ERIC MUNDAY, colour plates by TERRY HADLER, JERRY SCUTTS, TOM BRITTAIN, CHRIS WARNER
USAAF BOMBER UNITS PACIFIC 1941-45
Selected tail markings, B-24 Liberator. 5th AF: (1) 2nd (shown), 19th (white), 33rd (yellow) and 408th BS (green), 22nd BG (2) 319th (shown), 320th (blue), 321st (green) and 400th BS (black), 90th BG. (3) 528th (shown), 529th (red), 530th (green) and 531st BS (blue), 380th BG, 10th AF: (4,5) 9th, 436th, 492nd and 493rd BS, 7th BG. Squadrons identified by area covered by chequers; two examples are shown. 13th AF: (6) 370th. 371st, 372nd and 424th BS, 307th BG. Typical presentation; other known colours were red and yellow. 14th AF: (7) 373rd BS, 308th BG (8) 374th BS, 308th BG. (9) 375th BS, 308th BG, (10) 425th BS, 308th BG
Boeing B-29A-40-BN Superfortress, 44-61639, of the 768th BS, 462nd BG, 58th BW, Tinian, 1945. The aircraft retains the red rudder used by the unit in the CBI and also the ID call letter and squadron in group number on the outer engine cow lings; the group emblem appeared only on the starboard side.
Selected tail markings, B-29 Superfortress. 58th BW: (1) 25th (red), 44th (yellow), 45th (shown) and 395th BS (black), 40th BG, (2) 792nd (while), 793rd (shown), 794th (red/yellow) and 795th BS (yellow), 468th BG, (3) 313th Wing: (4) 6th BG, (5) 9th BG, (6) 504th BG.
Selected tail markings, B-25 Mitchell, 5th AF: (1) 498th, 499th, 500th and 501st BS, 345th BG. Typical late markings shown. 7th AF: (2) 47th, 48th, 396th and 820th BS, 41st BG. No distinguishing markings, aircraft overpainted olive drab and neutral grey, A-20 Havoc, 5th AF: (1) 386th (shown), 387th (diamond), 388th (heart) and 398th BS (spade), 312th BG, (2) 672nd (red), 673rd (yellow), 674th (white) and 675th BS (shown), 417th BG.
Consolidated B-24J-170-CO Liberator, 44- 40686, of the 867th BS, 494th BG, 7th AF, February 1945. With typical black group markings, this aircraft carried names adjacent to crew stations and a 'Pacific type' tail turret with powered guns replaced by hand-held weapons.
Another 867th BS aircraft, 44-40647, 'Lady Kaye', en route to Mindanao on 24 February 1945.
B-29 M/43 of the 19th BG with serial partially obscured by the tail symbol, the codes 'K', 'M', 'O' and 'P' being masked off when the black square was applied to aircraft of the 314th Wing. Code and ID letter were repeated on outer engine cowlings; single fin letter 'A' was probably a flight distinction.
Bulldozers were essential items of equipment in the USAAF campaign in the Pacific; shown is a typical example rigged with a mechanically operated 'dozer blade'.
(1) USAAF bomber crewman, 1944-45, wearing the AN-H-16 flying helmet, the lightweight AN-S-31 summer flying suit with Army Air Forces shoulder patch, and full parachute and lifevest harness. The parachutes worn by some members of the bomber crew were of the chest type, clipping to D-rings on the harness. Others, such as this crewman, wore back-packs with a rip-handle on the left chest strap. He wears standard army boots and a pistol belt with water canteen.
(2) Armourer, circa 1943, engaged in arming the .50 cal. guns of a bomber on an island airstrip. He wears the ubiquitous faded olive drab 'baseball cap' and fatigue slacks of the same shade, with T-shirt and standard issue boots. Sidearms, first aid kit and water canteens were not unusual accessories at this stage of the war, when airstrips were not far from front lines.
(3) USAAF Brigadier-General in informal Pacific service dress. The lightweight 'chino' version of the 'overseas cap' bears the rank star and the gold piping of general officers' rank. The shirt bears ranking on the collar points, and a 20th AF patch on the left shoulder; the only other insignia is the silver pilot's 'wings' brevet.
Attu island was reconquered and, after airfields were built, the reoccupation of Kiska was planned, but the island was evacuated by the Japanese about two weeks before US forces landed and occupied the island on 15 August 1943. Soon after this, the 21st and 36th Sqns,, both equipped with Liberators, and the 73rd and 406th with Mitchells, were withdrawn.
Most of the operations flown were by an average of six or eight aircraft or, on a good day, perhaps a dozen Liberators and Mitchells went looking for enemy shipping or encampment areas on the Aleutian Islands. Later, there were targets in the Kuriles, the chain of islands which extend from the 'tail' of the Aleutians to Japan. Apart from enemy fighters which opposed the attacks, the weather often proved troublesome; in these extreme northern latitudes, fog and rainstorms often clamped down for days on end. Between the storms and fog, the bombers flew whatever missions they could.
