ERIC MUNDAY, colour plates by TERRY HADLER, JERRY SCUTTS, TOM BRITTAIN, CHRIS WARNER
USAAF BOMBER UNITS PACIFIC 1941-45
The various field modifications to beef up the B-25's armament led, in early 1944, to the appearance of the 'ultimate' strafer model, the B-25J, the solid-nosed version of which packed eight guns. With four more 'fifties' firing forward from the fuselage sides, two in the top turret and four in the fuselage, the eighteen-gun B-25J was the most heavily armed medium bomber in service anywhere. Before long this potent weapon was being built for all the air forces fighting the Japanese.
The last Liberator group assigned to the 7th AF was the 494th, which began combat operations from Anguar on 3 November 1944. Here, 44-40559 'Kuuipo' is readied for a mission less than twenty-four hours after arrival on Anguar, on 24 November 1944, its tail chevron indicating the 864th Sqn. The group was also the last B-14 unit to deploy overseas.
Along with strafing attacks, a special parachute bomb delivery was devised, to enable low-flying aircraft to avoid the blast from their own weapons. Demolition and fragmentation bombs 'parademos' and 'parafrags' - were particularly effective against troop concentrations and airfields. Most light and medium bomber attacks now became hectic dashes at low level with guns blazing, through curtains of tracer and smoke, the bombs being laid in strings across the target area.
By 1944, the 38th and 345th Groups were both equipped with Mitchells, and the 3rd, 312th, and 417th had A-20 Havocs. These units used the low-level attack method to the virtual exclusion of any form of high-level formation bombing, whereas most USAAF theorists favoured high-level tactics up until that time.
In the first week of March 1943, the 5th AF, with units of the Royal Australian Air Force, scored a notable victory in the Bismarck Sea at the eastern end of New Guinea. Out of a sixteen-ship convoy, only four destroyers survived, and few of the 6,000 troops intended to reinforce the Japanese Army in New Guinea completed the trip. Hazardous low-level strafing tactics had more than paid off.
A pair of Liberators from the 11th BG's 26th Squadron during a mission to Truk on 29 July 1944, when 7th AF bomber squadrons had begun to use identifying tail symbols.
'Little Joe' a B-25G-1NA serialled 42-64896, makes a low-level run during a strike on Japanese shipping in the Marshalls early in 1944. Of intercut are the blotched markings on wings and tail, and the tail gun position, which, combined with the mid-position top turret, indicates that this aircraft, part of the 7th APs 41st BG. was built shortly before the introduction of the B-25H.
The striking nose marking of a B-25J Mitchell strafer of the 345th BG, 44-31064 assigned to the 499th BS. The bat face insignia was used on most squadron aircraft, along with the well-known 'Air Apaches' Indian head on the fin/rudder, the 345th Group marking. The light-coloured patch behind the insignia shows where the package guns have been removed, a common practice on 5th AF Mitchells.
'Bones', the last of 1,000 B-25Hs, in service with the 10th AF's 12th BG. Several photographs have been published of this particular aircraft, covered with the signatures of workers at the North American Inglewood plant, but this is one of the few showing it in an operational setting, with a battle number applied. Serialled 43-5104, the number '45' indicates assignment to the 83rd BS, 'Bones' being seen here at Pandaveswar, India, in 1944.
Following some initial difficulties, the 90th Group began to carry a greater share of 5th AF heavy bomber operations as the Liberator began to prove itself in operations in the South West Pacific Area (SWPA). The B-24 took over from the Fortress in the 43rd Group in late 1943, and the 22nd Group was re-equipped with Liberators in early 1944. Similar changes were made in bomber groups in the 7th and 10th Air Forces.
By late 1943. several Allied landings had been made on the north New Guinea coast, as stepping-stones to the liberation of the Philippines. The bombers had been engaged in attacking airfields, shipping, and troop concentrations throughout this campaign. In May 1943 another Liberator group, the 380th, had arrived in the theatre and became operational, attacking targets in Java and Borneo.
With the addition of the 380th, the 5th AF reached its full complement of heavy bomber groups, all equipped with B-24s. These units were the 22nd, 43rd, 90th and 380th, and by mid-1944 they formed a sizeable striking force for use in the New Guinea, Philippines, and East Indies area.
