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Death at Amron
by Walt Deas for full details of B-25D "Green Dragon" 41-30118 view The Bomber Reef DVD

B-25D-1 41-30221 flew out of Durand Field (17 Mile) on August 2nd, 1943 on a Japanese barge sweep and failed to return from this mission along the coast of New Guinea in the Lae to Saidor area. The weather was good and there was excellent visibility.

On the way to the target, enemy aircraft attacked the formation forcing the B-25’s to seek a tight formation. As Captain Uhler, pilot of  #30221, approached a formation of three B-25’s, number 1 aircraft of that formation, nor knowing he had acquired wingmen, banked sharply to the right. Captain Uhler could not bank sharply enough and tore the left wing tip of his aircraft upon hitting the right fuselage of  number 2 aircraft.

After the collision, Uhler’s aircraft appeared to land on a reef and was partially out of the water when last seen. The tail of the plane was seen to drag through the water for about fifty feet. Location was said to be two miles north of Kepler Point.

The following crewmen saw the aircraft crash. Captain John L. Armor. 0-791663 and 1st Lt. Jack W. Lavers. 0-725622. It was reported that no survivors were seen to emerge from the plane, but the other aircraft were travelling so fast so as to evade the enemy fighters, there was a possibility the crew could not have been seen by the other crews.

Not long after, a report came in that a Carl Jacobsen, a former peacetime plantation owner in the Markham Valley, was advancing with the 7th Division, AIF (Australians), towards Lae, and came across two Chinese whom he recognised as having worked during peacetime in the hotel and club at Lae. Preliminary interrogation by Jacobsen brought reports of an American prisoner that seemed of sufficient importance to justify flying the two men to Port Moresby, Jacobsen then arranged this.

Further questioning in Port Moresby brought out the following information. Sometime in August an American was a brought into Lae by natives who had picked him up between Finschafen and Hopoi. His foot had been injured and became infected, so by the time he reached Lae it was in a very bad shape.

(Hopoi was the site of the Australian 9th Division’s landing as part of an operation to capture Lae. Today there is no trace of the wartime airstrip.)

He received good treatment from the Japanese and frequent medical treatment, even to the extent of having a crude crutch made for him. He ate regularly in the officer’s mess, where the two Chinese were waiters. The saw him regularly until two days after the Allied landing at Hopoi when was taken away by a submarine at night.

During the time he was there the Chinese managed to pick up various isolated facts from him, all of which are said to check with Captain Uhler. He was 22, a first lieutenant but expecting promotion soon. Either he was from New York and his wife from California or vice versa. Their physical description of him tallied quite reasonably with Lt. Uhler’s appearance, but they could not identify him in the only picture available, a poor, group picture.

Major Williston M. Cox, Jr. 0-426 370 who was taken prison by the Japanese near Madang, after the crash of B-25D "Green Dragon" 41-30118 stated that a 2nd Lieutenant named Savage or Salvage was captured by the enemy and taken to Madang. Major Cox learned that this officer was a co-pilot of a B-25 piloted by a Captain Uhler which came down about August 1, 1943, about sixty miles from Madang, as a result of a collision with another bomber. Major Cox further stated that this officer was bitten severely on the calf of a leg by a fish (a shark?) and that he was in a very bad condition when brought to Madang as his wound had become infected with gangrene.

Major Cox requested the person who was introduced to him as the Commander of Madang to furnish medical treatment to this officer. He acknowledged the request, however, the medical treatment consisted of no medicine, only a dirty bandage over the wound. Major Cox and the other crewmen were held in the Kempei Tai Headquarters compound at Amron north of Madang, New Guinea.

Exicution At Amron
On August 31, 1943, five American airmen, four from the 38th Bomb Group’s B-25D "Green Dragon" 41-30118 and 2nd Lt. Owen Salvage were executed.

Lieutenant Robert J. Koscelnak, 1st Lieutenant Louis L. Ritacco and Technical Sergeant Anderson, were blindfolded and escorted down the mountain to the execution ground, bayoneted and then beheaded by Kempei Tai. Next, Lt. Salvage was escorted to the killing grounds and many soldiers took turns bayoneting him. Captain Robert Herry was then led to the execution ground and tied between two posts then bayoneted to death.

Affidavit by L/Cpl Yasukuni Tani. (Clerk in the Kempei Tai Office at Amron.) He was one of several Japanese who were interrogated after the war:
“The actual execution was to be three prisoners by Kempei Tai and two by headquarters Sentry Guard Unit. However, 1st Lt. Matsumoto’s Kempei Tai members said, “We will execute the three prisoners for the revenge of the death of our comrade, Cpl Nakano. This Matsumoto’s Unit had a conflict several weeks ago at Kesa village, which is located at the head of the Ramu River. The three prisoners were blindfolded and escorted down the mountain to the execution ground by the Kempei Tai members and Sgt Major Kawawa, Cpl Ishikawa and S.Pvt Ozawa. After about 20 minutes had elapsed, Matsumoto’s Kempei Tai group came back and said, “The execution is over now, we will proceed back immediately” and walked towards Kempei Tai Headquarters.

The fourth prisoner (Salvage) was escorted blind-folded: I do not recall who escorted the prisoner, whether he was a Kempei Tai or Auxiliary Kempei Tai or member of another unit. About 4 or 5 minutes after the prisoner had been escorted to the execution ground, we could here the bayonet yell “Ya” continuously up the hill where we were that is why I believe many persons were taking turns bayoneting.

