Repost: Building the Steak and Eggs Special

First appearing in May 2016, this entry was one of last year’s most popular posts. We like it so much we’re sharing it again with you this week.

 

For the men stationed in New Guinea during 1942 and 1943, a variety of fresh food was not easy to come by. There were plenty of coconuts, although the men grew tired of eating them, and the occasional banana, but no other fresh fruits or vegetables. Whatever came through was canned. By the end of 1942, they decided that they had had enough of the canned fruits and vegetables and began working on their own plane that would ferry fresh food from Australia.

This plane, an A-20, was being built from scrapped pieces by T/Sgt. Kip Hawkins and a few other mechanics from the 89th Bomb Squadron. The fuselage was taken from LITTLE HELLION, which belly-landed on November 1, 1942, and the wing sections from THE COMET, which was scrapped after the nose wheel collapsed while the plane was being towed on December 15, 1942.

Wings for THE "STEAK & EGG" SPECIAL

An A-20 named THE COMET was scrapped after its nose gear collapsed. The wings from the aircraft were taken and propped up on barrels, ready for a new fuselage of the aircraft that would become THE “STEAK & EGG” SPECIAL.

 

THE "STEAK & EGG" SPECIAL's new fuselage

Here, the scrapped fuselage from the A-20 formerly known as LITTLE HELLION is being slid between the waiting wings propped up on barrels.

It was a slow reconstruction that lasted all of January 1943, as the mechanics had to go through a lot of scrap piles around Port Moresby for various parts. At one point, a wing that was propped up on barrels fell right on the head of a mechanic. Luckily, he escaped without serious injury. Soon enough, the fuselage was slid between the wings and the aircraft was put together. The A-20, now named THE “STEAK & EGG” SPECIAL, was christened with eggs on February 4th.

THE "STEAK & EGG" SPECIAL christening

T/Sgt. Clifton H. Hawkins and Cpl. Schraam sit in the A-20 after its dedication on February 4, 1943. Notice the splattered egg above the name.

Given the nature of how this A-20 came to exist, there were a few mechanical problems to work out. Once fixed though, the aircraft regularly made trips from Port Moresby to Australia. The Squadron enjoyed the fresh food and meat immensely. In August, the paint was stripped and the aircraft was renamed STEAK & EGGS, then later STEAK AND EGGS (without the ampersand). On June 11, 1944, STEAK AND EGGS was low on fuel when it flew into bad weather. Both factors led to a forced landing on an Australian beach and the subsequent end of the aircraft. No one was seriously injured in the landing. Parts of the aircraft were salvaged, with the rest still on the beach today.

Read more about the missions of this aircraft, including a stories from a veteran who flew the plane, at Australia @ War.

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Attacking Wewak

Weather was interfering with Fifth Air Force’s plans in October 1943, specifically on October 16th. Instead of targeting Rabaul, the 345th Bomb Group was sent to hit the Wewak airfield complex instead after finding out that the Japanese were rebuilding their air power there. All four squadrons as well as a squadron of fighter cover were to first attack Boram Airstrip, then fly the two miles to Wewak where their main strike would occur. Four of the Group’s B-25s were unable to complete the mission for various reasons, including one unusual occurrence: a turret canopy broke and fell off.

The Japanese were ready for the 345th, filling the sky with antiaircraft fire and fighter aircraft prepared to attack their enemy. Separating into squadron formations, one flew off to release parafrags over the antiaircraft batteries dotting the shoreline. Once over the runways of Wewak, ten B-25s dropped 100-pound wire-wrapped bombs in hopes of destroying the runway, aircraft on the ground, supply dumps and more. Meanwhile, the Japanese were fiercely fighting back and some of their bullets were hitting crucial points of the B-25s. BOOM-BOOM’s nose guns were knocked out of action when the electrical connections were severed, and it received several other hits that took it out of the 500th Squadron for several weeks upon return to Port Moresby.

