Ret. Staff Sgt. Linwood Brown of Punta Gorda, Fla. was tail gunner in “Leggy Lady,” a B-25 Mitchell medium attack bomber, part of the 10th Air Force flying bombing raids in the China, Burma, India Theater in Burma, China and Thailand in late 1944 and almost until the end of World War II in ’45.
He flew 49 missions over enemy territory, a total of 207 combat hours. Like many bomber crews in the war, flak from enemy anti-aircraft guns and bad weather were their main concerns. Most of the time, Japanese fighter planes were little or no problems.
Brown credits Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s bombing raid over Japan, flying from the deck of the carrier USS Hornet in April 1942, with changing the attitude of the Japanese imperial Army’s high command from an offensive to a defensive war. It benefitted 10th Air Force crews in the CBI Theater a couple of years later.
“The Japanese brought their best fighter pilots back to Japan to protect the Japanese mainland after the Doolittle raid.” he said. “Then our P-38 Lightening pilots shot down most of the young Japanese pilots in our area, so we didn’t have much problem with fighters after that.”
The Last Raid
Brown’s last bombing raid was the one he remembered most about 58 years later. They were to knock out a Japanese headquarters facility in Thailand in May 1945.
“We loaded up our ship and flew from Finney (India) to a British air base on Ramree Island in the Bay of Bengal. The next morning, we flew to Siam and bombed the Japanese headquarters.”
“As we flew over our target at 13,000 feet, it was clouding over so we did a 360 and came around a second time, changing our altitude and air speed. We hit our target perfectly and cleared it out. But we took a couple of holes in the plane from flak. The flak was so thick you could walk on it.”
It was on this raid that Brown and the other four crew members of his B-25 received Distinguished Flying Crosses for knocking out the enemy target.
General Order Number 354, Headquarters, 10th Air Force reads in part:
”13, September 1945
”I. Pursuant to the authority contained in Army Regulations 600-45, the Distinguished Flying Cross is hereby awarded to the following named officers of bombardment Squadron (M) for extraordinary achievement in aerial flight.
”On 26 May 1945, these pilots, navigators and bombardiers led their formation through treacherous monsoon weather conditions, over unfamiliar terrain requiring long periods of instrument flying deep into enemy territory where fighter interception was likely and expected, t, to attack a headquarters of the Japanese high command. Despite the many obstructing clouds in the target area and the evasive action which the pilots were forced to take to evade the intense and accurate anti-aircraft fire, the targets were successfully bombed.
”Although these officers were subjected to intense mental and physical strain on this long and gruelng mission, they performed their duties with extraordinary leadership and determination, completing their assigned task with outstanding success. The leadership, ability and loyal devotion to duty displayed by these officers on this occasion reflected great credit on the Army Air Force of the United States.”
There’s a list of 1st lieutenants who were pilots, navigators or bombardiers, who received the award. Additonal DFCs were awarded to all members of the various crews of Squadron M, including Staff Sgt. Linwood Brown.
Probably the closest Brown and his B-25 crew came to departing this world during WWII was when the incendiary bombs they were carrying got stuck in the bomb bay and wouldn’t drop out over the target.
“In a B-25, you can’t get into the bomb bay like you can on a B-17 or B-24,” he said. “our radial gunner poked two or three of the bombs out with a stick from a port in the bomb bay. But he couldn’t get the rest of them to drop out and they were live bombs.
“So our pilot, Lt. Harry Cuthbertson, said he would dive down and pull up quickly to try and shake them loose. It didn’t work. The stuck bombs didn’t budge.
“Then he got on the P.A. and told us the only thing he could do was land with the armed bombs in the bomb bay. He said as soon as we landed and slowed down enough we were to jump out of the plane as quickly as possible.
“We landed and jumped out, but the bombs never dropped and never went off.”
How good was the B-25?
It was the best plane you ever saw,” Brown stated. “You talk to any man today who flew in a B-25 and he will tell you it was an easy plane to fly. The B-25 was the heaviest armed plane in World War II. We had a 75 mm cannon in the nose of our plane.
“The pilot aimed and fired the nose cannon. He aimed it with a site on the windshield. The bombardier loaded the gun. We had 21 shells for the cannon. I remember the first time they fired it, it seemed like everything in the plane stopped. I thought, ‘This is it,’ because we were too low to bail out. Then everything seemed to start up again. I could smell gunpowder in the ship from the explosion.”
Brown served in the 82nd Bomb Squadron, 12th Bomb Group of the 10th Air Force based in Finney, along the border with Burma. His squadron primarily flew air support missions for the British 14th Army.
“We did a lot of low-level bombing and strafing of enemy fortifications. With the 75 mm cannon in the nose of our plane, we’d use it to hit the Japanese fixed fortifications.
Most of the time when they flew a bombing raid they would take off with 12 bombers in two formations of six bombers each. The B-25H he flew in part of the time had a five-man crew with armament consisting of a nose turret with a 75 mm cannon and two .50 caliber machine guns, an upper turret with twin .50s, a 50-caliber machine gun on both sides of the plane and a tail with twin .50s. In addition, the plane could carry 3,200 pounds of bombs or a 2,000 pound aerial torpedo.
American servicemen who fought in the China, Burma, India Theater of Operations often felt they were fighting in a forgotten segment of WWII.
“The CBI was the last theater of operations to get anything. We used beer cans to patch the flak holes in our airplanes. The aluminum covering on a B-25 wasn’t much thicker than a beer can.
“If we had fighter coverage they were P-47s. We never saw any P-51s over there.
“We didn’t have much over there while we were fighting . We never got any USO shows in the CBI. We didn’t have enough people to draw a crowd.
On the way to India in 1944, it took Brown 42 days to sail out of Newport News, Va., aboard the troop ship USS Billy Mitchell, through the Panama Canal to Melbourne, Australia, Bombay, India, and finally Finney, India, by ship and train. The return trip was a little faster, but he circled the other half of the globe and went by way of india, the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic OCean. Brown sailed into New York Harbor in October 1945 aboard the USS General Black.
“When we got off the boat, they served us thick steaks and ice cream,” he recalled. “It was something we hadn’t seen for more than a year.
“I got back in line to get some more mashed potatoes. I was talking to a bunch of young, good-looking blonde guys in the chow line. This little corporal dishing out the chow said, “Did you speak to them?”
“I said, ‘Yeah.’
“‘You can’t speak to them,’ he said. ‘They’re German prisoners. Don’t you know you’re not supposed to speak to German POWs?’
“I told him I didn’t know that. I had just returned from the CBI. I never saw any German prisoners down there,” Brown chuckled. “He didn’t like it, but I was a staff sergeant and he was a corporal. I didn’t pull rank on him.”
The Army Air Corps Sergeant would return to his home near Calais, Maine, along the Canadian border, where he went to work as a railroad fireman. For the next 43 years he worked in railroading and became the engineer of a locomotive, first for the Canadian Pacific Railroad and later for the Main Central Railroad.
Along the way he would marry Diane, his wife of 48 years in August (2003). They had four children. She joined Nurse Cadet School late in the war. For three years she studied at Whidden Memorial Hospital in Everett, Mass., to become a registered nurse.
“I was raised in the Boston area, but my mother was raised in the same little town Linwood came from,” Diane said. “Every summer I would be sent to stay with my grandparents in the town where he lived. I had known him from the time we were both children.”
After Diane graduated from nursing school and they were married, she eventually became the supervisor of nursing for a 100-bed hospital in Calais, a community with a population of 4,000.
The couple retired to Punta Gorda 16 years ago.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Sunday, Aug. 31, 2003 and is republished with permission.
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