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 Home > History > A Ride on Satan's Sister

An article written by Robert Cromie for the Chicago Tribune (cost per issue: 3 cents), dated 14 October 1943, about his adventure with a crew from the 403rd. The headline of that paper reads:


Tribune Writer Sees Raid From 'Satan's Sister'

By Robert Cromie [Chicago Tribune Press Service]

Oct. 12 [Delayed].-- In the Liberator "Satan's Sister" I went on today's raid on Rabaul.
   We took off shortly after dawn. The crews and pilots had been thoroughly instructed in the plan of attack and each given designated targets. Their spirits were extremely high, despite the usual warnings to land on alternate fields if crew members were wounded. There was the usual ritual of intelligence officers collecting wallets and other valuables of those going on the raid---just in case.
   After the briefing was completed the men climbed into trucks and headed for their planes. A couple of men were singing---one song starting: "It was on the 31st of May, 8:30 in the morning." Others laughed and joked as if leaving for a picnic.

"Spare the Geishas"

   "Don't bomb the geisha houses" some one yelled.
   "Why not?" a companion asked. "You can kill more Japs there than anywhere else.
   "Yeah," the first speaker said, "but the last time we did they got awfully mad."
    Lt. John E. Bond, 24 years old, of Scarsdale, N.Y., piloted "Satan's Sister". The co-pilot was Lt. Elbert M. Rice, 24 Paris, Tex.; Navigator 2nd Lt. P. O. Van Keuren, 22, Lincoln, Neb.; Bombardier Lt. James W. Smith, 25, Hayes Store, Va., and Staff Sgt. Ralph W. Powell, 35, of Greenville, Pa., the tail gunner. With them and the rest of the crew I climbed aboard.

Moves Into Bomb Bay.

   As we taxied on the runway I moved into the bomb bay and stood between rows of 1,000 pound bombs. We had plenty of respect for the 1,000 pounders---Staff Sgt. Fred C. Whitney, 22, Independence, Mo., Staff Sgt. John G. Shaffer of Logan W. Va., and I. We didn't return to our comfortable posts in the waist until Bond had plenty of time to get his plane on an even keel.
   Other heavy bombers were all around us. I could count more than 50 at one time.
   We gradually got into formation and headed for Rabaul, soon running into heavy fog which hid the wingtips and sent tiny drops of water running on the windows. Then into the sun once more. The morning was all blue and gold and blinding white.
   I went forward and stood behind the pilot's seat. Tech Sergt. H. V. Milarski of 3800 Diversey boulevard, Chicago, was working on the radio.
   As he smoked a cigaret he looked as bored as if riding down State street in a street car.
   Tech Sgt. Joseph A. Gosseaux, 23, of Grindstone, Pa., the engineer, was busy writing down the names of the personnel. He did this with ease from long practice, even to putting down each man's serial number from memory---some numbers containing eight digits.

Planes Fill the Sky.

   Dead ahead of us were nice planes flying in beautiful V formation, and others far to our left still were jockeying into position. The whole sky---well, almost the whole sky---seemed to be filled with hallied planes. It was a lovely sight.
   I returned once more to the waist to check my parachute size and watch Powell and Shaffer test their guns. Far below ---we now were high enough to use oxygen--- were some of the most beautiful clouds I have ever seen. It was possible to imagine them as many things---a threadbare white carpet, melted snow, a layer of marshmallow flavoring, or huge icebergs.
   Someone spoke over the interphone.
   "Are we supposed to join fighters somewhere?" he asked, cheerfully, "because this damn course is taking us right for Rabaul."

Fighters Cheer Him Up.

   A little while later we were joined by fighters, and I felt much happier.
   The bombardier and pilot were discussing how to make the run, and concluded their conversation with "Then go right over Rabaul harbor."
   Shaffer, hearing this, said "Who-o-o-o," and made a sign with his hands like ack-ack coming up and grinned happily.
   I grinned weakly.
   We passed swiftly over water whose coral reefs were amazing shades of blue and green and then over land checkered jungle and open spaces and an occasional muddy river. From an extreme height, New Guinea looks like one of those funny paper lands where the sun always shines, everyone always is happy, and no one ever dies.
   Then we were fairly near Rabaul, and I suddenly developed an intense desire to go home. But I wanted to go home after having been to Rabaul, if I make myself clear. I looked at a river far below and thought it would be possible to walk along it to the sea if necessary. But then we were over New Britain and I began to wonder how friendly the natives were. It is amazing what things it is possible to think of in such circumstances.

