VI BOMBER COMMAND
IN DEFENSE OF THE PANAMA CANAL
1941 - 45
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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)
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Units Attached to VI Bomber Command
10th BS (Heavy)
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6th Bombardment Group
74th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy)
The 74th Aero Services Squadron (later to become the 74th Bombardment Squadron) was organized at Aviation Camp, Waco, Texas, on February 22, 1918. On March 1, 1918, it was transferred to Call Field, Texas, and moved to Hazelhurst Field, New York, on July 29, 1918. The 74th Aero Squadron was demobilized at Michel Field, New York, January 28, 1919. It was reorganized at Langley Field, Virginia, June 17, 1919, and was once again demobilized at the same station on September 25, 1919. In order to perpetuate the history and traditions of the 74th Aero Services Squadron that served in the World War, it was activated as the 74th Pursuit Squadron on October 1, 1933, and assigned to the 16th Pursuit Group, with duty station at Albrook Field, Canal Zone. The 74th Pursuit Squadron was redesignated the 74th Attack Squadron on September 1, 1937; 74th Bombardment Squadron on November 1, 1939; and the 74th Bombardment Squadron (Medium) on December 6, 1939. It was released from assignment to the 16th Pursuit Group, and assigned to the 6th Bombardment Group on February 1, 1940, with its permanent duty station remaining unchanged at Albrook Field, Canal Zone.
The 74th Bombardment Squadron (Medium) was redesignated 74th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) on November 20, 1940.
On June 9, 1941, a crew comprised of 1st Lt. Robert Walton, Pilot; 2nd Lt. Otto Ernst, Copilot; WO Benson, Navigator; Cpl. Silvester Nieri, Radio Operator, and Sgt. Aldo Napolitano, Flight Engineer, was flying a navigation mission in a B-18 bomber out of Albrook Field, Canal Zone, along the southwestern coastline of the Isthmus of Panama. The aircraft and its crew were ordered to return to Albrook Field, Panama Canal Zone, its home base, to participate in a search for an O-47 observation-type aircraft carrying three occupants, that was reported lost in the southwest sector of the country. The B-18 aircraft, heading southward, entered a dark cloud, hit the top of a mountain at El Valle plunged violently downward, shearing a long patch through the trees that covered the mountain. The aircraft quickly became engulfed in flames. Sgt. Napolitano was the only crewmember who survived the crash. After the crash, Sgt. Napolitano left the scene of the crash and descended the mountain to seek help. He took refuge in a native hut, but in less than two hours after his arrival at the hut a military rescue party located him and took him to a small native village where an ambulance was waiting. The ambulance transported him fifteen miles to the Rio Hato Army Airfield.
The permanent duty station of the 74th Bombardment Squadron was changed to Howard Field (Fort Kobbe), CZ, on July 14.
The 74th Bombardment Squadron moved to Aguadulce, R. de P., in November, for field training and maneuvers.
The 74th was deployed at Aguadulce at the outbreak of hostilities on December 7, and had 288 personnel and five B-18 aircraft assigned.
It was recalled to Rio Hato on December 11, moving non-flying personnel by motor convoys, and utilizing available tactical aircraft to move tactically essential personnel.
The 74th Bombardment Squadron moved from Rio Hato to Guatemala City, on December 23. A detachment of 76 officers and enlisted men departed from the operationally combined 3rd, 25th, and 74th Bombardment Squadrons for Guatemala on December 19, via tactical and Service Command aircraft. The balance of the 74th air echelon, consisting of 35 officers and enlisted men, departed by air for Guatemala in tactical aircraft on December 23. The remainder of the 74th left by water transportation for Guatemala in a troop movement of five officers and 200 enlisted men, arriving around January 1, 1942.
The 74th had 278 personnel and seven two-engine B-18 aircraft assigned on December 31.
On March 18, 1942, a B-17-B, Serial Number 38-264 (38-20), piloted by 1st Lt. Frederick E. Price, crashed on the takeoff runway into an embankment which caused the number two engine to burst into flames. The fire was immediately extinguished. The crew, comprised of Lt. Price, 2nd Lt. August C. Seiferman (Co-Pilot), 2nd Lt. Robert H. Sedwick (Navigator), SSgt. Charles L. Lyons, Jr. (Bombardier), Cpl. Frank P. Hohmann (Engineer), Pvt. Ernest S. Fant (Assistant Engineer), Cpl. Loy B. Rea (Radio Operator), SSgt. Vernon Scott (Radar Operator), and Cpl. Norman M. Shurmaster (Tail Gunner), exited the plane through the windows and door. No injuries were sustained.
Seventy (70) officers and enlisted men of the then tactically inoperative 397th Bombardment Squadron were detached to Guatemala City on June 15, for duty with the 74th Bombardment Squadron. Another 41 enlisted men from the 395th Bombardment Squadron were placed on Detached Service with the 74th in Guatemala City, during the period July 2-7. The detached personnel were returned to their parent unit via transport aircraft provided by the Service Command.
The 74th Bombardment Squadron was relieved from assignment to the 6th Bombardment Group on August 9, and reassigned to the 40th Bombardment Group which had arrived in Panama from Puerto Rico on June 17. The change of assignment was made under the authority of General Orders Number 45, Headquarters, Sixth Air Force, August 21, 1942.
VI Bomber Command received authority to return one tactical Squadron a month in November 1942. This authority provided that personnel were to be sent from the United States, and upon their arrival, one of the experienced Squadrons was to be relieved, the new outfit assuming its designation.
The first shipment of new personnel, consisting of 320 enlisted men and 55 officers, and commanded by Captain Carl M. Cramer, arrived at Cristobal, CZ, on December 22. The unit was formed at Davis-Montham Field, AZ, late in November 1942, and designated as Squadron "X." Squadron "X" proceeded to Aguadulce, R. de P., its first duty station, where it became known as the 29th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy).
