THE THAYNE REPORTS: THE ADMIRALS' EDITION
DECEMBER 25, 1941
The Thayne Reports are published by allied intelligence and distributed to senior officers serving in the Pacific Theater of Operation in order to give these officers an understanding of the overall military situation. These top secret reports contain the best and most up-to-date information available at the time of their writing. Revealing any of the contents of these reports will be punished as treason.
In this issue, Thayne Report is bringing you the information that we get directly from our reporters in the field.
Establishing Defenses on Christmas Island
I caught up with Gunner Michael "Brew" Brewster (Morgantown, West Virginia), Assistant Gunner Bill Putney (Port Huron, Michigan), and Ammunition Bearer Pete Cheteau (Raleigh North Carolina) at Pier H in London.
"London" is the name of the village on a spot of land at the mouth of the lagoon on Christmas Island, where docks are. And Pier H is really not much of a pier. Some soldier had torn up some white sheets into squares, painted the letters of the alphabet on them, tied them to make-shift flag poles, and planted them in the sand along the lagoon side - of London. Boats from different cargo ships or different units were assigned to different piers, so soldiers could be better directed to their equipment.
The gear that was being brought to Pier H when I arrived was an M2HB .50 caliber machine gun with an aviation mount and a literal boat load of ammunition, plus the crew to run it.
The M2HB - or "ma deuce" as the soldiers called it - was a heavy weapon, made heavier by the need to keep the gun barrel cool. In order to keep the barrel from overheating, the manufacturers made it longer and thicker so that it could actually absorb more heat. Also, the greater surface area allowed it to cool more efficiently. That longer, thicker barrel gave the gun a lot of extra weight.
Brew jumped over the side of the boat into chest-deep water with Bill Putney beside him. They got their footing in the sand, then Cheteau manhandled the heavy gun over the side. Holding the gun high out of the water, the two soldiers brought it up onto the shore.
I waded out to give them a hand, but they warned me back insisting that they had it. Instead, one of them threw me a poncho and asked me to spread it out on the sand. I did as they asked, and they sat the gun down on it.
With the boat lightened by about 400 pounds, the pilot urged it closer to shore, running it a short ways up onto the beach. Cheteau came over the side next, bringing two boxes of ammunition with him. Brew and Putney then returned for the anti-aircraft mount and their gear.
When the boat was empty, the gun crew pushed it back out into the lagoon, where the pilot turned around and headed out for another load.
Before the gun crew even got their feet dry, the beach master was ordering them off the beach.
When I introduced myself to them, they didn't even stop moving long enough to shake hands. They grabbed their equipment and started hunting for a place away from the beach to stack it. Here, Brew, Bill, and Pete did not mind getting a little help. I bent down and took hold of the handles for two ammunition boxes - one in each hand, and tried to carry them.
"Careful, old man," Pete told me.
"No problem," I grunted, worrying that the weight would push me knee-deep into the soft sand.
Each box of ammunition weighed 30 pounds, and the crew brought had brought 20 boxes - 600 pounds worth - with them, so it took several trips to get all of the equipment moved.
London simply did not have the port facilities to handle all of the transports that had just shown up. In fact, it scarcely had room for even one cargo ships. The Santa Inez was given permission to use the docks. This was because it was small enough to fit, and it carried the bulldozers, front-end loaders, and other heavy equipment that could not be manhandled over the sides of smaller boats.
There are two places on Christmas Island that will need anti-aircraft defense. One of them was this port itself. The other is the airfield, about eight miles to the east - though nearly fifteen miles along a road that had to bend around the lagoon.
Brew and his crew were given orders to set up to protect the ships. Their station would be a sand bar on the other side of the ships, where they could shoot at any plane coming at the port from across the lagoon.
Looking at a map, they found the spot where they had been ordered to set up their gun. Brew and Bill went to work setting the gun up, while Pete went back for more ammunition. It seemed I would be more useful helping Pete, so I went with him.
By the time we had gotten back with three more boxes of ammunition - him carrrying two and me carrying one - somebody had dropped some shovels and bags on the ground by the gun.
"Look what Santa brought us," Brew said. "Sand bags and a shovel. I wonder what we are supposed to do with them."
Plopping the two ammunition boxes down on the sand, Pete answered, "I can only guess."
American Volunteers in China Decimate Bombers
The day started with a phone call.
A Chinese aerial observer near the border far to the south phoned in to report a formation of Japanese bombers coming in from the ocean. Patiently, Sergeant John Robinson at the headquarters for the American Volunteer Group in Nanning, China, working through an interpreter, got a report of between 30 to 40 Chinese twin-engine bombers on a heading slightly east of north from the observer's location. Plotting the course on a map, it was obvious that the planes were coming towards us.
Experience had taught Robinson to be calm and patient with the Chinese observers. Observers tend to get important facts wrong. This was true not only of Chinese peasants, but of American soldiers. There is a place in war for the trained observer - the person skilled at avoiding the errors that most people make.
