Wednesday, January 2, 2019

New Years on Kodiak, 1943

Happy New Year!!  2018 has been a phenomenal year so much so that there was no way to keep up with writing about it all.   I never would have dreamed in a million years where this project of passion would have taken me but I am sure glad it has.  I am loving every minute of this work and feel incredibly honored to be able to do it on behalf of those who can not.  2019 will be no different with more of the same awesomeness on the horizon.

As for the guys in 111 (F) Squadron, New Year's Day 1943 brought a glimmer of jubilation for the squadron, now stationed on Kodiak Island, Alaska, with the announcement of their squadron leader, Battle of Britain veteran Kenneth Boomer, receiving  the Distinguished Flying Cross for his participation in the first successful fighter escorted bombing mission over Kiska. 

RCAF S/L Kenneth Boomer, DFC, AA

1- 1- 1943 

Corporal Henley, E., A.F.M. "A", and Mitchinson, T.C. Armourer (guns), "A" appointed Acting Sergeants (Paid).  LAC's Blow, C.A., Armourer (guns) "A", Kellet, R. S., Armourer "A" and Fordham, J.G. A.F.M. "A", appointed Acting Corporals (paid).  Trade test results published.  Majority airmen on strength now have "A" grouping.  LAC Paquet, J.W. was admitted to post hospital at 2000 hours. At 1500 hours LAC Molar, N.J. and Tomkinson, F. and fifteen other airmen who are returning to Canada to proceed on leave, boarded the "USS Wallace".  Flying Officer R. Lynch has been appointed officer responsible the daily diary.  W.O.2. Merkely, E.A., made a reconnaissance flight to determine the best locality for a bomb sight.  The officers accepted an invitation to attend a steak dinner in the Airmen's Mess and during that meal the news was received that Squadron Leader K.A. Boomer had been invested with the D.F.C. by his Majesty, King George VI.  This was greeted with hearty applause.  Local training flights and one A & E test carried out.  Total flying time 6:10 hours.

It was during that joint offensive over Kiska, lead by Colonel Jack Chennault, son of Fighting Tiger fame, General Claire Chennault, where the Canadian Squadron Leader was able to down an enemy Rufe over Kiska Harbor forcing the pilot to bail out into the icy Bering Sea.  This turned out to be an important event in RCAF history as this Aleutian aerial victory would serve as the only RCAF victory of the Pacific Theater.     

Here is a Summery of the Operational Mission on Kiska written by S/L Boomer himself that appears in the Squadron Diary as Appendix Three, dated 29-9-1942.  Equally as interesting is Boomer's account on what tactics and characteristics he observed from the enemy encounter.   This written summary was to be distributed to other squadrons in an effort to help prepare the ally pilots should they encounter this type of opposition in combat.   Up until that point, the nimble Japanese fighters had dominated the skies.  It was these types of reports plus the U.S. recovery and the rebuilding of the Koga Zero found on the Aleutian Island of Akutan that allowed the allies to gain air superiority in the Pacific.