Captain Cramer's outfit, although known as the 29th Bombardment Squadron while at Aguadulce, relieved and assumed the identity and equipment of the 74th Bombardment Squadron at Guatemala City, Guatemala, on January 22. The "old" 74th Squadron was transferred to Aguadulce and assumed the identity of the 29th Bombardment Squadron, per Special Orders Number 2, Headquarters, VI Bomber Command, January 4, 1943.
The staff officers and Advance Echelon of Captain Cramer's unit were flown to Guatemala City, C.A. on January 17. The balance of the Squadron then proceeded to Balboa via truck and embarked for San Jose, Guatemala. The trip from San Jose to camp was made by train. This contingent arrived January 22. The new Squadron, upon its arrival, became known as the "new" 74th, and a few days later, the "old" 74th moved out.
The flying personnel of the "new" 74th were sent to the Operational and Replacement Unit (ORU) at Rio Hato, R. de P., for ten days of indoctrination which included information on the area and general training suitable for a new organization coming into this area.
The 44th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), at that time, was also assigned to Guatemala City, and being the senior unit, was in operational control and controlled all tactical flights. The "new" 74th immediately began flying sea patrols, along with and under the direction of the 44th Bombardment Squadron. The "new" 74th took over the planes (B-17Es) formerly operated by the "old" 74th. The B-17Es were gradually replaced by B-24Ds both in the "new" 74th and the 44th.
The 29th and 74th Bombardment Squadrons (Heavy) were released from assignment with the 40th Bombardment Group and reassigned to the 6th Bombardment Group; and the 25th and 395th Bombardment Squadrons (Heavy) were assigned from the 6th Bombardment Group to the 40th Bombardment Group, under the authority of General Orders No. 31, Headquarters Sixth Air Force, May 12, 1943
The 44th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) moved out of Guatemala City on or about, June 1, for redeployment to the United States with the departing 40th Bomb Group The whole burden of the patrols, at that time, fell to the "new" 74th.
Major Charles W. Bagstad assumed command of the 74th Bombardment Squadron on June 6.
The VI Bomber Command ordered a practice exercise on June 9, 1943. 3rd Bombardment Squadron personnel, who were present at Guatemala City to ferry a B-17 to Salinas, were placed under the operational control of the 74th for the duration of the problem. Captain Merrill R. Cook of the 3rd Bombardment Squadron, piloting a 74th aircraft, along with a mixed crew, took off for patrol at 0530, June 11. Captain Cook's aircraft lost an engine about twenty miles off the coast. The aircraft, in spite of all efforts to keep it flying, crashed at sea and exploded. Killed in the crash were Capt. Cook; 2d.Lt.Max H. Gee, Bombardier (74th); SSgt. Woodrow L. Moorman, Assistant Engineer (74th); Sgt. William A. Anderson, Gunner (3rd); Sgt. Audrey A. Flippo, Radar Operator (74th); and Cpl. James R. Harter, Student Radar Operator (74th). Survivors of the crash included 2d.Lt.E. M. Steele, Co-pilot (3rd); 2d.Lt.Kirkendall Carlton, Navigator (3rd); Sgt. William Walsh, Radio Operator (3rd); and SSgt. Richard C. Brown, Assistant Radio Operator (74th). A near-by tanker rescued the survivors. Despite rather complete statements by the survivors, no cause for the crash was ever determined.
The 74th Bombardment Squadron had eight assigned B-24D aircraft on July 1.
2d.Lt.Wayne Lowe, a first pilot, died on July 2, as a result of injuries received when his motorcycle hit a police stand in the middle of an intersection in Guatemala City the night before. He was buried in the local cemetery with a military funeral.
Late in July, all of the 74th's planes were grounded for technical order compliance, and the Third flew three of its planes to Guatemala City to be used for patrol while the 74th planes were grounded.
SSgt. Gilbert H. Kirchbaum, a tail gunner, died on August 1 in the crash of a B-17 piloted by 2d.Lt.William E. Christensen of the 3rd Bombardment Squadron. Upon landing, the wheels of the plane caught on the embankment of the south end of the runway, shearing the landing gear away. The plane skidded along the runway. SSgt. Kirchbaum was given a military funeral in the base cemetery.
The 74th Bombardment Squadron continued to fly daily patrols guarding the Pacific approaches to the Panama Canal, until the Navy took over these patrols on September 12, flying PBMs out of Corinto, Nicaragua.
The Squadron was released from assignment to the 6th Bombardment Group, and placed under the command jurisdiction of the VI Bomber Command on November 1, after the Headquarters of the 6th Bombardment Group and the VI Bomber Command were pooled.
The 74th Bombardment Squadron provided a plane and crew to the 29th Bombardment Squadron in December to assist with its patrols when the 29th was reduced to five planes because of the grounding of several of its airplanes.
The 74th, during most of 1943, continued to fly daily patrols guarding the Pacific approaches to the Panama Canal. These patrols were flown continuously from January 1943, the date of its arrival in Guatemala, until later in 1943 when the Navy began to take over complete patrol coverage. When engaged in patrol operations, the 74th Squadron flew four patrol lanes, sixty miles apart on a zig-zag course, to the Galapagos Islands, with the 29th Bombardment Squadron flying an opposing four-lane zig-zag to Guatemala City. These patrols were approximately 1,200 nautical miles in length. Later, the 74th flew loop patrols of approximately the same length, taking off and landing at Guatemala City.
After being relieved from patrols, to be held in reserve as a striking force, the 74th Bombardment Squadron reverted to a 100% training schedule. It continued its training activities, except for several periods (November 11-19, 26-28, and December 2, 1943 through January 14, 1944) when it became necessary to relieve the Navy in flying patrols after Navy planes were ordered to the Caribbean to perform anti-submarine patrol.
