Pulling the Thread of History: We’re Heading to History Camp!

As we prepare for History Camp Colorado next month, we wanted to give you some insight into how we chose our topic, the disappearance of General Walker’s aircraft on January 5, 1943. For that, we want to introduce you to our Managing Editor, Madison Jonas, who will be giving the presentation. Take it away, Madison!

You know what I like about studying history? You get to follow the consequences. Living in the present, it’s hard to ascribe a chain of causality through the actions you take and the events around you. But when we study historical events in detail and with focus, the chain can be linked together. And sometimes, you get an event that has outsize influence—small in isolation, but hugely significant to the events that follow.

Such an event occurred on January 5, 1943. There was an air raid conducted by heavy bombers—B-17s from the 43rd Bomb Group and B-24s from the 90th—based in New Guinea against Simpson Harbor, a major Japanese port in the Southwest Pacific. Going purely by the numbers, it was a small affair: 14 planes attacking, three shot down, two crews rescued, one cargo vessel sunk and three more ships damaged. But the consequences would ultimately shift the nature of the war in New Guinea over the next six months.

Unlike prior air raids against Rabaul and Simpson Harbor, the attack on January 5th was a daylight mission. Rabaul was a heavily defended base complex, and beyond the reach of fighter cover, so conventional wisdom had long-range bombers flying small missions at night and doing negligible damage in a token effort to harass the base. General Kenneth Walker, head of V Bomber Command, thought that a massed formation of bombers would be able to defend itself from enemy interception and inflict severe damage on enemy operations. Walker had even flown on the lead plane to assess the battle damage as a proof-of-concept. Tragically, he was lost that day, along with the entire crew of the SAN ANTONIO ROSE. The loss nixed further daylight bombing of Rabaul for the time being. It remained the center of Japanese operations, able to send out reinforcements to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands largely undeterred. Air operations against it saw no major impact until fighter coverage could be brought into range.

An Expensive Mission by Jack Fellows

On January 5, 1943, Brig. Gen. Kenneth N. Walker planned a large daylight raid on Rabaul to disrupt an assembling convoy. Walker was flying as an observer in the lead plane, B-17F-10 SAN ANTONIO ROSE. Over Rabaul, the bomber was hit by flak and then pursued south along the coast of New Britain by a flight of Oscar fighters from 11 Sentai. The location where the B-17 went down is unknown; however, it may have gone down deep in the remote Kol Mountains of New Britain. Two crewmembers, Maj. Jack W. Bleasdale and Capt. Benton H. Daniel, bailed out and survived the shootdown, only to be taken prisoner and executed by the Japanese. General Walker was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Painting by Jack Fellows.

The target of the attack on January 5th had been a convoy carrying over 4000 soldiers for a new ground offensive in the mountains of New Guinea. The convoy was scheduled to depart on the 6th, but by a stroke of luck it had been moved to nearby Jacquinot Bay the night before, dodging the strike. The near-miss, however, was shocking to Japanese higher-ups, who ordered additional fighter coverage on the convoy for the duration of its mission, which led to a fierce air battle over the convoy as it unloaded at New Guinea. Those troops were then sent to capture an outlying Allied mountain airbase called Wau, which led to the next ground engagement of the war in the Southwest Pacific. The U.S. also learned from the attempted convoy interception, developing specialized anti-shipping tactics that would lead to the overwhelming victory of Allied air power in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.

The January 5th raid had significant reverberations, and I think this was partly reflected in the decision for General Walker to receive the Medal of Honor for his bravery in organizing and flying on the lead ship of the mission. The full breadth of the story, however, can only be seen in hindsight, with detailed research to piece together all the elements of the story. This is just a general summary—I’ll be delving into far more detail in my seminar at History Camp Colorado on November 12th. The story in full reaches back several days into December and forward into the present day, where the search for General Walker’s B-17 continues.


Making History: Flying B-25s from California to Australia

Within the first year of the United States entering World War II, the country faced the task of moving airplanes and their crews to their destination of the far-off Pacific Theater. While most of the men spent about three weeks aboard a ship, some arrived in Australia by plane in August 1942. A few months earlier, the air force had decided it wasn’t practical to ship B-25s and B-26s to the Pacific Theater, and flight crews from the 71st and 405th Squadrons had to ferry their own newly built B-25s on an island-hopping route from California to Australia. This had never been done with any other unit that arrived in Australia prior to the 38th Bomb Group. It would be a nail biting experience, as the crews had little room for navigational error or mechanical trouble.

