Thursday, January 31, 2013

Clarence O. Donoho. Newspaper Account of Broome, Australia One Day War.

Friday, May 19, 1944, The Enid Morning News
Sgt. M. Donoho Made 32-hour swim to safety
Battled South Pacific Current, Faced Sharks, but lived by Melvin Donoho

As related to a member of the public relations office staff at Carlsbad Army Air Field
“Three Zekes caught our jam-packed B-24 just as we took off, and it smacked into the sea, cracking into halves. We were dumped out as if from a steam shovel. It was a long way to shore—a 32-hour swim—and I was the only one who made it.”

Recalling that incident in the Indian ocean back in 1942, husky T.-Sgt Melvin O. Donoho from Covington began to sweat a little. Although war-hardened by more than three years of service in the south Pacific and recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, the sergeant obviously did not want to dwell on the subject very long. Even his fellow workers on the flight line at Carlsbad Army Air field in New Mexico, where he has been an armament malfunctions man since returning from the south Pacific, had not heard all about his long swim back to Broome, Australia. He always left out the details.

The sergeant, son of Clarence O. Donoho of Covington and one of the key armament men in the AAF training command because of his invaluable knowledge of installing armament in planes for combat, made a safe but harrowing evacuation from the Jap besieged Dutch island of Java. He did not run into trouble until after he arrived in Australia where he thought he was comparatively out of danger. He had put guns and bullets in planes of the 17th pursuit squadron on Java and even converted fighters to bombers while the japs were virtually swarming on the northern shores of the island. He was lucky to get out alive. Even the escape flight from Java to Broome was without mishap. His long swim came off the red-sand beach at Broome.

“The bomber cleared the runway about 10 a.m.” the sergeant recalled. “We were over the ocean and headed for Perth, about a thousand feet up, when the Zeroes strafed us with incendiaries.

“I was in the bomb bay. The plane had been converted into a transport for the emergency evacuation, and there were about 25 or 30 of us in it—army officers, medical personnel and some sick men.

“I saw the incendiaries tearing into the plane. Three burst hit the gas tank and set the ships afire. Flames were seeping the bomb bay and I got as low as I could. The plane was so full there wasn’t anywhere to move to.

“I thought it was all over when suddenly the plane struck the water and cracked open, dumping us into the water. Most of the men cleared  the wreckage and I could see some of them bobbing up and down and swimming about. High waves and a thick coat of oil on the surface kept me from seeing where they went to. There was a lot of yelling, and some of the men must have been wounded but I didn’t see them.”

“I spotted another sergeant in the water and swam to him. We grabbed three life jackets that were floating near the tail of the ship taking one extra in case we found another survivor. We couldn’t see the shore but guessed at the direction and started swimming. We looked back a few minutes later and the plane had gone down.

“We knew which direction the plane had been flying, and used the sun and stars to guide us. About 10 hours later we saw the outline of the shore. The tide coming out kept us from gaining much headway that night but we kept swimming. The other fellow complained about being hungry and thirsty. I wasn’t bothered by that because I had eaten good American food at Broome—for the first time in weeks—and had gulped 10 cups of coffee before we left.

“The sergeant and I became separated the next   morning and I never saw him after that. As I got closer to land I could see the larger rocks on the beach, but I got into a current which carried me back out to sea about two miles before I could get out of it. Right then I was ready to agree with the Australian chamber of commerce about the beautiful beaches and big sharks. That beach looked very beautiful but when I was swept away from it after almost making it, I began to lose hope especially when a shark and I started looking at each other across the waves. He came toward me, then turned away when was about 30 feet from me. He probably wasn’t hungry.

About 6 o’clock in the evening, I got to the beach. I rested awhile, then walked along the shore and found an abandoned farmhouse and a well. I drank a lot of water, and was willing to take a chance on typhoid. I followed a trail into the village of Broome, a little place with a couple of houses, a general store and a gas station. I wasn’t too hungry so I kept walking, and got to the air strip, about a quarter of a mile on the other side of town about 11 o’clock that night. I was given something to eat and put to bed in the hospital. I was asked if I was ready to move down to Perth. I told them that I was.”

