The Big One
Raid on Palau
Like About Bob
Preface & Reader Response
A fellow pilot in the 22 Bomb Group shot a home movie while in the Pacific with Lt. Col. R. W. Hulme, USAF (Ret.). He sent a VHS copy to the R. W. Hulme family and this photo is taken from that videotape. It is possible that R. W. Hulme is piloting this airplane while on a mission.
WWII – Pacific Theater – The Air
RAID ON PALAU
by Lt. Col. Robert W. Hulme, USAF (Ret.)
The 22 Bomb Group took off fully loaded from Nabzab, New Guinea, and flew to Hollandia on the afternoon of June 8, 1944. Before daylight on the 9th we took off for Wakde Island to re-fuel and be briefed for the mission. Before we reached Wakde, the radio there said "Bandits in the area. We are under attack. Boxcars go back to where you came from." I returned to Hollandia and again landed with a full bomb load (which I didn't particularly relish) for the second time on this mission. No sooner were we on the ground than Wakde radio advised that the area was clear. We took off again and flew to Wakde. While ships were being refueled we had another briefing. Because of Jap raids, the ground defenses were getting trigger happy. Each ship was given a letter in Morse code that we were to flash when we returned to Wakde Island, which was a coral island about 5000 yards long and half as wide. We were also advised to approach from a small island five miles north of Wakde.
Twenty-eight B-24's took off for Palau around 10 a.m. June 9, 1944. Several ships turned back for various reasons. About twenty minutes before we reached the target only seven ships remained. Col. Robinson was flying lead. Frank Mims was on his left wing and I was flying #318 on his right. George Jacobi, B flight leader (with no wingman – they had aborted) was flying in the "bucket" directly behind and below Col. Robinson. The 33rd squadron leader and two wingmen were behind Jacobi. About this time a black Zeke appeared on our left out of machine gun range. He flew there for several minutes without attempting to attack. Then the stuff hit the fan! We were attacked from all directions by Tojos and Zekes. Towering cumulus clouds were in the area. So Col. Robinson skirted those to keep the fighters on one side. Over target ack-ack was intense. The pilot of the 33rd squadron forced Jacobi out of "B" lead position, so Jacobi flew on my right wing over the target. It has always been my impression that the 33rd lead ship was shot down over the target. Japs harassed us for several minutes after bombs were away. Several were believed to have been shot down. Finally they disappeared. Were we glad! The weather continued to worsen. It was like flying in a heavy fog. I had to stick close to Col. Robinson in order to see him. We flew several hours like this until all at once we were in a thunderhead. I couldn't see anything. I banked sharply to the right to avoid collision with the Col. For an incredible time L. J. Sperry, co-pilot, and I tried to keep the plane in flying altitude. We were both on the controls with all our strength. The air speed indicator would vary from 50 to 300 mph. Altitude would vary thousands of feet. We flew every heading on the compass, using artificial horizon. Every other instrument on the panel was going crazy. After an eternity we were flying in heavy rain but turbulence had subsided. We were 500 feet over the ocean and had no idea where we were. I asked B. K. Wilson, navigator, for a compass heading. He gave me one. About ten minutes later another 15 degree correction. I told the radio operator to see if he could raise Wakde. He told me that our radio was out. I sent Sperry, who had been a radio operator before he took pilot training, to go back and help the radio operator fix the radio. After he went back the #3 engine sputtered and almost stopped. I hollered to the engineer to switch the gas supply and told Sperry over intercom to come back to his position. Another engine sputtered. About this time it was dark and I saw a light ahead. I got on the intercom and told the crew that I had seen light and it might be a Jap ship or American. In either case, prepare to ditch. Would you believe that it was Wakde Island! We were approaching from the south. I told the copilot to drop the landing gear and flaps. We made a straight-in approach and landed, expecting any second to be fired on by ground defense. When wheels touched the runway every one shouted at the top of their lungs! I pulled off the end of the runway and cut the engines. A full Colonel pulled up in a jeep. He had a quart of rye whiskey. A gas truck pulled up to refuel old #318 while we killed the quart. We had 55 gallons of fuel left when we landed.
About this time a B-24 approached from the north. He was 300 feet above the runway. It was Frank Mims on three engines. He lost one over the target. Incredibly he got #974 on the ground and pulled off the side of the runway. Then another B-24 approached from the same direction as I had, the south. The runway sloped down to the edge of the ocean. Col. Robinson landed under the slope and washed his landing gear out. We flew back to Nadzab, New Guinea, the next day.
Forty years later I saw Byron K. Wilson, the navigator, at a squadron reunion in Panama City, Florida. I asked B. K. how he knew what headings to give me that night in 1944. He said, "Bob, the man upstairs was navigating for us that night."