The Filthy Thirteen of the 101st Airborne Division, Part 1: The Misfits

Caveat Lector!  I had more fun with this series of posts than a novice blogger ought to have, which probably means you won’t, as the next five posts are somewhat self-indulgent.

The Painting

I recently came across this fabulous painting of the Filthy Thirteen by Joel Iskowitz. It depicts the 1st Demolition Unit of the 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment of the vaunted 101st Airborne Division (that of Band of Brothers fame) as they prepared to board a C-47 Skytrain in an airfield in England on June 6, 1944. It is based on a photo published in the Stars and Stripes on June 9, 1944 — just days after D-Day. Iskowitz’s painting is reproduced here for discussion purposes under the fair use exception to the copyright laws. 1/72, 101st Airborne, 506 Parachute, 506 PIR, Battle of the Bulge, C-47, Choctaw, D-Day, Dakota, Demolition Unit, Dirty Dozen, Filthy Thirteen, Hell's Highway, Iskowitz, Market Garden, McNiece, Mike Marquez, Mohawk, Normandy, Pathfinders, SkytrainI was smitten. This is a classic example of an artist brilliantly blending art and history to create something more beautiful than either: the historical importance of the scene; the seemingly relaxed poses of the men clearly fraught with tension; the introspected expressions on their faces, which actually look like those of the real subjects; the attention to accuracy in detail, such as the weapons and equipment; the workhorse C-47 Skytrain with its alternating white-black-white invasion stripes in the background, with all the power it evokes; and the absolutely stunning sky, which despite its beauty portends the furious storm that was D-Day.

The Unit

The Filthy Thirteen — actually, it was more like “the 20 unbathed misfits” — was an elite demolition unit created and trained to undertake difficult, suicidal missions, often behind enemy lines. They were led by then-25-year-old Jake McNiece, a sergeant from Oklahoma who was half-Choctaw. They became famous after the aforementioned Stars and Stripes article was published in 1944. While the article’s overall premise was mostly accurate, it resulted in a number of myths that became the basis for the 1965 novel The Dirty Dozen, which, in turn, was the basis for the 1967 film of the same name, a blockbuster of a movie that spawned several sequels and a TV series.

Yes, the Filthy Thirteen really existed, though their story has been extensively fictionalized by a movie that bears only a passing resemblance to the real unit. No, they weren’t convicts, though some often flirted with trouble. Yes, they were filthy, bathing only once a week. No, they weren’t Native American, though they did sport Mohawk haircuts and Indian war paint in honor of their half-Choctaw leader. And yes, above all, they were misfits — the type who deliberately disobey rules they find useless, like saluting officers, yet somehow manage to get the job done. (In taped interviews, McNiece actually refers to saluting officers as “malarkey” and standing retreat as “stupid.”)

This first — professional quality — photo is the one that appeared in the 1944 Stars and Stripes article.1/72, 101st Airborne, 506 Parachute, 506 PIR, Battle of the Bulge, C-47, Choctaw, D-Day, Dakota, Demolition Unit, Dirty Dozen, Filthy Thirteen, Hell's Highway, Iskowitz, Market Garden, McNiece, Mike Marquez, Mohawk, Normandy, Pathfinders, SkytrainThe Jumps

The Filthy Thirteen participated in three of the best known episodes of the war in the European Theatre — the Normandy Invasion in France, Operation Market Garden in Holland, and the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. During the Normandy Invasion in June 1944, the Filthy Thirteen parachuted behind enemy lines, destroying two bridges and securing a third on the Douve River, which marked the boundary between Utah Beach and Omaha Beach, to prevent the Germans from reinforcing the beach heads. Of those who jumped, more than half perished during the mission.

The group made their second jump in September 1944, during Operation Market Garden, in Eindhoven, Holland. Market Garden was dependent on Highway 69 as its only route of advance and supply and the Filthy Thirteen were tasked with holding bridges to ensure that this vital corridor, which came to be known as “Hell’s Highway” because of the carnage it witnessed, remained open. This they did —  for well over two months. (That does it: it’s time to endure A Bridge Too Far, for the umpteenth time. :-) )

Following those two missions, the Filthy Thirteen disbanded and the handful who survived — I believe it was six — joined the 101st Airborne Division Pathfinder Company – an elite group of specially trained paratroopers assigned to jump into enemy territory ahead of the main force to mark landing and drop zones to guide the main force. With the 101st Airborne encircled in Bastogne in December 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge, resupply became critical. Because of the heavy cloud cover, the Pathfinders were ordered to parachute in to set up electronic beacons for C-47 aircraft to follow when dropping their sorely-needed supplies. The Pathfinders completed their mission successfully and the 101st Airborne was effectively resupplied.1/72, 101st Airborne, 506 Parachute, 506 PIR, Battle of the Bulge, C-47, Choctaw, D-Day, Dakota, Demolition Unit, Dirty Dozen, Filthy Thirteen, Hell's Highway, Iskowitz, Market Garden, McNiece, Mike Marquez, Mohawk, Normandy, Pathfinders, SkytrainI captured the photo above from a widely available video clip of the 101st on June 6, 1944, just before the Filthy Thirteen took off from England. Forgive the bad quality.