Sergeant Donoho made the move that night. In a short time the was in New Guinea where he put armament in planes for 15 hellish months, ducking into ditches when Japs bombed and running for his life  when they strafed.

“He’s a helluva good armament man,” remarked one of the fellow soldiers at CAAF.

“In spite of the Japs,” said another.

Note: Newspaper article from Flora Rex Lamborn.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Broome One Day War

A little history from Glenn and Helen Rex Frazier's library.
Collier’s Photographic History of World War II, P. F. Collier & Son Corporation,
 publishers, New York, Copyright, 1946 by P. F. Collier & Son Corporation, page 69.

 “After Pearl Harbor the Japanese wasted no time in bringing into being their conception of the Greater Japanese Empire. They landed at different points on the island of Luzon and on December 10, 1941, pushed down toward Manila from the north and up from the south, and took the city on January 2, 1942, pressing the American and Philippine forces into Bataan Peninsula. They laid siege to the great base of Hong Kong and captured it on December 25, 1941. Two great ships of the British Navy, the Repulse and the Prince of Wales, were sunk on December 9. On February 15 sixty-nine days after they landed on the Malay Peninsula, Singapore, supposedly the strongest naval base in the world, surrendered, and Britain’s greatest bastion in the Pacific, the symbol of her power in the East and the key to defense of the Southwest Pacific, was lost. With equal speed the Japanese had gone into the Netherlands East Indies, which they completely occupied by March 8, 1942. With these islands, in spite of the “scorched earth” policy of the defenders, they acquired great treasures of oil, rubber, quinine, and other strategic products. From January 15 to May 1, 1942, before the monsoon season set in, the Japanese had raced through Burma, had driven the British troops from the country, and had given Lieutenant General Stilwell’s Chinese and American forces a beating. They thus blocked the Burma Road over which the Allies had supplied China. The Dutch Army garrisoned in the Netherlands Indies, the Dutch Navy, and our gallant little Asiatic Squadron were entirely inadequate to stop the onrush of the Japanese southward.“

Picture from page 70. Smashed B-17s burn on a runway of Andir aerodrome at Bandoeng, Java. This picture taken on Feb. 19, 1942, shows our planes caught and destroyed before they could take off. The Japanese held an almost complete mastery of the air and sea in the South Pacific until the late summer of 1942.

According to the Air Force Historical Research AgencyAFHRA, John Morgan Rex’s 70th Pursuit Squadron was assigned to the US Army Forces in Fiji on January 28, 1942 and participated in the evacuation of Java. 

Just after 9:00 A.M. on March 3, 1942, nine Japanese warplanes and a reconnaissance plane reached the flying boat anchorage at Roebuck Bay, Australia and the RAAF base at Broome, Ausralia Airfield. The enemy planes strafed aircraft on the ground and engaged those in the air, including a USAAF B-24A Liberator full of wounded personnel.

“Several allied machines did manage to get airborne as the attack began. An American Liberator bomber, under the command of Lt. Edson Kester scrambled into the air, but was immediately pounced upon by a Zero piloted by Warrant Officer Osamu Kudo. Despite Kester’s valiant attempts to evade Kudo’s relentless attack, the bomber crashed into the sea some 10 km off Cable Beach, breaking in half on impact. Of the 33 servicemen aboard, many of whom were sick and wounded, all but two were killed in the crash or were drowned. Army surgeon Capt. Charles Stafford was seen trying to help the wounded, but to no avail – he and the others soon slipped beneath the surface and were drowned. Only Sergeants Melvin Donaho and William Beatty managed to get away from the sinking aircraft – but more of them later.” 

"Meanwhile other Zeros had been strafing the bombers and transports on the Broome airstrip, and before long these too were burning furiously, but fortunately there was no loss of life. By co-incidence, a Dutch pilot – Fl. Lt. “Gus” Winckel – had taken a machine gun from his Lockheed Lodestar aircraft and was servicing it when the raid began. 

