Author Topic: "Shwab's Wagon" - The Story of an A-19 Viking  (Read 3724 times)

Online Logan Hartke

  • High priest in the black arts of profiling...
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"Shwab's Wagon" - The Story of an A-19 Viking
« on: September 23, 2013, 07:04:16 AM »
There was such a long backstory here that I decided to actually make a post for it over here and just link to this in my regular thread.  Like a Whif modeler that kitbashes, I've pieced it together from a variety of sources and modified it to suit the profile, but 95% of it is true.

This A-19B Viking was one of a batch originally ordered by the Navy but transferred to the USAAF and given the serial 41-15819. It was then assigned to Project "X" on January 2, 1942, disassembled on January 8, 1942, and transported with the Pensacola Convoy to Brisbane. It was reassembled and assigned to the 3rd Bombardment Group, 8th Bombardment Squadron. On 10 March, the 3rd Bombardment Group moved from its temporary camp in the Ascot Park racetrack outside Brisbane to Charters Towers on the north coast of Australia. On 31 March, the air echelon flew to Port Moresby and the 8th was again at war.

While operating from 7-Mile Drome at Port Moresby, the aircraft was primarily flown by Captain Virgil Schwab. Capt. Schwab had the ground crew paint “Schwab’s Wagon” on the side of the aircraft in big bubble letters, but the soldier that painted the marking on the aircraft misspelled Schwab’s name, leaving out the “c”. Schwab took it with humor, however, and decided to leave “Shwab’s Wagon” as it was.

On the 29th of July, intelligence reports revealed that an enemy convoy of eight ships was 50 miles north of Buna. Major Rogers was eager to contest their right to be there, therefore a flight of eight A-19s took off from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby, but one A-19 aborted the mission. It was not unusual. The few American aircraft still flying in the Southwest Pacific were all showing the strain of relentless days of combat against an overwhelming and well-supplied enemy air force. Battle-damage alone made it all too common for any flight to be quickly pared down, more as a result of equipment failure than as a result of enemy combat. The remaining seven were escorted by 35th FG, 41st FS P-39s flying top cover, and 8th FG, 80th FS flying close escort. They were led by Maj. Rogers and consisted of Capt. Schwab, Lts. Casella, Hill, Wilkins, Dean and Parker and their respective gunners. The formation proceeded on its objective to bomb the Japanese transports 20 miles north of Gona, 1 1/4 miles from shore. The A-19s dive-bombed in two waves.

The convoy was being protected by A6M2 Zeros of the Tainan Kokutai which attacked the A-19s as they started their dives. Although the fighter escort did not come down with the dive bombers, Maj. Rogers felt it his duty to attack, even in the face of many Zeros. Diving at near water-level into the enemy guns, Maj. Rogers felt his own airplane begin to shudder when his gunner, Sergeant Robert Nichols, opened up with the 30-caliber machine guns from his position behind the pilot. The two dozen Japanese Zeros of the Tainan Kokutai tore through the 8th Squadron formation like sharks in a frenzy, chewing the old A-19s into shreds. In a flash of fire Maj. Rogers' lead dive bomber rolled over and plunged into the sea. He and Sgt. Nichols were the first casualties in what would become the darkest day in 8th Squadron history.

Heedless of the fusillade reaching out for them from the enemy ships below, or the Zeros that swarmed in to devour them from above, the six surviving pilots pushed the attack. On Maj. Rogers wing, Lt. Wilkins' A-19 dove on a 6000-ton vessel and scored a direct hit with one 500-pound bomb, destroying the first element of the advancing armada. The American pilot, his bomb rack now empty, turned towards shore in a running battle for the clouds and safety. Capt. Virgil Schwab in "Shwab's Wagon" dove on another vessel and felt his dive-bomber coming apart as, no longer capable of flight, it careened into the sea to forever claim his body and that of Sgt. Philip Childs, his gunner. Two more A-19s erupted and Lts. Robert Cassels and Claude Dean went down along with their gunners, Sgts. Loree LeBoeuf and Alan LaRocque.

In mere seconds Lt. John Hill had witnessed more than half of the flight going down in flames. Then his own Viking shook beneath a hail of incoming enemy fire. Ignoring the danger Hill dove on an enemy ship. Machine gun bullets from the ships below and angry Zeros above tore through metal and flesh, and behind him he heard a cry of pain from his own gunner, Ralph Sam. The young sergeant slumped to the floor of his battle station, his right hand and arm nearly severed. Sgt. Sam's blood splattered the fuselage as Lt. Hill released his bombs and then climbed quickly to clear the enemy mast and turn towards the distant coast of New Guinea. In the A-19 behind Lt. Hill, Lt. Joseph Parker released his bomb while Sgt. Franklyn Hoppe fought furiously for survival as his pilot finished the mission and likewise turned to race for home. The pilots of the second wave had damaged a destroyer and several freighters. The Kotoku Maru was hit once at the No. 5 hatch, forcing its troops to unload and leave its cargo undelivered. The Japanese ships all return to Lae. Seasoned Japanese pilots in nimble Zeros flashed by, machine guns lancing the withdrawing three A-19s as they fought to avenge the damaged and destroyed ships of the convoy.

Behind Lt. Hill, Sgt. Sam found the strength to pull himself back up to his gun. His story is one of unparalleled heroism. After his right hand had been hit and disabled, he kept firing until he exhausted the ammunition of his .30 cal gun. The race, and the running battle, continued for miles. Even when the 30-caliber gun behind Lt. Hill fell silent, all its ammunition expended, the Japanese pilots kept coming. His mortally wounded but determined gunner refused to give up, pulling his .45 pistol with his left hand and standing at his station to empty it at the enemy fighters.

