Into the Land of Darkness: A Bombardier-Navigator’s Story by Arthur Haarmeyer

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MWSA Review

The author provides new insight into the Korean “Police Action,” or if you prefer “The Korean Conflict” or “The Forgotten War.” This reviewer has read many books and stories about WWII and the Forgotten War, and the bombers that helped win those wars. Wikipedia’s WWII bombers of the US page lists the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-29 Superfortress, B-24 Liberator, and the B-25 Mitchell, but no B-26. Perhaps the reason for the omission and general confusion is the fact that two entirely different aircraft, manufactured by two different companies were designated B-26. The first was the Martin B-26 Marauder (also called the widowmaker), followed by three or more versions of the Douglas B-26 Invader, both of which were in service during WWII. What little knowledge I had about the B-26, I discovered, pertained to the Martin B-26 Marauder. Now, thanks to Arthur Haarmeyer’s excellent book I have broadened my knowledge base to include and appreciate the Douglas B-26 Invader medium bomber, and the unsung heroes of both wars, and the beginning of the Vietnam War, who flew them.

The author also provides a new perspective to the effects of war on young American bomber crews, poking holes in the assumption that crews of bombers flying high above the battle never have to face up close and personal the horror of ground combat. Even fighter pilots, concentrating on aiming and flying do not have time to stare into the faces of men they are about to kill. Not so for the bombardier in the plexiglass bubble in the nose of a Douglas B-26B bomber flying at 50 to 300 feet releasing bombs or strafing with six fifty caliber machine guns. Lieutenant Haarmeyer attempted to deceive himself by, as he wrote, “Substantial physical distance from our chosen targets was another vital factor in psychological survival, a survival that was based entirely upon total denial of reality.” 

Later he learned the images seared into his mind would last a lifetime; images that haunt and cause dreams—a form of PTSD. Recording the dreams, flashbacks and recollections is one method of dealing with PTSD; a method Mr. Haarmeyer used resulting in this book.

Second Lieutenant Haarmeyer, a recently graduated B-26B bombardier-navigator, arrived at the K-9 USAF base in Korea in late December of 1952. Unlike WWII, this is a different kind of war with different rules. No massive saturation bombing by B-29s. The introduction of jet fighters, specifically the MIG-15 and later the MIG-17 ended that tactic. Now single B-26A or B hunter-killer bombers flew north in the dark night skies of North Korea to destroy designated targets, or targets of opportunity: trains, truck convoys, rail yards, bridges, ships, and anything else that helped the enemy. 

On rare occasions dawn raids by multiple B-26 bombers took place, but the majority of the missions were single aircraft. The crews knew there was virtually no place to crash land, and capture by North Korean peasants meant a brutal death, yet they did their duty and braved the dark skies. Each crewman was required to complete 50 missions before being rotated back to the US.

Into the Land of Darkness is the recollections of the author, written down and published 60 years after leaving Korea. A book that puts the reader in the plexiglass bubble staring down through a Norden bombsight, searching for targets of opportunity along enemy main supply routes (MSRs). Each chapter is a different recollection, allowing the reader to experience the harsh conditions, social interactions, and the boredom men endured at K-9 AFB.

Into the Land of Darkness is a book that provides a human look at the Koran Conflict, and points out lessons learned and not learned. An insightful read, and it has found a place on my bookshe

Reviewed by: Boyland, Lee (2015)

Author's Synopsis

On a cold December morning in 1952, young Lt. Arthur L. Haarmeyer reported for duty in Korea as a B-26 bombardier-navigator to Colonel Delwin D. Bentley, Commander, 95th Bomb Squadron, 17th Bomb Group, K-9 Air Force Base, Pusan. Haarmeyer was immediately challenged by the colonel: “You’ve got an MBA … from a high-priced university. You could be riding a desk at the Pentagon right now. So why the hell are you here?” His reply—“I always wanted to be here, sir. I can be an accountant later”—was apparently convincing. But over the next seven months, flying fifty missions, mostly low-level nighttime bombing and strafing raids over mountainous North Korea, there were many times when he had reason to question the sanity of both his response and his decision. 

In this book Haarmeyer recalls with clarity and economy of style just what it was like to fly these missions. He puts the reader in the B-26, flying into deep valleys to find and attack communist freight trains and truck convoys carrying men and materiel to the front lines, and then being unexpectedly caught in the sudden and blinding glare of enemy searchlights that triggered multiple streams of deadly and upward-arcing green or white tracers. And he recalls instances of agony, guilt, and terror, such as the times when the flak was so heavy on all sides that he was unable to advise his pilot to “break right” or “break left”—so their B-26 just simply plowed straight through it—or when they flew low enough for Haarmeyer to see, through the Plexiglas of the nose compartment, the terrified faces of the young North Korean soldiers they were targeting. He also recalls moments of breathtaking beauty and poignancy, and it is this artful juxtaposition that makes Haarmeyer's work more than just another wartime memoir. 

Although Haarmeyer left the Air Force upon completion of his four years of military service, the recurring and troubling memories of Korea never left him. Hence, the start of this manuscript fifty years after the restoration of freedom to the people of the Republic of Korea. Just as telling these stories was therapeutic for the author, so reading them will be healing for any reader who is a veteran of that or any war, as well as their family members and friends. The book also provides a valuable perspective on the United Nations Command’s tactical approach to Korea, namely, the aerial interdiction of North Korean troops and materiel, and so it will be of interest to students of the war, as well as military personnel and historians.