Terror Over Tokyo 3: That Which Survives Part 1 - The Doolittle Raid
Sunday, October 9, 2016
(After playing the original Call of Cthulhu scenario “Terror Over Tokyo 3: That Which Survives” today from 12:30 p.m. to 6:20 p.m. at the Appalachian State University Game Club GameFest with Alex Holler, Mike Miller, Jonathan Griffith, Collin Townsend, Ashton LeBlanc, and Alex.)
World War II started on Sept. 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, beginning the war in Europe. Within two days, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. On September 17, the Soviet Union, a German ally, entered Poland from the east. The Soviet Union would go on to invade Finland in November while Germany invaded Denmark and Norway the following April.
Germany continued to roll over other European states in 1940, including Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium. In June, France signed an armistice, allowing Germans to occupy the northern half of the country. Italy invaded British controlled Egypt in September and Greece in October. In June of 1941, Nazi Germany and its allies invaded the Soviet Union; by Dec. 6, a Soviet counteroffensive drove them from the Moscow suburbs. On December 7, 1941, America entered the war when the Empire of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. An ally of Nazi Germany, this meant that the Axis soon declared war on the U.S.
The 17th Bomber Group was flying antisubmarine patrols from Pendleton, Oregon, and immediately moved cross-country to Lexington County Army Air Base at Columbia, South Carolina, supposedly to fly similar patrols off the East Coast but in actuality to prepare for a mission against Japan. The group officially transferred to Columbia on Feb. 9, 1942, where its crews were offered the opportunity to volunteer for an “extremely hazardous” but unspecified mission. On February 17 the group was detached from the Eighth Army Air Force.
Initially, 20 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers were to fly the mission, and 24 of the group’s B-25B Mitchell bombers were diverted to the Mid-Continent Airlines modification center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The 710th Military Police Battalion from nearby Fort Snelling provided tight security around the hangar. Each of the B-25’s had the lower gun turret removed, de-icers and anti-icers installed, steel blast plates mounted on the fuselage around the upper turret, the liaison radio set removed, installation of a 160-gallon collapsible neoprene auxiliary fuel tank fixed to the top of the bomb bay, as well as a support mounts for additional fuel cells, mock gun barrels installed in the tail cone, and replacement of the Norden bombsight with a makeshift one.
The North American B-25 Mitchell was an American twin-engine medium bomber manufactured by North American Aviation. She had a length of 52 feet, 11 inches; a wingspan of 67 feet 7 inches; and a gross weight of 19,480 pounds. Her cruising speed was 230 miles per hour and her top speed was 272 miles per hour with a service ceiling of 24,200 feet. She had a range of 1,350 miles (with the modifications to the aircraft, that was increased to 2,400 nautical miles). The aircraft on the Doolittle Raid were armed with a .30 caliber machinegun in the bow and twin .50 caliber machineguns in the dorsal turret on the rear fuselage. Ammunition was 750 rounds for each in three belts of a proportion of one tracer, two armor-piercing, and three explosive bullets.
The 24 crews picked up the modified bombers in Minneapolis and flew them to Eglin Field, Florida, on March 1. The crews received intensive training for three weeks in simulated carrier deck takeoffs, low-level and night flying, low-altitude bombing, and over-water navigation mostly out of Wagner Field, Auxiliary Field 1. Navigators had to learn the work of bombardiers. Pilots and co-pilots had to practice every job on the plane. Lieutenant Henry Miller, USN, from nearby Naval Air Station Pensacola supervised their takeoff training. The testing was extensive. Dropping a 100 pound bomb from 500 feet proved dangerous and shook up the crew and the ship. Plus, the 500-pound bombs they would be dropping would have a 50% charge instead of the usual 35% charge.
Each B-25 bomber would carry four specially constructed 500-pound bombs. Three were high-explosive munitions and one was a bundle of incendiaries. The incendiaries were long tubes, wrapped together in order to be carried in the bomb bay, but designed to separate and scatter over a wide area after release.
On March 25, the 24 B-25s took off from Eglin for McClellan Field, California. They arrived at the Sacramento Air Depot for final modifications on March 27. Sixteen of the B-25s were chosen to fly to NAS Alameda, California, on March 31. Fifteen were for the main mission force and a 16th aircraft was squeezed onto the deck to be flown off shortly after departure from San Francisco to provide feedback to the Army pilots about takeoff characteristics. However, 16th bomber was made part of the mission force instead.
On April 1 the 16 modified bombers, their five-man crews, and Army maintenance personnel totaling 71 officers and 130 enlisted men were loaded onto the USS Hornet (CV- under Captain Marc Mitscher at Naval Air Station Alameda. It was decided at the last minute that the eight remaining aircraft would also join Task Force 18, along with the Lexington-Class Aircraft Carrier USS Brandywine (CV-0) commanded by Captain Horton D. Frost.
Originally designed as a battlecruiser, the U.S.S. Brandywine was converted into one of the Navy's first aircraft carriers during construction to comply with the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, which essentially terminated all new battleship and battlecruiser construction. The ship entered service in 1928 and was assigned to the Pacific Fleet. Brandywine and her sister ships, Lexington and Saratoga, were used to develop and refine carrier tactics in a series of annual exercises before World War II. On more than one occasion these included successful surprise attacks on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Due to various red tape and other paperwork snafus, she was issued the number CV-0 instead of CV-4. The numbers stuck and Brandywine continued under that call number. Her motto was Sit cælum, quod pertinet ad magnanimitatem (The sky belongs to the bold). Her patch included a picture of a three masted frigate - the original U.S.S. Brandywine, a wooden-hulled, three-masted frigate commissioned in 1825.
