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History of the 344th FS, 343rd FG, 11th Air Force : Shemya, Alaska

Discussion in 'Air War in the Pacific' started by Biak, Feb 25, 2019.

  1. Biak

    Biak Adjutant

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    The following is from the AFHRA.
    If anyone would like me to search for a relatives name just shout out.

    Presented here is the history of the first fifteen months of the 344th Fighter Squadron. Our squadron is unique in the fact that it was activated overseas during the heat of battle, so to speak. We were born of six different squadrons, all stationed in Alaska and the Aleutians. With a composite group to work with, naturally the squadron was slow in cutting its fighting teeth. The youngest of the four squadrons in the 343rd Fighter Group, we were at first used for rear area defense. For instance when the 11th Fighter Squadron was at Umnak and the 18th and 54th Fighter Squadrons were at Adak, we were back at Cold Bay. When the 11th moved up to Adak, and the 18th and 54th pioneered Amchitka, we took over at Umnak.
    However, we are now one of the squadrons providing defense for the western most bases on the Aleutian Chain, During recent scrambles the elapsed time between the sound of the alert siren and the aircraft becoming airborne, has been cut so low as to arouse comment from the Controllers in this area. It is our firm belief that if the testing time comes, we will hold our own with any other squadron in the Group in this respect.
    We do have our problems, however. The inactivity in this theater, the constantly changing rotation policy and the supply situation are factors adversely affecting morale. The improvements we are making in our area, and general progress in the squadron as a whole should help offset this.

    Chapter 1 The Beginning
    In the fall of 1942, a little more than four months after the Japanese attack on Dutch Harbor and the accompanying occupation of the Western Aleutian Islands of Atty, Agattu and Kiska, our side was facing a sort of island-hopping campaign designed to bring the enemy within KO range. Adak, our most advanced base at that time was still "rough" -- mud, tents Vienna Sausage and Spam. The 54th with it's 38's was at Adak, the 11th was at Umnak and the 18th at Cold Bay, The bombers and fighters from Adak were pecking away at Kiska, but the distance from Adak to Kiska (233miles) was just a little too much for effective attrition, and our strategists decided to move closer to the Japs to hit the enemy harder and more often, The plans called for the 54th and its Lightnings and the 18th with its 40's, to move to Amchitka, with the 11th taking over at Adak. But in order to provide air defense for bases to the rear, another fighter squadron was needed, and that's where the 344th was born.
    When the decision was made to form a new fighter squadron, the word went around to the squadrons stationed in Alaska and each of the outfits ( the 11th, 18th, 42th, 54th , 56th and the 57th) made contributions. The 42nd, 56th, and 57th, incidentally, with P-39's and P-40's didn't stay around long. They were up here for a few months got in a few swipes at the Nips, and then went home.
    With this composite aggregation, the 344th got under way. Some of the men were zanies and goldbricks which had been dumped by the other outfits upon the shoulders of the new outfit. Many, however were the best on the Chain and could hold their own in any outfit. These came because they felt that a new organization held better possibilities than where they were. At any rate these were the officers and men who were to build up the steam to start the 344th rolling.
    The Commanding Officer was Capt. Elmer E. Booth, a little guy with the build of a high-school halfback, and a crack flyer. With him in the orderly room were Lt. James A. Callan as Adjutant; S/Sgt. Clair M. Lamb, acting First Sergeant; Sgt. Francis O. Meyer, chief clerk; Cpl. Morris Shapito, clerk; Sgt. Adams, Personnel NCO; and Cpl. Erath, personnel clerk. On December 7th, 1942, Capt. Perryman, a recent addition, took over the duties of Adjutant.
     