Impressive view of the 19th BG's corner of North field, Guam, showing how the Superforts were crammed into these island airfields. In the foreground arc three of their vital ground support vehicles: left to right a GMC cab over engine prime mover, a fuel tanker on a GMC2½-ton chassis and a Dodge weapons carrier.
Photographs of B-29s of the 330th Group, 314th Wing, are comparatively rare. Here K/12, with AN/APQ13 radar between the bomb bays, is seen from a sister aircraft.
A belly landing for P/55 of the 39th BG. Much heavy lifting equipment was needed to move a damaged B-29, as evidenced by the cranes in the background.
After the reduction of strength of the 11th AF, the remaining squadrons (the 77th with Mitchells and 404th with Liberators) continued attacking the Japanese Kuriles until the end of the war. On 11 September 1943, seven Liberators and twelve Mitchells attacked Paramushiro. During a prolonged air battle over the target, three bombers were lost and seven others forced-landed in Russian territory. This raid, at heavy cost, was the last until February 1944, when the 404th Sqn. once more sent six Liberators against the Kuriles.
By the end of the war, 11th AF bombers were undertaking long over-water flights in a dreary succession of missions in some of the worst flying conditions ever known. But the small air force had, by its efforts, tied down Japanese forces that could have been used elsewhere in the Pacific. It guarded the Allies' northern flanks against any- further Japanese excursions and also helped keep open the route by which lend-lease aircraft were supplied to the Russians.
Alter the Battle of Midway and the loss of Gen. Tinker, command of the 7th AF was eventually taken over by Maj.-Gen. Willis Hale. Following the utter defeat of the Japanese Navy at Midway, the role of the 7th became, for many months, that of a guard against any further attempts to attack Hawaii. Its bombers ranged far and wide, scouring the Pacific for Japanese shipping and submarines.
The 7th sent its Fortress-equipped 5th and 11th Bomb Groups to the South Pacific, where they took part in the Solomon Islands campaign. To replace them, the 307th BG came to the 7th AF, equipped with Liberators. This group made long over-water flights to attack Wake Island on 22 December 1942 and again in January 1943, the bombers staging through Midway Island to refuel. In February 1943 the 307th was also sent to the South Pacific, where, with the 5th Group, it formed the heavy bomber element of the 13th AF.
Another new Liberator group, the 30th, was sent out from the mainland to join the 7th AF in October 1943, to replace the 307th BG, while the 11th Group left its Fortresses in the South Pacific and was shipped back to Hawaii in mid-1943. There it was remanned and re-equipped with B-24 Liberators, now coming from the factories in increasingly large numbers.
The 11th and 30th Groups were thus ready for their part in the US Navy's drive in the Central Pacific. Many raids were carried out on the Japanese-occupied Gilbert Islands, before US Marines took Tarawa, the principal atoll, in a bloody three-day battle in November 1943.
The two Liberator groups then moved to the Gilberts, where they were joined by the 41st BG, equipped with B-25s. The 41st's mission was to attack bypassed Japanese - held islands, enemy shipping, and airfields in the Marshall Islands. Most of these strikes were at low level, and good use was made of the 75mm cannon with which the 41st Group's B-25G and H models were equipped. The two Liberator groups also struck at targets linked with the forthcoming landing operations on Kwajalein Island.
Japanese opposition to these missions varied widely; on some occasions the bombers were met over the target by a swarm of fighters, which delivered vicious attacks and pursued them for over an hour into the return flight, most targets being beyond American fighter escort range. Fla was occasionally heavy and well aimed, and crews who were forced to ditch faced long periods in flimsy rubber dinghies under the blazing Pacific sun, often in waters infested with sharks. For these reasons an efficient sea search and rescue service was established, and US Navy and Army amphibians, PBY Catalinas known as 'Dum-boes', were used for rescue missions.
Crews could never be sure what opposition they might meet; at times Japanese resistance was unaccountably weak, being manifested in a few desultory bursts of AA fire. It should be remembered that many of these raids were often carried out in squadron strength only, and an attack by ten or fifteen fighters on a squadron of bombers was likely to result in a pitched battle - the air war in the Central Pacific never reached anything like the proportions of the European theatre, where it was common for several hundred aircraft to attack a single target.
After the Marshalls had been secured, the next phase was a series of raids on the Carolines, where the Japanese base at Truk was located. The 30th Group first attacked this important naval base with twenty-two aircraft on the night of 15 March 1944, and the run to Truk was to become very familiar to Liberator crews in that spring.
The pattern was repeated in the Marianas with the first strikes against Saipan and Tinian on 17 April by five Liberators of the 30th Group. Taking off from Eniwetok, the bombers faced a fourteen-and-a-half-hour flight, practically all of it over water and this first operation was to test the feasibility of such attacks, to take photographs, and bomb any worthwhile targets. Photographic coverage of many of these islands was of utmost importance to US intelligence. Most of the Japanese-mandated islands in the Pacific had been closed to Western nationals for years before the war, and little was known about their defences, airfields, or naval installations.