The pilot of the Viking that had destroyed the first ship while flying wing for Capt. Rogers raced for a rain cloud. His bullet-riddled A-19 fought for air to climb inland and over the Owen Stanley Range. His young enlisted gunner fought furiously, desperate to defend his own aircraft while simultaneously hoping against hope that the other two surviving A-19s would reach that same small screen of safety. The mist at the outer edges of the cloud began to fog his vision, but not before he saw Lt. Parker and his gunner going down in flames while another bevy of enemy fighters converged on Lt. Hill and his now-silent gunner. Lt. Hill, pursued by Zeros, landed his riddled plane at Milne Bay with his seriously wounded gunner, Sgt. Sam. Sgt. Sam died a few days later from his wounds. And then the looming rain cloud masked all signs of battle, leaving only one Viking to continue its desperate struggle to remain airborne long enough to get home.

Of the seven aircraft that had crossed the Owen Stanley range less than an hour earlier on a mission to turn back the enemy convoy, only one badly-damaged Viking returned to Port Moresby. When at last it landed there was no celebration. Of fourteen men who began that fateful mission, Lt. Wilkins and his gunner Sgt. Al Clark were the only ones who made base safely. Lts. Parker and Dean and their gunners were picked up by an Aussie patrol, but later all were captured by the Japanese. In the fierce engagement, the planes of Major Rogers, Captain Schwab and Lieutenants Cassels, Dan and Parker had all been shot down.

The 29th of July was the first of three tragic points on the Eighth's proud story. This ended the first era of the 8th's part of World War II. In Major "Buck" Rogers, the Squadron lost an intrepid flyer and beloved leader; in Captain Schwab, the finest example of an army officer, and in the other pilots and gunners, a noble fighting team. The shock was terrific but the remainder of the Squadron sought to forget, after the A-19s had been declared unfit for use, by training hard at Charter Towers in their new A-20s.

Thanks to Talos for providing the excellent "Shwab's Wagon" marking seen here on the side of the plane!  He did a great job with it!



Offline lauhof52

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Re: "Shwab's Wagon" - The Story of an A-19 Viking
« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2013, 02:38:22 PM »
Very nice story about the A-19 and the squadron, tho - a sad one! Lovely plane :)


Online Logan Hartke

  • High priest in the black arts of profiling...
  • Rivet-counting whiffer
Re: "Shwab's Wagon" - The Story of an A-19 Viking
« Reply #2 on: September 23, 2013, 11:15:39 PM »
Thanks, Lauhof.  Other than the part about the markings, it's almost entirely true, just substitute A-24 Dauntless for A-19 Viking.  It really is a sad story, but the story of the A-24 Banshee in the USAAF was not a happy one, though not due to aircrew that flew them, but more to the tactics surrounding their use.  You can read more at the sites below where I adapted the stories:

Wings of Valor II - Raymond Wilkins
8th Attack Squadron Association -- WWII
Pacific Wrecks - A-24 Dive Bomber Serial Number 41-15819

By the way, a note on the profile, "Shwab's Wagon" is a relatively well-known A-24 Banshee scheme for Capt. Virgil A. Schwab with a good deal of detail, almost all of which is likely wrong.  First of all, it's depicted as olive drab over gray, the standard USAAF scheme at that time.  Veterans recall the underside of the A-24s as having been a pale blue, not the gray that would be expected.  Also, in a fantastic Kagero profile in this book, you can see the white and red US Navy tail stripes showing through the olive drab.  This doesn't make much sense, however, since the aircraft history seems to indicate 41-15819 came from the factory and wasn't a transfer.  Maybe it was transferred and repainted on the production line?  If that was the case, though, why was it repainted light blue on the underside (a non-standard color) and why would the tail stripes show through (factory paint quality was better than that, usually)?  Finally, and most damning of all, is the "Shwab's Wagon" marking itself.  It misspelled Capt. Schwab's name, has no known photographic or written evidence for its existence, and veterans from the unit don't remember ever seeing Schwab's plane painted that way despite having known him well.

Franklin Mint Armour Collection B11B935 - Douglas SBD Dauntless Diecast Model, "Schwab's Wagon", Virgil Schwab: The Flying Mule
The Franklin Mint A-24 Mystery | ArmyAirForces

I do, however, know of a very recent example where groundcrew that should've known better misspelled a pilot's rather famous last name on some customized artwork for his aircraft, so I thought I'd take this profile and work that into the story.  After all, it could certainly have happened.  So, I weaved the fact and fiction surrounding the aircraft and the unit into a coherent story and profile that's a mix of the attractive scheme that's so well-known and what's remembered by the veterans.  Needless to say, I spent many hours researching the aircraft, pilot, and engagement.



Offline apophenia

  • Patterns? What patterns?
Re: "Shwab's Wagon" - The Story of an A-19 Viking
« Reply #3 on: September 25, 2013, 10:34:29 AM »
Gorgeous work Logan!  :)
"She always found it peculiar to encounter a time she had actually lived through rendered as a period." William Gibson, Zero History

Offline upnorth

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Re: "Shwab's Wagon" - The Story of an A-19 Viking
« Reply #4 on: September 27, 2013, 03:31:58 AM »
Very nice indeed.
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