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Interview with Gerald F. Martin [Undated]

Gerald F. Martin:

My name is Gerald Martin. I live in the Kalamazoo, Michigan area. I am a member of the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum, which is recognized as one of the finest air museums in the country with about old airplanes. Many of these planes are flyable, and the restoration center at the museum does a superb job of restoring these precious old planes.

This will be a summary of a lecture I gave at the Air Museum on May the 20th of the year 2000 and also of a vide-- two-hour video which was recorded at the museum in March of the year 2000. The first part will cover my personal involvement and the second part will be a short history of the Sixth Photo Reconnaissance and Mapping Unit and the five squadrons in the group.

Practically everyone is aware of the glorious history of the fighters and bombers; however, practically no one knows about the reconnaissance and mapping planes which had to be over new enemy territory first. Also because of their longer range and higher speeds, these planes went out unescorted, and in the case of the P-38, all armament was removed and cameras were mounted in the nose. These men were true heros who went out deep into enemy territory alone, unarmed and unescorted.

But first a little about the age in which World War II veterans were raised. I was born June the 9th of 1919 in Fowler, Michigan, a small German farming village. All nine boys in my eighth grade class quit school to work on the farms and all nine went into service. There were four boys in my twelfth grade graduating class of 1937 also. All of us went into World War II. One was at Pearl Harbor, one survived the terrible Guadalcanal Campaign, and one became a C-47 pilot.

I was drafted June the 9th, 1942 on my 23rd birthday despite being 15 pounds under the minimum weight. I was truly the 98-pound weakling. However, I did very well on all of the tests and attended the Air Corps Clerical and Administration School at Fort Logan near Denver, Colorado. Then onto Peterson Field near Colorado Springs which was the primary base for photo reconnaissance and mapping units.

On March the 9th of 1943, I was one of the first ten enlisted men assigned to the headquarters' 6th Photo Group as Chief Enlisted Man in the Personnel Section and as Administrative Inspector. There were five squadrons in the group.

On September the 25th of 1943, we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge on the U.S.S. West Point, which in civilian life was the U.S.S. America, which was the largest and fastest ship in the -- in the United States at that time. It held speed records crossing the Atlantic, and because of the -- of its speed, we sailed across the Pacific unescorted. The crew was determined to set a record crossing the Pacific from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia; however, three days out of Sydney, there was a submarine alert. We took a detour and waited for three destroyers to escort us into Sydney Harbor.

There were 8,000 to 10,000 troops on the U.S. West Point, which was the largest contingent of troops alliant in Australia during World War II. Believe me, the Aussies welcomed us since they were next targeted to be invaded by Japan.

There were bomb shelters all around the city of Brisbane, and due to the gas shortage, cars had either charcoal burners mounted on the bumpers or gas bags all over the top. Then these gas bags were filled at -- with charcoal fumes at refilling stations around the city, and these charcoal fumes is what supplied the power for the cars.

We took a train to Brisbane. Then on a liberty ship, part of a convoy in which there were twelve cargo ships and five destroyers, we went from Brisbane to Port Moresby, New Guinea.

The next move was in a C-47 over the Owen Stanley Mountains to Nadzab, New Guinea which is 30 miles inland from Lae, New Guinea. Incidentally, Lae is where Amelia Earhart left on her fatal flight.

Now, New Guinea was the most primitive and unexplored area in the world and probably still is. I was in villages where the people lived a stone age existence. They were literally living on the ground. And, of course, the state of undress was the usual tropical state of undress. Of course, there were mosquitos by the millions and life was very, very primitive for us.

Our next move was from Nadzap, New Guinea to Biak, the little island of Biak, which was in the Netherlands East Indies, or now it is called Indonesia. There were two of us on the plane along with the cargo, and the cargo included a jeep on this C-47. The daring pilot flew low along the coastline looking for Japanese who had been bypassed and stranded without supplies. I have read that there were -- 140,000 Japanese were stranded on New Guinea and that there are more -- that there were more men and planes missing in New Guinea than any other theater.

Now, Biak is a little coral island where a fierce battle had taken place. We set up our tents in this area with all of the trees and all the vegetation literally mowed right down to the ground. We were at a bank, a high cliff overlooking the sea, and we went down to the ocean, and when the tide was out, we bathed and washed our clothes in the tidal pools of fresh water that collected. While we were down there, the natives were carrying all of their belongings, their pots and pans and a few mats, loaded on their backs as they were returning to the -- to the villages just up the coastline as the Japanese were being driven back. And, again, this is the usual state of undress by the natives of Biak.