One B-25, #561, had fallen behind the rest of the 500th Squadron’s formation with a damaged engine. Aboard the aircraft, Lt. Donald Stookey was doing his best to keep his plane in the air. With one engine out of commission and the other losing power, it wasn’t long before he had to make a water landing ten miles down the coastline and three miles off Cape Moem. The crew escaped their B-25 and swam for the raft that they ejected before the crash. Overhead, three B-25s from the 501st Squadron and several P-38s circled the downed crew, dropping two more rafts before their fuel began to run low and they had to head home. Stookey and his crew rowed toward land, where they were eventually captured and killed by the Japanese.

Downed 345th Bomb Group B-25 near Wewak and Boram

B-25D-1 #561 of the 500th Squadron was hit in the right engine by intense AA fire a mile from Wewak on October 16, 1943. Lieutenant Donald Stookey made an excellent water landing three miles northeast of Cape Moem. The plane remained afloat for only 90 seconds. This photo was taken from a 499th Squadron aircraft just after the tail lifted and a few moments before the plane sank. This nose-down attitude was typical of ditched B-25s. The crew was later captured and all died in captivity at Wewak and Rabaul.

Back over Wewak and Boram, two B-25 pilots discovered their own unpleasant surprises when their bombs wouldn’t release because the bomb racks malfunctioned. Leaving the bombing to the other B-25s, they strafed the target area instead. STINGEROO sustained damage from bullets through the hydraulic system and gas tanks, which made for a tense flight home. The pilot made an overnight stop at Nadzab to get the damage repaired before heading back to Port Moresby. After doing extensive damage to the two airfields, the remaining 345th aircraft formed up and headed home.

Overall, the mission was deemed a success. Photography taken from the B-25s cameras helped determine 25 confirmed aircraft destroyed on the ground or in the air, with another seven probable. While a break would have been welcome news, the 345th would be back in the air on the 18th, heading for the dreaded stronghold of Rabaul.

 

Find this story in our book Warpath Across the Pacific.

How to Make a Volcano Explode (or not)

In late March 1943, Rabaul was (unsurprisingly) still the top target of Allied raids. For two days, March 20th and 21st, the 65th Squadron was on alert to fly a mission to Vunakanau Airdrome, and the mission was cancelled each day because of less than optimal weather. All four of the 43rd’s squadrons were put on alert on the 22nd for another Rabaul raid, and they were able to take off from Seven Mile on the night of the 22nd, which would have them arriving over Rabaul on the 23rd.

The B-17s made their appearance known by dropping bombs on Rabaul before sunrise. Since there was no daylight, the crews could not observe their results, but searchlights were following the B-17s everywhere. While several planes were holed by antiaircraft fire, none were seriously damaged and all returned to base without issue.

Rabaul was the proverbial thorn in Fifth Air Force’s side and it’s possible that more than a few men were wishing for a quick way to shut down this Japanese stronghold. Several of them came up with a theory to test out: using Matupi Volcano to their advantage, specifically by using bombs to make it explode, thereby wiping out Rabaul. Major Carl A. Hustad took off with his bombardier on the 23rd to carry out this mission. The two 2000-pound bombs were dropped into the crater with no results. Afterwards, personnel realized how silly the idea was in the first place.

 

Rabaul Volcanos

Taken in 1941, this photo shows the topography of the Rabaul area. Matupi Volcano can be seen in the background.

This story can be found in our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire.

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

Port Moresby

The town that would later become the capital city of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby, was a major staging base for the Allies during World War II. Port Moresby’s air fields, named for their distance from the city, included: 3 Mile (Kila Kila), 5 Mile (Ward), 7 Mile (Jackson), 12 Mile (Berry), 14 Mile (Schwimmer), and 17 Mile (Durand). It was crucial for the Allies to hold onto this territory, as it was the last piece of land between the Japanese to the north and Australia to the south. The city’s occupants were subject to many Japanese bombing raids until September 1943. Postwar, Port Moresby transformed from an Australian territory to the Papua New Guinea capital in 1975. Today, all that remains of World War II are artifacts and steel matting from the runways.

Port Moresby then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is the Port Moresby complex as it appeared in December 1942. At right is Port Moresby today, taken from Google Maps.

