Bombs Away

This excerpt comes from a memoir written by 1/Lt. Robert Mosley of the 89th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group.

 

Our planes at the Mindoro strip were parked along the taxi way but each parking spot was surrounded by a pile of dirt, about a wing tip height, around the side and rear of the airplane. These were called revetments and the purpose of the dirt was to protect the planes as much as possible from bomb damage from the enemy and particularly from any strafing attacks. One day I was getting ready for a mission and the whole area was alive with activity as one would expect prior to a squadron going on a combat mission. Now, I must digress a little to explain briefly how the bomb release switches work in an A-20. That is, there were a number of switches you could activate so you could release the bombs in singles, pairs or pretty much whatever order the pilot wanted. There was also a salvo switch. To operate the salvo switch there was a small, maybe 2 inch long, lever like thing that you rotated from about the 6 o’clock position (it had a pin next to it on the right side, sticking out of the panel to keep you from trying to rotate it to the left) almost 360 degrees around until it hit the pin from the other side. This salvo switch was on there to allow you to drop all of your bombs at once if that is what you wanted to do but we also used it on the final pass of a mission to make sure we had dropped all of our bombs. The bomb release panel was down near the floor of the cockpit, just above where your left foot would go up under the instrument panel on  to the left rudder pedal. It was not a good position for it because you had to look down near the floor to set up what ever configuration you wanted on the bomb panel, which meant momentarily taking your eyes off of where you were flying the airplane. And, it was dark down in that low spot in the cockpit, especially when being in bright sunlight and then trying to see down there in the shadows.

Well, this particular morning I had gotten in the cockpit and went through my pre-start checks but did not notice that the salvo switch was in the full salvo position. In my defense, when the lever was in the SALVO position it was no more than an eighth of an inch from the position it would have been in when in the OFF position; i.e., it was just over on the other side of a 16th inch pin. But I should have noticed it as well as the people who loaded the bombs. In fact I never quite figured out how they could have loaded the bombs with it in the salvo position but they had.

SO– when I turned on the battery switch, that plane gave a big lurch as every bomb on the plane dropped right there in the revetment. At that moment I was not sure what had happened but what I saw soon confirmed my suspicions. For what I saw was ass holes and elbows going in all directions away from me. Guys were going over the dirt walls of the revetment like the walls were not even there. My gunnery sergeant came casually around from his position in the back of the plane (as stated earlier, Sgt. Rogers was about 5 years older than me and was not impressed with Lieutenants). He looked up at me in the cockpit and said with total disgust, “What in the hell did you do?”

You would have to have been around bombs a lot to know that these iron bombs were really not all that dangerous, when not armed (these bombs had to have a little propeller on the nose of the bomb, activated by the air stream when dropped from a plane, to screw the firing pin into position to become armed) because I have seen the ground crews just drop them from the plane onto the ground beneath the plane as a expeditious way of unloading them as opposed to doing it with a winch as they should. So I was not concerned about them going off. I was just embarrassed. What was an unknown though, was what the two huge tanks of Napalm, one under each wing, would do because they dropped also. No one had ever tried dropping one of those onto a PSP surface before (and they were armed differently than the iron bombs). It can be concluded from the face that I am here to tell this story that they will not go off either.

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Repost: The Royce Raid: The 3rd Bomb Group Wins Its Spurs

We’re wrapping up our Royce Raid trilogy today with the exciting finale. This post was first published in May 2014.

 

The morning of April 12th brought a raid by the 3rd Bomb Group on Davao, located on the southeast coast of Mindanao. This base became a primary target for the 3rd Bomb Group’s raids, as it had been under Japanese control since war was declared. Three P-40s from the Del Monte base made strafing runs, while two others flew on to Luzon to find shipping targets. A group of B-17s caught the Japanese by surprise when they destroyed runways, hangars, gasoline storage and warehouses at Nichols Field. The Japanese Army Air Force at Clark Field was taken by surprise and they were not able to mount a response until after the U.S. bombers were already back in Australia.

That same morning, the 3rd Bomb Group split up into two flights, led by Capt. Robert Strickland and Capt. Lowery, for their morning missions. They flew out separately to Cebu City, approximately 140 miles to the northwest of Del Monte. On the way over, the flight led by Lowery spotted a Japanese transport and Col. Davies decided that each plane should drop a single bomb on the ship. While they claimed it as sunk, Japanese records do not indicate any ships lost.

