximate magnetic course is 165°). The pilot was hesitant to follow this course as it did not seem correct for the position in which he believed he was but on the advice of the navigator he turned to the new heading. This decision started the trouble. After 45 minutes without making landfall, it was apparent that they were not near base, and their position was entirely unknown to them. An QDL(I intend to ask for a series of bearings) was sent at 0215 while flying at 10,000 feet. Here the second misfortune occurred. Three stations started sending and in spite of the plane’s request for all stations except Sansapor to stay off the air, various unknown stations continued to send and jammed the frequency. Finally a course of 240° was understood although the transmitting station was unknown. One hour’s gas remained at the time the new course was taken up. At 0240 a light was spotted to the south and a course set toward the light. A water landing seemed inevitable so the waist windows were chopped out and guns and ammunition were jettisoned in preparation. During the chopping the radio receiver was damaged, so the operator, observing that his transmitter was still functioning, tied down the key in hopes that the ground stations would get a fix and arrange a rescue. At 0250 the light was discovered to be a burning oil tank when passed over at 20’ altitude. The plane flew down a nearby landing strip and observed a flashing green light evidently inviting a landing. The strip looked serviceable and one crew member suggested landing although all now realized that the strip under them was Boela airdrome. [Boela Air Field was occupied by the Japanese in March 1942 through the duration of the war.] The pilot vetoed this suggestion as he did not feel they could destroy the airplane in time to prevent compromise. A 90° turn to the left carried them out to sea and into a rainstorm. No anti-aircraft fire was received from Boela which, along with the flashing green light, suggests that the enemy was expecting one of their planes or knowing the predicament of this plane, hoped to capture it.
The fuel gauges now indicated empty, but the pilot decided to continue until he was out of the rain and had the benefit of visibility before attempting the landing. With only occasional glimpses of the water beneath, he was unable to judge his altitude. Altitude was lost and before he wished, the fuselage was dragging through the water. The pilot called for flaps, but before he had more than 10°, the water landing was underway. The plane hit at 0308 on a 90° course into easy ground swells approximately three feet high. The position was 03 05 S 130 33 E. The landing was rough and was made without a warning to the crew. The position of the crew members at the time of their land and their method of escape were as follows:
Pilot: Although strapped in his seat he was thrown through the windshield sustaining deep painful cuts about the face.
Copilot: He was strapped to the copilot seat. He made his exit through the escape action in the forward compartment.
Bombardier: Was crouched behind the pilots on the flight deck. He followed the copilot through the escape hatch.
Navigator: Was on the floor of the navigators compartment padded with parachutes. He did not escape and it is believed that he was crushed by the turret which broke loose and fell forward on impact.
Radio operator: Was at his station not strapped to his stool as he was not aware that the landing was imminent. He escaped through the right waste window sustaining several deep cuts on his buttocks which cause considerable discomfort during the ensuing days.
Lt. Fiezl was sitting on the floor on the radio operators left, padded with parachutes. He escaped through the right waste window in advance of the radio operator.
Engineer-Gunner: Was sitting on the floor opposite to and facing Lieut. Fiezl. His method of escape is unknown. He sustained a compound fracture of his right leg.
Tail Gunner: Was sitting on the floor on the engineers right. It is believed he was knocked unconscious accounting for his failure to escape.
The tail section was torn away in the crash and could not be seen. Although both the co-pilot and radio operator pulled the life raft release, the raft was not out of its compartment when the radio operator made his exit. He re-entered the plane, which was rapidly filling with water and again gave the release a series of violent tugs, but the raft still refused to break out. He climbed on top of the fuselage and finding the door of the raft compartment unlatched but jammed, forced it open and pulled out the raft. The pilot, the co-pilot, and the radio operator boarded the raft immediately and, guided by the cries of those still in the water, started picking up survivors. Lt. Fiezl and the engineer were picked up in the immediate vicinity. The bombardier was a poor swimmer and in addition had a defective life vest. He expended all his efforts in remaining afloat without regard to his position and had drifted approximately 250 yards away from the plane when picked up 20 minutes later. (One cartridge in the life vest was lost in the plane prior to landing when he was checking the apparatus; the valve was open in the other compartment and the gas escaped when the cylinder was punctured).
