Break Left, Zero!! - 28, December 1943 - The lost files of the Burma Banshees
The switchboard started buzzing again. Another status report I supposed. We had just gotten the switchboard and I wasn’t used to operating it. The little flip fell down again as I picked up the phone. I got things in line and answered.
I can imagine what went on in the minds of those listening to me as they heard my end of the conversation - "Group Operations, Corporal Sechler speaking. Hello, Zim. What Zero? What's the deal? When did all this happen? Is that all you know? O.K. Call me if you find out any more."
Then I turned to Captain Waldrip and Lieutenant Warren and told them. The bombing mission had run into Zeros, how many was unknown, and shot one down. It was either Captain Upson or Major Smith who had down-ed it. Major Smith was missing, at least he was no longer with the flight. Captain Becker and his wing, man were circling the place to try to find him if he had gone down. All this had been picked up on the radio and no report had been made yet, officially. S-2 section came in with the belated information that there had been only two flying top-cover. We knew that but they had the names of those who hadn't gone along and those who had. They wanted names of those on the bombers. We got them. Still nothing definite.
I went to the radio room and they knew something about the deal only they said it was Lieutenant Clower that was missing. Clearly a case of misinterpretation. They said they would let us know if anything came in.
We called Control to see what they had on the flight. They said they knew
all about it and had cleared the fields, but when we called the alert shack it was news to them and their field hadn't been cleared. Control said that Captain Upson was bringing five ships back with him. That left two out. Things were sort of scrambled. Nothing seemed definite. I went to chow. I saw Sergeant Harris on his way back and told him he better get down to S-3 because there were a lot of calls going in and out and he knew the switchboard. I also told him that they said Major Smith was missing. One of the fellows said he just saw Major Svenningsen land. When I came back from chow they told me that either Major Smith or Lieutenant Clower or both were missing. A plane was circling high overhead. The plane kept circling. Maybe it was one of ours and the wheels wouldn’t come down. I asked Captain Waldrop if I could go to the field. He said it would be O.K.
When i got to the field they said that both Major Smith and Lieutenant Clower were missing. They had tried contacting the plane overhead by radio and about came to the conclusion that it was a strange plane since it didn’t answer their calls. It was in some sort of trouble they thought since they had see it drop a red flare. It was flying in large circles. The plane finally went out of sight flying toward the west.
A great deal of talk was flying about. The general consensus was that they had been attacked by two Zeros of which one had been shot down. Lieutenant Darden said maybe the one above was a captured P-40 being used by the Japs to take pictures. He asked Major Svenningsen if he should call Control and have them identify it and if they couldn’t to have the ack-ack boys shoot it down.
"Here comes a ship in for landing, it's wheels are down." It was a long, power-on approach from the east. The ship came nearer, straight and level. He was coming in plenty hot.
No flaps were down. Lieutenant Darden says, "That looks more like Smitty than anyone else." Then we could see it was the Colonel's ship, which Major Smith was flying. That barber-pole would attract any enemy' s fire.
The ship was low and hot. Natives working at the east end of the runway were lying on the ground. The wheels touched and touched again. He was rolling very fast, engine still ticking. Past the alert shack he went, tail-high. He used the whole runway and turned while he was still rolling. The Colonel, just arriving, was watching from the west end of the field.Major Smith started taxiing back, weaving so he could see where he was going As he came near we saw the aerial dragging. Pretty good reason for not answering radio calls. We also saw holes in the wings, fuselage, empennage and one even in the canopy. The tail was especially ragged.
As he taxied by the alert shack Major Smith jerked a thumb toward his tail. Then he raised his hands and motioned like he was rocking his wings and shook his head. He also indicated that his rudder was ineffective.
It’"took flying to bring that ship back. I went to engineering right away. The ship was actually riddled. The left
aileron was blown up by an explosive shot. The flaps wouldn't work. The rudder was shot to pieces by explosive shot and the controls to it wouldn't work. The horizontal stabilizer on the right side had a hole blasted out of the bottom and the rivets on top were popped out. The wings were peppered and rivets were popped out. The guns wouldn't fire because the solenoids were cut by gunfire. A bullet had entered the canopy just over the pilots head, shooting the rear-view mirror to pieces and ricocheting to the instrument panel where more glass was broken. A rough thing to have in the cock-pit with you. A bullet had exited through the right landing gear knee. One had struck a prop blade. I used to think the descriptive phrase ‘a flying sieve' was an exaggeration.
Major Smith, himself, had a couple of scalp wounds from fragments blasted loose when the bullet came into the cock-pit. He was very composed, must have been all the time or he wouldn't have come back. He said the Japs must have hidden in the overcast that was present and attacked at the ideal
moment, hitting the last two ships in the bombing run just as they were concentrating on their dive. He was hit just as he started to go into his bombing run. Probably by luck alone were the Japs caught before they could escape back into the clouds. It was Lieutenant Hardy, one of the bomber pilots, who received. confirmation on the Zero destroyed.
The top-cover and search mission both reported two fires near the Myitkyina airdrome. Only one Zero was known to have been shot down. Since Lieutenant Clower never returned and was not seen after the bombing run was started he is considered a battle casualty, missing, in action. The last contact I with him was by radio when he called to Major Smith, "Break left, Zero.”
Note: This account is believed to have been written by an unnamed member of the Burma Banshees, perhaps Brad Shuman, perhaps intelligence officer Reeder or Bill Harrell. It was located in the files of fellow Burma Banshee member Philip Adair.