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8th ATTACK SQUADRON ASSOCIATION

Eagle

PACIFIC THEATER

8th Bombardment Squadron (Light) (1939-1942)
8th Bombardment Squadron (Dive) (1942-1943)
8th Bombardment Squadron (Light) (1943)
8th Bombardment Squadron, Light (1944-1951)

8bs


TABLE OF CONTENTS

America
  • Squadron Insignia
  • World War I and between the Wars (1917-1941)
  • World War II (1941-1945)
  • Occupation Forces in Japan -- Convert to B-26
  • Korean War
  • After the Korean War -- Johnson AB (1954-1960) and Yokota AB (1960-1964). Convert to B-57Bs (1957) with nuclear alerts at Kunsan AB (1958-1964)
  • Vietnam -- 3rd Bomb Wing (Tactical) goes to Florida to convert to F-100s. Last B-57 squadrons in USAF get a reprieve from deactivation. B-57s to Vietnam: 8th & 13th attached to 41st AD and 2nd AD. (1964-1969).


    8th Bomb Squadron (Light) (1935-1942)
    8th Bomb Squadron (Dive) (1942-1943)
    8th Bomb Squadron (Light) (1943-1945)

    Acknowledgment: Special thanks to Joe Baugher sites for its detailed information on the aircraft used by the 8th during WWII. It is the premier site for historical information on aircraft. Special thanks to Ed Shook, former CO of the 8th Bomb Squadron, for providing his historical materials of the 8th used to compile this history. Special thanks to 3rd Wing History for its exceptional historical materials. We are extremely grateful to Jack Heyn for his photos and narratives on the 3rd Bomb Group as they moved from Australia to New Guinea and up the South West Pacific Area (SWPA). We are also appreciative to Peter Dunn for the use of the materials from Peter Dunn's Australia @ War web site www.ozatwar.com for materials, photos and narratives of the 3rd Bomb Groups war efforts. Thanks to the Bill Swain for his photos and materials on the 3rd BG during the Pacific campaign. Other sources include: History of the 3rd Bomb Group, 1918-1965, Lawrence Cortesi. Major source of information: History, 8th Bombardment Squadron (L), 3d Bombardment Group (L) AAF, 31 May 1917 - 31 March 1944 (Compiled September 1945)

    8th Aero Squadron insignia
    Approved February 14, 1924 (8401 A.C.)


    Move to Dobodura (April 1943) By spring of 1943, the war was shifting to the Allies advantage. On April 10, 1943 a new base was established across the Owen Stanley Mountains at Dobodura, New Guinea...the first Bombardment Squadron to be stationed at a spot where the Japanese had been defeated and forced to vacate. (SITE NOTE: An interesting article on life at Dobodura can be found at Aerothentic.com: Dobodura Camp Life. The article was written by 2/Lt Adolph P. Leirer, a newly assigned pilot to the 19th Bombardment Squadron in mid-1943, then flying B-26 missions from Dobodura on New Guinea’s northern coast.)

    On 10 April, the 8th moved to Dobadura to become an advance echelon for the Group, servicing missions of the 89th and 90th Squadrons. In April 1943, the 8th moved alone to Dobodura and achieved the distinction of being the first bombardment unit on the other side of the Owen-Stanley range -- in fact, the 8th Squadron and the 49th Fighter Group were the only tactical outfits on that side of the Range. The 8th Squadron moved alone from Moresby to Dobodura, and in doing so probably became the first organization to be moved entirely by air. The movement was in the nature of an experiment -- there were many mistakes and omissions - but the lessons learned were valuable for future air movements.

    Torn Sail: 8th CO Jimmy Down's mount, taken Spring 43 (Courtesy Bill Swain)

    In May, the Squadron finally received B-25s in quantity. Captain David J. Donovan, Adjutant, 8th Squadron, stated,

    "I can remember the day the first two B-25' s arrived -- in one crew was 2nd Lt. George R. Greene, in the other F/O Shook -- both were later to distinguish themselves in combat and to become Squadron C.O.s. In my opinion, the B-25 era was the outstanding era during my stay in the organization. This was for a number of reasons - outstanding combat record, high morale in spite of hardships, and the superior quality of the C.O.' s and the personnel as a whole. During this latter part of 1943 we had some of our most famous and successful missions -- Wewak in August; Rapopo Airfield at Rabaul in October; Simpson Harbor at Rabaul in November.

    During June 1943 when the pilots were still getting the feel of the planes, night barge hunts were conducted that were really "sweat jobs" for the pilots -- they had to worry about night takeoffs, night landings, bad weather, and the possibility of ack-ack. During the B-25 era we had the two most outstanding C.O.s that this organization has ever seen - Major Downs and Major Wilkins. Major Downs had taken over in March 1943 when the Squadron was really "down in the dumps", and almost immediately raised and sustained the morale.

