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The First Daylight Raid on the Philippines: A Reporter's Account

By Lee Van Atta
International News Service Staff Correspondent with the U.S. Fifth Air Force, Somewhere in Dutch New Guinea, September 1

The first Americans to raid the enemy-held Philippines by daylight since Corregidor fell before the Jap onslaught two years ago last May bombed the Davao area at noon today. Objectives of the powerful raid were the Matina and Lacitan Airdomes key defensive airfields for the Southern Philippines.

The American striking force unleashed more than 100 tons of deadly, free-falling fragmentation bombs against those vital enemy-held strips during the attack. Photographs of the strike, which we viewed a few minutes ago after the return from Mindanao, confirm our original impression: seldom, if ever, have Lieut. Gen. George C. Kenney's airmen done a finer overall job of saturation bombardment.

General Douglas MacArthur's headquarters, announcing the raid -- heaviest against the Jap-held Philippines -- said three main airdromes in the Davao area were hit with some 110 tons of high explosives. However, INS War Correspondent Van Atta flew with a force that apparently concentrated on but the two-named airstrips.

Seemingly from our position in the lead Liberator at the van of the whole striking force, and from photographs themselves, not a single yard of either airdrome, and that includes revetements, dispersal areas, and other ground installations, escaped the extensive bombing which featured a veritable hail of explosives.

The whole daring mission, which was one of the longest in heavy bombardment history of the Southwest Pacific, was drama-packed. We fought, or rather, just charged, our way through thunderheads towering as high as 17,000 feet, and then dropped lower to forge through storm-laden skies at the entrance to Davao Harbor. The American formations struck and retreated from the enemy fighter-packed stronghold without a single fighter plane covering us. We battled determined and dangerous Zero and Tony fighters in a running, 40-minute encounter after dropping our bombs.

Finally we lost the foe in weather which unexpectedly became the friendliest thing on, or above, the earth at that particular moment. But it was the drama in our big Liberator which was the most impressive of all.

At 13,000 feet, we were racing up Davao Harbor when from the obscuring clouds the town of Davao and the adjacent airstrips emerged. A colonel from San Antonio, Tex. who was command Pilot of the striking formations and a veteran Southwest Pacific air ace, took a deep and audible sigh.

Our plane's primary target was the Lacitan airstrip and, as we swung parallel to Simal Island, the Colonel gave the order to our left echelons to swing off and strike at Matina which is just outside the Davao airstrip.

The Colonel unhooked his microphone and ear-phones, and moved to the tail of the plane where we could hear him instructing the units as they roared in for the opening bombardment.

This Correspondent was in the cockpit between quite-capable Liberator veteran Capt. Frank White of Bellbrook, Ohio, and Co-Pilot Lieut. Frank Dusty Rhodes of Bakersfield, Calif.

Silhouetted against billowing, white clouds above the target, we saw burst after burst of heave ack-ack forming a pattern of black death in a line with both targets. The bombardment units which the Colonel had directed against Matina took a bad pounding.

We saw one Liberator go down in flames while another followed it seconds later. Nearly every aircraft of that particular formation was shot into sieve condition. White, who was slumped in a relaxed position in the cockpit, heard the signal from Stinson -- bombs away.

I looked to our right Wingman to see Maj. Harry Staley, veteran heavy-bombing ace from the early days in New Guinea, unloading his clusters in nearly-perfect unison with ours. Staley hails from Geneseo, N.Y. Then White ordered me back to the bomb-bay catwalk, where I watched thousands of additional missiles tear into the Nips. It was precision bombing of an unbeatable quality -- not only ours, but every flight which took their cue from Stinson's calculating eye. Meanwhile, on our left, I could see other formations hammering at Matina.

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