The 494th Bomb Group, the last major bomb group to be activated in WWII, forms one of four bomb groups in the 7th Army Air Force--all shared between the competing strategies of Gen. MacArthur and Adm. Nimitz.
Beginning fall 1944, the 494th worked for MacArthur, softening up the Philippines for his promised return. And to do so they needed a nearby base: Angaur Island at the southern tip of the Palaus, south of Guam, and 400 miles east of the Philippines.
Taking the island was relatively easy, compared to its more famous neighbor, the hard-fought Peleliu. Soon the CBs were rolling out a 6,000' runway suitable for the 150 Liberators that will soon land.
Death From Above
For the most part, 494th missions ranged over the southern Philippines, with occasional forays northward to Luzon Island, the Marianas to the north, and the Carolines to the east.
From 15,000', the bombers were in the anti-aircraft "sweet spot," which made them huge targets. Even though most Japanese fighters were by now withdrawn from the area, occasionally they would fly over formations, dropping phosphorous bombs on the bombers, the white-hot shrapnel capable of burning through canvas control surfaces and destroying engines.
Add to it the incredible distances: often 800 miles to target, all over water, in the worst weather on earth, with typhoons the size of Texas awaiting our intrepid airmen.
War Is Hell . . .
. . . And so is the down time with no missions and nothing to do, stranded on a desert island with no girls and only warm beer to drink.
But the boys find a way to amuse themselves, from stashing beer kegs on high-altitude missions to cool them, exploring the torn-up island that just a month ago was teeming with enemy soldiers, swimming, reading, and even watching 20-year old movies.
They also tune in to Tokyo Rose and laugh at her pathetic, obvious commentary, though they secretly shed tears at the evocative music she plays.
And of course, letters from home are the highlight of any airman's week.
In September 1944, the Army and Navy combined to subjugate the Palau Island chain, wrenching it away from the Japanese. It was needed to support Allied operations against the Philippines and Caroline Islands.
This short film details the taking of Angaur, which will soon be the home airfield of O.C. Kemp's squadron, the 865th, the "Flak Pak."
Join O.C. as he and his crew engage in a very strange mission over Zamboanga Island in the southern Philippines, where the lead bombardier mistakenly bumps his toggle, missing the entire airdrome and causing the other 23 planes following him to do the same...
Except they don't miss.
O.C. and his crew (called "replacements" because they're replacing crews who've finished their 40 mission tour), get settled onto Angaur Island, a 3-square mile pork-chop shaped lump of sand none of them had ever heard of.
They can't believe it's the front line of the War.