|PBY Catalina International Association|
|Title:||Rescue at Koror
By Lt. Comdr. Fred H. Mamer
as told to
TSGT. DAVID STICK
USMC Combat Correspondent
EDITORS NOTE: On 4 March, 1945 Corsair fighter-bombers of the Fourth Marine Air Wing based here flew a total of 143 sorties against Jap positions in the northern Palau Islands.
One of the targets was "Battery Hill," a heavy concentration of varied-sized anti-aircraft emplacements on Koror Island, former seat of government for the Japanese mandated area in the Western Carolinas. On a strike against "Battery Hill" in the early afternoon, a Corsair piloted by Marine First Lieutenant Walter F. Brown of Bradenton, Fla., was set afire by enemy anti-aircraft, and Brown was forced to bail out. He landed less than 200 yards from shore within easy range of the guns on "Battery Hill" and of small arms fire from Jap troops on the beach.
Brown was picked up a few minutes later by a PBY Dumbo rescue plane piloted by Navy Lieutenant Commander Fred Hopkins Mamer of Benton Harbor, Mich.
The following is a report of the rescue mission:
"MY CREW was assigned the Dumbo mission with the third strike on Koror Town, Koror Island, Palau Group, on 4 March 1945. We took off in a PBY-5A, at 1335, following the Corsair striking group.
"We circled the field once and then started north over the outer western reef directly west of the target area, but when we reached that point the attack had not yet begun. I figured that the presence of a Dumbo plane orbiting over the reef just off Koror town would give away the strike, so I continued north along the reef until the flak appeared over the target area. Evidently there was no element of surprise during this third strike for the anti-aircraft bursts appeared while the first wave was in its approach. At this time we turned back toward Koror Town inside of the reef to better observe any plane that might ditch.
"Over VHF (radio) we heard someone saying that one of the pilots bailed out over the target. Just then we saw a parachute open and float down to the water, just off the beach in the center of the harbor front. I remember saying to Lieutenant Landers (Navy Lieutenant (jg) Maurice D. Landers of Casper, Wyo.) my First Pilot, over the interphone, 'there's one who's a goner, for sure.'
"We were heading toward the area just off Arakabesan (an island adjoining Koror) when the Corsairs came out calling, 'Dumbo, did you see the man go in just off the beach?'
"I answered that I did, wondering at the time if they expected me to go into a place like that to pick him up. Just then the Corsairs came up again on VHF, saying, 'Hello Dumbo, all fighters will form a Lufberry Circle over you and cover you with strafing during rescue.'
"I called back: 'How about going in and sizing up that small calibre flak from the beach. When we're on the water we'll be in easy range of it.'
"So the fighters went in and took a look, calling back that they thought we could get away with it. I was sure that we wouldn't have a damned chance to get in there and out again. 'What about the wife and daughter, mine and a couple of my crew's?' These thoughts went through my mind as I circled trying to make my decision and planning my approach if I should go in.
"Landers said over the interphone: 'Aren't we the lucky ones? What a position to have a guy go down.'
"And I knew what he meant. I had to make a decision whether to risk the lives of nine men in order to save one. After what seemed hours I finally called the Corsairs, saying: 'This is Dumbo. I'm going in. Do your damndest to keep them busy.'
"JUST then directly ahead of us broke a black burst of flak and just over Brown's (Marine First Lieutenant Walter F. Brown of Bradenton, Fla., the downed pilot) position a white phosphorus burst broke. That first anti-aircraft burst gave me a start as the concussion thumped the side of the plane, and I remember looking over at Landers and seeing considerable sweat standing out on his face. I probably had some, too. About then I asked the Corsairs if they thought I had any chance at all of getting in and out again. The only answer that came back was the continual urging.
"So I circled, put the floats down, and with the fighters doing a beautiful job of covering the beach and strafing, started on my approach. I was at about 300 feet, paralleling the northwest side of Arakabesan, about 300 to 400 yards off the beach. Anti-aircraft was going all around us.
"I remember shouting over VHF: 'This is Dumbo. Stop that stuff on Arakabesan.'