Still, Robinson did not fully trust what the Chinese observer was telling him. "No fighters," the interpreter said. Twice more, Sergeant Robinson asked the interpreter to verify the report. Twice more the interpreter answered, "No fighters."
Two AVG Pilots were already in the air. Four others sat around in their flight suits playing a game of poker out near four planes that were fueled up and ready to fly. When the air raid siren went off, the four jumped into their planes and took off. A dozen other pilots made a scramble for six remaining airplanes.
This squadron of the American Volunteer Group has lost half of the airplanes they came here with, but it still had most of its pilots. Everybody was eager to fly, so the planes went to the pilots who got into them first.
It was not a clean race either. Tripping, pushing, and deception were all fair in this contest.
The combat air patrol flew out to intercept the bombers south of town. The two pilots found the formation below them, flying a mile above the ground, heading for the airfield. They took the time to scour the sky for signs of the fighter escort. With unlimited visibility they were able to radio back confidently.
This did not mean that the bombers would be sitting ducks. Like a younger brother to the the American B-17 Bomber, the Betty bombers had nose gunners, tail gunners, waist guns, and a top turret. There was no safe way to approach one of these bombers - let alone a formation of them.
For a while, we listened on the radio while Lieutenants Hedman and Bishop executed their attacks. Each recorded shooting down one bomber, though Hedman was forced to turn aside once when a Japanese gunner was tracking his plane too closely. They made a couple of other passes that they reported must have done damage.
The four planes who were on standby fought to gain some altitude before they engaged the bombers. This meant some delay. All the while, the bombers were getting closer.
There were far too many bombers for the handful of fighters to deal with. Over the radio, we heard the celebratory announdements of a third, fourth, and fifth bomber being destryed. But the rest kept coming. When they were a few miles away we scampered for the bomb shelters.
We could tell from the sound of the explosions, but mostly by the feel of the shock wave as it went through the bomb shelter and through our bodies, that the Japanese were using the equivalent of the 500 pound bomb - the 250 KG bomb. We waited. When the noise stopped, and stayed stopped for a good five minutes, we took a look around.
There was not much damage - not nearly as much damage as three dozen Betty bombers could have done if the pilots were not worried about fighters.
Later in the day, we would learn that a similar scene was played out at Kweiyang, northwest of us. It was being defended by American volunteers flying out of Chungking. There, too, the bombers arrived without escort. Only, because Kweiyang was so far away from their home base, there was no time for scrambled fighters to reach the enemy.
Still, by the end of the day, the American volunteers tallied up an impressive 18 kills between the two battles, without the loss of a single airplane or pilot of their own. This did not count the number of enemy bombers that had been damaged and would not be able to fly for the next few days at least.
Yet, the pilots went to bed with a sobering thought. The Japanese would come again, looking for revenge. Next time, it is highly doubtful that they would forget to bring their fighters.
The Tightening Noose - The Philippines
The Japanese have turned the airstrip at Clarke Air Force Base into a mass of craters. Today, the air-raid sirens went off four times between dawn and dark. By the end of the day, observers had counted well over 100 airplanes involved in the many attacks.
Still, the airplane mechanics stationed here did not give up hope that they could get a few of the airplanes grounded here back into the air.
Private Daniel Pierce of Tempe Arizona was helping to put together one of the B-17s that were still sitting here. He continued to work right through the four air raids.
"Look," said Private Pierce, "We've done everything we can to keep the Japs from seeing those bombers. In the past two weeks no bomb has ever gone off in that direction. As far as I can see it's as safe a place to be as any."
Asked if there is any hope of getting any of the bombers airborne, Private Pierce said, "I don't know. Even if we get them fixed up we got to get the runway flat enough to take off on. But I'm not going to give up. That would be the same as surrendering."
Meanwhile, the enemy is closing in.
Coming down from the north, the Japanese army has already travelled half the distance from their landings at Aparri, driving the Philippine army south out of Bayombong. Along the west coast, they have reached Lingoyen, a mere 60 miles away.
Coming up from the South, the Japanese are pushing their way across the narrow strip of land that connects the northern and southern parts of the island at Antimonan.
General Douglas MacArthur still thinks that the Americans are going to come to rescue us. He tells his staff that we should be building airfields for the hundreds of planes that will be coming in off of American carriers that will soon be on their way. However, except for expanding some make-shift fighter airstrips on the Bataan peninsula, he has been convinced to focus on building better fortifications instead, and holding the Japanese back as long as possible.
There are no more large ships here. They have all either moved on to the South, or been sunk. However, there is a fleet of small row boats and power boats. These are being used to ferry supplies to the island of Corregidor in the hopes of finding some place where the Japanese bombs cannot reach them. The larger boats work only at night, and hide during daytime.
There are no new supplies coming in.
A few of the soldiers are having a bet as to how long they can hold out. Some say as long as April. Others claim the end will come as soon as January. The winner gets an all-expense paid trip to Hawaii. It is a joke, of course. But it keeps the glum away, at least a little.
< Message edited by Thayne -- 5/1/2010 1:04:30 PM >