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.
Early on the morning of June 4, 1942, the Japanese Combined Fleet, with four aircraft carriers, was approaching Midway Island in the Central Pacific with the intention of seizing the island. They expected to surprise the Allied base, but due to a broken Japanese code the Allies had advance warning, and sent every available bomber in Hawaii to Midway’s defense. Among this eclectic mix were four B-26 Martin Marauder fast medium bombers, now equipped to carry aerial torpedoes: two from the 22nd Bomb Group and two from the 38th Bomb Group. Navy ships, including two carriers, were also now approaching the scene. But even without the element of surprise, the Japanese had more ships, more carriers, and more aircraft armed to take down opposing ships.
While Midway Island was subjected to a terrific pounding by an initial Japanese air attack, the B-26s participated with Midway-based Navy attack aircraft in a desperate but spirited counterattack on the carriers. The strike ended badly for this American strike force and two of the B-26s were shot down during their target runs. The other two were so badly shot up that they barely made it back to Midway, where they crash-landed and never flew again. While attempting to evade the Akagi’s Zero fighters after releasing his torpedo at the ship, Lt. James Muri of the 408th Bomb Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group, in B-26 #40-1391 SUZIE Q, ended up flying just feet above the Akagi’s flight deck. Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, leader of the Midway assault, witnessed the American counterattack, saw the Marauder fly a few feet above the ship’s deck, and incorrectly surmised that the planes stationed on the island’s airbase were the biggest threat to his precious carriers. Accordingly, he re-armed his force of attack aircraft with ordnance intended to destroy land targets. What Nagumo didn’t realize was that at the moment that Lt. Muri was hurtling down the flight deck of Akagi, mere feet away, two yet undetected U.S. carriers had arrived to engage the Japanese fleet.
The shocking discovery a short time later of U.S. carriers preparing to strike the Japanese fleet forced Nagumo to once again download the ordnance on his waiting planes and reload them for attacking ships. Aside from the breaking of the Japanese code that allowed the U.S. Navy to respond to the Japanese invasion fleet, this fateful decision was responsible, more than anything else, for the U.S. Navy’s stunning victory over the Japanese Naval forces in the Battle of Midway. While the Japanese planes were sitting on the flight decks, busy reloading, the Americans had already launched their attack aircraft. Had the Midway-based attack not been so aggressive, or if Lt. Muri had not so audaciously buzzed the Admiral’s flagship, the Japanese attack aircraft may well have kept their anti-ship ordnance and been in the air when the American carrier attack planes were launched. By the end of the day, all four of the Japanese carriers had been sunk; the USS Yorktown was the only carrier loss suffered by the United States Navy in this battle, which was the turning point in the Pacific war.
On April 6, 1945, 1/Lt. Francis A. Thompson, a pilot in the 499th Bomb Squadron, 345th Bomb Group, is seen diving his bat-nosed North American B-25J Mitchell, #44-29600, toward an IJN Kaiboken-class frigate, Coast Defense Vessel No. 134, in the Formosa Strait 30 miles southwest of Amoy, China. The warship was one of three destroyed that day by the 345th in a furious battle conducted at mast height. These ships were some of the last survivors from a major convoy of 17 ships that left Singapore on March 19th bound for Japan. Over several days, the 345th was responsible for sinking 10 ships in the convoy for the loss of four B-25s and 22 crewmen. Submarines sank the rest.
Thompson, piloting one of 24 B-25s on this mission, only managed to conduct a strafing run in this low altitude assault. He was crowded out by his wingman who scored a near miss and did probable damage to the frigate’s stern, and by the explosion of a delay-fuse 500-pound bomb that had been dropped by the flight leader. Here Thompson is seen pulling out of the explosion—a harrowing example of the dangerous missions that over the course of the war took the lives of hundreds of men from the four squadrons of the 345th. This artwork is published in our book Warpath Across the Pacific. It is also sold as a print on our website. Buy yours today.
Regardless of which is the mightier, both the sword and the pen were in the air over the busy Japanese-occupied harbor at Rabaul on the day that history records as “Bloody Tuesday,” November 2, 1943. Former child actor and now Hearst International News Service (INS) correspondent, Lee Van Atta had become known in Fifth Air Force as a daring reporter who, like Ernie Pyle and others, liked to be in the thick of the action to get a better feel for what he would report via INS. Sitting in the navigator’s seat directly behind pilot Capt. Richard “Dick” Ellis, with Lt. John Dean, co-pilot to Ellis’ right, young Lee Van Atta rode out the storm of fire and destruction over Simpson Harbor in a B-25D strafer nicknamed “SEABISCUIT” to write his stirring account of the battle on the return trip from Rabaul.
This was not the first trip to Rabaul for Van Atta; on October 12th he rode behind command pilot Major John “Jock” Henebry and co-pilot Lt. Edward Murphy in Henebry’s B-25D strafer nicknamed NOTRE DAME DE VICTOIRE. The October 12th mission pitted Henebry’s aircraft against the persistent Japanese antiaircraft gun crews defending the airfields at the Rabaul area airfields at Rapopo and Vunakanau, whereupon he had written an equally-stirring account of the battle. NOTRE DAME DE VICTOIRE was lost on the November 2nd mission but all of Henebry’s crew was rescued by a PT boat off Kiriwina Island in the Trobriands.