"And they did, for it dropped off. About then we took a burst of flak below and just ahead and another directly under the hull. It sounded as if someone thumped the hull and threw large rocks at the bottom. I was sure we were holed, so I pulled out, signalled the flight engineer, (Edward W. Heffner, Aviation Machinist Mate Second Class, of Vallejo, Cal.) to put up the floats, and got out of there. I told the fighters to hold their ammunition while we checked the hull for holes. The crew looked over the bottom and unbelievably found no sign of damage, so I circled to get in position for another approach. With all stations reported ready, I told the fighters to start in, and began my second approach.
"This time the Corsairs were really on the job and the small calibre fire from the beach was much lighter. But the flak from the heavy positions on Battery Hill (Jap anti-aircraft concentration on Koror) and the top of Arakabesan was very intense and breaking all around us. I guess I was too busy to worry much about it. My approach was about 90 degrees to my landing course - to keep from going directly over ack-ack positions. I made a flipper turn of 300 feet, cut my engines, and headed for the water.
"The surface conditions were normal harbor conditions with a choppy sea which allowed me to choose most any type of landing. I commenced a normal landing but realizing that I was just a little too far back from Brown, I let her bounce and pulled up into a full stall, dropping her in about 50 yards from him. She settled nicely; I could start taxiing immediately.
"Brown was in sight, directly ahead, just west of the dye marker he had released in the water. He was in his Mae West on his back, splashing as hard as he could. I taxied up to him, keeping him on my port side so I could see him. As we went by, the crew in after station threw him a life ring on the end of a line. Brown caught it, but due to his having been wounded, he had difficulty holding on. Because of his position in relation to the beach reef, I couldn't taxi to him directly into the wind.
"AFTER we had him on the end of the line, I couldn't prevent the plane from weathercocking (swinging around) into the 15 to 20 knot wind. I couldn't use sea anchors for fear of fouling Brown in them and dragging him under water. The weathercocking effect of the wind pulled the tail of the plane across Brown so that he was on the starboard side with the line to him going under the hull. He finally had to release the line.
"Shells were hitting just short of us and just beyond us from the installations on Battery Hill and Arakabesan. One threw water over the starboard wing, but I decided as long as we had stuck our necks out that far, we might as well make another try at getting Brown. So I turned to port, taxiing directly through a patch on the water where a shell had exploded a moment before. I could see the traces on the water and could smell the black powder smoke. We made another good run on Brown but the same situation developed as on the first try. Brown finally let go again as he went under the stern, too weak to hang on.
"About this time Landers asked me if I wanted him to go to after station to see if he could help. I gave him the okay and he left the cockpit. On the way back he told Ensign Russell (Ensign Phillip E. Russell of Glencoe, Ill.) our Second Pilot, to hop up into the cockpit.
"I said to myself: 'Goddamit, I've got to get him this next try or we'll have to get out of here.' It was just getting too hot to stay any longer. One shell exploded so close that a sheet of water hit my starboard engine and I thought for a moment it was going to conk out, but Heffner, in the Flight Engineer's station in the tower, did a good job of keeping her running. Having failed on two attempts at using a line, I decided to turn to starboard toward the beach reef and come up on Brown close enough aboard my port side that the men in the blister could grab him by hand. This involved some danger to Brown because the port prop would pass directly over him, but I figured we had to take that chance. I knew if I misjudged and hit the reef, that it would slice our hull open and sink us. But we made it.
"As soon as the plane was past the down wind line, I cut back my engines and let her weathercock slowly into the wind, bringing up alongside Brown at the slowest speed possible with both engines running. I brought the plane so close to him that he was bumping it as we moved by. He had the presence of mind to duck under water as the prop passed over him, coming up again right at the blister. Landers caught him by the life jacket and he and Burrough swung him into the plane head first.
"Looking back I saw his legs going into the blister and I shouted to Russell to pour the coal to her - we got 50-some inches (manifold pressure) out of those engines as we started the takeoff run. I was about 70 degrees out of the wind in order to clear the reefs but we had no trouble on takeoff. As soon as the engines turned up I knew we were okay unless the flak got a lucky hit on us. A moment later we were off and on our way home."
|I don't know what publication this is from. If anyone knows, please tell me so I can get (belated) permission to re-print.
Heffner, Edward W.
Landers, Maurice D.
Mamer, Fred H.
Russell, Phillip E.