The Final Flight Of The “Rum Dum”

The story about Earle W. Painter, a B-24 Ball Turret Gunner
13th Air Force, 307th Bomb Group, 371st Bomb Squadron

Narrated by John Painter
Edited by Erik Dyreborg, The Young Ones: American Airmen of WWII
Printed with permission of John Painter

Earle W. Painter

While the airmen of the 8th and 15th   Army Air Forces were waging war with the axis powers in the European and Mediterranean theaters with their missions of hundreds of bombers there was an air war of a different sort being carried out by the allied forces in the pacific theater.

The Imperial Japanese forces had established, early in the war, a perimeter, that included a large part of the south pacific.  The allied forces started a campaign of island hopping and chiseling away at the Japanese defenses with aerial bombing in support of ground forces landing on these islands. 

Flying originally from Guadalcanal the airmen of the 13th Army Air Forces moved gradually toward their goal of having a base that would put Japan within striking distance of it’s B-24`s. one of the bomber groups of the 13th air force was the 307th and it was this group that Earle Painter found himself assigned to in January of 1944. 

Born on May the 12th 1924, Mother’s Day that year, Earle was the oldest of four children in his family.  He had a brother, Jack, seventeen months his junior, and two sisters, Jean and Nancy. 

He spent his early childhood in Washington, D.C. and moved to the small town of Staunton, Virginia when he was in his teens.  Starting tackle on his high school football team his senior year, Earle left school in October 1942, deciding he would be better off to enlist in the Army Air Forces than to be drafted into the infantry. 

Enlisting and training
It had taken him several months to convince his parents he should enlist as neither of them was willing to see their oldest child go off to war.  He enlisted in the Army Air Forces and was soon on his way to Fort Lee, Virginia, the local Army Air Forces Induction Center. 

From there he was transferred to Miami Beach, Florida, for basic training.   Following completion of the Army’s basic training course Earle was then sent to Tyndale Field for flexible gunnery school.  A member of the class of 43-3, Section 21, Earle completed the course and received his diploma on 19 January 1943. 

During the next year the 18 year old from Staunton, Virginia would see more of the United States than most people in his hometown. In the course of his training he would travel to Lowery Field, Colorado, New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, Fort Devens, Massachusetts, Reading, Pennsylvania, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Tucson, Arizona. 

Along the way he was promoted to corporal then to sergeant and on 3rd April 1943 he received his diploma for Aircraft Armorers [bombardment] and was promoted to Staff Sargent.  His next station was Combat Crew Training School at Pueblo, Colorado.  It was here that the “Crew of Rum Dum” came together.

Like many of the bomber crews of World War II, the “Crew of Rum Dum” reflected the complexion of America.  Piloted by Lt. Edward J. Rice, married and the father of a young son, from Des Moines Iowa, an able leader and the embodiment of what the Army Air Forces were looking for in a flight leader. 

Pictured above:
In the waist window Sol Stein.
Standing L to R: Earle W. Painter, Don Reed and Benny Tampio.
Front row L to R: Tom Silko and Sam Manfredi

The crew:
Lt. Edward J. Rice, pilot, Des Moines, Iowa.
Lt. Kenneth Smith, co-pilot, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 
Lt. Marcel Bilder, navigator, Winona, Minnesota, 
Lt. Lester Brown, bombardier, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, 
S/Sgt. Benny Tampio, 1st Engineer, Ironwood, Michigan, 
Sgt. Sol Stein, Ass`t Engineer, Brooklyn, New York, 
S/Sgt. Tom Silko, Radio Operator, Monongahela, Pennsylvania, 
Sgt. Sam Manfredi, Tail Gunner, Chicago, Illinois, 
Sgt. Don Reed, Waist Gunner, Buckhannon, West Virginia,
S/Sgt. Earle W. Painter, Ball Turret Gunner, Taunton, Virginia.

Unlike many of the replacement crews of World War II this crew was to fly virtually all of its 60 missions together.