Anyway, Chocolate Is Cold.

   Powell and I broke out some chocolate, pulled our oxygen masks out far enough to get the pieces into our mouths, and

chewed them with some difficulty. The only virtue of eating chocolate in these conditions is that it is cold enough so the candy doesn't melt all over your hands.
   A few miles ahead I saw what looked like smoke hanging low along the water's edge. It was Rabaul. By leaning a little way out into the slipstream, I could see a couple of Jap ships beginning to circle frantically in the outer harbor.
From the other window I saw dozens of Jap ships, most of them still motionless, and a number of bombs bursting among them, throwing water high into the air and leaving black smoke hanging where the bomb had split the water.
   As Powell and I watched, we could see one ship disappear momentarily as some sharpshooting bombardier scored a direct hit. Then, as we came over the harbor, I lay down and peered thru the bottom turret to see our brown beauties of bombs drop into space to begin the long trip down.
   Someone's bombs---either ours or those of the plane ahead---landed very close to two large ships which still were side by side, perhaps caught as they were fueling. The bombs made a brisk pattern of near misses, but perhaps even then they did grave damage to the ships.

Ack Ack Discolors Sky.

   The sky became discolored with bursting anti-aircraft fire, which came from a few ships and also from some ground guns near an extinct volcano. Then we turned over the harbor and began to leave the target area.
   Behind I could see the town of Rabaul---which from a height of many thousands of feet looks like a delightful vacation spot---the harbor, where at least two and perhaps more ships were burning with a pleasant persistence, and a couple of air fields, one of which was almost completely wreathed with smoke.
   The ack-ack guns were still firing at the last six of our bombers. Two Jap planes, apparently bombers, and the only Jap planes I saw all day, were flying far below along the shore line as if their only desire was to get away from there.
   Then we moved far enough away from Rabaul so that the only indication that our raid was a success was a heavy irregular line of dark smoke, in startling contrast to the pure white clouds.
   The allies' two attacks were less than an hour apart. The first caught the Japs thoroughly napping and did a viciously efficient job knocking out many Jap planes on the ground, and silencing much ack-ack. The second smash was directed against the harbor and shipping as well as waterfront installations.

Opposition Faint Hearted.

   The Jap air opposition was faint-hearted, their fighters breaking off their attack in most cases after a few passes. The ack-ack was far less than usual. When the last of our bombers left Rabaul, several ships were burning in the harbor and a smoke pall hung over the whole area, heaviest in the vicinity of the airfields.
   As we turned for home, our only worry was a possible lack of gasoline to get us there. As a precaution we dropped off at an alternate field---where we found that many of the other pilots had the same idea---to get a fresh supply of gasoline after a long wait.
   The final stage of the homeward trip was made in the moonlit dusk, a beauty of a night which caused Lt. Rice to remark sadly:
   "I sure could make sweet talk tonight."
   We made a good landing on the lighted runway and taxied to a revetment. The first man to greet us was Staff Sgt. Tom A. Moody of Springfield, Ill., the regular gunner, who had been grounded.

Fond of the Sister.

   "I've been sweating you out," he said. "I tried to sleep; but I couldn't, so I've been sitting here waiting. I think I'll be able to go tomorrow."
   Moody is like the rest of the crew, including Staff Sgt. Henry L. Sermons, 27 years old, of Fort Barnwell, N. C., very fond of "Satan's Sister", whom they have had since bringing her from Topeka, Kan., last May. She had flaunted her beautiful figure---reclining on the side of the ship---on 29 missions to date and accounted for three Zeros. The fact that a pair of panties have been added to her in recent weeks seemingly has not hampered her.
   That is about all, except to report that painted beneath the waist guns are a pair of dice and the words "You're faded." Satan's Sister, as the name implies, is a hot number.