Monday, April 2, 2012

History of the 33rd Troop Carrier Squadron

Daniel Grabin (1921-2005) served during World War Two in the 33rd Troop Carrier Squadron, Army Air Corps. He enlisted at Wilkes Barre on the 5th August, 1942 at Wilkes Barre, PA - a few miles down the valley from his home town of Eynon. He was single on enlistment, but must have married very shortly afterwards, because he left for war married to Martha WASILCHAK. Daniel worked as a crew chief in the Pacific theatre. He returned home to the valley to have two children and run a successful business.

The 33rd Troop Carrier Squadron ( does not have a published unit history. However, Bob Monson, a member of the 33rd, has over many years maintained connections between members of the 33rd and distributed regular Newsletters. Bob provided me with a copy of a short typewritten history compiled for those receiving the newsletter (by whom I am not sure) and have transcribed it here, with his permission.

(Condensed From Unit Histories, February 1942 – November 1945)

On 17 February 1942, he 33rd Transport Squadron was activated at Middletown Air Depot, Pennsylvania and became a unit of the 315th Transport Group. The original cadre was selected from the 2nd Transport Squadron, with First Lieutenant Elmer F. Estrumse, from the 6th Transport Squadron, in command. Shortly after activation, the squadron began to operate with C-39s, loaned by the 2nd Transport Squadron, hauling cargo from Middletown to widely scattered points in the United States as well as Newfoundland, Haiti, Cuba and other foreign air fields. The squadron’s first plane, a C-53, was assigned during the first week of June 1942.

On 17 June 1942, the squadron changes its station to Bowman Field, Ky. An influx of personnel increased the organization from cadre to approximately half its T/O strength. The organization continued to haul cargo to diverse points while at Bowman Field, and in addition, instituted an extensive training program for both flying and ground personnel.

On 3 August 1942, the squadron moved from Bowman Field, Ky. To the Army Air Base, Florence, South Carolina. The movement was completed on 5 August. The squadron began to gather its required strength of pilots and enlisted men as combat crews, it allotted quota of aircraft. An intensive overseas training program was immediately undertaken. Flying personnel engaged in night flying and dropped paratroops in southern maneuvers. Ground personnel were given infantry and commando training. While at Florence, the number of aircraft in the unit was raised to a maximum of thirteen. The squadron sustained its first loss of personnel when Sergeant Joseph Archembault died on 29 August 1942, at Florence S.C., as a result of injuries received in a motor vehicle accident.

On September 1942, seventy-two officers and enlisted men formed an air echelon and departed for Hamilton Field, Calif., for overseas transition training. Two weeks later, on 20 October 1942, the ground echelon departed Florence, S.C. by rail, arriving at its destination, Pittsburg, Calif. On 27 October 1942.

On 18 October 1942, the air echelon, under the command of Captain Eugene R. Jackson, departed Hamilton Field with thirteen planes for the Southwest Pacific. Upon arrival at Canton Island, the evening of 21 October 1942, ten planes and crews assisted in the search for Captain Eddie Rickenbacker and his companions for two days.

The air echelon arrived at New Caledonia 25 October 1942. Seven of the squadron’s planes and crews were delayed there until 29 November 1942 to ferry personnel and supplies to Guadalcanal and New Hebrides Islands, using Tontuta as a base. Wounded personnel were returned from Guadalcanal. Here the squadron sustained its first casualties in the Southwest Pacific Area. On 8 November 1942, a C-47 with S/Sgt Ray V. Hensman at the controls, was seen to burst into flame after takoff, as it passed over the northerly end of Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, then in the hands of the Japanese. It had been struck by enemy ground fire. Two weeks later, 22 November 1942, another plane was totally demolished in a take-off crash at New Hebrides with a load of hand grenades. The crew was seriously injured but there were no fatalities. On 29 November 1942, then five remaining planes departed Tontuta, joining the rest of the air echelon at Ward’s Drome, Port Moresby, N.G. on 2 December 1942.

The remaining six planes continued on to Brisbane, Qld., thence to Cairns, Qld., and operated from there and New Guinea until 10 December 1942 when they were sent to their permanent station in New Guinea. On the first of November these six planes began to operate from Port Moresby in support of the Papuan and Buna.

