Sunday, September 25, 2016

Snippets From A Squadron's Diary

I am supposed to be working on my next post, researching the 111(F) squadrons initial flight up to Elmendorf Air Force base in July of 1942 but easily got myself sidetracked and enthralled with reading every darn day of the Squadron diary up to their arrival in Alaska.  Here are a couple of diary entries that make me chuckle. I love a good sense of humor and apparently the diarist did too.  At one point in the diary and during this time frame, it was noted that my grandfather had been appointed to 'Squadron Diarist' not sure for how long he had that role and if he was still doing that during these entries but I can definitely see him saying some of these things.

The time frame is February 1942- May 1942, which is when the 111(F) Squadron was stationed in Pat Bay, now the Victoria, British Columbia Airport. Also referenced is Sea Island which is now the Vancouver Airport.   The green squadron had just arrived from Rockliffe, Ontario fresh out of B.C.A.T.P. a few months earlier and were still learning how to master the flight of the P-40.   From there the Squadron was sent on it's very first deployment as a unit- to Alaska,  in July 1942.

R.C.A.F. Pilots in Patricia Bay.   
Back Row: F/S Schwalm, F/S Lennon,  F/S Baird, F/S Merkley, F/S Weber, WO2 Orr, F/S Pigden, F/S Peacock, F/S Orthman, F/S Skelly, F/S Orthman, WO2 Johnson
Front Row L-R: P/O Lynch, P/O Gohl, P/O Williams, Flt/Lt. Kerwin , W/C Nesbitt, Ftl/Lt. Mitchell, F/O Cannon,
 P/O Ingalls

Bad weather made it impossible to do any flying today and the crew took this chance to get all the aircraft ready to be flown to Patricia Bay.  Tonight marks the fourth time our pilots have celebrated their last night in Vancouver and are finding it very expensive."

The total flying time for today was thirty-four hours and five minutes which is the highest daily total to be complied by the Squadron to date. The pilots are really happy now that they are getting a lot of flying and enthusiastic about operational training.  As a result, their work is improving daily.  Stern attacks and breakaways are now being practiced and it is funny to hear the pilots relate their reactions after this maneuver, which is a very violent procedure. Sgt. Edwards of the armament section is kept busy by loading and reloading the guns so that everyone can get some air-firing.  Our basketball team played it's first contest tonight and kept a huge throng (three in number) on the edge of their seats by a scintillating display of team work and skill.  However, as they had little training, they came out on the short end of the score. "

Today, Friday the 13th, the day of ill-omen and bad luck, came to a safe conclusion for us after twenty-one hours and twenty minutes of vigorous flying and I mean vigorous.   These breakaways after a stern attack are good practice, but the pilots feel that there must be an easier way to kill yourself.  The radio equipment could be in better working order these days; everyone is now equipped with handsets and microphones but quite a few planes cannot be used for R/T formation because of some defect in radio.  Our gasoline truck held up operations in the morning by running out of gas- again; then the long procedure had to be followed before any gas could be obtained- limiting flying to only one flight during the morning.  The officers and men were honoured guests at a pay parade during the morning. "

There was no flying today because of rain and poor visibility.  The mechanics took advantage of the lull to start giving P60 inspections to those planes due to have them.  As yesterday was pay day our sergeants pilots were anxious to get into town to spread good- cheer and joy among the natives, so when in became apparent that no flying could be done they were allowed to leave.  Spies report that many a rose was bought by our Romeos.  Sgt. Edwards of the armament section finally obtained some help; six armorers reporting today from A.A.S., Mountainview, Ont.   At the same time one armorer was S.O.S. posted to A.A.S., Mountainveiw.  One for six is a good exchange."

P/O Orr continues his good work as an instructor pilot and today checked out Sgt. McLeod, Maxmem, Clarke and Christy for solo in the Harvard.  The only pilot who got away solo on the Kittyhawk was P/O Stiles and he thrilled the spectators when he made a very unoriginal attempt to land with the wheels up: however he reacted quickly to the persuasive power of a Red Verys signal and went around again to make a successful landing.  P/O Whiteside, Gooding and Sgt. Crowley carried out air to ground firing in the morning.  The C.O. led a formation of five new pilots to have a look at their formation flying.  Twenty-nine hours and fifty-five minutes flying."

Side Note- a day later they lost one of their airmen, Sgt. D. Stapleton,  in a training accident when he crashed into deep water on the range.  This marked the second fatal accident (the first one being Sgt. Pierce who's plane went into a spin and crashed on 27-12-41) the squad has had since their formation over six months prior.

The Squadron's Kittyhawks just after arriving at Pat Bay in January, 1942.   The one on the left, AK905 is now privately owned and is still airworthy!  Photo credit- Bill's incredible website on the 111(F) Squadron.

More fighter attacks and some low-flying was done today and P/O Lynch practiced an hours instrument flying.  Sgt. Lennon acting as safety pilot.  Sgt. Lennon later took up Orchard of the anti-aircraft battery, for a ride in the Harvard.  P/O Whiteside became the first member of the squadron to do battle in the air.  His opponent was a duck and "Whitey" finally rammed it with the airscrew spinner damaging some and splattering the wind screen with gore.  He returned and landed safely none the worse for his encounter. Twenty one hours, thirty minutes flying carried out today."

Today's routine flying consisted of air to air and air to ground firing and a flight of six pilots under training: total flying time for the day being thirty-one hours, twenty minutes.  The latter exercise was carried out between 1730 and 1900 hours.  P/O  Whiteside, Gooding, Paynter and Sgt. Crowley will soon be fully trained for operational work so they are getting the most flying. WAC (Western Air Command) reported an unidentified aircraft over Esquimalt in the late afternoon and the ensuing scramble of two machines was very satisfactory.  The unidentified aircraft was a Kittyhawk piloted by Sgt. Stusiak of this squadron.  The Link Trainer program was fully extended this afternoon."