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  2. Biak

    Biak Adjutant

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    Lt. Callan, who had been relieved as Adjutant, was put in as Supply Officer. His was the tremendous task of procuring all TBA property. He batted his brains out making up requisitions. Pfc. Goldberg was on hand to draw the supplies. The supply job proving to be a lot of work, the Adjutant decided to bolster up the personnel of supply with some more men Cpl. Martinez went over to type the requisitions. Cpl. Hasting was the Squadron Carpenter and busied himself making boxes to pack supplies in for movement. And to further aid the section, Sgt. H.H. Penny later arrived from the 18th Fighter Squadron and was appointed Supply Sergeant.
    The members of Squadron Supply were not the only ones who were "rat-holing" supplies during those early months. Tech Supply was right in there pitching also. Lt. Anderson was the first Tech Supply Officer. Under him were Sgt. Margrave, from the 11th Fighter Squadron; Cpl. Hau, from the 18th Fighter Squadron, and Cpl. Kesler, who reported from the 54th FS. With one man each from the other three squadrons of the Group, Tech Supply couldn't miss. Their first days were filled with work trying to draw equipment to comply with the Table of Organization for Fighter Squadrons. Several trips were made each day to Air Corps Supply to draw flying clothes and tool kits for mechanics, radio men, armament men and the Engineering Section, plus a few parts for airplanes.
    The boys over in Engineering couldn't bear to sit around and see Tech Supply draw gadgets for the planes without getting their hands in the pie. Their fingers itched to get hold of the newly-acquired parts and slap them on the nearest P-40, needed or not. Their chance came soon enough for several accidents of minor nature happened in November and December. The pilots had a streak of bad luck, and three planes were damaged in November and four in December. The pilots found enough peashooters around to fly, however. Six P-40s were assigned to the squadron in October, ten in November, and fourteen in December.
    FLT. John H. Sutton was the Engineering Officer; M/Sgt. Billig was the Engineering Chief, and M/Sgt. Choat was Line Chief. Choat was an old-time Army man who really ran the line. He chewed where it did the most good. He even chewed out lieutenants when he found it expedient to do so . There was the time when a certain lieutenant held up his end of a one-sided conversation with: "Yes sir, yes sir, Sergeant, Yes sir!"
    The personnel to fly the newly-assigned aircraft began to trickle into the 344th in October. Pilots and ground personnel came from six squadrons stationed in Alaska and on the Chain. Operations personnel consisted of S/Sgt. Robert Heesen and Pvt. Louis Milder. FLT. Kenneth S. Hodges was Operations Officer. The assigned pilots performed 83:45 hours during the remainder of October. November found sixteen pilots assigned, and 365:10 hours of flying time were recorded. The Operations Office was located in the old temporary hangar, where visibility of runway and line activities were excellent.
    On November 12, five pilots were sent to Fort Randall to guard what was to the the future home. Their stay lasted until the 26th. When they returned home, five other pilots went down. November ended with five pilots at Fort Randall, eight guarding Elmendorf, and three on leave, the lucky lads being Lts. Dixon, Guthman and Wagner.
    What a hectic month December was as the new squadron began to train the newly arrived pilots to fly Warhawks ! 533:05 hours were flown by thirty-seven assigned and sixteen attached airmen. Pilots who were on leave returned by the first of the month. Four more pilots went down to Fort Randall on the 10th to bolster the defenses there. Operations virtually ceased in the middle of the month when the joyful news was received about the impending move "down the Chain."
    A couple other sections were getting started along about that time. Communications got off to a one-man start with the arrival of S/Sgt. Kelnoshas on October 29. He went right to work the next day and began ordering the necessary repair equipment. He checked the radios installed in the planes and found that much work was necessary to get them in shape.
    The "muscle mechanics" staggered off to a shaky start. Since no medical officer was yet assigned to the squadron, the enlisted men of the section worked with the Air Base Dispensary where medical treatment was available for men of the organization. The section included T/5 Charles M. Bereis, in charge; and Privates Cjarles A. Pape, Albert G. Moen and Jhn P. Jelovich.
    Thus the 344th passed from the embryonic to the adolescent. The sections began to take shape; the squadron began to function. A few changes of personnel and a few promotions were announced during the last few weeks at Elmendorf. On November 13 S/Sgt. Steiger transferred to Service Unit 1999, Camp Haan, California, for aviation cadet training. On the 18th, S/Sgt. Clair M. Lamb, acting First Sergeant, was promoted to that grade. Effective the 22nd, 1st. Lts. Brocklehurst, Dixon, Waynick and Hodges were promoted to Captains. On December 2 M/Sgt. Choat left fot the States on a 15-day furlough. Capt. Booth took the junp to Major on the 4th. And on the 7th, 2nd Lts. Anderson, Erickson, Sutton and Wagner were promoted to 1st Lts.
    Life at Elmendorf wasn't exactly "rough", so the personnel were quite happy there, many knocking themselves out on the high-priced booze which Anchorage afforded. But on December 15, that providential Uncle known as Sugar Able Mike decided that the 344th was coming of age and was destined for greater things than Elmendorf. So on December 15, they moved out. Destination: Cold Bay, and "behind the front".

