On 4 July 1942, the 22nd Bomb Group made plans to celebrate America's Independence Day by sending two flights of six Marauders each to bomb grounded aircraft at Lae Airdrome. The first flight, led by Capt. Krell, would come in from the ocean. The second flight, under the command of Capt. O'Neill, would fly in from the opposite direction down the Markham Valley a half- hour later. As the first wave was preparing to take off from Seven-Mile Drome at Port Moresby, a force of 27 Jap planes bombed and strafed the strip. At that time, with the Japs striking Port Moresby almost daily, the crews stayed close to their planes so that, if there was a raid, they could take off and fly around until the enemy departed. The policy was that if a mission was scheduled and they did get off the ground they were to continue on to the target. In this instance all of Krell's flight made it but only three of O'Neil's did.
The pilots from Hqs. Sqd. were Lt. Hayes in # 1437; from the 19th, Lt. Walter Krell in #1433, Lt. Greer in #1488, and Lt. Burnside in #1411; from the 33rd Lt. Kahle in #1404, Lt. "Mo" Johnson in #1488, Lt. Nicholson in #1421 and Lt. Fred Nichols, in #1493; from the 408th, Major Brian "Shanty" O'Neill in #40-1497, Lt. Ralph Michaelis in #40-1430 and Lt. Arthur M. Hughes Jr. in #40-1481. Each aircraft carried 30 100# instantaneous demolition bombs.
S/Sgt. Stanley C. Kotek was the flight engineer on Lt. Hughes' crew: I still vividly remember our July 4, 1942 mission. We were supposed to bomb the airstrip at Lae in full force, maybe 15-29 planes. We got up about 3:30 or 4:00 A.M. and ate breakfast, then went to our planes at 7-mile and waited and waited and waited. Meanwhile, we were bombed by the enemy and had to take off when we could. Instead of hitting Lae in one big group, we wound up doing it in small three-plane formations. Snanty O;Neill, our squadron commander, leading and John Augustine and Arthur Hughes on the sides. As it tuned out, it was better than one big formation, because the enemy fighters didn't know which small group to hit and when they returned to gas and rearm, some were caught on the ground. Our formation was one of the last and after dropping off our bombs, we went down the coast toward Buna and home.
The group ahead of us was being attacked by fighters from Salamaua, just down the coast from Lae, between Lae and Buna. They were having a lively time of it and when we arrived, some of the fighters split off on us. Meanwhile the gunners ahead of us were beginning to run low on ammo, some had already run out. How this was relayed to us I do not know. Anyway, O'Neill brought our flight up to the one ahead and we joined forces. Eventually, just about everyone but us ran out of bullets and Art Hughes flew our plane ""Dumbo"" from one side of the group to wherever the enemy was coming from and there was a lot of confusion. But we made it back to 7-mile strip in mostly one piece.
Sgt. John Hargrove, the radio operator on Hughes plane recalls: Zeros were hitting us pretty hard and I had three guns to handle from my waist position. I called for help from the navigator. The navigator's position was up front behind the pilot and co-pilot and had to come through the bomb bay and under the turret gunner. It was a hot day and we were flying low so he was not wearing a shirt. Just as he came under the top turret the gunner let go with a burst and the hot 50-caliber casing fell on the shirtless navigator. Needless to say, he hurriedly moved from that position. He had less training in gunnery than I had and did not know how to reload or how to clear a jam. I had my hands full trying to clear his jams and reload both he and I.
The combat report of the 408th Sqd. read: First three ships attacked by 15 Zeros, second flight attacked by 5 to 10 Zeros. Some frontal attacks, others quartering attacks from rear and below, also beam and stern attacks. Some attacks were determined, others not pushed home. Four Zeros shot down, one probable. Attack lasted from 1210 to 1400 hours. Ship 1481 hit right aileron; 1497, one hit through nose; 1430, one hit under nose, one in fuselage; 1493, hits in fuselage, right stabilizer and left elevator. Capt. Offers and Lt. Hartman (co-pilot and bombardier on Maj. O'Neill's aircraft) slightly injured. The report also noted that the direct head-on attack by three Zeros was the first time the 22nd BG's Marauders had been subjected to this tactic.
The 2nd Sqd.'s two Marauders took off during the air raid and returned without incident. However, following their return, #40-1510 was damaged beyond repair by fire during another enemy air raid.
There is more. In the book, NEW GUINEA DIARY, George H. Johnson wrote: Saturday, 4 July -- This has been what the American bomber and fighter pilots are still - at 11 PM with the last bottle of Scotch gone - describing as a day and a half. Both sides tried to celebrate Independence Day. They broke even. We've just been totaling it up and the day's tally is 12 each. The Japs lost 5 Zeros for certain, another almost certainly, and 6 badly damaged. We lost two Marauders and 3 Airacobras and had 7 planes damaged.