Floridablanca

Translated from Spanish as “white flower,” Floridablanca was settled as a Spanish mission in 1823. Not much is known about the area’s history, but it was taken over by the Japanese during World War II, then liberated once the Allies moved that far north. The 312th Bomb Group and 348th Fighter Group both used the air base on Floridablanca for a short time. The Philippine Air Force now uses the base and it has been renamed Basa Air Base.

Floridablanca

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is Floridablanca as it appeared in 1946. At right is Floridablanca today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Owi Island

Owi’s only inhabitants before World War II consisted of two families, one at each end of the small island. Shortly after the arrival of Allied forces in 1944, the natives left. It took about three weeks to build the airstrip, which consisted of coral, a difficult surface to land on when it was wet. Owi was used between June and November 1944, then abandoned as U.S. forces pushed north. Traces of the runway can still be seen today.

Owi then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo at the top, taken from an upcoming book, is Owi Island as it appeared in August 1944. Above is Owi Island today, taken from Google Maps.

Finschhafen

In 1885, Finschhafen was settled by the German New Guinea Company. About 15 years later, it was abandoned after disease spread rapidly among the settlers and resulted in the failure of two different colonization attempts. At some point before World War II started, Lutherans built a mission station on Finschhafen. The Japanese took over the area on March 10, 1942 and held it until Australian forces moved in and captured Finschhafen on October 2, 1943. Allied forces expanded the base and used it until the end of the war. After the war ended, a huge hole was dug and much of the leftover equipment was buried. These days, Finschhafen is a quiet location.

Finschhafen then and now

Click to enlarge. In the undated photo at the top is Finschhafen sometime around World War II. Above is Finschhafen today, taken from Google Maps.

Gusap

Previously uninhabited, Gusap was built up into an eight-runway airfield by U.S. Army engineers. It was used from October 1943 to July 1944 by several units that included the 49th Fighter Group and 312th Bomb Group. This location was ideal for staging missions by fighters and light bombers. After the war was over, remaining aircraft were scrapped. Today, only one of the eight strips is still being used by aircraft and is noted by the balloon in the right image. The rest of the area has been turned into a cattle ranch. With the radical transformation of Gusap, the exact location of the airfields seen in the left image has become unknowable.

Gusap then and now

Click to enlarge. In the top photo, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is part of Gusap’s airfields as they appeared in December 1943. Above is Gusap today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Sources and additional reading:

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/provinces/png_port_moresby.html

https://www.britannica.com/place/Port-Moresby

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/philippines/floridablanca/index.html

http://en.wikipilipinas.org/index.php/Floridablanca,_Pampanga

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owi_Airfield

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/indonesia/owi/index.html

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/provinces/png_finschafen.html

http://engineersvietnam.com/engineers/WWII/owi.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finschhafen

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/papua-new-guinea/morobe-and-madang-provinces/finschhafen-area/introduction

https://www.britannica.com/place/Finschhafen

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/png/gusap/index.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gusap_Airport

YEAH! Goes Down

On this Memorial Day, we want to take some time to remember those who were killed in combat. Among them were several members of a B-26 crew from the 33rd Squadron. Their story is below.

On January 7, 1943, 1/Lt. Leonard T. Nicholson and his crew were flying to Lae with a couple of other B-26s to target ships in the harbor. As the three planes began their bombing run, the Japanese began sending up antiaircraft fire to discourage the American crews. The men flew on and released their bombs. As they turned, YEAH! was hit by two blasts of flak, one of which knocked out the left engine and damaged the hydraulic lines. YEAH!’s bomb bay doors fell open, causing an unsustainable amount of of strain on the only working engine.

Ground Crew Members with B-26 YEAH!

Two unidentified members of the ground crew stand beneath the Squadron insignia on the nose of YEAH!

