Repost: One Minute in Hell

Seventy-five years ago, Fifth Air Force units set out to strike the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul. Artist Steve Ferguson illustrated one moment of that mission below. This print was first shared last year.

A painting of a 38th Bomb Group B-25 over a Japanese ship during WWII

On November 2, 1943, Fifth Air Force launched a massive low-level attack by B-25 strafer-bombers against harbor installations and shipping at the major Japanese fleet anchorage and base at Rabaul, New Britain. In the vanguard of the 71st Squadron’s strike, 1/Lt. James A. Hungerpiller flying SLEEPY TIME GAL and 1/Lt. J. E. Orr can be seen engaging their targets at mast-top heights. In the face of the hundreds of antiaircraft guns, Lt. Hungerpiller opened fire on two destroyers, scoring a direct hit with one of his bombs. Meanwhile, Lt. Orr opened fire on a harbor merchant ship while Lt. Hungerpiller’s aircraft quickly began to lose altitude because of severe AA damage. Recognizing the plight of this aircraft, he made a sharp right turn toward to heavy cruisers anchored just off the western shore of the harbor.

This painting depicts Lt. Hungerpiller’s SLEEPY TIME GAL, trailing a plume of fire and smoke, crossing beyond the bow of the heavy cruiser Haguro. In the foreground, Lt. Orr is opening fire on the Japanese merchant ship. With his left engine on fire and the aircraft severely damaged from a fuel tank explosion, Lt. Hungerpiller soon lost control his aircraft and plunged into the sea.

 

This painting, part of a limited edition series by Steve Ferguson, can be purchased on our website.

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Repost: The Squadron Misfits

This post was first published on April 3, 2015.

 

By June 1943, there were some changes being made in the 38th Bomb Group’s established squadrons, the 71st and 405th. Major Ezra Best took over leadership of the 71st and both squadrons were seeing an influx of new men. The 822nd and 823rd Squadrons had recently arrived in Durand, giving the 71st and 405th a chance to pass along their troublemakers to the new squadrons. The 823rd Squadron leader, Capt. Barney Johnson, suspected that something like this would happen and refused to let most of the men into his squadron. As a result, they ended up with Maj. Walter Krell in the 822nd Squadron.

“Fortunately,” Krell later wrote, “I had been an Infantry officer on active duty before becoming a Flying Cadet. Familiar with the type, and having glanced over their records, I called together about nine of them and had them sit around in a circle. I sat down on top of one of those Army safes that opened at the top and I simply told them that I didn’t want to read their records and didn’t want anyone else to read them either. They would all be given a fresh start with no holdover from previous black marks. I went on about regarding them as the very best men available to do a top job in getting this new outfit off to a good start, and I would always feel this way until they did something to change my mind.” Afterwards, he locked their records in a safe and threw the key into an overgrown ravine. The men were asked to take the safe somewhere out of the way. As time passed, Krell never had a problem with the now-former troublemakers of his squadron. That doesn’t mean they didn’t make things interesting for him once in a while.

Both the 822nd and 823rd set to work building their camps, which consisted of latrines, mess tents, armament storage, ammo dumps, operational and medical headquarters. The 822nd was still missing their officers’ and enlisted men’s clubs, but building supplies were hard to find.

Soon, news got around that General MacArthur would pay Port Moresby a visit. Building supplies were acquired for his quarters and the location was guarded to prevent any filching of materials. Krell’s former troublemakers found out where the supplies were being kept and devised a plan to procure them. One night, they woke Maj. Krell to get permission to borrow a couple of trucks. Krell got out of bed and looked down the hillside. There were 18-20 trucks along with all the non-commissioned men in the 822nd. One look at the scene below told him that his men were getting into mischief. He said, “I’m not going to ask any questions, you haven’t got my permission but I’m not going to stop you. Whatever you’re going to do, you’d better do it right because if you get this outfit in a jam you’ll wish you’d thought it over.” They assured him that they had and went on their way. Krell went back to bed.

