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Somebody back in Washington, D.C., had a bright idea to sow some mines in Simpson Harbor at Rabaul with the purpose of impeding Jap shipping by their nuisance value. Consequently, orders were received at Bouganville. At the briefing they were told, "Make it good, because Washington has its eye on us tonight." In the dark hours of February 14, 1944, the torpedo bombers of VMTB 233 and Major Roland F. Smith's VMTB 232 took off on the operation that was to result in tragedy for 233. The Commanding Officer of VMTB 233, Major Coln, found the Japs unusually interested in what was happening that night. For several previous nights the bombers had followed the prescribed route and altitude to drop their bombs, and the Japs were able to predict easily enough where the Americans would fly. The TBMs were to fly up in three groups of eight each. The first group lost one plane. As they headed back home the C.O. tried to radio the other TBFs to warn them to turn back but he couldn't make radio contact. The second group lost two planes. Before the third group arrived at its assigned interval of nearly an hour, the B-24 which had been harassing Rabaul to distract the attention of the Japs was shot down. The third group of planes found every searchlight and AA gun in the area pointed their way when they flew at 800 feet over the water at the slow speed of 160 knots to drop their parachute-mines, weighing 1,600 pounds apiece. Plane after plane disintegrated in mid-air and fell in flames. Only three of them got away. One pilot failed to be in the correct location on his first pass and had the nerve to turn around and go back to do it. He had the luck to escape. And the next night the Army wanted them to go up again! One of the majors was ready to give up his wings and his commission rather than have his boys try it again. There was such a stink that the high command thought it wise to drop the affair. My good friend and former classmate of cadet days, Cornelius, never came back from that mission. A total of six planes and eighteen men were senselessly lost that night. The military "chain of command" comes in handy in such untidy affairs. The bright idea originates from on high and is transmitted through the generals and the colonels to the majors who give the orders to the men who do the dying. It is all very impersonal, so that if a mistake has been made, few are the people who know where to place the heavy finger of responsibility - and the finger is rarely pointed.
FOWLER, James L, First Lieutenant, O-23232, USMC, from California, Manila American Cemetery + FOWLER, James Laurence, 23232, VMTB-233, MAG-11, 1st-MAW, FMF, New Britain, February 15, 1945, killed in action + FOWLER, James L., 1st Lieutenant, USMCR. Father, Mr. Laurence W. Fowler, 34 E. Mission St., Santa Barbara, Calif + FOWLER, James L, 1STLT, O-23232, USMC, from California, location New Britain Island, date of loss February 14, 1944
Body Not Recovered