From Biak we went to Leyte in the Philippines. This is in a 45 ship convoy with nine destroyers and one mine streep-- sweeper. I will tell you about the Battle of Leyte Gulf later on which was the largest naval battle in history.

The invasion of Leyte took place on October the 20th of 1944, and we arrived in the harbor on October the 29th, and we waited three days out in the harbor waiting to go ashore. Now, Leyte was the first place that the Japanese used the kamikaze, and I personally witnessed one of these kamikazes that flew right over the bow of our ship and hit the liberty ship right next to ours, setting it afire. We were glad to get ashore after 32 air raids on the -- on this ship.

Also, on December the 6th of 1944, I believe that I saw the last Japanese paratrooper drop of World War II. Just at twilight some bombers came over and they set a field dump afire at an airstrip just up the road. Then a whole fleet of airplanes, transport planes that looked just exactly like our C-47s, came over, and we could see the paratroopers jumping and dropping from these airplanes by the light of the fire of the fuel dump. There were about...paratroopers that landed. They did do some damage at the airfield; however, they were soon eliminated.

Then a couple of weeks after the landing, we had weeks of rain. Practically all vehicles could not operate except track vehicles and very, very essential vehicles that tried to get through. Water buffalo were put into service to deliver supplies to the artillery units that were not able to be reached by wheeled vehicles. I again have read that there were 56,000 Japanese that were lost on Leyte Island.

On May the 1st of 1945, in a C-46, we moved to Clark Field on Luzon in the Philippines. While at Clark Field, I saw central Manila almost totally destroyed, and I have read that the Japanese lost 300,000 troops in the Philippines.

On May the 20th of 1945, our group took an LST to Okinawa, and here I saw two historical events. On August the 6th of 1945, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. I was on an inspection down to the 25th Squadron. I was working with First Sergeant Torre, and someone said that -- told Torre that there was -- some interesting pictures were coming out of the -- down at the photo lab. So as I remember it, there were six of us standing around the table right next to the dryer as these large area photos were coming out, and these were pictures of Hiroshima after the bomb had been dropped. I believe that these were the first pictures after the bomb dropping. I have no way of proving this; however, the intelligence officer did not know what these pictures were and he was standing right there, and also I have read that the pilots did not know what they had taken until four hours after they landed. Also the group history states that these pictures were the first pictures that were used to evaluate the extent of the destruction. Therefore, I believe that I saw the most historical pictures that were ever taken on the face of this earth. Certainly, they changed the world.

On August the 14th of 1945, Japan surrendered. On August the 19th, I was standing on a bluff on Okinawa looking to the west to the little island of Ie Shima just off the coast of Okinawa. By agreement, two B-25s and sixteen P-38s escorted two Betty bombers which contained the official delegation of Japanese. They landed at Ie Shima and there they transferred to a C-54, and they flew down to Manila to meet General MacArthur to arrange the surrender proceedings which took place on the Battleship Missouri on September the 2nd of 1945.

From Okinawa we went to Tokyo, Japan on an LST, landing ship tank. We landed at Yokohama on September the 27th of 1945. We drove through Yokohama and Tokyo, and both of these cities had been burnt practically to the ground. At least one-half of each of the cities had been burnt to the ground. And here I witnessed Japanese hunting for little scraps of wood or little pieces of sheet metal that had been left by the fires, and they were attempting to build little shelters for themselves.

Now, the 8th Squadron had been over since -- the 8th Squadron was a member of our group, and they had been over since April of 1942, and so they had been over much longer than the rest of the group. Now, remember, these fellows had families. They had had no leaves. There were no phone conversations back home and mail was late, and they had been overseas all of this time. Now, they did not want to become part of the army of occupation, so the first day they went to 5th Air Force and Far Eastern Air Forces and received the same answer. Well, everyone has just arrived. No replacement depo has been set up to return anyone back to the States. The next day they went to MacArthur's headquarters, went to the Inspector General's Office and told their story. The Inspector General was -- was literally furious. He said that our group should not have been burrowed up to Japan. We should have stayed back at Okinawa and been sent back to the States from there. So in two days' time they flew -- on orders from MacArthur's headquarters, they flew a replacement depo up from Manila to a little Japanese airfield west of Tokyo.