The day began, as most do now, at breakfast time, when 20 Zeros came over for the 67th raid on Moresby and ran into a small screen of Airacobras. Our boys were outnumbered and out of position. We got one of the Zeros and smacked a few bullets into 3 others, but 3 of our fighters came plummeting down in flames and 3 more were damaged. Progress score: Japan 6, USA 4.
A formation of Marauders had just taken off to paste Lae Airfield. They had released their bombs on the first run when the Zeros coming back from Moresby attacked them. Even by talking to the pilots you can't sift out what actually happened in the whirling dog-fight, but one incident is clear to most of the pilots and it's worth telling because we don't often have a bomber brought down by a dead Jap.
The Zero turned in above a Marauder piloted by Lt. Walter Krell and as he nosed down, Pvt. Pat Norton in the turret ripped 100 rounds into his left wing and cockpit Lt. Gene Grauer, the navigator had the best view of what happened and tells the best story.
The Zero seemed to jerk downward and the pilot to jerk upwards. Then the Jap slumped down on the control. I could see him clearly, and he was surely as dead as he could be. The Zero spun crazily and would have hit us if Walt Krell hadn't banked sharply. It swooped under our belly a few feet away. Pieces of its wings were falling away like butterflies. Then the nose went up went straight up into the sky, hung there for a moment, and then nosed over and began to come down into a steep dive. We yelled a warning over the radiophone to the rest of the formation, but I guess the last plane didn't see the Zero or didn't have time to get out of the way. The Zero dived straight into the fuselage of the bomber, cutting clean through the tail. The Japanese plane smashed to pieces by the impact and went toward the ground like a spray of shrapnel. Our bomber kept on its course for a few seconds, then wobbled and went into a spin. It plunged into the sea off the end of the airfield. We were too busy warding off attacks by the other Zeros to take much notice of what happened afterward.
There were no survivors. Lost with Marauder #40-1468 were Lt. Milton L. Johnson, pilot; Lt. Lawrence I. Werner, co-pilot; Lt. John F. Daley, Jr., navigator; Lt. Philip L. Jander, bombardier; S/Sgt. William C. Smith, radio operator; Sgt. Thomas A. Morgan, engineer; and Cpl. Vernon D. Huddleston, gunner.
General Order 43, HQ Allied AFs, SWP Area (APO 500), 1 September 1942, awarded 2nd. Lt. Wayne L. Hartman the Silver Star for gallantry in action over Lae, NG, on 4 July 1942. This officer participated in a bombing raid on the enemy-held airdrome at Lae. After passing over target, his plane was subjected to direct frontal attacks by several Zero fighters. He was injured when bullets passed through the Plexiglass in the forward part of the plane, but despite his condition, he remained at his gun station for 25 minutes until the fight was over. During this period he shot down one Zero type aircraft and maintained the gun to assist in repelling each attack. His courage and devotion to duty were an inspiration to all in keeping with the higher standards of the United States Army Air Corps. Lt. Hartman had previously been awarded the Purple Heart.
General Order 85, Headquarters Fifth Air Force, dated 11 May 1943 awarded Lt. Hughes and his entire crew the Distinquished Flying Cross. The citation for the pilot reads: ARTHUR M. HUGHES, JR , 0406560, First Lieutenant, 408th Bombardment Squadron, (M), 22nd Bombardment Group (M), Air Corps, United States Army. For extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight over Lae Airdrome, New Guinea, on July 4, 1942. This B-26 type aircraft of which this officer was the pilot, was one of a three-plane formation engaged in a bombing attack on the enemy airdrome at Lae. This crew took off from its base during an enemy air raid, eluded the hostile aircraft and proceeded to the target area. After the runway and installations had been heavily bombed, this aircraft was intercepted by twelve to fifteen Zero fighters, which made frontal attacks. In the ensuing engagement during which this aircraft protected another B- 26 which had become vulnerable, the gunners of this crew shot down two enemy fighters, which crashed into the sea. Though this plane was damaged by cannon and machine gun fire, it safely returned to the same base. The courage, ability and devotion to duty displayed by First Lieutenant Hughes are in keeping with high standards of the Service.
Also named in G.O. 85 as recipients of the DFC were the other crew members: Capt. Louis B. McCord, 1st Lt. Fred C. Federle, 1st Lt. Linebereger, S/Sgt. Stanley C. Kotek, S/Sgt John H. Hargrove, and Sgt. Elliot Pasternack.