To war

In December of 1943, Earle was given leave before shipping out.  He returned to Staunton to spend time with his family and his brother Jack, who was home on leave from Navy Divers School in Washington, D.C. 

As he was getting ready return to the Army Air Corp his 12 year old sister Nancy asked, through her tears, why he had to go off to the South Pacific and fight the Japanese. The nineteen year old Earle explained to her that one day she would grow up and get married and have children of her own and that he was going off to fight so that her children would not have to. 

Assigned to the 13th Air Force, 307th Bomber Group the crew transferred to the South Pacific in January of 1944. Transferring through Hamilton Field, San Francisco, Hickam Field, Hawaii, and the Phoenix Islands. Finally joining the 307th in New Caledonia. 

They were assigned to the 371st Bombardment Squadron and were stationed at Munda, New Georgia by the end of January.  Within two weeks the crew was to fly it`s first combat mission. 

On February 14th, with a payload of 8 one thousand pound bombs, the crew began their war against the Japanese.  The target was a Japanese airfield at Kahili. They hit the runway with all eight bombs, the ack-ack was light, light and inaccurate. Their plane was not hit and there was no interception. Flying time was three hours and forty minutes. 

Bombing targets with names like Borpop, Lakunai, Kavieng,and Vunakanau the crew was to participate in the campaign against Rabual. Flying five missions to Rabual Town between March 2nd and March 22nd the “Crew of Rum Dum” dropped 30 one thousand pound bombs, 12 five hundred pound bombs, and 40 one hundred pound incendiaries on the town. Anti-aircraft fire over Rabual was usually intense but rarely accurate and their plane was only hit once, in the left waist.  

After completing their first fourteen missions the crew was given R and R in Auckland, New Zealand.

 The crew flew their 15th mission on April 19, 1944 to Satawan, bombing the runway with 9 five hundred pound bombs.  The flying time was fourteen hours fifty-five minutes. The 307th was starting the campaign that earned it the name “The Long Rangers”. 

About the middle of May 1944 the 307th moved to the island of Los Negros and the 371st set up housekeeping at Mokerang Airdrome.

Their attention was turned towards the Caroline Islands and targets like the Sorol Atoll, Woleai Atoll, and the Truk Atoll.  The 307th earned a Presidential Unit Citation for it`s missions to the Truk Atoll.

During the months of May and June the “Crew of Rum Dum” flew missions almost every other day to one small island group or another. It wasn’t long before they had over fifty missions under their belts. 

Unlike the bomber crews in Europe there was no magic number to get you home in the South Pacific. The Caroline Islands were an important stepping-stone for the Allies and Yap Island`s airfield and naval installation were providing defense cover for Palau Island.  Thus by the end of June Yap Island’s airfield was a major target for the 307th which was by now part of the 13th Air Task Force with elements of the 5th Air Force.

The final mission

The island was being protected by the remnants of the Imperial Japanese Naval Fighter Squadron 261, 61st Kouku-Sentai (Air Combat Group).  Attacks over the previous two weeks had greatly reduced the number of aircraft the Japanese could put up. 

The 13th Air Task Force command decided that in an effort to catch the Japanese fighters on the ground the attack would be made in two waves.  The first made up of aircraft from the 371st BS, the 372nd BS, and the 424th BS would take off at night. This was to be one of the longest missions the 307th would undertake, approximately 1300 miles away. It would require the use of two extra fuel tanks in two of the bomb bays with the other two bays loaded with bombs.  During the entire war the 307th only flew two other missions requiring the use of two extra fuel tanks.

They carried fragmentary bombs to inflict as much damage as possible to the planes and personnel on the ground.  The rendezvous point was over Sorol Island.  Of the first flight of twelve aircraft, only eight made it to the rendezvous point.  Among the one’s who didn`t make it was the flight leader from the 371st.  

Lt. Edward Rice and the “Crew of Rum Dum”, flying aircraft number 44-40611, assumed the lead. After setting up for the bomb run it was realized that the element of surprise had been lost.  The flight of eight bombers was attacked by 28 Zeros of the 261st Squadron.  The bombers managed to get their bombs released over target and the fight ensued. 