Hornet, Brandywine, and Task Force 18 left the port of Alameda at 10:00 on April 2 and a few days later rendezvoused with Task Force 16, commanded by Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., which included the carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6), commanded by Captain George D. Murray, and her escort of cruisers and destroyers in the mid-Pacific Ocean north of Hawaii. Enterprise's fighters and scout planes provided protection for the entire task force in the event of a Japanese air attack, since Hornet 's and Brandywine’s fighters were stowed below decks to allow the B-25s to use the flight deck.
The combined force was three carriers, three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, eight destroyers, and two fleet oilers. The escort ships included the heavy cruisers Salt Lake City (CA-25), Northampton (CA-26), Vincennes (CA-44); the light cruiser Nashville (CL-43); destroyers Balch (DD-363) which was the flagship of Captain Richard L. Conolly’s Destroy Squadron Six, Fanning (DD-385), Benham (DD-397), Ellet (DD-398), Gwin (DD-433), Meredith (DD-434), Grayson (DD-435), Monssen (DD-436); and the oilers Cimarron (AO-22) and Sabine (AO-25). The ships proceeded in radio silence.
On the afternoon of April 17, the slow oilers refueled the task force and then withdrew with the destroyers while the carriers and cruisers headed west at 20 knots toward the intended launch point in enemy-controlled waters east of Japan.
It was only after the ships were at sea that Doolittle told the pilots they would be bombing Japan with targets of Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Kobe, and Nagoya. The aircraft would fly in low, increase their altitude to 1,500 feet to drop the bombs, and then drop low again to fly under anti-aircraft fire. Doolittle ordered there was to be no bombing of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo - only military and industrial targets would be targeted. Once they had bombed targets in the cities, they would fly on to one of several airfields in Zhejiang Province in eastern China, refuel, and continue on to Chongqin in China.
The attack was scheduled for the evening of April 18 when the fleet was 350 nautical miles (400 miles) from Japan. The planes would come over the city in the dark and fly through the night to China, landing in that country around dawn.
“Surprise is our main safety factor,” Doolittle constantly said.
Until the launch date, the days were filled with battle stations drills, lectures, tinkering with the birds, and gunnery practice (using kites flown behind the aircraft carrier). The ships were completely blacked out at night. It was drilled into the pilots’ heads not to take anything that could be traced back to the aircraft carriers and they were told when they dropped their extra five gallon gas cans to drop them all together so as not to give the Japs a trail back to the fleet.
Each pilot was given his choice of target cities, though the planes on the Hornet were given priority as they would be heading in first. There were plenty of targets in each city between plane and tank factories, steel smelters, military sites, armories, army arsenals, steel factories, gas factories, chemical works, oil tanks, refineries, dockyards, ships, etc.
Pilots were bunked with seamen wherever there was room. The weather was pretty bad for most of the trip.
* * *
The third B-25 bomber in the group of eight on the U.S.S. Brandywine was commanded by 1st Lt. Isaiah Bean. Lt. Bean had always looked fairly young but found growing a mustache made him look older and brought him the respect he deserved. He was short, only standing about 5’2” tall, with brown hair and eyes. He wished he was taller but people would respect him or he’d see to it they paid.
Born and raised in Lawler, Iowa, a small city in Chickasaw County, he went to the University of Minnesota, graduating in 1941 with a Masters to begin his work as a geologist. While in college, he’d also gotten his pilot’s license on the assumption he might have to fly as part of his career. He had just gotten work in Washington State and had just met his girl, Millie Thompson, a shy girl who knew how to respect him, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He joined the U.S. Army Air Force almost immediately and ended up in the 17th Bomb Group (Medium), flying B-25s. He jumped at the opportunity to bring the war to the Japanese.
His co-pilot was 2nd Lt. Thomas Van Loan. “Gorgeous” was what the girls in high school all called him and he was. He stood 5’9” tall and was slim with a clean shaven face and dark brown hair. His cleft chin was just perfect and he even smelled nice when he was sweating. He was happy to be serving in the USAAF and enjoyed the flying they’d taught him, taking to it like a duck to water.
Lt. Van Loan was born in the small city of Lebanon, South Dakota, and spent his whole life as the Wonder Boy of the town. He took his high school baseball team to nationals and was valedictorian of the class, proving he had smarts as well as good looks. The girls all loved him, the boys idolized him, and he could’ve had a girlfriend for every day of the week - but they were all so small-town and simple. He even got a full scholarship to whatever college he wanted. Seeing what was going on in Europe and the Pacific, he chose to enter a 12-week civil aeronautics course at Black Hill State University in the fall of 1941. He joined the U.S. Army Air Force in November, just before the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor. He even learned a bit of Chinese for the trip.
Second Lt. Bryan “Flats” Johnson was the navigator on board. Young-looking, he couldn’t even grow a decent mustache, but that didn’t stop him from trying. Standing a good 5’11” tall, he was slim from training and ready for adventure. His ears stuck out a bit, but he didn’t care. He unfortunately picked up the nickname “Flats” from his hometown and hated it. He wanted to be called “Journeyman” or “Traveler” or something like that. Maybe “Dakota.” He always wanted to live in the Dakotas.