Before making the first and longest flight from Hamilton Field, California to Hickam Field, Hawaii, the B-25s had to be outfitted with two large fuel tanks installed in the top and bottom of the bomb bay, a third tank in the bombardier’s spot, and, in case those weren’t enough, a 25 gallon fuel tank was also installed on the wings of some of the B-25s. To increase fuel efficiency, each plane was also stripped of guns and armor. Bombardiers and gunners, whose spots were occupied by fuel tanks, were sent to Hawaii by a transport plane along with the guns and armor from the B-25s. After plenty of tinkering and testing, engineering crews were ready to send the B-25 crews on their way to Hawaii.

Sharp and Thompson

Pilots 1/Lt. Richard T. Sharp and Capt. Alden G. Thompson were part of the flight which departed New Caledonia for Australia during the afternoon of August 14, 1942. Strong headwinds delayed the flight’s arrival in Australia until after dark, and Sharp and Thompson had to crash land their airplanes. (Alden G. Thompson Collection)

Flights began on August 2nd, with four 71st Squadron crews taking off before 0600. Fourteen hours later, they successfully touched down at Hickam Field with little fuel to spare. The rest of the 71st was cleared to join the four crews in Hawaii the next morning. Among them was Capt. Alden G. “Bud” Thompson, flying his B-25 nicknamed BUD AND HIS POGMASTERS. His plane had been modified differently from some of the other B-25s. The fuel tanks in the bomb bay were half the size, with the rest of the fuel to come from tanks on the wings. Unfortunately, the crew had not been told how to transfer fuel from the wing tanks, instead relying on a “tech order” that turned out to be indecipherable. Thompson and his crew turned back for California and landed safely. The small fuel tank was exchanged for a larger one and the crew took off the next morning. They saw a B-17 formation heading in the same direction and joined up with them. Hickam Field was not expecting a B-25 with the B-17s and set off a red alert until the situation was resolved and Thompson and his crew were allowed to land.

The next leg of the trip would be to Christmas Island, followed by Canton Island, then Fiji and New Caledonia, the last stop before Australia. For Thompson, unlike some of the other pilots, the flights between each of these islands had remained relatively uneventful. Still, after two weeks of island hopping, he was eager to get to Australia and refused to spend the night in New Caledonia. Thompson would take the lead position in a flight of five B-25s from New Caledonia to Amberley Field. Crews estimated a five hour flight time, which ended up being far too optimistic. Instead of arriving over Australia before sunset, pilots spent more time battling with strong headwinds over the Coral Sea. WE’REWOLF, flown by 1/Lt. William G. Woods, disappeared. Fortunately, the lost B-25 made it to the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) strip at Evans Head with the help of a Fairey Battle escort.

Finally, they saw the Australian coastline illuminated by the moon and the navigator aboard Thompson’s plane tuned into Brisbane’s radio station, which would help them stay on course. Ideally, they would hit the eastern edge of Brisbane, then turn inland for Ipswich and land at Amberley. The problem was, they had arrived south of Brisbane and the coastline they were looking at was not at all what they had expected. Australia had also not expected to see the B-25s until the next day and was completely blacked out. And unbeknownst to the aircrews, the radio signal they were following was not coming from Brisbane, but Grafton, a small town well to the south of their destination.

Bud and His Pogmasters

Pictured here is Capt. Bud Thompson’s B-25, BUD AND HIS POGMASTERS, after a forced landing near Grafton, Australia. Leading a four-plane ferry flight from New Caledonia to Amberley Field, Brisbane, Thompson became lost and approached a blacked-out Australian coast from an uncertain location. After hours of searching for Amberley, Thompson and his wingmen were running dangerously low on fuel, and he decided to take his chances with a blind landing at Grafton. The plane came down on an auxiliary training field, then tipped forward after the nose wheel collapsed into the soft ground of an adjacent cow pasture. (Alden G. Thompson Collection)

Low on fuel, the flight of B-25s needed to land quickly. A corporal at the Australian Signal Station at Grafton’s airport identified the B-25s and tried to contact them in Morse code using the lights surrounding the base’s tennis courts. Private James T. Berry, the radio operator, was given a signal lamp to send a message that the planes needed to land immediately. With the help of the local radio station, the corporal gathered Grafton’s residents to light the airstrip with their cars. BUD AND HIS POGMASTERS made a hard landing and tore through a fence as the plane ran out of room on the short runway. After the B-25 stopped, the nose wheel collapsed in the mud. First Lieutenant Richard T. Sharp, who was very anxious to land, brought his plane down next. Dangerously low on fuel, his plane followed the same path into the mud, with the nose gear snapping off and the plane spinning to a stop.

Circling above them, the two remaining B-25s were sent 50 miles away to Evans Head. As they flew north, the pilots of both planes realized they were also very low on fuel and would not make it. Instead, they decided to bail out. One man was killed and the rest made it safely to the ground. By August 22nd, all of the 38th’s air crews were reunited and the men turned their attention to the war.

A Zombie that Almost Lived up to its Name

For a short time in November 1943, the 43rd Bomb Group was flying missions to Ring Ring, a coconut plantation near Gasmata. Although these weren’t the most exciting missions, the area was being prepared for a December ground invasion, which made the mission necessary. It was observed in the 43rd’s Group History that, “Our combat crews don’t seem to think much of this type of target, preferring to hit something that will blow up with a loud noise and a satisfactory amount of flame and smoke, but the Army seems quite pleased with the results of our bombing and apparently considers the destruction of these targets essential.”

Flying from Port Moresby to Ring Ring on November 24th was 1/Lt. Henry J. Domagalski and his crew in their B-24 nicknamed ZOMBIE. Their mission was an armed reconnaissance to the area, with the crew running into no trouble as ZOMBIE’s bombs were unloaded over Garove Island. As the B-24 flew over the Dampier Strait, the crew encountered a formation of nine Japanese “Lily” bombers accompanied by 12 “Oscar” fighters returning to Wewak from a mission to Finschhafen.

43rd Bomb Group B-24 Zombie

The 64th Squadron struck the Ring Ring coconut plantation near Gasmata, New Britain on November 24, 1943. On the way home, Henry J. Domagalski and crew, in the B-24D #42-40913, ZOMBIE, were attacked over the Dampier Strait by 12 Japanese Zeros.

While most of the Japanese planes continued on their way, seven Oscars attacked the lone B-24. An intense fight began as Domagalski performed evasive maneuvers while his crewmen did their best to fend off the attacking fighters. ZOMBIE’s hydraulic system was shot out, as well as trim tab wires and six cables that controlled the horizontal and vertical stabilizers. The fighter pilots also started two fires: one in the emergency radio compartment and the other in the cockpit. Both were extinguished by Lt. Cletus A. Bunsen and 2/Lt. Herbert J. Maxwell, respectively.

By this time, the Oscars broke off their attack and turned for Wewak. ZOMBIE was in bad shape and the pilot was unsure whether or not they would even make it back to base. After an examination of the parachutes, three were determined to be unusable and it was decided that instead of ditching the plane, they would try to make an emergency landing at Lae.

Somehow, the B-24 appeared over Lae and circled five times as the crew manually lowered the landing gear. It touched down, going 160mph, and without hydraulic breaks that worked, the crew hurried to stop the plane before it crashed into the trees at the end of the runway. While Domagalski used the auxiliary hand pump to work fluid into the brakes, the rest of the crew was piled in the back of the plane to keep the tail down. ZOMBIE stopped and the crew tumbled out to assess the damage. Fifty holes were counted and two crewmembers were injured. The next day, ZOMBIE was flown home to Port Moresby. This story quickly spread across the United States and each crew member was awarded the Air Medal for their actions during the mission.

The Same Places, 70+ Years Apart—Six More WWII Bases Then and Now

Rabaul, New Britain

Located on the coast of a natural harbor on the eastern coast of New Britain, an island in the Southwest Pacific, Rabaul was a German colony in the 1900s that was captured by the Australians in World War I. Two nearby volcanoes, Vulcan and Tavurvur, erupted violently in 1937, destroying most of the city. After World War II started, it was captured by the Japanese in January 1942, after which it was transformed into a major stronghold with approximately 97,000 troops that would easily fend off Allied attacks until October and November 1943. While the Allies continued to advance towards Japan, they cut off Japanese supply routes to Rabaul and continued to bomb the city and surrounding area. It was officially surrendered at the end of the war. After the war was over, the city became a trading hub until Tavurvur erupted in 1994, once again destroying a large part of the city. Developments closest to the volcano were never rebuilt.

