"THE TRAGEDY OF MISSION 19 TO HAIPHONG", page 5
Excerpted from the "308th BOMB GROUP" chapter of Martin L. Mickelsen's forthcoming book about the History of French Indochina.
The tragedy of Mission 19 was not yet completed. The fourth and 'fifth Liberators, "Doodlebug" and "Flub Dub" fought a twenty-five minute battle with the Zeros as they headed for China and finally lost their pursuers in a cloud cover. French observers watched "Flub Dub" reach Chinese territory safely after she flew over Bac Hi. Four minutes later, "Doodlebug" was observed crossing over into China at Thuyen Quang. But as "Flub Dub" attempted to land at Kunming after radioing that she had "wounded aboard and was damaged", she crashed short of the airfield, probably as a result of wounds she had received in combat, killing the plane's entire crew. The fifth B-24 landed safely at Yangkai. In recounting the battle, her crew claimed that they had shot down ten Zeros during the battle and possibly eighteen more. In Hanoi, the "Temptation" crew also had informed their French interrogators that they had shot down four "Zekes" before their Liberator had crashed. French records, however, indicate only two Japanese planes were downed. One crashed between Thai Binh and the Van Uc Rivers, northwest of Thai Binh. The other Zero crashed in a pond near the village of Ngan Khe, near Ben Hiep, southeast of Ninh Giang. Based on their interrogations of the captured crewmen, French intelligence concluded that the 373rd crews had had little air combat experience previously and had dispersed as soon as "Daisy Mae" went down. This enabled the Japanese fighters to get between the B-24s and concentrate their attack on one plane at a time. About all the French interrogators learned from the crews, however, was that their supply of whiskey and beer in China was "insufficient and of poor quality."
The "Temptation" crew was eventually transferred to the Kempeitai prison at Cho Lon where the other crews were imprisoned along with six or more Indochinese men and women. An Indochinese nationalist, possibly a Viet Minh agent, but more likely an Indochinese editor whose newspaper had displeased the Vichy French administration, was later thrown into the same cell as the Americans. The Indochinese proved to be both "intelligent and articulate" so that using a combination of Italian, Latin, and French, he was able to communicate with Manella. The American was told that there was a Japanese prisoner of war camp nearby (the Eudel camp on the banks of the Saigon River) and was assured his organization would get them back to the States. "First we will get rid of the Japanese," he declared. "Then get rid of the French. All we want is independence. All we want from the U.S. is support in material; we will do the fighting." The Americans never saw the man again.
Instead, they were notified that they would be taken to Tokyo, but after they were taken to the Saigon port in a driving rain, they were put on a crowded transport, Ile de France bound for Singapore and handcuffed to bunks. Manella later joked that the rain had confused their guards, and they were put on the wrong ship! At Singapore, the crewmen were kept for three or four weeks at an Indian Nationalist camp and then transferred to the main camp at Changi where they endured the hellish life of POWs; dysentery, malaria, beri beri, and beatings. "We were put to work building an airdrome," Hawe told his newspaper, "and were beaten for anything that did not please the Jap guards. Sometimes they hit us with their fists and sometimes with clubs and rifle butts." Just before they were liberated in September 1945, the Japanese guards had the POWs dig a U-shaped tunnel into which the Japanese planned to herd the prisoners and kill them. The sudden end of the war saved their lives.
The Japanese command had lauded the Vichy French authorities for their enthusiastic cooperation in hunting down the survivors of Mission 19. The raid had cost the lives of twenty-nine American fliers, including Stomberg, and four Indochinese civilians. Seven of the 373rd crew were made prisoners of war. Following impassioned pleas by the commander of the 308th to the 14th's high command for fighter escorts, the next 308th mission (No. 20) to Haiphong on October 1st had fighter protection. The cement plant never functioned thereafter. By the end of 1944, the 14th Air Force's bombing and strafing campaign in Tonkin had totally disrupted Tonkin's economic infrastructure, shutting down the port of Haiphong, and completely severing the northern province from the rice-rich south
Admiral Decoux's policy of turning fliers over to the Japanese continued for the next six months. Three more Americans and a Chinese Nationalist, all fighter pilots, were captured by the Vichy Indochinese authorities and were likewise surrendered to the Japanese. A fourth fighter pilot, shot down on a bombing and strafing mission in March 1944, was killed in a firefight with the Indochinese Guard while resisting capture. In the wake of the pilot's death, for reasons that are far too complex to be covered in this space, Admiral Decoux was forced to change his policy with regard to downed American fliers. The change in the admiral's policy promptly led to the rescue and escape of twenty-seven more air force and navy fliers downed in Indochina, including five members of 373rd Squadron shot down in January of 1945, but that, too, is another story and just as bizarre.
"I am a weekend historian and am writing a book on the history of French Indochina, including the war years. I would like to hear from anyone that can provide factual information regarding bombing or strafing missions made against the Japanese in French Indochina."
Martin L. Mickelsen -- my email- firstname.lastname@example.org
308th Bombardment Group Tribute
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