The plane sank approximately 45 seconds after landing. The fuselage was so badly damaged it could not possibly have remained afloat for so long a time except for the buoyancy furnished by the empty tanks.
As soon as all were certain beyond doubt that there were no more survivors in the water, the raft was allowed to drift southeast approximately five miles off the coast. All personal kits were lost in the crash. The emergency equipment in the raft and four pistols were the only supplies salvaged. All were well clothed with shoes and leggings. The entire crew except the pilot vomited from the salt water which they had swallowed. Two syrettes of morphine were administered to the engineer and his wound was sprinkled with sulpha powder and bandaged.
At daybreak all hands had recovered physically and were in good spirits. Various Alllied planes passed overhead and the party felt they would soon be spotted. During the morning hours the engineer suffered considerably and at noon the pilot decided to land and attempt to set the leg. The sail was raised and the raft took up a westerly course in a good breeze that carried the craft through the Bay of Boela within a mile of shore. No activity was observed on the coast, except that the fire in the oil storage tank which served as a beacon the previous night was still burning. While approaching the beach, several of the crew thought they saw a native watching them, but he was hidden in the fringe of the jungle and they were not positive on this point. In view of later events it seems likely that they were observed at this time.
A beachhead was made at 1730 at a point midway between Bay of Boela and Ingelas Bay on the NE coast of Ceram. Just prior to landing, a K-ration was opened, but the contents were soaked in salt water and after a cracker per man had been rationed out, no edible portion remained. Three emergency water cans were on hand. On landing, the injured gunner was carried to the beach, the equipment was stacked nearby and the raft was hidden in the mangroves which bordered the beach.
The pilot made a short reconnaissance trip and on return posted a sentry 75 yards on either side of the party. The bombardier was on the east flank and Lt. Fiezl on the west. The co-pilot and radio operator administered the last remaining syrette of morphine to the engineer and under the supervision of the pilot attempted to set the bone. This caused excruciating pain and after pulling the leg with all their strength in an unsuccessful attempt to position the bone properly, it was given up as an impossible job. They decided to splint the leg with sticks to prevent movement of the bone. They were engaged in this when the sentry on the east gave an alarm, calling out the single word “Japs”.
The pilot immediately ran to the west flank and asked the sentry there to rejoin the party. The party gathered around the injured member with pistols drawn; a hurried conference was held with some members wishing to fight it out while others felt it would be best to be taken prisoner of war. The pilot decided on the latter course, as flight with the injured man was impossible and the small party with only four pistols and limited ammunition could not hope to hold off an attack if unable to retreat and hide.
Meanwhile a party of five Japs and one native had jumped the bombardier from the rear as he was guarding the eastern approach to the beachhead. A bayonet was placed across his throat but he managed to give the alarm in spite of increased pressure applied to the bayonet. The Japs did a great deal of unintelligible jabbering as they tied the bombardier’s hands crossed behind him with the straps from his Mae West. During the short struggle before he was subdued he attempted to fire his pistol but it would not operate although he operated the slide manually several times. One of the Japs was identified as an officer by his Samurai sword and his complete uniform, including a cap upon which was pinned a bar similar to our First Lieutenant’s insignia. The remainder of the group were dressed in nondescript clothing with no uniformity. One was armed with a pistol similar to a Luger; the officer carried the large Samurai sword which all identified, having seen similar weapons previously among battle trophies; the balance of the intruders were armed with bayonets, and all the fliers agreed that each had one more of those weapons. The native wore only a pair of shorts and was bearded. He was described as light-skinned compared to the natives previously seen in the Solomon Islands. He communicated with the Japs by hand signs only. All seemed mostly concerned about the disposition of the American’s jungle knife which was attached to his belt, but it is believed that it was finally given to the native, possibly as a reward for his treason.
After the capture was completed, the Jap officer in good English asked the captive how many were in the party. When the American hesitated in his reply, the Jap, perhaps uncertain of his English, hold up two fingers and pointed toward the beachhead. The bombardier nodded affirmatively; this underestimate of the strength of the survivors possibly accounts for their defeat in the ensuing fight. One Jap and the native were left with the captive and the remaining four approached the American party in single file down a narrow footpath.
