The Bataan Genesis of the Royce Mission

Although the Doolittle Raid of 18 April 1942 receives much fanfare because of the high profile mission attacking the Home Islands of Imperial Japan, there was another American air operation carried out in the Philippines earlier in April which received brief headlines, called the Royce Mission. It has its roots in the Bataan Campaign.

American forces in the Philippines were commanded by General Jonathan Wainwright after General MacArthur’s departure from Corregidor to Australia in March, 1942. “Skinny” Wainwright knew full well of the difficult conditions of the troops on Bataan, having commanded the I Corps on the west side of the peninsula in the first months of the campaign.

General Jonathan Wainright (left) and General Douglas MacArthur. (Courtesy WW2db.com)

General Jonathan Wainright (left) and General Douglas MacArthur. (Courtesy WW2db.com)

Wainwright needed help to try and break the Japanese blockade around the Philippines in order to allow transport ships to bring up food and medical supplies to Bataan from the central Philippines. So in March, 1942, he sent a message to MacArthur’s headquarters in Australia to send a strike force of bombers to the Philippines for the purpose of temporarily breaking the Japanese blockade. They would be based in Mindanao for operations on the fields around Del Monte which were still under Fil-Am control. Perhaps he felt the sense of urgency as the troops were wasting away from malnutrition and disease and another Japanese offensive on Bataan was in the offing.

In Australia, MacArthur viewed Wainwright’s request favorably, and pass it along to his new air commander, General George H. Brett, who had replaced MacArthur’s former air commander, General Lewis Brereton, who had fought in the Dutch East Indies campaign and then moved on to India. General Brett quickly found that he had but limited resources from which to assemble a strike force. The Philippine campaign, followed shortly by the campaign in the Netherlands East Indies as Allied forces tried to hold the Malay barrier against the advancing Japanese, had worn down US airpower in the Pacific. Brett only had six B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers available in Australia, and could spare but three for the mission to the Philippines.

Lt Gen George H. Brett, in Australia the day after his appointment as Deputy Supreme Commander in the South West Pacific Area (SWPA) and Commander of Allied Air Forces in the SWPA. (Australian War Memorial, via Wikipedia)

Lt Gen George H. Brett, in Australia the day after his appointment as Deputy Supreme Commander in the South West Pacific Area (SWPA) and Commander of Allied Air Forces in the SWPA. (Australian War Memorial, via Wikipedia)

Fortunately, in Australia the US 3rd Bomb Group (also known as the 3rd Attack Group), which had arrived in Australia without aircraft in late February 1942, came into possession of a number of Dutch-contracted B-25 Mitchell bombers. The Dutch were no strangers to the Mitchell, as the Netherlands East Indies government had contracted for 162 B-25C-5-NA Mitchell medium bombers in April, 1941. In addition, the NEI government became qualified to receive Lend-Lease assistance, and arrangements were made for 60 USAAF B-25C-NA’s to be diverted to the NEI.

With the fall of the Netherlands East Indies to Japanese invasion in March, 1942, the strategic situation changed and so did the provision and priorities of combat aircraft delivery in the Pacific. The impact on the Dutch B-25 acquisition is better explained in a supporting document below (by Dr. P.C. Boer) but for the purpose of this subject, in order to meet the USAAF in Australia’s force requirement, General Brett and Dutch Major General L. H. van Oyen reached an “understanding” by 23 March 1942 and 12 B-25C’s were released by the Dutch for USAAF use.

The command of the mission was “offered” to Brigadier General Ralph Royce. According to Allison Ind’s account, Royce demurred, and Brigadier General Hal (Pursuit) George might have led the mission before Royce decided to accept it.

Brig. Gen. Ralph Royce poses at the cockpit of a USAAF Bell P-39 Airacobra fighter in Australia shortly before he led his special mission back to the Philippines to bomb the Japanese in April 1942. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Brig. Gen. Ralph Royce poses at the cockpit of a USAAF Bell P-39 Airacobra fighter in Australia shortly before he led his special mission back to the Philippines to bomb the Japanese in April 1942. (U.S. Air Force photo)

While the aircraft and men assembled at Darwin, Australia in preparation for the mission, news came of the fall of Bataan. With the news came a change of orders, and instead of breaking the blockade for Bataan, the mission was modified to attack Japanese held airfields, port areas and shipping. This was intended as an act of defiance against the rampaging Imperial forces, as well as an effort to raise the morale of the Fil-Am forces still resisting in the Philippines.

