VI BOMBER COMMAND
IN DEFENSE OF THE PANAMA CANAL
1941 - 45
Areas of Interest:
VI Bombardment Command History:
6th BGp (Heavy)
3rd BS (Heavy)
29th BS (Heavy)
74th BS (Heavy)
397th BS (Heavy)
9th BGp (Heavy)
1st BS (Heavy)
5th BS (Heavy)
99th BS (Heavy)
430th BS (Heavy)
25th BGp (Medium)
12th BS (Medium)
35th BS (Medium)
59th BS (Medium)
417th BS (Medium)
40th BGp (Heavy)
25th BS (Heavy)
44th BS (Heavy)
45th BS (Heavy)
395th BS (Heavy)
Units Attached to VI Bomber Command
10th BS (Heavy)
15th BS (Light)
25th Bombardment Group
417th Bombardment Squadron (Medium)
The 417th Bombardment Squadron (Medium) was originally designated 27th Reconnaissance Squadron (Long-Range). This unit was organized at Langley Field, VA, September 16, 1939, pursuant to authority contained in Letter AG, 320.2, 27th Reconnaissance Squadron (9-15-39) (Medium) (Ret)-C AGO 9/16/39, Subject: Constitution of the 27th Reconnaissance Squadron.
Major Delmar H. Dunton, Air Corps, was attached September 16, 1939, from Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, 2nd Wing, and assumed command. No other personnel were assigned or attached this date.
The organization was brought to partial authorized strength during the Month of October 1939 by transfer in grade of enlisted men from the various organizations of Langley Field to the 27th Reconnaissance Squadron. The Morning Report of October 31, 1939, shows 29 officers assigned and 158 enlisted men assigned and 59 attached for duty.
The organization embarked on USAT Chateau Thierry at 9:30 AM, November 17, 1939, as authorized by Special Orders #241, Air Base Headquarters, Langley Field, BVA, November 6, 1939, and General Orders #16,m Air Base Headquarters, Langley Field, VA, November 2, 1939, and sailed for Puerto Rico, 2:30PM same date. Disembarked at San Juan, Puerto Rico, and arrived at Punta Borinquen (later Borinquen Field) 4:00 PM, November 21, 1939, via road and rail. Punta Borinquen was still but a name, and Air Base No. 1 was but a swath through a Mongoose infested canepatch. Equipment was conspicuous by its absence, and the mess produced its first. meal at Borinquen Field. At dawn on November 22, trainload after trainload of supplied rolled in, and was piled up in an orderly mountainous heap awaiting distribution. Distribution was accomplished, following no particular pattern.
Captain Palmer (Major) and Lt. Ballard christened the new field officially by landing the first. 27th ship at Air Base No. 1 on November 25.
Colonel Dunton and Major Palmer returned to Langley Field shortly afterward to get the Air Echelon in order, Major McGregor taking over in the Colonel's absence, with work continuing as usual. The first inventory of the Post Exchange included six razor blades, seven tubes of toothpaste, seventeen cartons of cigarettes, and 8,000 cases of beer.
The Air Echelon, consisting of 18 Officers and 28 enlisted men, in nine B-18A airplanes departed Langley Field, VA, December 3, 1939, and arrived at Punta Borinquen, Puerto Rico, 3:30 PM, December 5, 1939. Stop-overs were made at Miami, FL, and Camaguay, Cuba. Major Delmar H Dunton, Air Corps, commanded the flight from Langley Field, VA, to Puerto Rico. This flight was authorized under Operations Order #136, November 29, 1939, Air Base Headquarters, Langley Field, VA, and General Orders #16, Air Base Headquarters, Langley Field, VA, November 2, 1939.
On December 5, the 27th really started operating. It was a matter of months before the men of the 27th were in comfortable quarters. Everyone was working under severe difficulties, lack of materials, lack of transportation, and lack of skilled labor. Gradually the field built up. Troops poured in; the 25th Bombardment Group arrived; and the Wing was formed. Gradually, week-by-week, and month-by-month, the men of the 27th watched that wedge through the cane field widen. Men and officers from the organization spread out. Col. Dunton took over command of Losey field. Major McGregor took over command of the newly formed 40th Bombardment Group. Major Powell, Captain Sanborn, Lt. Fiegel, and Lt. Albin were called to the Wing. Lt. Leffingwell proceeded with Major Rice to the 4th Observation Squadron. Lt. DuRant and Lt. Gurnett took over staff duties at Losey Field by request. of Col. Dunton. Lt. Remington, after going to the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron, proceeded to the Wing. Expansion proved costly in terms of personnel, but these transfers were very complimentary to the squadron as a whole.
