More than 60 years ago, former Sgt. Robert Martin of Englewood, Fla. was a back seat gunner in a Douglas Dauntless SBD single-engine dive bomber flying against Japanese fortifications on Bougainville in the New Georgia Islands in the Pacific during World War II. He was a member of Marine Dive Bomber Squadron 234.
Lt. Ralph E. Dixon of Wichita, Kan., piloted the SBD Martin flew in during most of the war. Martin summed Dixon up by saying, “He was a good pilot.”
“At the beginning, we were flying from Munda Island, attacking Bougainville. We mostly went after the Japanese big 5- and 8-inch guns with our dive bombers. We’d fly down the gun barrels to drop our bombs,” the 81-year-old Englewood, Fla. aviator said.
The SBD was the primary dive bomber used by the Navy and Marine Corps in the Second World War. It was lightly armed with one .50-caliber machine gun in each wing and twin .30-caliber machine guns operated by the rear seat gunner. Its main punch came from a 1,000-pound bomb hanging under the dive bomber’s fuselage and one 100-pound bomb on each wing.
“When you were diving on a target from 10,000 feet, you didn’t have time to be scared,” he explained. “You were apprehensive to begin with, but it was all over so quickly.”
Because their SBDs were poorly armed and slow, the dive bombers flew with fighter protection high above them.
“Pappy Boyington’s ‘Black Sheep Squadron’ protected us in their Corsairs oftentimes,” Martin said. “He was flying cover for us when he was shot down (and captured) on Jan. 3, 1944.”
Japanese fighter planes weren’t a big problem.
“We ran into very few of them because Boyington and his squadron kept them away from us,” he said. “Once in a while, an enemy fighter would break through, but they quickly learned not to attack us from the tail because of our twin machine guns.”
Rabaul was Martin’s biggest battle. He flew against Japan’s biggest air and naval base on New Britain Island in the Solomons.
“The Japanese had seven air bases near Rabaul that we bombed a number of times. Our worst missions were the ones flown against Japanese shipping in Simpson Harbor,” the former SBD gunner said.
“We called it running the gauntlet because when you came in to drop your bombs, there were enemy guns on both sides of the harbor shooting at you. You’d try and get your dive bomber down just above the water so the enemy guns wouldn’t bear on you.
“We’d take a lot of flak and small arms fire on those runs. You’d look out one side of your plane and everything would look all right. You’d look out the same side of the plane a moment later and there were be shrapnel holes all through your plane,” Martin said.
One time, on their return to base, they came in for a landing and didn’t realize one of their wheels hadn’t dropped into position for landing. They found out the hard way when their dive bomber ground-looped and tore up the underside of the plane.
“No one was hurt in this crash. We were mainly concerned about the plane catching fire with us in it,” he said. They were lucky.
In November 1944, he had flown 38 combat missions during 17 months on the front lines. The Marine Corps gave him a few weeks stateside with his family.
“My older brother, John, had just gotten home from Europe after spending almost a year in a German POW camp,” Robert said. “He had jumped behind enemy lines on D-Day with the 502 Parachute Infantry Regiment when he was captured a few hours later.”
The two brothers were able to celebrate Christmas 1944 with the family. Immediately afterward, Robert reported back to his unit to begin training to fly in a SB2C “Helldiver.”
Robert was on his way back to war when Lt. Col. Paul Tibbets dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima which helped end World War II a week later, after a second A-bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.
Robert and his late wife, Dolores, moved to Englewood in 1988 from up north. She died two years later, but Robert continues to live on Faust Drive.
Sgt. Robert Martin of Englewood received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the next award for valor below the Medal of Honor, during World War II. His accompanying commendation reads:
“Robert C. Martin, Untied States Marine Corps: For service set forth in the following citation, for extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial fight with Marine Bomb Squadron 234 and 236 from 2 June to 20 Aug. 1944. In a successful completion of these missions, Sgt. Martin contributed materially to the success of the United State’s efforts. With courage, superb airmanship and an unyielding devotion to duty in the face of hazardous conditions, Sgt. Martin reflects great credit upon himself and the highest tradition of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Services.
“For the President
“Secretary of the Navy
“John H. Dalton”
His other commendations include: The Purple Heart, five Air Medals for missions flown, the Asiatic-Pacific Medal with two battle stars for the two major campaigns he participated in, and the World War II Victory Medal.
This story first appeared in print in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, Aug 26, 2007 and is republished with permission.
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