I was fortunate to be a member of the first group to be processed by this replacement depo. On October the 6th of 1945, I left Japan after being in Japan only nine days. Also, I just found out two years ago why we received such a huge reception when we sailed into San Francisco Harbor. There were two cruise ships with banners on them, "Welcome Home." There were crowds on the cruise ships waving at us. There were bands playing, whistles were blowing, and fire boats were spraying water. I just found out two years ago that this was the first ship to return troops from Japan back to the United States. How different this was from our secret departure more than two years previously.

Now a little history of the 6th Group. Just a few pages have been written about the group, so I have secured the following from many sources and I believe that it is correct. A book should have been written about the group which was truly a pioneer unit. The group had five squadrons, the 8th, which went over in April of 1942, and the other four squadrons came over with the group headquarters. The 8th Squadron, the 25th Squadron, 26th Squadron and 36th Squadron flew P-38s, and the 20th Squadron flew B-24s. That is the big four-engine bomber.

All armament was removed from the P-38s, and usually three K-17 cameras were mounted in the nose. These cameras took negatives that were nine inches by nine inches in area. The lightened P-38s with drop tanks had a range of over 2,000 miles, one source states 2,600 miles, and missions that lasted up to nine and one half hours. No fighter planes had this range, so the P-38s went out without fighter escort and had a speed of at least 425 miles an hour.

It's interesting to note that Charles Lindbergh was in New Guinea and perfected methods of extending the range of the P-38 by hundreds of miles. Usually two or three P-38s went on the missions but sometimes only one. About 10,000 P-38s were manufactured during the war, and of the 2,000 photo reconnaissance planes used in World War II, more than 800 were P-38s. The 20th Combat Mapping Squadron used the B-24s, as I said, the big four-engine bomber, and instead of carrying a bomb load, they carried a huge fuel supply which gave them a range of over 3,000 miles and missions lasting up to sixteen and one half hours. They also went out unescorted. From one to seven B-24s were used depending on the area to be mapped. And, remember, they had to stay in overlapping formations sometimes up to two hours over the area to be mapped. The basic cameras carried on the B-24s were two K-18 cameras, and they took negatives nine inches by eighteen inches; very large negatives. The usual mapping altitude was 20,000 feet. Available in-- information indicates that the 20th Squadron was the first heavy mapping squadron to enter a combat zone and developed many techniques. There were 214 B-24s that were converted to mapping planes in World War II, and the 20th Squadron used 47 of these, or 22 percent. There were 18,800 B-24s built during World War II, more than any other plane. Eight thousand of this total were built by the Ford Motor Car Company near Ypsilanti, Michigan.

The group headquarters and the squadrons were always moved to the most forward positions so that the photo planes and mapping planes could cover the next area of conflict. Several moves were entirely by air in the old workhorse C-47 or C-46s. The group headquarters and the squadrons moved more than 30 times. Most of the maps of the islands, especially in the Southwest Pacific, were about 50 years old and were totally unreliable. Accurate maps and reconnaissance were essential before any military operations could be undertaken. These were the duties of the group squadrons all of the way from New Guinea to Japan. They photographed more than two million square miles of land territory, which is equal to one-half the area of the United States. Each squadron had a portable photo processing laboratory capable of a huge volume.

As an example, in March of 1945, a typical month, the five squadrons developed 48,000 negatives -- remember, these are nine inches by nine inches or nine inches by eighteen inches -- and processed 352,000 contact prints. These prints were distributed to all branches of the service, including the Navy, and the engineering units made maps from these prints. It is amazing how the photo technicians were able to keep their equipment operating and their chemicals usable in these hot, steamy laboratories. Remember, this was before air-conditioning. The European war had top priority; therefore, only a small number of men and supplies were -- were sent to the Pacific in the early years. Japan reached its maximum area of conquest in July of 1942 which included two Alaskan islands of Attu and Kiska down through the Central Pacific to Guadalcanal, most all of New Guinea, all of Indochina, now called Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, the east part of China, Korea, and Japan -- and Manchuria.

Two years later on June of 1944, practically nothing had changed. The only area that had been -- that the Japanese had lost were the two Alaskan islands and Guadalcanal and a little of the north coast of New Guinea. So the big push north was just being organized when the 6th Group arrived in October of 1943.