The last prisoner (Herry) I believe was a captain. After hearing the bayonet charge yell, he said to the Interpreter Shimizu, “I am going to be bayoneted, isn’t that so? I don’t want to be bayoneted; tell the commander I want to be shot. After 10 minutes, this last prisoner was led to the execution ground and I followed with the group.

I saw three fresh mounds and here 10 meters down is a flat ground. Both sides of the trail became wider and on the left side I think I a hole. On each side of the hole there were 2 posts about 10cm in size, far enough apart for the prisoner to be tied between them. After this last prisoner had been tied I could hear the Sentry Guard Unit squad leader commanding his men to fix bayonets.

At that moment the prisoner said, “Do not bayonet me, shoot me instead.”

Then at first the squad leader jabbed his bayonet into the prisoner’s chest. After he jabbed the first bayonet approximately 12 or 13 of the squad took turns bayoneting. I saw that the squad members that did not perform correctly were getting scolded by the Sentry Guard Unit commander and squad leader and were made to repeat the bayoneting 2 or 3 times.

The execution I saw was the last one. The one before the last one must have been executed by another squad of Sentry Guard Unit, because I saw 2 squads comprised of approximately 24 or 25 men at the execution ground.

When asked if there was any further information he wanted to add to his statement, he replied, “ Yes, one of the five who was executed on 31 August, 1943, was a man whose leg had been bitten by a fish and became infected.”

The details given by Major Cox and by the Japanese who were interrogated agree in all major respects. The major points of the executions were the same in all Japanese statements; although the Japanese personnel were interrogated at different times, in several different places and some by Australian personnel.

Others who may have died at the hands of the Japanese were the crew of B-25G 42-64850 that crashed on November 3, 1943. Nine B-25’s of the 823rd Bombardment Squadron (M), 38th Bombardment Group (M) took off from Durand Strip at 07:13am for barges, possible barge hideouts and buildings from Alexishafen to Bogadjim. Rendezvous was effected over Nadzab at 3,500ft with fighter escort consisting of P-47’s.  The three fights of three aircraft started the sweep at Odrobeg village two and a half miles north of Alexishafen and searched the area along the coast, south to Bogadjim.

Anti-aircraft fire from Alexishafen and Madang was of all calibres. Heavy ack-ack from Madang was intense and accurate.  Plane B-25D-15 "Lady Esther" 41-30769, received a hole in the bomb bay door from fragment and 20mm, and hole in the left wing flap. Plane B-25  #874 had the pilot’s window cracked from concussion from a burst of heavy ack-ack.  B-25G 42-64850 crashed in the water 3/4 of a mile off shore, in vicinity of Bili Bili Island. Cause unknown but thought due to loss of power due to damage from ack-ack, accident occurred at 9.40 hours. The aircraft was seen to strike the water; plane bounced twice and sank immediately. Entire crew last seen in life raft, making towards Bili Bili Island.

The remaining eight airplanes returned overland to Ramu Valley, thence to Markham Valley and proceeded on a direct course to Durand Strip, landing at 11.35. A Catalina Flying Boat attempted to reach the vicinity of the accident or crash on the night of November 3. This attempt was incomplete due to the weather. Nothing further was known about the crew and it is suspected that they were captured and executed.

Report by William D. Brandon. Captain, Air Corps, 0-789127.Operations Officer:
“While flying on a Mission number 306 H, Alexishafen to Bogadjim Road Barge sweep, I was leading flight number one. Flight Officer Smith was flying number three left wing position at the time I took my flight in over the target. The next I looked to check the planes in my formation I saw Flight Officer Smith’s plane in the water.

Circling the plane as it sank I dropped a life raft. This life raft sank but the crew of the sunken plane were able to safely board the raft from their own plane. When last sighted all members of the crew were observed aboard the life-raft making towards the vicinity of Bili Bili Island, N.G., course undetermined.”

In 1950, Theodore G Braun of the Lutheran Mission in Madang contacted Captain Robert Herry’s father in Seguin, Texas and said in his letter, “Some time in August, 1943, we were in Japanese camp on Sair Island, just a few miles from Amron. One day after a fairly heavy air raid, the head of the Japanese Military Police came to the camp where we Lutheran Missionaries were interned and asked for missionary Ander.

He told Ander there was a friend of his by the name Robert who was a prisoner at Amron. He did not mention the last name, but said they had gone to school together at Seguin Lutheran College and had said he had asked whether Ander could give him a Bible. Ander sent the Bible up with the Military Policeman and I think he received it.

Ander was quite anxious to secure permission to see him, but they told him that would be impossible. I am quite sure that he was your son, because the Japanese said that a Major was also shot down in the plane, was going to be sentenced.

Braun was also stated, that the Japanese told us “ There was a little prison near the dispensary for the native school boys and that received a direct bomb hit the next day. They said that the other fliers who were with him were killed and also the mission horse which was grazing nearby.

After the Japanese Military Police told us they had died, we asked some natives to find more. We were not allowed to speak to the natives, but, sometimes at night, they would come o the stone wall that surrounded our camp and throw food in to us.

Since Ander was very interested in his friend, he asked whether the story the Japanese gave to us was true. One of the natives who had been up at Amron after the raid, said the dispensary and all buildings nearby were completely destroyed and he had also seen the dead mission horse.

(A convenient way to explain the prisoners deaths but by giving this explanation there must have been guilt within the Military Police.)

In 1942 the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Kure 3rd Special Landing Party published a document in which it stated, “To eradicate the sense of fear in raw soldiers, carnivals of bloodshed or human sacrifices to the war god are most effective. Killings with bayonet should be carried out whenever an opportunity occurs.”

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