    At Dobodura we had the most miserable area of all, but morale was never higher due to the fine leadership, and because of the excellent ground and flying personnel, working as a team. We lived right in the midst of the jungle and trees crashing on our tents during and after storms caused us more concern than the visits by the Japs at night.. The Squadron's greatest note of tragedy was struck on 2 November 1943 when Major Wilkins was shot down over Simpson Harbor - on his last mission with the 8th Squadron, and the Squadron's last B-25 mission. For this action he was to posthumously receive the Congressional Medal of Honor." (See MOH and Wilkins and Article from Home of Heroes.)
    The Group moved to Dobodura, New Guinea on 21 May 1943. The Squadron was redesignated the 8th Bombardment Squadron (Light) on May 25, 1943 as the unit was flying the B-25 Mitchells -- along with A-20 Havocs. The B-25 era, began on 20 May 1943 when the 8th received two of its own B-25s. Many new crews were assigned and checked out.

    During this time period, an 8th BS loss was recorded at Charter Towers, "On 8 July 1943, an unidentified aircraft from the 8th Bomb Squadron of the 3rd Bomb Group, based in Charters Towers, was lost in bad weather somewhere between Australia and New Guinea. It apparently had a payload of 3,000 lbs and 19 men on board. Two members of the crew were as follows:- 1st Lt. Richard G. Ruby Captain Ralph C. Payne" The aircraft was most likely a C-47 Dakota.

    8th Squadron at Cape Gloucester in attack on Japanese DD (28 Jul 1943) (Courtesy Bill Swain)

    8th Squadron at Cape Gloucester in attack on Japanese DD (Jul 1943) (Courtesy Bill Swain)

    According to Captain John G. Rensier, Ordnance Officer, 8th Bomb Squadron (1943-1944), stated,

    2. At Dobodura, in the fall of 1943, I had four men overstrength according to the T/O. All but a few of them were Ordnance trained and all had practical experience in the field. Then we started sending men home in the spring of 1944 that picture changed. Throughout the year we lost men until at one time I was below half strength. We just didn't get replacements, Ordnance trained or untrained. After the fall of 1944 none of the Ordnance sections exceeded half strength. And less than half of what we had were trained. Being familiar with the other ordnance sections in the Group and having continuously worked with other ordnance officers in the Group I am aware that this situation prevailed throughout all the squadrons.

    3. At Dobo each squadron maintained its own bomb dump carrying two full missions -- figuring 12 planes to the mission - of every type of ammunition and bomb available for use in B-25s at that station. These dumps were all in the jungle and therefore heavily camouflaged. Even so Nip bombs landed about 150 yards from the 8th's Dump one night - about September 1943. I was not there but I saw evidence of where they hit. They were "Daisy-cutters" and they went off in the trees. We then drew all ammunition components from the 1919th Ordnance Ammunition Co. which operated the Embi Bomb Dump, main one for the Dobodura area. We got ordnance general supplies from the 1518th Ordnance Supply and Maintenance Company. We had liaison with the Ordnance Officer, Capt. McKinney, at the First Air Task Force. At Dobodura we were serviced by the 46th Service Group of which the foregoing units were a part.

    4. At Nadzab we were served by the 18l7th Ordnance Supply and Maintenance Company and obtained bombs from the "Reserve Dump Nadzab Area" operated by the 617th Ordnance Ammunition Company. We no longer had squadron dumps but drew from this dump as we needed them. 5. There was great deterioration of ammunition at Dobo where there was a very high moisture content in the air. Small arms suffered likewise. This was also reflected in the health of my personnel. At Dobo sickness was high, at Nadzab health was much better.
    When Buna fell the 8th continued its assault on the Japanese with the primary mission of attacking coastal shipping that was bringing reinforcements in to the Japanese front lines. It was at this time that the 8th Bomb Squadron made one of the first raids on Wewak. The Group participated in a maximum effort against the Japanese airfields at Wewak and Boram in mid-August, effectively neutralizing them and destroying most of the aircraft. The attacks paved the way for an airborne drop of American troops and an amphibious landing of Australian soldiers, who seized Nadzab and Lae in early September. The air attacks on the Japanese airfields and landings broke the back of any effective Japanese air capability in New Guinea and cleared the way for a further advance up the coast and the clearing of Dutch New Guinea of Japanese. The 3rd Bombardment Group earned its second Distinguished Unit Citation for its support of the operation on August 17, 1943. Slowly the Japanese were pushed out of the "deep" South Pacific. Air and sea battles raged from Hollandia to Wewak. The net cost to Japanese airfields, personnel, planes and ocean-going vessels were tremendous.


