Image Size: 22.25″ x 16.75″
Paper Size: 28″ x 24″
Regardless of which is the mightier, both the sword and the pen were in the air over the busy Japanese-occupied harbor at Rabaul on the day that history records as “Bloody Tuesday,” November 2, 1943. Former child actor and now Hearst International News Service (INS) correspondent, Lee Van Atta had become known in Fifth Air Force as a daring reporter who, like Ernie Pyle and others, liked to be in the thick of the action to get a better feel for what he would report via INS. Sitting in the navigator’s seat directly behind pilot Capt. Richard “Dick” Ellis, with Lt. John Dean, co-pilot to Ellis’ right, young Lee Van Atta rode out the storm of fire and destruction over Simpson Harbor in a B-25D strafer nicknamed “SEABISCUIT” to write his stirring account of the battle on the return trip from Rabaul.
This was not the first trip to Rabaul for Van Atta; on October 12th he rode behind command pilot Major John “Jock” Henebry and co-pilot Lt. Edward Murphy in Henebry’s B-25D strafer nicknamed NOTRE DAME DE VICTOIRE. The October 12th mission pitted Henebry’s aircraft against the persistent Japanese antiaircraft gun crews defending the airfields at the Rabaul area airfields at Rapopo and Vunakanau, whereupon he had written an equally-stirring account of the battle. NOTRE DAME DE VICTOIRE was lost on the November 2nd mission but all of Henebry’s crew was rescued by a PT boat off Kiriwina Island in the Trobriands.
In the picture, 90th Bomb Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group pilot Ellis, with Van Atta seated just behind him, has loosed a 1000-pound bomb on a Japanese merchant ship. In the background, 90th Bomb Squadron pilot Chuck Howe’s B-25, nicknamed HERE’S HOWE, can be seen running the gauntlet of antiaircraft fire as well. On the return trip, Howe escorted Henebry’s crippled aircraft to a safe ditching off Kiriwina Island. On November 2, 1943, Fifth Air Force lost eight B-25s (11% of the attacking Mitchells) and nine P-38s in exchange for claims of 15 enemy ships sunk and 22 others damaged. In addition, the P-38s claimed a combined 67 Japanese fighters shot down and another 23 probably destroyed. In the background, the town of Rabaul has been set ablaze by phosphorous bombs dropped to screen the attack on the harbor from the heavy antiaircraft defenses.
The Sword and the Pen is available for purchase on our website and sent directly from the artist.