    Chapter 2 Cold Bay Days
    The unanimous decision of the boys was that Cold Bay was one helluva place. When the outfit moved in on December 25, the place was still in the process of development and plenty of work was to be done, Runways, taxi strips, revetments, etc., had been rounded into fairly good shaped during the stay of the 18th, but Cold Bay offered very little aside from the bare essentials ("bare" is the right word, too). There was virtually nothing in the way of divertissement and the principal entertainment features were the old Aleutian standbys of poker and black-jack. The nearest shower room was in the Engineers' area, a few miles away. The Air Base did offer pictures now and then but the films were of the Mary Pickford, Rin-Tin-Tin era and anyhow the Air Base mess hall was much too far from our line.
    Thus were conditions at Cold Bay when the 344th arrived. The first group of twelve enlisted men departed from Elmendorf on December 10. On the 13th, one officer and eleven enlisted men followed them. The initial groups were to prepare the area vacated by the 18th Fighter Squadron for the arrival of the rest of the squadron. December 15 saw the main body of the squadron leaving Elmendorf by boat.
     
  3. Biak

    Biak Adjutant

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    I should have added I'll continue with the full squadron history, this is the first few pages. Over 1,200 pages of pictures, rosters of personnel, missions and day-to-day activities.
    Such as how the asphalt plant situated near the airfield took out more aircraft than the Japanese.
     
  4. Biak

    Biak Adjutant

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    By Christmas Day, the entire squadron was at Cold Bay. The severe weather made a second Valley Forge of that place. It began to snow on the 23rd and kept it up for about a week. In order to get to the mess hall the men had to form a single file line to keep from becoming lost.
    On New Year's Eve, the squadron held its first party in the mess hall. Refreshments were in liquid form and were as follows: whiskey, Scotch, and beer. The contributor was Major Booth, He spoke during the course of the evening and he asked everyone's cooperation in making the squadron the best in the Group. He stated that first of all everyone must forget about his previous squadron and get used to the idea that he was in new organization --starting off from scratch, so to speak.
    Everyone must have taken him seriously, for on the next day Squadron Supply began unpacking boxes and moving into a Quonset hut. With the able assistance of the carpenter, a counter was made, plus shelving around one-third of the building. Lt. Callan set up his office in the orderly room. In February, Lt. Baldwin became assistant to Lt, Callan Some other changes in personnel brought in Cpl. Fronsdahl and Pvt. "Shorty" Bowerman. Fronsdahl had previously worked in Operations while Bowerman came from the line. Martinez returned to his work in Personnel, and Goldberg went to Armament as a clerk.
    In February, Supply began to repack what they had just unpacked, because the word came in on an impending move, As they look back on their problems at Cold Bay, they feel that the supply situation as better there than at any station except Fort Richardson. Electrical supplies, wiring etc., were easy to procure. Lumber was scarce but not so hard to get as it was later "down the Chain".
    In the rear half of the Supply hut, the electrical wizards held forth. The Communications Section didn't stay longer than a few weeks, though. They soon acquired a Pacific hut of their own. Their main work while at Cold Bay was to install a 24KW generator. That required a lot of work. Since the weather was severe and the planes flew little, there was little radio maintenance work to worry about. Lt. Richard Alcorn reported in February and became the officer in charge, relieving Lt. Ava Gardner.
    Two new sections were born into the squadron while at Cold Bay. Transportation was one of them. While at Elmendorf no vehicles had been assigned to the organization. All transportation required has been dispatched from the XI Fighter Command Motor Pool. In January the squadron was assigned four vehicles; a 1 1/2-ton cargo truck, a 1/4-ton truck (Jeep), and two 1 1/2-ton M6 bomb service trucks. These were dispatched for a few weeks through the orderly room.
    In February, two more 1/2-ton Dodge pick-ups and one 1/4-ton Jeep were added. On February 18, Lt. J. M. Callan was appointed Transportation Officer and the section was divorced from the orderly room. As soon as the section began to function independently, it had its water cut off because on March 2, all vehicles were returned to Base Ordnance as none was to be taken along to Umnak.
    The other section which spent its cradle days at Cold Bay was Ordnance.That section was activated on January 14. The enlisted men were transferred from the 2055th Ordnance Service Aviation Company, which was on DS at Cold Bay. The following men transferred: Sgt. J. L. Reaves, T/4 L.E. Yates, Cpl. William B. Snyder, Pfc. J. Tomko, Pfc. L. Carroll, Pvt. J.A. Macky, Pvt. R.G. McNeese, Pvt. F.J. Fiore, Pvt. R.L. Mathot, Pvt. J.A. Hoehn and Pvt. C.W. Sheeler.
    The mission of the Ordnance Section is the receipt, storage, issue and maintenance of ammunition and bombs in the squadron. The Ordnance Officer appointed was Lt. L. D. Kauffman. Since the section was newly formed, it was absorbed by Armament for the first month until they were able to secure such facilities as to enable them to operate independently and thereby fulfill their true mission. In the beginning, there was a great deal of animosity toward the section from both the officers and enlisted men. That feeling existed because they felt Ordnance was not an important or integral part of the squadron. Consequently, it received more that its share of KP and detail. Also it was always last on the priority list for working shops. This feeling existed for some time, but later disappeared to a great extent.
    An important organization started at Cold Bay was the "Sun Valley Flying Club". One of the boys, sort of a poet laureate, wrote a deathless work which went something like this:
    "Oh, we haven't any sun here, And this hardly is a valley; And flying is as rare here, As a taxi-cab or Trolley..."

