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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40th Bombardment Group
44th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy)
The 44th Bombardment Squadron (Medium) was activated at Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico, on April 1, 1941, and assigned to the newly formed 40th Bombardment Group (Medium), along with three other newly activated squadrons- - Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron of the 40th Bombardment Group, and the 29th, 44th, and 45th Bombardment Squadrons. At the time of its origination, the 44th Bombardment Squadron was located in what was known as "Tent City," which was as the name implies, a number of tents southeast. of the old runway. Despite all these handicaps, and plus the fact that it was a newly formed unit, the 44th took on full duties as part of the 40th Group. The Commanding Officer of this newly formed 44th Squadron was Captain Jasper N. Bell, formerly of the 35th Squadron of the 25th Bombardment Group. During its first three months of existence, the 44th Squadron had no aircraft of its own, but was attached to the 10th Squadron for flying. After that time, it had one plane and sometimes two B-18A's. However, during all this period the training of this growing Squadron was carried on in a remarkable manner, and preparations were made for the time when it would have its own planes and equipment.The strength of the 44th at this time was approximately 180 officers and men, with monthly replacements gradually increasing the strength.
During August, the 44th left "Tent City" and moved into the new barracks across the runway. The elimination of mosquitoes, dust, and dirt, rain and mud, made things more pleasant for all members of the squadron and all personnel started out anew with a determination to make the 44th the leading squadron of the 40th Group.
Captain Bell was appointed Major and was transferred to the 25th Bombardment Group, and 1st.Lt David A. Tate of the 29th Bombardment Squadron took over the duties of Commanding Officer.
Lt. Tate was relieved as Commanding Officer of the 44th Bombardment Squadron on February 27, and 1st. Lt. William H. Banks assumed command.
Replacements from the Casual Detachment were transferred to the 44th Bombardment Squadron during the early weeks of April, bringing the strength of the squadron to about 300 officers and men. During the next few months, with equipment slowly being assigned to them, the 44th Bombardment Squadron put forth its best efforts in training combat crews and flying patrols, as directed.
On June 5, the 44th Squadron was ordered to proceed to Balboa, Canal Zone, enroute to permanent change of Station. At 12:00 Noon, June 7, the 44th took its last. look at Borinquen Field and departed for San Juan, Puerto Rico, arriving there at 4:30 P.M. and boarding the USAT No. 62 at 7:30 P.M. They remained in harbor that night, and the following morning set sail from the Island of Puerto Rico, for Balboa, Panama Canal Zone. Two stops were made enroute, the first being made at Port of Spain, Trinidad, on June 10, and the second at Aruba on June 14. Leaving Aruba the afternoon of June 14, they arrived at Cristobal, Canal Zone, at 11:45 A.M., June 16. At 2:00 P.M., they entered the Panama Canal, and at 9:20 arrived at Balboa. The squadron then left for Howard Field by truck convoy, arriving there at 11:00 P.M. Squadron personnel were quartered in temporary barracks at Howard to await further orders.
The 44th Bombardment Squadron was assigned permanent Station at Guatemala City Air Base, and on June 23, the air echelon of the 44th departed Howard Field for the new Station.
The 44th Bombardment Squadron (Medium) was redesignated as a "heavy" bombardment Squadron on July 2.
The remainder of
the 44th Bombardment Squadron left Howard Field for Balboa on July 3 to board
the U.S.S. Columbia, enroute to San Jose, Guatemala, arriving there at 2:00
P.M., July 6, 1942. From San Jose,
they left by train for Guatemala City Air Base, arriving there at 11:15 P.M.
that night, this to be their permanent Station.
The 44th, after arriving at Guatemala City Air Base, was put through an extensive training period on B-17E type aircraft. A short time later, they assumed the important role of patrol work between Guatemala City Air Base and the Galapagos Islands, the third longest patrol ever assigned any unit of the Air Corps. Although the B-17E type aircraft was new to the Squadron, they came through on top, proving their worth by keeping their airplanes in the air and flying patrols at all times. Many difficulties were experienced by the 44th the first months they were stationed at Guatemala City Air Base due to the fact that the installation was a new field under construction, and tools and equipment were long overdue in reaching the field.
Ninety-one (91) enlisted men were reassigned to the 44th Bombardment Squadron when the Hq. & Hq. Squadron, 40th Bombardment Group and the 485th Ordnance Company Aviation (Bomb) were disbanded on August 8 and 10, respectively.
Captain (Lt.) Banks was relieved as Commanding Officer of the 44th Bombardment Squadron on September 8, and Captain James I. Cornett, formerly Commanding Officer of the 29th Bombardment Squadron, assumed command.
During August and September, a number of new officers and men were added to the Squadron, bringing the strength to approximately 350 officers and men.
