VI BOMBER COMMAND
IN DEFENSE OF THE PANAMA CANAL
1941 - 45
Areas of Interest:
VI Bombardment Command History:
6th BGp (Heavy)
3rd BS (Heavy)
29th BS (Heavy)
74th BS (Heavy)
397th BS (Heavy)
9th BGp (Heavy)
1st BS (Heavy)
5th BS (Heavy)
99th BS (Heavy)
430th BS (Heavy)
25th BGp (Medium)
12th BS (Medium)
35th BS (Medium)
59th BS (Medium)
417th BS (Medium)
40th BGp (Heavy)
25th BS (Heavy)
44th BS (Heavy)
45th BS (Heavy)
395th BS (Heavy)
Units Attached to VI Bomber Command
10th BS (Heavy)
15th BS (Light)
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6th Bombardment Group
3rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy)
Constituted 3rd Bombardment Squadron on January 1, 1938, and redesignated 3rd Bombardment Squadron (Medium) on December 22, 1939, the Third was activated February 1, 1940, and assigned to the 6th Bombardment Group, with duty station at France Field, Canal Zone (CZ).
The 3rd Bombardment Squadron (Medium) was redesignated 3rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) on November 20, 1940.
The personnel strength of the 3rd Bombardment Squadron was 23 officers and 191 enlisted personnel on December 7. It had four B-18s and one B-17-B.
The Third made a temporary change of station to Rio Hato Army Air Base, R. de P. The move was completed by 1000, December 11, and the Squadron was ready for tactical operations, although the ground echelon had not yet completed the move.
A detachment of 76 officers and enlisted men departed from the operationally combined 3rd, 25th, and 74th Bombardment Squadrons for Guatemala City, Guatemala, via tactical and Service Command aircraft.
The detached 3rd Bombardment Squadron personnel returned to Rio Hato Air Base from Guatemala by tactical aircraft on December 23.
The Third made another temporary change of station to the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, on May 4, under the provisions of paragraph 3, Special Order Number 105, Headquarters, Sixth Air Force, May 3, 1942. It was the Third's duty while stationed in the Galapagos to patrol the Pacific approaches to the Panama Canal. The Third's ground echelon, consisting of 159 officers and enlisted men, departed from Balboa by water transportation on May 6, enroute to the Galapagos Islands to establish facilities for tactical operation from that base.
The air echelon of the 3rd Bombardment Squadron, comprised of 23 officers and enlisted men, departed by tactical aircraft on June 4. The 3rd Squadron arrived at the new Army air base at the Galapagos Islands in June 1942. This was an event of first importance, for it was the first time an Army four-engine Squadron had been based at the Galapagos. Now, there was a striking force almost 1,000 miles seaward from Panama.
The aircraft flown by the Third at that time consisted of a number of B-18s of uncertain vintage, two PBY-5s on loan from the Navy, some LB-30s which had previously been used by the RAF in unnumbered hundreds of hours patrol of the North Sea, and a few B-17Es.
The Third's first fatal accident occurred in July 1942 when an LB-30, homeward bound on a routine patrol, crashed into the peak of Indefatigable Island, within minutes' flying time of its home field. The entire 10-man crew was lost.
The Hq. & Hq. Squadron, 6th Bombardment Group, was disbanded on August 10, and 16 officers and enlisted men of the disbanded unit were dispersed to the Third.
On August 31, the 3rd Bombardment Squadron had 289 officer and enlisted personnel, two B-18 aircraft, and four 4-engine aircraft (type not identified).
The 3rd Bombardment Squadron received a full allotment of new airplanes, exchanging its motley assortment for a full complement of B-24Ds.
The Third was running three Major patrol areas. These included runs from the Galapagos to Guatemala City; Salinas, Ecuador; and to Tulara, Peru.
The Squadron had 360 assigned personnel, and two two-engine, nine four-engine, and one other aircraft assigned.
Squadron "X," an entire squadron, minus aircraft and equipment, and consisting of 56 officers and 320 enlisted men, under the command of Captain Craig M. Yengst, landed at Cristobal, CZ, on February 18. Squadron "X," activated at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho, in the latter part of 1942, and comprised mostly of personnel from the 6th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) of the 29th Bombardment Group (Heavy), moved to Anton, R. de P., by truck convoy, on the day of its arrival. It was soon learned that "X" was to be known and designated as the 29th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) for the purpose of staging and orientation to the new area of operations. The flying crew members of the "new" 29th were sent to the organization training unit (OTU) at Rio Hato AAB in the latter part of February and early March for transition in LB-30s, B-17Bs and Es, and B-24Ds, as well as training in patrol procedures, et cetera. The subsequent four weeks were devoted to "processing."
Captain Yengst's outfit, the 29th Bombardment Squadron (formerly Squadron "X,"), moved by air and truck convoy to David, R. de P., on March 1. The Third, in the meantime, was in the process of moving from the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, to David, R. de P., to be relieved by the 29th and redeployed to the United States. The 29th Bombardment Squadron (Yengst commanding) arrived at David on March 12, and took over the identity and equipment of the "old" 3rd, thereby acquiring three ancient LB-30s, formerly used by the RAF in North Sea patrol, and one Piper Cub (L-4A).