By this point, nine Zeros had caught up to the B-26s and the pilots knew it was time to get out of there. Nicholson knew there was no way he would make it back to Port Moresby on one overheating engine and let the crew know that they should prepare to ditch the plane. The pilot landed in Hercules Bay, located north of Buna, and the crew hurried to get out of YEAH! Engineer Sgt. Jack G. Mosely and radioman S/Sgt. Joseph P. Papp unfortunately did not escape and went down with the plane. The rest of the men swam to shore, helping the severely injured navigator Lt. Norm E. DeFreese along the way. Once on the beach, gunner Cpl. Thomas A. Moffitt went off to find help for his crew. DeFreese did not live through the night.

The next day, three crewmen were walking towards Buna when they were spotted by Australian Beaufighters flying overhead. Food and a map were dropped to the men below. The relief that they must have felt was destroyed soon after by the sound of a gunshot. Bombardier S/Sgt. William M. Brown was killed by a Papuan Infantry Patrol that had mistaken the Americans for Japanese. The two remaining crewmen, the pilot and co-pilot, were separated during the chaos.

Co-pilot Lt. Jack I. Childers spent a couple of unbearable nights fending off mosquitoes in the open air and three days looking for someone who would help him get back to base. On the second day, Beaufighters espied him once again and dropped supplies. Childers’ situation changed on the third day when he spotted natives on the far side of the river and was able to flag them down. They took him to their village, where he spent a more comfortable night, then was taken to an Australian camp the following day. He soon learned that both Moffitt and Nicholson were alive and had been flown back to camp within the last couple of days. Childers would soon follow them and rejoin the rest of his unit.

This story can be found on p. 166 of our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Repost: The Ordeal of the Herry Crew

While looking through our blog archives, we rediscovered a post about Capt. Robert Herry, Maj. Williston M. Cox, and the rest of a 71st Squadron B-25 crew that went down on August 5, 1943. Today, we’re reposting the dramatic story.

 


When Maj. Williston Cox, C.O. of the 38th Bomb Group’s 71st Squadron, took off aboard MISS AMERICA on August 5, 1943, he had no idea it would be the last mission he would fly.

That day, his squadron was assigned to attack shipping targets near Alexishafen, New Guinea. Cox was riding along as the mission commander. After meeting up with their P-38 fighter cover at Mt. Yule, the crews flew on towards the target area, where they were greeted with heavy antiaircraft fire from Madang Township. Capt. Robert Herry, the pilot of MISS AMERICA, was nearing Madang when his B-25’s right engine was hit and severely damaged. While Herry managed to keep the plane under control, there was no way it would make it back to Allied territory. He set the plane down near Wongat Island, about three-quarters of a mile away from Madang.

Sinking 38th Bomb Group B-25

MISS AMERICA sinks after pilot Capt. Herry was forced to ditch the B-25 near Madang.

Herry’s tail gunner, S/Sgt. Raymond J. Zimmerman, died in the crash. The rest of the crew fared better with only superficial wounds and headed towards the island. Unfortunately, the crew was discovered on Wongat Island by natives who turned all but one crewmember over to the Japanese. The navigator, Lt. Louis J. Ritacco, was hiding in a tree at the time and wasn’t discovered for four more days, but would join the rest of his crew in prison. Herry, Cox, co-pilot 1/Lt. Robert J. “Moose” Koscelnak, and radio operator T/Sgt. Hugh W. Anderson were taken to Madang, where they were held for about 12 days.

Before Cox was locked in prison, he was separated from the rest of his crew and interrogated. He was beaten for not answering any questions, and only then allowed to join the rest of his crew in prison. On their third day as captives, a Japanese interpreter was brought in to interrogate the men. Cox asked if the Japanese would take him to speak to the commander at Madang, but was told the commander wasn’t there at the time. Once the commander returned, Cox’s request was granted.

The Japanese commander tried to question Cox regarding base locations, the number of U.S. planes in New Guinea and which unit Cox was from. He did not provide the commander with answers and cited international law that protected soldiers from disclosing such information. Prior to the war, Maj. Cox had completed three years of pre-law and was well-versed in these matters. He asked the commander to give his crew food and water, as they had only been given sustenance once in the last four days. They were fed, and later questioned as well.