"September 25, 1942

Summary of Operational Mission on Kiska 

4-RCAF Kittyhawks over Umnak en route to Fireplace (Adak), 22-9-1942

Squadron Leader K.A. Boomer, Flying Officers R. Lynch, J. G. Gohl, and Pilot Officer H.O. Gooding departed from Fort Glenn at 1330 hours, 22-9-42 to refuel at Fireplace,  then to strafe Kiska. The mission consisted of 9 B-24's, 12 P-39's and 20 P-40's.  The aircraft landed at Fireplace at 1600 hours, 22-9-42, refueling by all crews was carried out, and the following morning at 0900 hours the aircraft took off to complete the mission. Heavy rainstorms and poor visibility was encountered for approximately one hour's flying, and the aircraft were forced to turn back,  weather necessitating the aircraft ascending to 17,000 feet on the return trip. One American aircraft was lost, supposedly due to weather, and the planes landed at 11:45 hours. Continued bad weather prevented the operation from being carried out until the morning of the 25th. At 0800 hours, 25-9-42 the aircraft again took off, and the weather was good throughout the trip.  We arrived at Kiska harbour at approximately 10:00  hours.  The Canadian Flight crossed Little Kiska Island, experiencing little fire from that point. Crossing the north head of the Harbour they heavily  attacked naval gun emplacements and also several 50 caliber guns, continuing they attacked the main camp area and Squadron Leader Boomer with Pilot Officer Gooding also attacked enemy Radar Stations. Turning right the formation re-crossed the north head again attacking gun emplacements.  Inside the Harbour area one enemy zero fighter float plane was encountered and destroyed by Squadron Leader Boomer.  After circling the harbour, an enemy submarine was discovered also being attacked by American pilots. Canadians joined in this and made several attacks each.  The formation then joined the B-24's, five miles east of Segula Island and returned to the base at Fireside (sic), landing at 11:50 hours.
The Canadian Pilots expended their full load of ammunition and returned safely with no damage to the aircraft. The time of the trip was 3 hours and 50 minutes."

L-R- P/O Bob Lynch, General Corlett, P/O Hal Gooding and an American airman.

Three other Canadian pilots who participated in that joint mission also received American Air Medals making them, in all likelihood, the very first Allies (and definitely the first Canadians) to receive American Air Medals during WWII.  Yet another interesting factoid that this campaign provides.  Photo'd above, on the left is my grandfather P/O Lynch and his squadron-mate P/O Hal Gooding who is receiving his Air Medal ribbon from General Corlett.  General Corlett is the American Army commander who lead the joint landing on Kiska which was the final push to reclaim the territory and officially end the campaign.  Corlett must have been stationed at Fort Greely as he appears several times in the squadron diary, hosting dinners for the Canadian officers, conducting inspections and as you see him here, pinning ribbons.

SIDE NOTE: Incidentally, the zero that S/L Boomer shot down was in pursuit and actively firing at an American P-40 flown by Major Al Aiken.  Just weeks before I discovered the American account of this mission that listed Major Al Aiken as the pilot in that troubled Warhawk, my good buddy- Aleutian WWII P-40 pilot Lt. Col (RET) Bob Brocklehurst, just happen to be telling me a wartime story about when his not so happy Major had to rescue him from a farmers cub sized air strip in Grant's Pass, Oregon where he had accidentally landed his new P-40 (instead of the intended strip in Medford, Oregon). The next day, the Major showed up in a staff car and much to the dismay of Bob,  flew the P-40 out of there while Bob watched from the back seat of the auto.  This Major was none other than Al Aiken!  It took me all of a hot minute to get Bob on the phone so I could tell him that the Canadian Squadron Leader (who was also flying with my grandfather) saved Major Aiken's life during a mission over Kiska!

Canadian artist, Rich Thistle paints his version of the battle over Kiska Harbor.

It is stories like these that continually demonstrate how the pieces of this journey keep connecting itself to one another.  One would think I would be used to these happenings by now but nope- I am still awestruck by it with every single occurrence and find it most reassuring to keep on this path. 

Here is another-  from the first day I met Bob he would recount several stories about his good friends, American airmen Lt. Bacon and Lt. Crisp and how during roll call they would make jokes about crispy bacon... (get it..?).  And just the other day when researching the Canadian squadron diaries I came across an entry that actually had these two lieutenants, Crisp and Bacon,  listed as being on patrol duty with our 111 Squadron pilots, Jim Gohl and Hal Gooding while on Umnak!  Love love these connections.

And so I write...  


Monday, October 29, 2018

Aleutian Island WWII History Expeditions- PLANE WRECKS

After our Aleutian Campaign Warbirds In Review Session at Oshkosh this summer, I had many people asking me about how they could be part a Aleutian Island WWII Historical Expedition. And actually, the tour company who handles all the details of our tour was too wrapped with their D-Day events that we did not have a tour scheduled for 2019.  Not anymore.... Alaska Marine Expeditions and I decided this would be a great opportunity to create a special aviation themed history expedition through the Aleutians!