    However, the pilots managed to to get in some flying time, and on those days they practiced formation flying and learned to operate as a team. During the month of January, the squadron had an average of thirty-one pilots assigned and seven attached, performing 288:20 hours. Seven pilots were sent to Adak on the 18th of January for duty with the 54th Fighter Squadron. They returned on the 26th. Two additional clerks were added to Operations and Capt. Robert L. Brocklehurst took over as Operations Officer, relieving FLT. Kenneth S. Hodges.
    Starting the month of February, there were fifteen pilots assigned, five attached, three on furlough, one at school, one on DS, two at Elmendorf and nine at Dutch Harbor. The flight at Dutch had it easy. Because of the very short and hard to approach runway, flying at Dutch was limited strictly to alert stuff. Consequently, the pilots and ground crews didn't work too hard. Since they were there to "protect" the Navy, they were privileged to eat Navy chow (and eat Navy ice cream, and drink Navy beer, and see Navy shows). No one was ever heard to complain about going DS to Dutch Harbor. February was also the month when some ambitious pilots started a squadron broadcasting station, "AGFU", the Friend of the Tundra Termites, featuring loud and lewd programs on a mile range. (?) Without recordings, the station would have folded up. Everyone began to dedicate everyone else a number, the favorite dedications being such favorites as "The Speckled Bird" and "Wreck on the Highway".
    the Medics cut their fighting teeth with the arrival on January 20 of Lt. Charles H. Barnett, Jr. He and the four medical men continued to work out of the Air Base Dispensary. There wasn't much sickness just a few colds and a few cases of respiratory trouble. Food was poor at Cold Bay. However, the morale was good as the squadron was new and everyone was bucking for promotion.
    Major Booth didn't stay around too long at Cold Bay, He had quite a lot of Alaskan time to his credit. (An old 344th sage once said, 'Any Alaskan time is too much Alaskan time.') Anyway, he left in January for special duty with the Fourth Air Force. Capt. Robert L. Brocklehurst, Operations Officer, took over as CO on February 4. Capt. Dixon replaced Capt. Brocklehurst in Operations. In the meantime, Lt. Thomas J. Boyan had been appointed Assistant Adjutant and Personnel Officer, as of January 13.
    During January, the forces 'down the Chain" advanced a few steps ... or at least a step... closer to Jap-held Kiska, moving in on Amchitka. The occupation of Amchitka began on January 12 and the first P-40 (from the 18th Fighter Squadron) landed there on February 16. Construction of landing strips on Amchitka set the stage for a real offensive against Kiska, and this offensive soon began.
     
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  5. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    Shemya is still operational as a secret squirrel listening post. When I was on Attu we used to sneer at the air force guys over in Shemya because of how soft they had it.

    .
     
  6. Biak

    Biak Adjutant

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    Reading though the squadron history it is pretty clear they were more bored than busy. Once they got to their station it was just a matter of 'being there in case something happens'.
    It didn't.
     
