M/Sgt. Melvin Clark, VMSB 341, USMC
These are a few war stories and maps to show you where they occurred by Mel Clark while flying as a gunner in the SBD Dive Bomber during WW II.
Our first combat started while we were stationed on Munda in the New Georgia Group of Islands. We would fly to Bougainville and bomb and strafe Jap troops and supplies. Then when the A12 strip on Bougainville was completed we would fly there and gas up and then on to Rabaul and bomb shipping in the harbour and airfields of which there were b. Then back to Bougainville to gas up and back to Munda. A 12 hour day. Finally we moved up to Bougainville which was better. Then we moved to Green Island which was closer to Rabaul and made a short day. Then we moved to Emiru Island for a short while and then back to Green Island. I have marked on the maps where we were.
While I was a gunner with 341 I flew with 3 different pilots permanently: Haraway, 1st Lt. PostLewait, and Capt. Blackburn. Lt. Postelwait quit flying after about 4 strikes on Rabaul, so I flew as spare. I flew with Blackburn when his gunner would get sick, so he asked me to be his regular gunner. He was a good pilot.
Our first combat was on Jan 1, 1944 off of Munda against troops on Bougainville. The pilots would strafe going in and then drop their bombs and we would strafe with our twin 30's going out. 45-ter Bougainville was secured. The Seabees made an airfield there. We would fly from Munda to Bougainville and gas up and then fly on to Rabaul and bomb airfields of which there were the harbour. Rabaul was a very tough target. They had plenty of fighters and AA. We lost quite a few good men there. We shot down quite a few Zeros. But we would fly in formation coming in and every gunner was shooting so it was hard to confirm who shot them . We all thought we did. We had Marines with F4Us, F6Fs, and Australians with P40s flying cover for us. They would fly back and forth over us real close. On one strike an F6F got too close and hit the tail of an SBD. It went down but the pilot Lt. Tuck and gunner Sgt. McClear bailed out. We learned later they were both captured, tortured and died on Rabaul. But overall the fighters did a good job.
The most scary thing was when the Japs would fly high over us. There were a lot of small islands along the way back but most were Jap infested.
ENGINE TROUBLE Blackburn told me to throw out my guns which I did and he dropped his 1000 lb. bomb to lighten the load. We were sure we were going to have to make a water landing. All of a sudden the motor sputtered and came to life. We limped all the way back to the field. Me without any guns and Blackburn without a bomb. Embarrassed, we landed and found out later there was water in the motor.
On another strike on Rabaul we were over Tobera Airfield I our high speed approach we would go in at 12000 ft. and go down to 10000 ft. before we would go into our dive. We picked up a lot of speed that way and the Japs couldn't get their fuses to our altitude. Well, a Zero was on our tail so I started shooting but the slip stream caught my ammo belts and twisted them so I couldn't shoot. I just pointed the gun at him and hoped my armour plate would help me. I don't know why, but he turned and flew off. Thank God.
Because sometimes the Japs would shell the field on Bougainville and make holes in the runway. The way the SBD would sit, the pilot couldn't see directly in front of him. The gunners as soon as we landed would have to jump out on the wing and stand by the pilot and direct him around any craters. One time we came back from Rabaul and landed. I jumped on the wing and got up by Blackburn when the plane turned and started off the runway. I jumped back in the cockpit and held on. The plane hit a rock and tipped nose first into the ground. This threw me over the pilot's head and I landed on my tailbone on the prop which had stopped when it hit the ground. I was lucky there. I bounced off on the ground with the wind knocked out of me a very sore backend. I spent 3 days in the hospital. We found out we had a tire shot out which is why the plane pulled off the runway. Sometimes that old SBD would come back with a lot of holes. It was a good plane.
One day we were going to strike a bivouac area on Rabaul and were carrying 500 lb clusters of incendiary bombs which would start fires. We were taking off when our motor quit so we had to turn off the runway. Blackburn said let's grab another plane, so we did, but this one had a 1000 lb bomb on it. We took off and could see the other planes ahead but couldn't catch them. We could see they were getting close to Rabaul and we wouldn't make it, so Blackburn said, Mel do you want to hit the radar station on Cape St. George which was on New Ireland. I said, you're the pilot. So he dove down on it with his 50 calibers going and dropped his bomb. When he pulled out I started strafing with my twin 30's. All of a sudden a big hole appeared in our rudder and I realized they still had AA there. When we got back in, Blackburn was grounded for 10 days. I flew spare gunner for a while.
One other incident which didn't have anything to do with my flying but I think it is interesting. There were a couple of squadrons of SBD's on Green Island. One day we would strike and the next be on shipping standby, which meant if any Jap ships were spotted, we along with fighters and TBS's would go after them. One day it was reported that 2 Jap gunboats were off the coast of New Ireland. So all the planes (not our Squadron) was sent out to bomb them which they did. They were 2 US PT boats. They weren't supposed to be there, but they were sunk and the survivors were brought back to Green Island. There was a PT Squadron based on Green Island and they were from that Squadron. So after that all the gunners and pilots had to