Born and raised in the dead-end village of Flats, Nebraska, in McPherson County (that’s the only way anyone could find it, it wasn’t on most maps), he always wanted out of the town and did everything he could to get there. Boy Scouts taught him how to survive in the wild and navigate and when he graduated high school in 1941 (a year early!), he immediately joined the U.S. Army Air Force to see the world. Now he was doing just that. He hadn’t been home since he joined up and didn’t intend to go back. He wanted to see other places. When he learned he was going on a mission, his father sent his grandfather’s Winchester rifle and his own .22 Remington Model 24A hunting rifle.
The Bombardier for the flight was 1st Lt. Michael Ulrich, also known as “Rail.” Standing 5’8” tall and skinny as a rail, everything about his face reflected his poor childhood except his nose, which seemed to have grown of its own accord and never stopped. He also had a chin he was told could “break bricks” if need be. He had always looked older than his age. He hated that. He got the name “Rail” in basic and it stuck, at least with the other officers. He loved to laugh and enjoyed a good joke.
Growing up in the large town of Black River Falls, Wisconsin, wasn’t easy when you were skinny and not terribly good-looking. But he did it. He worked part-time as a fry cook in high school to help his family make ends meet - they were all pretty poor. But he graduated with decent grades. He thought, in the summer of 1941, his best bet at a better life was to join the U.S. Army Air Force. He soon found he had a knack for it. He managed to get promoted quickly due to his way with people and his competence. When the call came for a secret mission, he was in. He was damn good at dropping bombs and he knew it. He also brought some extra food for the trip as who knew where they’d all end up.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Emerson was the Flight Engineer on the plane. Standing a solid 6 foot tall, he was bulky and strong. He looked dumb, thanks to his dad (he looked just like him) but he had always hidden his own smarts behind whatever would keep him safe from his wrath. He had black hair, possibly some American Indian in his roots, and was very protective of his friends and shipmates.
Pottersdale, Pennsylvania could barely be called a town but it was good enough for Sgt. Emerson. He made it through the eighth grade before his father, an angry man who never showed him any love, put him to work in his fix-it shop. He tinkered away at anything needing repairs from radios to automobiles. The second he turned 18, he was out of there and high-tailed it to the nearest recruiting office. The officer at your physical exam asked him about the bruises but he said he was simply clumsy. He got into the U.S. Army Air Force and soon found his way to the B-25s.
The crew got together to pick a target some days before the scheduled launch. Lt. Johnson thought Nagoya would be a prime place to attack.
“I say we hit ‘em where it hurts!” Lt. Bean said. “We go for Tokyo! Right in the heartland. Go big or go home! Hey! Don’t make any jokes.”
“Yeah, Tokyo would definitely have more of a morale impact,” Lt. Van Load admitted.
“But people are already targeting Tokyo,” Lt. Johnson said.
“Why should we target a place that other people are already targeting?”
“Maximizing the use of our weapons.”
“I vote Nagoya as our primary target.”
“I would see that’s not a bad idea but I think Tokyo would be better. If this is a propaganda action ...”
“Japs don’t care about morale,” Sgt. Emerson said. “They’ll follow the emperor anyway.”
“American morale,” Lt. Van Loan said. “We gotta hit ‘em back. Nobody in America knows where Nagoya is. They know Tokyo.”
“If we hit Nagoya while others hit Tokyo, we get our own share of the glory,” Lt. Johnson said.
“There are others hitting Nagoya as well,” Lt. Van Loan said.
“What do you think, Ulrich?” Lt. Bean asked the bombardier.
“I think we take on Tokyo,” Lt. Ulrich said. “We go big or we go home.”
“Sounds like we got our consensus here,” Lt. Bean said. “We’ll hit Nagoya next time.”
The final decision was made to bomb Tokyo, hitting three military and industrial targets, and settling on Nagoya as a secondary target should it prove impossible to bomb Tokyo.
* * *
At 7:38 a.m. on April 18, 1942, after the morning battle stations drill at dawn and before mess, battle stations was sounded again. This time it was not a drill.
Lt. Bean was looking over navigational charts below decks. Lt. Van Loan was in his cabin, reading a book. Lt. Johnson was heading for the mess hall. Lt. Ulrich had gone back to bed to catch a few winks before chow. Sgt. Emerson was working on the aircraft.
The roar of guns could be heard from above decks. One of the big cruisers to the port of the Hornet, itself ahead and to the port of the Brandywine, fired away. It was the USS Nashville. Down near the horizon, a low-slung ship began to give off an ugly plume of black smoke. American dive bombers wheeled overhead.
“Army pilots, man your planes!” came over the loudspeakers. “Army pilots, man your planes!”
The flight deck was a hive of activity while the voice over the loudspeakers barked commands. Signal lamps flashed on the nearby Hornet and a reply was made from Brandywine. The Morse code read “Sighted by Japanese patrol boat. Bombers to lift immediately.” The Navy men on the deck started taking care of the bombers. Blocks were whipped out from under the wheels and a small service vehicle moved the bombers into position. Within a half hour, the B-25’s were crisscrossed along the back end of the flight deck, two abreast, the big, double-rudders of their tails sticking over the edge.
