R-4 First Military
Narrated by John H. Donovan
Photos from Guam taken in early 1945.
These craft were being used by the Twentieth Air Force and attached to the Harmon Field Air Depot as part of an special "Field " service arm of this 4thechelon service and supply base.
Harmon Field, in addition to providing major repair services and supply functions, was an Air Transport Command base, and was the home field of the Twentieth Air Force Headquarters. There were several Air Depot Groups staffing the various machine shops and supply warehouses along with the headquarters and operational staff.
Those B29's that could make it flew in from Tinian , Saipan, or Guam's other Air Force Base, Northwest Field . Usually, using the Harmon Field's own little airline service, needed parts and service personnel were flown to the area where the work was to be done.
Since the Pacific War strategy was Island hopping, it was necessary to be able to service combat aircraft wherever they were. This meant service facilities would have to follow.
Evidently, the US Army Air Force was able to finagle a Liberty Ship, at least one FS (Coastal Freighter), a few "Ducks" (Floating Trucks), some Higgins boats, and at least two R4s with which to provide service where needed.
The idea was to have this unit be ready pull up next to an island, throw out the anchor, and be ready to service the wounded aircraft. If it couldn't get near enough, then the little boys would do the connecting,
I never heard much about any action where these units were used. However, it seemed like a very practical answer to service problems especially for aircraft such as B 29's when they had to stop over at Iwo Jima.
I don't recall the date when I saw my first R4. It must have been in January or February 1945. But, I was in the Public Relations Office of Harmon Field Headquarters. This building was about 200 yards from the Hanger/Flight Line area.
Nothing special was going on that day. I had just come back from lunch. There was a constant rolling hum of engines from the flightline in addition the routine takeoffs and landings. Further, between the Headquarters and the parallel hangers/flightline was a wide main road where heavy traffic of all sorts of vehicles plied their routes to the various functional areas.
Suddenly there was a "Wup wup wup-" sound coming from the flightline area. It wasn't too loud, as it came from behind the hangers. I got up and went out to the front door of the building but saw nothing! Gradually the noise increased from the flightline and as I was watching this area, this wingless apparition rose nearly straight up then going forward dipping at first then gradually gaining altitude. It turned left and flew off toward the Apra Harbor direction Wuppin all the way.
Here I stood, in the middle of the highest tech airbase in the Pacific area, what flies by but a fabric covered frame of a fat Brown Piper Cub with its propeller in the rear facing in the wrong direction and an umbrella skeleton rotating on top of the body. Also for wheels two salami's were used. And despite all this it flew -- it didn't fall down!
Finally, one of my buddies down on the flightline came by and told me it was a Helicopter and explained how it worked and that it was a Sikorsky design made in Bridgeport.
After that the R4 was a frequent visitor for while and then it was gone.
The pictures I have provided were taken shortly after the R4 appeared on Harmon Field by the Public Relations photographer from my office. I can assume only the D C Garrett was sent to Iwo Jima as a support facility. I rescued these photos from being destroyed when our Public Relations Office was being closed. I'm glad I did.
There are two R4s evident in these photos. The flight deck you will note is over the forward hatch on the Liberty Ship.
John H. Donovan
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