This last lagniappe photo, also captured from the aforementioned video clip, shows Jack McNiece putting warpaint on someone who, to my eyes, appears to be Mike Marquez, a Texas native who was the only Hispanic member of the team, though some have identified him as Johnny Hale. Together, all three photos form the basis of Iskowitz’s painting and you can identify all three vignettes in various parts of the scene.Screenshot (3)The Books

In addition to The Dirty Dozen (1965) novel by E.M. Nathanson, at least three nonfiction books have been published about this colorful unit: The Filthy Thirteen (2003) by Richard E. Killblane; Fighting With The Filthy Thirteen: The World War II Story of Jack Womer – Ranger and Paratrooper (2012) by Stephen DeVito; and War Paint: The Filthy Thirteen Jump Into Normandy (2013) also by Richard E. Killblane. For a detailed history of the unit, the reader is directed to these books as this synopsis was intended merely as a predicate for Part 2.

I hope you enjoyed this simple post. For those who, like me, love figure conversions, stay tuned next week for Part 2: Creating the Unit in 1/72 ScaleAs always, comments, questions, corrections, and observations are welcome. 

The Doolittle Raid, April 1942, Part 4: B-25 Mitchell Insignias for 1/72 Scale Diecast

This is the last of a four-part series on the Doolittle Raid. For details of the actual raid, B-25 Mitchells in 1/72 scale, and diorama of the take-off in 1/72 scale, please refer to the three previous posts, The Doolittle Raid, Parts 1, 2, & 3

As discussed in Part 2, models of only two of the 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers that participated in the Doolittle Raid have been made into diecast — Col. James Doolittle’s “02344” and Lt. Ted Lawson’s “Ruptured Duck.” Given that Corgi’s two Doolittle Raid Mitchells have essentially disappeared from the market, Corgi would do collectors a great service by releasing another B-25 Doolittle Raider — one with a new livery (i.e., different markings).

Corgi and Air Force 1 would have interesting alternatives at their disposal, as some of the other 14 B-25 Mitchells also had memorable artwork. The following passage is from Lt. Ted Lawson’s Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, first published in 1943. The passage follows commentary regarding constant inspections of the aircraft for possible leaks. Presumably, Lawson’s plane was found to have sprung a leak.

One morning I came out to my plane and found that somebody had chalked the words “Ruptured Duck” on the side of the fuselage. I grabbed Corporal Lovelace, a gunner I knew, and asked him to paint some sort of design on the ship. He’s a good caricaturist. Lovelace got out his stuff and painted a funny Donald Duck, with a head-set and the earphone cords all twisted around his head.

Lovelace did a swell job in blue, yellow, white and red. Then he added something that gave all of us another laugh. Under Donald Duck he drew a couple of crossed crutches.

The other boys now got busy with insignias. In a couple of days a lot of hitherto anonymous B-25’s took on such names as Hari-Kari-er (a hefty hunch), Whiskey Pete, Anger Angel, Whirling Dervish, Fickle Finger of Fate and one fellow painted the chemical formula for TNT on the side of his ship.

It is clear from the passage that several of the aircraft had personalized markings and there is actually photographic support for some.

The table below summarizes what little information I could gather from various sources on the Doolittle Raid B-25 Mitchells and their names and markings, listed in the order in which they took off from the USS Hornet:

Position Number Name Markings Insignia
1 40-2344  None No Individual Markings  
2 40-2292  None No Individual Markings  
3 40-2270 “Whiskey Pete” Name Only  
4 40-2282  None No Individual Markings  
5 40-2283  None No Individual Markings  
6 40-2298 “Green Hornet” Name Only  
7 40-2261 “Ruptured Duck”   Donald Duck Cartoon
8 40-2242  None No Individual Markings  
9 40-2303 “Whirling Dervish”   Tornado Cartoon
10 40-2250  None No Individual Markings  
11 40-2249 “Hari Kari-er”   Angel with Bomb
12 40-2278 “Fickle Finger” Name Only  
13 40-2247 “Avenger” Name Only  
14 40-2297  None No Individual Markings  
15 40-2267 “TNT”   TNT Formula Design
16 40-2268 “Bat Out of Hell” Name Only  

As is readily evident from the table, nine of the 16 Mitchells had a moniker; seven did not. Of the nine with names, four had “insignias,” as Lawson called them. Thus, our choices of liveries are limited to those four and, given that the “Ruptured Duck” has already been produced, there remain only three choices: “Whirling Dervish,” “Hari Kari-er,” and “TNT.” It is interesting to note that all three of these Mitchells were specifically mentioned in the Lawson passage quoted above.