While the 5th AF had been engaged in the difficult struggle in the 1942 New Guinea, campaign, the American forces were locked in a bitter struggle for the Solomon Islands. The South Pacific Area (SoPac) was commanded by the US Navy, whilst the SWPA was commanded by Gen. MacArthur. However, US Army bombers were involved in the Guadalcanal operation from the earliest days, three groups being sent to the SoPac area from the 7th AF in Hawaii - the 11th with Fortresses in July 1942, the 5th (Fortresses) in November 1942, and the 307th (Liberators) in February 1943.
These three groups, with various AAF fighter and transport groups in the New Caledonia and Solomon Islands, were formed into the 13th Air Force in January 1943, under the command of Major-General Nathan F. Twining. In June 1943, the B-25-equipped 42nd Group had begun combat operations, mostly against shipping and airfields; the Liberators and Fortresses ranged farther afield against similar targets.
In mid-1943, the 11th Group returned to the 7th AF, leaving the 13th AF with three bombardment groups, the 5th and 307th, by now all equipped with Liberators, and the 42nd, operating various models of Mitchell. Plans to invade Rabaul in 1944 were dropped, and instead it was to be neutralized and blockaded by sea - and airpower: the 13th AF took part in the early stages of this campaign.
Further command changes occurred in June 1944. General Kenney was named as commander of a newly constituted Far East Air Force, with both the 5th and 13th Air Forces under his command. The 13th was moved into the south-west Pacific and often occupied bases previously used by the 5th AF. Operations were directed at attacking the Japanese in the Philippines and islands between New Guinea and the invasion beaches of Leyte Island.
For months Allied planners had wanted to attack the oil refineries at Balikpapan in Borneo, and the task was allocated to the 13th AF. Balikpapan was over 1,000 miles from Noemfoor, the nearest bomber base, and the 5th AF was directed to assist as required in neutralizing the refineries. Eventually five attacks were made between 30 September and 18 October 1944. The Japanese, foreseeing such an attack, moved one of their crack Navy fighter units from Singapore to defend these targets.
This series of raids is most interesting from the point of view of the different procedures adopted by the two bomber commands involved. The Liberator groups of the 13th AF. which was in charge of the operations, carried only 40 per cent of normal ammunition. The 5th AF directed its groups to remove the ball turrets from their Liberators as well as some armour and a complicated system of cruise control and weight adjustment was to be followed. This included transferring the contents of the bomb bay fuel tank to wing tanks after four hours, and moving crewmen from the waist compartment to other parts of the aircraft in a strictly timed rotation. On the return trip, any remaining ammunition was to be jettisoned 90 minutes from the target.
The first raid involved both 13th AF groups, the 5th and 307th, and the 5th AF's 90th Group. Four Liberators were lost to Japanese fighters.
In the second raid on 5 October, only the 13th AF was involved. The 307th suffered heavy attacks from Japanese fighters, losing seven Liberators: two aircraft ran out of ammunition, and all the rest were running short by the time the Japanese broke off their attacks. The tight 5th Group formation was left alone by the defending fighters.
In the third raid on to October, all five bomber groups, the 5th AF's 22nd, 43rd and 90th, and the 13th AF's 5th and 307th, took part; 5th AF fighter pilots offered to fly bomber support over the target from their nearest bases and ditch on the way back at a prearranged rendezvous, but Kenney would not permit this. Instead, Thunderbolts and Lightnings, dangerously overloaded with extra large drop tanks, flew out from hastily extended airfields at Morotai, 830 miles from Balikpapan. During the raid there was a fierce air battle over the refineries, resulting in American losses of four bombers and one fighter. The claims by the US forces involved amounted to over sixty Japanese fighters shot down.
Napalm-filled 55gal petrol drums tumble towards Japanese positions on Iwo Jima, 1 February 1945, released by B-24s of the 27th BS, 30th BG. The five aircraft seen here were part of a twenty-one-bomber effort by the 30th Group that day.
The fourth Balikpapan raid on 14 October was the most successful in terms of damage inflicted on the refineries, and again involved all five bomber groups. Two US bombers and five fighters were lost, while American combat claims amounted to forty-three Japanese aircraft shot down. The fifth raid was an anticlimax, as the refineries were covered in cloud; bombing was conducted on timed runs by the two 13th AF groups taking part. There were no US losses and it was presumed that the Japanese had not replaced their fighters lost during the previous attacks.
This costly series of attacks was deemed worthwhile as the Japanese almost immediately felt the loss of fuel supplies, particularly aviation spirit. For the Americans, the loss of twenty-two Liberators and nine fighters was offset by the rescue of sixty of their crews by Catalina flying-boats and a submarine stationed off the coast of Borneo for this purpose.
