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.
Combat aircraft are a little like racehorses…they can only go around the track a certain amount of times before they are worn out. An airplane that has attained an advanced state of decrepitude, such that it is no longer considered safe for combat missions is considered to be “war weary.” In the Southwest Pacific Theater of operations, consignment of worn out aircraft to the boneyard was an unaffordable luxury in 1944. For utility was still to be squeezed out of an airplane which could still wheeze down the runway and struggle into the air, and enough optimists could be found to fly her.
In the painting, a war weary B-25D with over 100 combat missions to its credit, WOLF PACK, retired to utility flights by the 498th Bomb Squadron, 345th Bomb Group, drops into the Ramu River valley in the jungles of western New Guinea, September 11, 1944, after losing an engine. The B-25 was unable to maintain level flight on the remaining engine, so a controlled crash-landing in the valley, an area known to be inhabited by cannibals, became a necessity. Pilot Lt. John Fabale, and co-pilot Lt. Harrison Beardsley managed to land in a swamp without any injuries to themselves or the crew.
After a five-day odyssey through the jungle, the crew arrived at an Allied jungle outpost, whereupon they were airlifted the rest of the way out by L-5 Stinson liaison aircraft. Many aircraft and their crew simply vanished into the jungle of New Guinea, never to be seen again, as the weather and the uncertainties of flight in aircraft which have mechanical failure as a recurring theme, took their toll on optimist and pessimist alike.
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.
This week, we’re listing our most popular posts published this year as determined by the number of views. Did your favorite post make the list?
Thank you for your continued support by subscribing, reading and sharing our work, and buying our books. If there’s anything you’d like to see more of, let us know in the comments. We’ll be back next year with more great content. And now, without further ado, our most popular posts of 2017.
1. The Fight for Mindoro As a result of some great comments from a prior post (see #4 on this list), we delved into further detail about a harrowing mission on December 24, 1944.
On the Philippine island of Luzon, elements of the 312th Bombardment Group, nicknamed the Roarin’ 20’s, sweep across Japanese-occupied Clark Field near Manila on January 14, 1945. The attack was executed in a line abreast formation at 100 feet or less above the airfield complex. First lieutenant Wilbur L. Cleveland of the 387th Bomb Squadron, flying an A-20G sporting a winning poker hand with the face of Batman’s nemesis, “the Joker,” narrowly avoids colliding with the squadron commanding officer, Capt. John C. Alsup, in his fatally damaged A-20. A burst of flak had just exploded in the bomb bay of Alsup’s A-20, causing it to nose up and burst into flames. It then crashed into the target, killing him and his gunner, Cpl. Oscar C. Rush. The third plane was flown by 1/Lt. Ormonde J. Frison of the 386th Squadron. Clark Field was the most important and heavily defended Japanese airfield on Luzon, and the low-level attacks were key to neutralizing Japanese airpower on the island during the critical week of the American amphibious landing at nearby Lingayen Gulf. This artwork is published in our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.
On November 2, 1943, the 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 Britian. 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 background, 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.
On the night of December 26, 1944, this radar-equipped B-24M night intruder, piloted by Lt. Samuel L. Flinner of the 63rd Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group attacked and immobilized the Imperial Japanese Navy Yugumo-class destroyer, Kiyoshimo, off the Philippine island of Mindoro, where it was left behind and sunk by a PT boat. Leaving Tacloban, they had been informed that a Japanese task force might try to retake the area so orders were given to try to locate it. After departure, they skirted a squall line only to find that Mindoro’s night sky was being lit up by shelling and flares. Scouts for ships with radar produced several targets. While being showered with heavy tracers and antiaircraft fire, a low altitude bomb run at 1000 feet was made on a vessel that was three miles off shore. All three of their bombs produced large explosions. After the run on the ship, the B-24 became the center of attention for the Japanese as it dove to the deck in a hard turn. Two shells hit the plane, one in the tail turret, injuring the tail gunner, and another exploded in the midsection behind the waist gunner, cutting the rudder cables. Splicing the cables together, they flew back through the squall line to Tacloban and circled until daylight to land. A ground inspection revealed over 200 holes. Lieutenant Flinner accumulated 24 missions and 412 combat hours. He and his crew were given credit for the kill. This artwork will be published in our next book Ken’s Men Against the Empire Volume II.
Buy your copy of this dramatic artwork by aviation artist Jack Fellows on our website.
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.
Babo Airdrome was a key base for Japanese operations on the Vogelkop Peninsula of Dutch New Guinea. Lieutenant General George C. Kenney, commander of Fifth Air Force, hoped that this attack would catch Babo’s aircraft on the ground, but with about fifty antiaircraft positions, the Japanese base was still a formidable challenge for any attacker, especially at low level. On July 9, 1944, Col. Strauss led 24 A-20s from the 388th and 389th Squadrons against Babo. The surprise attack was highly successful, but it came at a steep price to the 389th: five men and three aircraft.
One flight leader, 1/Lt. Kenneth I. Hedges, shown here in THE QUEEN OF SPADES, lost both of his wingmen on this raid. On his left wing, at the upper right in the painting, was 1/Lt. Earl G. Hill, with his gunner Sgt. Ray Glacken. Their A-20 is shown on fire before beginning a fatal descent. A short time later, the wing spar burned through and the plane plummeted into Bentoni Bay. The explosion on the ground at the upper left shows the A-20G of 1/Lt. Walter H. Van and his gunner, S/Sgt. Gilbert V. Cooper, exploding on a taxiway on the airdrome, a victim of the antiaircraft gunners. This artwork is published in our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.
On May 29, 1945, 1/Lt. Fred L. Paveglio and his wingman, 1/Lt. L.T. Wilhelm, piloted their B-25J Mitchells on a devastating raid against the Tairin Alcohol Plant on the island of Formosa. Following the precise directions from the navigator, 2/Lt. Albert C. West, Paveglio and Wilhelm dropped down to attack height and heavily strafed the Tairin complex, just before dropping a half dozen 500-pound parademos.
This painting depicts the moment approximately five seconds after the munitions detonated on the ground where the mammoth secondary explosion sent debris rocketing high above the plant. At the same time, the alcohol storage tanks were touched off, sending a blazing fireball 800 feet into the air. During the spring and summer of 1945, the 38th Bomb Group was so successful in destroying the fuel alcohol industry on Formosa that they earned the nickname “Alcohol Buster of Formosa.”