The weather was good though the sea was rough. The Brandywine increased speed until she was fairly flying through the water. The bombs were brought from below and rolled across the deck on their low-slung lorries to the planes. Navy men topped the tanks of the bombers and, once full, rocked the planes in the hopes of breaking whatever air bubbles might have formed in the big wing tanks. Brandywine’s control tower started to display large square cards giving compass readings and wind, which was gale force.
The take-off instructor went to each plane to wish them luck. Not long after, a Navy man brought five additional five-gallon fuel tins to the plane. Other Navy men and officers whom the Army pilots met came to wish them luck.
At 08:20, Hornet was plainly visible from the Brandywine. Lt. Col. Doolittle’s plane was the first one in line to attempt a takeoff from half a carrier at sea. It worked well enough on the ground during training. It was time to see if it would work in the field. If he couldn’t get his aircraft off the carrier, the entire mission would be scrubbed.
Doolittle’s bomber lurched forward with the change of signals from the Navy man on the bow of the ship. With his left wing far out over the port side of the Hornet, Doolittle’s plane waddled and then lunged slowly into the teeth of the gale. He picked up more speed and then, just as the Hornet lifted herself up on the top of a wave and cut through it at full speed, his plane took off with yards to spare. He turned the ship almost straight up on its tail, then leveled off, came around in a tight circle over Hornet, and shot low over the heads of the other bombers.
The Hornet had given him his bearing. Admiral Halsey had headed her right for the heart of Tokyo.
One by one, the other 15 bombers on the Hornet launched successfully from the ship, the second nearly crashing. It was only once they had all launched by 09:19 that the Navy man on the flight deck signaled for the bombers on the Brandywine to ready themselves for takeoff. The first aircraft off the ship, commanded by Lt. Ralph Conner, has a little difficulty on takeoff, getting off the deck but then crashing back down before actually getting into the air and off. It circled around the Brandywine and then headed for Japan.
The second aircraft off the flattop, that one piloted by Captain James Elloitt, lifted off effortlessly with yards to spare. Then it was off towards Japan.
“Danny, you went over this, right?” Lt. Van Loan called over the aircraft intercom.
“What?” Sgt. Emerson replied.
“This thing’s gonna get off the deck, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it’s totally shipshape.”
“Shipshape!?!” Lt. Beam broke in. “We need to be planeshape!”
Now it was his turn.
A Navy man stood at the bow of the ship to the left with a checkered flag. He gave the signal to begin racing the engine, swinging the flag in a circle and making it go faster and faster. He waited, timing the dipping of the ship so the plane would get the benefit of the rising deck for take-off. He finally gave a new signal and the Navy boys pulled the blocks out from under the wheels. Another signal and Lt. Bean released the brakes. The bomber moved forward.
With the left wing over the port side of the Brandywine, the plane slowly tore through the gale force winds. The left wheel was on the white line painted there just for that purpose. The right wing looked like it barely missed the island and smokestack of the Brandywine. Lt. Bean pulled back on the control stick and the aircraft effortlessly lifted up off the deck with yards to spare.
The aircraft banked, gained altitude, and circled over the Brandywine, getting her bearing, then flew on towards Tokyo. The original mission was supposed to be a night mission, but they’d be reaching their targets during daylight. The fleet was also 650 nautical miles from Japan instead of the 350 nautical miles that it was supposed to be. They’d launched 10 hours before schedule. It was unsure if the aircraft would have enough fuel to reach Zhejiang Province, let alone Chongqin. They hadn’t eaten since the night before.
As soon as they are en route, Sgt. Emerson topped off the tank with the reserve fuel cans, beginning with the big emergency tank. Warm-up and take off burned the equivalent of eight of the five-gallon cans of gas and it was still 2,700 miles to China. They realized they might not have the fuel to reach the landing fields at all. Lt. Johnson did the math and thought they had enough fuel to get to China.
Lt. Bean flew as low as possible, about 20 feet above the waves at a slow speed to conserve fuel. The controls felt sloppy at such a slow speed. The weather was disgustingly good - beautiful clear blue skies. About an hour and a half into the flight, a Japanese merchantman was spotted some three miles to the left. By then the emergency tins were used up.
About five hours from launch, they spotted the coast of Japan. The island nation lay very low in the water with a slight haze that made it blend eerily into the horizon. There were several small boats anchored off the beach, including fishing boats and motor launches. As they flew over, there were surprisingly no shots fired from the boats. They saw men and women waving at the plane as it passed. They guessed the people thought they were a Japanese aircraft due to the red disc in the middle of the American star.
“Crazy Japs!” Lt. Bean said.
They continued to fly low to avoid spotters and detecting devices.
The white beaches quickly turned into soft, rolling green fields. Everything looked well-kept with little farms fitted in an almost mathematical precision. The fresh spring grass was brilliantly green and fruit trees were in bloom. Farmers in their fields waved at the passing aircraft. There were many hills and valleys and the safest route was by following a valley going in the right direction until the aircraft needed to cross over a hill into another low valley. The plane flew over the rooftops of a few villages.
About six hours after launch, the aircraft rose over a hill with a temple atop it and they spotted Tokyo Bay ahead. Lt. Bean dropped down to just over the water and Lt. Johnson gave a course change as the ship continued at the same slow speed to conserve fuel. A large aircraft carrier was in the bay to the right as they approached the city, anchored a couple miles away. There were no enemy planes in sight. However, black smoke rose from Tokyo and Yokohama, the results of the earlier raiders. It took five minutes to cross the bay. Some barrage balloons were visible between Tokyo and Yokohama, across the river from Tokyo. The bay was filled with yachts and larger ships.