As the Japs approached, the pilot again cautioned his crew against resistance; all had their hands up (three had pistols in their right hands) and several called out that they desired to surrender. For some reason the enemy showed no inclination to take prisoners. Perhaps they were confused by a larger group than they expected and suspicioned a trap; perhaps they felt the one officer captive was sufficient for interrogation, and for the glory of the Emperor decided to annihilate the invaders.
They attacked on the run, brandishing their weapons. Several of the defenders fired, but only the pistol held by Sgt. LoPresti functioned. He shot the Jap officer through the forehead after the officer had hurtled the injured engineer lying on the sand and was about to strike with the sword. The action during the next few seconds is confused. Drawing from the mental pictures retained by the survivors, the following facts are established. Col. Spencer was knocked off his feet and Lt. Ivy deflected a bayonet plunge aimed at the pilot’s back. Meanwhile Sgt. LoPresti had shot a third Jap through the chest and the fourth in an unobserved spot, but both were out of the struggle. Seeing the party struggling on the ground, he went to their help and shot the last of the attackers point blank under his right shoulder, causing him to relinquish his hold.
Lt. Ivy somewhat enraged by his wound and incensed by the unwarranted attack proceeded to dissipate any life left in the attackers by inserting and reinserting a Jap bayonet several times into each prostate body. There is no doubt but that four very dead Japs were strewn about the beachhead.
The last seen of Lt. Fiezl was at the beginning of the action. He was standing on the edge of the jungle pointing his pistol, which refused to fire at the oncoming party. All agree he must have attempted an escape in the jungle. Some believe the Jap armed with a pistol fired at him; Lt. Ingram believes he heard only .45 caliber shots, which discredits the belief that he was fired upon.
Lt. Ingram was sitting on the ground during the battle with the guard of two nearby. The native seemed unhappy and ashamed about the whole affair and dropped his eyes each time the captive glanced in his direction. The Jap did not speak. After the action was over, Lt. Ingram, certain that the Americans had been taken, arose and walked down the trail with the Jap following. The beach party, equally certain that Lt. Ingram had been executed, were rapidly proceeding to evacuate in case additional patrols were near. As the two approached, the Jap, possibly shocked by what he saw, offered no resistance as Lt. Ivy stepped forward and connected with a very accurate and very hard blow to the chin knocking him to the ground. Sgt. LoPresti now stepped forward to administer the coup de grace with the muzzle resting on the Nip’s head. The pistol misfired; the Sgt. then struck him on the head with the muzzle but the blow was not sufficient to drop him and he scrambled off into the brush at a speed reported by all as amazing. Sgt. LoPresti in a last offensive gesture threw the pistol at the retreating shape and the engagement was concluded.
The Japs were described as appearing well fed and in excellent condition. One carried a pair of binoculars. Col. Spencer ordered the party to take no souvenirs and make no further examinations of the bodies or effects, as a hurried retreat seemed discreet.
By 1810 the raft had been pushed to sea with the five survivors aboard. When darkness fell the craft was about two miles off shore; the sea anchor was dropped and the party prepared to spend the night with no definite plans laid for the following day. This night was the most torturous period of the entire eight days. Sgt. Sutton was delirious most of the night. The sea was rough making it impossible to remain dry and the air and water were very cold. The survivors huddled together to furnish a little warmth to each other.
Daybreak of the seventh was welcome. An inventory was taken and it was found that almost the entire meager supply of emergency equipment had been lost on the beach. No rations, no water, and no first aid equipment were on hand. The raft was discovered to be leaking gas and losing its buoyancy. At 1000 it was decided to try the beach again but at a different spot. The sail had been lost and all day-long the party struggled to make progress on their course. One paddled while two stayed in the water and swam, pushing the raft ahead of them. Shore was reached after dark, at about 2000. The last 50 yards to shore against the swells was described as a nightmare, and exact details are lacking. The raft was almost entirely deflated, and it was feared that the injured member might be lost.