The repair of the runway, which was to be completely rebuilt, started in January. The runway had a rather shallow foundation and unscientific drainage, and would not have been able to stand up under heavy planes through another rainy season. Consequently, as the runway was for limited use only during the construction period, four of the 74th's planes were transferred to France Field, complete with crews, under the command of Captain Earnest Bahnsen. While at France Field, the detachment was attached to the 10th Bombardment Squadron and engaged in anti-submarine patrol in the Caribbean.
The balance of the 74th's planes were transferred to San Jose, Guatemala, on January 24. The San Jose detachment was under the command of Captain Arthur L. Cushing, and engaged in routine training activities while at that location. The 74th, thus, was split into three parts- - the administrative and command center which remained at Guatemala City under Major Badstad, and the detachments at France Field and San Jose operated by Captains Bahnsen and Cushing, under Major Badstad's control.
The first flying accident involving any plane operated by a pilot assigned to the 74th occurred on January 31. The aircraft, being flown by 2d.Lt.Stewart P. Cline, operating out of San Jose, had been towing a sleeve target for gunnery training. After the gunnery period, Lt. Cline buzzed a small freighter lying off of San Jose. On Lt. Cline's second pass, one wing of his aircraft dropped and caught the top of a wave and the plane crashed and sank. There was no explosion, but the plane was terribly shattered. Only Pvt. W. J. Zakevich, the Radio Operator, survived the crash. Crew members who lost their lives in the crash included Lt. Cline, Pilot; 2d.Lt.Cecil M. Pleasant, Co-Pilot; SSgt. Harold B. Meyer, Engineer; Sgt. Charles G. Panegoutsos, Assistant Engineer; MSgt. Charles A. Bone, Crew Chief; and Cpl. A. R. Earnest, Reel Operator. The bodies of Lt. Pleasant, SSgt. Meyer, and MSgt. Bone were lost at sea and never recovered.
The 74th Bombardment Squadron continued its training activities through February, although the San Jose detachment was limited by engine changes and other maintenance work which was required on most of its planes at that time.
Major James D. Kemp was assigned to the 74th Bombardment Squadron on February 7.
Captains Craig M. Yengst and Ernest J. Bahnsen (temporary Captain, AUS AC) were promoted to the rank of Captain in the AUS, with rank dating from February 8, 1944.
The flying hour total of officers as of February 29 was 57,636:55, for an average of 1,372:19 per officer. Many pilots were ahead of the average, including Capt.Willis L. Bond (2,041 hours), Capt.Arthur L. Cushing (2,031), Capt.Max W. Williams (1,921), Capt.John W. Adair (1,57), Maj.. Charles W. Bagstad (1,826), Capt.Charles M. Cramer (1,765), Capt.Ernest J. Bahnsen (1,699), and 2d.Lt.Laurell I. Arnold (1,688). The enlisted flight personnel had a total; of 63,374:45 flight hours, giving an average of 823:02 per man. Many enlisted men had high hourage, including TSgt. Wilding G. Harris (1,789:40), SSgt. Stewart Robinson (1,756), Sgt. J. H. Graichen (1,692:20), SSgt. Robert F. Huffman (1,681:45), Sgt. D. M. Dobbin (1,675:55), and Sgt. Alex J. Jakob (1,543:20).
The 74th Bombardment Squadron flew 9,682.09 hours of tactical mission between January 1, 1943, and February 29, 1944. This flying was logged in the 74th's aircraft, and did not include flights in the aircraft of other Squadrons that amounted to considerable hours. The 74th flew well over 1,500,00 miles of actual tactical work over water without any accidents (NOTE: The plane lost June 11, 1943 was being piloted by pilots of another Squadron).
The Squadron's flight performance during this period was a remarkable achievement, considering the adverse weather conditions encountered, as well as the physical limitations of the field itself. The weather during the rainy season (May to November) was not good. The Guatemala City field was reached from the coast, through a pass guarded on the west by a 12,000-foot extinct volcano, and on the east by an 8,500-foot peak. The floor of the pass was approximately 6,000 feet in length and the elevation of the runway was 4,852 feet. During the rainy season, the pass closed in between 12:00 noon and 6:00 p.m., and the field also was subject to heavy, low ceilings. In addition to local weather, the flight crews had to contend with the tropical front, which at times, was as far north as 8 degrees or 9 degrees N latitude. During the patrols, this front would vary in intensity. Every flight would usually be on instruments, at least part of the time, and on bad days, as many as four or five hours of continuous bad weather instrument flying had to be done.
The 74th Bombardment Squadron had been relegated to the role of a stand-by striking force by February 1944, and it was difficult to keep the Squadron motivated. The following is an extract from the unit history for the period January 1, 1943 to February 29, 1944: "It is difficult to keep these men eager with the routine training that the Squadron is occupied with at the present time. Further, when a tactical organization remains static in a "quiet sector" like this for 14 months, it causes available promotions to fall quite a bit short of the number of men deserving them. The job has been done well without the incentive provided by more active conditions."
The Air Medal was awarded to all crewmembers that had flown a total of at least 200 hours of combat patrol time. The award was made in June 1943, and based on meritorious achievement while participating in long range patrol flights over the Pacific and Caribbean approaches to the Panama Canal.
The strength of the 74th Bombardment Squadron by the end of February was 361, which included 63 officers and 298 enlisted men.
The Cadre returned from School at AAFSAT, Orlando, Florida, on March 19. The academic work at school was excellent, and the group as a whole felt that they learned many new and useful ideas.
Captain Ernest J. Bahnsen was relieved from assignment and duty with the Sixth Air Force on March 26, 1944, and ordered to report to the Control Officer, Air Gateway, Brownsville, Texas, for reception station assignment.