After the Balikpapan raids, both the 5th and 13th Air Forces were heavily involved in operations connected with the invasion of the Philippines. Many of these missions were strikes on airfields to neutralize Japanese airpower, on shipping to cut their supply lines and, for the strafers, attacks on road and rail transport.
Apart from bombing operations, the 20th Combat Mapping Squadron, equipped with F-7 reconnaissance Liberators, carried out many hazardous individual long distance flights to photograph and survey the Philippines. The 20th Squadron was one of four assigned to the 6th Reconnaissance Group, the other three using mainly F-5 Lightnings and a few adapted Mitchells.
Both the 5th and 13th Air Forces also had a Liberator squadron, whose primary task was individual night attacks by radar on Japanese shipping. In the 5th AF, the unit was the 63rd Squadron, part of the 43rd BG, and the 13th AF's 394th Squadron, part of the 5th BG, had a similar duty, but from January 1944, the task was taken over by the 868th Sqn , an independent unit. These squadrons became known as 'snoopers' and played havoc with Japanese shipping as well as providing RCM cover and a pathfinder service to other groups involved in night attacks on land targets. They were equipped with black-painted Liberators, each carrying a development of H2X radar and computerized bomb-release equipment.
The first B-29 to drop bombs on Japan was 42-6279, 'Postville Express', of the 468th BG, which flew the mission of 15 June 1944 when the 58th Wing attacked Yawatta. The machine completed thirteen bombing and eight supply missions over the Hump before returning to the US as a 'war weary' in December 1944.
The nose of 'Eddie Allen' 42-24579 of the 45th BS, 40th BG, with seven camel symbols for minions over the Hump and six bombs far the half-dozen raids it had made at the time the photo was taken. Named in memory of the Boeing test pilot who was killed in the crash of the second XB-29, this Superfort went on to fly three marc supply trips before moving to Tinian with the 58th Wing early in 1945. Its mission total eventually ran to at least twenty-three.
Nose art, 58th Wing style. The number of camel symbols as against bomb silhouettes is mute testimony to the necessity for supply missions in the CBI, the first ward of the name having more emphasis on 'carrying' than ...!
Eventually, by early 1945, the bomber groups moved into bases in the newly liberated Philippines. The 13th AF was concerned with attacking remaining Japanese positions in the islands and assisting in the preparations for the forthcoming Australian invasion of Borneo. Other strikes were aimed at cutting; off Japanese seaborne supplies across the South China Sea, and eliminating Asian coastal targets south of Luzon.
The 5th AF then struck northwards, from bases on Luzon, against targets on Formosa, in Hong Kong, along the Chinese coast, and shipping in adjacent areas. Aircraft swept daily over airfields, ports, and marshalling yards, the heavies at high level, the Havocs and Mitchells at little more than ground level.
Liberator number 946 of the 13th AF's 307th BG, the 'Long Rangers' bearing the monogrammed 'LR' initials of the group on the fin. The aircraft was photographed early in 1945, shortly after the series of raids on Balikpapan.
The early B-29 Superfortress operations were flown from the CBI theatre, the time and area being represented here by 42-24732 of the 444th BG. The diamond tail marking indicates the group and the barely visible coloured waist band the squadron; black diagonal striping of the band indicated a flight leader's machine, 'lit is aircraft also carried one of the widely applied B-29 'hull numbers' on its forward fuselage, K-304 in this ease.
After the successful invasion of Okinawa, the four heavy bomber groups of the 5th AF were moved to bases on that island or nearby Ie Shima. Some of the medium and light bomber units were on Okinawa, or in process of moving there.
Another 40th Group B-29 - named 'Genie' - with an impressive row of mission markers. Probably taken after arrival on Tinian, the photo shows the aircraft before the application of the triangle S marking allocated to the 40th Group.
This last move brought the 380th Group, a long-time 5th AF bombardment unit, back to operations alongside the 22nd, 43rd and 90th groups. For many months the 380th had attacked Japanese positions in western New Guinea and Borneo and had been attached to the RAAF to train Australian crews in the use of the B-24. Later it had operated over the southern Philippines.
By the time of the Japanese surrender in August 1945 the 5th AF was operating over Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan, and the 13th AF had almost completely swept Japanese shipping from the seas in the area for which it was responsible.