Mitchells then set out for the seemingly endless journey passing through Christmas,

Canton and Fiji Islands to Townsville, Australia, where the aircraft received further

combat modifications. While in Australia,

Lt. Werhand and his comrades managed

to get some rest and explore their new surroundings. “When I went on R&R to Sydney, it was so much like America. We had

flown a stripped-down currier B-25 named ‘Fat Cat’ used for crew rotations. The

Australians were so thankful that we were

in their country. I was in Sydney for about

three weeks. The beer was good, and you

could get liquor quite easily. We’d bring it

back with us. The food was great with the

steak and eggs they offered us. We even

had Christmas dinner with several women.

It was so much like life back in the States.”

The last segment of the trip consisted of

missions, even playing the role of bombardier. Each squadron had about 14 aircraft

and a group would consist of about 45 to 50

bombers. One squadron would stand down

for maintenance unless it was a maximum


Eye for an Eye

Our briefings would normally start around

dusk however times could change based

on new information received from Fifth Air

Force intelligence. All of the aircrews that

were going to fly out were assembled. The

Lieutenant Colonel would give us the target

briefing, and then came the weather and

intelligence men. Intel would tell us where

to find the enemy guns and what types they


We’d usually get up the next morning at

five o’clock after someone yelled out ‘The

There were many times when we hit the enemy troops,

that were out in the open and running for their lives.

We strafed and killed a lot of them. You could see their

bodies literally ‘evaporate’ after being hit with the .50

caliber slugs.

being sent, minus their aircraft, to Port

Moresby, New Guinea and onward to the island of Biak. In October 1944 the war in the

Pacific reached its crescendo as Admiral

Bill Halsey sent one of his carrier groups

to bomb the Japanese airbases on Formosa and Okinawa as preparations were

made to land US troops in Leyte Gulf in the

Philippines. Werhand’s group reached Biak

to begin their air operations and the “Sun

Setters” were reunited with their Mitchells.

As General Douglas MacArthur set foot on

the island of Luzon during his triumphant

return to the Philippines, Erwin and his fellow pilots continued to adjust to their new


“Our airfield was made up of tents and the

living conditions were not good at all. The

food we were served was all dehydrated

and tasted bad. Many times, we’d leave the

mess hall and just crack open a coconut.

Things got so bad that we grabbed our

Colts 45 and went hunting for Wallabies.

We took Atabrin, these yellow-colored pills

to fight off malaria since we didn’t have any

Quinine. You could tell who were taking

it since they got yellow eyeballs. There

really wasn’t much recreation apart from

a few people playing baseball. Music was

played over the loudspeakers from Armed

Forces Radio. We got mail pretty often, however it was always late.

The new pilots that arrived on Biak were

assigned to combat pilots for initial combat orientation. I flew as copilot on a few

August 2022

Red Coats are coming!’ After breakfast we

would go out and meet the aircraft crew

chief and go over the maintenance paperwork. Our fuel tanks were then topped off

and all other fluids checked. The rest of my

crew was then told what the target of the

day was, and we all sat and sweated it out

before takeoff.

I always packed my .45 pistol and

toothbrush for each mission. We were flying over enemy territory so often, that we

feared of being shot down. That scared the

men the most, but I handled it pretty well.

The last thing I wanted to do was to go down

and be captured. We knew what the Japanese were doing to Allied prisoners and

heard about the decapitations. ‘Tokyo Rose’

also gave us the latest propaganda over the

radio, and the bounties on all of our heads

for 10,000 dollars each. Luckily, most of my

flying time with B-25 was over water and

I never had any apprehension about capture, I felt quite safe in my aircraft.”

The Fifth Air Force’s Mitchells continued

to provide tactical air support in the Allied

drive to clear the Philippine islands of Japanese resistance. The 823rd BS was then

deployed to the island of Morotai in the

Dutch East Indies, closer to the action and

within the range of enemy fighters. “Eye for

an Eye” became the golden rule between

skirmishes Werhand’s group and the Japanese had during the night.

“During our assignment on Morotai, we

got bombed by one or two Japanese air-

craft every night. The Jap’s wanted us to

keep awake. So, then we went over their

airfields and dropped a couple of bombs

on them every 15 to 20 minutes. It was my

turn one night to return the favor, and sure

enough I got lost! Our airstrip did not have

a radio beam to home in on. Later the radio at the base came up and I found my way

home. Just as I touched down on the field,

a Jap plane appeared and dropped a string

of bombs across the center of the runway.

I burned the tires and rims right of my B-25

and stopped right in the nick of time. We

heard that some of our aircraft suffered light damage. Luckily this was the only time

I had to face enemy aircraft. Our low-level

flying protected us from interception.”

The movie name

The rugged bombers pressed home their

attacks on Japanese shipping and enemy

occupied territory. Werhand and his new

faithful mount, affectionately named, “Bugs

Bunny” soldiered onward into the winter of

1944. The development of effective tactics

ensured the 823rd BS continued success

and above all, survival during the Philippine Campaign. Werhand described his daring raids on enemy troop concentrations

Not very good quality photograph of Erwin Werhand in

front of Buggs Bunny, the Mitchell with which he spent

a significant part of his combat career in the Pacific.

INFO Eduard