Thursday, March 31, 2016

27) Betty's Letters Burned Up In Beach Attack

9th FS Unit History- late May 1944

"At night, air alerts kept the ship gun crews busy - dashing from their bunks to their posts.
On 16 May the anchor was raised and the Berry sailed a mile or so over to the smaller Hollandia Harbor by the town itself. Like all New Guinea towns it had no size. In fact, we could see only one little European type house. We could see Jap supplies stacked on the beach, including radial engines apparently new and mounted on assembly mounts."

"The 17th found us finally beginning to unload. First to be unloaded was tentage and boxes, all of which had to be man-handled off the LCT once it was beached. The fact that the tentage was wet did not make it any lighter for the "9th Squadron Stevedores". As our equipment and personal luggage were piled on the beach, our men went ashore to guard it and to load it on trucks that were supposed to come down from the airstrips in the mountains behind the town. The trucks did not show up, so some of our men stayed on the beach with the equipment, others scrounged around for something to eat and then bunked for the night on Pancake Hill. There were several alerts but no raids that night. The 9th was now split five ways. The air echelon had arrived at Hollandia strip, part of us was still aboard the Berry, a few were on the beach, some on Pancake Hill, and the rest were enroute between the beach and the airstrip."

"Late that afternoon clouds of smoke arose from the landing area on the beach, and that evening a large explosion was heard followed by several more. A hill obscured the flames, but after dark we could see the glow from the fire and occasional tracers streaking across the sky. Three of our men on the beach guarding baggage and equipment were right in the middle of what looked to us aboard ship as quite a catastrophe. Cpl. W. Williams, while trying to save our equipment and baggage, was nearly torn apart by bomb fragments and died that night in a hospital on the beach. This news reached us the next day (19th) and to say we were shocked would be understating our feelings. Cpl. Williams had been with us since we left 'Frisco as the 49th Pursuit Group in January 1942. The 9th, particularly the armament section, had lost one of its most popular and well-regarded members."

"Although we knew that a great deal of our personal baggage and squadron equipment had been destroyed, we learned to some satisfaction that the trucks that should have moved us and our supplies up to the airstrip had been used to haul aviation gasoline out of the very dump which exploded. On the following day smoke was still coming from the beach, but the LCT's and the winch gang got together and we continued unloading. A sizable amount of men and equipment had been put ashore by dark. After several more delays, the loading off was finally completed on the 25th of May and men and equipment started to arrive at the airstrip. The air echelon's activities were by far the most interesting, and the ground echelon soon caught up on the story of the advance echelon's achievements."

"The ground echelon left for the beach on the 30th and again the 9th was split up, hopefully for only a short time. The end of the month found the air echelon at Hollandia preparing to operate as efficiently as possible with about 60 men. The ground echelon had started to load their equipment on LST's which were due to sail shortly for Biak Island." 

(Ken Clark’s Unit History posted on

  1. Burned Letters---In December of 1981 my parents, Jack and Betty Riley, showed these letters to me.  At that time I asked why there were so few of Mom’s letters saved.  Mom, remarked, quite uncomfortably, that they had all been burned up on a beach. At the time I thought that perhaps Dad had just lost or not saved them and hence her discomfort in talking about it.  But, after reading the 9th FS Unit History I now realize that Jack’s personal belongings must have been among those burned on the beach in this account.  It is only after this date that I have any letters written by Betty.  There is no way to know if he was on the beach that afternoon, but it is very likely that his personal belongings were among those that burned.
  2. CPL. W. W. Williams--- Here is a link to the Findagrave listing, which shows a photo and obituary, for 25 year old Woodrow W. Williams who died while watching after the equipment and baggage on the beach.   Link to info about W.W. Williams
  3. Stevedore--- A person who loads and unloads boats in port.
  4. Hollandia--- The battle of Hollandia at the end of April 1944 caught the Japanese by surprise.  It involved 80,000 Allied troops and was led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur.  The 9th squadron followed in May.  Link to a video about the Battle of Hollandia

Again--many thanks to Ken Clark and others for their extensive information on posted on

26) The 9th Squadron On The Move- April 1944 - May 1944

There are no letters between March 30, 1944 and July 8, 1944. It seems clear from the July 8th letter that perhaps Jack didn’t send any letters to Betty during this period. I suspect he was kept very busy with the movements of the 9th squadron. The next several posts will focus on the 9th squadron’s activities during this time period. It is taken from the 9th Squadron Unit History. (Ken Clark’s Unit History posted on

9th FS Unit History- April 1944-- Finschafen Airfield

"During the last half of the month preparations were made for the move that was sure to come and which we were sure would give our pilots a chance to add to their scores. On the 19th, the ground echelon that consisted of two-thirds of the ground personnel, left by air for Finschafen to await water transportation to our destination, which by this time we knew to be Hollandia. This ground echelon mucked around in Finschafen mud while the air echelon at Gusap prepared for their move. Even speculation as to the workings of the new personnel rotation plan was shoved into the background by the major events that were taking place in New Guinea." (Ken Clark’s Unit History posted on

9th FS Unit History- May 1944--Hollandia-Dutch New Guinea

"May 1944 began for the 9th with the air echelon not knowing the whereabouts of the ground echelon. The ground echelon was in about the same fix; they did not know where they were themselves! Most of them were on the Liberty ship "David S. Berry"; some were on LST's, and some equipment was on still another Liberty ship. After several false starts, the dead weight and vehicles were all loaded at Finschafen, and all personnel went back to the mud-covered coral hilltop to wait. There was no work to do and only one borrowed vehicle to take the whole group swimming or to the evening picture shows. One evening we had a dry run and pulled down what few tents we had - only to put them back up when someone changed his mind. On the 9th, the LST's pulled out and we struck camp, loaded what equipment and tentage we had into trucks and 2-1/2 ton amphibian trucks and down to the docks we went."