On the Royce Mission, the 3rd Attack Groups were flown by the 13th Bomb Squadron (eight aircraft) and the 90th Bomb Squadron which operated three aircraft. The history of the 13th Bomb Squadron mentions that on 8 April nine B-25s left for Brisbane to have extra tanks installed, and returned by the 10th of April. On 12 April the 11 B-25’s took off in a drizzling rain from Charter Towers at 0100 for Darwin, arriving seven hours later. One of the 90th’s aircraft, however, had a wheel problem and did not continue on.

Serial numbers for the bombers of the Royce Mission were as follows:

Heavy Bombers
B-17E 41-2421 435th Bomb Squadron (named “G.I. Issue”)
B-17E 41-2447 435th Bomb Squadron (named “San Antonio Rose II”) Destroyed on the ground at Del Monte #1, 12 April 1942. (One source, Pacific Wrecks, indicates this aircraft belonged to the 40th Bomb Squadron)
B-17E 41-2486

Medium Bombers
B-25C 41-12441 – 13th Bomb Squadron
B-25C 41-12442* – 13th Bomb Squadron (named “Feather Merchant”)
B-25C 41-12443 – 13th Bomb Squadron (named “Mortimer”)
B-25C 41-12466 – 13th Bomb Squadron
B-25C 41-12472 – 13th Bomb Squadron (named “The Queen”)
B-25C 41-12480 – 13th Bomb Squadron
B-25C 41-12483 – 13th Bomb Squadron
B-25C 41-12485 – 90th Bomb Squadron. Bomb bay tanks damaged at Del Monte delayed return to Australia.
B-25C 41-12496 – 90th Bomb Squadron. Started on mission from Charter Towers, but on arrival at Darwin a bad cut was found on one of main tires. Lacking any replacement the aircraft did not proceed further.
B-25C 41-12441 – 13th Bomb Squadron
B-25C 41-12511 – 13th Bomb Squadron
B-25C 41-12455 – 90th Bomb Squadron

On 11 April 1942 the first bombers departed Darwin for Mindanao on a 1,500 mile flight, taking off at 1000 and reaching their destination by dusk. B-17 Navigator Lt. Robert T. Jones (435BS, aboard B-17E 41-2421) recalled the arrival in Mindanao: “The arrival at dusk was an unforgettable experience. The field was merely a cleared pasture and quite rough. The planes were dispersed as quickly as possible, and then the men had the opportunity to survey the surroundings and these battle scarred veterans who had rushed out to meet them. The latter were the most striking and would be good recruiting tonics for any hesitant American. From the Colonels to Privates, they cluttered around the plane with tears of appreciation in their eyes, viewing the new arrivals as saviors and conquering heroes. Knowing our limitations, it was most sobering and a bit pathetic to we who had come in those few planes, as a token display for General MacArthur who had not forgotten his “Men of Bataan” and the Philippines. And there were a few men form Bataan present. You could spot them by their drawn features, and their haggard looks in any crowd. It brought the war of attrition much closer to home and struck a new determination for Victory and revenge in the heart of every man present. The terrain itself was rough and tropical with the water nearby giving the setting of a lovely humid atmosphere.”

The B-25 was a new aircraft in the Philippines, but mechanics quickly removed the bomb bay fuel tanks used to get the aircraft across the long distance and prepared them for bombing missions. The B-25’s were to be dispersed from Del Monte #1 after the first mission with five bombers going to each of the dispersal fields, nearby at Maramag (possibly aka Del Monte #3/Dalirig) (2nd Flight, Maj. Hipps, Lt.’s Feltham, Maul, Peterson, and Strickland) and 40 miles away at Valencia (1st Flight, Lt. Col. Davies, Capt. Lowery, Capt. Gunn, Lt.’s Heiss and Wilson), while the B-17’s remained at Del Monte. For inexplicable reasons, General Royce declined to disperse his B-17’s to a dispersal airfield despite the fact that Del Monte #1 was already known to the Japanese and preparations had been made to receive B-17s elsewhere. Perhaps he thought there were better maintenance facilities and equipment at Del Monte #1. In fact, tragedy would occur later due to his refusal to disperse to the dispersal fields with better concealment and protection.