When Krell met with General Roger Ramey at Port Moresby the next day, chaos reigned over the news of MacArthur’s building supplies being stolen. The guards had been offered profuse amounts of alcohol and gotten drunk enough to not remember what happened. Krell never mentioned the previous night’s encounter with his men. For the next few weeks, “…there emerged two very nice buildings: clubs for the non-coms and officers,” Krell continued. “Bit by bit, there appeared a few two-by-fours here, a few sacks of cement there. I was always grateful to think we had the right people on our side.”

Pacific Powerhouse

Painting of a 3BG B-25 during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea

Limited Edition of 199 Giclee prints

Signed and numbered by the artist

Image Size: 28″ x 19″

Paper Size: 32″ x 24″

In less than a year, Fifth Air Force emerged from providing target practice for Imperial Japanese Army and Navy pilots and humorous material from Japanese radio broadcasters to an overwhelming and merciless adversary. This was proven beyond dispute at the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, an Allied air action against a large Japanese Naval troop and supply convoy which sought to reinforce the Imperial Japanese Army Garrison at Lae, New Guinea on March 2-4, 1943. In this strategically important battle, Fifth Air Force fielded heavy, medium and light attack bombers with superior fighter cover to pulverize the convoy as it made its way from the Japanese-held bastion at Rabaul, around the island of New Britain and across the Bismarck Sea.

As the last bombs fell from B-17s and B-24s at 7000 feet, 13 Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Bristol Beaufighters swept in, strafing at deck-level and 12 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers led a skip-bombing attack, followed by Douglas A-20 Havocs which also skip-bombed and strafed. One RAAF 30th Squadron Beaufighter can be seen here, having just strafed the destroyer Arashio, as the 3rd Bomb Group’s Capt. Robert Chatt in his B-25, nicknamed “CHATTER BOX,” newly modified with eight forward-firing .50-caliber machine guns, “skipped” a 500-pound highly-explosive delay-fused bomb into the bridge of the destroyer. This fatally damaged the ship which then, out of control, veered wildly to port and collided with the IJN supply ship, Nojima, visible just beyond the Beaufighter. The resultant collision sent both ships to the bottom. The B-25s and A-20s were the embodiment of the legendary Paul I. (“Pappy”) Gunn’s minimum altitude, gun-toting “Commerce Destroyer” strafers. This artwork by Jack Fellows is available for purchase on our website.

The First Major Attack on Rabaul

As the Allied forces looked beyond their current situation in October 1943, they were determined to neutralize the threat presented by the Japanese at Rabaul in order to keep moving northwest toward the Philippines. It was time to initiate a series of heavy attacks on the area, the first of which was scheduled for October 12th. Over 100 B-25s from the 345th and 38th Bomb Groups, three P-38 squadrons, 40 planes from the 3rd Bomb Group, and more than 80 B-24s from the 90th and 43rd Bomb Groups joined forces with RAAF P-40s, Beaufighters and Beauforts. They were up against a powerful foe made up of almost 300 aircraft spread out on the airfields surrounding Rabaul as well as nearly 400 antiaircraft guns. A number of ships were also sitting in the harbor at this time.

This formidable Allied force was to split up in order to tackle the defenses on each field: the 345th and 38th would attack Vunakanau, the 3rd would take on Rapopo, Beaufighters were to hit Tobera, then the B-24s would take care of the shipping in Simpson Harbor. As the formations flew toward their specific target areas, they knew the best thing for them at the start of this strike would be the element of surprise. It worked.

Flying over the hillside, the 498th Squadron began firing on the rows of Japanese aircraft sitting on Tobera’s airfield. Maintenance workers that had been working on planes quickly ran for cover and men in the B-25s noticed that the antiaircraft guns were still covered up and pointing the wrong way. The B-25s also disrupted the takeoffs and landings of several Japanese planes. As the 498th worked over its target area with machine guns and parafrags, Japanese antiaircraft gunners started firing back and dislocated part of the right aileron on 1/Lt. Kenneth C. Dean’s B-25. Dean and his crew were able to return to base without further incident.