"That night all slept on the Berry, but not until she pulled out about 5 miles, then pulled back into the same dock and took aboard another outfit. We all slept because we were tired; a good many tons of food, tentage, etc., had been loaded into the nets in a very short time. We slept where we could, the rest wherever they could stretch out or sandwich a cot between trucks on the deck."

"On the afternoon of May 10, we started for Hollandia in 3 Liberty ships and 2 escort vessels. Zig-zagging was slight, but each evening we changed course before dark and then again after dark. Our course was out of sight of land and only once did we even see aircraft, but they were ours (B-24's) and a long way off."

"The morn of May 13 we awoke to see Humbolt Bay before us, and of course the harbor was full of miscellaneous shipping including LST's, LCT's, launches, corvettes, destroyers and PT boats. Some of the officers went ashore to find out about unloading, and soon came back with the news that the LST's had arrived several days ahead of us and had been unloaded. We would be unloaded "as soon as possible".

"We all sat down and tried to rationalize our enforced activity. At least we were getting a good rest and while by this time we were a bit tired of "C", "K", and 10 in 1 rations (all that was available), we waited. Two days passed uneventfully as the Berry swung gently with the tide."   (Ken Clark’s Unit History posted on

  1. Finschafen---This airfield was located Located 50 miles east of Lae, Papua New Guinea. Founded in 1885, the town was the German New Guinea Kompagnie's (NGK) first unsuccessful attempt to begin the colonization of New Guinea. The Japanese occupied the area on March 10, 1942 and occupied the Lutheran Mission buildings as their HQ. The town was declared liberated, by US and Australian forces on October 2, 1943. The 49th FG HQ was stationed here from April 19, 1944 to May 17, 1944.  See: Finschafen Airfield
  2. Hollandia-New Guinea---Occupied by the Japanese in April 1942. It was the site of several airstrips. Liberated by American amphibious task force Code named Operation Reckless on April 22, 1944 that caught the Japanese largely by surprise.  See: Hollandia
  3. Humbolt Bay, New Guinea---  This was a natural harbor located to the east of Hollandia.  See: Humbolt Bay
  4. Liberty ships---a type of cargo ship build during WW 2. They were utilitarian vessels that could be built in a hurry.  In a list of WW 2 Liberty Ships I see nothing for a ship named "David S. Berry", I think it must have been the "David S. Terry".  See: Liberty Ships
  5. LST ("Landing Ship, Tank")---created during World War II to support amphibious operations by carrying significant quantities of vehicles, cargo, and landing troops directly onto an unimproved shore.  See: Wiki Link - LST
  6. The LCT (Landing Craft Tank)--- was an amphibious assault ship for landing tanks on beachheads. See: Wiki Link- LCT
  7. Corvettes---Small warship.  See: Wiki Link-Corvette Warship
  8. Launches---Small motor boat
  9. PT Boat (Patrol Torpedo)---a torpedo armed fast attack boat. Wiki Link- PT Boats
  10. 2-1/2 Ton Amphibian Trucks---6 wheel amphibious truck used for transporting goods and troops over land and water and for use when approaching and crossing beaches.  See: GMC Army Duck
  11. B-24's---A heavy bomber aircraft.  See: Wiki Link- B-24 Liberator
  12. K Rations ---Breakfast Units: K-1 Biscuits; K-2 Biscuits; Meat and Egg M-Unit; Fruit Bar; Soluble Coffee Product; Sugar Cubes; Cigarettes; Chewing Gum; & A Key. Dinner Units: K-1 Biscuits; K-2 Biscuits; Cheese Product M-Unit; Confection; Lemon Juice Powder; Sugar Cubes; Cigarettes; Chewing Gum; Matches; & A Key. Supper Units: K-1 Biscuits; K-2 Biscuits; Meat Product M-Unit; Chocolate Bar (Field Ration D); Bullion Powder; Cigarettes; Chewing Gum; Toilet Tissue; & A Key.
  13. C Ration ---In early 1944 specifications for the C rations increased variety by alternating combinations of the "B," or bread, units, and the "M," or meat, units. An accessory pack included nine "good commercial-quality" cigarettes, water-purification tablets, matches, toilet paper, chewing gum, and an opener for the meat cans. A soldier's daily ration was three cans of B units, three cans of M units, and one accessory pack. C rations boxes contained three meals for each of eight men: three M units and three B units per man per day, for a total of 48 cans.
  14. 10 in 1 Ration
    Breakfast: Cereal; Bacon and Eggs; Biscuits; Jam; Coffee; and Milk.

    Dinner: An abbreviated K Ration and K Ration Egg Product M-Unit. 

    Supper: Corned Beef Hash; Lima Beans; Biscuits; Butter; Chocolate Bar; and Grape Drink.        

    Again--many thanks to Ken Clark and others for their extensive information on posted on