Oral Histories

Mitch Williams

b. 1916

Mitch Williams

We were bombed every night by a single Jap plane. He was called Washing Machine Charlie by our guys. He didn’t do much damage, but all our AA guns began firing and kept us all awake half the night!

My first mission from Leyte was clear to the Northern tip of the Philippines escorting a P-38 Lightning built by Lockheed. The P-38 had no guns in this case, but had cameras built into it to photograph Aparri and vicinity .Then we headed back to Leyte -it was a very long flight. The P-38 had been the most advanced fighter until the P-51 came along.

My next mission was to attack an airfield on Mindanao Island, which is the largest island in the Philippines. The Japs had a lot of airstrips out in the jungles. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they also invaded the Philippines. We attacked the ends of their airfields and the jungle to get their planes. Theyattacked us at night. This is where we started our “March to Tokyo”.

We were flying P-51D Mustangs, which were the latest model. They were the most outstanding fighter planes during WWII anywhere in the world. They were probably the most versatile aircraft ever used in warfare. They can perform so many different types of missions.

The Japanese would not attack the P-51s. The enemy fire came from the ground, not the air. The only tracer fire that came from the enemy came from ships we attacked. Land-based enemy guns did not use tracers because they would give away their position.

We flew from New Guinea, south of the Equator, to the lands of Japan and Korea. My last mission was to Korea during WWII (not the Korean War). I had flown 89 combat missions and 252 combat hours.

Our surroundings at Leyte were very primitive, including the airstrip. The camp was a crude looking place with tents pitched under palm trees. We flew lots of missions to the other islands in the area. We flew many short missions to Negros Island, Panay and many others. There were many invasions of islands. One in particular was Mindoro island. They bulldozed the jungle and built bomber bases. This protected the heavy bombers because the Japs couldn’t come out of the jungle and attack the planes. The island was small, but plenty big enough for several heavy bomber strips.

We flew attack missions against Formosa, now known as Taiwan. Bombers came from bases all around. We had light, medium and heavy bombers. There was a big task force that went through the Suragao Strait. We were sent to fly cover for an invasion fleet that landed troops in Lingayen Gulf. We would fly for a few hours and then another crew would take over while my group went back to base. The invasion fleet was big and consisted of battle ships, heavy cruisers, destroyers, oilers, troop ships and many other types – you name it! We covered them every day for at least part of the day.

This big invasion went around the west side of the Philippines to Lingayen Gulf. They landed a large invasion force there (approx. 300,000 men) and were opposed by 350,000 laps. This was the second place General McArthur waded ashore (the first place was Leyte ).

We took off and moved up there. We landed in a large dry rice paddy that could be used for airstrips. We had everything we needed to support the squadron with cargo planes hauling our supplies. Four planes could take off at a time in formation. It only took a few minutes to get the squadron airborne and on its way to the target. We flew to the China coast across the South China Sea -that was a long flight!

We flew many missions to all sorts of targets in the Philippines; many on the island of Luzon. We were ordered to attack Ipo Dam many times, but it was tough; we just couldn’t break that heavy concrete. Of course it was tough, it was built by Americans!

We would fly up the valley toward the dam, sometimes 32 of us, and hit that dam with 1,000 lb. bombs, but it stood firm. The Japs had caves on each side of the dam and they would pour heavy gunfire into us. But we fixed them, we started attacking the caves by firing our machine guns into the caves then at the last minute we would pull the nose up and go over the hill. We had to time this just right or it would be bad for us. But this didn’t get the Japs out of the caves, so we started bombing them. Not an easy thing to do as they were in a solid vertical wall, but we got good enough to put a bomb right into the cave, pull up over the dam and hear it go off. This was pretty hazardous work, but we cleaned them out.

One thing almost cleaned me out. ..three or four of us left the dam and flew down the valley. We spotted some trucks parked under some tall palm trees. The only way we could fire on them was from above the trees in a shallow dive.

On about my third pass I was hit, probably by machine gun fire from the ground. I felt the hit and pulled up at once. I had lots of speed so I climbed up high enough so I could see ahead and headed for friendly territory. The trouble was, I didn’t know exactly where the front lines were. I couldn’t tell either if I looked straight down at the lines because there was too much brush and trees. I managed to keep a little power in my engine. This plane had a toggle switch for the primer. Most P-51Ds had a push-pull way of pushing fuel into the engine to prime it manually for starting. But I found out if I held this toggle switch up for a few seconds, I would get a burst of power out of the engine for a few seconds. I probably gained a few miles this way, but I was losing altitude pretty fast and I knew I had to do something quick! Frankly I was looking for a bigger rice paddy, but I was already in the tops of the bamboo, so I rolled to the right for a quick turn. I leveled off at ground level and forced the nose down, gear up, flaps down, canopy on for protection from the bamboo. I had too much speed to belly it in, so I forced it onto the ground to slow it down, but this was a small rice paddy. The paddies were dry, no water, and had mud walls about 3 or 4 feet high all around them. These were dry and hard and really gave me a jolt when I hit them. Next came a grove of bamboo trees which I mowed down at pretty high speed and talk about a racket! Then another wall, rice paddy, wall, bamboo, etc. I think I went through three rice paddies and three bamboo groves. The airplane was a wreck by now, but I was still going! The plane went up on its nose and I thought sure I was going over on my back, but it didn’t happen. Somehow it turned and landed right-side-up.

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