Under Attack at Vunakanau

This Japanese “Zero” fighter was caught on the main runway during the October 12th attack on Vunakanau. It was strafed repeatedly by the waves of aircraft as they passed overhead but shows little evidence of damage in this photo taken from aircraft #220 of the 38th Bomb Group’s 71st Squadron. Strafing damage rarely showed up in belly camera photography. Two squadrons from the 38th attacked Vunakanau immediately behind the 345th. (John C. Hanna Collection)

Among the Japanese on the ground was 18-year-old Petty Officer Masajiro Kawato, who had been assigned to 253 Kokutai. That day, he was at Tobera to deal with some paperwork for his unit. Instead, he wound up defending the airfield from the Allied attack. His experiences during the strike can be found in Warpath Across the Pacific.

With each squadron’s attack on the airfields, the Japanese defenses increased as Rabaul turned into a fully armed and operational battle station. Japanese fighters attacked the enemy aircraft, with the fiercest attacks directed at the new wave of Allied aircraft: the B-24s. Two were shot down. Once the Allies left the area and began to analyze claims and photography, it was clear that this raid was a success. Approximately 100 Japanese planed on the ground were destroyed and 26 more were shot down. Several ships and harbor facilities also sustained damage.

3 Short Stories from the 22nd

A Nerve-Racking Flight on SO SORRY
Captain Gerald J. Crosson was leading B-26s from the 2nd Squadron to Lae on January 3, 1943, where they were to bomb sailing vessels in the area, or the airdrome if the boats couldn’t be found. The aircrews thoroughly searched the area between Lae and Cape Cretin and failed to find the boats. They turned for the airdrome and were met by flak sent up by the alert Japanese antiaircraft gunners. Before Crosson’s bombs were released, his B-26 SO SORRY jolted around and there was a sound of rattling metal in the cockpit. SO SORRY nosed upward in an unanticipated climb and Crosson worked frantically to right the plane. Bombardier T/Sgt. T.J. Smith saw that the bomb bay doors were still open, then noticed that the bombs were still in their racks. He carefully eased himself onto the catwalk where he manually jettisoned the bombs.

Meanwhile, Crosson and his co-pilot struggled to maintain a level course as they dealt with a cut elevator cable, bomb bay doors that wouldn’t close and dragging flaps. SO SORRY dropped out of formation and flew on at about 700 feet in bad weather. The crew was happy to spot Dobodura 50 minutes later, but everyone knew they were in for a rough landing because the aircraft was so unstable, the landing gear wouldn’t lower and the aileron controls were damaged. In spite of everything, Crosson brought the B-26 down safely, and, remarkably, without injury to the crew.

The Rise of the Silver Fleet
Since the early days of the 22nd Bomb Group’s formation and involvement in World War II, the unit was designated a medium bomber unit and the men flew B-26 Marauders on missions. This would last until April 1943, when three of the four squadrons were told that their B-26s would be phased out and replaced with B-25s. At a meeting, the 19th Squadron pilots said they preferred flying the B-26 and the Marauders were given to that squadron. They were stripped of their camouflage paint, which increased their speed by a few miles per hour, as well as given a complete overhaul for optimal performance. First Lieutenant James C. Houston came up with the “Silver Fleet” nickname and an accompanying logo. The 19th would remain the silver fleet until January 1944 when the B-26 was completely phased out of the Pacific Theater and the 22nd Bomb Group was redesignated a heavy bombardment group and transitioned to the B-24.

Silver Fleet

For a short time, the 19th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group was know as the “Silver Fleet.” This nickname referred to the fact that the unit was flying the only combat aircraft in the theater in a natural metal finish. This insignia and nickname were the work of bombardier 1/Lt. James C. Houston, who adapted it from the model railroad with which he played during his youth. Here, the 19th Squadron Line Chief, M/Sgt. Raymond D. Fuller, and Maj. Walter H. Greer, the Squadron C.O., can be seen posing with the new insignia on the tail of B-26 #40-1488, which carried the nickname HOOSIER MISS during its service with the Silver Fleet. (J. William Brosius Collection)

The Practice Bomb Squadron
After several reports of poor bombing records from the Silver Fleet, the squadron was removed from combat in late July 1943 for three weeks so crews could receive additional training. Not only did accuracy leave something to be desired, there were bombs handing up in the racks. When the 19th Squadron returned to combat, one crew discovered the additional training paid off: all ten bombs were dropped in the target area and hit crucial targets.