Over the next five days, the crew was questioned by a Japanese intelligence unit and endured beatings when they refused to answer. Afterwards, they were left alone for two days. The next day, Cox and Herry were separated and told they would be taken to Rabaul for more questioning. On the way, they were stopped by a group of Japanese soldiers who took Herry back to prison. Completely separated from the rest of his crew, Cox was taken to an Alexishafen airstrip, tied to a coconut tree for three days and beaten. In that time, he was never given food and water only twice. Following this ordeal, Cox was taken to Rabaul, where he would stay until November 11, 1943.

Maj. Williston Cox

Major Cox before he was taken captive in August 1943.

From there, he was sent to Omori Prison on Tokyo Bay, where he managed to survive for the rest of the war. Maj. Cox weighed only 115 pounds when the POW camp was liberated on August 29, 1945. The rest of the crew was executed on August 17, 1943.

9 Photos of Dogs in the Pacific Theater during World War II

We thought we’d do something a little different this week and show you some of the furry, four-legged friends that were adopted by various men as pets during their stay in the Pacific Theater.

Lt. Robert L. Mosely at Hollandia with dog

In 1944, 1/Lt. Robert L. Mosely of the 89th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group stands in front of his A-20G, RAPID ROBERT, in Hollandia. The name of the dog is unknown. (Robert L. Mosely Collection)

 

Ralph Cheli with a Puppy

Sometime during the 38th Bomb Group’s stay in New Guinea in 1943, this picture of Ralph Cheli sitting in a Jeep with a puppy was taken. We do not know to whom the puppy belonged. (Garrett Middlebrook Collection)

 

Taking a Breather

1/Lt. John D. Cooper, Jr., pilot, 1/Lt. Raymond Bringle, navigator, and Capt. Franklin S. Allen, Jr., pilot–all from the 19th Squadron–and Blondie, the Squadron bulldog who flew many missions. The men are resting on a gas tank after a mission to Buna on August 27, 1942.

 

The 13th Squadron Mascot

At some point during the war, the 3rd Bomb Group’s 13th Squadron adopted this dog as their mascot. (Joseph Brown Jr. Collection)

 

Lt. Phillip B. Baldwin and Duffy

Lieutenant Phillip Baldwin poses with his dog Duffy for a picture in October 1945 at Fukuoka, the 38th Bomb Group’s final base in Japan. (Phillip Baldwin Collection)

 

B-17 Ground Crewmen with Dog

These men in front of the 43rd Bomb Group B-17 nicknamed BLACK JACK/JOKER’S WILD have a cute addition to their ground crew sitting on someone’s shoulders. The names of all four are unknown. (Charles R. Woods Collection)

 

Col. Davies and Pappy Gunn with a dog

Colonel Jim Davies and “Pappy” Gunn give this happy dog some attention at Charters Towers in early 1942. (Alexander Evanoff Collection)

 

Maj Marzolf and Ack Ack

Here, Major George Marzolf sits in a 38th Bomb Group B-25 at Lae with his dog Ack Ack in 1943. (George Marzolf Collection)

 

Butch the dog

Pilots on leave in Australia might return to New Guinea with dogs as pets. Butch, a German shepherd belonging to 1/Lt. John D. Field of the 89th Squadron, was a favorite of the pilots, especially Robert L. Mosley. Once, Mosley even took Butch on a medium-altitude mission to Manokwari when he was the pilot of the B-25 leading the A-20s over the target. Butch was fine until he was startled by the noise from the bomb bay doors opening and he began barking. Butch’s antics helped to relieve the tension, claims Mosley. “Here I was getting shot at, trying to blow up a bunch of airplanes and people below … and I’m in hysterics, looking back at Butch and his antics. The only dying that went on that day was me dying laughing at Butch. The bombs probably went into the ocean. We used to call that ‘bombing the sea plane runway’”. [sic] (Robert L. Mosley Collection)