    B-25 Wewak Attack (Tony Fachet Print)


    8th Squadron Personnel on Wewak Raids from Dobodura, New Guinea (18 Aug 43) (Martin J. Radnick collection, Courtesy Bill Swain)

    Air Campaign for Rabaul Colonel John P. Henebry led the first strike against the Japanese bastion at Rabaul on 12 October 1943 -- the opening of the air campaign against Rabaul. The Japanese had seized Rabaul on the northern tip of New Britain Island in February 1942. They turned its two principal harbors, Simpson Harbor and Blanche Bay, into a major anchorage for its fleet supporting operations in the southwest Pacific. Since a direct landing assault was virtually impossible, the Americans decided on a strategy of taking the island of Bougainville to the north and occupying the southern half of New Britain. The Fifth Air Force received the mission of neutralizing the Japanese at Rabaul and supporting the landing to the north and south of the Japanese bastion.


    B-25 Strafer Attack at Rabaul



    3rd Attack Group B-25 Coming off Rabaul
    (1943) (USAAC Photo)



    3rd Attack Group Strafer at Rabaul (Bill Swain)


    8th Squadron at Rabaul (2 Nov 1943) (Courtesy Bill Swain)

    8th Squadron at Rabaul (Courtesy Bill Swain)

    According to the 3rd Wing History, "The 3rd Bombardment Group used its A-20s and B-25s with deadly effect in low-level attacks against Japanese ground targets and shipping. By firing the machine guns, the bomber crews forced the Japanese anti-aircraft gunners to run for cover, allowing time to drop the bombs with deadly accuracy. The 8th and 89th Bombardment Squadrons employed the A-20s primarily against ground targets while the 13th and 90th Bombardment Squadron used the B-25 mostly against shipping. The 3rd Bombardment Group specialized in low-level attacks throughout the war, earning it the unofficial title, "The Grim Reapers," which the group adopted from the title claimed by the 13th Bombardment Squadron." The 8th crews were still awaiting their aircraft after the A-24B Dauntless were pulled from combat. They flew primarily with the 89th on the A-20s, but also flew with the 90th's B-25s as well."


    Dobodura Quarters (May 1943) (Jack Heyn)

    According to Doba Dura Part II: Jack Heyn,

    "In Oct.,'43 they started a concentrated effort to neutralize the big Jap Naval Base at Rabaul on New Britain. The heavies had been hitting it since early in the war. But the high levels just weren't getting the job done on the shipping in Simpson Harbour. Since it was out of range of both the A-20's and B'25's it had not been one of our targets. So once again they turned to auxilliary bomb-bay tanks for the B-25's and went off with half a load of bombs. Oct. 12, '43 we hit Ropopo air strip in a low level attack with parafrag bombs, where the Japs were concentrating some naval air power. For the next two months it was a pretty regular target, and after working over the air strip we started concentrating on shipping in the harbour. But it was a costly target. On one mission the Gp. sent 18 B-25's out and got six back. Six down over the target and six down on the way home. Most of the crews that went down on the way home, eventually got back to us having been picked up by the Catalina "Dumbos" on the water; or guided back by friendly natives if on land. Our only Cong. Medal of Honor came from a Nov. raid on Simpson Harbour. Maj. Raymond Wilkins drew the fire of two Jap cruisers to give the Sq. a better chance -- he received the honor posthumously, as his plane was shot down. These missions resulted in some pretty spectacular photographs."
    The Fifth Air Force units hammered the bastion almost daily. The raid on 2 November by B-25 groups including the 3rd BG, supported by an escort of 70 P-38s, turned out to be the most destructive of all. The Japanese lost three destroyers and eight merchant ships sunk and 80 aircraft destroyed. By the end of the month, Americans had occupied Bougainville, ending the Japanese presence in the Solomon Islands. Rabaul had been bombed into impotency.

    The 3rd Bombardment Group lost four B-25s and their crews. Major Raymond H. Wilkins, commander of the 8th Bombardment Squadron, earned a posthumous Medal of Honor by deliberately drawing the fire of a destroyer so that other B-25s in his squadron could safely withdraw at Simpson Harbor in Rabaul. (See MOH and Major Raymond Wilkins and Article from Home of Heroes.)


    EPILOGUE: William Webster revisited Rabaul the site of "Bloody Tuesday" at Rabaul Harbor in April 2003. Bill Webster was an inductee into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of fame on November 15, 2003.

    Arkansan revisits "Bloody Tuesday"

    By Rod Oram

    Rabaul, Papua, New Guinea -- Reliving a terrifying 90 seconds of his life from 60 years earlier, Little Rock resident stared down intently from a hill above Rabaul. He took in the sweep of the town, harbor and smoking volcano before him.

