From the beginning of August to the middle of December Kahili received far more than its share of American made explosives. The Crusaders ran frequent medium altitude and low level strafing missions against these targets, one in particular which will be long remembered by those who participated in it. It was the dusk bombing and strafing attack of October 6th with Kahili the target. The story of that raid is told in an article written by Capt. Robert Cohn and released through Public Relations channels:
HEADQUARTERS, 13th AAF, South Pacific – And yet still another story of breath-taking thrills, adventure, and war success comes out of the Allied Gibraltar of the South Pacific – Guadalcanal. The curtain rises on this aviation episode in a 13th Air Force Operations and Intelligence shack. It is the briefing prior to a mission that is aimed at the Japanese air base at Kahili, which lies on the island of Bougainville, the last stronghold of the enemy in the Solomons. The mission calls for a tree-top level bombing and strafing attack, and the mission must succeed.
On this particular mission a bomb and style of release just recently devised was to be used. The bomb was supposed to leave the aircraft at slightly above the tree-tops level, and attached to each bomb was a miniature parachute. Instead of the bomb hurtling forward and downward, the ‘chute was to open and check the forward momentum to such an extent that the aircraft could safely get beyond the explosion’s destructive area. This then, was the reason for the air of excitement in the crowded briefing shack.
The plan was simply for several squadrons of Billy Mitchell medium bombers to sneak in at dusk, strafing the parked planes in the area simultaneously, and then sneak out again under the protection of nightfall. But to do this called for the most exact timing imaginable. It was only 300 miles to the target and though all of the distance was over water, it was within view of the myriad of islands that seem to dot this sector of the globe – any one of which might conceal a Japanese outpost that could warn the enemy airdrome of the impending attack. The target had to be reached after sunset, but while there still remained enough light to distinguish objects on the ground. The run to Kahili had to be made almost water level, so that the flight would be less discernable to unfriendly eyes. To arrive too late would mean that the bombing would be inaccurate, for at tree-top level you cannot hit what you cannot see. To arrive too soon, would mean that, although the bombing would be more accurate, enemy fighter planes from the Kara Airdrome less than 8 miles from Kahili, could rise to meet our formation. Actually the attack had been timed for that split moment when night sets in. This show had to arrive and leave within a three-minute period.
The route to and from the target was carefully gone over. The spacing between the formations as the various waves or elements swept across the Kahili was discussed and agreed upon. Emergency procedures in the event of a forced landing in the water near the target were also reviewed. Even though the elements of surprise were attained, it was felt that the last two waves of Mitchells would still be subjected to some intense fire from automatic weapons. If the surprise element were lacking, the whole formation would have to run a veritable gauntlet of steel, for the planes would be within effective range of even pistols. It promised to be a good show. If successful, it was anticipated that enemy air opposition in the Solomons would be depleted quite some bit, and the last stronghold of the Japs in the Solomons would get a thorough plastering.
The planes all took off without incident and were soon winging along to one of the small islands which had been agreed upon as a rendezvous point. When all Squadrons had arrived over the island, the Formation Commander, Capt. Charles W. Brown, 26-tear-old flier from Waldo, Arkansas, signaled for the formation to proceed on course to the target. They dropped down to water level and were soon skimming along the waves on their way to Kahili. Three hundred miles of “water-buzzing” is no picnic even for the most experienced pilot, and after about 30 minutes the strain of such low flying was beginning to show on many of their faces. Another hour to go.
Many thoughts went flashing through the minds of the men as they continued steadily forward. Lieut. Alto F. Dolan, 22-year-old Superior, Wisconsin, Flight Commander, sat tensely crouched over the controls wondering if they had been sighted yet. And little Sgt. “Tony” Moreno, an aerial gunner from Los Angeles, California, was thinking, would they be too early or late? Moreno, though he was unaware of it at the time, was riding to a date with destiny and was not to come back alive from this one. Back in the navigator’s compartment, busy checking maps and navigational instruments, rode Lieut. Donald C. Grant, a Rochester, New York, lad who was attending Princeton University when he heard his country’s call. As navigator-bombardier, his thoughts were whether this new-fangled bomb would really work as they had been told it would. Other men were wondering if enemy fighter planes would come hurtling down from above to intercept them. Would the last two waves get through? These thoughts and many others came to mind as the formation passed another check-point on the route to the target, and right on schedule. So far, so good.
After about 75 minutes, when the sun was setting very low in the sky, the island of Bougainville appeared on the horizon. The home-stretch has been reached. The next fifteen minutes would tell the story. Eager eyes searched the heavens above for enemy fighters. And now, just ahead of them lay Ran Tan Island, the last check-point on the schedule and only five miles from Kahili.
Between Ran Tan Island and the target, there was a small mountain of some 1700 feet that had to be crossed. The formation appeared actually to crawl up the side of that mountain, gaining altitude steeply as the mountain became more precipitous. At last the summit was reached, and down in the valley below was Kahili, still visible in the fast gathering gloom. They were here on time. The curtain on the second act was going up.
The throttles were gently eased forward, and the aircraft noses pointed down, heading straight for the tree-tops. Faster and faster the speedy Billy Mitchells dove, and the wind made a whistling sound whose notes kept mounting higher and higher as the planes kept gathering more and more speed. Now the first wave carried over the target area in a hell-breaking crescendo of sound, as the wind and reverberations of loosened guns and bombs shattered the stillness of the dusk. The element of surprise had been achieved – but only momentarily.
Figures sprang to instant alertness on the ground and rushed to prepared gun positions. And almost before the second wave had crossed the target, angry enemy machine guns spit out long, loud staccato bursts at the Mitchells. The parachute bombs were working admirably, as witnessed by the number of enemy aircraft exploding and burning on the runway and in the revetment area.
But now the last two waves were over the summit and on the way. There was no surprise element in their favor, and guns opened up even before they had leveled out for the bombing run. Planes were purposely pointed at enemy gun positions that were still firing, and burst after burst poured into them. The bombs were released and still more explosions rent the air over Kahili. As the Billy Mitchells sped out of the target area gathering the folds of darkness ever closer around their sturdy wings, the Formation Leader called Flight Commanders on the radio for a hasty check-up on who might be missing.
With bated breath he waited for the reports to filter through and heaved a sigh of relief when all but one plane were accounted for and in formation on their way home. Lt. Lloyd D. Spies and crew were lost on this one when their plane was shot down 300 feet off the target, cart wheeling into the water. There were no survivors. Three other aircraft had been hit by AA exceptionally hard, and reported they would land at Munda, the recently wrestled Jap airdrome on New Georgia, rather than continue on to Guadalcanal. In addition to that, one man had been killed outright when an enemy 20-millimeter cannon shell exploded inside the plane. It was “Tony” Moreno; but the third act of drama was still to be played, even though Kahili lay behind them.
At this point the story of a downed Michell and the rescue of its crew are told.
The score was two planes lost with the crew of one safely recovered, and one additional man killed in action. The results of the raid are best shown from an official document mailed to all members of the 13th Air Force that participated on the mission.
Letter of Commendation