"Firing from the hip, with the barrel resting over his arm, Winckel managed to hit several of the low-flying enemy fighters, and was successful in shooting down the Zero flown by Warrant Officer Osamu Kudo. The Zero crashed into the sea, and Kudo was killed."

"By 10:30 am all of the Allied aircraft at Broome had been destroyed, and the remaining eight Zeros and the “Babs” headed north to return to their base at Koepang." [1]

Strafing is the practice of attacking ground targets from low-flying aircraft using aircraft-mounted automatic weapons

1. Broome's One Day War, The story of the Japanese Raid on Broome, 3rd March 1942, by Mervyn W. Prime, Published by Broome Historical Society, 1992.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

USS President Polk (AP-103) transport--Voyage to New Zealand. John Morgan Rex, December 30, 1941 letter.

 USS President Polk (AP-103) was a President Jackson-class attack transport
 in the service of the United States Navy during World War II. Picture from Wikipedia.

This entire four-page letter is typed below.

Dec 30, 1941                           
Aboard SS Pres Polk at Sea.
Dear Helen & Glenn,
I have once more settled myself down to do some letter writing and I guess you are at the head of the list tonite. I am now down in the dinning room here on ship. Nearly all the officers are here and a few of the S/Sgt’s. There are all kinds of games going on. They are gambling with nearly everything, matches, cigaretts, and some money. Oh for the life of a soldier. There is a Piano at the far end and there is a group gathered around it. The boat is doing a little diving and pitching tonite but it has been mostly a roll till now. We have now been at sea nearly 12 days. I have seen nothing of land during that time either. I hope we see some soon.
The trip has been perfect so far. The S.S. Pres. Polk is just a new ship and I am traveling 1st class. Oh for swell. The meals are perfect and so is the State room with bath & shower.
At the present time Sis I’d hate to try and say just where I am at but we must be getting near the place Stewart McKinnon was on a mission [New Zealand], you know, don’t you. We sailed south for about 10 days then the last day or two we have been going west. It took us nearly 5 days to make it to the Equator, we crossed it Xmas Eve. The next day (Xmas day) we had a ceremony for some of the officers. I got pictures of it all.
It was Hot for a day or two but now it is getting colder. I hope we don’t end up at the South Pole. Ha Ha. I think we will be in port before long though. How long we will be there is hard to say. I hope a couple of days or so.
As yet I have seen nothing of the war. We did have a little scare today though but it was nothing. We have [illegible] & Life boat drill every so often too.
Christmas was quite different this year but it was swell. We had a Christmas tree here in the dinning room. And the most wonderful dinner. Yes I waited til Xmas morning to open my gifts. They were swell. Thanks a million.
We have a show here every other day and then we have several deck games.
I am on duty every other day but it is light and I have very little to do. Mostly just chase K.P.s
I am writing quite a few letters back to the states. I sure hope they all get back there.
We have a complete black out here last nite except to some of the inside rooms. It last from sundown till sunup. The days are longer down here than they were up there thank goodness.
I am having the hardest time tonite writing this letter. Last nite I wrote 3 and the nite before I wrote 4.
Well I have said about all I can for now. As for where I’ll end up that is still unknown. But war is war no matter where it is at. Take care of yourselves and I’ll do the same. We’ll be seeing you in a couple of years.
I’ll write when we get to our permanent destination. My address is still the same as was on the card. Must close for now.
Lots of Love, Johnny,
s/sgt. John M. Rex (6581412) Air Corps. C/o Postmaster “Plum” San Francisco.
The envelope on this letter was postmarked Wellington, N.Z., 11 a.m. 7 Jan 1942

Note: The letters I've posted here written by John Morgan Rex, and his mother Bessie, frequently use Xmas for Christmas. I liked the explanations and clarification of the use of Xmas written on these Mormon History blogs here and  here.

John Morgan Rex’s involvement in World War II: