WWII Marine Ingenuity – Flying High Enough to Make Ice Cream

By Faye Higbee

Some of the younger ones among us can stare at a $20 bill and have no clue how to make change for a $2 purchase.  Some of us can’t remember what we did with the $20 when we must have bought something or another but forgot. But during WWII on the Island  of  Peleliu, one Fighter Attack squadron VMF-122 used good old fashioned Marine ingenuity to defeat boredom by flying their planes to make ice cream.

Stop looking at me like that- it’s true.

In the book Combat Aerial Escapades: A Pilot’s Logbook, by Squadron Commander J. Hunter Reinburg, there is a reference to the time when his squadron was ridiculously bored because the Japanese wouldn’t come out to have a dogfight. And their anti-aircraft artillery was ineffective after 28,000 feet.

The Corsair was known for its ability to fly higher and faster than Japanese planes. And with little resources left toward the end of the war, the Japanese expended lots of bullets that they couldn’t replace by shooting at the Corsairs. But no dogfights anymore.

“This dive-bombing and strafing just isn’t as exciting as dogfighting, but the damn Japs won’t come up and fight.” Commander Reinburg

So what do you do when you’re bored and there’s no enemy action? Find a way to raise morale by making chocolate ice cream. In an airplane. Because you remember your science, um, or your cooking class, as the case may be.

The Air and Space Magazine stated,

Reinburg, determined to raise morale on a humid tropical island with no fresh food and no refrigeration, had a plan. His maintenance crew cut the ends off an old belly-mounted drop tank, strung wire at both ends, and mounted an access panel to the side. Into this panel, secured by the wires, went a waterproof can that ordinarily stored .50-caliber bullets. And into that, the mess sergeant poured a mixture of canned milk and cocoa powder. Reinburg planned to ascend to high altitudes, where temperatures are well below freezing, and return with a gift for his men: Five gallons of homemade chocolate ice cream.

His first flight he logged in as an “oxygen system test.” But when he returned the ice cream wasn’t frozen as it should have been with flying up to 33,000 feet. They ate it anyway.

The next time he logged in the flight as a “supercharger test flight.” This time, they mounted two ammo cans on the underside of a removable maintenance panel on each wing, which kept the ice cream from melting in proximity to the engine of the Corsair. It also doubled the amount of ice cream to 10 gallons. But it wasn’t as smooth as the Commander wanted (never mind, the men ate it anyway).

Third time’s a charm you know, so on the next flight, the maintenance folks added two propellers to the ammo cans. Result: nice, smooth chocolate ice cream. The routine became known as “Operation Freeze Flights.”

Of course someone ratted on them for those “test flights.” Colonel Caleb Bailey called up to advise them he wasn’t fooled by their ruse.

“Listen, goddammit, you guys aren’t fooling me. I’ve got spies. You tell [Reinburg] I’m coming over there tomorrow and get my ration.”

Several squadrons during the war remembered their science classes and knew that flying high enough would freeze the mixtures. B-17s took the mixtures on combat missions, and P-47s were also used to make ice cream in various theaters.


Featured photo: a restored Corsair photo by Gerry Metzler