 

Read these stories in our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Diary Excerpt: Clifford Taylor

We’re back with another entry from the diary of Lt. Clifford Taylor, who was a member of the 13th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group. If you haven’t read the previous entries we’ve published, you can find them here.

 

Aug. 24th [1943]
Today was one of the toughest assignments the 13th of the 3rd Group ever drew. We, the 3rd Group, were to go up to Hansa Bay, 20 minutes fighter time from Wewak & take care of some shipping and supplies up there. It had been reported that six luggers & a couple of large “Sugar Charlies”, and a flock of troop barges were anchored there. In this ever tightening “pincer” on Salamaua & eventually Lae, the main line of supply lies in getting some shipping thru. With the complete success of our barge hunts, we have been slowly starving old Tojo out & he is becoming increasingly desperate trying to get thru our aerial blockade. From this type of strategy, our mission was born, so we were loaded with 8 300 pound 45 sec. demo bombs. The ack-ack up here is known to be the most intense in all of New Guinea & promised to be most interesting.

After we had the number one spot in the Wewak show, it was only rightly decided to let the 90th & the 8th have the shipping to themselves & we were to take care of the ack-ack so they could do a thorough job on the shipping. We took off at 730 & assembled at the Gona wreck, picking up our umbrella of cover, 50 P-38’s and started on course. I was with Bill Dersch & we had Sgts. Witek & MacLean as gunners. We were leading our squadron & flew on the left of the 90th in a “V” of “V’s.” We arrived south of the target at 955 & each element of the 13th was to go in with a group of the 90th giving it the necessary support for ack-ack. As we drew up toward the target slightly ahead of the 90th, black puffs started to appear around us. We opened up with out 8 guns & went in. We strafed some gun positions & toggled off our bombs in a string on the supply bases & saved a couple for the previously known heavy ack-ack on the peninsula, which dropped near the position. We were quite lucky & started a gasoline fire that was visible for 45 miles.

While we were doing our chore, I saw two direct hits made by the 90th on the luggers. As we went out over the bay a long line of bullets churned the water just ahead of our right wing. We went out & circled to the right & as the last element came over, “Jock” Henebry turned & went back in & we joined him to give him the necessary cover. By this time we were down to 3 guns firing, as our barrels on the others were burned out. We started to catch hell again so went down on the trees & flew thru the various columns of smoke, which we, the 13th, caused. Jock pulled away & we continued inland over the strip. We also sighted a camouflaged “Betty” bomber & tried to strafe it, but our bullets started to go all over due to the barrels going too. We then pulled up & went out to sea & dropped low taking evasive action. We were still catching ack-ack. We started down the coast to pick up our wing men & found a couple of “25’s” making passes on two more “luggers” down the coast a ways. We then came in low on the water toward the ships & noticed more ack-ack.

As we came in I saw a shell skip in front of our nose. As we came in to strafe only one of our guns was firing. Some tracers came up at us but were wide of there mark. As we passed over the ships one had been sunk & the other was a sheet of flame, as a result of some good bombing by our boys. We then started home leading a couple of our ships & about 5 P-38’s. As a result of some good dead reckoning & luck we came right out where we should & arrived back at Dobodura without further ado. As proof of our fair support, not one of the other squadrons were hit by ack-ack, and four of our boys were. It was a very successful mission & I’m sure that the little yellow men are on even more meagre rations of rice & fish heads.

Craig told me an interesting incident that happened to him & “Smitty” over the second target. They were coming in for a strafing pass when a burst of ack-ack shook the hell out of them. They then spotted the position & turned to take care of it. With ack-ack coming up all around them, they opened up their 8 50’s & put the old ring & bead right on them. As they closed in, the return fire ceased & they came up over the position, observing four sons of Tojo that would never fight again.