On March 13, 1940, 2d.Lt. George L. Albin was awarded the Soldier's Medal for heroism shown in rescuing a drowning man off the coast. of Borinquen, per Letter, War Department, Adjutant General's Office, Washington, DC, July 16, 1940.
Col. Dunton took over command of Losey Field on October 27, 1940, and Major McGregor took over command of the 27th.
The 27th Reconnaissance Squadron (L/R) was attached to the 25th Bombardment Group, and redesignated 27th Reconnaissance Squadron (Heavy) on November 20, 1940.
Sergeant Thomas F. O'Malley, 27th Reconnaissance Squadron, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for exceptional courage while participating in an aerial flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, on March 5, 1940.
The designation of the 27th Reconnaissance Squadron (Long-Range) was changed to 27th Reconnaissance Squadron (Heavy)
The 27th split the first. part of 1941, and formed the new 5th Reconnaissance Squadron with Major Mason commanding. For several months the two Squadrons worked together as a unit
Major Palmer assumed command on Major McGregor's transfer, April 25, 1941.
On September 1, 1941, the two squadrons separated, and began operating as separate units. About the same time, the 27th went into its first permanent quarters in two years. Tile floors, spotless rooms, the most modern of kitchens - a far cry from the little tent camp that greeted the eyes of the men on November 22, 1939. A great deal of water had flown under the bridge since that historic day; thousands of changes had been made.
Major Ivan M. Palmer was transferred to the 40th Bomb Group on November 27, 1941, and Lt. Norman L. Ballad became the commanding officer of the 27th Reconnaissance Squadron (Heavy).
Lt. Ballard was transferred to the 25th Bombardment Squadron on December 6. Following Lt. Ballard as CO of the 27th, was Captain Milton E. Lipps who came from the 40th Bomb Squadron. It was during his term of duty that war was declared and the squadron went on patrol duty with the B-18s. All cross-country flights to the States were suspended and furloughs were canceled.
Lt. Ballard returned as CO of the 27th Squadron on March 5.
On April 13, 1942, Flight "A" of the 27th Reconnaissance Squadron left Borinquen Field for Detached Service at Camaguey, Cuba, with Major Gould as CO. Here it remained until August1943, except in May 1942 when the Flight was called back to Borinquen, and then returned to Camaguey a few days later. The Flight worked hard in Cuba, patrolling the Bahamas Channel and keeping constant coverage day and night for convoys going through.
The 27th Reconnaissance Squadron (Heavy) was redesignated the 417th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) on April 22, 1942.
The 25th Bombardment Group, when it was activated, was designated "heavy" bombardment and assigned B-17 type aircraft, which was later exchanged for the B-18 type. The 25th Bombardment Group (Heavy) and its Squadrons, because they no longer were assigned heavy bombardment aircraft, were redesignated "medium" bombardment units on May 7, 1942.
It was on September 24, 1942 that the squadron (less Flight "A") moved for the second time. This time it was to Vernan Field, Jamaica, where similar work was done patrolling and covering convoys.
Lt. Ballard was relieved from duty as the CO of the 417th Bombardment Squadron (Medium) on November 5 to become Flight Commander with the Detachment in Camaguey, Cuba. Major Aylesworth became Squadron Commander.
On December 1, 1942, Major Raymond E. Davis, then Captain Davis, with a flight of five (5) B-18s left Vernan Field for DS in Aruba. Three (3) hours after they arrived, they took off on patrol and the submarine menace kept them flying night and day.
The 417th became a part of the 25th Bomb Group on March 3, 1943, as authorized by Lt., AG 320.2 (2/11/42), dated February 25, 1942, Subj: Reassignment of Recon. Squadron.
Major Aylesworth was relieved as CO of the 417th by Captain George C. Albin on April 4, 1943.
In the first part of May 1943, after having flown out of Trinidad also and finally Dutch and British Guiana, the Detachment was transferred to the 35th Bombardment Squadron, with the exception of Major Davis who returned to the 417th at Losey Field.
The 417th Squadron moved back to Puerto Rico, but this time to Losey Field just. outside of Ponce. The squadron left Vernan Field on May 26, 1943 by transport and after having disembarked at San Juan, arrived at Losey on May 29, 1943.
Captain Albin was transferred to the 3rd Air Force, Tampa, FL, on June 6, 1943, and Major Raymond E. Davis took over command of the 417th.