The ground echelon departed the Golden Gate early on the morning of 3 November 1942 aboard the USS Tjisdane ; arrived Auckland, New Zealand on 22 November where it remained for four days, arriving at Brisbane, Australia on 1 December. Billeted at Camp Doomben, three weeks elapsed during which training was continued (hikes, drill, weapons instructions, etc.) The squadron embarked on the supply ship “Isaac Coles” on 21 December. There were no troop facilities on board, and the men slept in one of the holds on strips of plywood laid on the floor. Strict smoking orders were enforced since there were thousands of tons of live ammunition, torpedoes, and bombs on board. After a seven day strenuous trip, Port Moresby, New Guinea, was reached on 28 December 1942. The meeting of the air and ground echelons was a never-to-be-forgotten moment. The ground echelon was informed that although an area had been assigned, no camp had been established. The air echelon had slept in the planes, eating cold “C” Rations or eating occasionally at Camp Arcadia whose small kitchen appeared to be the only one on the island.

The men immediately set up tents and prepared sites for permanent quarters to be put up as soon as the pyramidal tents would be unloaded from the boat.

The unit was notified that it had become a part of the newly designated 374th Troop Carrier Group, pursuant to General Order No. 32, Hq. 5th Air Force, 12 November 1942, which was being built up in Brisbane.

During this month, two of the six aircraft, with crews, were list. Nine enlisted men had been killed and one officer and two enlisted men were missing. One was the result of an attack by Japanese Zeros, while the other crashed in the Owen Stanley Range. Of the latter, on 10 November 1942, a plane loaded with 20 Australia infantry troops crashed near Dobodura, New Guinea. Second Lieutenant George W. Vandervort and Sgt. Steven J. Pitch were killed, while Sgt. George R. Kershner, radio operator, was miraculously spared. Sgt. Kershner wandered through the New Guinea jungles for 38 days before he was rescued. Remains of Sgt. Pitch and nine infantry men were recovered in July 1944.[1]

During the month of January 1943, the war was brought to the men in the form of air raids. These raids resulted in little damage but they did manage to keep the men up most of the night.

During these early months, a dispute arose as to who was Commanding Officer of the squadron. Captain Eugene R. Jackson had been placed in command of the air echelon at Hamilton Field by order of the I Troop Carrier Command at Indianapolis, Indiana. At about the same time, Captain Robert L. Ward was assigned to the squadron at Florence, S.C. and placed in command by order of Lt. Col. Hamish McLelland, Commanding Officer of the 315th Troop Carrier Group. The issue was settled by Colonel Paul H. Prentiss, Commanding Officer, 374th Troop Carrier Group. His decision placed Captain Ward in command. His tenure of office was short due to the early promotion of Captain Jackson to Major.

The air echelon had welcomed the arrival of the ground echelon for they had been flying daily, without rest, since their departure from the States. Now they would be able to get more rest because of the crew members who had come over with the ground echelon. Their exuberance was short lived for the battle for the Wau strip was in progress and all the unit’s planes were busy flying in Australian troops until the Japanese were eventually driven out in February.

It was during the height of this battle that another of our planes was lost to enemy action.[2] On 7 February 1943, several flights of planes reached the Wau strip simultaneously with 20 Japanese bombers and several fighters. The bombers dropped their loads on the strip and the fighters took after our aircraft. All escaped except the plane piloted by Lt. Robert H. Schwensen. The plane was last seen with two Zeros on its tail. Coincident with the Wau battle, the 33rd planes were required to carry supplies to Kokoda, Dobodura, Buna and dropping missions on the various battle fronts in Papua inaccessible to air strips. Casualties were usually evacuated on the return trips from the strips. The planes, upon approaching Ward’s Drome, would fly a distinctive colored streamer, indicating wounded aboard, and would be met immediately upon landing by American and Australian ambulances.

For its vital part in the Papuan Campaign, between 19 September 1942 and 22 December 1942, the 374th Troop Carrier Group was cited in par. III, War Department General Order No. 3, 15 January 1943. Also included in citation, WD Co. #21, 6 May 1943.

Operations were separated from Engineering in January and Lt. Cartwright was appointed Operations Officer. Communications were also established as a separate unit under the direction of Lt. Richard Krolik.

The 33rd continued to fly unprecedented numbers of troops and tons of supplies to Dobodura and Wau and Bulolo, where the enemy were being gradually pushed back into Salamau and Lae. To the Allied troops on the front lines of this sector, daily dropping missions kept them in supplies and ammunition.

Enemy activity over the Port Moresby area was being gradually reduced to hit and run night raids of one, two and occasionally three planes. Day raids were a thing of the past so personnel had become lax in the upkeep of their slit trenches. This proved to be unfortunate when at 1000 hours on 12 April 1943 forty odd Japanese bombers and sixty-five Zeros raided Seven Mile Strip and Ward’s Drome. Personnel on the strip crowded into several culverts. The 33rd suffered no damage to installations or equipment.

