Art from the Archives

This illustration was originally commissioned from aviation artist Jack Fellows for a smaller book that would have focused specifically on the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Unfortunately, we did not have the manpower to pursue this project, and the color section of Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume 1, where it would have fit thematically, did not have any spare room for a fourth painting.

Art from the Archives

The scene depicts the final day of the Battle of the Bismarck Sea on March 4th. By that time, only two crippled ships remained in the area after the remaining four destroyers had been withdrawn. Hundreds of Japanese soldiers and sailors from the sunken and disabled ships were in the water awaiting rescue and struggling for survival.

Fifth Air Force commanders believed that the Japanese soldiers in lifeboats, barges and rafts still represented a threat should they be brought to Lae and verbal orders were given to strafe any vessels containing Japanese servicemen. Many of the American and Australian airmen were reluctant to carry out these orders, though they had all heard stories of war crimes committed by the Japanese during the past 16 months of war. Still, these ordered attacks were carried out, albeit with a lack of enthusiasm.

The collective attitude of the 43rd Bomb Group B-17 crews was very different. One day earlier, the 63rd Squadron B-17 KA-PUHIO-WELA, piloted by 1/Lt. Woodrow W. Moore, was shot down by Japanese fighters. As members of Moore’s crew bailed out, they were fired upon in their parachutes by the Japanese Naval pilots.

The story of this atrocity spread like wildfire through the 43rd, then the rest of the Fifth Air Force combat crews. To the 43rd’s airmen, this order was an opportunity to take retribution for their friends in Moore’s crew. Thus the cycle of violence and death in war was perpetuated.

Here, 1/Lt. James C. Dieffenderfer, piloting the 63rd Bomb Squadron B-17 FIGHTIN’ SWEDE, sweeps low over the water, with wing dipped to allow the left waist and turret gunner a clear shot. In the foreground, a Daihatsu barge that had been rescuing survivors zips out of the line of fire. They would have been targeted next. In the background a Japanese ship is burning.

3 thoughts on “Art from the Archives

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.