"WHATCHA GONNA DO WITH A DRUNKEN PILOT?"
"JACK! GET UP! WE HAVE A MISSION IN ABOUT AN HOUR!", the voice yelled.
My head pounded, furiously. I pried one eye open. The "powerful" glare of the single, twenty five watt bulb which lit my pyramidal tent sent excrutiating shards of pain through my head. Why was Ed Larner screaming at me? More to the point, what was he screaming at me?
"Godammit, Ed, we're stood down.", I whimpered, hopefully.
"Don't gimme any shit!" he shot back. "Get down to the operations shack in five minutes for briefing!" Then he was gone.
We had been stood down and celebrated, gloriously, in Club Lakanuki until three or four in the morning - THIS morning. It was now 4:30AM - dark as hell.
I didn't remember much between that rude awakening and starting engines in my assigned A-20. I had a very hazey recollection about the briefing. I was number three of four ships - no lights except the blue formation lights for joinup. Our bomb load, was twenty pound para-frags. Taxiing out, I cursed the crew chief for leaving a red light on in the cockpit. His fault, not mine. I took the runway after checking the mags and pushed both throttles open. Thank God I remembered take-off flaps and to close the upper cowls. The bird seemed strangely sluggish, but finally broke ground. Simultaneously, I heard or felt an explosion. In a split second, it dawned on me what the red light was all about. I had left my bomb bay doors open. My God, had I dropped a bomb on the runway! With much relief, I realized that I wouldn't be alive to think anything if that were the case. I must have blown a tire (this, later, proved to be the case). I closed the bomb bay doors, solving the red light problem (sorry, crew chief) and climbed in a right turn searching for the blue lights of number two in the formation so I could join up. Blue lights! Belatedly, I turned mine on. Minutes later I thought I saw them. Perhaps I was finally starting to sober up. Yes, I had them spotted. Two had joined on lead and number four is spread wider. Was there another set of lights close to four! Oh, well, I had plenty of room to join in my assigned spot ..
As I slid into the number three spot, echelon to the right, I found myself fighting with number four for the same spot. I held tight and he finally gave up, and took position on my right wing.
We climbed in a northerly direction to clear the Owen Stanley range. Darkness had started to pale. I was beginning to see a faint outline of the other airplanes. My eyes jumped to the right fuselage of number two, where there seemed to be a faint orange "meatball". Had I joined a Japanese formation. No, wait a minute. Those birds looked like Australian Beaufighters. As the concentric circles of the RAAF took form, I was reassured. I was sobering up. Peeking sheepishly to my right, I saw TWO Beaufighters on my own wing. I had, indeed, joined up with a bunch of Aussies, usurping the position of the Aussie leading the last element. Maybe it was my imagination, but that pilot seemed a little disgusted.
We started our descent. I saw that our target must be the Japanese airdrome at Lae, since we were over the Markham Valley, following the river toward the ocean. Then I spotted Lae, dead ahead. The Beaufighters broke formation and their attack pattern was one of the most amazing sights I had ever seen. They hit the target from all directions, looking like a bunch of bloodthirsty butterflies. Their mission was straffing, only and strafe they did. When they finally tired of this sport, they pulled out to sea and rejoined. Seeing that they were finished, I dove for a lower altitude and initiated my own attack, straffing and dropping my parachute fragmention bombs along the side of the runway which seemed to have some aircraft on it. As I pulled away, I heard my gunner kick in his own guns. Apparently, he wasn't too bothered by this whole mysterious string of events.
Having lost sight of the Beaufighters, I returned to Port Moresby by myself. I decided to land at four mile strip as it was wider and longer than Kila Kila (my own strip) and I might have had a blown tire to consider. I made a pass, got confirmation that it was my left tire, and set up my approach. Completely sober by now, I made one of the lightest touchdowns of my life, holding the left gear off until the last second before lowering it and the nosewheel to the ground. Larner came to get me in a jeep and chewed my ass most of the way back to Kila Kila. My gunner stayed quiet, and listened to this interesting lecture. Larner finally grinned and commented that I must have been as stewed as he had been.
Sometime after debriefing, we got a call from (among others) the Aussies wanting to know who the Yank was who didn't know a Beaufighter from a Boston.
This mission was flown 29th November, 1942, by then 1st Lt John F Taylor, 89th Attack Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group, then stationed in New Guinea. The leader of the Beaufighter flight was "Black Jack" Walker, Commander of 30 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force.
This account was signed and verified 15 November 1988 by Brian Walker and Jack Taylor