I am happy to announce, due to popular demand, a WWII Battleground Expedition- Plane Wreck tour has been added to the schedule for the summer of 2019!

This tour will have many of the main sights we would normally see but we will spend more time exploring and hunting out wreck sites that we have not gone to before.   Exciting stuff! 

For more information check out the event page and contact me with questions.  In the meantime, here are a few (of thousands) of my favorite shots from our previous trips.   Experience of a lifetime! 

4.7 Inch Coastal Defense Gun, North Head of Kiska
Pulled up marston matting on Alexai Point Airfield, Attu.
The wreck of a P-61 Black Widow on Umnak.
Gun Emplacement attached to a network of trenches and buildings on Umnak.

The landing gear of a B-24D on Atka.

We had a visitor at the Japanese Sub Base on Kiska.
Japanese shipwreck-  Nozima Maru in Kiska Harbor
Old WWII beechwood hanger on Umnak with Tuilik Volcano in back.

Lunchtime on Attu.
The Officer's Club on Umnak.

WWII Aerology Building now Aleutian WWII National Historic Area Visitor Center.

Dutch Harbor pill box.  With Ballyhoo Mountain (Fort Schwatka) in back. 

Saturday, August 18, 2018

B-24D Wreck on Atka Island

The site of this 1942 B-24D crash site sits on the northwest part of the historic island of Atka along the Aleutian Island chain.  The small mountainous island is situated just 90 miles east of Adak and has a long history dating back 2,000 years with Unangax^ as its occupants. Around 1747 the Russians discovered Atka Island and made it a primary trade site while forcing the Aleut people to hunt and process the skins of seals and sea otters only to benefit the wealth and position of the Russians. The townsite of Atka was officially settled in 1860.

As with the other Aleut villages along the chain of islands the arrival of the U.S. military meant the evacuation of its people to relocation camps in the Southeast Alaska - sent to dwell in dilapidated fish canneries in a temperate rain forest and an environment completely unfamiliar to its new inhabitants. Meanwhile Atka was burned to the ground to prevent Japanese from gaining any benefit. Nonetheless, Atka residents fared slightly better than most as the US Navy reconstructed their village after the war and residents were able to return along with other Unangax^ from villages deemed too remote or unsustainable by the powers that be - sadly including those from battle filled Attu. The war had significantly changed the lives of the Aleuts forever. Today, sixty-one people call Atka Island their home with most living on the southeast side of the island.

 CRASH of B-24D- 40-2367

It was early morning December 9, 1942, when two pilots, Captains John Andrews and Louis Blau from the 404th Bombardment Squadron who were assigned to take high ranking officials, Brigadier General William Lynch and General Arnold's Inspector General on a weather patrol. They wanted to see and experience for themselves what the pilots of the 11th Air Force were having to deal with - and experience the elements they did.  Departing from Adak they flew to Attu to conduct reconnaissance on the Japanese occupation forces - and at the request of the generals extended their mission a bit too long. On the return, the once visible Adak airstrip had become completely covered in fog including the surrounding alternative island landing sites. With no improvement in conditions and running out of fuel the pilot radioed for the latest weather report and learned Atka Island offered a small window of opportunity for emergency landing by visual approach. As the Atka runway was not operational yet the options were narrowed to either bail out or crash land on the tundra.  After circling the island they found a level valley on the Northwestern side to glide the B-24D into.  After 150 rough and painfully noisy yards it came to a halt.  They all jumped out unharmed expect the bruised ego and broken collar bone of the General who had insisted on lingering over Attu.  

Although this plane sits on part of the federally protected Aleutian Island World War II National Historic Area sites, it has been scrapped over the years with people helping themselves to whatever parts they wanted to needed.  Even so, it is still in great shape and has survived the harsh climate well.  As we approach and the fog envelops the steep slopes surrounding the valley where it sits, it acts as yet another example of the dangers that Aleutian Campaign pilots faced every day.