They saw there was a sameness to most of the city, making it difficult to spot their targets.
Once they reached their objective, Lt. Ulrich alerted Lt. Bean by ship interphone and he turned over the aircraft control to the bombardier and increased speed to maximum. Lt. Bean was still in control of altitude and climbed quickly to 1,500 feet. Black bursts of smoke began to appear in the air as anti-aircraft fire come into play. It was not as heavy as anyone expected. They just had time to get to the correct altitude, level off, attend to the routine of opening the bomb bay, make a short run, and let fly with the first bomb.
“Flats, you did take us to Tokyo, right?” Lt. Van Loan called from the cockpit.
As each bomb was dropped, a red light blinked in the cockpit and the plane seemed to pick up speed as a big 500-pound bomb fell. After the third bomb drop, there was the shortest of delays before the aircraft flew over the part of the city that would burn the best. Then the incendiary was away. The last bomb separated as soon as it hit the wind and dozens of small fire bombs molted from it, spreading small fires all over the city.
All three of the main bombs had missed their targets but had done substantial damage to the city. The incendiary, however, struck an area that was not already in flames, a perfect hit.
As soon as the fourth red light blinked in the cockpit, Lt. Ulrich turned control of the plane back over to Lt. Bean and they ducked back down to treetop level and reduced speed. A new course was set heading due south towards the coast to confuse any pursuers. Evasive action was also taken and all hands kept eyes to the air for the possibility of enemy aircraft. Behind them, more smoke rose from the city.
The aircraft proceeded southwest along the southern coast of Japan. All of the auxiliary gas was gone by then and the plane was dependent upon the wing tanks. At one point, three Japanese cruisers were spotted. They opened fire with their big guns, as well as machinegun fire, but the range was too great, the target too small and fast, and the plane got by them without damage.
The Islands of Honshu and Yakashima, Honshu a lumpy tail of an island and Yakashima an active volcano, were their next marker. They flew between them and then turned west to head for the coast of China, following the 29th parallel. At this point, Lt. Bean allowed the men to smoke.
“Pop the corks, boys,” he called over the intercom. “This mission’s done.”
“Shouldn’t we wait until we get this bird on the ground?” Lt. Van Loan asked.
“That’s not a question! Of course we will!”
As they headed west, across the China Sea, the weather started to go bad. Around 6 p.m., it started with a few drops on the windshield but quickly escalated into a full-blown storm. They all remembered the Navy men warning them storms gathered to roll off the shelf of China without much warning. It meant finding Choo Chow Lishui or one of the other airfields without radio guidance. The silver lining of the bad weather was it would mean the Japanese would have a much harder time finding them.
It continued to get worse as they crossed the China Sea, making it harder and harder to see out of the cockpit. Lt. Johnson recalculated their position and thought they were still on course and should have just enough fuel to reach China. Lt. Bean had to stick his head out of the cockpit side window on more than one occasion to try to see ahead.
He got some altitude and put them over the worst of the storm at 4,000 feet. The sky above was still overcast but there was less rain. They were unsure where they were as the cloud cover completely masked the Earth blow. As the fuel gauge dropped lower and lower, they had to decide what to do. Lt. Bean was not keen to bail out of the aircraft so eventually dropped back down into the worst of the storm to look for a landing site for the aircraft. It was pouring rain, making it terribly hard to see. It was dark but, as the fuel gauge went to empty, Lt. Van Loan thought he spotted a roundish area off to starboard surrounding by jungle. It appeared to be about a mile across or maybe a little less. He pointed it out to Lt. Bean.
Lt. Bean circled and let the crew know they were going to try to land. He decided to put down with landing gear up and Lt. Van Loan noted it might be some kind of rice paddy.
“Brace for impact, boys!” Lt. Bean said over the ship’s interphone. “We’re setting her down!”
Lt. Ulrich climbed up from the bombardier’s compartment and sat down behind the pilot and co-pilot’s chairs, his back to them. In the back of the aircraft, Lt. Johnson and Sgt. Emerson took up crash positions with their backs to the bulkhead of the bomb bay. Everyone extinguished their cigarettes and hoped for the best.
As they get closer to the ground, Lt. Bean throttled the craft down to nearly stall speed, went to full flaps, and pulled up on the nose so she’d land mostly on her belly. When they actually struck, the impact was terribly jarring, though it wasn’t as hard as if they had landed on solid ground. Lt. Van Loan had been right: they had landed in a rice paddy.
As they struck, Lt. Bean was jerked as one of his seat belts snapped. His back was strained and he tore his right shoulder. Lt. Van Loan’s seat actually ripped from of the aircraft, slamming him forward. He struck his head on the controls with a cracking noise. Blood poured from the man’s forehead. His right knee slammed into the controls, injuring his meniscus. He was nearly knocked out by the impact. Behind them, Lt. Ulrich slammed into the back of the chair that ripped loose, contusing his neck on the jagged metal.
In the back of the aircraft, Lt. Johnson received blunt trauma to his head and back. Trying to stop himself, he had put out his left arm and it bent the wrong way at the elbow, badly spraining it. It was terribly painful. Sgt. Emerson was likewise smashed against the bulkhead, which ruptured and cut his shoulder right through his uniform.