Rabaul then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I, is Rabaul and Simpson Harbor as they appeared in September 1943. At right is Rabaul today, taken from Google Maps.


Langley Air Force Base

Established in 1916 near Hampton, Virginia, Langley Field (named after American aviation pioneer Samuel Pierpoint Langley) remains one of the oldest air bases in continuous operation in the U.S. Its small airfield was expanded in the 1930s and continued to develop as World War II began. At the time the left image was taken, Langley was used as a training ground for new units, such as the 43rd Bomb Group, established in the U.S. military build-up before they entered the war.

Langley then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I, is Langley Field in 1941. At right is Langley today, taken from Google Maps.


Boram Airdrome

On the northern coast of Papua New Guinea, Boram (referred to as East Wewak by the Japanese) was one of the four airdromes that made up the Wewak Complex built by the Japanese during World War II. The other three in the complex were Wewak, Dagua, and But. It was repeatedly attacked by the Allies between 1942 and 1945, and finally ended with the Australians securing Boram on May 22, 1945. These days Boram is the home of the Wewak Airport, also sometimes known as Boram Airport.

Boram then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is Boram Airdrome after it was attacked by the 312th Bomb Group during the spring of 1944. At right is Boram today, taken from Google Maps.


Morotai Island

Approximately two years after the Japanese invaded Morotai Island, off Halmahera Island in east Indonesia, the 31st Infantry Division of the U.S. Army landed on Morotai on September 15, 1944. Two airstrips were built and Morotai grew into a major staging base for attacks on Japanese territory in the Philippine Islands. Almost a year later on September 9, 1945, the island became the site of the formal surrender of the 126,000 Japanese still in the Netherlands East Indies [now Indonesia]. The base became a large aircraft and vehicle graveyard after the war was over. Scrapping and smelting lasted until 1988.

Morotai then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, are the two airstrips at Morotai on October 15, 1944. At right is Morotai today, taken from Google Maps.


Ie Shima

Ie Shima was part of the Ryukyu Island chain, a trail of islands southwest of Japan. It was just west of Okinawa, and was captured by the Allies as part of the Battle of Okinawa. Before American units took over the base, the Japanese destroyed the runways and buried mines throughout the island to deter Allied attacks. Once it was under U.S. control, various engineer aviation battalions were hard at work to make the island habitable for units that were due to move to the island in June. In August, Ie Shima was a stop for the Japanese surrender delegation on their way to Manila. These days, the U.S. Marine Corps operates a military training facility on part of the island, while civilians reside on the rest of it.

Ie Shima then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Warpath Across the Pacific, is the 345th Bomb Group’s camp area at Ie Shima in the summer of 1945. At right is Ie Shima today, taken from Google Maps.

Buka Island
Buka Island is part of the Solomon Island chain in the southwest Pacific, on the opposite end of the chain from Guadalcanal. After being claimed by the Germans in 1885, Buka was turned over to Australia in 1920. The Japanese seized Buka on March 9, 1942 and built an air base that grabbed Allied attention in June 1943 when preparations for Operation Cartwheel were in the works. A small canal separated Buka from the island of Bougainville, which was to be the site of a major invasion, and up-to-date reconnaissance of the two islands was required beforehand. That reconnaissance mission turned into one of the most dramatic moments of the Pacific war when Capt. Jay Zeamer, Jr. and his crew were attacked during their photomapping mission on June 16, 1943. In the end, Zeamer and his bombardier, 2/Lt. Joseph R. Sarnoski, were awarded the Medal of Honor (Sarnoski’s was posthumously awarded) and the rest of the crew was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for getting those photos while under fire. Contrary to internet lore, this photo was not taken during that mission. Buka remained under Japanese control until September 1945. It later gained independence from Papua New Guinea in 2005.

Buka then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from the Naval Aviation Museum, the Buka airfield in August 1943. At right is Buka today, taken from Google Maps.


