Batten & Rowland Awarded Congressional Medals of Honor

Published in Midwest Flyer – December 2017/January 2018 issue

RACINE, WIS. – During World War II, John H. Batten, after whom John H. Batten International Airport in Racine, Wis., is named, and John S. Rowland, also of Racine, did a lot of flying for the Civil Air Patrol (CAP).

On January 3, 2014, the 113th Congress of the United States of America awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the nearly 300,000 civilian volunteers. Among them are more than 4,600 aviators, men and women.

Batten and Rowland were among the recipients, but never actually received the medal until September 30, 2017 at John H. Batten International Airport. Col. John H. Batten, CAP, was represented by his grandson, John Batten, his wife and family, mother Gloria, and Batten’s daughter, Linda Batten Barrington. Lt. John S. Rowland, CAP, was represented by his son, J. David Rowland, grandchildren John Rowland, Mike and Betsy Walton, John and Meg Daniels, and family. The ceremony was held in the Experimental Aircraft Association Building at the airport.

Anticipating America’s entry into World War II, Gill Robb Wilson established the Civil Air Patrol on December 1, 1941. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the CAP stepped in to spot and even attack Germany U-boats torpedoing and sinking U.S. ships, often within sight of our Atlantic shores.

The CAP proved invaluable and operations quickly expanded into 21 bases from as far north as Bar Harbor, Maine south to Corpus Christi, Texas. By war’s end, CAP coastal patrol pilots flew one-quarter million mission hours, and amassed 24 million flight miles, but not without risk and losses. Sixty-five (65) CAP members gave their lives, 26 of whom were pilots, and 90 aircraft were lost.

These CAP pilots provided essential wartime duties. They trained more than 10,000 CAP cadets, who, as they matured, were urgently needed as aviators for our armed forces, towed targets for anti-aircraft gunnery practice, tested urban air defenses by providing mock attacks on U.S. coastal cities, flew essential – often top secret – courier service, and performed search and rescue operations, saving hundreds of lives.

In 1943, the War Department transferred CAP volunteers to the Armed Forces under the Army Air Corps. After the war, the CAP became a congressionally chartered corporation and the official auxiliary of the newly created United States Air Force in 1947. In August of 2016, the Secretary of the Air Force moved the CAP to Air Combat Command, First Air Force – North American Air Defense Command, known as NORAD. The Secretary declared the CAP part of the “Total Force” of active duty, reserve, guard, and now, auxiliary. The CAP flies 75% of NORAD’s non-combat missions on a daily basis.

John Rowland recruited a dozen pilots from southeast Wisconsin, half from the Racine area. They formed the CAP Racine Squadron in early March of 1942, just three months after the CAP was formed. Because Nazi U-boats ravaged shipping and killed American seamen up and down the Atlantic coast, upon joining the CAP, Rowland and Batten were assigned to St. Simons Island, Georgia, a coastal town approximately 60 miles south of Savannah. Three others joined them, with the remainder of the Racine Squadron assigned to Bar Harbor, Maine.

Batten was given the rank of 1st Lieutenant and the title of mission pilot. Rowland was given the rank of 2nd Lieutenant and the title of mission copilot and observer. They flew together on a number of missions off the U.S. southern coast.

Boldly, German U-boats made beach landings on American soil at several nearby islands near St. Simons Island, so the Nazi crews could rest and have lunch, unconcerned about an attack from a badly stretched and ill-equipped U.S. military in those first six-months of World War II. But not for long.

The Stinson 10A Batten and Rowland flew is a similar aircraft to the Fairchild 24 hanging in EAA 838’s museum at John H. Batten International Airport.

The 100-pound bombs to equip the Stinson Batten and Rowland flew had yet to be delivered to their St. Simons Island CAP Base when, in May 1942, Batten and Rowland spotted a suspicious, partially submerged, oil tank anchored 20 miles off the coast of Sapelo Island, north of St. Simons. They immediately radioed the U.S. Coast Guard for assistance, and orbited the tank until an armed Coast Guard Cutter arrived. It was determined after the flight, that someone positioned the oil tank, full of diesel fuel, to allow Nazi U-boats to refuel right off the U.S. coast. Batten wrote in his monograph: “people of doubtful national loyalty” purchased this for the enemy. The refueling tank was destroyed, denying the enemy that valuable resource.

A month later in June 1942, Batten and Rowland spotted a U-boat submerging 40-miles off St. Simons Island. They still had not been issued bombs, so they radioed the Navy, dropped smoke canisters, and remained with the enemy submarine as long as they could. Finally, a reluctant Navy, not believing a CAP plane could spot the enemy, tasked a Catalina Patrol Bomber, which arrived too late to spot the now deeply submerged enemy submarine and make a successful attack.

This was just one of several instances that convinced the War Department to get CAP planes equipped with bombs quickly, and get pilots trained to drop them. In the meantime, Batten and Rowland figured out how to rig a 100-pound bomb to the belly of a Stinson with a 90 hp engine.

By September of 1942, the German U-boat threat moved farther away from the American coast into the Atlantic because our armed forces were growing in numbers. Nevertheless, after Germany’s surrender in 1945, Rear Admiral Karl Doenitz, now a prisoner charged with war crimes, who commanded the Nazi U-boat fleet, was asked why he pulled his submarines off American shores in September of 1942. He stated, “It was because of those damnable red and yellow airplanes,” which sank two U-Boats, bombed and thus chased away or perhaps even damaged another 57 submarines, and radioed in 173 U-boat sightings to U.S. armed forces.

Batten remained an active pilot for many years after the war as a flight instructor, and became the CAP Wisconsin Wing Commander in the early 1950s, making the Racine airport his headquarters. He then went on to command the CAP Great Lakes Region with oversight over Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky. He did this until 1958, retiring from CAP as a colonel.

Batten and Rowland laid the foundation for CAP in southeast Wisconsin that continues to this day.

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