It is important to note that from June of 1944 until the surrender in August of 1945, only fourteen months had elapsed. Japan retreated in a hurry once the military power was changed from the European Theater to the Pacific. The first reconnaissance unit in the Southwest Pacific area was the 8th Squadron which was sent to Australia in April of 1942, just four months after Pearl Harbor. They played a major role in present-- preventing the Japanese from invading Australia. They were indeed a pioneer group. The first P-38 to fly in any combat zone was flown by the 8th Squadron. The first three-plane mission to Lae, New Guinea was led by Colonel Karl Polifka, commanding officer of the 8th Squadron, on April the 29th of 1942.

Karl Polifka -- or Colonel Polifka, rather, was a pioneer in aerial reconnaissance and later was in charge of the aerial reconnaissance in North Africa. The 8th Squadron did all of the work until the group arrived in October of 1943. From Port Moresby and Nadzab, the group squadrons covered northern New Guinea all of the way up to Hollandia and Biak, the Bismarck Archipelago, including the -- the huge Japanese base of Rabaul and the Admiralty Islands. A typical mission was flown by our -- the group commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Cecil Darnell, over Kavieng, New Ireland Island near the big base of Rabaul. He approached the island at 100 feet, just above the water, and then he buzzed up to 6,000 feet to take the pictures. He completed the run over the harbor and airfield and found out that the cameras had failed. He turned around and operated the cameras manually. All of the while anti-aircraft guns were targeting him and the fighters were coming up after him. He then saw a dark cloud. He dashed into the dark cloud and lost the fighters. He states he was never so glad to see a big thunderhead in all of his life.

There were so many outstanding missions but only a few can be noted. At about the same time in early 1944, three B-24s made the first coverage of the Talaud Islands in a 2,250-mile round trip just 120 miles from the Philippines. They expected heavy enemy interception but only encountered anti-aircraft fire, and they returned with 1071 negatives. Moving up to Hollandia and Biak, now the Halmaheras, the Celebes, and Borneo came into range. Now, Borneo was the most important of these since it was a huge source of oil for Japan. And Balikpapan, the city of Balikpapan, had huge oil refineries. Majors Armstrong and Councelman in the P-38 photographed Balikpapan before a bombing raid. Then they flew 250 miles inland and photographed a Japanese airfield. Then they returned and photographed Balikpapan after the bombing raid. The total distance was well over 2,000 miles, and when they landed at Biak, they had 20 minutes of gasoline left. The most important assignment of all was to do the reconnaissance and mapping for the landing on Leyte in the Philippines which was the first island to be retaken. The group had already completed much of the work of mapping and photographing of Mindanao, the large southern island of the Philippines; however, it was decided that the United States was strong enough to land in the central Philippines and they chose Leyte. The group had seven days to complete this assignment. It should have been at least 21 days to complete such an important assignment. The group received both the United States Presidential Unit Citation and the Philippines Presidential Unit Citation for their work in completing this assignment on time.

I will read to you from the United States Unit Citation which I think tells pretty much the story. "As part of the preinvasion mapping coverage of the Leyte/Samar/ Dinaget area, this group was directed on the 17th of September to complete first priority photography of the islands of Leyte by September the 25th, far sooner than such a project could normally be handled. Because of the already insufficient time would be further reduced by three days due to naval operations in the Leyte area on the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd of September, the commander of the 6th Reconnaissance Group decided to dispatch not only the B-24 aircraft originally assigned to the task but also single place P-38s. The 1,535-mile-round-trip flights without fighter protection was hazardous even for the liberator type, or B-24 aircraft. Never before in the Southwest Pacific area had such aircraft gone unescorted into an area where the probability of enemy interception was so great. Even greater skill and courage would be required of the pilots of the unarmed, lightened, P-38 photographic planes for the flights to the Philippines involved a trip of nearly 700 nautical miles over an expanse of water offering no navigational checkpoints."

"The first flights on 18th of September and the flights of 19th September were made under favorable weather conditions, but on the 20th of September, the F-7s were forced by a widespread tropical front to fly on instruments for three hours while the P-38 pilots had to dodge over, under, and around the bad weather to make their photographs and fight their way back through the same weather, remaining in the air nine hours and twenty-five minutes. By the end of the day on 24 September, almost all of the first priority photographs had been obtained."

"To complete the project on the deadline date, the B-24s flew to the target on the 25th of September through weather so severe that no bombing strikes had been scheduled. When these aircraft arrived back with the required pictures at the end of the fifth day of photography, all first priority pictures had been taken. During these intensive operations, engineering crews working 24 hours a day accomplished such an efficient job of maintenance that not one mission failed of completion because of mechanical difficulties."