The personnel of the "old" 3rd Bombardment Squadron then moved to Anton, R. de P., and took the designation of the 29th Bombardment Squadron, in accordance with Special Orders No. 26, Headquarters V1 Bomber Command, March 12, 1943.
On March 25, the "new" Third at David was transferred to the Army Air Base at Tulara, Peru, a 8,000' air field newly constructed a few miles from the oil refining town of Tulara, Peru (Movement Order No. 1, Headquarters, VI Bomber Command, March 27, 1943).
The Third's air echelon, consisting of 20 officers and 24 enlisted men, proceeded to Tulara by air on April 1. Due to transportation difficulties, the ground echelon did not leave David until April 27, arriving at Tulara, Peru, on May 4, via Salinas, Ecuador, and the Galapagos Islands, after embarking on a surface vessel at Puerto Armuelles, R. de P., on April 4. The arrival of the Third's ground echelon completed the Squadron's move, and allowed the 397th Bombardment Squadron stationed at the Galapagos to be relieved. The same transport carried the 397th Bombardment Squadron to Howard Field for return of the personnel to the United States for reassignment.
Three weeks after its arrival at Tulara, the Third was ordered to pack up and move to Salinas, Ecuador, to relieve the 25th Bombardment Squadron, a part of the departing 40th Bombardment Group (Heavy). The Third left Tulara for Salinas by plane (old LB-30s) and boat (a very small one) on May 25, the planes arriving at Salinas the morning and afternoon of May 25, and the boat in the morning of May 26. The boat was unloaded immediately upon the Squadron's arrival at Salinas, and was quickly loaded with the 25th's men and equipment. The 25th Bombardment Squadron departed Salinas the morning of May 27.
By the end of May, the Third had made a complete change of tactical aircraft, the LB-30s having been exchanged for 11 B-17Es.
The month of June saw a great improvement in the efficiency of the 3rd Bombardment Squadron. This was attributable to the Squadron's acquisition of the previously mentioned B-17Es, an aircraft in which its personnel had trained in the States; good climatic conditions; and excellent recreational facilities.
On June 11, an aircraft of the 74th Bombardment Squadron, under the Third's operational control, and piloted by Capt.Merrill R. Cook with a composite crew of the 3rd and 74th, developed mechanical trouble and fire, and crashed at sea about 30 miles southwest of San Jose, Guatemala, during a Command Post Exercise (CPX). 3rd Bombardment Squadron personnel killed in the crash included Capt. Cook and Sgt. Wilbur W. Anderson, Gunner. Survivors of the crash included the following Third personnel: 2d. Lt. Elved M. Steele (Copilot); 2d. Lt.Kirkendall Carlton (Navigator); TSgt. Richard E. Bransford (Engineer); and Sgt. William M. Walsh (Radio Operator). The survivors were picked up by an Army transport that had witnessed the crash from about 10 miles away.
Major William P. Mullins, formerly assigned to the 395th Bombardment Squadron, assumed command of the Third on June 12, relieving Capt. Craig M.Yengst.
The first days of July were filled with rumors of another transfer. This time back to David from whence the Third had come to Tulara. The final notice to move arrived about July 9 (Movement Order No. 9, Headquarters, VI Bomber Command, July 10, 1943). The movement was to be made entirely by air, using the Third's own planes plus six planes from the 20th Troop Carrier Squadron, to move personnel, baggage, and equipment. The first planes with men, baggage, and equipment took off from Salinas for David on the morning of July 11. The airlift continued until July 15 when all men, equipment, and baggage had been moved.
This move cost the lives of 12 men and the destruction of one B-17E aircraft and a great deal of equipment. The aircraft, piloted by 1st. Lt. Neal J. Peterson, crashed on reaching David, R. de P. There was a heavy rain pouring down on the field, and in coming over the field, Lt. Peterson was not able to line up his aircraft with the runway. Apparently, while trying to go around for another attempt, the aircraft lost flying speed and fell approximately 200 feet, crashed and burned. In addition to Lt. Peterson, 2d. Lts. George M. Wajagich, John D. Reep, and Arthur L. Adler lost their lives. Also killed in the crash were TSgt. Francis P. Dawson; SSgts. Charles R. Greene, Elbert M. Ball, and Warren R. Harding; Sgts. John E. Saul and John P. Vukes; Cpl. Robert P. Merchant; and Pvt. Harry Bullard.
The Third accomplished much flying and ground training during the period June 26 to July 25, including the time spent in the movement from Salinas, Ecuador, to David, R. de P. The Squadron flew 35 navigation training missions (135.4 hours) for cadets that were being trained at the Rio Hato Replacement Training Unit (RTU); 16 missions (7.15 Hours) on a CPX ordered by VI Bomber Command; 70.2 hours of formation flying; 13 hours in flying aircraft to Tulara for washing; 366.5 hours in ferrying the Third from Salinas to David; 2.5 hours on a special photographic mission for the Navy; 8.8 hours of test flights; and three special search missions for a lost Ecuadorian vessel and airplane.