When Lowery’s flight arrived over Cebu City, the crews discovered Strickland’s flight had already bombed the airfield so it was decided that the five crews would split up: three B-25s would attack two large ships while the other two B-25s would bomb warehouses and onshore docks. They recorded a direct hit on a 7000-ton transport ship, which was probably the transport India Maru. Japanese anti-aircraft gunners shot at the B-25s and one bursting shell sent a piece of shrapnel into Lt. Petersen’s bomber where it failed to penetrate the armor plate behind the seat of Lt. Harry Managan. The B-25 gunners defended their bombers from attacks by four Japanese seaplanes, two of which were claimed shot down. The B-25 flight left for Del Monte with the Cebu docks and nearby buildings on fire.

Royce and Davies

Brigadier General Ralph Royce (left) and Col. John Davies, two commanders of the Royce Raid (April 11–16, 1942), pictured in Melbourne soon after their return from the Philippines.

Both flights got back to the dispersal fields at Valencia and Maramag without incident and the planes were quickly hidden in the jungle to keep them from being spotted by Japanese planes. The 5th Air Base Group’s efficiency refueling and reloading the planes for the afternoon mission greatly impressed the men of the 3rd Bomb Group. Everyone wanted to help wherever possible, and thanks to the cooperative efforts, the B-25s were back in the air at 1330 hours for a second strike.

Not long after takeoff, the single flight was intercepted by two Japanese seaplanes. One of the seaplanes was hit, while the B-25s flew on unscathed. The crews also attacked a large transport on their way to Cebu Harbor and left it listing. When the crews arrived over Cebu the second time around, the Japanese were ready to greet the B-25s with heavier antiaircraft fire. The 3rd Bomb Group persisted in their attack, dropping 25 500-pound bombs on various targets and strafing buildings.

The next day, the crews flew two more missions, this time to Davao, where they targeted floatplanes and ships in the harbor. After the missions on April 13th wound down, it was time to get the B-25s back to Australia before the Japanese were able to locate the base and launch a strike against them. Upon their return to Australia, Royce, Col. John Davies and Lt. Jim McAfee flew to Melbourne for interviews and to report to Gen. MacArthur. All the B-25 crews received medals for their participation in the raids and the media pounced on their success.

“The raids obviously threw the Japanese into a terrific panic,” Royce told reporters. “You can imagine their bewilderment when suddenly out of the sky appeared a bunch of bombers that let loose everything on them. They didn’t know where the bombers came from.” A few days later, the Doolittle Raids would reduce the Royce Raid to a brief moment in the Pacific war, but morale was still high. After all, the members of the Royce Raid participated in the longest mission to date without a single death and Australia was proven to be a good point to launch offensive attacks. “We have won our spurs,” wrote McAfee. “We can do a job no matter how much politics there is to it!”

Repost: The Royce Raid: Journey to Del Monte

Continuing with our revisit of the Royce Raid. This post was first published in May 2014.

 

After they heard the news of the surrender of Bataan, the 3rd Bomb Group was told the details of their secret mission. They would be staging out of Del Monte, Mindanao, over 3000 miles away from their current location. The men knew the lengthy flight would be risky for the medium B-25 bomber. Only the most experienced pilots were selected for this mission, with eight of the 11 crews coming from the 13th Squadron. Five of them had flown on the mission to Gasmata earlier that month. Out of the 11 crews, 16 of the pilots and co-pilots had been evacuated from the Philippines. The B-25 crews lacked trained navigators, however, which were vital for the 1000-mile flight to Darwin and 2000-mile flight over the ocean to Mindanao. To remedy the situation, they were assigned experienced B-17 navigators from the large pool of planeless flight crews from the 7th and 19th Bomb Groups. Finding an adequate supply of maps was another issue.