This will be a memorable day in the Squadron's history, as nearly everything happened today.  In the early morning Sgt. Schwalm did some damage to the tail assembly of A.L.110, running into the aircraft with the "Jeep". After a routine air to ground firing exercise,Sgt. Maxmem low on petrol, landed at Bellingham, refueled and on landing at our base, the undercarriage of his aircraft A.L.218, collapsed and came to rest on it's belly in the center of No. 1 runway with wrecked undercarriage and aircrew.  As a result of this accident, Pilot Officer Eskil and Sgt. Stusiak were unable to land here and forced to set down at Sea Island.  They returned and landed here in the afternoon when the runway had been cleared. Air to ground firing was carried out by Pilot Officer English and Sgt. Maxmen. Newspapermen from Victoria paid us a visit and took numerous pictures late in the afternoon.  Air Commander Stevenson, on a surprise visit, was very pleased with a four plane scramble accomplished in two minutes, thirty-one seconds. One new pilot, R.T. Walker, reported here from Ottawa today. Only nine hours, thirty-five hours of flying was done during the day. "

After this four month span of, at times, playful and somewhat story like entries, the diary seemed to revert back to a nuts and bolts, factual and dry kind of writing style for several more months, definitely noting a shift in diarists.   It picks up again once the Squadron establishes itself on Umnak but I'll save that for a later date. Writing can be a tremendous outlet, and in times of war, it was just another way one of the guys could bring some form of humaneness to what they were preparing to do and in many cases already doing. A way to cope and separate themselves from the reality of the brutal nature of the job they all signed up for.  A job they took ultimately for the benefit of us and our country.   So I say, write away diarist. Write away...

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

2017 Aleutian Tour Dates!

I am so excited to tell you that the dates for Valor Tours- 2017 Battle of the Aleutians trip has just been announced! Next year is a very special year as it marks the 75th Anniversary of the bombing of Dutch Harbor, Unalaksa which began the Aleutian Campaign. We would love for you to join us for, a once in a lifetime chance- historical tour though the battlegrounds of the Aleutians!    Due to the remoteness of this trip, limited space if available so if you are interested please make sure to call and reserve your spot! 

I will also ask you to take just a moment to share this with anyone who is interested in WW2 history- you never know who will want to hop on board!  Also post it to Facebook,Twitter, Google... to help us spread the word!  Hope you see you next year!

If you have any questions about the trip, feel free to contact me or Vicky at Valor Tours-   Also watch my blog as I will be posting highlights from the 2016 trip.

Hope to see you in June 2017!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Other Forgotten Story

Before I begin to recount to you the incredible and most memorable experience I had following in my grandfathers footsteps through the forgotten battlegrounds of the Aleutian Islands in June, I think it is important to start at the beginning, and for me, the story of WW2 in Alaska begins before any bombs were dropped.  It begins with the peaceful culture of the people who called the Aleutian Islands their home prior to the Japanese attack on June 3 & 4th, 1942.    What people may not realize is that many of these islands were inhabited by the most resourceful of resourceful a populous. A humble, simple and happy folk- the Aleuts.  

When the invasion happened and the U.S. troops moved in to defend the land, the native peoples along the chain were forced to leave the only place they called home disputably "for their own protection".  Sadly, like so many others along the Western edge of the continent, they were forced into despicable, inhumane internment camps to wait out the war, with most of them never to see the only homeland they have ever known again. 

This topic creates such conflict within me because as a Canadian, I am familiar with and can definitely empathize with the struggles of the First Nations populations historically.  It is something I grew up learning about and respecting.   It presented an interesting dichotomy that I struggled with while on the boat. On the one hand,I was on this trip to honor, and in a way celebrate, not just my grandfather, but all who served up in these remote islands.  But on the other hand, I also found myself feeling remorseful and thinking a lot about what happened to those gentle peoples and their beloved homelands.  And how do you celebrate that?

Chief, Edward Jim of the Saanich First Nation commemorated the naming of the new 111(f) squad who was the first Canadian Fighter Squadron to arrive in Alaska.  The squad was now to be known as "Thunderbird" after the Band's ancient deity.  R.C.A.F. P/O Harold Paynter in the Winnipeg Free Press pictured here with the totem.

  R.C.A.F. 111f Squadron- P/O McLeod's plane in the drink just off the Fort Greely runway in Kodiak, Alaska.  Notice the totem painted on the nose of this plane.   Not all 111f Squadron planes had this.  Not sure how they selected which plane received the totem emblem.

History is history and the reality is, that this was a battle we could not avoid.   Without a doubt, we had to go and defend ourselves.  Most definitely things could have been handled differently. No doubt. But hindsight is 20/20. Hindsight is also an essential part of the learning process. Those gross misjudgements are a fundamental piece of how we all, hopefully, learn for the future.    The key now and for generations to come is to continue to learn and evolve from the people who came before us, albeit in their good judgements or poor, while at the same time,  honoring their place in history.
This is what I am hoping to do by beginning with this post.  To bring honor and recognition to another group of people who deserve our sincerest gratitude and apologies for the sacrifices they incurred during the bloody Aleutians.

Please take a moment to learn more about their story.  This is a clip from the highly acclaimed documentary titled The Aleut Story.  I encourage you to buy the full film and learn more about their journey.

 Qaįaasakung- thank you in Unangan (Aleut).

Aleut Story from SprocketHeads on Vimeo.