Fifteen (15) officers and 40 enlisted men were placed on detached service to the 74th Bombardment Squadron stationed at Guatemala City, Guatemala, to supplement the 74th's patrol work.
Navigation Cadets were assigned to the Third for training in August. The Squadron flew 97 missions (424.5 hours) in support of the navigational training of cadets during the period July 26 to August 25.
1st. Lt. William E. Christensen made a forced landing at Guatemala shortly after take-off. The aircraft, a B-17E, was marked for salvage. One gunner, a crewmember of the 74th Bombardment Squadron died following the accident.
Six planes and crews were ordered to Guatemala to assist the 74th Bombardment Squadron in patrol work out of Guatemala City. These crews remained there about six weeks during which time the 74th's B-24s underwent a technical order change. This left the Third at David with only four planes. Nevertheless, work and training continued as usual.
Captain Marvin H. Aherns joined the Third on August 9, and was assigned duties of Executive Officer. Capt. Aherns had previously been the Commanding Officer of the 397th Bombardment Squadron, at Rio Hato, R. de P.
Cadet student navigators being trained at the Rio Hato Operational Training Unit (OTU) of the VI Bomber Command graduated on August 28, and four members of the newly commissioned class were assigned to the 3rd Bombardment Squadron. These included 2d. Lts. James B. Kaldal, Donald S. Pratt, Harry Goodman, and Fred J. Ertel. The cadets' graduation and party at Rio Hato were attended by a large number of the 3rd's officers.
The Third flew no tactical missions in September, but did fly 143 missions (359.6 hours) while participating in special searches directed by the VI Bomber Command. The latter included participating in a search for the "Armitage," a lost Army supply boat, in an area bounded by Rio Hato, David, Galapagos, and Salinas, with negative results.
The Squadron's B-17Es were called into the Panama Air Depot for overhaul. This required that each affected aircraft remain at PAD from 40 to 50 days.
The search for the "Armitage" continued from September 26 to October 25. The Third also participated in another search for a B-24D aircraft of the 29th Bombardment Squadron from the Galapagos that became lost during a search for a Navy PBY patrol aircraft in the vicinity of the Cocos Islands. The Third, additionally, performed 35 search and photographic missions (216.5 hours); and 34 training missions (79 hours). The Squadron flew 169 hours devoted to administrative flights, transporting personnel and aircraft between air bases.
The grounding of aircraft for a fuel shortage, which began in October, continued to cause aircraft to be grounded during the early part of November.
After flying two missions over the Pacific with aircraft of the 397th Bombardment Squadron, while participating in an exercise problem that began November 23, a "Bandit" message was received that indicated an actual enemy situation. The exercise was terminated, and, upon landing at David, all available aircraft of the Third were ordered to fly anti-submarine searches in the Caribbean out of France Field and Rio Hato Air Base. During this campaign, the Third's aircraft flew 33 tactical missions, for a total of 254.9 hours. While none of the Third's aircraft actually located a submarine, an aircraft of another Squadron in the same relative search area delivered an attack on November 24.
The Third was relieved from assignment to the 6th Bombardment Group, and reassigned to the VI Bomber Command on November 1.
The Third spent the balance of 1943 in training and administrative flights.
On January 19, two C-47s loaded with 15 officers and 18 enlisted men from the Third took off from David for Orlando, FL, to attend a three-week course of instruction in staff operational work at the School of Applied Tactics. All the married men met their wives there and had a reunion, however, there were several single men along who just played the field with the local talent.
The Third flew a total of 380.3 hours during the month. Two hundred and four (204) hours of this figure were devoted to bombing practice. The Squadron flew seven CPX missions (35.3 hours) in coordination with the 10th Bombardment Squadron (Medium) and the 397th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) against an escort aircraft carrier in the Pacific.
Operational flying hours for February totaled 277.7, all of which were expended in support of 110 missions. Ninety-six (96) of these missions were for crew proficiency, three were Command Post Exercises (CPXs), and 11 were AWS calibration missions.
February 1944 marked one year of service in Panama for the men of Squadron "X" which took over the identity and equipment of the "old" 3rd. On February 18, the officers celebrated their first anniversary in the Panama Canal Department (PCD). It was quite an affair and everyone enjoyed himself. There was a good bit of singing that night of old favorites, such as "Down by the Old Mill Stream" and many others.
The men sent to AFFTAC, at Orlando, FL, returned to the Squadron.
Major William P. Mullins, Squadron Commander, was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.
The Third flew a total of 329.6 hours, of which 255.2 were operational, 238.4 training, and 74.4 non-operational. Ninety percent (90%) of the eight complete crews had over one year of combat crew service, and 63% of the two incomplete crews had over one year of such service.
Captain Marvin H. Ahrens, the Executive Officer, was promoted to Major in March.
The Third's strength in March was about 320 enlisted men and 56 officers.