The following is a short recap of the missions flown. Sources used were not all in agreement for the days and times of the attack, which makes it a bit difficult to establish a good chronology of the mission.

First Day, Sunday, 12 April 1942

Richard Taylor's painting shows Royce's 5th Air Force B-25C Mitchell taking off from the Del Monte staging field on the island of Mindanao on Sunday 12 April 1942. (Courtesy Aviation Art Hangar)

Richard Taylor’s painting shows Royce’s 5th Air Force B-25C Mitchell taking off from the Del Monte staging field on the island of Mindanao on Sunday 12 April 1942. (Courtesy Aviation Art Hangar)

At 0605 five B-25’s departed from Del Monte loaded with five x 500-lb bombs to search for a possible enemy convoy SW of Cebu and alternate target of Cebu harbor. They bombed ships in Cebu Harbor at 0847 with a five ship V formation at 3,500 feet altitude. Two enemy floatplanes with a speed over 200mph attacked the B-25s – one was shot down by rear gunners. They recovered at Maramag at 0909.

The other B-25’s departed Del Monte (Lt. Col .Davies and Capt. Gunn did not get off) and carried out attacks on enemy shipping in Cebu Harbor at 0815; the aircraft then recovered at a hidden field at Valencia. They encountered four enemy single-engine seaplanes during their third pass over the target and shot down two.

Two B-17’s launched at about 0730 and headed north to carry out single aircraft raids. The third B-17 had lumbered in from Australia the last 400 miles on three engines and required maintenance. General Royce hoped to fly a mission aboard this aircraft when it was repaired.

The B-17 flown by the Flying Fortress detachment commander, Capt. Frank Bostrom flew in search of a convoy near Mindoro Island and sighting nothing continued on up to Manila Bay where they were the last free Americans to view a defiant Corregidor. One wonders if Corregidor saw or heard this lone symbol of American resolve. Bostrom then turned to bomb Nichols Field on the way back to Mindanao, striking the airfield from 29,000 feet with a string of bombs along the runway hitting enemy aircraft lined up on the field. The blasts started fires which were visible for forty miles away.

Capt. Frank P. Bostrom (center), the officer in charge of the three B-17s on the Royce special mission, piloted one of the 12 B-17s that arrived over Hawaii several months earlier on a flight from the United States just in time for the Japanese attack. With no ammunition on board his B-17, Capt. Bostrom could do little more than try to escape, so he played tag around Oahu with Japanese fighters before he was finally able to land safely on a golf course. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Capt. Frank P. Bostrom (center), the officer in charge of the three B-17s on the Royce special mission, piloted one of the 12 B-17s that arrived over Hawaii several months earlier on a flight from the United States just in time for the Japanese attack. With no ammunition on board his B-17, Capt. Bostrom could do little more than try to escape, so he played tag around Oahu with Japanese fighters before he was finally able to land safely on a golf course. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The other B-17 flown by Capt. Tait searched the area then attacked a large transport in Batangas Harbor, scoring a hit on the stern of the ship with a 500-lb bomb. Meanwhile, the ship left on the ground at Del Monte received unwanted attention from Japanese aircraft and was badly damaged. (Another source, Bartsch, p. 396 says the aircraft was undamaged in morning raids on Del Monte). A P-40 launched to intercept some of the raiders intercepted a pair at 1150, unfortunately with no result.

The B-25’s landed at Valencia while two P-40’s from Maramag provided cover as they refueled and rearmed. According to the 13th Bomb Squadron history, five B-25’s took off at 1330 with a load of five x 500-lb bombs each to attack a Japanese carrier reported just north of the island of Bohol. They were all attacked after takeoff by a pair of enemy seaplanes without any damage. Finding no carrier, they bombed targets of opportunity, attacking three ships 15 miles southeast of Cebu City and then shipping and docks at Cebu City. At 1605 the Maramag-based B-25’s took off and bombed two large transports in the Cebu Harbor channel.

