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Incident at Ple Tonan, An Imperial Japanese War Crime and the Fate of U.S. Navy Airmen in French Indochina

Incident at Ple Tonan, An Imperial Japanese War Crime and the Fate of U.S. Navy Airmen in French Indochina

Incident at Ple Tonan, An Imperial Japanese War Crime and the Fate of U.S. Navy Airmen in French Indochina

By David G. Thomas

This book began 33 years ago, in early 1990, with a question posed to the author by his father. The author’s father was just completing his memoir of his World War II military experiences and he was greatly troubled by not knowing the fate of two of his fellow fliers in his USS ESSEX based air squadron, Torpedo Four (VT-4). The two men whose fate still haunted the author’s father 45 years after the fact were shot down in an air raid on Japanese-occupied French Indochina.

The answer to this question would have remained hidden but for an Imperial Japanese war crimes trial. In this book, you will find the events, investigations, statements, related documents, and stories of the men that led to that trial – and the riveting testimony of the trial itself.

Not surprisingly, uncovering the stories of the two missing squadron members’ fates also uncovered the stories of other men. Many of these others, as disclosed in this book, paid the ultimate price – some for heroism, and some for acts later judged war crimes.

The trial testimony of an Imperial Japanese war crimes trial has never been published before.

A courtroom criminal trial is unlike any other human institution. It is combat without physical weapons. And as in combat, the stakes can be as high as death.

Except for criminal lawyers, most never see a trial transcript – they are almost never published. The most famous Imperial Japanese war crimes trial is that of General Hideki Tojo, Prime Minister of Imperial Japan from October 17, 1941, to July 22, 1944 (most of WWII). His trial has been called by at least one historian, “the most important trial in all history.” Yet you will not find a published trial transcript in any book.

Here you will find the statements and interrogations that led to the belief that multiple war crimes were committed at Ple Tonan in French Indochina on April 27, 1945. You will find the pre-trial statements of witnesses. You will find the charges presented against the defendants. You will find the daily transcripts of the 13-day trial. You will find the closing arguments and sentencing. You will find the decisions of the appellate authority. You will find the pleas for clemency submitted for each defendant. You will find their last letters home to their families. You will find the details of their punishments.

A courtroom criminal trial can reveal a defendant’s inner being in a way no other human institution can. A defendant that appears on the stand must try to explain and justify the actions for which the person is being tried. And that person must do so in an adversarial setting in which every assertion is open to challenge and refutation.

The men who appeared in the trial presented in this book all appeared on the stand in their own defense. This book is no cold reporting. With their trial testimony, each defendant got to explain and justify his actions. This book, based on the way in which it is presented, puts you in the position of, first, an investigator trying to determine whether a war crime was committed, and, second, a jury member who must decide the guilt or innocence of a defendant after hearing the evidence against the defendant.

The airmen killed in this incident were Lt(jg) Donald Augustus Henry, AMM2c Frederick Chester Barnes, AMM3c Thomas Joseph McGowan, AOM3c Gordon Hugh Yates, AMM3c Warren Halvor Daley, AMM3c Donald Howard Douglas, and S1c Joseph Nicholas Venditti.

This ground-breaking book is the first to explore this neglected yet pivotally consequential facet of World War II history.

Paperback: 978-1952580147

Table of Contents here
List of Images
Back cover here
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Torpedo Squadron Four - A Cockpit View of World War II

Torpedo Squadron Four - A Cockpit View of World War II

Torpedo Squadron Four – A Cockpit View of World War II

By Gerald W. Thomas
This is the sole personal account emerging from World War II of a carrier-based Torpedo Bomber pilot. Thomas served on combat duty with Torpedo Squadron 4 (VT-4) for 25 months, beginning in February, 1943. During this period, he was assigned to three aircraft carriers: the USS RANGER, USS BUNKER HILL, and USS ESSEX. On the RANGER he served in the Atlantic Theater; on the BUNKER HILL and ESSEX, he served the Pacific Theater. Air Group 4, of which Torpedo 4 was one component, was the only air group that served in both theaters of the war.

While on the RANGER, he participated in OPERATION LEADER, the most significant attack on Northern Europe by a US carrier during the war. OPERATION LEADER was a strike against German shipping and shore installations along the fjords south of Bodo, Norway. This operation was a complete surprise to the German defensive forces and destroyed 23,000 tons of shipping, damaged 4 other ships, and killed about 200 German troops.

During LEADER, while attacking a freight barge carrying 40 tons of ammunition, Thomas’ plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire. The engine began burning and it appeared the plane was going down. Thomas ordered his crew of two to bail out and had just opened the cockpit and was climbing out when his turret gunner yelled, “Don’t jump, don’t jump.” The other crewman had accidentally opened his parachute in the belly of the plane. With bailing no longer possible, Thomas considered his options and decided their best chance was to fly the plane toward the carrier as far as it would go. Surprisingly, in spite of the considerable engine damage, the plane made it back to the RANGER, where Thomas crash-landed. That landing was his 13th official carrier landing.