In July 1943, squadrons of the 375th Troop Carrier Group arrived. The 56th and 58th Squadrons were attached to the 33rd for rations, quarters and flying. These squadrons flew operational missions with the 374th Group and under the guidance of the group’s old pilots built up experience and knowledge necessary for safe flying over the Owen Stanley Range and the SWPA in general. At the end of the month the 375th Group departed Moresby and moved to Dobodura.

Ground and air operations against Lae and Salamua increased in tempo until the early weeks in September when Lae capitulated on the 16th. The Group’s planes were soon hauling equipment and personnel on a regular shuttle between Moresby and Lae.

In October 1943, the entire Group moved to Australia. Headquarters and the 6th, 22nd and 33rd Squadrons went to Townsville and the 21st Squadron to Brisbane. The 33rd made a complete exchange of equipment with the 41st Troop Carrier Squadron, 317th Troop Carrier Group at Townsville. They in turn moved into our area at Moresby, taking over the equipment left by the 33rd. Although still under the administrative control of the 5th Air Force, the Group was placed under the operational control of the Directorate of Air Transport.

A heavy schedule of operations was undertaken by the Group, and men and equipment were moved in a steady flow to all parts of Australia, especially Darwin and other West Australian military establishments. Another shuttle schedule was made between Morseby and Townsville. To the Group also fell the task of ferrying personnel from Moresby to the rest area at Mackay, Qld. Flights from Townsville were altogether different than those from Moresby. All were at least four hours long. Here we would take a load to one station, off load, reload and head on flying until darkness or weather forced an RON.

While stationed in Townsville, the number of aircraft assigned to the Squadron was increased.  This enabled us to step up production. Air miles flown and flying hours were almost doubled. This change came without any increase in personnel. Gradually, however, new men were added and manpower problems were overcome. During the period from October 1943 to April 1944, the squadron learned to maintain and operate twice as many aircraft as ever before, and during this period, only one major accident occurred over the Coral Sea probably as the result of bad weather.

On 14 April 1944, the 33rd Troop Carrier Squadron movement from Townsville to Port Moresby began and was completed on 16 April, except for heavy vehicles and equipment scheduled to come by boat. April 20th the organization moved from temporary billets at Hq. 5th Air Force to the permanent base at the old 5th Troop Carrier Wing area. Camp construction was started immediately. Diligent and cooperative work resulted in one of the best camp area in New Guinea. Major Wamsley was appointed Base Commander of Ward’s Airdrome effective 17 April 1944.

The middle of May 1944, squadron operations, intelligence, and engineering moved from Ward’s to Jackson Drome. The move involved hauling several buildings approximately a mile and a half. At Ward’s Drome the Intelligence Department had ample space on the second floor of the Base Operations Building. At Jackson, the space allocated by DAT was so insufficient that it required building. New materials being unavailable for construction, salvage from the old 6th and 33rd Troop Carrier Squadrons was utilized. An interesting sidelight was the utilization of about 30 transient natives to move an old tent floor, pay being in cigarettes. During the month, in cooperation with Graves Registration and ANGAU, a thorough air search was made of the area in which the “Flying Dutchman” crashed 10 November 1942 in  a mountainous region east of Port Moresby. Though there were survivors who eventually reached civilization, the plane has never been located, but another crashe plane hitherto not located was seen and photographed.

For about four days out of the month of July 1944 the 33rd flew back Jack Benny, Carole Landis, and company, to different bases in New Guinea. The highlight of the Communications Section acivities for the month was the opening of its Radio Operator’s Training School under the supervision of Sgt. Ralph Harmon. The course covered radio repair and maintenance, theory and procedure, as well as the use of code. Training included practice in the air, as well as on the ground.

The squadron was ordered to make a PCS to Finschhafen, N.G. Two detachments (25 enlisted me and 2 officers) departed for Finschhafen on 20 and 21 August 1944. On 22 August the movement orders were postponed by the CG, FEAF. Fourteen enlisted men returned to squadron next day. During September 1944, preparation of the new camp site at Finschhafen progressed favorably in steady rain and mud. The parachute department is the only complete department that moved up to Finschhafen.

Between the 15th through 18th October 1944, the squadron moved to Hollandia. The new camp site, at the base of the Cyclops Mountain Range, was formerly occupied by the 21st Infantry Division. During October, 13 new pilots were received in the Squadron.