However, it is something of a mystery why “Anger Angel,” which Lawson mentions in the passage, is nowhere to be found. Is it plane #13 “Avenger”? Did Lawson simply misremember? Is the design for “Anger Angel” lost forever? I note that since Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo was published in 1943, while memories were still fresh, it is a contemporaneous account of the episode whose accuracy should be accorded significant probative weight.

Here are the three viable alternatives:

40-2249:  “Hari Kari-er”

Let’s begin with the “Hari Kari-er,” the 11th plane to take off from the Hornet, since there is ample photographic documentation for its livery. The “Hari Kari-er” is best known for downing two Japanese fighters during the mission. According to Chun in The Doolittle Raid 1942, Osprey Campaign 156, “Hari Kari-er,” piloted by Captain C. Ross Greening, was attacked by four Kawasaki Ki-61 Hiens, known as “Tonys” to Americans, on the way to Yokohama. The Hiens were still in the evaluation phase. The “Hari Kari-er” shot down two from its dorsal turret and managed to outrun the two others, subsequently dropping its bombs on an oil refinery. Please refer to the wonderful color illustration of this episode in The Doolittle Raid, Part 1.

Below is a portside photo of the “Hari Kari-er” on the Hornet, scanned from Chun’s Doolittle Raid 1942.1/72, AA35312, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling DervishAlso from Chun’s book, here’s a close-up of the insignia on the starboard side of the fuselage: the white outline of a curvaceous angel about to release a bomb. The irony of an angel ready to drop death and destruction from above should not be lost on us, biblical though it may be. Given that the Doolittle Raid occurred only four months after the U.S. entry into the war, this is likely one of the first examples of pin-up art on an American aircraft, if indeed a naked angel can be considered a pin-up. Note the dark smudge directly in front of the bomb in the angel’s hands where the name “Hari Kari-er” was overpainted in darker olive drab, though the reason is unclear. 1/72, AA35312, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling DervishFor those of us who love color profiles, here’s one from B-25 Mitchell, Walkaround #12, by Lou Drendel, illustrated by Don Greer, reproduced here for discussion purposes under the fair use exception to the copyright laws. 1/72, AA35312, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling DervishFinally, it’s noteworthy that the Battle 360: Season One, Call to Duty episode used the “Hari Kari-er” extensively in its computer-generated imagery video production of the Doolittle Raid. I captured the photo below from that episode. Forgive the poor quality of the capture. 1/72, AA35312, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling DervishInarguably, the “Hari Kari-er” has a terrific insignia that makes it a worthy candidate for Corgi or Air Force 1 to make it into a diecast model. The probability that it was the first American plane to down a Japanese Hien in addition to the possibility that it was the first American plane of the war to display pin-up art makes the “Hari Kari-er” irresistible. 

40-2267:  “TNT”

The penultimate Mitchell to take off from the Hornet, the “TNT,” piloted by Lt. Donald G. Smith, was assigned to drop its bombs on an aircraft factory and shipyard on the outskirts of Kobe. After completing its mission, the “TNT” barely managed to reach the coast of China, where it crash landed at sea, staying afloat long enough for the five-man crew to safely board their rubber raft before the plane sunk. Though the raft was subsequently punctured when it hit the tip of one of the plane’s broken flaps, all five were able to swim to shore.

It bears mentioning that one of the five crew members of the “TNT” was the flight surgeon for the entire mission, Lt. Thomas “Doc” White, a Caltech and Harvard Medical School graduate who was also trained as a pilot, navigator, and bombardier. Through divine providence, the “Ruptured Duck” had also crash landed at sea less than a mile from the “TNT” and three of its four surviving members required medical attention. Once on land, the two crews connected and “Doc” White was able to provide medical care to the three “Ruptured Duck” crew members, saving Lawson’s life, though he had to amputate his leg. 

The profile below comes from the Academy 13202 USAAF B-25B 1/48 scale plastic kit, whose decal sheet provides this option for the B-25 Mitchell among several others. 1/72, AA35312, Academy, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling Dervish1/72, AA35312, Academy, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling Dervish

Although the design appears to be widely accepted by plastic model and decal manufacturers, I’m at a loss about its origin. Lawson clearly states in the passage cited above from Thirty Seconds that “one fellow painted the chemical formula for TNT on the side of the ship.” 