April brought a considerable change for the 3rd Bombardment Squadron. Movement Order No. 1, Headquarters, VI Bomber Command, April 6, 1944, moved the entire Third, plus baggage and equipment, from David, R. de P., to Howard Field, CZ. Movement Order No. 1 also moved the Headquarters of the Bomber Command from Albrook Field to Howard Field, and the 29th Bombardment Squadron from the Galapagos to Howard Field. The enlisted barracks and officer quarters at Howard were extremely nice. All buildings were permanent ones and built of brick and tile.
Most of April was spent in moving and fixing up new offices. Consequently, less training than usual was accomplished.
Cpl. Joseph L. Roberts, assigned to the Medical Section, was found on April 24 hanged to death from a tree on the post. He had been missing since April 12. The court rendered a verdict of suicide.
The B-17s, that the Third had been using for the past year, were turned into the Panama Air Depot, and were to be replaced by B-24Ds. By April, the Squadron had received four B-24Ds in all.
The personnel strength consisted of approximately 320 enlisted and 60 officer personnel.
After having moved from David, R. de P., to Howard Field, CZ, in April, most of May was spent in becoming adjusted to the conveniences of living in comparative civilization, and operating from the near nerve center of the activities of the entire area. The Third, heretofore, had always been stationed at outposts and far removed from close communication with its Headquarters. Now, the Squadron was situated at the same field as the Headquarters, VI Bomber Command. Also stationed at Howard was the 29th Bombardment Squadron which had recently moved in from the Galapagos Islands. This made for amicable relations and close cooperation in the accomplishment of tactical and training missions, and brought about a better appreciation for the problems of a higher echelon.
The month of May was largely spent in adjusting to the new surroundings while carrying out the Squadron's normal and routine training.
Early in June, the first appreciable movement of personnel since arrival of the Third in Panama took place. Seventy-two (72) enlisted men were reassigned from the Squadron to the United States for further assignment. This was the first indication in approximately one-year that there might be some hope for rotation from the area. It must be kept in mind that at the time of the Third's arrival in Panama the plan was for the rotation of one squadron per month into the area and the relief of another. At that time, the VI Bomber Command was comprised of the 6th and 40th Bombardment Groups. However, with the departure of the 40th in June 1943, the plan for further rotation of Squadrons vanished. Now, one year later, a substantial number of personnel were moved on one order.
Two B-24Ds and 13 pilots, newly arrived from the States, were assigned to the Third in June.
Lt. Col. William M. Mullins was released from assignment as the Commanding Officer of the Third, and returned to the United States on June 20. Major Marvin C. Ahrens, the Executive Officer, assumed command of the 3rd Bombardment Squadron.
Submarine activity in the Caribbean took a sudden spurt in July when several merchant vessels were sunk not far out from the Canal. The Third transferred operations to France Field, CZ, and took up active submarine hunt patrols in the Caribbean in support of the Navy's anti-submarine warfare. One of the Third's planes, along with others from other Squadrons, flew coordinated patrols with the Navy out of Hato Field, Curacao Island. Many suspicious contacts were made, mostly by radar, but no definite enemy contact was made.
Two more B-24Ds were assigned to the Third, and three enlisted men transferred to the United States in July.
The Third participated in exercises with other squadrons of the Command in maneuvers with the Navy during the latter part of July. On July 22, six of the Squadron's aircraft rendezvoused with the 74th Bombardment Squadron and made simulated night attacks on one CVE in a five-hour mission. Six individual aircraft, leaving the Galapagos Islands during the night, made simulated strikes on the Gatun Locks in the Panama Canal, shortly after daylight on July 29.
Early in August, "nullus" problems continued. On August 8, seven of the Third's aircraft made simulated attacks on one CV and three DDs approximately 60 miles north of Cristobal. On August 11, six aircraft returning to Howard Field from Batista, Cuba, made individual simulated attacks on the Canal locks. Several of the participating aircraft completed their attacks without fighter interception. Two of the 3rd's aircraft, in a two and one-half hour mission on August 12, worked problems and exercises with the Cruiser "Raleigh" in the Gulf of Panama.
Many bombing missions were flown by the Third and other Squadrons of the Command during the month, in chemical warfare bombing of San Jose Island in the Gulf of Panama to test the effectiveness of chemical agents laid by aircraft in tropical conditions. This work and the results were of a highly confidential nature.
The Third moved from Howard Field to its new permanent base at Rio Hato, R. de P., on August 26. This was the first time the Squadron had been permanently assigned at Rio Hato, although the personnel were well acquainted with the AAB there, having taken their operational flying training at that base during March 1943. This move left only two bases in the entire area from which heavy bombers operated that the Third had not be stationed- - Guatemala City, Guatemala; and the Galapagos Islands. The matter of changing stations had now become the routine, rather than the unusual. Aircraft and truck convoy accomplished the movement to Rio Hato.
Routine training and flying continued in September at their normal rates. The Third carried out only one maneuver during the month. On September 3, nine aircraft operating as one unit carried out strikes against a CV of the "Essex" class and three DDs escorting the larger unit.
