By REG ANKROM
Somehow, not one of the 21 officers and crewmen aboard the Japanese Imperial Navy's Mavis aircraft saw the U.S. Navy's B-24 Liberator below.
"There was no reason for them to look," reflected Allie Lymenstull, a World War II Navy veteran from Quincy who was aboard the U.S. Navy bomber. "The Japanese owned that part of the Pacific. They didn't expect to see us there."
The Liberator was cruising northward at 215 miles per hour at an altitude of 5,000 feet. One of the plane's crewmembers spotted the Japanese plane 3,000 feet overhead and flying south.
Lymenstull, a 21-year-old Quincy High School graduate, was the nose gunner in the B-24. His place was in the front turret in the high-winged aircraft, which became the workhorse of the Navy's long-range reconnaissance and bombing missions in the South Pacific in World War II. On Aug. 28, 1943, the plane was on routine patrol over the South Pacific.
After graduating from Quincy High School in 1940, Allie Lymenstull became an apprentice tool-and-die maker at Gardner-Denver Co. in Quincy.
"It was an interesting craft," said Lymenstull, tall, sinewy and still imposing at 90 years old. "It was what I wanted to get into. My dad was in World War I, over in France, in supplies. When the war came along he said if you join the army you'll have a roof over your head and a couple of meals a day."
That's not what the younger Lymenstull had in mind. He wanted to fly and joined the Navy instead. His experience earned him a slot at aviation machinist mate's school at Navy Pier in Chicago after boot camp. From there he was ordered to aerial gunnery school in Hollywood, Fla., where his shooting skill impressed his trainers. A hunting friend chalked up Lymenstull's expert marksmanship to his years of duck hunting along the Mississippi.
Lymenstull got his wish to fly. He was assigned to a PBY (Patrol Bomber with Y designating the manufacturer's identification number), squadron of "flying boats" out of Kaneohe Bay on the east side of Hawaii. It was a patrol and reconnaissance squadron that looked for enemy submarines and downed pilots around Midway Island. The U.S. Navy in 1942 won a major sea battle there. Now it was quiet around Midway.
"There was never any action," said Lymenstull, who admitted his eyes often grew heavy under the drone of the twin-engined plane. "Easy duty. Biggest problem was staying awake."
When the B-24s were delivered, his squadron was split. Half stayed with the PBYs and the other half was assigned to Liberator crews. The smallest men usually were assigned to operate the B-24's bomb turrets, cramped with two .50 caliber machine guns. At over six feet tall, Lymenstull the marksman was the exception.
Its crews nicknamed the B-24 the" Flying Boxcar" because of the appearance its flat sides gave it. More would call it the "Flying Coffin." Although it had a longer range and heavier bomb load, it had less armor, making it more vulnerable. The plane had hair-trigger bomb bay doors that opened if bombs broke loose but also could open if a man stepped on them accidentally. Errant bomb or crewman would be dropped to the surface below. And there was only one exit, located near the tail, which made a flight crew's escape from a disabled ship difficult.
With training over, the crew of Lymenstull's B-24 left for Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, east of Australia. After a few bombing raids, the crew settled into patrols over the Pacific. The distance of their flights initially was short, but fuel tanks added in the two front bomb bays doubled the Liberator's range to a thousand miles out and a thousand back.
The pilot was Navy Lt. C.J. Alley of Wisconsin. To avoid confusion between Lt. Alley's last name and Lymenstull's first, which could lead to disastrous consequences, the men nicknamed Allie Lymenstull "Lyme." The patrol on Aug. 28, 1943, began routinely enough. Shortly after noon one of the crew spotted the four-engined Mavis headed for Rabaul, the main base of Japanese military and naval activity in the South Pacific.
In the bow turret where he had the best view of the enemy plane above, Lyme felt the G-forces push him down on the backless seat as Lieutenant Alley throttled up the four 1,200-hoursepower engines and banked the lumbering bomber right. Lyme confirmed the silhouette as an enemy Mavis, then checked the ammunition belts loaded with cigar-sized .50 caliber shells. He instructed Tillman in the top turret and Lloyd in the waist gun not to fire unless they saw a hatch open and a gun come out.
As the Liberator climbed closer, Lyme called the range to the other gunners. There was still no activity from the Japanese plane.
"I'll take the engines," Lyme said, the Liberator now so close to the enemy plane that Lymenstull thought they could be flying in formation.
"Lyme, don't you think we are close enough now?" Lieutenant Alley asked.
"Yes, sir," Lyme answered, squeezing off what sounded like a burp of bullets into the rear of the Mavis' engine 4, setting it on fire.
"I was shooting just behind the main engine where the gas and oil lines came into it," Lymenstull said.
Another short burst and engine 3 was on fire. With the starboard engines disabled, the Mavis' right wing dipped and Lyme "walked up the wing," with a brief burst that ripped into engine 2 and then 1. With all engines on fire, the outboard panel of the right wing blew off and the Mavis banked sharply into a death spiral.
"That wasn't luck," said Lyme, the Mississippi duck hunter. "I was hittin' at just the right spot to open the oil tank and gas lines so you get a fire immediately and burn out the wing."
Mo Mahaley, the B-24's ordinance man, took pictures as the plane went down, one of them at the instant the Mavis hit the water. The Historical Society has archived a set of the pictures.
When the B-24 returned home, its fuel tanks nearly empty, the entire squadron turned out to cheer the crew. It was the squadron's first kill of an enemy plane.
"We figured that going from Truk (the northern anchorage for the Japanese fleet) to Rabaul the Mavis had some VIPs on it," Lymenstull recounted. But 57 years would pass before the crew would learn how important the Mavis's passengers were.
Among the 11 officers of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy was Major Gen. Yadoru Arisue, third in command of the Eighth Area Army at Rabaul. All were enroute to plan the repulsion of the expected invasion by Gen. Douglas McArthur's forces. Navy Capt. Kyosuke Mizuno had just returned to active duty after tour in the Imperial Palace. His death was said to have greatly saddened Prince Takamatunomaya, the younger brother of Emperor Hirohito.
By that time Lymenstull had retired from Otis Elevator Co. of Quincy after 38 years. Only Lymenstull and two other crewmen of the B-24 are left, and they held their last reunion in Portland a while back.
"Hell, I'm 90 years old," Allie Lymenstull, said. "We're running out of people."
Reg Ankrom is executive director of the Historical Society. He is a member of several history-related organizations, the author of a history of Stephen A. Douglas and a frequent speaker on pre-Civil War history.
Carey, Alan C. We Flew Alone: United States Navy B-24 Squadrons in the Pacific, February 1943-September 1944. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Military History, 2000.
"Federated States of Micronesia." http://www.worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/oceania/fm.htm
Freiburg, John R. Personal interview by Reg Ankrom. March 1, 2012.
"General [Characteristics of the B-24 Liberator]." http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/worldwariiaircraft/p/b24liberator.htm
"Kawanishi H6K (Mavis) Maritime Reconnaissance Flying Boat." http://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=593
Lymenstull, Allie J. "First Tour." Unpublished manuscript, file, Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County.
Lymenstull, Allie J. Personal interview by Reg Ankrom. February 7, 2012.
Thompson, Henry J. "Letter to Lyme, 9 December 1999." File, Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County.