Vic Tatelman's Stories
is a gifted author and, with his permission, I am
privileged to put a couple of his works on my web site. These are
part of a larger collection of his reminiscences that I hope will be
published someday. Please note that Mr. Tatelman retains the
THE NAMING OF DIRTY DORA
Toward the end of 1943, with targets becoming tougher, particularly the neutralization of Rabaul, our losses became significant, calling for replacement of aircraft and crews. The 38th Bomb Group had been in the theater a little longer than our Group so they, being the senior B-25 Group, acquired the new "H" and "J" models and therefore we fell heir to their "C" and "D" models.
The B-25C, 41-12971 -- DIRTY DORA -- was transferred into the 345th Bomb Group and then assigned to the 499th Squadron. I inherited the airplane along with a crew.
Sydney, Australia was the leave and furlough spot for 5th Air Force flight crews in New Guinea and the Squadron policy was rotational, which worked out to be a week in Sydney about every six weeks for each crew.
One must realize that Sydney, during those months, was devoid of young men. Australia had gone to war when Britain declared war in September 1939 and the entire Australian military; army, navy, air force, had been sent to North Africa to join Montgomery's campaign against Rommel.
So, when the American Air Force arrived in Australia the latter part of 1942 and 1943, there were no young men there and hadn't been since 1939. Well, one can imagine the paradise that young, lusty yanks found when they arrived in Sydney on leave with pockets full of money (where could one spend money in New Guinea?) to find that the young women there were equally "ready" having no men around for months.
On one such leave, I met a 38th Bomb Group pilot who knew the story of the naming of the airplane. One of the crew had met an Australian girl, Dora, who moved in with him for the week he was there. He was amazed and delighted at the talent (and virtuosity) of his young partner in bed; particularly at the height of her pleasure when she would inexplicably scream out the most profane obscenities, words that even shocked him, coming from a seemingly otherwise modest and sweet young girl. So the perfect name for the airplane, DIRTY DORA.
On a subsequent Sydney leave, I met Dora and explained that she was the namesake of my airplane, I even took her out to the airport to show her the name painted on the nose of the airplane; she was unimpressed!
MY PERSONAL WAR
I knew not to
do it, volunteer, that is. Never volunteer in the military was the
universal axiom, but before I knew what I was doing, I raised my
hand. It was procedural:
At that time, it was early l944, I had flown my 51st mission and was contemplating whether to stay on for few more, when it happened: The Operations Officer at one of the briefings, with a paper in his hand, “Anybody have any engineering training in college?” I don’t know if it was the early hour or that I hadn’t had my coffee yet, but that’s when it happened, I raised my hand.
In 1941, before Pearl Harbor, one must have had least at least two years of college before the Army Air Corps would consider an application for flight school. I had completed two years of engineering in June of 1941 and immediately applied for pilot training, but it was October of 1941 before I received that magic letter.
In those days before the country was officially in the war, military flight schools, both Army and Navy, were modeled more or less on the standards of the Military and Naval Academies, lots of math and science and an Engineering “background” made life easier in ground school. So on that morning in 1944 when the Ops Officer asked that question, I unthinkingly raised my hand.
Since I had made the decision to stay on in the Squadron for awhile I didn’t think any more about it until one day, several weeks later, I was ordered to report to the CO, the Squadron Commander. Our CO at that time was Julian Baird, the best all around CO in my entire military career. Looking at the orders he was holding, he said, “You’re either in one helluva lot of hot water or somebody up top wants to talk face to face instead of communicating through channels. You’re to report to Room such ‘n such in the Pentagon in one week.”
Well, that was kind of exciting -- strange but exciting. I couldn’t imagine what this was all about.
In those days, getting from New Guinea to the Pentagon was no small feat, especially in a week. Despite the fact that I had no clean Class A uniform (in New Guinea for a year, nothing was clean) I managed to appear half way decently dressed in that room in the Pentagon within a week.
Evidently, my background had been checked and the powers-that-be decided that I wouldn’t spill the beans to the Japs, so I was briefed on the highly secret, at that time, Air Force (the designation had just been changed from the Army Air Corps to the Army Air Force) development program to nullify the accuracy of the German radar controlled anti-aircraft guns, the Wurtzberg Radar.
Our bomb group tactics against the Japs were primarily low level, tree top attacks where anti-aircraft fire from large caliber guns, radar controlled or not, was fairly inaccurate. The enemy defense was primarily small arms ground fire and it could sometimes be deadly.
But the heavy bombers, the B-24s, flew at medium altitude, eight to twelve thousand feet, where they encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire over the targets, but from what we understood, the accuracy was spotty. The intelligence people thought they had information that the Germans had given the Wurtzberg Radar know-how to the Japs. That’s where I would come in.