Near-Disaster over Huon Gulf

It was about 4AM when the 405th Squadron’s Operations Officer, Benny Jackson, gave 1/Lt. Garrett Middlebrook and his neighbors a rude wakeup call in the form of a revving jeep backed into the opening of Middlebrook’s tent. First Lieutenant Lawrence F. Tanberg was a little nicer to his crew, but everyone sprang to action, as they would soon take off to bomb a Japanese convoy heading to Lae on January 7, 1943. Major Ralph Cheli would lead the 405th Squadron aircrews on this mission and Tanberg would lead the 71st Squadron.

Japanese gunners were ready and waiting for the B-25s, having already filled the sky with more flak than Tanberg had ever encountered. Middlebrook noticed eight Zeros flying toward them and Cheli led the 405th into cloud cover to avoid enemy fire, then they dropped down to begin their bombing runs. Right as Middlebrook went over the target, a flak burst in front of his plane blew out a panel in the nose. His crew, as well as the rest of the 405th crews there, strafed the decks of the Japanese ships below them and dropped their bombs, then made a run for it.

38th Bomb Group B-25 Pacific Prowler

PACIFIC PROWLER, pictured here over the New Guinea coast, was nearly knocked out of the sky by THE EGG CRATE, which was hit by flak on January 7, 1943. THE EGG CRATE went into an uncontrollable dive towards PACIFIC PROWLER and missed it by several feet. (Ernest McDowell Collection)

Meanwhile, 1/Lt. Tanberg led the 71st Squadron on its bombing run, and the crews unloaded their bombs on the ships at the same time. A split second later, THE EGG CRATE’s right wing absorbed a direct flak burst, sending the plane into an uncontrollable dive towards PACIFIC PROWLER, piloted by Tanberg. THE EGG CRATE’s pilot, 1/Lt. Elmer P. Brinkman managed to turn the B-25 away from PACIFIC PROWLER, missing it by mere feet. Bombs from Brinkman’s plane that were released on Tanberg’s signal fell just behind PACIFIC PROWLER, a stroke of luck for the entire formation.

After THE EGG CRATE dove past the B-25 formation, Brinkman and his co-pilot worked to extinguish the fire that started on board and bring their plane back under control. It was too late: they were forced to make a water landing. This was the end of THE EGG CRATE, which broke in half and sank, with no survivors.

Leaving the target area, the 71st Squadron was attacked by several Zeros, two of which broke off their pursuit due to return fire from 71st Squadron gunners. Middlebrook’s aircraft was also pursued by Zeros, but his gunners weren’t shooting back. Word quickly got to the pilot that the turret gunner was badly wounded and bleeding profusely from his elbow, and the bombardier had been cut by glass when the nose panel blew out earlier. The injured men were tended to by their crewmembers and Middlebrook flew the B-25 back to Port Moresby as fast as he could. For turret gunner S/Sgt. Robert S. Emminger, the crew had to alternate between compressing his wound to slow the blood loss and allowing the blood to flow to his arm to prevent it from dying. Miraculously, his arm did not suffer permanent damage, and both wounded men recovered fully after receiving blood transfusions.

Repost: Middlebrook’s Crew Has a Close Call

This post was first written back in May 2016. Today, we’re bringing it back for another read.

 

Sleep was eluding the men of the 38th Bomb Group on the night of May 14/15, 1943. They were rudely awakened by a Japanese raid on Port Moresby, which destroyed a tent of Norden bombsights and slightly damaged two B-25s. At 2AM, the all-clear was sounded and the men headed back to bed, only to be woken up a short time later for a mission at 3AM to Gasmata. To top things off, weather between Port Moresby and Gasmata was very stormy. It was not a good morning.

After being assigned to fly EL DIABLO II, 2/Lt. Garrett Middlebrook was especially not looking forward to this mission. This plane was an unmodified B-25C hand-me-down that had been designated as non-combat only. Unlike the other B-25s flying this morning, this one was not equipped with wing tanks that could hold 300 gallons of extra fuel for the long flight. Middlebrook’s protests about flying this plane were dismissed, so he and his crew got in their plane and began the bumpy 300-mile trip to Gasmata.