Major James D. Kemp became Commanding Officer of the 74th Bombardment Squadron on March 26, relieving Major Bagstad.
The afternoon and evening of March 31, the San Jose detachment had a "Beer Bust" and "Steak Fry."
Major James D. Kemp flew his staff to Albrook Field, CZ, on April 2 for a conference with VI Bomber Command regarding the movement of the 74th Bombardment Squadron from Guatemala. Major Kemp and staff returned to Guatemala on April 4, and packing became the order of the day for the next week. Squadron personnel worked furiously building crates, burning old papers and documents, scrubbing buildings, and turning in supplies. Captain Max W. Williams flew a small detachment from Guatemala to Rio Hato, R. de P., on April 7 for the purpose of taking over the supplies at that base until the 74th arrived. The detachment that had been at France Field since January moved to Rio Hato Air Base on April 10. The main movement of personnel from Guatemala began April 14 and was completed April 17. All personnel were moved by air. Equipment and footlockers were moved by boat.
After arriving at Rio Hato and unpacking, the Squadron was so spread out that it was decided to move all administrative offices (i.e., Commanding Officer, Adjutant, Orderly Room, Message Center, Mail Office, Communications, Operations, Intelligence, School Room, and Day Room) into one large building.
A new and intensive training schedule for the ground and flying personnel was launched. The flying crews were kept busy with gunnery and bombing, night-flying, and cross-country flights, landings and take-offs, and formation flying. Radar school, communications technique, intelligence lectures, rifle practice, and skeet shooting consumed the time of the ground crews. An athletic schedule of calisthenics, baseball, and swimming rounded out the full day.
The 74th Bombardment Squadron in April consisted of 57 officers, 336 enlisted men, and ten B-24D airplanes.
May was a training month. During the month, 366 practice bombs, ranging in size from thousand pounders to 100 pounds, were dropped. Operations scheduled formation flying, night flights, cross-countries, demonstration exhibitions, weather and tactical procedure flights, high altitude missions, and aerial gunnery flights. About a third of the 74th's planes were grounded for the month due to inability to obtain parts. The ground school schedule included training in blinker and code work, radar, navigation, malaria control, bombing, aircraft identification, skeet shooting, rifle and machine gun firing, radio navigation, Articles of War, and intelligence lectures.
The furlough and leave situation improved during this period. Three officers and five enlisted men who had been on furlough or leave in the United States returned to the Squadron in May; while seven officers and 13 enlisted men left for the U.S. on leave, furlough, or D.S. for the purpose of recuperation. Twelve enlisted men also spent 15-day local furloughs in Guatemala City during the month.
Brigadier General Ralph N. Wooten, Commanding General of the Sixth Air Force, was replaced by Brigadier General Edgar P. Sorenson.
The assigned strength of the 74th Bombardment Squadron in May was 61 officers, 344 enlisted men, and ten B-24D airplanes.
Fifty-five (55) of the 74th's most experienced enlisted men from the line were sent to the VI Bomber Command on June 6 for return to the United States for reassignment.
VI Bomber Command sent 55 replacement personnel, newly arrived from the United States, to the 74th on June 21.
The flying training program progressed to the stage of Group formations with the two Squadrons at Howard Field, CZ. Weather procedure, high altitude missions, Group bombing and special missions on San Jose Island were undertaken. Surprise attacks were made on various parts of the Panama Canal to give the different branches of the service that were defending the Canal some activities of a concrete nature. Sugar bombs were dropped on San Jose Island at different times, but on June 9 the real McCoy was dropped on that Island. Some night transitions were flown, but bad weather caused many of the flights to be canceled.
On June 8, a plane was sent to San Jose, Guatemala, to fly patrols between there and the Galapagos Islands.
Skeleton crews of combat teams of the different Squadrons flew the old LB-30s and B-17s from Panama to the States, and returned by transports.
As of June 30, the Squadron's gross flying hours were 59,551. Capt.Willis L. Bond had 2,208 hours; Capt. Arthur L. Cushing, 2,198 hours; Capt. Max W. Williams, 2,064 hours; Capt. John W. Adair, 1,969 hours; Maj. Charles M. Cramer, 1,898 hours; 1st. Lt. Laurell I. Arnold, 1,832 hours; and Maj. James D. Kemp had 2,091 flying hours to their credit.
Sixty-three (63) officers, 338 enlisted men, and ten B-24D airplanes were assigned to the Squadron, as of June 30.
The organization's morale was very, very low and sinking lower daily.
The 74th Bombardment Squadron sent planes to Vernam Field, Jamaica; Hato Field, Curacao; and Howard Field, CZ, on July 9, to fly anti-submarine patrols in the Caribbean. The planes returned from Jamaica on July 14 and from Curacao on July 15.
Two B-24Ds were transferred from the 74th, one going to Fighter Command, and the other to the 3rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy).
Many men went on local leave to Mexico and Guatemala when furloughs were unfrozen. Later in the month, some men in the top three grades were permitted to take leave in the United States.
The 74th's patrols in the Caribbean did not produce any actual sighting of enemy submarines, but there were several good radar contacts.
On July 19, six of the 74th's planes and four planes from the 29th Bombardment Squadron flew a special mission over San Jose Island. Nine planes dropped eighty-six H.S. bombs. Practically all the bombs were duds because of faulty fuses. On July 25, another mission was flown over San Jose Island by nine planes, six from the 74th and three from the 29th Bombardment Squadron. This mission was successful. Reports from the Island indicated that the concentration was two hundred percent better than theoretical predictions.
At the end of July, there were 371 enlisted men and 63 officers assigned to the 74th, and seven B-24Ds and nine B-24Js.
2d. Lt.Albert C. Valaer drowned on August 21, while swimming at Rio Hato, R. de P.
