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Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, November 2, 2014


This article is in essence two stories, but one couldn't have happened without the other, and I'm sorry to say, one of them is not a happy story.

Bombing raid over the Pyinmana bridge
On March 31st, 1943 four aircraft of 9th Bomb Squadron of the 7th Bomb Group were sent on a mission to destroy a railroad bridge at Pyinmana, Burma. The squadron were in B-24's, and as they approached Magwe they had the bad luck to stumble across a flight of Japanese fighters.

The thirteen KI-43-II's (nearly all allied accounts claim Zero's) where from the 64th Sentai, and were flying on a transport mission to Chittagong. Leading the flight was the Japanese ace Captain Yasuhiko Kuroe. Cpt Kuroe and another plane targeted one of the B-24's and pressed home their attack, despite the ferocious defensive fire put up by the bombers. The bomber they targeted began to drop out of formation, whilst on fire. Inside that B-24 the co-pilot, Lieutenant Owen J. Baggett manned the dorsal gun while the rest of the crew struggled to put the flames out. However it was obvious they were doomed. The pilot Lt. Lloyd Jensen ordered the crew to bail out.
Lt Baggett
 As they hung in their parachutes Cpt Kuroe and his wingman began to strafe the helpless bomber crew. Lt Baggett was wounded in the arm by the attack. With no other choice he palmed his Colt M1911 pistol and hung limp in his harness, acting dead. Cpt Kuroe brought his fighter round, and throttled back. As he passed the group he opened his canopy, and was flying at almost stall speed.
As he passed Lt. Baggett the American raised his pistol and fired four times. The Japanese fighter peeled away. Lt Baggett and Lt Jensen were both captured. At the time they were the first B-24 pilots captured by the Japanese, and were of special interest. Eventually they were released from solitary confinement and put in with the general population of POW's.
Col Melton
Here the second story starts. Colonel Harry Ripley Melton Jr, was the commander of a squadron of A-36's (dive bomber versions of the P-51). On a mission on the 29th of November 1943, about twenty miles east of the Bay of Bengal, his plane suddenly lost power, and he was forced to bail out at 1000 ft. He too was captured, and while in the same camp as Lt Baggett they got talking. Lt Baggett told of his story, and how he got there. At which point Col. Melton confirmed the story by saying they had found a crashed Japanese plane, the pilot had been thrown out of the airframe by the force of the impact. The Japanese pilot had a single .45 gunshot wound to the head.

Unfortunately there's no other supporting evidence. Even Lt Baggett’s own remarkably slim account when he was official historian for the 9th Bomb Squadron fails to mention the details. Was it just a tale to raise morale while in a POW camp? Did Cpt Kuroe merely pull away in surprise? Or did Lt Baggett make a one million shot? Shots with longer odds have happened before.

Lt Baggett remained a POW until the end of the war. After liberation, instead of returning to his peace time job on Wall Street he decided to stay in the Air Force, and retired a colonel. He died at the age of 85 in San Antonio, Texas in 2006.
Rakuyo Maru
For Col. Melton a much unhappier fate awaited. On 6th of September 1944 he was sent to Japan. He was the only American, in 1318 POW's on the Rakuyo Maru. Six days into the journey the convoy was decisively attacked by US submarines. Sinking, the ship turned into hell and the full horrific story can be read here. Col. Melton was lost at sea, adrift in the Pacific ocean.

Image credits:
Wikipedia, The Command Post (Jan 26th, 1945), Flymag and St Petersburg Times (Dec 5th, 1943)