Aerodromes and Landing Grounds February 1943

This map shows some of the airdromes and landing grounds around New Guinea as of February 1943. The route between Gasmata and Port Moresby is highlighted in yellow.

Climbing to 13,000 feet, the crew began crossing over the Owen Stanley Mountains. The B-25, as well as all of its crew other than the pilot and co-pilot, were tossed about in the turbulent weather. At one point, the aircraft was caught in a downdraft that sent it into a 2000-foot dive. Navigator Lt. Vincent A. Raney wrapped his arms around the steel plating behind Middlebrook’s seat and stood on the ceiling to brace himself until the pilot and co-pilot were able to pull the aircraft out of its dive. The skies were filled with lightning, which created halos around the propeller edges. One bolt lit up the scene in front of them: a mountain. Middlebrook pulled up sharply and the crew was spared an untimely death.

That was to be the last bit of severe turbulence for the trip, though the plane was still tossed around a bit afterwards. The B-25 ascended to 14,000 feet and continued to Gasmata. There was one problem: all the turbulence left the crew disoriented and no one was able to determine exactly where they were. After crossing the mountains, they descended to 800 feet, then to 300 feet in search of the water somewhere below them. Still, even if they could find the target, there would not be enough fuel to get them back home. They decided that the best thing to do was to head home, even if it meant going back through the storm.

The flight was once again very bumpy, but they did not have any further close calls with mountains. Eventually, the stormy weather was left behind as the crew flew along the south coast of New Guinea, 250 miles west of Port Moresby. By this time, fuel was low and Middlebrook didn’t want to risk flying over the Gulf of Papua, which was the shortest route back to base. Instead, he flew 175 miles to a shoreline covered with sand dunes and made a wheels-down landing, keeping the nose up as long as possible to minimize the chance of getting caught on one of the dunes.

Once the B-25 landed and the crew got out, they saw several natives walking towards them. One, a boy, could understand a little English and told the men that some Australians were stationed about half a day’s walk from the crash site and that he was willing to guide them to the Australians. Three of the crew set out with the boy while the rest stayed to secure the plane and destroy the I.F.F. (Identification Friend or Foe) transponder in case the plane fell into enemy hands.

Soon enough, the three men returned with good news: they were to be picked up by the Australians that night at the mouth of the Kapuri River. They spent the night resting at the Australian camp and were picked up by a C-47 at noon the next day. EL DIABLO II was also picked up and repaired, then transferred out of the 38th.

The Old Man’s Ordeal

The Old Man’s Ordeal a B-17 painting by Jack Fellows

Limited Edition of 200 Giclee prints

Signed and numbered by the artist

Image Size: 25″ x 19.5″

Paper Size: 30″ x 24″

On March 8, 1943, a 65th Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group B-17 named THE OLD MAN was on a long-range photo-recco mission over Gasmata airstrip on New Britain when it was jumped by three Zeros. The battle was on. One Zero pilot shot several bursts into the nose of the aircraft, wounding pilot Melville “Dutch” Ehlers. Bombardier Thomas Lloyd “Breezy” Boren released four 500-pound bombs and the long-range bomb bay auxiliary fuel tank to lighten the craft as they frantically clawed to gain airspeed. They limped back to the Dobudura airfield complex, on the north side of Papua New Guinea, and the crew (also including co-pilot Joseph “Indian” Cochran, navigator Warren “Doc” Bryant, engineer Willard R. Madison, gunner David J. Eckholt, radioman William A. Boly, ball gunner Michael R. Andrade, tail gunner Joseph Ferriola, and photographer Leonard Williams) was credited with five aircraft destroyed. This artwork is published in our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire Volume I and is available for purchase on our website.

 

Give ‘em hell Peanuts…we’ll see you are left alone

March 3, 1943 was the culmination of the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. With a story each from the 38th and 43rd Bomb Groups already told, we wanted to highlight the participation of the 3rd Bomb Group. The following is taken from the 90th Squadron’s history and a diary entry from Lt. Lee S. Walter, who was a pilot with the 13th Squadron.