All the 74th's B-24Ds were turned in to the Panama Air Depot (PAD) during August, and the Squadron rounded out its quota of twelve B-24Js.
Major James D. Kemp was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on August 2, and Captain Arthur L. Cushing was promoted to Major on the same date.
Lt. Col. Kemp announced that the 74th would move to the Galapagos Islands by September 1. On August 24, an advanced echelon flew to the "Rock" to clean barracks and put quarters into condition for the Squadron. The Air Echelon and air freight were moved on August 21, and the rest of the unit departed by boat on August 23, arriving at Galapagos on August 26.
The 74th's strength on August 31 was 387 enlisted men and 60 officers.
The Squadron flew many cross-country trips during the month to various points in and about this area. There was a nine-plane formation night flight to Havana, Cuba. A total of 134 men made this trip, many of them being ground personnel. Two nights were spent at Howard Field in the Canal Zone, and two were spent at Batista Field at Havana, Cuba.
Major Cramer took a plane and crew to Albrook Field to fly to Santiago, Chile, to accompany Lt. Gen. Brett on a mission to the south.
Major General Butler, Commanding General of the Sixth Air Force, visited the Galapagos Islands for an inspection. The 74th and 397th Bombardment Squadrons flew an eighteen-plane formation while General Butler was there.
Colonel Roberts from VI Bomber Command, Lt. Gen. Brett, and the President of Ecuador visited the Galapagos Islands during September.
Many complaints were received from enlisted men concerning the quantity of food served in the Mess Hall.
The 74th's strength on September 30 was 381 enlisted men and 61 officers. The Squadron operated twelve (12) B-24Js.
Twenty (20) officers and thirty (30) enlisted men, comprising five (5) complete combat crews, were ferried to Howard Field, CZ, on October 21, for transfer back to the United States for reassignment. These crewmembers were among the 74th Squadron's most experienced personnel, many of them having been in the area since December 22, 1942. Replacements for the five-transferred crews arrived in two increments on October 28 and 31. The first group included 25 enlisted men and 20 officers; and the second group, three enlisted men.
The 74th Bombardment Squadron held a contest among all Squadron personnel to come up with an official insignia. Many interesting and clever entries were received. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners were Pfc.. James H. Fleming, 2d. Lt. Frank Y. Hutchison, and MSgt. Hugh D. Leamon. The prizes were awarded at a big Squadron party on October 14, at which time the full size insignia was unveiled. The official approval of the new insignia had not been obtained, and a copy of the insignia was to be forwarded with a copy of the Squadron history (NOTE: The Squadron's emblem, a frigate bird, had been approved August 23, 1934, apparently unknown to the 74th Squadron in 1944).
CWO Fred Helsley was transferred to Hq. & Hq. Squadron, VI Bomber Command, APO 825. 1st. Lt. Allen F. Smith, Radar Officer, and 2d.Lt.Francis J. Yorke, Technical Supply Officer, were transferred to the 74th from the 397th Bombardment Squadron at the Galapagos Islands. 2d.Lt.Gene A. Gauvreau, Navigator, transferred to the 74th from the States.
The furlough and leave situation improved in October. Three officers and five enlisted men returned from leave in the United States, while seven officers and 13 enlisted men left for the United States on leave, furlough, or detached service for the purpose of recuperation. The latter category of leave, plus the availability of air travel for key personnel, improved this important activity. In addition, 12 enlisted men spent a 15-day local furlough in Guatemala City.
The 74th received all of the replacements for the officers and enlisted aircrew members who returned to the United States in October.
The Squadron continued to operate under a "Phase Training" program similar to the 2nd Air Force training in
the United States. Its aircrews were reformed to distribute the experienced personnel among the new crewmembers as instructors.
All units of the Caribbean Defense Command, both air and ground, participated in a Command Post Exercise (CPX) between November 15 and 17. The problem concerned the defense of the Canal against a simulated enemy task force operating in the Caribbean. The 74th's role in the exercise was to fly from the Galapagos Islands to Howard Field, CZ, at night to join other elements of the Vl Bomber Command for an attack. Five (5) planes left from Galapagos at 7:30 PM, arriving at Howard Field after midnight; the balance of seven (7) planes with DEAD-RECKONING Navigators took off at 12:30 AM and arrived at Howard Field at dawn. The Squadron's first element of five (5) planes was fueled immediately while the crews were fed and briefed, after which they took off again at approximately 3:00 AM. The 74th's planes were to form over Howard Field at 15,000 feet in night formation with planes from the other three bombardment squadrons. The weather was stacked up over 17,000 feet, and this combined with a very dark night, made it impossible for the 74th's planes to form. Lt. Col. Kemp. the Squadron C.0., in charge of the 74th formation, gave all the 74th planes a heading to follow from their individual positions, and they flew that heading until it was light enough to circle and form. After forming, a formation attack was made on the task force. The later element of seven (7) planes then joined planes of the other Squadrons in a daylight formation attack, which was followed the next night by another night attack by the first Group The foul weather, added to the normal difficulty of night formation flying, made this mission a difficult one. The experience of the Squadron's older personnel was of prime importance in the successful completion of the assigned mission.
The Squadron's strength on November 30 was 377 enlisted men, 62 officers, and one Warrant Officer.
Leaves and furloughs to the United States continued for the officers and enlisted men. As one group returned, another departed. This liberal leave policy, plus promotions for six officers and 51 enlisted men, and a great improvement in the quality and quantity of the chow improved the morale of the enlisted men.
With the passing of December, the former Squadron "X" personnel who joined the 74th Bombardment Squadron in January 1942, had completed their second year in the area, although approximately fifty percent of the enlisted men, and seventy-five percent of the officers had left the Squadron. Three other officers had been lost by accident.
The "Phase Training" program continued at a rapid pace during the month, with local flying, Command Post Exercises, cross-countries to Guatemala and Panama, and much ground school.