The aircraft slid to a halt, a terrible ripping noise come from both engines. Glass shattered throughout the plane. The craft was otherwise mostly intact and rolled as if it had hit some kind of liquid before coming to a stop. All was silent as the engines stalled and died. Rain continued to fall.
“Everybody check in,” Lt. Van Loan said groggily over the craft’s interphone. “Everyone all right?”
“Is everybody okay?” Lt. Bean said.
“We all survived,” Lt. Johnson said. “Not all of us survived unscathed though.”
Sgt. Emerson took out a cigarette and shakily lit it, taking a long drag.
“I thought I did a pretty good job,” Lt. Bean said.
Lt. Van Loan moaned and Lt. Bean called for first aid when he saw the amount of blood on the man’s face. Lt. Johnson noted he knew first aid but couldn’t move his arm. Meanwhile, Lt. Ulrich got up and saw to Lt. Van Loan as best he could.
“You should stick to bombing things,” Lt. Bean said. “Let me look at it.”
He didn’t do any better. Lt. Van Loan, still groggy, tightened up the gauze on his head but was still in great pain. The headache seemed to rip right through him. When he pulled himself loose from the seat, he almost fell down due to his injured knee. He bound it up as best he could but still couldn’t put any weight on it. He would have to have someone’s help.
In the back, Lt. Johnson treated himself and bound his ribs, which felt sore. Sgt. Emerson did the same to his wounds. Then Lt. Johnson headed for the front of the plane. Sgt. Emerson got up some gear and headed forward as well.
“Danny, make sure you grab the 30-cal,” Lt. Van Loan called over the ship interphone.
Lt. Van Loan was working on Lt. Bean, wrapping his injuries, as Lt. Johnson made his way to the front of the aircraft. Sgt. Emerson crawled into the bombardier’s compartment but was stopped by Lt. Van Loan and then Lt. Johnson, both of them trying to aid the man. He finally got to work removed the .30-caliber machinegun and its tripod.
“Everybody get ready to abandoned the bird,” Lt. Bean said. “Grab what you can and let’s get the hell out of here.”
They prepared the scuttling charges and got their supplies, including Lt. Ulrich’s extra groceries and Lt. Johnson’s rifles before setting the charges and fleeing the aircraft. Sgt. Emerson carried the .30-caliber machinegun on his shoulder. They spotted a dim light in the distance as they slogged through the rice paddy. Rain continued to fall and sometimes there was a splash of water or a rustle of bushes.
“Do we want to move towards the light and risk getting captured, or do we want to wander around─” Lt. Johnson said.
“Well, if we’re in China …” Lt. Van Loan said.
“If we’re in China, it may be safe to go towards the light.”
“But what if we’re not in China?”
“We should be.”
“Don’t you know if we’re in China?” Sgt. Emerson asked the navigator.
“Yeah!” Lt. Bean said.
“Well, navigator, we should be,” Lt. Van Loan said groggily.
“It’s very stormy,” Lt. Johnson said.
“Yeah, Flats, I thought you said you’ve never been lost before!” Lt. Bean said.
Lt. Johnson sulkily took his rifles from Sgt. Emerson, tucking them under his good arm. Lt. Van Loan was still wearing the parachute he’d pulled on before exiting the plane.
“Which direction should we be heading?” Lt. Bean asked.
Lt. Johnson took out his compass. The light lay in a south-westerly direction.
“Did anyone sustain leg injuries?” Lt. Bean asked.
Lt. Van Loan raised his hand as the pilot assessed everyone and what they were carrying.
“I might have a little brain damage,” Lt. Van Loan muttered.
“You sit this one out, son,” Lt. Bean said. “Since I seem to be the least injured, I’m going to do a little scouting mission to that light there. Make sure that we’re not too close up in case something happens.”
There was a thud behind them as the scuttling charges went off and flames started to lick at the aircraft. They headed towards the other light and soon reached the edge of the rice paddy and made their way into the woods. They also found a rough road. It headed towards the light in an westerly direction. Lt. Bean led them in a swing to the south so they were not between the burning aircraft and the light.
They could see the light came from some kind of house or structure. Lt. Bean told the rest to wait while he scouted it.
“If I’m not back in five, assume I’m dead,” he said.
He drew his 1911 .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol and headed towards the woods. Lt. Johnson handed off his .22 hunting rifle to Lt. Ulrich. He leaned the Winchester up against a tree and drew his own sidearm.
* * *
As Lt. Bean crept closer to the light, he saw it came from a small but sturdily built Chinese hut with wooden walls and roof, the latter held fast to the house by large nails and a few rocks. A roughly built but solid stone chimney stood on one side, smoke trickling out of the top. A single wooden door stood on the side of the hut facing the road and a single, shuttered window peeked out beside it.
He quietly crossed the overgrown road, swinging wide of the hut and seeing another window in the back. He also saw what appeared to be a large, thatch-roofed barn behind the house. He peeked into the back window and saw an old Chinese lady in a rocking chair, knitting. The hut appeared to be filled with items and implements. The Chinese woman sometimes stopped to look at the front window. Lt. Bean could tell that she probably couldn’t see the burning plane from where she was sitting.
He crept back to the barn and found the door ajar. It was very dark within but he took out his flashlight and shined it around, masking it with his hand. He didn’t seen any animals in the place and it was much more poorly built than the house.
He crept back into the woods.
* * *
Lt. Bean returned in less than five minutes.
“So, what’s the situation?” Lt. Van Loan, leaning heavily against a tree, asked.