March 3d………..As long as there is a 3d Bombardment Group, this day, March the third will go down in everyone’s history as the most decisive day of its history……For on this day, the 90th probably set a record that no squadron has achieved in any single day of this war to date……

The morning broke clear and cool……12 ships were alerted…an early 6 AM breakfast of griddle cakes and coffee was had and then crews assembled at the Intelligence tent on the line……

At 7:45 the order of attack and general intelligence was given…..the dope….a twelve ship convoy was just off Finschaven on a heading of 200 degrees…obviously heading for Lae or Salamaua…the order of attack was then given to all combat personnel…..to wit: 27 B-17’s would lead the attack from 5-7 thousand feet; followed by a Squadron of B-25’s from the 38th Group; followed by the 13th Squadron of B-25’s; followed by another Squadron of B-25’s of the 38th Group; followed by the 90th Skip Bombing B-25’s; followed by Beaufighters; followed by A-20’s…..and protected overhead by a minimum of 35 P-38’s, and ample coverage of P-40’s and P-39’s…..all in all, 120 planes of various description and sizes were in on this coordinated attack….. The deadline was 8:15 AM…..the engines started turning over…….Cape Ward Hunt was the rendezvous for all planes….at 9:15 all the bombers assembled there at 7000 feet…….the designation for radio purposes, of the Bombers were “Peanuts”, the pursuit was “Pop-Corn”…..Heard over the radio at Cape Ward Hunt…..”Peanuts to Pop corn”, we are here, lets get going to the target….Go Ahead”…..The reply… “Pop-corn to Peanuts…Okay boys, hang on to your pants… we still are minus a few Pop-corn……Okay…Okay…I see them coming…I see them coming…its Okay…its Okay… give ‘em hell Peanuts…we’ll see you are left alone!”

Japanese ships burn on the Bismarck Sea

A ship from the convoy burns after it was hit by Allied forces during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.

Picking up the story, Walter Lee writes,

“It promised to be a very big show and the mass of airplanes was an exceptional sight by itself. The sky seemed almost black with them. Everywhere I looked I could see at least one flight of some type of airplane…We kept circling in one huge circle until it was certain everyone that was coming was there. Then the B-17’s headed out to meet the convoy and the circle we were in straightened out. Much the same as you would see if you took the loose end of a coil of rope and started pulling. This is undoubtedly the largest Allied air offensive ever put into the air at one time here in the South West Pacific. It must have affected everyone the same as it did me.

“Such mass of air power gives one the feeling of invincibility…As we were coming in the Japs battlewagons started swinging broadside so they could use all their guns on us…The first flight attacked the destroyers and cruisers, each selecting one in the order in which they flew. A destroyer is the most vicious thing to attack because they have so many pom poms and multiple machine guns. It wasn’t a pleasant sensation to see the whole side of one of those things suddenly burst with flame from one end to the other and watch those red tomatoes come out at you. They never did hit any of us though. Their range was slightly short…

“We approached [the target] at about twenty feet strafing and dropping two bombs. As we crossed the boat our left wing tip narrowly missed the mast. After we crossed, we got down on the water again and flew out always looking for our next target. On a turn to our left we observed the results of our bombing. Our first bomb hit the waterline and the second was a near miss, which is almost as disastrous. The ship had burst in flames; the bulk of it a great orange tower seventy-five to one hundred feet high. It was an exhilarating sensation to know that we could sink one with such devastating results…

“Capt Henebry started a fire on the bow in a group of barges and I dropped the last 500-pound bomb with only a near miss. I was somewhat disappointed by I still hope that the near miss cracked open a few plates. At twenty-five feet it should have done something. With our bombs all gone and most of our ammunition gone, we headed back towards land just as fast as we could.”

After all was said and done, General George C. Kenney sent the following message to all the bomb groups: “Congratulations on the stupendous success, air power has written some important history in the past three days. Tell the whole gang that I am so proud of them I am about to blow a fuze.”

The results of the Battle of the Bismarck Sea were devastating for the Japanese and a tremendous show of Allied air power. It was the first time skip-bombing had been put to the test on a large scale and the experimental tactic would be used by B-25s and A-20s for the remainder of the war.