Three P-40E’s from Maramag P-40s joined the action at Davao later on 12 April but in delivering its final attack one of the three “hit the hangar top with its wing but managed to fly back, one wing badly crumpled.” The pilot, Bataan veteran John Posten, was missing his right wingtip and much of the right aileron. This decreased the P-40 cover for the bombers on the ground.

In the afternoon, the two B-17E’s returned to Del Monte from their successful morning missions, landing between 1300 and 1400. But by now Japanese patrol activity found the trio of B-17’s out in the open on Del Monte #1. As the Fortresses started to prepare for another raid, their field was hit by a Japanese air raid. Bostrom’s ship, B-17E 41-2447, the “San Antonio Rose II,” was hit and destroyed by a 60kg bomb dropped by a Mitsubishi F1M2 Pete floatplane. The other returnee was near missed and barely saved from a grass fire. As a result, the B-17 part of the Royce mission was over, and ground crews worked to repair the two damaged B-17’s to enable them to return to Australia. Fighter pilots and perhaps others were pissed at the loss of the B-17 in the open, attributing it to Royce’s refusal to disperse the heavy bombers, knowing it meant fewer people could be evacuated from the Philippines, let alone the loss in combat power.

Second Day, Monday, 13 April 1942 (morning)

At 0615 bombers from both Maramag and Valencia launched to bomb shipping and installations at Davao, Mindanao. Five of the B-25’s attacked shipping, two more the airfield and two others the dock area. The 90th BS’s B-25’s struck Davao’s airport and supplies. The 13th BS history reported six planes loaded with 12 x 100-lb instantaneously fused bombs flew to Davao following the road from Digos to Davao at 2,000 feet. They attacked shipping, the runway at Davao and other targets. A single-engine biplane was shot down over Davao, but in return three single engine biplanes attacked one of the B-25’s, hitting it but not damaging it severely.

In the afternoon of the 13th at 1645 Maramag-based bombers made a search for a carrier NE of Mindanao. Finding nothing, they conducted another raid on Cebu City shipping, attacking several large transports in the harbor opposite the dock area which was still burning from earlier attacks.

Meanwhile, four bombers from Valencia loaded with five x 500-lb bombs each attacked shipping at the dock area of Davao City. One enemy seaplane attacked the formation with nil result. A B-25 piloted by Lt. Heiss was attacked by three enemy “Type 0” fighters when he became separated from the formation; he eluded his pursuers by turning into a cloud and escapade undamaged.

One of the B-25’s was detailed for a special mission and flew up to Santa Barbara on Panay Island to pick up four VIP passengers and the USAFFE G-2 and G-3 journals which had been flown out of Corregidor earlier in the day.

As for the B-17’s, after a feverish overnight effort of 15 hours, the damaged bombers were repaired enough to fly out from Del Monte with priority evacuees aboard. One carried the famed PT boat commander, LT John Bulkely. The took off at dawn, and even then, narrowly avoided attack as Japanese bombs crashed down on the field even as the second aircraft lifted off the ground. The battered ships made it back to Australia though one, probably without brakes, ground-looped. Navigator Lt. Jones called it the longest distance bombing mission yet, as Capt. Bostrom flew a round trip of some 6,000 miles of 38 flying hours to deliver his bombs at Nichols Field.

Some of the crewmen and one of the two B-17s that returned safely to Australia from the Philippines. Note the twin machine guns in the radio operators compartmentatop the fuselage, and the Bendix remore control lower turret beneath the aircraft, equipment on the early B-17E's. The aircraft wears a multi-colored camouflage pattern, perhaps of the type painted over the basic olive drab at the Hawaiian Air Depot. The aircraft wears the prewar national insignia including the red and white stripes on the tail. These colorful markings were removed a short time later. (U.S. Air Force photo)