Ten (10) of the unit's planes took off for a Command Post Exercise on December 18. The exercise lasted through December 23.
There was a peculiar down draft on the south end of the Galapagos runway on the afternoon of December 18. As 1st. Lt. Laurell I. Arnold took off in "007," the nose of his plane was forced down on the runway after he was airborne. It was a miracle that the crew and plane were not destroyed. Lt. Arnold managed to get the ship into the air. It was thought by all who saw it that Lt. Arnold would have to make a crash landing, but he made a perfectly normal landing. Somebody said to Lt. Arnold that they were glad that he made it O.K. He thought for a moment and said, "Why shouldn't we have made it? There were twelve Christian gentlemen in the plane and we all go to Church on Sundays."
The Air Base was put on a full red alert at noon on December 29.
The 74th's strength as of December 31 was 379 enlisted men, and 61 officers. The 74th operated twelve B-24Js.
The full red alert that was in full swing on December 31 had its status changed to a relaxed full red alert on January 1, and was terminated on January 3.
Major General William O. Butler, Commanding General of the Sixth Air Force, Colonel James E. Roberts, Commanding Officer of the VI Bomber Command, and members of their respective staffs visited the "Rock" on January 2 and 3.
The 74th was alerted for a few hours on January 22.
There was a CPX held from January 27 through 29. Ten (10) of the 74th's planes participated. The planes and crews spent two nights at San Jose, Guatemala.
Plane "007" was sent to the Panama Air Depot for extensive repairs the early part of the month.
The Squadron flew several cross-country flights to Guatemala City and Panama during the month. The cross-country flight on January 30 took 70 of the 74th's enlisted men- most of them privates and Pfcs- to Howard Field for reassignment.
Phase training continued at a good tempo during the month, with the men flying in the morning and attending ground school in the afternoon. The third and last phase of the 2nd Air Force Training Program was completed.
After the first week in January, heavy rains descended on the "Rock" to such an extent that the runway began to break up in spots, and the revetments became unsafe for the heavy planes. It became apparent that the 74th would have to be moved to an air base in the Republic of Panama while repair work was accomplished. When word was received from VI Bomber Command to pack up and prepare for a permanent change of station, all scheduled classes ceased and packing became the order of the day.
The enlisted men had a small "beer bust" at their mess hall in the middle of the month. The Base Commanding Officer allowed each man two bottles of beer.
Fourteen (14) of the Squadron's 2d. Lts. were finally promoted to 1st. Lt., after having been in grade 24 months or longer. No enlisted men were promoted.
As the month ended, the Russians were moving into Germany and so were the Allies on the Western Front. General MacArthur with his forces were moving toward Manila, down Luzon Island, and the 74th was prepared to move to Aguadulce, R. de P.
The 74th's strength as of January 31 consisted of 60 officers and 302 enlisted men. The 74th operated twelve (12) B-24Js.
February was a month of movement. Two combat crews were returned to the United States for reassignment, four Privates First Class were returned to the States for reassignment to the Infantry, and the 74th moved by plane and boat from the Galapagos Islands to Aguadulce in Panama. The water contingent departed from the Galapagos Islands on February 9, and arrived at Balboa, CZ, February 12. Some of the men were flown by ATC to Aguadulce, R. de P., that afternoon. The others spent the night at Albrook Field and were flown to Aguadulce the next day. All Squadron personnel had arrived at their new base at Aguadulce by February 13.
Several brush fires broke out in the vicinity of the runway at Aguadulce. The worst one happened on February 13 when all Squadron personnel were sent to the fire to help control it. No damage resulted and there was no evidence of sabotage.
The relocation of the 74th Bombardment Squadron at Aguadulce was poor from the standpoint of operations and training. Since Aguadulce was ill-equipped to service a heavy bombardment Squadron, unit personnel had to devote time that should have been spent in training to functions normally the role of base personnel. Aguadulce, a 6,000 foot dirt and sod fighter field, had inadequate facilities for night operations and would become unsuitable for four-engine operations during the rainy season.
One of the 74th's B-24Js was ground looped at David and extensively damaged. A B-24D was assigned to the unit to replace the damaged airplane.
Cross-country flights were in order again- one plane went to Guatemala City and one to Managua, Nicaragua.
Four 1st. Lts. were promoted to Captain, and one 2d.Lt.to First Lieutenant.
Toward the end of the month, local flying swung into full swing in the morning, and ground school got underway again in the afternoons.
Several planes went to Rio Hato to check out some of the co-pilots in night flying and night landings, since there were no lights on the runway at Aguadulce.
The chow situation was not good at Aguadulce. Rations were low and the quality of the food, particularly the meats, was poor.
The strength of the 74th Bombardment Squadron on February 28 was 63 officers and 298 enlisted men. Twelve (12) aircraft were assigned at the end of February. These included 11 B-24Js and one B-24D, 86.6% of which were flyable.
March was one of the busiest months in the 74th's history. The air and ground training program kept the combat personnel very busy. The ground personnel had the unique task of running an airdrome and a Squadron at the same time. Unit personnel, for that reason, had an unusually busy time in getting things organized and keeping them running.
The appearance and suitability of the recreational facilities at the Aquadulce airdrome were improved with everyone pitching in to help during their spare time. The enlisted men redecorated the NCO Club, and the officers completely redecorated their club. The swimming pool was cleaned and a pump installed, and the ball diamonds were fixed up. Despite the heavy work program, all available Squadron personnel were scheduled for five hours of physical training per week.
2d.Lt.Thomas W. Techler, Assistant Personnel Equipment Officer, tried on a parachute. He decided to open it out on the field to observe how it worked. The breeze was pretty stiff that day and when the chute opened it filled quickly. Before Lt. Techler could pull the lower shroud lines to empty the chute, it jerked him from his feet, and a gust pulled him about 100 feet, bounced him over the radar shack, and deposited him in a lumber pile, breaking one of his shoulders in the process.