On landing the party completely exhausted left the raft on the beach and made their way 50 yards inland, where the burden of the incapacitated member became too great and they dropped on the spot falling to sleep immediately. At 0200 they awakened and made another 50 yards inland but again they found their burden too exhausting and were forced to stop the trek. At this stage a simple litter was constructed and thereafter movement was easier. Before daybreak another 100 yards was covered. All hands retired again but were awakened at daybreak by a wild pig wandering near their location. This was daybreak of the eighth, the third morning away from base.
The jungle was not dense. Visibility through the trees was at least 25 yards. Lts. Ingram and Ivy left at daybreak to forage for food, returning about noon with three cocoanuts and a quart of water from a nearby stream. This expedition also picked up a good idea of the neighboring terrain. After lunch the party again moved in an effort to find a camp spot near the stream from which the water had been obtained. A native trail was discovered, and this facilitated the progress. At 1430 a large sheltering tree was spotted 15 yards off the trail and it was decided to make an overnight camp at this point. The two Lts. again went after water and the party settled down to rest.
At about 1630 voices were heard on the trail and two apparently unarmed Japs were observed plodding along the trail laden with large packs. Hunger almost overcame discretion and an attack on the two with clubs was taken under consideration, but realizing their obligation to the helpless Sgt. Sutton the men discarded the thought.
The party rested well that night and awoke the morning of the ninth much improved in spirits. In discussing their situation all concurred in the opinion that they could hide out and live in the jungle until help came. A valuable contribution to the improved morale was the attitude of Sgt. Sutton who declared he was feeling much better and that a great deal of his pain had subsided. He joked about his predicament and this spirit was an inspiration to the rest.
After daylight they again hit the trail and made their way to the stream, which they followed downstream to within 150 yards of the beach. Here their final camp site was established. On the second day at this location a crude lean-to was constructed as a shelter against rain.
From this time to the morning of the 13th their life was comparatively uneventful. Coconuts were found in an adjacent grove, along with a few lemons. The lemons were reported to have furnished a decided pick-up. Sgt. LoPresti was ill for several days as a result of eating a green cocoanut, but had recovered before their rescue. Sgt. Sutton’s wound showed no sign of infection but was infested with maggots which possibly explains the lack of infection. It was powdered daily with sulpha which was becoming so scarce that the others did not use it on their less serious cuts. Water from the stream was convenient for drinking and bathing. Drops of iodine were added to the water for several days, but the vial was lost during the trek, and it was drunk thereafter without treatment and without any ill effects. Chiggers, ants, flies, and mosquitos were abundant and bothersome. Game was plentiful but could not be killed without weapons. Two watchers were dispatched to the beach each day and on the approach of friendly planes scratched out a sign reading “HELP-SPENCER-FOOD.” Late one nightthe party believed they heard a motor-driven barge or a float plane landing at or near Boela.
Many planes passed overhead during the four day period of waiting. Twelve P-47’s flew low over their position on the morning of the twelfth, and they were certain their message had been seen by at least two. This later proved to be correct. Their greatest disappointment came later the same day when a Catalina searched up and down at low altitude only a mile off shore. Despite a mirror which was flashed at the plane as long as it was in sight they were not seen.
On the morning of the thirteenth at 0900, two B-25’s flew over the area and spotted the survivors. These planes stayed in the area for about twenty minutes dropping candy bars, an Australian jungle kit, and a signal flare. At 1000 a Catalina landed protected by the two P-47s which had made the sighting the previous day. The two pilots unable to contact a rescue plane the preceding day had returned to base and volunteered to lead the rescue plane to the spot the following day.
A boat was sent ashore, and by 1130 all were aboard ready for take-off. Lt. Ivy attempted to swim to the plane to avoid overloading the small boat, but did not count on his diminished strength and was saved by the Catalina pilot, First Lt. Griffin, who dived into the water and assisted him to safety. The narrative ends with the five survivors receiving hospital treatment at Biak at 1430.
Matthias Little, Jr.
Major, Air Corp
Matthias Little, Jr., Major, USAAF. Water Landing of B-25-J Piloted by Lt. Col. Truman A. Spencer. Office of the Intelligence Officer, Headquarters 42nd Bombardment Group (M), 18 October 1944, microfilm B0131, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1973, frames 2087-2093.