My job was to learn all there was to know about the countermeasures developed to nullify radar accuracy, go back to the theater and brief the combat crews on such techniques. I was sent to the various technical centers around the country, Wright-Patterson Field in Ohio; Eglin Field, the Naval Training Center in Orlando, Boca Raton Radar School in Florida and Bell Labs in New Jersey to learn about that newly developed marvel called radar and the various techniques to counter it.
After about two months of great Stateside duty, I was headed back to the Southwest Pacific and was assigned to Section 22, the Intelligence Department of General MacArthur’s Headquarters in Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea. Here I was given a map showing the location of the various heavy bombardment squadrons and a jeep to get to them.
The next month or so found me traipsing around New Guinea, then Leyte in the Philippines, talking to B-24 crews. I learned that the accuracy of Jap heavy anti-aircraft artillery hadn’t drastically improved. Heretofore, most missions found the Jap defenses somewhat delayed. Usually the first elements of the attacking formation found AA fire light or even absent; it was the later part of the formation that received the heavy AA fire.
Lately, however, returning crews were reporting heavy AA defenses even before reaching the target.
That meant the Japs had developed an effective Early Warning Radar; to me, that was ominous. I reported that fact to my superiors at Section 22, and presented a suggestion. Instead of my flitting around the theater talking, let me design an airplane with radar homing gear, and actually home in on those new early warning radars and destroy them, instead of, or in addition to, trying to thwart them electronically. During my learning sessions in the States, I was shown an experimental radar homing device being developed at Bell Labs in New Jersey. I suggested to the Captain that I reported to, to get that equipment over here, let me have an airplane in which to install it and turn me loose. My Captain went to the Section CO and in two days I had my orders. I could have any airplane in the theater, carte blanche at the Air Depot for modifications as I saw fit and arrangements for attachment to a combat squadron for rations, quarters and aircraft maintenance.
Since I had recently come out of a combat squadron, the 499th Squadron of the 345th Bomb Group, the famous, even then, Air Apaches, I opted to be attached to that Squadron. Too, I knew those people -- they were my friends. A fact that hadn't crossed my mind was that all the combat crews, the people that I had flown with, had completed their missions and returned to the States. When I got to the Squadron, the only remaining people I knew were the Squadron Section Heads, the ground officers who headed up the various sections, Communications, Engineering, Administration, Armament, etc. So I moved in with them. Today, after more than fifty-eight years, we still are as close as we were then.
Since I had flown combat in B-25s I naturally wanted one for my new project. There were many improvements in the development of North American’s Mitchell Bomber, and those arriving in the theater now were the latest, the brand new “J” Model. Those had an eight-gun nose and a pair of package guns on each side of the fuselage, but the top turret had been moved forward into what was the navigator’s compartment in the “D” Model and I needed that navigation table for mounting the soon-to-arrive homing device. A search of the salvage areas turned up a war-weary “D” Model, a local engineering squadron performed a quick miracle, and I was soon flying it to the Air Depot at Biak, an island off the northwest tip of New Guinea. The Air Depot people had already received word that the aircraft I brought to them was to be modified as per my instructions, but they couldn’t get to me for about ten days.
What the hell, since I was that close to Sydney and I had my own airplane and had ten days to wait and I hadn’t had a leave in a year, I typed out a set of leave orders, signed General Southerland’s name (forged, I should say) and flew down to Sydney. Sydney; even today my pulse quickens at the memory. What a paradise that city was in those days; clean sheets in a fine hotel, hot water in the shower, steak and eggs for breakfast, wine with dinner and girls…
Anyway, back to the war! Back in Biak, I had the airplane modified for single pilot operation, had a “J” Model eight-gun nose installed, moved the inverter switch that controls the power to the instruments up to the instrument panel, relocated the bomb bay door lever to the left side wall of the cockpit and most importantly, had the radar equipment installed where I had planned, on the old navigator’s table. Not only did the powers-that-be send the equipment, but they sent a technician from Bell Labs to install and test it. We flew several local flights against our own radars in the area where it was tested and adjusted, tested and adjusted, again and again, until we were satisfied that it worked. The whole mission concept depended on this phase; I was overjoyed that it worked so well.
The technician that came with the equipment talked somebody in authority (or perhaps it came from Washington) to let him stay in the theater and fly with me to operate the device when we returned to combat operations. That, in itself, was amazing; as far as I knew, the guy was a civilian, but he turned out to be a genius with that equipment.
And so we returned to the old Squadron, by that time based at San Marcelino, in Luzon. I was assigned my old ground crew who promptly named the airplane DIRTY DORA II and painted the Squadron’s distinctive bat emblem on the nose.