The overnight trip from Charters Towers to Darwin was an adventure for a few of the air crews. After Lt. Hal Maull had left Charters Towers, his navigator, 2/Lt. William K. Culp, realized that their map to Darwin was missing. They would either have to circle until dawn or figure out a route on their own. Lt. Culp decided to chart a course by using a small reference map of Asia to determine the latitude and longitude of Charters Towers that way. His method was successful and the crew made it to Darwin around dawn the next morning. Lt. Al Heyman, the navigator in Lt. David Feltham’s B-25, plotted his course by taking celestial fixes of the night sky and mapping them. Col. Davies, Capt. Lowery and Lt. Wilson arrived later that morning after getting lost over the Timor Sea. Lt. Schmidt flew with Lt. Maull’s B-25 after he couldn’t find Davies’ plane, and after they landed, was surprised to learn they flew without a map of Australia.

Upon landing, Lt. Schmidt and his co-pilot, Sgt. Nichols discovered a gash in their tire that would keep them grounded until a new one could be delivered. With all the supplies on board the planes, there was no room for extra tires and other spare parts. Schmidt would have fly to Mindanao alone. The other crews stuck around Darwin only long enough to refuel and attend another briefing. This time, they were told that if Del Monte was socked in, they would have to fly low enough to find it or to crash land. There was no alternate airfield to land at if they could not find the complex at Del Monte. Everyone then got back in their planes and settled in for the seven hour flight to Mindanao.

The flight itself did not go without a hitch for some of the pilots. On Capt. Bob Strickland’s B-25, the navigator did not know how to use the type of sextant on the plane in order to get a line of position and was using a map taken from a National Geographic magazine. Luckily, Strickland recognized an island chain north of Australia, flew parallel to them, and made it to Del Monte without further incident. Lt. Bennet Wilson’s crew had a very tense moment when they were flying through a thunderstorm and both engines cut out. Col. Davies and Lt. McAfee briefly got lost over the ocean, and Lt. Smith flew within view of Davao, a Japanese base. Eventually, all the crews made it to Mindanao, where they were able to rest and catch up with old friends.

Continue to part 3, The Royce Raid: The 3rd Bomb Group Wins Its Spurs

Repost: The 3rd Bomb Group’s Combat Debut: Prelude to the Royce Raid

This month marks the 77th anniversary of the Royce Raid, an early attack on the Japanese that is not very well known because it was overshadowed by the Doolittle Raid a short time later. Due to the target’s distant location, the mission required careful planning and staging to pull it off. First, the 3rd Bomb Group needed a little combat experience. This post was originally published in April 2014.

 

By April 1942, the 3rd Bomb Group was about two weeks into training on the B-25. This training was suddenly put to the test when an order came through for any operational 3rd Bomb Group B-25s to fly to Port Moresby for a raid on the Japanese airfield at Gasmata on April 6th. These planes and crews came from the 13th Squadron, since they already had their new bombers. Six B-25s took off from Charters Towers, Australia on April 5th for a night’s stay in Port Moresby, prepared to hit Gasmata on the 6th. The 13th Squadron C.O., Capt. Herman Lowery, would lead the strike.

The next day, five of the B-25s took off (the sixth was unable to) without a fighter escort due to the distance to the target. This was the official combat debut of the B-25. The 350-mile flight from Port Moresby to Gasmata was pushing the operational range of the B-25. Any delay over or near the target area would mean the crew(s) would not be able to make it back to Port Moresby without running out of fuel. The planes made their runs on Gasmata between 4500 and 5000 feet, and the three crews that decided to hit the southeast portion of the runway came in under heavy antiaircraft fire. Some of the planes suffered minor damage, but none of the crews were injured. All returned to Port Moresby and later to Charters Towers without incident.

Gasmata Airdrome 1942

Gasmata Airdrome in March 1942

Not long after this mission, rumors about a bigger raid started floating around camp. General Jonathan Wainwright wanted to see the Allies take out the Japanese blockade around Manila Harbor so troops on Bataan could receive badly needed supplies. General Brett was reluctant to put MacArthur’s idea into action, as he felt that the limited resources of the Allies would be better used to build up air power in Australia. Brigadier General Ralph Royce was more enthusiastic about the prospect, and decided to write up a mission estimate for a possible raid on “Miami,” the code name for the Philippines. He quietly urged Gen. Brett to supervise the raid, pointing out that it would enhance Brett’s position with MacArthur. When Brett declined, Royce said that since no one else had the experience for this sort of mission, he would oversee it. Brett agreed to let him lead the raids.