Capt. Claude Patterson, 1st Lt. Eric Pearson and 2nd Lt. Richard Bledsoe were the first personnel from the squadron to fly into the Phillipines. On the 26th of November, flying a FEAF Headquarters plane, they took off for Palau and RON’d there. On the following morning, they took off for Leyte, remained there almost an hour and flew back to Hollandia via Palau.

On 17 December 1944 a new courier run was initiated: Hollandia – Biak – Morotai – Leyte and return. Toward the end of the year the squadron pilot roster increased from about 55 pilots to 105. For the year of 1944, the Engineering Section maintained 90 percent of planes in commission, and there were 87 engines changed during the year, averaging 7 engines per month. During August through September, write-ups and photos were sent to home-town newspapers of various squadron members.

The much expected cancellation of Australian leaves and furloughs for flying personnel came when the leave ship scheduled to take-off on 26 February 1945 was ordered cancelled. Along with this cancellation, word was received that there would be no further vacations to the mainland. The rest area at MacKay was ordered closed. While flying over Mindoro, W-588 was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire on 16 February. The right aileron was almost completely sot off and a large hole shot in the right wing. Both aileron and wing had to be replaced. No injuries were received by the crew. First Lieutenant Frank R. Miller was pilot.

During March 1945, the squadron flew an average of sixteen airplanes a day and logged over 4,000 hours, the equivalent of 600,000 airline miles. The hours flown exceeded those of any single month in squadron history by 750 hours.

April 1945 was hardly underway when the squadron received its movement orders to make a PCS to Nielsen Field, Manila, Phillipine Islands. The organization was relieved from operational flying on the 7th and the first plane load departed at 0600. Aboard were the advance echelon of Lt. Osborne and four enlisted men with their personal equipment. Their specific duty was that of liaison with Base officials. The actual movement was begun on the 8th. The advance echelon had set up a few tents just off Nichols Strip where the equipment was being unloaded. Planes were unable to land on Neilson since repairs to the strip had not been completed. Lt. Barwick, with the aid of several enlisted men, commenced on the 12th to survey and lay out the camp area. Unnecessary delays  were encountered when a shortage in center and corner poles for the tents was discovered. It was possible to put up only fifteen tents. Requisitions were returned “out of stock”. The shortage was overcome when 144 poles were borrowed from the 91st Replacement Bn. Construction got under way again and six rows of tents, approximately seven tents in each row, were set up. The move was completed by the 20th with exception of three or four loads that was necessary to maintain the small detachment at Hollandia.

Two new C-46’s were received in April. Until pilots became acquainted with them, they were used for transition only. Mr. Hadely, the Curtiss-Wright representative gave ground school for engineers and flew with Capt. Samuels and Lt. Thompson explaining and demonstrating flight operations of the Curtiss propellers.

The movement of the organization to a civilized area after a protracted stay in New Guinea was responsible for the evident better morale.

The construction of the new camp area, began in April, was carried on without interruption. Buildings began mushrooming in orderly fashion all over the area during the month of Mary 1945. Normal operation of the squadron was disrupted by the defeat of Germany and the subsequent introduction of the Redeployment “bombshell”. Ninety enlisted men and five officers had Adjusted Service Rating scores above 85. Of this group, 98% had been in the SWPA since November 1942. The remaining 2% attributed their high score to dependent children. The plan was responsible for a terrific upswing in the morale of the men with long overseas service. For the second time in the history of the squadron, an enlisted man was given a direct commission. Master Sergeant Harry Friedman was commission a Second Lieutenant. The only other direct appointment made was in August 1942 at Florence, South Carolina when Master Sergeant George Conley was commissioned a Second Lieutenant. The excellent record of the squadron’s aircraft during this period reflected his tireless efforts toward maintaining the desired degree of efficiency of maintenance. Within a few days of his appointment, Lt. Friedman was transferred to the 333rd Repair Squadron, 4th Air Depot Group in Manila. Three C-46 aircraft were received during the month making a total of five in the squadron.

During June 1945, “Redeployment and Readjustment” assumed the position of highest importance to the personnel of the unit. The first quota was announced on 16 June – two men, S/Sgt. Preston H. Yawn with a score of 126 an Sgt. Wallace F. Costello with a score of 123. Morale of the squadron nosedived since everyone had anticipated a much larger quota in view of the fact that the 374th Group is the original and oldest troop carrier organization in the SWPA. A total of 17 men had over 100 points. S/Sgt. James J. Murphy, Cpl. Francis H. Emmerich, and Pvt. Orville G. Griffith, the only men eligible under the War Department’s announcement of discharging men over 40 year-of-age, were returned to the United States.