According to Australian aviation writer Steve Birdsall, “The men shown are Frank Bostrom and the crew that came to Australia from Hawaii with him in February 1942.  The aircraft is 41-2416, which was damaged at Townsville a few days later and stripped for parts.  From left to right as you look at the photo the airmen are bombardier Earl Sheggrud, navigator Rob Roy Carruthers, unknown, Frank Bostrom, unknown, co-pilot Wilson L. Cook then four more unknown.  Carruthers was replaced by Harold E. Snider on the Royce mission.”  Note the early B-17E’s twin machine guns in the radio operator’s compartment atop the fuselage, and the Bendix remote control lower turret beneath the aircraft. The aircraft wears a multi-colored camouflage pattern, perhaps of the type painted over the basic olive drab at the Hawaiian Air Depot. The aircraft wears the prewar national insignia including the red circle in the center of the star and red and white stripes on the tail. The red circle and colorful tail stripes were removed by May, 1942.  (U.S. Air Force photo)

Of note, a P-35A fighter flown out of Bataan by 3rd Pursuit Squadron commander Hank Thorne on 8 April was ordered to provide morning cover for the two B-17’s at Del Monte against the pesky Japanese floatplanes. The ship took off from Del Monte #3 (Dalirig), flown by 1st Lt. Harold F. Cocanougher, and headed eight miles north to cover the B-17’s. Unbeknownst to him, the B-17’s had already departed, but above the field were a pair of Japanese floatplanes looking for a target, and Cocanougher engaged them with inconclusive results.

Two P-40s that took off soon after the P-35 to bomb and strafe Davao also engaged a pair of pesky floatplanes, and P-40E pilot John Brownewell shot one of them down. The triumph was short-lived however, as at noon another P-40 and pilot were lost when Bataan veteran Lt. John Burns taking off on a patrol ran off the edge of the unfamiliar (to him) runway and over into a canyon

Third Day, Tuesday, 14 April 1942

As the Royce Mission closed, the B-25’s refitted their bomb bay fuel tanks and returned with their aircrews, as well three evacuees each. Nine of the aircraft departed Del Monte between 0045 and 0400 on 14 April 1942. They arrived back at Batchelor Field, near Darwin, between 0845 and 1200 the next day, and were cleared as quickly as possible to return to eastern Australia. The tenth B-25 was delayed until departing Del Monte at 0430 on 15 April – an earlier Japanese air raid on Del Monte had destroyed its bomb bay tank and new tanks were improvised from a derelict B-18 and installed on the aircraft (a 90th Squadron ship flown by Lt. Bender and/or Capt. Gunn) to enable its return to Australia.

MacArthur’s headquarters reported the results of the Royce Mission to the War on 15 April. MacArthur summarized the results of the mission: “attacked the enemy in the Philippines at Nichols Field, Batanga, Cebu and Davao with the following results: At Nichols destruction of hangars and damage to runways, Davao 1 bomber destroyed and several damaged, 2 transports hit 1 probably sunk, 2 seaplanes damaged, 1 shot down, troop concentrations dispersed, docks and warehouses damaged, at Cebu 3 transports sunk, 2 others hit and several close misses, shot down 3 planes, damaged several on the ground, and damaged docks; at Batanga 1 freighter sunk. 1 of our planes was lost but the crew saved.”

Map of pertinent areas related to the Royce Mission of April, 1942. (Courtesy 3rd Attack Group)

Map of pertinent areas related to the Royce Mission of April, 1942. (Courtesy 3rd Attack Group)

And not only did the mission bring everyone back, it also evacuated 32 additional personnel, which included 16 officers, 2 civilian reporters, 3 interpreters, 11 enlisted men (4 Signal Corps), 1 stowaway (on the last B-25 to return). Once source (Bartsch, p. 397) indicates that there may have been another stowaway aboard one of the B-17’s, a pursuit pilot named Jack Donalson.
News of the Royce Mission found its way briefly to the front pages of a number of newspapers in Allied countries, eager for good news of any kind in the nearly non-stop series of military defeats of the early war period. It was soon eclipsed by the sensational news of the Doolittle Raid on japan. But we should remember the valor of the aircrews who risked their lives to help the defenders of Bataan. One can only imagine what might have happened had supplies from the central Philippines reached the beleaguered Fil-Am defenders before the Japanese offensive of April, 1942.