Our targets and missions assignments with an all volunteer crew came almost immediately and we were extremely effective. The first three weeks in operation, we photographed and destroyed eight Jap early warning radars. And it was exciting, without fighter cover, operating alone in enemy held territory. Aside from some small arms ground fire and being jumped once by a lone Jap fighter, we were unscathed. Lawrence J. Hickey writes about the operation in his book, WARPATH ACROSS THE PACIFIC.
In later conflicts, Korea, Viet Nam, organized units came into existence specifically designed to suppress enemy radar - they were called “Wild Weasels.” I guess I was the first Wild Weasel.
After several weeks, our targets became fewer and fewer. The heavy bomber crews reported fewer early warning Jap defense activity and with that report, I felt a sense of accomplishment. At least, the results of my personal war were justified for the time and effort involved. My superiors at Section 22 evidently thought so too; I was recommended for a second DFC.
Everybody could see the handwriting on the wall -- the Philippines had been re-taken, the Okinawa operation had been bloody but successful and Japan itself was being destroyed, not only by the 5th, 7th, and l3th Air Forces on Okinawa and Ie Shima, but devastatingly, by the 20th Air Force, the B-29s from Guam and Tinian. So I decided that radar busting was becoming boring and applied to rejoin my Squadron (instead of merely being attached). And in due course, I and my airplane, DIRTY DORA II, became part of the famous (or was it infamous) Bats Outa Hell, the 499th Bomb Squadron, once again, and finished out the rest of the war as a Flight Leader.
DIRTY DORA II IN ACTION
Dirty Dora II was initially ready for operations at San Marcellino on the west coast of Luzon in the Philippines in February 1945. I had brought the plane up from the Air Depot at Biak where the modification took place after my headquarters at Tacloban had arranged for rations, quarters and aircraft maintenance for me with my old combat squadron, the 499th of the famous (or was it infamous) Air Apaches, the 345th Bomb Group.
Frag orders* from either Air Force Headquarters (ADVON)1 or 5th Bomber Command would specify an area of enemy territory to be covered. The area was determined from reports of bomber crews who suspected the presents of Jap early warning radar. The Squadron Operations Officer would then select a volunteer crew and, depending on weather, we would search the suspected location using our radar homing gear. There were always enough volunteers but after the first couple of missions, the crew stabilized into a more or less consistent group. The co-pilot, Byron Reed, however, was specifically assigned to me and we flew together throughout the rest of the war. We became close friends.
My assigned unit, Section 22, G2 of General MacArthur‘s headquarters was headed by General Walton, He briefed me personally at the time the whole scheme was developed three months previously, and especially admonished me to thoroughly photograph the sites of the Jap radars before destroying them. The intelligence people desperately wanted those photographs to determine types of radar, the shape and configuration of the antennas from which frequencies and range could be determined and whether they were of German design. So our aircraft mounted cameras were as important as the homing gear. After several RCM2 missions, we established our procedures and tactics, including the best times for attack, the most appropriate approach for photography and how to suppress ground fire. The photos we had taken began to appear on posters mounted in combat squadrons ready rooms and I began to receive congratulatory comments from higher headquarters.
The allied advance up the Island of Luzon continued slowly. When Manila was taken and then the old Air Corps Base at Clark Field, we moved into the old Fort Stotzenberg at Clark. Our missions continued, we covered the whole area, even as far as the coast of China, but especially into northern Luzon and the adjacent Island of Samar. On one such mission to northern Luzon, a Jap radar was suspected at Lingayan on the north coast and our route to that area took us over the infantry advance line. As we flew over I received a radio call from the ground troop commander asking if I could help him with a Jap tank concealed in what looked like a barn that was holding up his advance. Of course I agreed and circled the barn so as to positively identify the right target (all those barns looked alike to me). After I was assured from the ground, I set the barn on fire with machine gun fire which silenced the tank and brought the Jap tank crew running. With a “thanks” from the ground, I circled the area one more time, (what’s that line about curiosity killing the cat) though this time too low. I saw it briefly before the strike; the ground radio vehicle had a vertical whip antenna which must have extended a hundred feet into the air. I couldn’t have been that low and I saw it too late. I pulled the airplane up the instant I realized what it was, but it wasn’t enough. We struck the wire rod at the wing root, missing the prop by inches. Furious with myself, I called off the RCM mission and returned to base expecting catastrophic damage to the airplane.
After examination, the crew chief wasn’t too concerned; the airplane was repaired and ready for operations again in a week. I tried to identify the infantry unit with which we were involved to send my apologies for destroying their communications, but it just wasn’t possible. I suppose their advance up the island was halted as much from my curiosity as from the Jap tank, at least ‘til they could replace the antenna. I excuse myself a bit because it isn’t often Air Force people get to see real infantry ground action up close and I was fascinated.
Orders: Orders from authorizing headquarters outlining the
strike; target, enemy resistance expected, etc.
This site was last updated 11/26/07