Sources and additional reading:

Repost: The Same Places, 70+ Years Apart—Six WWII Bases Then and Now

We’re working on another batch of then and now photos for you next week. To hold you over, head back to our previous post on the same topic. We’ll get you started with a U.S. base featured in that post.

Hunter Army Airfield
Located in Savannah, Georgia, Hunter Field was originally a municipal airport built in 1929. It was named Hunter Municipal Airfield in May 1940 after a World War I flying ace from Savannah, Lt. Col. Frank O’Driscoll Hunter. Soon afterwards, an Army Air Corps base was built and several units, the 3rd and 27th Bomb Groups as well as the 35th Air Base Group, would call it home for a short time. The 312th Bomb Group was another unit that did their aircraft training at Hunter Air Base (so renamed on February 19, 1941). Today, there are about 5000 soldiers at Hunter Army Airfield, including the Coast Guard’s Air Station Savannah.

Hunter Army Airfield Then and Now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left,  taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is the base where bomb groups such as the 312th were activated. At right is Hunter Army Airfield today, taken from Google Maps.

Alcohol Busters of Formosa

Art print of 38th Bomb Group B-25s bombing Formosa

On May 29, 1945, 1/Lt. Fred L. Paveglio and his wingman, 1/Lt. L.T. Wilhelm, piloted their B-25J Mitchells on a devastating raid against the Tairin Alcohol Plant on the island of Formosa. Following the precise directions from the navigator, 2/Lt. Albert C. West, Paveglio and Wilhelm dropped down to attack height and heavily strafed the Tairin complex, just before dropping a half dozen 500-pound parademos.

This painting depicts the moment approximately five seconds after the munitions detonated on the ground where the mammoth secondary explosion sent debris rocketing high above the plant. At the same time, the alcohol storage tanks were touched off, sending a blazing fireball 800 feet into the air. During the spring and summer of 1945, the 38th Bomb Group was so successful in destroying the fuel alcohol industry on Formosa that they earned the nickname “Alcohol Buster of Formosa.”

To learn more or purchase a copy of this print, visit our website.

A Night at Sea

Shortly after half of the 22nd Bomb Group finished moving to Owi Island, the Group began flying missions to the Vogelkop Peninsula. For reasons unknown, the 2nd and 33rd Squadron were flying from Wakde Island instead. Crowded revetment and parking spaces on Owi may have been a factor in this decision. On July 26, 1944, the 33rd and 2nd were sent on a mission to Ransiki, an airfield on the eastern side of the peninsula. While releasing their bombs, crews faced moderate antiaircraft fire over the target area. The B-24 flown by 1/Lt. Amos was hit once in the #1 engine and once in the #4 engine right after the bombs were dropped on Ransiki, starting a fire in the #1 engine.

While most of the crew escaped injury during the explosions, bombardier, 2/Lt. James K. Bishop was mortally wounded after flak tore open his abdominal area. The co-pilot treated Bishop as best as he could, then returned to help fly the damaged plane. With 200 miles to go on two functioning engines and an inability to maintain altitude, Amos knew that he and his crew would have to ditch the plane soon. After throwing extra equipment overboard and making distress calls, the two working engines, which had been at full power, began to overheat. It wasn’t long before the #2 engine quit and the plane subsequently landed in the water.

The B-24, which was notorious for breaking apart upon ditching, did not fare well in this landing. After the tail sheered off, the plane cracked in half from the nose to the fuselage. Amos, who was on the left side of the plane, was under water when the plane stopped and hurriedly surfaced, only to find his co-pilot still sitting in his seat with a cigar still in his mouth. He went to release the raft and was soon joined by the radio operator and co-pilot. They picked up the navigator, bombardier and engineer, who were in the water.

As they got the raft situated, the plane sank, taking the assistant engineer, two gunners and assistant radio operator with it. The remaining men fished a “Gibson Girl” radio  and a parachute pack out of the water and did their best to reach someone who might be searching for them. Bishop, who had by then regained consciousness, spoke of his wife who was soon to give birth. Just after the crews took off for their mission that day, a message was received that his wife had a baby girl and they were both doing well. Unfortunately, Bishop would never receive this message. He died in the raft that afternoon and was buried at sea by his crew mates.