  7. Biak

    Biak Adjutant

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    With the shifting of our air strength to the advanced bases, the 344th was ordered to Umnak to replace the 11th Fighter Squadron, which was to move to Adak.


    Chapter III Umnak

    By this time the squadron was moving so often that one of the men wrote something like this;
    "Enemy spies report that here are a dozen 344th Fighter Squadrons in the Aleutians and Alaska. Evidence of the presence of them have been noted at Anchorage, Cold Bay, Dutch Harbor, Umnak, etc."

    The move to Umnak was begun on March 4. Thirty pilots and crewmen stayed behind to make up the air echelon and flew to Umnak March 8. The main body departed on the 4th and rode the high seas on the good ship "Chirikof." This luxury liner proved her sturdiness on the move by rescuing two Navy pilots who were floating around in the Bering Sea on their life preservers. Their observation planes were hoisted on board and taken to Dutch Harbor.
    On March 8, the Chirikof dropped anchor in Chernofski Bay. Squadron Supply took charge of the unloading detail. Lt. Baldwin, Sgt. Penny and Sgt. Fronsdahl took charge of the detail and remained aboard to unload the equipment, while Sgt. Schmitts and Cpl. Bowerman boarded a barge for Umnak to prepare a place for storage, The equipment was loaded onto another barge by the evening of the 9th. The remaining men aboard the Chirikof climbed onto the barge and headed for Umnak, making landfall at 0300 on the 10th of March. The equipment was unloaded and taken to a sorting shed and during the rest of the day trucks hauled it to the squadron area. Things were pretty confused at the time, and when our boys pulled into Umnak (after a memorable and nerve-wracking and blood-chilling barge ride across Chernofski Bay) they found that the housing situation was strictly and completely a SNAFU affair. Some of the RCAF boys (the RCAF operated at various places on the Chain) were hanging around, sweating out a move to a satellite field, and things were cramped more than somewhat. But, as usually happens, the snarl became unsnarled in time and the 344th settled down to routine.
    The day after landing, Squadron Supply was set up in a Quonset hut, while baggage was stored in a tent. A counter was erected by the squadron carpenter. So, in a short time, they were open for business. This time on the line. The supply situation at Umnak was not as good as at Cold Bay. Coal was rationed and there was always a mad scramble for coal the day it was drawn. Sometimes a few would corner the coal supply and it was necessary to call for a redistribution.
    The storms were similar to those at Cold Bay. However, the men were living in tents instead of huts and were always "sweating out whether or not the wind would carry the tents away. Somehow or other the storms always subsided in time so that no tents or humans were listed as casualties. The housing and supply problems remained throughout April and the early part of May. Rumors started to float around about that time to the affect that the squadron was to move on down the Chain. Not wishing to be caught off guard, Supply began to draw pyramidal tents, tent stoves, a 90-day allowance of stationery, and various expendable items. All members of the squadron were issued ruck-sacks, C and D rations, and a special salvage was held as well as several shoe repair days.
    The Communications Section made good use of the time spent at Umnak. A flight of planes was flown to Adak to install SCR-522 (new VHF sets to replace the old 274's). S/Sgt. Kalnoskas wired back to Umnak for more men as the work of changing the sets and getting them tuned was piling up. All the work required five weeks.
    A new section came into being at Umnak. While the squadron itself was activated in October of 1942, there was no S-2 Section until April of 1943. This was the month that Capt. William B. Hubbell, a New York lawyer by profession, came to the squadron. He was the first "working" S-2. Prior to his arrival, SLT Alfonso J. DeLeonardis had served as S-2, but in name only. His duties, for the most part, centered about the censoring of the mail.
    Up until the winter of 1942-1943 the squadrons of the Group had gone along without S-2 sections at all and it was early in 1943 that the word went around to the effect that an Intelligence School was planned for Elmendorf. The various squadrons were requested to sent EM applicants, and Sgt. Elmer Smith an operations clerk was selected to go from the 344th.
    Capt. Hubbell and Sgt. Smith came down from Elmendorf on the same boat in April. In the beginning, the S-2 Section shared quarters with the Operations Office, taking over the rear room in their shack on the line. Capt, Hubbell, who was eager from the word "go", immediately set to work and installed plywood bulletin boards, map cases, etc., and opened business. His first job was to provide information for the officers and men of the squadron and in that way they learned, for the first time, just what was going in the operations against Kiska and Attu.
     

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