During July 1945, the squadron released thirteen enlisted men under the Redeployment Policy. This surpassed last month’s by eleven men. Of the thirteen men released, three had scores of 111 while the lowest man had 100 points.

One BT-13 was assigned to the squadron to be used as an instrument trainer. On 27 July the BT-13 was demolished in a landing accident when it struck construction equipment at the end of the runway. A B-25 was also received to be used for a food ship. A considerable amount of work was done on this ship. All paint was removed and all moveable surfaces were replaced with new surfaces. Nielson Field, upon which the 33rd Squadron is based became exceedingly congested, resulting in traffic blocks that kept aircraft attached to the squadron from getting off on time.

August 1945 all hostilities ceased in the SWPA. The affect this news had on the men in the squadron was on of relief, but not great exuberance. On 31 August the squadron lost a C-46 aircraft missing on a routine flight from Morotai, Halmahera to Nielson Field. One night courier and one day courier schedule to Okinawa was added. The Japanese acceptance of Allied surrender terms in August alerted the Intelligence Department to preparing maps to Formosa and Japan. These maps were made ready and were used on August 28th when the squadron’s first place flew into Tokyo. This was the sixteenth Allied plane to land in Japan.

The big business for the month of September 1945 was the releasing from the squadron of personnel on the Redeployment System. The aircraft that was listed as missing on a routine flight last month from Morotai, Halmaheras to Manila was discovered on 25 September 7 ½ miles from Del Monte, Mindanao airstrip where it hit a mountain at very low altitude. All crew members were killed. Courier runs to Tokyo, Morotai, and Del Monte constituted most of the flights for the month. So many key personnel were returned to the United States that the Engineering Section was very shorthanded. This month saw the lowest percentage of planes in commission, 63%, because of the personnel shortage.

The 33rd Troop Carrier Squadron was inactivated at the APO 323, effective 15 February 1946.

Some interesting statistics on record flying time, weight hauled, and miles flown by the 33rd Troop Carrier Squadron are: Flying Time, 4,039:05 hours in March 1945; Weight Hauled, 6,951,103 pounds in May 1944; and, Miles Flown, 471,474 miles in January 1945.

1st Lt. Elmer F. Estrumse – 17 Feb. 42
1st Lt. Campbell N. Smith – 1 Sep. 42
Capt. George C. Kimball (Acting CO, Ground Echelon) – 30 Sep. 42
Capt. Robert L. Ward (Ground Echelon) – 7 Oct. 42
Capt. Eugene R. Jackson – 11 Oct. 42
Capt. Eugene R. Jackson (complete command) – 28 Dec. 42
Capt. George W. Wamsley, Jr. – 15 Oct. 43
Capt. Robert E. Carlson – 17 Jul. 44
Capt. William J. Samuels – 28 Jan. 45
Capt. Robert T. Best – 19 May 45
2nd Lt. Fred Zorn, Acting C.O. – 2 Jan 46 to 15 Feb 46

As a unit of the Papuan Forces during the period 23 July, 1942 to 23 January, 1943, the Group was included in the citation awarded under Par. IV, War Department General Order No. 21, dated 6 May, 1943. The citation reads as follows:

“The Papuan Forces, United States Army, Southwest Pacific Area, are cited for outstanding performance of duty in action during the period July 23, 1942, to January 23, 1943. When a bold and aggressive enemy invaded Papua in strength, the combined action of ground and air units of these forces, in association with allied units, checked the hostile advance, drove the enemy back to the seacoast, and in a series of actions against a highly organized defensive zone, utterly destroyed him. Ground combat forces, operating over roadless jungle-covered mountains and swamps, demonstrated their courage and resourcefulness in closing with an enemy who took every advantage of the nearly impassable terrain. Air Forces, by repeatedly attacking the enemy ground forces and installations, by destroying his convoys attempting reinforcement and supply, and by transporting ground forces and supplies to areas for which land routes were nonexistent and sea routes slow and hazardous made possible the success of the ground operations. Service units, operating far forward of their normal positions and at times in advance of ground combat elements, built landing fields in the jungle, established and operated supply points, and provided for the hospitalization and evacuation of the wounded and sick. The courage, spirit, and devotion to duty of all elements of the command made possible the complete victory attained.”


[1] Note that the site Pacific Wrecks has a great deal of detail on this crash, including of the remains of the plane, and details of the survivors:
[2] Note that his aircraft was found in 1989, and remains recovered for reburial. See for example Lawrence Journal Aug 28, 1989.

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