NUMBER 151-A-2 Target - Taihoku, Formosa
May 31, 1945
19th Bombardment Squadron, 22nd Bombardment Group (H)
By Robert A. Morgan Capt. USAF (Ret.)
The morning of May 31, 1945, was a routine start of a day at Clark Field, Philippine Islands. Early breakfast briefing at Operations, the primary target, secondary target, bombing in Group formation, turns onto and after the bomb drop, expected anti- aircraft fire, weather, and rendezvous point. I would be flying Co-Pilot with Lt. Chuck Critchfield, our Navigator was Lt. R. E. Grey, on his first combat mission. The rest of the crew were the fellows that I left the States with almost a year before: Lt. R. S. Edgar, Bombardier; T. Sgt. Lloyd Watson, Flight Engineer; T. Sgt. B. D. Oxley, Radio operator, T. Sgt. Homer Reno, Armorer Gunner; T. Sgt. Elmo Barron, Top Turret Gunner; T. Sgt. Curtis Brotherton, Nose Gunner; and T. Sgt. Joseph Arnold, Tail Gunner. The Target was Taihoku, Formosa which was about four hours flying time from Clark Field.
On take-off I remember Chuck and I commenting that we had a good airplane today - It believe its name "Miss Led." (Editor's note: The aircraft was B-24J, #42-100204, named "Miss Leading".) The join up with the Group formation was normal, the crew had test fired their machine guns, checked their turret operation, and everyone was at their stations in preparation for the run on the target. As we turned toward the target we could see other B-24's from other Groups receiving considerable anti-aircraft fire. I remember thinking that it would be nice if they (Japanese) would run out of ammunition when we got there. As our Group began our run on the target, the flak smoke was thick from previous exploding shells. It was enough that we would lose sight of the Group leader. As we leveled out on the run, four bursts of anti-aircraft shells exploded around us in rapid succession. Schrapnel penetrated the engines and flight deck areas. Chuck was hit bad, I could see his right arm was broken. The Instrument panel looked like the results of "repairs made on clocks" when I was a small boy. I could feel the airplane lift as Bob Edgar, the Bombardier, salvoed the bombs.
I immediately took the controls and asked Lt. Grey to remove Chuck from the pilots seat so he could be laid down and administered first aid. While this was going on Bob Edgar came to the flight deck, helped with Chuck and assisted me in communicating with the Flight Engineer, Lloyd Watson, in assessing the damage. The voice radios and intercom had been hit by shrapnel. The right wing had gas running off of it and at first we thought the inboard tank had ruptured. To avoid fire with the gas running over the hot exhaust, I feathered number three engine and asked Lloyd to see if he could determine where the leak was. It didn't take long until number four engine quit. It was apparent that the leak was near number four engine. Number two engine was damaged. The throttle control had been cut and there was a section of the crankcase broken out. The gauges showed 800 RPM and 35 inches manifold pressure indicating the gauges were unreliable. Number two was not creating a drag or hindering, I didn't try feathering it as I had no way of knowing if the propeller would feather only part way and really cause a worse problem. For awhile only number one engine operated efficiently. It was very apparent that we needed another engine if we were going to get back to the Philippines. I restarted number three, hoping that it would start without backfiring and ignite the gas that was still dripping off the wing. While this was going on I headed for the coast, thinking that If we had to go down, I would try to crash land on the beach where rescue seaplanes could help us. However, as we crossed the coast we still had 4,000 feet and I was able to hold that altitude.
Message, tapped out in Morse code, received at Clark Field from Miss Leading as she was leaving the target with #4 engine out, #3 engine feathered, #2 damaged and headed for the coast.
The crew was lightening up the ship by tossing overboard everything they could get loose. All this took place in a period of approximately five minutes. I decided to go for it and get back where Chuck could get medical help. He had more injuries than the broken arm.
The crew very methodically did their job, there was no panic! It was as if they had practiced for such an event. Bob Edgar and Lt. Grey administered first aid to Chuck. Lloyd Watson helped me with observing the engines and assessing the damage. When Bob Edgar had done all he could for Chuck he took the left seat and kept us headed in the right direction while I tended to the wound in my left leg where I had been hit by shrapnel. I was able to get a bandage around the wound to suppress the bleeding.
The only radio that was operating was the CW radio that required using morse code keyed by a telegraph key. Although we had flown this route before I requested Ben Oxley, our radio operator, to ask for an 0DM, (a heading determined by land based direction finder) to the nearest air base with medical facilities. The heading we received corresponded with the heading we were on. During the first two hours after leaving the Formosa coast we were able to climb to about 9,000 feet. Number one and three engines were doing their job with the above normal power settings. Number two was still turning and number four was feathered. I kept hoping that number two would keep running and not freeze up from lack of oil. With the gauges shot out there was no way of telling the full extent of the damage It had sustained.
Message sent by Lt. Morgan after he was successful in restarting #3 engine, maintaining altitude and,as the saying went, headed away from Formosa "on a wing and a prayer."
Our heading was good. It brought us to the Philippines coast in such a way that we could make a straight-in approach to Laog, a 3,500 foot fighter strip on the northwestern Philippines coast. I had asked the radio operator to inform the ground station to relay to the control tower that we would be unable to go around. We had to land on the first approach. As we started our descent from 9,000 feet we learned that the main landing gear would have to be lowered manually as the hydraulic system was shot out. This also meant that we would be unable to use the flaps. These we needed to slow us down on the landing approach. To further complicate matters, there was no way to get the nose gear extended. It would be necessary to use everything available to stop on such a short runway. Parachutes were tied to the gun mounts at the rear waist windows to be deployed when we applied the brakes. With the hydraulic system out the only pressure we still had for brakes was the emergency pressure in the accumulator tanks. Once applied it was necessary to hold the brake pedals on. If released the pressure would be gone and could not be applied again.
The approach was made to touch down in the loose gravel on the end of the runway, hoping this would slow us some. As we touched down Bob Edgar helped me quickly pull the elevator control all the way and hold it. This put the plane in a high speed stall and forced the tail skid firmly to the ground. This acted as a brake as long as it would stay down. Bob applied the brakes for me as the shrapnel in the wound in my leg restricted the ankle movement. The crew in the waist "popped" the parachutes simultaneously with the brakes and the plane held on a straight heading slowly coming down on the nose and stopping about 200 feet off the end of the runway. When the dust settled I heard Chuck ask "Are we on fire? Are we okay?" I heard Homer Reno answer, "Yes, we are okay!" And then Chuck said, "Would you mind getting off my leg?"
Miss Leading's successful crash landing. Additonal photos may be seen in the Charles Critchfield Collection.
From then on it was a blur of action; the crash crew literally chopped a hole in the windshield and cockpit area so Chuck could be brought out on a stretcher. I was lifted out through the side window and put in a weapons carrier and persuaded to say there. I remember saying to myself, "Thank you Lord, You were with us on that one!"