In the picture, 90th Bomb Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group pilot Ellis, with Van Atta seated just behind him, has loosed a 1000-pound bomb on a Japanese merchant ship. In the background, 90th Bomb Squadron pilot Chuck Howe’s B-25, nicknamed HERE’S HOWE, can be seen running the gauntlet of antiaircraft fire as well. On the return trip, Howe escorted Henebry’s crippled aircraft to a safe ditching off Kiriwina Island. On November 2, 1943, Fifth Air Force lost eight B-25s (11% of the attacking Mitchells) and nine P-38s in exchange for claims of 15 enemy ships sunk and 22 others damaged. In addition, the P-38s claimed a combined 67 Japanese fighters shot down and another 23 probably destroyed. In the background, the town of Rabaul has been set ablaze by phosphorous bombs dropped to screen the attack on the harbor from the heavy antiaircraft defenses.
The Sword and the Pen is available for purchase on our website and sent directly from the artist.
On November 5, 1943, the 22nd Bomb Group was ordered to bomb strong enemy positions the Japanese had taken up after being driven out of their coastal bases that were blocking the advance of the 7th Australian Division in the rugged, heavily-forested mountains of New Guinea’s upper Faria Valley, a tributary of the Markham River. Attacking below an undercast, and using only artillery smoke rounds to identify the target, 27 B-25s and B-26s saturated the area with over 400 hundred-pound bombs. The Australian “Diggers,” who were then only 1500 yards from the target, then swept through the enemy positions with no resistance, reporting that the bombs struck every known enemy position in the area. For this feat, the 22nd was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation. The painting depicts 2nd Squadron flight leaving the target. Below the tail of the nearest B-25D, OLE’ TOMATO, smoke can be seen rising from the enemy positions. F/O Earl F. Larson was at the controls that day. This artwork is published in our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.
This painting portrays two aircraft from the 386th Bomb Squadron, 312th Bomb Group, during a highly successful attack by 75 A-20s on the Boela oil fields on the northeast coast of the island of Ceram, Netherlands East Indies, on July 14, 1944. The aircraft visible on this image is GLORIA C II, A-20G-25 #43-9114, the Havoc of 1/Lt. Paul F. Teague. On the left, his wingman, 1/Lt. Edgar A. Hambleton, can be seen in his aircraft JE REVIENS, A-20G-30 #43-9458. They are bombing and strafing their way across the target with exploding oil tanks and installations below, and offshore oil derricks and pumps visible in the background. This artwork is published on the cover of our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s and can be purchased on our website as a giclee or canvas print.
This image will be featured on the cover of Saga of the Sun Setters Volume II. Prices range from $200 for a standard giclee print to $295 for a canvas print, not including shipping. They are printed and shipped directly from the artist himself. Visit our website for more information or to buy one of these outstanding pieces of art.
Hoping to repeat an earlier rescue of the remaining Japanese Army soldiers from Guadalcanal in February 1943, the Japanese planned a similar operation for about 700 airmen trapped on the northern coast of Luzon, near Aparri, codenamed Operation Badorio. Scheduled to begin January 31, 1945, the operation called for a swift dash from Formosa across the Bashi Channel by three IJN destroyers: Ume, Kaede, and Shiokaze, with a scheduled arrival at Aparri in the middle of the night. Unlike the Guadalcanal rescue attempt, this one was well known to Allied intelligence. They put two squadrons of the Sun Setters, the 405th and the 822nd up to strike the three rescue destroyers. Fourteen P-47s from the 39th and 41st Fighter Squadrons of the 35th Fighter Group engaged Zeroes flying top cover duty over the destroyers.
In the picture, 2/Lt. Donald H. Martin’s B-25J passes over Shiokaze, which remarkably remained nearly unscathed in the attack. Ume, seen in the background,was not so lucky. A direct hit from 1/Lt. James P. Wilhem, another 822nd pilot, penetrated to the engine room of the Ume, devastating the ship. The Kaede (not seen here) also received major damage. The two seaworthy destroyers were forced to turn back for Formosa for repairs, dooming the rescue attempt. Although the 405th Squadron lost one of its crews in the battle, the mission was a great success as it had prevented the rescue of critically important Japanese aviation personnel, preventing their further threat to Allied air operations in that theater.
Major Chester Coltharp, commanding officer of the 498th Bomb Squadron, 345th Bomb Group is seen sweeping into the Kavieng, New Ireland Japanese seaplane anchorage, which was Fifth Air Force’s target for destruction on February 15, 1944. Major Coltharp’s B-25D, PRINCESS PAT and 1/Lt. G. D. McCall’s NEAR MISS are the embodiment of the legendary Major Paul I. “Pappy” Gunn’s revolutionary gun-toting field conversion of the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber to the devastating tool of destruction that was to become known as the strafer.
For more information or to purchase a copy of this piece by Jack Fellows, please visit our website.