While the men floated, a storm blew through during the afternoon, thoroughly soaking the raft’s occupants. Amos and the co-pilot, 2/Lt. William A. Rush, decided to try some purple fish they saw swimming around. The other two men refused to try them. Some hours later, daylight faded and the men spent an uncomfortable night at sea. They huddled under a parachute to shelter them from passing storms as well as the rain in the morning.

Later that morning, they saw a B-25 flying a search pattern and waved a parachute in hopes of catching someone’s eye. Unfortunately, no one on the plane saw them. Determined to be rescued, the men in the raft broke out the dye markers for the next aircrew to hopefully spot. Three hours later, a PBY Catalina began flying a search pattern and the men watched the plane, hoping it would see them. An hour later, the again men waved parachutes, as it looked like the Catalina would probably pass close by the raft. The plane flew overhead, circled, and landed nearby. One man aboard the flying boat poked his head out and yelled, “Hey, you guys! Wanna ride?” Rush, Amos, 2/Lt. Louis Moore (navigator), S/Sgt. Harold W. Talley (engineer), and S/Sgt. Benjamin M. Gonzales (radio operator) were finally rescued.

This story can be found on p. 261 of Revenge of the Red Raiders.

From a Layout to a Book: Behind the Scenes at IHRA

Last week, we gave you an idea of how we get our information, compile it, and begin to write a compelling narrative. We left off with the chapter layout process and now we’ll finish the book. Before we get to the rest of the chapters as well as the appendices, let’s focus on the color section.

The color section consists of color photos we received, aircraft profiles, nose art closeups (this is a recent addition as of Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s and Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume I), paintings, and patches. As for plane profiles, one plane from each squadron during each quarter of the war is chosen based on availability of photos, unique attributes (such as camouflage schemes and hardware), coverage of a plane, and elaborate nose art.

Once planes are chosen, we gather up all the photos and written information we have into what we call profile packages. These are sent to Jack Fellows, our profile artist, who creates the detailed profiles you see in our books. Jack is dedicated to his craft, and will often conduct his own research if he spots something unusual. At this point, just like the chapter material, profiles will go through several revisions before they are finalized. New information is incorporated as we get a hold of it.

B-17s and a B-24 profile from Ken's Men Against the Empire, Vol. I.

B-17s and a B-24 profile from Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I.

As for the color paintings, each squadron in a bomb group is represented by a painting of a particular mission agreed upon by that squadron. We then interviewed members who were on each mission to begin filling in the blanks. After completing the interviews, we go back to our research for any details that aren’t fully clear, and then write an extensive description of the mission for our artist to storyboard. Because the artist as well as IHRA want these paintings to be as accurate as possible, this process can easily take a few months or more. Finally, though, the paintings are ready to be added to the color section. The cover painting, a decision made by IHRA and Jack Fellows, is chosen to represent each bomb group and goes through the same research procedure.

Let’s move on to the appendices. Standardized after Warpath Across the Pacific, each appendix covers (I) group leadership, (II) recognition of every man in a specific bomb group who died during World War II, (III) an index of every plane flown by a bomb group, (IV) the markings and insignia, and finally, (V) a history of each plane in the color profiles. The information in Appendix I is probably the easiest to get, as leadership information was prominent and noted in several places. Appendix II is mainly compiled through information from Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) and a separate casualty list. This information is cross-referenced with the narrative text and updated as needed.

A page from Appendix I (later II in the other books) in Warpath Across the Pacific.

A page from Appendix I (later II in the other books) in Warpath Across the Pacific.

Most of Appendix III is straightforward, since we have a lot of the plane, pilot and crew chief names and other details from previous research. However, some of the details, especially serial numbers and when an aircraft was assigned or transferred, require a lot of effort to track down, and a few may never be discovered. As with Appendix II, this information has to be cross-checked with other mentions in the rest of the book. The fourth appendix is the most challenging for both the author and person doing the layout. It requires not only understanding the overall markings and insignia used by each squadron as well as the group as a whole, but also when there were changes in these markings, and information about mechanical modifications that were made. To say the least, it can get incredibly detailed and technical. Choosing the photos for this appendix is a whole other matter. They must not be duplicates of photos already used and need to be a good illustration of what was written in the text.