To see the 16 April 1942 New York Times headline on the Royce Mission, see:

http://www.3rdattackgroup.org/resources/Royce_Raid/NYT%20%20April%2016%2C%201942.pdf

Of note for aviation archaeology, one of the aircraft that participated in the Royce Mission is still around, though in dilapidated condition, in Papua New Guinea. She is B-25C 41-12442 the “Feather Merchant” and was the ninth B-25C off the assembly line at Inglewood, California. She reached Australia after which she joined the 13th Bomb Squadron of the 3rd Attack Group. She eventually transferred to the 345th Bomb Group (the “Air Apaches”). Around February 1944 # 442 was turned into a “Fat Cat” for running personnel and supplies for the group before being declared “War weary” in October, 1944, as US forces reached the Philippines at Leyte. By the end of the war she was abandoned at Tadji Airfield on the north coast of Papua New Guinea. There she languished until 1974 when she was moved west about five miles to Aitape for display.

North American B-25C 41-12442, flown by the 13th Bomb Squadron and then named the “Feather Merchant,” was one of the B-25's on the Royce Mission. Today it is on display at the high school in Aitape, Papua New Guinea (Courtesy Key Publishing Forum)

North American B-25C 41-12442, flown by the 13th Bomb Squadron and then named the “Feather Merchant,” was one of the B-25’s on the Royce Mission. Today it is on display at the high school in Aitape, Papua New Guinea (Courtesy Key Publishing Forum)

References

Bartsch, William H., “Doomed at the Start: American Pursuit Pilots in the Philippines, 1941-1942,” Texas A&M University Press, College station, Texas, 1992.

Battle of Java (1942), Wikipedia entry, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Java_%281942%29

Boer, P.C., Dr., “Early NAA B-25C Mitchells of the ML/KNIL, February 1942-June 1942,” at: http://www.marsethistoria.nl/artikelen/b25_nei.htm

Royce Raid, 3rd Attack Group website, at: http://www.3rdattackgroup.org/royce-raid.php

Royce Mission to the Philippines, Pacific Wrecks website, at: http://www.pacificwrecks.com/history/royce/index.html

The Royce Raid on the Philippines April 1942, Armchair General and Historynet, at: http://www.armchairgeneral.com/forums/showthread.php?t=146680

Royce Mission, 13th Bomb squadron History, at: http://www.3rdattackgroup.org/resources/Royce_Raid/Royce%20Raid%20-%2013th%20Squadron.pdf

Royce Mission, 90th Bomb squadron History, at: http://www.3rdattackgroup.org/resources/Royce_Raid/Royce%20Raid.pdf

Hipps, William G, “Royce Mission Report, 20 April 1942,” on 3rd Attack Group website, at: http://www.3rdattackgroup.org/resources/Royce_Raid/Hipps%20Report%20Royce%20Raid.pdf
Royce, Ralph, “Account of Royce Mission,” undated, 3rd Attack Group website, at: http://www.3rdattackgroup.org/resources/Royce_Raid/Ralph%20Royce%20On%20His%20Mission.pdf

Jones, Robert, “Royces Raid” by 3rd Attack Group website, at: http://www.3rdattackgroup.org/royce-raid.php

B-25C “Feather Merchant/Irene/Miss Priority” Serial Number 41-12442, at Pacific Wrecks website, at: http://www.pacificwrecks.com/aircraft/b-25/41-12442.html

ROYCE SPECIAL MISSION TO MINDANAO, USAF Fact Sheet and images, at:  http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/MuseumExhibits/FactSheets/Display/tabid/509/Article/196802/royce-special-mission-to-mindanao.aspx

Generals Wainwright and MacArthur image, at:  http://ww2db.com/image.php?image_id=4237

General Brett picture, at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Brett_%28general%29

B-25C “Feather merchant at Aitape, at:  http://forum.keypublishing.com/showthread.php?78847-Google-Earth-South-Pacific-quot-recovery-quot

Richard Taylor Royce Mission painting, at:  http://www.aviationarthangar.com/avartharorab.html

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One thought on “The Bataan Genesis of the Royce Mission

  1. Pingback: A Bataan Thorne in the side of Imperial Japan | The Bataan Campaign

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