Back to Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941

On the morning of 7 December 1941, 12 Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses were approaching Hawaii after a 14-hour flight from California. This post describes that flight.

During the Fall of 1941, the U.S. Army Air Forces attempted to enhance its aerial defence of the Philippines by dispatching the 19th Bombardment Group (Heavy) with B-17s to the Philippines in September 1941. At that time, a bombardment group consisted of three bombardment squadrons with a reconnaissance squadron attached; the reconnaissance squadron normally reported to the parent unit of the group, i.e., the wing or bomber command.

When the 19th left for the Philippines, it left one bombardment squadron and its reconnaissance squadron in the U.S.; both were to rejoin the group at a later date. Subsequently, the high command decided to send a second bombardment group to the Philippines so in late November 1941, the ground echelon of the 7th Bombardment Group (Heavy) left Utah for the Philippines. The air echelons of all units transferred to Muroc Army Air Base, Muroc, California, to prepare their aircraft for the flight to Luzon. The actual flight would depart from Hamilton Field, San Rafael, California.

A little after 1700 hours local on 6 December 1941, one B-17E and four B-17Cs of the 38th Reconnaissance Squadron (Heavy) and six B-17Es of the 88th Reconnaissance Squadron (Heavy) took off from Hamilton Field on the first leg of their flight to the Philippines. The aircraft were in two flights; the 38th was commanded by Major Truman H Landon while the 88th was commanded by Major Richard H Carmichael. In order to save fuel, the B-17s had a skeleton crew consisting of pilot, copilot, navigator, engineer and radioman. They carried their bomb sights and machine guns but no ammunition; the 2,400 mile (3,840 km) flight required all the gasoline the aircraft could carry. To increase balance, the armor plate normally in the rear of the aircraft was moved forward.

At approximately 0810 hours on 7 December, the B-17s arrived over Oahu and ran into the first-wave of the Japanese attackers and were shot at by both the Americans and the Japanese. Major Carmichael and Lieutenant Harold Chaffin landed their B-17s on the 1200 foot (366 m) auxiliary strip at Haliewa on the northwest coast of Oahu; this strip had been designed for fighter and observation aircraft. Captain Raymond T Swenson was landing his B-17C at Hickam Field when a lucky shot by a Japanese Zeke pilot ignited the magnesium flares in the rear of the B-17. The tail of the Flying Fortress was blazing when it touched down at Hickam Field. The plane skidded to a stop on its nose when the tail assembly fell off. All of the crew escaped except Lieutenant William R Schick, a flight surgeon, who was strafed as he ran down the runway. Lieutenant Frank Bostrom was attempting to land at Hickam Field but he gave up when U.S. Navy gunners fired at him. He retreated to a cloud and during his second attempt to land at Hickam, Japanese fighters attacked and knocked out two engines; he managed to land on the Kahuku Golf Course.

Major Landon wanted to fly to the island of Hilo but was talked into trying for Hickam. As he approached the field, the control tower advised him that he had three Japanese fighters on his tail. Landon made it along with Lieutenant Charles Bergdoll who thought this was the most realistic drill he had ever seen. Lieutenant Robert Richards' B-17C had been badly hit by Japanese fighters and he had three of the crew wounded; he crashed landed on the short strip at Bellows Field, the smallest of the regular bases on Oahu.

The entire B-17 affair lasted ten minutes. By 0820 hours local, all aircraft were on the ground. Four of the twelve were destroyed. The eight B-17s did not continue to the Philippines immediately but were held in Hawaii to perform patrol missions.

In December 1998, Pete Bostrom added the following information to this post

This Lieutenant Bostrom was my father. They repaired the aircraft overnight and flew it to Hickam Field a day later.

They did fly patrol missions for several weeks, but several were assigned to the Navy and scouted ahead of a Task Force spearheaded by, IIRC, the Lexington, that moved to the SW Pacific. Christmas Island, Fiji, and other exotic ports of call, eventually winding up in Australia. They did make it to the Philippines, for short periods of time. My father had the honor of flying General MacArthur from Mindanao to Australia after his PT Boat escape from Corregidor. Later he was part of the Royce Mission which returned to the Philippines and operated out of Del Monte field. Other than dropping a few bombs over Nichols field at Luzon and perhaps lifting the spirits of the beleaguered defenders of Corregidor, it was much too late to be effective.



Jack McKillop

Back to Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941