“So, we’ve got one civilian older lady,” Lt. Bean said. “Toothless. Seems to be alert for some reason. Not exactly sure why. Don’t think it’s the plane, so maybe expecting someone home, I’d guess. Large barn in the back, might be useful.”
He looked at them.
“What is the idea from everyone?” he asked. “What does everyone think we should be doing here?”
“You’re the C.O.” Lt. Van Loan said.
“But I’m a democratic leader. I am American! This isn’t China. We’re not─”
“This isn’t a democracy. We’re in the military.”
“What was the state of the surroundings of the house?” Lt. Johnson asked.
“Barn in the back,” Lt. Bean said. “Thatch roof. Fairly nice house. Old lady expecting something. That’s about all I got.”
“Does the barn look like it’s been used anytime recently?”
“I mean … it doesn’t have anything in it currently indicative of active use.”
“Do you think the barn would be a good place to lay low and wait the storm out?”
“Potentially, but I think we should deal with the civilians and not leave them unaccounted for. Whether we try to be friendly or hostile, we need to make that decision and not just assume.”
“This is China,” Lt. Van Loan said. “They’re our ally.”
“I say we go introduce ourselves politely with some backup plan in hand,” Lt. Bean said.
“I know a little bit of Chinese,” Lt. Van Loan said.
“I say you and I approach the front door. The rest of the crew comes in from behind. If we come back out to get you, it’s all good. If not, you break in the window in the back.”
They all crept to the house, Lt. Bean and Lt. Van Loan walking to the front door, the latter leaning on the former, while the rest snuck around to the back of the house. Lt. Bean curtly knocked on the door, standing up very straight and making sure his rank was displayed. They heard movement inside.
“Who-who is it?” an old woman’s voice came from within in English. “Who is there?”
Lt. Bean turned to Lt. Van Loan.
“I don’t speak Chinese,” he said.
“That … that’s English,” Lt. Van Loan said.
“I think you’re confusing yourself with your head injury. You talk to this lady.”
“Is someone there?” the voice came from within. “Who is there?”
“American soldiers, ma’am,” Lt. Van Loan said.
There was a clunk from just behind the door and it was opened, scraping against something behind it.
“Oh, get inside quickly!” the old woman said. “Bad things in the woods. Get inside!”
Lt. Bean went around the side of the house to get the others.
“Where is he going!?!” the old woman cried out. “You! Little man! Hurry, get in here!”
“We have some more men around back that he’s getting,” Lt. Van Loan said.
“Well, hurry! Get them in quickly. Is dangerous here!”
Lt. Bean returned with the others and they all got into the tiny house.
“What did she say?” he asked.
“Shut up,” Lt. Van Loan said to him.
He turned back to the woman, who was struggling to pick a bar up from the floor behind the door.
“Ma’am, what province are we in?” he asked.
“Oh, yes,” she replied. “This is the Nangong District in Jiangsu Province.”
Lt. Bean ordered Sgt. Emerson to help the old woman with the bar. The big man picked it up with one hand and dropped it into the slots behind the door.
“That’s not good,” Lt. Van Loan said, remembering the maps of China he’d seen.
Lt. Johnson realized they were in one of the Japanese held provinces of China, as did Lt. Bean.
“I think you’re a little bit off,” the pilot said to Lt. Johnson.
“Fine work, navigator,” Lt. Van Loan said.
“We were in the middle of a huge storm,” Lt. Johnson said, figuring they had been blown north by the storm.
The little old lady walked to the fireplace. An iron hook was set into the stone there, a large, iron teapot hanging from it. She pushed the hook over the fire and busied herself making tea for all of them.
They looked around the one-room hut. It was cozy and warm in the place though primitive and rough. Numerous herbs and such hung from the roof and the warm fire burned in the fireplace. Several lit candles were around the room, giving it a pleasant light. Small tables were against the walls and in the corners, cluttered with various tools and cooking implements. A bit of knitting lay on the rocking chair in front of the fire. A bare sleeping mat lay on the dirt floor in one corner.
“Do you live alone, ma’am?” Lt. Bean asked.
“Yes,” the woman answered. “I have lived alone since my husband died five years ago. I am Mrs. Han Li.”
“Mrs. Han, I think you for your hospitality,” Lt. Van Loan said.
“Oh yes, Americans,” the woman said. “USA.”
“Yes, USA,” Lt. Bean said.
“How is it you know English, ma’am?” Lt. Van Loan asked.
“I learned a lot of things in my life,” the old woman said with a toothless smile. “I have been around for a long time, young man.”
Lt. Johnson muttered something unintelligible.
“Settle down, young man,” Mrs. Han said to him.
“I’m just wondering─” he said.
“It is fine now. You are warm and cozy, right?”
“I’m just wondering though. Even though you say you learned Chinese … or you learned English because you’ve learned a lot of things, why did you immediately respond in English when the door was knocked on?”
“Because I do not like Japanese!”
She went back to preparing the tea. Lt. Bean was confused by the answer.
“You should go to town of Xĭ Sì,” she said. “It’s about a mile down the road. There’s a doctor there. He could help you. Do not go at night. Do not go at night. There are things out there at night.”
“Japanese?” Lt. Bean asked.
“No no,” she replied. “Worse than Japanese.”
“What’s worse than Japanese?”
“There are things that hop and bite and claw and scratch and sniff. They hunt for you.”
