Bombing mission to attack Japanese Philippine landings

The Flying Fortress flown by Captain Wheless on the 14th December 1941 was found to have 1200 bullet holes in it after he managed to crash-land at the airfield on Mindinao, saving his crew from further injuries.

The Japanese were now landing on the Philippines, where many of the U.S. planes had been destroyed on the ground. The defending U.S. airforce found themselves in a situation not dissimilar to the RAF in Malaya. Those that remained continued to fly missions regardless of the odds.

On the 14th December Captain Hewitt T. Wheless was piloting one of four Flying Fortresses from the airfield at Mindinao when they were attacked by around 18 Japanese fighters. They kept going to their target, the landing beaches on the island of Luzon, successfully bombing and sinking 6 Japanese Transports.

The episode gained attention when it was mentioned by President Roosevelt as an example of the way Americans were fighting back. Captain Wheless later gave this account to the press:

The Japs came in like greased lightning. Sgt Russell B. Brown and Sgt John M. Gootee were on the side guns. They got the two coming in on the side. Private William C. Killin, the radio operator, was in the “bathtub” — the tunnel underneath. He had just traded places with Cpl William W. Williams, who was trying to unjam the top radio guns. Just as Killen crawled into the bathtub the Jap on our tail let loose, and Killin was killed. Our number 2 engine was shot out, at the same time as the Jab got the throttle cable.

Things began happening pretty fast then. Williams got it in the hip and it tore his right leg wide open down to and below the knee. Just the same, he boosted himself up and tried to man the radio guns. He was pretty badly smashed up. But he tried.

The way the bullets were coming through the fuselage it was like being out in the open in a hail storm. But Sgt Albert H. Cellette — the bombardier — got the beam on our target and unloaded. We dropped about 4,800 pounds of stuff on them while their planes were coming at us like a bunch of hornets from a kicked over nest. Yep — we were sure busy.

I was looking for clouds. When we came in toward the target we had a nice overcast to hide in. But when we came up on the target — wham — no clouds. Completely clear.

The Japs were getting underway — eighteen of them — or there abouts — no one had time to stop and count — were swarming all over us. I was dodging in and out of what cloud scraps I could find. We’d be in one for ten of fifteen seconds, which gave the guys a chance to reload.

My co-pilot Lt Taborek, and I did what we could. But it wasn’t much. Bullets were coming into the cockpit like rain. The instrument panel was shot to hell. A high explosive shell hit the radio and it opened up like a flower. Another one got the No 4 tank and the gasoline poured out.

Ol’ Gootee caught a bullet in the hand and it just ripped his whole hand almost off. Only thing that kept it from falling off was a couple of threads of flesh. So he put on a glove to hold his hand on his arm and helped Brown load and aim.

That boy Brown was busy as a two-headed cat in a creamery. He ran from one side to the other operating the side guns in the tail. Gootee’d reload for him while he was busy on the other gun. Then one of the Japs got a bead on Brown while he was working over the mess with his gun, shot the sights right off the gun and got Brown in the wrist. Without stopping his relay race between the two guns, he tied a handkerchief around it — tight — and went on shooting.

The Navigator, Lt William F. Neenagh, went back to see if he could get Killin’s body out of the bathtub. But he couldn’t get him out. Williams’ gun jammed and Neenagh tried to help him fix them, but it was no go. So he came on back to is post and sort of alternated between what gunners were left.

Cellette was down in the bombardier’s bubble at the guns. But we never get a head on attack so he couldn’t do anything but sit there and be shot at. Another round of fire got our flattener controls so the plane was wobbly as hell. We did the best we could, keeping her on an even keel with the rudder. By this time the fortress looked like a worn out sieve.

About seventy-five or a hundred miles later, the Japs wheeled and went off. Out of ammunition I guess. God knows they threw enough at us.

Nobody said anything for a long while.

After crash landing at Mindinao, Wheless’s plane was found to have over 1200 bullet holes in it. Captain Hewitt T. Wheless was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The whole account can be found at

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