April's flying training consisted of large formations, photo-bombing, and long navigational problems. The navigation missions were multi-legged flights over water that stressed celestial navigation accuracy.
The 74th Bombardment Squadron participated in three special attack problems on friendly naval vessels during the month, all of which were well executed.
The Squadron's flying time during April was 811:40 hours, compared to 767:15 for March. This was considerable in view of the eight engine changes required during the month. The large number of engine changes was due to the fact that most of the 74th's planes were received about the same time and when the engines started to "go" it became an epidemic.
The 74th's ground training had been a bit behind, but was caught up considerably during April, and was expected to be completed in another month.
The 74th Bombardment Squadron moved from Aguadulce to Rio Hato in May. The advance echelon of three officers and 20 enlisted men moved on May 1, and prepared the facilities for the arrival of the Squadron which moved on May 14 by plane and truck. A small detail was left at Aguadulce for three days for clean up duty. The movement was ordered by Secret Movement Orders #3, Headquarters VI Bomber Command, Sixth Air Force, APO 825, April 23, 1945. The first of June found the 74th pretty well settled at Rio Hato after the move from Aguadulce, R. de P.
Nine officers and thirteen (13) enlisted men returned to the United States for reassignment. These individuals were among the last of the "old timers" in the 74th Bombardment Squadron replacements for these men were received from the 3rd Bombardment Squadron on May 21, and included three pilots, two co-pilots, two navigators, two engineers, one radio operator, and six gunners.
Later in the month, the Squadron sent a pilot and a navigator to the 3rd Bombardment Squadron to serve as instructors; and received two combat returnee pilots on May 25- - Major Thomas W. Bennett, Jr., formerly of the 15th Air Force; and 1st. Lt. Raymond M. Boll, formerly of the 8th Air Force.
The 74th Squadron was notified in the afternoon of May 29 of a possible submarine sighting off the coast of Panama in the vicinity of David, and ordered to patrol the coast from Cape Mala to the Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica. The Squadron flew three patrols, one from 1600R to 2200R, and from 2100R to 0300R, and one from 0200R to 0700R. The planes each carried five flares and six depth charges. Several small boats were contacted, but no suspicious radar or visual contacts were made.
The 74th and 397th Bombardment Squadrons at Rio Hato Air Base and the 3rd Bombardment Squadron at David were alerted at 0815R on the morning of May 30, and ordered to take off immediately to attack a simulated enemy task force composed of one CV and three DDs approaching the Canal in the Caribbean. The 397th led the formation with nine planes, the 74th flew ten (10), and the 3rd joined later with eight (8) planes. The twenty-seven (27) plane formation met fighter escort as it left land. The simulated attack was successful, and the planes returned to directly to base.
A night mission on a carrier was ordered on May 30. Twenty-seven (27) B-24s participated plus one additional plane sent out before the mission as a weather ship. Take off was at 2345R. This was a coordinated mission, rather than a night formation. The twenty-seven (27) participating B-24s were divided into four flights. Three had seven planes each and one had six. The planes of each flight were stacked up at 500 feet intervals from 10,000 feet. The take off interval between planes was sixty (60) seconds for the entire Group The planes flew a planned course with a timed ETA at the point where they left land. The planes all flew a course planned to intercept the target. The planning was good as the target was found without any difficulty. Each plane then dropped two flares at an estimated 1,000 feet minimum to the East of the task force, after which they turned ninety (90) degrees to the left and flew twenty-five (25) miles before returning back to their land fall point. The Rio Hato tower controlled the landing, which was without incident despite a light shower and lack of experience in landing so many planes at night. This mission, although probably not practical, was very well run.
The total flying time for June was only 440 hours which was considerably less than normal. There was no formal flying training program during the month, and the time was used in transition, formation practice, bombing (formation and individual), and cross-country flights.
The 74th acquired three B-24Ms that had been equipped for "snooper" type operations in the Pacific area.
The Squadron had 62 officers and 283 enlisted men assigned at the end of June. The Major change in personnel during June was the assignment of 14 additional men, the first quantity assignment since January when the unit lost approximately 75 men who were returned to the United States for Infantry training.
The big topic among the men in June was redeployment. Although the 74th was the oldest bombardment Squadron in the Caribbean area, it had only four enlisted men and five officers with eighty-five (85) points or more, the number of points required for return to the United States for determination of essentiality and reassignment or discharge. Two of the five officers were recent additions to the 74th, having returned from combat duty in other theaters. The Squadron's officer and enlisted personnel, as a consequence of their relatively low number of points, were anxious to hear of a reduction in the critical score. The eligible officers were somewhat delayed as it was necessary to have replacements before being released from the Squadron. The 74th only lost two men due to being over forty (40) years of age.
One officer and two enlisted men were returned to the United States on normal area rotation. One enlisted man in the States on emergency furlough was transferred out of the organization, and one additional enlisted man left for return to the U.S. under the point system.
Three officers were transferred out to other organizations in the Area- - a co-pilot to the CDC-PCD Flight Section at Albrook Field, the Engineering Officer to the Technical Inspectors Section of VI Bomber Command, and the Ordnance Officer to the 24th Fighter Squadron at France Field, CZ.
Nineteen (19) enlisted men transferred in during July. Many of these men had previously been classed as unqualified for overseas duty, and later were approved as overseas replacements.
Flying time for the month was 626:55 hours. The VI Bomber Command Advanced Training Program required a fairly heavy ground and flying training program. The 74th's schedule for flying personnel in general was flying training on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, and ground school on the afternoons of those days, plus all day Tuesday and Thursday. Longer missions, such as navigation, patrol, and camera bombing, necessitated some changes to this schedule.