It became apparent in August of 1943, when Flight "A" returned to join the squadron at Losey Field, that the 417th was through patrolling in B-18s. A short time elapsed maintaining patrol, when the first B-25D suddenly appeared. Then it was a gradual growth from a tactical unit to a training unit, with the squadron completely outfitted with B-25Ds and B-25Gs. The Navy took over patrols and coverages, leaving the 417th to train under the squadron Training Program arranged by the 25th Bomb Group.
On September 12, 1943, the 417th left Losey Field and moved to Borinquen Field, PR. Truck convoy moved all the heavy equipment, and shuttle service by the planes moved the personnel. At Borinquen Field, operations were established at the west. end of the run-way and the squadron went to work in earnest. to make a place for itself. Ground school was started in all phases and in the air, formation, bombing, and gunnery was practiced steadily to insure a good combat unit of the future.
On October 31, 1943, the 417th lost. a plane. 1st.Lt. Jasper J. Kraynick (Pilot) and his crew- 1st.Lt. Thomas W. Appleyard (CP), 2d.Lt. Myron L. Mantell (Bombdr.), SSgt. Ralph Swerdloff (AE), TSgt. Frederick R. Droney (RO), and Cpl. William D. McLemore (G), took off a 1:00 AM to investigate strange lights which had been seen north of Borinquen Field out at sea. By 9:00 AM the next morning, they had not returned and none of the crew was ever seen again. A few parts of the plane were found about ten (10) miles west. of Borinquen Field, but they offered no clue as to what could have caused the accident.
Hq. 25th Bombardment Group was given full operational and administrative control of its Squadrons on October 11, 1943, and shortly thereafter began an intensive training program with the B-25 series of planes. The men worked assiduously to bring themselves to the point of efficiency that would enable the organization to function perfectly if it were sent to a combat theater.
By the end of 1943, a large number of 417th combat crews had received Air Medals, and for the old timers, Oak Leaf Clusters also. They were awarded by two different orders - the first, General Order No. 37, Headquarters Antilles Air Command, August3, 1943; and the second, General Order No. 79, Headquarters Antilles Air Command, December 20, 1943.
Around the middle of the month, the Bombardiers of the squadron who had been training as navigators with the Group school, put their knowledge to work by flying to Guatemala, Panama, Salinas Ecuador, Barrenquilla Columbia, Curacao, and then back to Puerto Rico, a five day trip in all. The high-light of the trip seems to have been when Capt. Markey navigating between Cuba and Guatemala became confused for a moment as to his position, he called Lt. McKinney who was pilot and calmly said "McKinney, you're on your own now, I'm lost." However, Captain Markey soon straightened things out and everything was fine.
The 13th of January 1944 turned out to be a very unlucky day indeed for the 417th. It was on this day that Lt. Ba11 and his crew were lost, with the exception of SSgt. Hoover. The accident happened while there were three B-25s practicing gunnery on a sleeve target towed behind the Squadron's old B-18, #7525. Lt. Ball was making a run on the sleeve when he suddenly went into a spin, and although witnesses say they thought he had partially recovered once or twice, all effort evidently failed for they went into the ocean about thirty miles north of Borinquen Fie1d. SSgt. Hoover parachuted from the plane at a dangerously low latitude but only suffered a broken ankle. A crash boat picked him up about three hours after the accident. The members of the crew killed in the crash were Lt. James D. Ball (Pilot), Lt. Jeff C. Hornsby (Copilot), SSgt. Fred M. Hoover (Aerial Engineer), TSgt. Dale L. Beatty (Radio-Operator), and SSgt. Joseph T. Dwyer and SSgt. Carl F. O'Neil (Aerial Gunners). The cause of the accident was unknown, but it was generally believed that the stops on the guns were out of order and that when firing at the target, some part of the ship was damaged .
The 417th was placed in a state of readiness on January 24, 1944, pending a unit movement, which was communicated by Secret Radiogram 0212. By January 31, all 417th sections were prepared to move both Air and Ground Echelons upon receipt of Movement Orders.
The 25th Bombardment Group (Medium) and its units- - the 12th, 35th, 59th, and 417 Bombardment Squadrons (Medium) departed Trinidad for Alamogordo Army Air Field, NM, on March 24, 1944
The 25th Bombardment Group (Heavy) arrived at Alamogordo Army Air Field, NM, in April 1944.
The 25th Bombardment Group (Heavy) was disbanded on June 20, 1944 while stationed at Alamogordo Army Air Field, NM. Its personnel were shipped to various assignments, many in support of the training of B-29 crews, which were being activated at that time,