“Kangaroos? I’ve read of kangaroos.”
“You are very much better served by waiting until the cock crows and going on after morning.”
“Cock,” Lt. Van Loan said. “Male chicken.”
“Rooster,” Lt. Johnson said.
“Calm down,” Lt. Van Loan said.
“Yes, he is right,” Mrs. Han said. “He learned his doctoring in the big cities. There’s also the ruined temple.” She made “tsk tsk” noises. “That’s such a shame.”
“So why do you say it’s such a shame?” Lt. Bean said.
“Because it is ruins! It has been ruined for some time now. I used to go there and pray. And now I don’t.”
“Because of the Japanese?”
“Yes, they wrecked it. They’re terrible people.”
“Of course. I understand completely.”
She poured water into six mismatched cups.
“We just got done bombing Japanese,” Lt. Van Loan said.
“Good, I hope you bombed them all!” she said.
She put a tray with the teacups upon it onto a short table and took one herself, sitting in her rocking chair and sipping at it blissfully.
“There have not been Japanese here in a long time,” Mrs. Han said. “We’re not important enough for them. They have better things to do. Well … until now.”
She gestured at the American soldiers.
“That might change,” Lt. Van Loan said.
The others took the tea. Only Lt. Bean and Lt. Johnson declined.
“I don’t partake of alcohol while on duty,” Lt. Bean said.
“That’s─” Lt. Ulrich said.
“That’s not alcoholic, sir,” Lt. Van Loan said.
“There is no alcohol in this tea,” Mrs. Han said. “This is tea.”
“No thank you, ma’am,” Lt. Bean said. “Though I appreciate the hospitality.”
The tea was quite good and warmed them. After a short while, they heard a noise outside the house. It sounded like something very big was walking very slowly. Lt. Bean drew his sidearm.
“I thought you said you lived alone, ma’am,” he said.
Lt. Van Loan went to the window to peek out through the slats in the shutters.
“Oh those …” Mrs. Han said. “Do not open door! Do not open window!”
He looked between the slats. It was pitch black outside and when he tried to shine his flashlight between the slats, the glare simply blinded him. Lt. Johnson also drew his handgun.
“Why not?” Lt. Bean said. “What is out there?”
“The things are out there,” she said.
“You must stay here. They cannot get in. I’ve made precautions.”
She pointed to the sturdy bolts on the shutters and the bar on the door.
“Even if they get in, I can get away,” she said smugly, pointing at a rope hanging from the roof near the center of the room. “It would take the work of a moment to make a noose and be done with my life. Perhaps that would be the sensible thing. I’ve not always been a sensible woman. If I did that, it would be because my fear was so strong, I couldn’t stand it any longer. But there are brave men here for me.”
They notice some rice and chaff along the bottom of the shutters and a little stuck to the bottom of the door.
“What are you so afraid of?” Lt. Johnson asked.
She just pointed towards the window. They could hear something sniffing at the outside of the house. Something scratched at the door.
“You have a dog, ma’am?” Lt. Bean asked, working the action on his pistol.
“Oh no,” Mrs. Han said. “I do not have a dog.”
Something continued scratching at the door and sniffing outside.
“We are safe here,” Mrs. Han said. “One of you can take the mat. I can sleep here.”
“No, I couldn’t,” Lt. Van Loan said.
“Oh, but you’re hurt. You Americans, you find comfortable place to sleep.”
“I can … I have slept many a night here.”
“What time is it?” Lt. Bean said.
It was very late. His watch, not even set for local time, said it was after midnight.
Mrs. Han chatted a little and told them the people of Xĭ Sì helped her since her husband died. Lt. Van Loan practiced her Chinese on the woman. She seemed impressed and spoke to him in Chinese. Lt. Bean set watches, excluding Lt. Van Loan due to his head injury. They set two hours shifts with himself taking the first one. Mrs. Han dozed in her rocking chair.
After a couple of hours of listening to the thing creep around the house, scratching and sniffing, he was happy to wake up Sgt. Emerson before going to sleep himself.
* * *
The cock was just crowing on April 19, 1942, as Sgt. Emerson went to wake Lt. Ulrich a couple hours later. Suddenly, the room was flung into darkness except for sunlight peeking through the slats in the closed shutters. He hurriedly woke the lieutenant. Then he took out his flashlight and turned it on.
When he shined his light around the room, everything was gone that had been in the place before. The herbs, the small tables, the teacups and pot, the sleeping mat were all gone. There were no candles and even the reddish coals in the fireplace had vanished. All that remained was the rocking chair in the middle of the room.
They quickly woke the rest of the men as quickly as they could.
“How did this …? Lt. Bean said. “What happened?”
He noticed the knitting still sitting on the rocking chair. Lt. Van Loan had noticed that as well.
“What happened?” Lt. Bean asked Sgt. Emerson. “You were on watch. What happened?”
“The rooster crowed and then everything went dark,” Sgt. Emerson said. “Then everything was gone.”
“Bend over,” Lt. Bean said. “Let me see the top of your head.”
“What happened to the old lady?” Lt. Van Loan asked. “Where’d she go?”
“I don’t know,” Sgt. Emerson said as Lt. Bean looked over his head for some kind of injury.
The windows were still bolted and the door was still barred. When Lt. Bean looked at the rice, he saw it was rotten, as if it had been there for months. Someone else noticed the rope was gone.
It was all quite disturbing.