This appendix is loaded with photos (from 75 on the low end to more than 100), which can take a few days or more to clean up and arrange in the layout. After a preliminary layout is complete, the text is edited and, much to the layout person’s chagrin, photos will sometimes have to be rearranged, added, or deleted. Just like previous appendices, the information here is also cross-checked. Shifting to Appendix V, this one isn’t nearly as complicated as the previous appendix. Thanks to the work necessary to create the profiles, a lot of the history is already complete. Information is added to its fullest extent, then fact checked by people familiar with a plane’s history, and, as before, cross-checked with the rest of the mentions in the book.

Almost finished now. What’s left is the glossary, bibliography, acknowledgements and index. Words selected for the glossary are typically abbreviations such as P.O.W., Japanese and Allied plane types and terms used in the chapters. The bibliography and acknowledgments are pretty straightforward. We have running lists for both that are added to the layout and formatted for printing. Putting together the index is a task in and of itself. It is a tedious but necessary process done by hand that can easily take a week or more. Once it’s done and checked over, everyone breathes a huge sigh of relief. The book is almost out the door. The endsheets and cover are readied for printing. A final-final check (or two) over everything is completed, then the book is uploaded to the printer’s server. We wait for several nerve-wracking days to get the blue lines (a preview to make sure everything looks good), then send it back with an ok or a list of changes. After we approve of any changes, the printing begins. A few weeks later, our next book is ready for you.

Ken's Men Against the Empire, Vol. I ready to be shipped out

Books ready for shipping

Behind the Scenes at IHRA

From Warpath Across the Pacific to the first volume of Ken’s Men Against the Empire, our books have become the standard for World War II unit histories as well as a go-to for the history of the air war in the Pacific Theater. How did we get here? We’ll take you through part of the process of how we turn piles of photos and information into the next great installment of the Eagles Over the Pacific series.

It starts with gathering as much primary source material as possible: photos, personal diaries, letters, interviews, squadron and unit reports, medal citations, missing aircraft crew reports, and so on. Material borrowed from individual veterans was processed first, so it could be returned in a somewhat timely fashion. Before the days of scanners, photos of the photos were taken, printed out, and organized into reference binders by month. The original photos were then returned to the veterans who graciously loaned them to us. Several copies were printed so they could be added to designated binders such as: date binders, bases and targets, squadron, appendix and color photos, general unit information, and miscellaneous. These days, any new photos we receive are scanned at a high resolution, digitally repaired to get rid of scratches or stains, and added to our database. We are also in the midst of a mass digitization of the reference binders—although keeping the digital database organized is a difficult task unto itself!

Some of our many photo binders. 38th Bomb Group binders in green, 3rd Bomb Group binders in red.

Some of our many photo binders. 38th Bomb Group binders in green, 3rd Bomb Group binders in red.

Diaries were also scanned and usually transcribed to make it easier for later referencing, and then returned, if we had received the original copy. Squadron and unit reports are also transcribed. These reports were obtained on trips to the National Archives, Maxwell Air Force Base, and other places. All the paper material is copied, then organized into monthly folders, which we call date files. The size of these files depends on how much happened in a given month. Any new information we receive, which happens often, is immediately added to a chapter or filed for adding later.

43BG date files at IHRA

Here are some of our 43rd Bomb Group date files.

Everything in these file folders has been typed up into documents divided by month, which we call our research drafts. These files are incredibly important to our co-authors as they begin the process of writing each chapter. Over the years, we have also built up a large reference library, which is also available to our co-authors looking for additional information to fill out a unit’s history. While writing the chapter, the co-author always has an eye on the photo binders. Photos are selected and added to the draft in tandem with the manuscript itself, as the two are tied so close together. This is also when the captions are written—and sometimes, they’re the trickiest part of the chapter.

After the photos and text have been (mostly) finalized, it’s time for the first layout that brings them together on the page. This process is similar to scrapbooking, except that it’s on a computer and not as colorful. Each chapter is laid out, later followed by the front matter, appendices, color section, and end matter. Chapters always go through at least five rounds of editing. Beyond editing the text for factual and grammatical errors, photos are resized, added, moved, or deleted. Chapters might be combined or broken up for better flow.

IHRA screen shot of work in progress

This image is taken from the layout file of Appendix IV in our next book. This appendix focuses on markings and insignia of the 43rd Bomb Group during the B-24 era.

The process is repeated for the appendices and the color section, but with a few differences. Come back next week as we tackle the rest of the process from layout to printing. Questions or comments so far? We’d love to answer them below.