"Photographic laboratory personnel followed a similar schedule, turning out in eight days 80,000 prints needed by general headquarters to complete operational planning. Thousands of these photographs were used by the amphibious and ground forces during the Leyte operations and thereby contributed in no small measure to the success of the invasion. "In carrying out one of the most important and most difficult assignments ever given to a photographic group, the pilots, air crews, and maintenance and laboratory men of the 6th Reconnaissance Group displayed a devotion to duty that is keeping with the finest traditions of the armed forces of the United States."

Colonel Armstrong told me that he and Colonel Hutchinson delivered copies of these prints to General MacArthur who was pacing the floor waiting for these pictures. Of course, he was smoking his corncob pipe. Now, Leyte is the first island retaken in the Philippines and this is where MacArthur walked ashore fulfilling his promise that "I shall return" on October the 20th of 1944. The naval battle in Leyte Gulf was the largest naval battle in -- in history and it occurred approximately from October the 23rd through October the 26th. The battle involved 244 ships which totaled two million tons of steel.

Another most important mission, Lieutenant Colonel Ecoff was a pilot on one of two B-24s on October the 23rd. They were returning from a mapping mission in Luzon off the western coast of Mindon-- Mindoro and they spotted two Japanese fleets that were rushing to get into the Battle of Leyte Gulf. They photographed these fleets despite heavy anti-aircraft fire and they notified the Navy that these two fleets were on their way. Now, it certainly -- it must be assumed that this warning was most important for the Navy to know that these fleets were on their way and that these -- this warning was very, very important in the victory of Leyte Gulf because Leyte Gulf was a very, very close call and would have been a most tragic defeat for the United States.

The next big action was the retaking of the island of Luzon. At this point the squadrons from the group were scattered from -- all of the way from Lingayen, which was on Luzon, all of the way back to Biak, a distance of 1,600 miles, because the squadrons had to be in the areas where their reconnaissance was needed. From Luzon now the planes were reaching all of the way over into Formosa and China, and, of course, by having control of Luzon now, the supply lines from the Indonesia or Indochina were being cut.

In July of 1944, we moved to Okinawa. Now the major assignment was to map Japan for the invasion. Here our planes encountered the heaviest interception and anti-aircraft fire of the war. On August the 18th, four days after the surrender, fourteen Japanese fighters attacked the 20th Squadron photo plane. Sergeant Anthony Marchione, an area photographer, was killed. He is officially recognized as the last man killed in World War II. Incidentally, three of the fighters were shot down.

I hope that this has given you some understanding of the vital role that the reconnaissance and mapping units played in World War II. I will repeat that practically everyone knows about the fighter and bomber units, but how many persons have any idea or understanding of the vital role that the photo reconnaissance and mapping units played, because without good reconnaissance and mapping, no military operations could have taken place, and all of these other units just waited and waited until they had the reconnaissance and mapping which our group supplied.

There were some other units that supplied mapping and reconnaissance in the area; that's for sure. But the 6th Group, from all of the research that I can -- that is available to me, indicates that the 6th Photo Group played the major role in supplying the reconnaissance and mapping all through this area. And, again, remember that the photo planes went out unescorted in that they -- most often they were the first planes over the new enemy territory.

I hope that this tape will give you some idea. I have many, many pictures to -- to -- covering this whole area, both personally and also pictures taken by the unit. And in case any of these would be of any use to you, I would be glad to furnish copies to you. I thank you very much for your interest in -- in acquiring the history of World War II. It's especially necessary now since I understand that about 1,000 of us are passing on every day. And I am very disturbed about the lack of knowledge that most people have of World War II. It is not being taught very much in our schools.

And I am absolutely convinced that no other event in history changed the lives of practic-- of so many millions and millions, hundreds of millions or even the billions of people on the face of this earth at that time. It touched practically every person living at that time and its influence continues to this day. So, again, thank you very much for your efforts, and I hope that this will be of some help to you. Thank you very much.

[Pause]

I will now add just a little summary. My service with the 6th Photo Group is of great importance to me since I was with the group practically from the date it was activated until the end of the war. I was fortunate beyond hope to be assigned to the group as Chief Enlisted Man in the Personnel Section and as the Administrative Inspector. This allowed me to fly to the squadrons as they were scattered in the islands. It also resulted in my promotion, and I was discharged with the rank of Master Sergeant on October the 28th of 1945. Every moment of my life after service was determined by the war. I was most fortunate and I am thankful beyond words.

[Conclusion of Interview]

 
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