Approximately 15 minutes into the fight the 0611 took a 20mm shell in the #1 engine.  Lt. Rice tried several times before successfully managing to feather the prop. The attacking Zeros, seeing his difficulties, immediately seized on the opportunity and attacked the aircraft-making pass after pass. 

A short time later the #3 engine began to smoke and Lt. Rice ordered the formation to reduce air speed to 140 m.p.h. and to stay together to provide cover for each other. 

When the Japanese interceptors had left Lt. Rice was still losing altitude and air speed but continued leading the formation, staying away from the cumulus to enable the formation to stay together.  By now the 0611 had flames coming from the right wing root.  Lt Rice made a series of steep dives and pullouts in an attempt to extinguish the fire.  It was then that Lt. Rice called to Lt. Johnson over the VHF in a rather bored and slightly disgusted tone, “I’m going to ditch the son of a bitch.”  

At 2500 ft. five men were seen to bail out of the plane, two from the bomb bay and three from the camera hatch.  By now the flames were coming out of the waist windows and the fire was obviously out of control. The plane slid steeply on it’s left wing and crashed into the water and exploded violently on impact. 

Of the five men seen to bail out all their chutes opened and all were seen swimming in the water.  Lt. Howard Johnson, flying a 371st aircraft, dropped a five-man life raft as did an aircraft of the 424th.  A third raft, presumably dropped by the 0611 prior to the crash, was observed in the water. 

Lt. Johnson`s aircraft and the one from the 424th continued to circle the crash for 25 minutes. The closest raft to any of the survivors was 300 yards.  Due to being low on fuel the two aircraft left the crash site and returned to base. 

A rescue Catalina was sent to the crash scene about two hours and thirty minutes after the crash.  It found much airplane wreckage and three empty life rafts but no sign of the survivors.

On 6 July, 1944 three aircraft of the 307th flew an extensive search for the survivors of the “Crew of Rum Dum” without success.  The coverage of the search area was 100 percent at an altitude of 1000 feet.

On July 6, 1945 the military issued a Finding of Death for the 10 men who were the “Crew of Rum Dum” and radio operator Tommy Griggs who was with them that day.

 

Research

This story started out as attempt to help my aunt find out the details of the loss of my uncle, Earle Weldon Painter. 

After months of coming up empty-handed I stumbled across the armyairforces.com website.  From there I got the address of Wally Forman who provided me with a picture of the “Miss Jones”, the first aircraft Earle and the crew flew in the South Pacific.  This picture gave me the numbers of the group and squadron n they had served in. 

Wally suggested that I contact Buck Harmon.  Buck was an armorer with the 307th.   He provided me with the first details of the mission to Yap Island on July 5th, 1944.  Buck contacted Jim Kendall, who is the historian for the 307th, and Jim sent me copies of excerpts from Sam Britt`s book, ”The Long Rangers”. 

This contained a report of the loss of a/c #44-40611 and Lt. Rice`s crew.  About this time Stu Stein, the nephew of S/Sgt Sol Stein, the asst. engineer of the Rum Dum crew, contacted me.  He graciously sent me a copy of the Missing Air Crew Report.  My friend Mitsutaka Suzuki from Sapporo, Japan provided the information on the Japanese defending Yap Island. 

My aunts, Jean and Nancy, provided me personal recollections, pictures, and some documents.  My son Johnny encouraged me through his interest in B-24`s and the air war in World War II.  

As you can see the gathering of information for this story involved a group of people as diverse as the crew.  

Last but certainly not least is my friend, Erik Dyreborg, who not only encouraged me to write this story but also helped me to realize the importance of seizing the opportunity when it comes along.

 

  Discussion Forum Daily Updates Reviews Museums Interviews & Oral Histories  
 
Pacific Wrecks Inc. All rights reserved.
Donate Now Facebook Twitter YouTube Google Plus Instagram