Eventually US forces moved into the Marianas and landed on Saipan, Tinian, Guam and other islands, beginning on 15 June 1944. These Islands were seized as part of a broader strategy - they were within B-29 Superfortress range of Japan proper.
The pattern of island invasion was much the same everywhere: first would come the attacks by long-range bombers, then an amphibious assault covered by carrier- based aircraft. As soon as possible, often within hours rather than days, airfield construction battalions would move in to enlarge existing Japanese airfields or build new airstrips, and within a few weeks Allied aircraft would be operating from the newly won island. Attacks would then be mounted against the Japanese left on the island, or on other nearby islands, but soon air strikes would be made on the next island due for invasion, and so on.
By February 1945, it was Iwo Jima, half-way to Japan. Before 'D-Day' on 19 February, Iwo Jima was subjected to a rain of destruction from the air, by both HE and fire bombs. During one raid by the 30th Group's 819th Sqn., oil drums filled with napalm were dropped on enemy troop positions.
Men at work: a B-29 bombardier bends over his sight in front of the instrument panel and control wheel of the 'Airplane Commander'. Of interest is the bombardier's steel helmet, which appears to be of standard infantry pattern, hanging conveniently above his left shoulder.
Far away from Iwo Jima, only 600 miles from the equator and 400 miles east of the Philippine Islands, Japanese forces based in the Palaus were a threat to the flank of Gen. Mac Arthur's drive into the Philippines, and in September 1944 the Palaus were occupied by US Marines. To a newly completed airstrip on Angaur Island came a new bomber group, the 494th. Equipped with shiny natural metal-finish Liberators, the 494th arrived on 24 October and carried out its first operation within three days. Known as 'Kelly's Cobras' after its CO, Col. Laurence B. Kelly, this group had the dual distinction of being the last B-24 unit to be sent overseas from the USA and of not losing any aircraft to the enemy during its first 5,000 hours of combat flying. From Angaur, the 494th attacked targets in the Philippines, including bridges, radio stations and supply dumps. On Christmas Eve 1944.
An F-13 of the 3rd Photo Squadron on Guam during 1945. The letter 'F' on the fin and nose of the aircraft denoted the unit, which carried out all photo work over Japan for the Marianas-based B-29 bomber groups.
Clark Field, once a US Army airfield, but now used by the Japanese, was attacked for the first time. There followed many raids on airfields, all designed to eliminate Japanese airpower. In this first strike on Clark, about eighty Japanese fighters rose to intercept. Escort over the target was provided by 5th AF Lightnings. Although part of the 7th AF, the 404th continued this pattern of attacks on Philippine targets until June 1945, when it moved to Okinawa. This island, the last on the long road to Japan, was invaded on 1 April 1945. The initial landings were lightly opposed, but later fierce opposition developed. Suicide aircraft caused heavy losses when they dived onto US Navy shipping, but by the end of June organized resistance had ceased.
The 7th AF was then brought under the command of Gen. Kenney's Far East Air Force and moved from Iwo Jima to Okinawa, alongside the 5th AF. The 494th Group came up to Yontan airfield from Angaur, alongside the 11th Group. The 30th was returned to Hawaii to re-equip and train replacement FEAF Liberator crews, while the Mitchells of the 41st Group were moved to Okinawa after a spell in Hawaii, where crews had trained in the use of rockets. Japan was now well within the range of Mitchells flying from Okinawa and Maj. N. V Woods, leader of the first 7th AF Mitchell raid on Kyushu, was reminded by a ground crewman that: 'The last man to lead B-25s over Japan made lieutenant-general.' This was a reference to Gen. Doolittle, then setting up the headquarters of a 'new' 8th AF on Okinawa.
The Mitchells' target, Chiran airfield on Kyushu, was clouded in, and the mediums circled for fifteen minutes before finding a break in the clouds. After diving and releasing their load of fragmentation bombs, they made full speed for Okinawa. The anxious ground crews were told that the raid had been 'a pushover' - a great anticlimax. But the war from Okinawa was vastly different to all the hard slogging up through the other islands. The heavies of the 7th joined those of the 5th in raids on Japan proper and instead of squadrons, aircraft went out in group strength, as, with the end of the European war, there was an abundance of aircraft, spares, and other supplies.
In the ranks of the 7th AF, this new situation was brought home in several ways. In one unit, a first sergeant told his men they had better start saluting officers, and in another, an order was posted instructing that 'Chin whiskers (beards) will be removed.' The 'old timers' of Tarawa and Kwajalein stated that whereas before only two generals and a few colonels had run the Pacific air war, now several dozen were needed. An era had ended.
In the last few weeks before the atomic strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the combined bomber units of the 5th and 7th Air Forces ranged over Japan and the Chinese Coast, attacking shipping, port facilities and airfields. Two days before the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, FEAF pilots reported Japanese civilians waving white flags from fields and villages at US aircraft. The war had all but ended.