The outstanding event of October was the reassignment of 20 officers and 30 enlisted flying personnel (five complete crews) to the United States. Again, hopes of rotation and fighting a "real" war, rather than the "sitting and waiting" war, flourished in the personnel of the Squadron. In October, untrained combat crews arrived from the United States as replacements, and the Third was faced with the problem of training these new replacements as combat crews.
During October, one B-24D was assigned to the Squadron.
On October 18, six of the Third's aircraft, in conjunction with planes from the 29th Bombardment Squadron, participated in a five-hour mission with naval craft in a homing mission.
November brought several maneuvers and problems with naval craft for the Third, as well as much difficult night flying. On November 16, seven aircraft made a night formation flight to intercept a task force in the Caribbean at dawn. The task force consisted of one BB and its escorts. A second attack mission was flown during the morning and made its strike about noon. On November 17, 13 aircraft took off at 0320R for a simulated attack on the same task force, but landed at 0640R because of unsafe weather conditions. A second flight took off at daylight and made a low-level attack on the same task force which was then approximately 30 miles north of Cristobal. Colonel James E. Roberts, Commanding Officer, VI Bomber Command, in a letter, commended the Third on its performance during the previous period of night flying under conditions which were termed "hazardous." The final special mission for the month was on November 30 when the Third flew patrol tracks at night south of the Isthmus searching for a naval force. The naval force was located and three of the Squadron's aircraft were used in conjunction with planes of the 29th Bombardment Squadron in a daylight attack.
The Third continued to be a training unit for combat crews. The five new crews assigned to the Squadron during the latter part of October had been constantly trained in bombing, navigation, formation flying, etc. Several of the new pilots had been checked out as limited pilots on B-24D type aircraft.
On December 5, Major Marvin H. Ahrens, the commanding officer, received notice from higher headquarters to move the Squadron back to the auxiliary airdrome at David, R. de P., for a period of a few weeks while the runway at Rio Hato, R. de P., was under repair. The move was accomplished on December 8 by truck convoy, B-24D type aircraft, assistance from the planes and men of the 20th Troop Carrier Squadron, and one barge. Fifty-six (56) officers and 275 enlisted men were moved, along with adequate equipment to operate in the field for six or seven weeks. The remainder of the enlisted men present for duty and one chief warrant officer, CWO Vernon R. Proffitt, remained at Rio Hato to guard equipment left behind and to keep the Squadron area well policed.
The Third, upon its arrival at David, was faced with a shortage of bunks due to the fact that the barge had not yet arrived with them. Many men were forced to sleep on the ground, but only for one night, and no ill effects were produced. It took approximately two days to get the Squadron situated and in smooth working order again. This was not difficult for the Third to do, because David was well known to over half of the men, they having been stationed there for over a year on previous occasions; however, had David been new to all eyes, the job of moving in and settling down would have been terrific.
The Squadron in having its personnel divided experienced a great deal of difficulty. By having part of the men at David and part of them at Rio Hato, yet all men still under the supervision of the Air Base at Rio Hato, many complications arose in the beginning; however, these problems were solved.
On the morning of December 19, the Third took part in another Command Post Exercise (CPX) which was part of the training program for combat crews in the area. A nine-plane formation left David at 10:30 AM, and returned to David after seven hours of continuous formation flying. There was a simulated attack on an U. S. carrier near Jamaica during this period.
On December 22, the Third again took part in a CPX. The same nine-plane formation again flew seven hours of formation and made a simulated attack on an U. S. carrier near Jamaica.
Christmas Day, 1944, at David was not too exciting, since the town of David did not offer a great deal of entertainment.
The leave and furlough situation was kind to the officers and enlisted men assigned to the Third. Nine officers and 20 some odd enlisted men were in the United States or on local leave or furlough during the month. This represented a fair percentage of the Third's assigned personnel considering the difficulty experienced in arranging transportation to and from the States.
1st. Lt. Robert W. Cosnahan was assigned to the 3rd Bombardment Squadron, in December, as the Intelligence Officer.
At the end of December, there were 65 officers, one warrant officer, and 376 enlisted men assigned to the Squadron.
New Year's day 1945 was celebrated in a quiet manner, David having been placed off limits to Third personnel due to political trouble in the Republic of Panama.
The Third was alerted for a CPX on January 3. The exercise took place, and the Squadron resumed normal status on the same day.
1st. Lt. Richard J. Hoyer, ASN 0-1554016, was assigned as Ordnance Officer on January 4, vice 1st. Lt. Forrest H. Alter, ASN 0-1551484, who returned to the United States.
Troop Movement Order #7, Headquarters, VI Bomber Command confirmed the verbal orders of the Commanding Officer, VI Bomber Command, that directed the Third's temporary change of station from Rio Hato to David.
On January 25, Major Marvin H. Ahrens, Commanding Officer, received verbal orders from the Commanding Officer, VI Bomber Command, to move the rest of the Third to David, R. de P., for a permanent, rather than a temporary change of station. Work was begun on January 26 on the removal of the 45 men at Rio Hato, R. de P., and all Squadron and personal equipment to David. The transfer of men and equipment was accomplished by the use of one barge and all of the Third's B-24 airplanes.