The 74th Bombardment Squadron participated with the 3rd, 29th, and 397th Bombardment Squadrons in a combined exercise on July 26 and 27, operating as a provisional Group under the direction of Colonel Rice. The exercise involved the attack of a Naval force of at least one carrier that 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 3rd 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 consisting 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 eighteen (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 Colonel Rice concluded that the First Provisional Group had done an exceptionally good job.
The strength of the 74th Bombardment Squadron as of July 31 was 59 officers and 307 enlisted men.
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 three heavy bombardment squadrons located on the Isthmus, operating as a provisional group, 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.
Five officers received notice to "clear the post," in preparation for returning to the United States. They included Major Thomas J. Bennett, Operations Officer; Captain Robert J. Bailes, Communications Officer; 1st. Lt. Paul M. Gwartney, Squadron Bombardier; 1st. Lt. Allan G. Williams, Intelligence Officer; and 2d.Lt.Donald H. Derby, Bombardier.
Total flying time on B-24s in August was 528:15 hours. July's hours were 626:55. The difference was due partly to the holidays observed, and too, the slackening in the training program.
At the end of August, 55 officers and 316 enlisted men were present for duty.
Two officers and 51 enlisted men were lost in September by the point system and the 35-year age limit. All of these men were well trained and their departure placed most of the Squadron's sections in a precarious position. Men with practically no experience replaced them.
The Squadron's B-24s were grounded, and it was waiting for the B-17s which were scheduled to arrive in September. Flying was limited to one hour "test hops" of the planes which had been grounded, and cross-country flights in aircraft belonging to the 397th which were not grounded. The 74th's total B-24 flying time for September was 200:55 hours.
Seventeen (17) enlisted men and two officers- - Captain David M. Saunders and 1st. Lt. David D. Pollan, received promotions.
The advance air echelon of the 29th Bombardment Squadron arrived at Rio Hato Air Base, and was attached to the 74th. The remainder of the 29th departed Galapagos on the USS "Johnson," and was expected to arrive at Rio Hato shortly.
The 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 PAD, after which the formation circled and attacked Howard Field; whereupon the formation returned to Rio Hato.
The 74th flew formations over the "Zone" on October 15 and 19, honoring Generals Crittenberger and Brett, respectively.
Nine officers were promoted from 2d. Lt. to 1st. Lt. by authority of Special Orders Number 266, Headquarters CDC, October 23, 1945. Those officers included Nicholas J. Levrero, Robert C. Keller, Everett L. Jasper, Victor J. Harr, Forrest F. Cathey, Walter A. Elsaesser, Robert G. Armstrong, Anthony G. Cerasale, and James N. Welbaum.
The combined 74th, 397th, 29th, and 3rd Squadrons participated in a "nullus" exercise on October 26.
The 3rd Bombardment Squadron 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 combined 3rd, 29th, 74th, and 397th Bombardment 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 Squadron's flying time was curtailed sharply, and flying cut to a minimum because of increasing personnel shortages. The 74th's total flying time for October was 156:40 hours, as compared with September's total of 200:55 hours.
Two officers and 84 enlisted men departed for the States based on the point return system.
The Squadron's strength on October 31 was 49 officers and 180 enlisted men.
The 74th, 29th, 397th, and 3rd Bombardment Squadrons, participating in a combined formation flight, took off from Rio Hato for the Galapagos Islands to take part in the filming of the Sixth Air Force picture, "Watch Dogs With Wings.
Promotions from 2d. Lt.to 1st. Lt. was awarded to 46 officers on December 8. All officers had been in the area over a year. Thirty-one (31) enlisted men also were promoted. Most of them received their first promotion in over a year in the area.
The point system took a heavy toll on the 74th's strength in December. Twenty (20) officers and 183 enlisted men departed the unit for the U.S. and separation. The increase in the men returning to the States caused the Squadron's remaining men to anxiously await their return to civilian life.
The amount of flying in December (i.e., two hundred forty one (242) hours) was moderate, but was higher than the 156:40 hours flown the previous month.
A C-47 with a chosen crew flew to San Antonio, Texas on December 14, for twenty- days' temporary duty. The crew consisted of 1st. Lt. David D. Pollan (74th Pilot); 1st. Lt. Allen M. Christenson (397th Co-Pilot); 1st. Lt. Howard E. Day (397th Navigator); SSgt. Holland Rankin (29th Engineer); Sgt. William F. Thomey (74th Radio Operator); and Cpl. William J. Hale (397th Assistant Engineer).
A flight of five planes engaged in a tactical air force problem on December 15, each on an independent search mission. The objective of the mission was to locate two battle cruisers which had supposedly invaded territorial waters. The targets were located, and the mission was considered a success.
On Christmas Day, a volunteer crew, flew the Chaplain to the Galapagos Islands, so that he might conduct Christmas service.
Men of the 74th and 29th Bombardment Squadrons enjoyed a steak and beer party at the Enlisted Men's Club on December 23. The 74th Bombardment Squadron presented the party
74th Bombardment Squadron personnel were treated to an excellent dinner on Christmas Day, consisting of turkey and all the trimmings. The American Red Cross added to the occasion by distributing six packages of cigarettes and a box of candy to each man. The men observed a three-day Christmas Holiday, proclaimed by the Commanding General, Sixth Air Force.
The Squadron took part in a combined formation flight with the 29th, 397th, and 3rd Bombardment Squadrons on December 31. The mission involved intercepting 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.
Two B-17s were assigned to the 74th during the month of December.
Fifteen (15) day leaves (local) were authorized in December, and 15 men took advantage of the furloughs, most of them visiting in Guatemala City.
The personnel strength of the 74th Bombardment Squadron at the end of December was 65 officers and 173 enlisted men.