Two days before VJ-Day, Japan’s surrender ending World War II, former Lt. Chuck Rauch, of Punta Gorda, Fla. was flying as navigator in an all black B-24 “Liberator” bomber. He was on a night mission to attack shipping at the north end of Ie Shima Island, part of the Japanese home islands.
“Two bomb runs were made at 700 feet on a Cruiser with two bombs being placed approximately 10 to 15-feet adjacent to the hull on the second run. The bombs would produce more damage by rupturing the hull with an underwater detonation,” the mission report notes. “Parachute flares were dropped on each of the runs. The second run showed the Cruiser rolled over far enough to see the propellers. The Cruiser was heavily damaged.”
Rauch and his crew got credit that night for severely damaging or sinking the cruiser and an enemy destroyer. Island hopping since January 1944 with Gen. Douglas MacArthur across the Pacific, he and his crew sank 10 ships totaling 39,000 tons of enemy shipping.
“Our bombardier had an all time high in enemy ships sunk in the 5th Air Force, 43rd Bomb Group, 63rd Squadron,” Rauch explained.
During the final months of the war Rauch and his plane flew alone from Ie Shima Island, within eyesight of Okinawa some 15 or 20 miles away. The 6,500-foot runway was the full length of the tiny island. By the time Rauch’s bomber was airborne it had just about run out of airstrip.
“The 43rd Bomb Group only flew at night. Generally we would try and put four bombers in the air every night spaced an hour apart,” he said. “They would fly to different bomb zones after Japanese shipping. During the 16 hours we averaged in the air we usually spent two or three hours in the target area looking for ships.”
At times their single B-24 would be attacked by Japanese fighter planes.
“There was probably more danger of the enemy fighters running into us in the dark because we never fired back at them,” Rauch said. “We decided it was best not to shoot at them because that showed them where we were.”
It worked. None of the bombers he flew in were ever hit by fire from enemy fighters.
“It was announced on Aug. 19, 1945 that a Japanese surrender delegation headed by Lt. Gen. Torasirou Kawabe would fly into le Shima. We weren’t flying that day, so a buddy and I took pictures of the Japanese envoys when they arrived,” Rauch recalled.
“We met the delegation with B-25 bombers and P-38 fighters and escorted them into the airstrip. Sixteen people got off two white Betty bombers painted with green crosses on the wings and tail. They were on the ground for about two hours. Then all of them flew off in an American C-54 transport plane to meet with MacArthur in Manila.”
Kawabe, vice chief of the Army General Staff, replaced Gen. Umezu, chief of staff, who refused to attend the preliminary surrender conference with MacArthur, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Pacific.
Only one of the Betty bombers flew out with Lt. Gen. Kawabe and part of his staff on board after returning from their meeting with MacArthur. The second bomber experienced engine trouble and stayed behind on le Shima several hours for repairs, according to a story written by former Cpl. Leroy Jasmer of Willmar, Minn. He was a member of the 63rd Bomb Squadron’s ground crew who repaired B-24 turrets. In 2001 he wrote a story about the Betty bombers that landed at Ie Shima which appeared in one of the squadron’s quarterly news bulletins.
Kawabe’s bomber developed a fuel leak on the way home. The pilot ditched it in the sea before they reached Tokyo. When the bomber settled in the water the general and his seven compatriots stepped out of the plane into knee-deep water along a beach, southwest of the capital.
According to Jasmer’s account, the only man injured in the crash landing was a former Olympic swimmer who had been entrusted with the surrender documents in case the crew of the Betty had to swim for their lives. He was dazed from a head injury he suffered in the accident.
Eventually Kawabe’s group hiked off the beach and found two fishermen who took them by boat to a local village. The general called the police. A truck arrived at the village and took Kawabe and his group to a nearby air base. The next morning his delegation was flown to Tokyo where the Japanese cabinet anxiously awaited their return. They brought the unconditional surrender documents with them. The papers they delivered brought down the curtain on World War II when signed 10 days later, on Sept. 2, 1945, aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay by all sides.
If Kawabe’s group hadn’t returned with the surrender documents there’s no telling what might have happened. A diehard group of Japanese military officers, who followed the code of the Samurai warriors of ancient Japan, were trying to convince the emperor to continue the war and fight on to the death just before the surrender was signed.
Chuck Rauch’s B-24 crew
Chuck Rauch of Punta Gorda Isles flew with the same B-24 bomber crew on all 30 plus missions he made in the Pacific during World War II. The crew included:
Pilot: Lt. William F. Croft
Copilot: Lt. Marcus J. Brockman
Navigator: Lt. Charles J. Rauch
Bombardier: Lt. Clair H. Black
Flight Engineer: Sgt. Roy L. Perry Jr.
Top Turret Gunner: Sgt. Louis Steinfeld
Nose Turret Gunner: Sgt. Lee Bass Jr.
Radio Operator: Sgt. Edwin Z. Snyder
Waist Gunner: Sgt. Clarence Brokke
Waist Gunner: Sgt. Felt E. Lair
Radar Operator: Sgt. Joe Dziadosz
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Sunday, April 18, 2004 and is republished with permission.
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