The design above is not the “chemical formula for TNT” mentioned by Lawson and, as far as I know, there is no photographic support for it, though I’d be delighted to be proven wrong. 1/72, AA35312, Academy, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling Dervish

Thus, in the absence of photographic documentation, I think a reasonable and more accurate design, based strictly on Lawson’s quote in Thirty Seconds, would be the one at left, which I drew from scratch.

Ok, I get it, I’m not an artist by any stretch of the imagination. Nonetheless, this notional design, crude as it is, is more faithful to Lawson’s description than the others currently available.

40-2303:  “Whirling Dervish”

The 9th plane to take off from the Hornet, the “Whirling Dervish” is credited with shooting down a Japanese fighter while completing its mission to bomb a tank factory in the south of Tokyo, where it dropped its entire load. In a famous newsreel clip, Pilot Lt. Harold F. Watson comments that he “had the satisfaction of seeing two of the bombs score direct hits.” Like all other Doolittle Raiders except the one that headed to Russia, the “Whirling Dervish” crash landed in China.

I’m unaware of any photos of the actual “Whirling Dervish,” but there appears to be a consensus that the design consisted of a stylized tornado wedged between the two words of the name.1/72, AA35312, Academy, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling Dervish

The profile at left comes from the aforementioned Academy 13202 USAAF B-25B Doolittle Raid plastic kit, whose decal sheet provides this option among several others. Other companies have produced very similar versions of the “Whirling Dervish” design so I have no reason to doubt it. 

It is also interesting to note that the 2001 film Pearl Harbor, the Touchstone Pictures $140 million extravaganza, shows this same insignia on the “Whirling Dervish” during the Doolittle Raid scene. It is unclear to me where the design originated but presumably Touchstone must have had a reference. I captured the photo below from Pearl Harbor.1/72, AA35312, Academy, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Pearl Harbor, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling DervishIncidentally, the details of the Doolittle Raid sequence in Pearl Harbor are about as accurate as those in a Disney movie. Still, a flawed war history movie — even accounting for the gratuitous romantic nonsense — is better than no movie, particularly in this case where the film actually follows the general outlines of the real raid.

The “Whirling Dervish” design won’t set the world spinning faster (lame pun intended) but it’s interesting and worthy of consideration.

Other Options

The blockbuster movie Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, released by MGM in 1944, provides some tantalizing possibilities. Bearing in mind that all 16 bombers were lost during the raid, including the one captured and later destroyed by the Russians, it’s patently obvious that those used in the movie were not the actual bombers. Still, the movie is not a frivolous reference as it was released in 1944, when memories were still fresh, and employed Ted Lawson, upon whose book the movie was based, as a consultant. Coincidentally, Dalton Trumbo, the subject of a recent movie himself, wrote the screenplay for Thirty Seconds. As an aside, Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, written just before the war, probably left a greater impression on me as a kid than any other anti-war novel. At any rate, I captured the photos below from the movie.

“Turkey”

At 31:17, one gets an excellent view of the “Turkey,” referenced in the movie. To be clear, those are 500 lb. bombs falling out of the bird’s behind. :-)  Lawson did not mention this “insignia” in Thirty Seconds, so one wonders if it was conjured up specifically for the movie. Still, it’s a terrific design, in my view, and I would not be averse to seeing it in diecast.1/72, AA35312, Academy, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling Dervish“Our Little Nell”

At 55:31, one can see “Our Little Nell.” This design, too, was probably created specifically for the movie but would still look cracking on a B-25 diecast model.1/72, AA35312, Academy, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling Dervish“Ruptured Duck”

At 31:47, one gets a similar view of the “Ruptured Duck.” This last lagniappe photo is included for the sake of completeness and to point out that the Donald Duck design is identical to the one on the Corgi model. The one on the actual “Ruptured Duck,” however, may have been just slightly different, with Donald Duck wearing a sidecap.1/72, AA35312, Academy, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling DervishThe Upshot

Diecast companies reportedly visit internet collector forums for information to improve their products. Thus, the goal of this post is to persuade Corgi and Air Force 1 that it’s high time to release another Doolittle Raid B-25 Mitchell with a new livery. My unequivocal choice would be the “Hari Kari-er.” In addition to the beautiful curvaceous angel design, the “Hari Kari-er” was probably the first American plane to down a Japanese Hien and possibly the first American plane to carry a pin-up on its fuselage during the war. Furthermore — and perhaps more importantly — there is ample photographic documentation for it.

I hope you enjoyed these four Doolittle Raid posts. Thank you for your indulgence and, as always, comments, questions, corrections, and observations are welcome.