The Big One
Raid on Palau
Like About Bob
WWII – Pacific Theater – The Air
by Lt. Col. Robert W. Hulme, USAF (Ret.)
On Christmas Eve, 1944, we made an early take off for one of the first raids on Luzon. Clark Field was to be the target. Twenty-three-pound fragmentation anti-personnel and anti-aircraft bombs were being delivered. We were staging out of Peleliu Island, about six hundred miles east of Mindanao, the southern-most island in the Philippine chain.
I was flying command pilot for Lt. Cameron Benson, checking him out on group lead. We were leading the wing this day. I believe a Major Disbro went along as observer.
We proceeded to the target with no problems, except for a build-up of clouds at our altitude, about 12,000 feet. P-38s were flying cover for us. We made our approach from the west, flying directly over the runway. Many aircraft were observed on the runway and in revetment areas. Even after all these years, I can still see very vividly those flashes from anti-aircraft fire. I have read since that the Japs had around 125 heavy ack-ack positions around Clark.
On bomb run, flack was so thick you could walk on it. Bomb-bay doors were open. Just as bombs were away a violent explosion shook the aircraft and it lurched to the left. I helped Lt. Benson right the plane as we left the target. Major Disbro went to assess the damage.
A 90 mm shell had entered just aft of the bomb-bay and exploded inside the airplane, killing radio operator T/Sgt. Paul Deis instantly. Waist gunner, Sgt. Vernon J. Farup, was trying to help the injured. Fifty-caliber machine gun ammunition in the waist position was exploding in all directions. Sgt. Farup threw the ammo boxes out the waist windows.
When things settled down a bit we discovered that our hydraulic system was out and the plane was full of holes. We were almost blown in two. We decided to head for the nearest friendly air strip, which was Tacloban, located on the East coast of Leyte Island in Central Philippines.
The coral strip ran right down to the water's edge. We got landing gear down and manually cranked down about a quarter flaps. We came in from the north, right down on the water. We wanted to land as short as we could so we could utilize all of the runway. We had no brakes. We told the guys in the rear to rig a parachute on the machine gun mounts and to pull the rip-cord when we slowed down some.
Benson touched down at water's edge. We landed hot, because we didn't have the lift that full flaps would have given us. Almost immediately after main gear touched the metal runway, we felt a jerk. We found out later that the rip-cord was pulled before we had lost enough speed. The jerk was caused by the parachute being torn off the airplane. We barreled down the runway with nose wheel held high, trying to lose as much speed as we could before touching it down.
Finally it went down, but we were about out of runway. Luckily, the taxi strip extended out the end of the runway to the revetment area and was slightly up hill. Steering with the throttles, we finally came to a stop. Alert ground crew members placed wooden chocks behind the main landing gear, and we stopped. We opened bomb-bay doors and cut the engines. Medics quickly unloaded the dead radio operator and administered to other wounded.
Later that night we got a hop to Palau. On Christmas morning we slept late. When I went to the mess tent for breakfast, several of the guys were absent. They were on another mission to Clark Field. A friend waved me over to his table. He had just opened a small jar of caviar that his mother had sent him. He invited me to join in celebrating Christmas. I did – but I didn't particularly like the caviar.