The mission was offered to to the 3rd Bomb Group and accepted by Col. John Davies. With that, the Group’s B-25s were sent to Archerfield at Brisbane, Australia where they were outfitted with 1200-gallon tanks in the bomb bays in order to safely make such a long flight. Originally, there were plans to add smaller fuel tanks to the bombardier’s compartment in the nose as well, but those were scratched. Just as they had done when they ferried planes from Hawaii to Australia, the crews would rely on the auxiliary bomb bay fuel tanks. Afterwards, they flew back to Charters Towers, where the planes were loaded with food, medicine, and other long-awaited supplies for then men on Bataan.

On April 8th, MacArthur wired Gen. Wainwright about his desperately-needed support finally being on its way. Unfortunately, that day also marked the surrender of Bataan to the Japanese. Even with the shock the news generated, the men were more determined than ever to do what they could to help out their friends and colleagues. “We’re all sick over Bataan,” wrote 1/Lt. Jim McAfee in his diary.

Continue to part 2, The Royce Raid: Journey to Del Monte

Officer of the Day

In 1999, Clayton A. Dietrich, veteran of the 89th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group sat down for an interview that covered his service in World War II. Prior to his war assignment, Dietrich graduated with a B.A. in 1940 and completed his first year of law school in 1941. As an undergrad, he joined the ROTC because all able-bodied males attending the University of Maryland were required to have two years of military training. Dietrich was commissioned as a second lieutenant and later notified that he would have to complete a year of active duty in the military to meet the equivalency requirement. Within a month or two, he found himself in the 89th Squadron at the Savannah Army Air Base in Savannah, Georgia and was assigned the squadron supply office. With a year of law school under his belt he was also immersed in the court happenings on the base.

About once a month, men were assigned to be the Officer of the Day. As such, the officer had to make two rounds of the posts on base, one before midnight and one after midnight. Dietrich wasn’t the type of person to lazily fulfill his duties and came up with his own ways to keep the guards on their toes. He felt that the general attitude on guarding the base was too lax, so he always lectured the men before they went on guard duty on how he expected them to conduct themselves. “Then I’d find out from the sergeant of the guard — because they were like the old-timers — they knew how things worked … I found that usually what most officers did was go from post 1 to post 20. You make the rounds in the Jeep. The sergeant drives it, you ride with him, you get out and you check the guard on the post and you go back.”

 

Clayton Dietrich with 3BG HQ and Squadron COs in Dobodura

Clayton Dietrich (2nd from the right), stands for a picture with members of the 3rd Bomb Group HQ and the squadron Commanding Officers in Dobodura. (John Henebry Collection)

 

When he made his rounds, he started earlier in the evening when guards wouldn’t expect the officer to show up. Coming up to the posts, he tell the sergeant to turn off the car’s lights and park about a football field’s length away from each post, then walk quietly toward the guard. “Anybody in their right mind would be apprehensive. It would make guards quite nervous as to who is this somebody — a wrong doer.” When the guard would yell, “Halt! Who’s there?” Dietrich would remain silent and continue to walk toward the very nervous guard. He wanted to see how they would react in the tense situation. “The next step was they’d put a shell in their rifle chamber. When I heard them put the shell in their chamber, then I’d identify myself. I wasn’t a fool.”

He would then ask if the guard knew the special orders of the post, then the general orders. “It’s like a little Bible for guard duty. I don’t remember what they are myself today, but I knew them by heart then.” The guard was then quizzed on about three of the general orders before he would leave them and go on to the next post. If he caught a guard not paying attention, he’d walk up behind a guard, grab them, and say “I got you.” to get an idea of what could happen if someone tried to infiltrate the camp. To Dietrich, this was training for life in active duty and a chance to remind guards that their job, as boring as it could be, was still very important.

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.

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.

Moving Day

Throughout the island-hopping campaign of the Pacific, units had to pick up and move from one base to another as they drove the Japanese northward. Just like a household move, it was organized chaos. Personal items and equipment used by the different sections were packed up into crates, hauled down to a beach and loaded into a waiting Landing Ship Tank (LST). Vehicles were driven on board and tarps were placed over stacks of crates.

