|THROUGH THE EYES OF THE PILOT
By Capt. Herbert J. Parker
|The 65th Troop Carrier Squadron had served under General MacArthur from Port Moresby, in New Guinea, to the island of Leyte, where the American recapture of the Philippine Islands originated. In February of 1945, the 65th was based on Leyte and the 11th Airborne Division was in action near Manila on the island of Luzon.|
On Luzon, 60-odd miles inside the enemy lines and still in Japanese hands, was Los Banos University, where over 2,000 American and Allied civilian prisoners were incarcerated. Nichols Field had served as both an American and a Japanese airfield during the course of the war. It, too, was situated on the island of Luzon; but, at this particular time, had been recaptured by American forces.
The Commanding Officer of the 11th Airborne, General Swing, decided to attempt a surgical attack on Los Banos, in an effort to rescue the many prisoners still under Japanese control at that location. His plan called for an airborne attack by paratroopers from the B-511th, plus the light machine gun platoon from HQ1, together with a simultaneous overland attack, by the 11th Abn. Div. Reconnaissance Platoon and Filipino guerrillas. Amtracks (amphibious vehicles from the 672nd Amphibious Tractor Battalion) were to be used to transport the prisoners to safety. The plan envisioned the immediate evacuation of all prisoners and military personnel to the security of the Manila area.
As I recall, Don (Maj. Don Anderson, Commanding Officer of the 65th Troop Carrier Squadron) was quite concerned that, as the 65th approached the drop zone at a low altitude with the paratroopers, we might be "sitting ducks" for an enemy machine gun that might be located on a hill over which we would have to fly. We were subsequently assured that 11th Airborne personnel had recently reconnoitered that particular hill and no enemy forces were present. The drop zone was adjacent to a railroad track, and Los Banos was adjacent to the track; but on the other side. The drop was scheduled for exactly 7:00 A.M., because that was the time of day when the Japanese guards gathered for their daily calisthenics. We were informed that all Japanese at Los Banos would be in harm's way by Filipino guerrillas (allied with the U.S. forces) at the moment of attack.
On the day before the scheduled mission, Maj. Anderson led a nine plane flight of our squadron from Mindoro to Nichols Field. The squadron was met by 1st Lt. John M. Ringler, the Commanding Officer of the jumping troopers (about 140) scheduled for the drop. Members of the 65th and B-511th and the HQ1 machine gun platoon spent the night in and around our planes at Nichols.
The next morning, at about 6:00 AM, the paratroopers put on their parachutes and combat equipment and loaded into the C-47s. Lt. Ringler took the customary position of an Airborne Commanding Officer of a jump, the first position in the lead plane. He stood in the rear of our C-47, with an equipment bundle at his feet. Maj. Anderson was pilot of the number one plane and I was his co-pilot.
After takeoff, we flew to the vicinity of Los Banos in flights of three planes, each flight consisting of a lead plane and another on either wing. Don gave the signal for assuming of the drop formation by a rapid lowering and raising of our right wing. Drop formation involved the plane on our right retaining its position; but, for the plane on our left side to cross over and above and behind, then move in tight on number two, who was tight on number one. The following second and third flights each followed this same procedure. We planed to drop the troopers at very low altitude to minimize the time that the troopers would be in the air and helpless to enemy small arms fire.
As we dropped altitude and lined up with the drop zone, I flipped the cockpit switch to turn on a red light over the open rear door of the plane. At that signal, Lt. Ringler ordered his men to "stand up and hook up." They formed a row facing the rear of the plane, and each paratrooper checked the static line of the trooper in front of him, making sure that the chute was is order and the static line hook was attached to the metal anchor cable that ran overhead of the cabin.
As we approached the drop zone, the C-47 aircraft's were slowed down to enable the soldiers to safely jump. This slowing down was quite a trick: to hold altitude quite precisely and not stall the plane. Doubly difficult was the pilot's job in the second and third plane of each flight, because they had to stay in tight and not overrun the preceding plane but still remain quite close. All of this was to enable the paratroopers from each three plane flight to go almost simultaneously and hit the ground in a small area for easy assembly. Troopers from plane two and three would jump when they saw the 1st man out of the number one plane. Flights two and three would jump when they crossed the border of the jump zone.
As we approached the targeted area, I noticed smoke activity near a tree line ahead of the drop zone. At the time, I thought it was artillery fire coming up at us. (But years later, I was told that it was from smoke grenades, set off by the infiltrators of the 11th Airborne.)
As we crossed the edge of the drop zone, Don ordered the jump. I threw the switch that activated the green light over the rear cargo door. Lt. Ringler kicked out his equipment bundle and jumped. His troopers were right behind him. It was 7:00 A.M., February 23rd 1945.
Paratroopers make a considerable amount of noise when they jump. They are all lined up tightly in a row, and their job is to get quickly out of the plane. B-511th PIR was no exception in this regard, their heavy boots pounded the aluminum floor of the aircraft as they were leaving. As soon as the jump was complete, the 65th regained normal air speed, resumed its original formation and returned to Mindoro on Leyte island. The paratroopers hit their targeted area, rallied to their officers and began their attack on Los Banos.
It is my understanding that all of the prisoners (2,147) were rescued and that B-511th and the Reconnaissance Platoon suffered no fatalities on the entire mission. It was almost a textbook operation. However, there was a fatality -- not on the mission -- but growing therefrom. After we returned to Mindoro, Maj. Anderson returned to Nichols Field for a further conference. On that trip, he took with him a recent replacement pilot, 2nd Lt. (the name escapes me) from the States, to serve as his co-pilot. While Maj. Anderson was away from the plane and attending the briefing, the newly arrived 2nd Lt. was killed at Nichols by an enemy straggler, who had been hiding in a wrecked Japanese plane.
Epilogue: In 1985, the 11th Airborne Division held a reunion at Little Rock, Arkansas. Since that community is not too far from my home in Jonesboro, I decided to attend and as luck would have it, I encountered Lt. (now Colonel) Ringler. He informed me that the drop at Los Banos was a perfect drop by the 65th Troop Carrier Squadron, even better than practice drops back in the states.
|Typing and editing provided by
Leo Kocher - G-511th
Courtesy of "WINDS ALOFT" Quarterly publication of the 511th Parachute Infantry Association