The Third was placed on alert status on July 25 for a forthcoming CPX. Three administrative plans of operation- - Able, Baker, and Charlie, were given to the Squadron. Able Plan involved a day formation with fighter escort; Baker Plan, night flare attack coordinating individual aircraft attacks; and Charlie Plan was a night formation. The crews were briefed on the aforementioned plans. The Third took off at dawn on July 26 to execute Able Plan, rendezvousing with the 397th and 74th Bombardment Squadrons at Rio Hato, and with a fighter escort at Mandinga Point. Rendezvous were effected, and attack made on a carrier, "Essex" class, and two destroyers in the Caribbean. The aircraft, upon landing, were ordered to report to Colonel Rice, the Rio Hato Base Commander, for operational control. Baker Plan was executed that night. The Third's aircraft returned to David for landing at approximately 0500Z on July 27, and the crews were interrogated. Targets had been located and flares dropped.
Ten (10) of the Third's crews and aircraft were ordered to Rio Hato on July 31, and participated in the 38th anniversary of the Air Forces on the following day.
The news that the Third would remain at David permanently received a mixed reception from the Squadron's enlisted men. The newer replacements that had not been stationed at David before were not in sympathy with the decision, while the older men of the unit, veterans of previous stays at David, were heartily in favor of it. Though accommodations at David were somewhat more primitive than at Rio Hato, the men were divided up into a greater number of barracks, more widely scattered, rather than in three large barracks as were at Rio Hato.
The Third had a total of 365 enlisted men assigned, 284 present for duty, 75 on detached service or temporary duty travel, four sick in hospital, and two in confinement.
The Third was designated as a training squadron, with responsibility for receiving all new replacement crews assigned to the Command, putting them through a three-month training program, after which the crews would be assigned to an operational Squadron. The first group of seven new combat crews arrived at David on February 9. Eighty-one (81) percent of its first phase missions had been completed by the end of February.
By the end of February, the Third had an assigned personnel strength of 70 officers and 298 enlisted men; and 12 B-24D aircraft assigned.
April was the peak month in the training program being executed by the Third. During this month, the Squadron received many additional training devices, the personnel had become well acquainted with their role as instructors, and no CPX’s were held that interfered with the planned training program. The Second Phase missions were completed, and a good percentage of Third Phase missions were accomplished. A total of 526:05 hours were devoted to Flying Training, 188:55 hours of which were formation, another 77:40 hours were high altitude formation, and 152:55 hours were devoted to Navigation and Camera Bombing Missions. Gunnery, bombing, instrument, and transition accounted for the balance of the flying time. The S-3 report for the period showed the Squadron to have 10 complete crews and two incomplete crews.
The Third's instructor personnel flew a special photographic mission to Salinas, Ecuador; and Tulara, Peru to obtain photographs and target information to be used in Third Phase Camera Bombing Missions.
Major Paul J. Quinn, the Third's Executive Officer and Director of Training, was transferred to the 29th Bombardment Squadron, at the Galapagos Islands, as Commanding Officer.
Command Post Exercises (CPX’s) started early in May, the first one being held on May 2. The exercise consisted of diverse type of attacks on the light cruiser "Dayton" and destroyer "Southerland" in the Caribbean Sea. Three aircraft took off prior to dawn, rendezvoused after daylight, identified targets on radar, then one aircraft dispersed "window," while the other two made separate attacks. The mission was successful.
The following day, May 3, two aircraft were assigned to make attacks on the same two surface vessels then in the Gulf of Panama, and to work radar calibration problems, with each aircraft approaching from different directions. This mission also proved successful.
The evening of May 21 saw the beginning of dread night formation work. The Third was ordered to fly night formation at least two hours per night. The first night flight took off at 2329Z and landed at 0148Z on May 22. Upon landing, the Squadron learned that a plane had been lost at the "Rock," and that three aircraft were to depart David during the night to arrive in the search area an hour before dawn. Upon landing at the "Rock" at noon the next morning, the three ships were ordered to refuel and return to home base, searching on the way back. Two aircraft landed at David at 0021Z and 0018Z, May 23. The third aircraft was unable to land at David because of weather, and proceeded to Rio Hato where it landed at 0113Z.
Night formation was flown from 0916Z to 1151Z on May 23, and during the mission the Third's aircraft joined with aircraft of the 74th and 397th at Rio Hato. The following morning, May 24, a nine (9) ship formation took off at 0901Z and flew formation until landing at 1131Z. Again, rendezvous was effected at Rio Hato with aircraft of the two other squadrons. During this flight, one of the Third's aircraft crashed at sea, during squadron assembly, near the field. The crew of the crashed aircraft (B-24D, No. 42-40962) included 1st. Lt. Don E. Cousins, Pilot; 1st. Lt. Gene A. Gauvereau, Navigator; and TSgt. John A. Balas, Engineer. TSgt. Balas was the only survivor.