Loading LSTs

Airmen of the 312th load Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs) in preparation for the voyage to Leyte in November 1944. (Russell L. Sturzebecker Collection)

After a day or two of getting everything and everyone not flying a plane to the next base on board, the men settled in for their sea journey, which could last a week or more. Sleeping quarters might be somewhere below deck or up top, under a tarp. Navy food was typically much better than what the airmen were used to, and on one trip, Adrian Bottge of the 89th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group noticed how the sailors “look much healthier than we do. Never realized before how beat up, underfed and jaundiced looking we are.”

On a good trip, the men were able to move to their new location without Japanese interference. There was one terrifying trip when the 345th Bomb Group was attacked by kamikaze pilots on the way to Leyte in November 1944. Tragically, 111 members of that group were killed in that attack.

Upon arrival at the new base, it was time to unload and set up camp. Unloading was always a frenzy. The shipcrews were on a strict schedule, rain or shine, and anything left on board would be taken away when the LST departed. The 312th Bomb Group was also subject to Japanese raids the night the men arrived on Leyte on November 19th. This particular move was not easy for the 312th. Besides the raid, they expected to stay at their temporary camp for a few days, not seven weeks in the rain. Twenty-three inches of rain fell that month, the food was terrible and there was no mail delivery. It took until the end of December for the 312th’s base at Tanauan to be ready for the men.

Unloading LSTs

A section of the 43rd Bomb Group unloads their cargo. Judging by the muddy conditions, this was probably taken at Leyte. (Leon D. Brown Jr. Collection)

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.

Repost: Cow Wrangling at Charters Towers

We dug into the archives this week and found this lighthearted story, which first appeared on April 1, 2016.

 

To the newly-arrived American airmen, Australia was a completely different world. Sailing across the Pacific on the USAT Ancon, the 3rd Bomb Group went up the Brisbane River in February 1942 and disembarked at Hamilton Wharf. When the men were allowed to explore their new surroundings, they were warmly greeted by the Australians. Still, changes in climate, currency, popular sports, and general culture were a lot to get used to in a short time. Some of the men tried to learn about cricket and rugby but neither sport really caught on with the Group. Twelve days after the 3rd reached Australia, it was ordered to head north to the small town of Charters Towers by March 7th.

On March 8th, the 3rd got on trains and began a slow journey northward. Two days later, the 89th Squadron got off at Townsville to fulfill an assignment of servicing 40th Reconnaissance Squadron B-17s. The rest of the Group rode the remaining 70 miles to Charters Towers. Upon arrival, the men were taken to their campsite, which was nothing more than tall grass and a few trees. They spent their first night in Charters Towers under the stars. The next day, they began to put their camp area together. Not long after the camp was set up, the men pitched in to work on the new airstrips.

Soon, they were given permission to go into the town itself and have a look around. For them, it was like stepping into an old Western film, complete with wooden sidewalks and bars with swinging doors. Charters Towers was certainly small, but it thrived due to its proximity to gold mines. With plans to set up a major air base, though, Charters Towers wouldn’t remain a small town for much longer.

Main Street, Charters Towers

A photograph of the Main Street in Charters Towers during the summer of 1942. Although only a small town, Charters Towers had prospered from a gold mining boom and was well-appointed for a frontier outpost. The town underwent a rapid expansion as it became a major airbase and thoroughfare for the Allied war effort. (Harry Mangan Collection)

By June 1942, the 3rd Bomb Group was well-established in Australia. The men were flying more bombing and gunnery training missions, and their current space at the RAAF bombing range in Townsville was quickly becoming insufficient for their needs. The men searched for a new space that they could use for a range. Harold Chapman, a Charters Towers rancher, gave permission to the Group to use part of his cattle station for their practice. Chapman requested a day’s notice from the men whenever they needed to use the range. In turn, Chapman would round up his cattle so that they wouldn’t get shot.

The Group would always send a few men to help Chapman round up his cattle. Private Charles Valade of the 13th Squadron soon developed a reputation as quite a cowhand. During one unfortunate training mission, “Pappy” Gunn reportedly shot and killed a cow by accident with .50-caliber ammo. He had to paid Chapman five pounds as a reimbursement. For the most part, using Chapman’s range for training proved to be extremely valuable for the combat crews.