In the Pacific, Thomas participated in the numerous actions against Japanese targets in the Philippines, including strikes on Ormoc Bay, Cavite, Manilla, Santa Cruz, San Fernando, Lingayen, Mindoro, Clark Field and Aparri.

Following these actions, Thomas’ squadron made strikes on Formosa, French Indo-China, Saigon, Pescadores, Hainan, Amami O Shima, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and Japan. The attack on Japan was the first attack on Japan from an aircraft carrier since the “Doolittle Raid.”

While on the ESSEX, just after Thomas had returned from a strike on Santa Cruz, the ship was hit by a Kamikaze piloted by Yoshinori Yamaguchi, Yoshino Special Attack Corps. Yamaguchi was flying a Yokosuba D4Y3 dive bomber. The Kamikaze attack killed 16 crewman and wounded 44.

You can listen to a 2001 interview in which Thomas describes Yamaguchi’s Kamikaze hitting the Essex (2.28 minutes).

Thomas interview on YouTube — “Kamikaze Strikes USS Essex”.

On December 28, 1944, the Bombing Four (VB-4) component of Air Group 4 was replaced by two Marine squadrons, VMF-124 and VMF-213. Flying F4U Corsairs, these squadrons were the first carrier-based Marines of the war. Although they had trained for carrier operations, and were carrier qualified, the initial carrier deployment was costly, with two Marine pilots and three F4Us lost in the first two-day shakedown.

Returning from a strike on Hainan, off the Chinese coast, Thomas’ plane ran out of fuel. After a harrowing water landing, Thomas and squadron photographer Montague succeeded in inflating and launching one rubber boat and his crewman Gress another. After a long day in pre-Typhoon weather with 40 foot swells, the three were rescued by the USS SULLIVANS.

On March 1, 1945, Air Group 4 made its last strike of the war. The pilots and crew of all planes approached this strike on Okinawa with notable nervousness, no one wanting to lose their life or be taken POW on a last mission. Sadly, one Torpedo Bomber and one F6F Fighter where shot down by Ack Ack, costing three men their lives.

In recounting the events in this book, Thomas draws upon his daily journal, his letters home, and extensive interviews and research conducted over 40 years with fellow pilots and crewman. The book cites 20 interviews and 5 combat journals, and contains 209 photos documenting the ships, planes, men, and combat actions of Torpedo Squadron 4. Many of the photographs were collected by Thomas during the war and include gun photo shots, recon photos, and, remarkably, a picture of the tail of Thomas’ Torpedo plane as it sinks in the China Sea following his water landing.

Thomas was awarded 3 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 2 Air Medals, and 2 Presidential Citations for his combat actions in WWII. He retired from the Navy Reserve with the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

Paperback, 280 pages, 209 pictures.

Ebook, all text and photos.

YouTube Video of Thomas discussing Operation Leader: Operation Leader — World War II Battles
Sample chapter — Chapter 1: Operation Leader: Initiation Over Norway — Free online version
Table of Contents
Back cover
Book review of Torpedo Squadron Four
Buy paperback copy of Torpedo Squadron Four at Amazon here ($13.95)
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Torpedo Squadron Four - Photo Supplement

Torpedo Squadron Four - Photo Supplement

Torpedo Squadron Four – Photo Supplement

By Gerald W. Thomas
In preparing my memoir, Torpedo Squadron Four: A Cockpit View of World War II, I had a difficult time selecting the photos for the book because I had many choices. The 209 photos I eventually included were just 30% of the photos I had collected over 40 years relating to Air Group 4, Torpedo 4, the
USS RANGER, the USS BUNKERHILL, and the USS ESSEX.

In the year since the first book was published, I have received many letters and emails mentioning the photos. Many have expressed appreciation for the photos and several have asked about additional photos. Because of these requests I have decided to create a second volume with 120 supplemental photos.

This volume does not duplicate the history, recollections, and combat accounts of Torpedo Squadron Four: A Cockpit View of World War II. The intention is to supplement that book. If you enjoy photos, I think you will like what is presented here. The Navy photographers who took these photos did a superb job of documenting the Navy experience of World War II. They were polished professionals which their work well reflects. The photos are all black and white. Very few color photos were taken by Navy photographers during the war.

The 120 photos are arranged by subject matter. Topics include the USS RANGER, USS BUNKERHILL, USS ESSEX, Operation Torch, SBD Dauntless dive-bomber, SB2C Helldiver dive-bomber, TBF Avenger torpedo bomber, F6F Hellcat fighter, F4U Corsair fighter, Ulithi, Mog Mog, Saigon, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and more.

Buy Amazon Ebook copy of Torpedo Squadron Four – Photo Supplement here ($2.99)