Seven (7) new crews arrived at David from the United States on May 21 to undergo transition training. The seven (7) crews that had just completed transition training at David were transferred on May 23 to other Squadrons in VI Bomber Command.
Night formation flying continued on May 25 and 28, with five and seven aircraft, respectively, participating.
Major Herbert Rosenthal, formerly Executive Officer of the 74th Bombardment Squadron at Aguadulce, R. de P., was transferred to the 3rd Bombardment Squadron, and subsequently replaced Lt. Col. Marvin H. Ahrens as Commanding Officer when the latter was transferred to the U.S. on May 15.
Captain Weymouth G. Lowe, who was newly arrived in the area, was transferred to the Third as Executive Officer.
The Third was placed on CPX alert on May 29, at approximately 2200Z. Eight (8) aircraft with crews available were reported operational. VI Bomber Command advised at 1310Z, May 30, that Operational Plan Able was effective. Eight (8) of the Third's aircraft departed to rendezvous at Mandinga Point with the aircraft of the other two bomber Squadrons and fighter escort. Attack was made on one "Essex" Class Carrier and two Destroyers in the Caribbean Sea. The Third was relieved at 0210Z from further participation in the problem.
The Third placed two of its B-24 aircraft and crews under the operational control of the 397th Bombardment Squadron at Rio Hato on the afternoon of May 30.
The Third settled down to its regular training program for the newly assigned trainee crews. Flying missions were accomplished in the mornings, during four-hour periods of flying. This required briefing between 1000-1130Z, take-off at 12230Z, with landings at 1630Z. All flights were made with instructor personnel, and emergency procedures and instrument flying were stressed. The afternoons were devoted to four hours of ground school instruction. With the beginning of Second Phase Training, the program was shifted to six hours of flying one day, and eight hours of ground instruction the next day. This permitted longer periods of flight, and intensification of instruction in the air, following the familiarization period of the First Phase. At the end of June, 42.6 per cent of the air training, and 43.4 per cent of the ground training had been accomplished.
Between June 21 and 30, the Third delivered 10 of its B-24Ds to the Panama Air Depot (PAD), and in exchange acquired seven (7) B-24Js from other Squadrons in the area, and received three new B-24Ms from the PAD. This left the Third with two of its B-24Ds.
The first three weeks in July were devoted to a continuation of phase training for the trainee crews. After the three week period of training, 70 per cent of the air training missions, 76 per cent of the missions, and 74.3 per cent of the ground training had been completed. This training status was achieved in spite of the loss of one week of air training during the last half of the month when all of the Squadron's aircraft were grounded in anticipation of a CPX.
B-24J No. 2109854, on which 1st. Lt. Walter B. Walling was instructor pilot with a trainee crew, was involved in a minor accident on July 2 when one wheel locked on take-off, causing the nose wheel to give away, and the plane to slide to a stop at the end of the runway. No personnel were injured.
The Third participated in a combined exercise with the 29th, 74th, and 397th Bombardment Squadrons on July 26 and 27, operating as a provisional Group under the direction of Col. Rice. The exercise involved the attack of a Naval force of at least one carrier which had been reported at 1705N-7607W, as of 0830Z, on July 26. The exercise consisted of four separate missions.
The first mission of the exercise was a group attack on July 26. Thirty B-24s took off from Rio Hato, and proceeded on courses at 4,500 feet at 1207Z. A P-38 fighter force failed to rendezvous at Mandinga. Four B-24s from the Third at David joined the formation at Mandinga, bringing the total to 34 planes. The fighters caught up with the bombers between Mandinga and the target. The task force of one "Essex" type carrier and two destroyers as escort was sighted at 1534Z, position 1424 N-7828 W, on course 205 degrees, speed 25 knots. The bomb run was approximately two minutes, on course 317 degrees, at 18,000 feet. This mission was successful in locating and attacking the target. There was no interception of the bomber force by carrier planes and the aircraft returned to Rio Hato.
The second mission was a "snooper" mission flown by a Navy "snooper" plane. The "snooper" plane experienced a malfunction of equipment and lost the carrier force, but located the carrier again and supplied position reports for later missions.
The third mission was a two-plane B-24 navigation escort to lead a squadron of P-38s out over the target and back. The carrier, which had left its course and was quite a way from the briefed position, was not located.
The fourth and last mission, a night formation, involved a coordinated attack by 18 planes that were to drop flares on the carrier individually at one-minute intervals. The planes took off at 2309Z, at one-minute intervals and staggered in altitude. The target, the same Essex type carrier, was located at 1137N-7943W, at 0042Z, and flares were dropped to simulate bombs, at an altitude of 6,000 to 8,000'. The mission was successful, and Col. Rice concluded that the First Provisional Group had done an exceptionally good job.
Ten (10) of the Third's crews and aircraft were ordered to Rio Hato on July 31, and participated in the 38th anniversary of the Air Forces on the following day.
The combined 3rd, 74th, and 397th Bombardment Squadrons participated in a Provisional Bombardment Group mission over the Canal Zone on August 1, 1945, in observation of "Air Force Day." The twenty-four (24) planes of the combined units were assembled at Rio Hato, and the mission was flown under simulated combat conditions. Camera bombing runs were made on Albrook Field, the main dock group at Cristobal, and the work sheds at Balboa docks. The mission was well planned and carried out.