The Ordeal of Tondelayo

The Ordeal Of Tondelayo: A painting of a 345th Bomb Group B-25 by Jack Fellows

Limited Edition of 199 Giclee prints

Signed and numbered by the artist

Image Size: 25″ x 19″

Paper Size: 29″ x 24″

The crewmen of the 500th Bomb Squadron B-25D-1 TONDELAYO fight for their lives over St. Georges Channel, near Rabaul, New Britain on October 18, 1943 while under a determined attack by Japanese fighters. The pilot, 1/Lt. Ralph G. Wallace would emerge victorious from an epic struggle to fend off Japanese Zeroes from 201 and 204 Kokutai while keeping his aircraft aloft with only one of its two engines functioning. Beyond TONDELAYO, a Zero crashes into the water having misjudged a low-level pass against the fleeing Mitchell bomber. Flight leader Capt. Lyle “Rip” Anacker in SNAFU can be seen on Wallace’s left wing and to his left, in the far right of the painting is 1/Lt. Harlan H. Peterson, flying SORRY SATCHUL. Both of these bombers were shot down in this encounter and survivors of Peterson’s crew were machine-gunned in the water by the Japanese.

After what seemed to be an eternity, Wallace’s crew in TONDELAYO managed to fight their way clear of their tormentors and eventually landed at Kiriwina Island, in the Trobriands Group. TONDELAYO, with dozens of bullet holes, would return to combat only after seven months of repair. In the end all 17 crewmen of the three 500th Bomb Squadron B-25s were awarded the Silver Star for valor. The 500th Squadron received a Distinguished Unit Citation for the mission. Col. Clinton True, C.O. of the 345th Bomb Group and leader of this mission, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for valor. This artwork is published in our book Warpath Across the Pacific.

Tin Liz

TIN LIZ was another of the unit’s medium bombers which had been converted to a strafer. Its original crew was F/O (later Capt.) Sylvester K. Vogt, pilot; 2/Lt. John R. Tunze, co-pilot; 1/Lt. Donald W. Ryan, navigator; T/Sgt. Robert E. Casty, radio-gunner; and S/Sgt. Joseph Forman, turret gunner. Casty remained with the 501st until early 1945, completing 104 combat missions, more than any other man in the Squadron. T/Sgt. Gerald E. Sims, the crew chief, was responsible for maintenance on the aircraft.

The profile illustrates TIN LIZ as it appeared in late September 1943, after fifteen missions. The original white nose I.D. band and an insignia depicting a grasshopper driving a falling bomb were partially obscured by the new blast panel, which was painted black on many 501st Squadron aircraft. The grasshopper was driving a bomb which had a red lightening bolt zig-zagging down it. The vertical white tail stripe dates from just after the strafer modification and was carried by all Squadron aircraft. Dead-eye Sy appeared just below the pilot’s window. The dark green patches on the vertical stabilizer and wings (not shown) were field applied to many 345th aircraft about the time of the strafer modification.

B-25 TIN LIZ and crew

TIN LIZ was photographed at Port Moresby in early August 1943. The crew was from left: F/O Sylvester K. Vogt, 2/Lt. John R. Tunze, 1/Lt. Donald W. Ryan, T/Sgt. Robert C. Casty, and S/Sgt. Joseph Forman. (Maurice J. Eppstein Collection)

The insert profile shows this same aircraft as it appeared about May 1944. An entirely new version of the grasshopper insignia has been applied as well as bomb stencils indicating that 85 missions had been completed. The three Japanese fighter silhouettes refer to confirmed kills by turret gunners in 1943. These were a “Zeke” on 10/18 (Flynn), another on 11/15 (Forman), and a third on 12/22 (Forman). Beneath the top turret are displayed two Japanese rising sun flags referring to Forman’s two kills. The sinking ship silhouette in white was for a Japanese ship destroyed by the crew.

Another interesting note was the V -shaped area of darker camouflage paint just below the top turret. This was caused by a protective tarp which was secured over the turret dome when the plane was on the ground. The camouflage paint gradually faded from the sun, but the area under the tarp faded much less, creating the effect shown.

