Carl Driver of Alligator Mobile Home Park on Taylor Road south of Punta Gorda, Fla. was the tail gunner in a B-24 “Liberator” four-engine, heavy bomber dubbed “Passionate Witch.” They were part of the 13 Air Force, 50th Bomb Group, 23 Bomb Squadron that flew from captured island air bases built by the Japanese in the Pacific during World War II.
He was working for Mobile Oil Co. in New Jersey when he was drafted by the Army on Aug. 15, 1942. Driver wound up in an Army Air Corps boot camp in Atlantic City, N.J.
“The Army took over all the hotels along the boardwalk in Atlantic City and filled them with troops,” the 91-year-old former aviator said. “After basic I went to radio school in Madison, Wis. Then I was sent to Buckingham Army Airfield outside Fort Myers, Fla. for aviation gunnery school.
“The men in our B-24 were formed up in Tucson, Ariz. Then we went to Lincoln, Neb. and picked up a new B-24 and flew it to Hamilton Field, Calif. We left there and flew to Hickam Field in Honolulu, Hawaii. We were there for about a month getting radar equipment put on our B-24,” Driver recalled.
“We reached the war zone at Gualdacanal. We landed on a airbase built by the Japs the Marines had taken away from them,” he said. “Most of the time our job was to bomb Jap airbases at 18,000 feet with 500 and 1,000 pound bombs.
“In the Pacific the B-17 ‘Super Fortress’ wasn’t used. It didn’t have the range of the B-24,” Driver explained.
What was the worst bombing mission of the 44 he flew?
“All of them were pretty bad. We had to put up with Jap Zeroes (fighters) on almost every mission,” Driver said. “Our attack on Rabaul was probably the toughest.”
The Japanese built five air bases on New Britain Island. The area was known as Rabaul. Upwards of 100,000 enemy soldiers from the Japanese 17th and 18th Armies were stationed on the island.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Allied commander in the South Pacific, brought troops onto the beaches of New Britain Island. By December 1944 the two Japanese contingents on the island had almost been neutralized by Allied troops.
“We tried to drop our bombs and get out of there,” Driver said of the raid on Rabaul. “The Zeros would come at us from any angle.
“Two or three times during these missions we lost an engine. A couple of those times engines were shot out by enemy artillery,” he explained.
“By then we were flying out of Negros in the Admiralty Islands,” Driver said.
“Most of the time our 10-man crew flew together, but on one occasion I flew with another crew and so did two of our other crewmen. The B-24 they were in got shot down and they were killed. We got two new replacements. I don’t recall their names.”
If a bomber crew was shot down on a mission, chances of survival were poor. If some of the crew were able to parachute out of their doomed bomber and land on an island they might be at the mercy of the Japanese or headhunters.
Their chances weren’t good.
“If you landed in the water there was a chance you could be spotted by a PBY (flying boat) and rescued,” Driver said.
The closest the “Passionate Witch’s” crew came to serious trouble was when the crew failed to fill their gas tanks in their “Liberator” with enough fuel.
“On my next-to-last mission we were bombing Biak Island northwest of New Guinea and we just about ran out of fuel. We had to make an emergency landing at Hollandia. We found out one of our gas tanks had somehow collapsed and we hadn’t gotten enough fuel,” he said. “We landed in Hollandia the day after the Marines had taken the island away from the Japs.”
It was shortly after this near calamity that Driver and his B-24 squadron were sent on a mission to attack the Japanese fleet.
“We didn’t get hit on that mission, but it wasn’t too good. We lost several of our planes that day,” he said. “I think the entire 13th Air Force took part in that bombing. I don’t think we sunk any of their ships.”
If was shortly after that mission Driver contracted malaria. He believes he caught the mosquito-born disease while he was on Hollandia.
“They grounded me because of my malaria and I was sent home,” he said. “I took a C-54 (transport plane) out of New Guinea to Honolulu and from there we flew on to San Francisco, I think.”
When Driver reached the USA he didn’t have enough points to be discharged. He spent the last months of the war flying in a B-26, twin-engine, attack bomber know as “The Widowmaker” because of the problems crews had flying the plane. They were towing targets for newly-minted fighter pilots use for target practice.
“On Aug. 30, 1945 I went back to Fort Dix, N.J. and was discharged from the service. It was exactly three years to the day from when I was inducted,” he recalled.
Driver returned to his wife whom he married before he shipped out to the Pacific war. He went back to work for Mobil Oil Co. and stayed with the firm until he retired at 55.
The couple wintered in Punta Gorda for the first time in 1977. They have three children: Betty, Kenneth and Dale.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Wednesday, March 20, 2013 and is republished with permission.
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