The First Provisional Bomb Group (Heavy), consisting of the three heavy bombardment squadrons located on the Isthmus, accomplished two special missions on August 14 and 20. The mission flown on August 14 involved the simulated bombing of the Panama Air Depot by twenty-seven (27) B-24s, the dropping of a 100-pound practice bomb on Iguana Island, and fighter interception at an altitude of 19,000'. The second special mission on August 20, was essentially of the same pattern as that of the first mission. Again, 27 B-24s participated. Simulated bombing of Gatun Locks, the dropping of a 100-pound practice bomb on Villa Island, and fighter interception formed the basis of the problem. Operational altitude was 15,000'. Both problems were successfully accomplished.
The combined Squadrons flew another simulated combat mission on August 30, with twenty-seven (27) planes participating in the flight. A camera bombing run was made on Gatun locks from 15,000 feet. From there, the formation proceeded to Aguadulce, the second IP, and made a bomb run on Villa Island. The bomb pattern was good.
The training program was nearing completion. Flying training time for August totaled 324:05 hours. In addition to the flying training hours, 103:45 hours were spent on CPX’s during the month. Rapid progress was being made in coming up to the AAF Standard 20-2 and VI Bomber Command Flight and Ground Training Directives. By the end of August, 93.7 percent of the air training missions had been completed, 96.3 percent of the missions were completed or flown, and 96.8 percent of the ground training completed.
At the end of August, the Squadron had 65 officers and 288 enlisted men assigned. Twenty-nine (29) of the assigned officers were present for duty, and 36 officers were on DS or TDY. Two hundred and forty-seven (247) of the assigned enlisted personnel were present for duty, and 41 were on DS or TDY.
The training of the trainee combat crews was completed early in August.
September 2, 1945, was officially V-J Day. The men of the Third, from that time, looked forward with a great deal of anticipation to returning to the United States. Squadron personnel were beginning to be returned to the U.S. based on their Adjusted Service Rating (ASR) Scores. Some officers and enlisted men in the States on furloughs and leave were writing back that they were being held in the States, and would not be returning to the area.
Major Rosenthal, Commanding Officer, left for the States for discharge on points on September 7, and Capt. Weymouth G. Lowe, the Executive Officer, assumed command. Captain Robert E. Henderson became Executive Officer.
The Third began preparing for a move to Rio Hato upon receipt of verbal orders from higher headquarters. All property, except TO&E property, was turned into the base for shipment. Later, TO&E property, less aircraft, was turned into the base. Letter of Headquarters, Sixth Air Force, file 320.2, Subject: "Movement Orders," September 26, 1945, ordered the air echelon of the Squadron to be moved to Rio Hato not later than September 29, with the ground echelon remaining to help close the airdrome at David, with movement to be ordered later. The Squadron, however, was to be reported "on paper" as stationed at David. Letter Order No. 1, Headquarters VI Bomber Command, September 27, 1945, directed that all aircraft and certain named officers and enlisted men of the "Flight Section" be moved to Rio Hato on temporary duty, and attached to the 397th Bombardment Squadron for rations and quarters.
The Third had 56 officers and 281 enlisted men. assigned in September. This reflected a loss of 3 officers and 51 enlisted men from the previous month.
The 3rd, 29th, 74th, and 397th Bombardment Squadrons participated in a 21-plane, combined operation flight on October 8 to intercept a Pan Agra ship carrying President Rios of Chile, taking off from Rio Hato Air Base on a direct course to Columbia. After intercepting the Pan Agra ship carrying President Rios, the bombers and fighters flew escort until the Pan Agra ship made an approach for landing at Albrook Field. The bombers and fighters then circled Taboga Island and made a low-level attack on Albrook Field and the Panama Air Depot, after which the formation circled and attacked Howard Field; whereupon the formation returned to Rio Hato.
The combined 3rd, 29th, 74th, and 397th Squadrons participated in a Nullus exercise on October 26.
The combined Squadrons participated in an 18-ship formation flight on October 30 honoring Ambassador Hines who had just arrived in Panama. The bombers passed in review over Pier 6 where his ship was docked.
The Third arrived at Rio Hato Army Air Base, from David, R. de P., the first part of October, and on October 29 was attached to the 397th for rations, quarters, and administration.
The 3rd, 29th, 74th, and 397th Bombardment Squadrons participated in a combined formation flight on December 31 to intercept Secretary of the Navy, Forrestal who was flying down to Panama in a C-54 to make an inspection tour of the Panama Canal. After flying for two hours, the formation received a radio message that Mr. Forrestal had already landed at Albrook Field. The formation immediately proceeded to fly in review over Albrook Field at an altitude of 1,000 feet, and returned to Rio Hato Air Base.
The 3rd and the 397th Bombardment Squadrons were consolidated December 31, by Special Order No. 183, Headquarters, Rio Hato Army Air Base, December 24, 1945.