TIN LIZ met its end on May 21, 1944, when it was shot down by AA near Dagua Airstrip, New Guinea, killing the entire crew. Details can be found in Appendix I.

Important missions flown in 1943 included: Wewak, 9/27 (Vogt); Rabaul, 10/12 (Vogt); Rabaul, 10/18 (Marston); Rabaul, 10/24 (Geer-5ooth Sq.); Wewak, 12/22 (Vogt); and in 1944: Admiralties, 1/25 (Vogt); Kavieng, 2/15 (Tunze); and Hollandia, 4/3 (Neuenschwander).

View the color profile on page 214 of our book Warpath Across the Pacific.

The 38th Joins in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea

After spotting a convoy of reinforcements sailing from Rabaul to Lae on March 1, 1943, Fifth Air Force sprang into action as General Kenney ordered the 43rd, 90th, 38th, and 3rd Bomb Groups to sink this convoy before it could reach its destination. The RAAF also joined the fray in their A-20s by raiding the airdrome at Lae to prevent any enemy fighters from taking off, and 30 Squadron Beaufighters also attacked the convoy. Attacks on the Japanese ships began on March 2nd, sinking one transport ship, with the bulk of the strikes taking place on the 3rd.

March 3rd began with the 71st and 405th Squadrons making low-level attacks on the convoy, which, as of that morning, consisted of eight destroyers sheltering seven transports. Although the B-25s were flying through heavy antiaircraft fire, none of them came away heavily damaged. By contrast, many of the ships were left stalled and smoking by the time the two squadrons headed home. This was to be a two-mission day, as the crews were to return to the Bismarck Sea that afternoon after their aircraft were reloaded with bombs and fuel. General Ennis C. Whitehead, the deputy Commander of Fifth Air Force, made a personal appearance at the 38th Bomb Group camp to get a full account of the morning’s events from the men. Back at Rabaul, the Japanese prepared to send additional fighters to aid in the defense of the convoy for the afternoon rematch.

Heading back to the Bismarck Sea, the 38th crews began their search for the convoy. They soon arrived, first encountering two ships dead in the water, then a few more burning away. As Capt. Ezra Best lined up for an attack on a destroyer from medium altitude, gunners on his B-25 GRASS CUTTER began firing at Oscar fighters from 11 Sentai that surprised the 71st Squadron. While there was an exchange of gun fire, it wasn’t as intense compared to the battles at high altitude earlier in the day.

Battle of the Bismarck Sea

The Battle of the Bismarck Sea resulted in the destruction of the Japanese fleet that carried troops to reinforce Lae. The 71st Squadron bombed the convoy from 5000 feet. Pictured here is one of the transports with palls of smoke rising from its decks after the 71stʼs attack. (Brian O’Neill Collection)

Meanwhile, pilots from the 405th Squadron decided to target a cluster of three ships, two of which were still moving. Several bursts of antiaircraft fire were thrown at the incoming B-25s with one exploding right in front of FILTHY LIL, piloted by 1/Lt. Adkins. The plane filled with smoke and the nose was jerked upward by the blast, knocking it out of formation. Briefly, the pilot and co-pilot thought that FILTHY LIL received severe damage and would have to be ditched, but it turned out that the nose only had a small hole. The pilot and co-pilot went off in search of a target, only to come across a destroyed transport with survivors floating in the water. They were strafed by the gunners* until their ammo ran out, then FILTHY LIL turned for home. Co-pilot 1/Lt. John Donegan wrote about his state of mind during the mission: “our destruction was not for mercy: it was simply that to us all Japanese soldiers had become things to be annihilated, not necessarily cruelly, but always thoroughly.”

For the Allies, the Battle of the Bismarck Sea was a resounding success. All eight Japanese transports and four destroyers were sunk. This raid also demonstrated that a relatively new tactic, low-level bombing, was an effective method for attacking enemy ships.

*Note: If you’ve read our previous Bismarck Sea post, you have read about the Japanese shooting at 43rd crewmembers who bailed out of their B-17. We cannot determine if the 38th knew about these events prior to their afternoon mission.