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The landings of the Morotai Task Force were supported not only by land-based planes from Cape Sansapor but by Navy planes from six escort carriers.
Carrier-borne fighters made an early morning sweep over Halmahera on September 16, and one of them was shot down by antiaircraft fire over Wasile Bay, 60 miles south of Morotai. The pilot, Ens. Harold A. Thompson, USNR, of Fighter Squadron 26 was wounded, but parachuted into the water several hundred yards from the shore. Soon a Catalina rescue plane arrived on the scene and dropped a rubber raft to Thompson. Thompson drifted shorewards until his raft fetched up against the side of a small unmanned cargo ship 200 yards from the enemy-occupied beach. He tied the raft to the ship's anchor chain to keep from drifting ashore.
As long as their fuel held out, his squadron mates circled the area, strafing Japanese gun positions and keeping Thompson in sight. When the squadron's fuel ran low, planes from other units arrived on the scene to continue harassing the Japanese. About noon a Navy Catalina tried to land to rescue him, but was driven off by heavy antiaircraft fire.
In the meantime Thompson's plight was reported to Oyster Bay. Early in the afternoon Lt. A. Murray Preston, USNR, commander of Squadron 33, got underway for Wasile Bay in PT-489 (Lt. Wilfred B. Tatro, USNR) accompanied by PT-363 (Lt. (jg.) Hershel F. Boyd, USNR). Every officer and man aboard the two PT's had volunteered for the dangerous daylight mission.
Arriving at the 4-mile-wide entrance to the bay ahead of their air cover, the boats started to run in close to the western side to avoid minefields and shore batteries to the east. When the PT's were still 4 miles from the narrows, a heavy gun opened fire from the western shore. Preston turned eastward, leading his boats at high speed across a suspected minefield to try the other side. Not one, but three heavy guns opened fire from the eastern shore. The boats were forced to retire. They had hardly pulled out of range of the guns before fighter planes arrived to cover them. They turned and started in again.
It took the PT's 20 minutes to pass through the straits and enter Wasile Bay. The planes strafed both sides of the entrance but the big guns kept blazing away from both sides, dropping their shells much closer to the PT's than they had on the first approach. Once inside the bay, which is nowhere more than 7 miles across, the boats were brought under heavy fire by many guns from both the northern and southern coasts. A fighter plane laid smoke along the shore and guided the PT's to Thompson's raft. Shore batteries, planes, and PT's were all firing furiously as PT-489 came close aboard the cargo ship. Lt. Donald F. Seaman, USNR, the Task Group Intelligence Officer, and Charles D. Day, MoMMIC, USNR, dived overboard from the 489, swam to the raft and towed it back to the 489. During the 5 minutes that the PT's had to lie to while Thompson was being brought aboard, the boats raked the beach with their 40mm. guns, starting several fires. As a parting gesture they gunned up the cargo ship and left it ablaze.
Getting out of the bay was worse than getting in. The fighter planes were running low on fuel and had to streak back to their carriers. Now the shore batteries were free to fire in full volume. For 20 minutes the PT's zigzagged at high speed across the minefield, big shells dropping within 10 yards of them. At last they were out of range. They had been under almost constant shellfire in broad daylight for 2½ hours.
There were no casualties on either PT. The boat's themselves were unharmed save for superficial damage from shell fragments. Rear Adm. C. A. F. Sprague, commander of the carrier task force, said in a letter to Commander Bowling, "The consummation of this rescue in the face of the tremendous odds is characteristic of the highest traditions of our Navy. The PT Squadron may well be proud of this act which is considered one of the most daring and skillfully executed rescues of the war."
For this action, Lieutenant Preston was awarded the Medal of Honor. Tatro, Boyd, Seaman, and Day were awarded Navy Crosses.
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