The 5% replacement plan went into effect in October, and the 40th Bombardment Group began to transfer personnel to the 18th Replacement Wing, Salt Lake City, Utah, under the plan.
Captain Cornett was appointed Major on November 28.
On January 6, while flying patrol, airplane #38 developed engine trouble near the runway at Galapagos Islands and was forced to make a crash landing in the bay. S/Sgt. Henry Pfingetl, Engineer; and Sgt. Bert Helton, Bombardier, were killed in this crash. Special mention went to Lts. Gaughan and Skousen, Pilot and Co-pilot of the plane, in risking their lives in an unsuccessful attempt to free Sgt.s. Pfingetl and Helton from the wreckage of the plane. All other members of the crew escaped with minor cuts and bruises. On January 7 and 8, Sgt.s. Pfingetl and Helton were buried at Galapagos Islands with highest military honors.
On January 21, bad luck again pursued the 44th Squadron. A few minutes after takeoff from Guatemala City Air Base, airplane #11 developed engine trouble and a crash landing was made by Capt. Clement V. Charbonneau in mountainous terrain and in total darkness. Capt. Charbonneau, Pilot; Lt. Sylvan H. Viner, Co-pilot; S/Sgt. Richard Arrington, Engineer; and Sgt. Shelton Graham, Bombardier, were recommended for the Legion of Merit for their bravery in line of duty in accomplishing the feat of crash landing this airplane without injury to any member of the crew.
The 74th Bombardment Squadron, which was also stationed at Guatemala City Air Base, left Guatemala on January 25, enroute to the United States. The 44th Bombardment Squadron moved from their temporary barracks at the fair grounds to the barracks vacated by the "old" 74th Squadron, and took over operational control of the tactical units stationed at the Guatemala Air Base. A "new" 74th Squadron arrived to take over planes and equipment left by the "old" 74th Squadron, and although fresh from the States they took over the task of sharing the long patrols, on which they did an excellent job of observation.
Captain Robert G. Dean, Adjutant of the 44th Bombardment Squadron, left for the United States during the first. week of February to attend flying school. Second Lieutenant Leslie E. Minor, Jr., took over the job of Adjutant until the month of May when Captain Jerome C. Leonard of the 45th Bombardment Squadron was assigned to the 44th as Adjutant.
A two-year anniversary party of the 44th Bombardment Squadron was held on April 1. Speeches and toasts were given in honor of the officers and men still in the squadron since it was formed two years ago at Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico.
The month of May brought good news to the members of the 44th Squadron in the form of a secret order stating that the 44th would proceed to Howard Field, Canal Zone, in two echelons, in preparation for transfer to a combat area or the United States.
On May 19, the 44th Bombardment Squadron was relieved from duty at Guatemala City Air Base, and the first echelon, consisting of 210 officers and men under command of Captain George T. Weschler, left Guatemala City by train at 8:40 A.M. for San Jose, Guatemala, arriving there at 1:00 P.M., and boarding the USAT "Madison" for Panama at 5:00 P.M. One stop was made at Punta Arenas, Costa Rica, where the officers and men enjoyed a two-hour shore leave. Leaving Costa Rica the following day, they arrived at Balboa, Canal Zone, at 11:00 A.M., on May 24. Arriving at Howard Field by truck convoy at 1:00 P.M., they were assigned temporary barracks awaiting further orders.
On May 30, the second echelon, under the command of Major Cornett, left Guatemala City at 1:30 P.M. by train and arrived at San Jose at 5:00 P.M., boarding the USAT "Johnson" at 6:00 P.M.
At 8:30 A.M., on June 1, the second echelon sailed from San Jose, Guatemala, arriving at Balboa, Canal Zone, at 9:00 A.M., on June 4. Leaving Balboa by truck convoy, they arrived at Howard Field, Canal Zone, joining the first echelon of the Squadron. While stationed at Howard Field awaiting further orders, the 44th Squadron was attached to the 10th Statistical Control Unit for administration, quarters and rations. The squadron personnel received training in Infantry Drill and were further equipped in preparation for their return to the United States.
A review and presentation of Air Medals was held on June 7 (General Orders No. 41, Headquarters Sixth Air Force). Colonel D. K. Mooney, Commanding Officer of the 40th Bombardment Group (Heavy), made the presentations.
On June 15, at 6:00 P.M., the 44th Squadron left Howard Field by motor convoy, arriving at Balboa at 6:45 P.M., and loaded on the USAT "George Washington," bound for San Francisco, California. Squadron personnel continued their usual duties aboard ship, with all officers and men enjoying a pleasant nine-day voyage.
At 8:30 A.M., on June 25, the personnel of the 44th Bombardment Squadron disembarked from the USAT "George Washington" and boarded the ferry "Army Queen," arriving at Fort McDowell on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay at 9:45 A.M.