    The visit in March was the first time to touch ground in Rabaul for the retired Air Force Brigadier General, who will be inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame. Webster came close on his previous visit -- November 2, 1943. Piloting a B-25 he streaked across the harbor at 240 mph, 50 feet above the water, bombing and strafing Japanese shipping. He survived and went on to command the Kentucky Air National Guard, and moved to Little Rock in 1969 to head up the trust department at a local bank. The 83 year-old now serves as Vice President of the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas.

    But scores of his American compatriots and Japanese enemies did not survive the carnage of November 2, 1943. "Bloody Tuesday" was a hellish day at Rabaul, Japan's South Pacific headquarters protected by 450 anti-aircraft guns and some 200 Zero fighters.

    Initially, the attack by 75 B-25 bombers from 9 squadrons covered by 100 P-38 fighters went according to plan. But then the inexperienced leader of the squadron ahead of Webster turned late and in the wrong direction. Following behind Ray Wilkins, Webster's squadron leader, flung his plane 180 degrees to the left and then into a descending, near-vertical right turn to try to get back onto the bombing run.

    By now the Japanese gunners had the planes in their sights. Its first two planes -- piloted by Wilkins and Bill McKay -- plunged into the sea. The third, piloted by Lee Trout, was badly damaged but stayed airborne. Webster, in the fourth plane, led the remnants of the squadron across the harbor seeking any targets they could.

    "My cockpit was filled with smoke from our right forward-firing machine guns and phosphorus bombs dropped earlier, making it hard to breathe or see the ships ahead," Webster remembered. "From the dogfights high above us, all sorts of spent bullets, shell casings and belt-linkages showered down. It was raining spent metal." Suddenly it was all over and the survivors were over open water.

    They fought off several weak-hearted frontal attacks by Japanese fighters, then regrouped slowing down to 170 mph so the badly damaged planes could stick together for the four hour flight back to their airfield at the New Guinea town now known as Popundetta, northeast of Port Moresby.

    LIKE A TRANCE

    The three hour flight to their New Guinea airfield was like a trance... "(We) felt no elation at still being alive," Webster wrote later in his memoirs. "It was 4:30 in the afternoon (when we landed) and we had been in that damn coffin for 10 hours in a six-hour flight to hell and back with little hope of good results and losses of our own... I was so stiff and wrung out emotionally that I could barely get out of the plane."

    During the day's tenacious fighting over Rabaul, the Japanese lost 52 aircraft and one stores ship and suffered damage to two heavy cruisers, a destroyer, a minesweeper and another stores ship. The U.S. attackers lost 45 airmen, making it their worst day in a long campaign against the fortified town.

    Webster wasn't supposed to fly that day. Having completed his required missions, his tour of duty was over after 14 months in New Guinea. He was about to be shipped back to the United States to his 22-year-old wife, Betty, and their 7-month old son, Hank, whom he'd never seen.

    But his squadron was short of pilots for the Rabaul raid. His friend and commanding officer, Ray Wilkins, asked him to fly, so he did. Wilkins was due to be married the following month in Australia, but he died in the waters of Rabaul. It was his 50th mission and he received the Medal of Honor for "exceptional bravery." (SITE NOTE: See Major Raymond Wilkins and Article from Home of Heroes.)

    Today, the harbor is known as one of the best scuba diving grounds in the world, drawing several thousand visitors a year. Man and nature have made it so. The Manku Maru, the stores ship sunk on Bloody Tuesday is just one of the war wrecks that add a macabre edge to diving among the beautiful reefs and teeming sea life.

    Yet the great depths, created by the collapse of an ancient caldera, haven't given up all their secrets. Nobody has ever found a trace of B-25 wreckage.

    Webster tried for years to get back to Rabaul. On two previous visits to New Guinea he and Betty went to many scenes of crucial incidents during his aerial combat there, including two places he had been shot down by the Japanese -- and had evaded capture both times.

    Rabaul had eluded him, particularly in the past decade. First, a 1994 volcanic eruption destroyed half the town. Then in recent years, he has fought his way through serious illness.

    HOPING TO UNDERSTAND

    But at last he was back, this time in the company of his son, Hank, and his son-in-law, this writer. He came to see more clearly, to understand a bit better what had happened in those 90 seconds etched so deeply in his memory. He viewed it all under the smoking volcano, which hurled black ash and lava bombs into the beautiful blue tropical sky.

    There were war reminders everywhere: Cemetaries and aircraft wrecks in the jungles; Japanese Adm. Isoruku Yamamoto's bunker in town, now clinically whitewashed inside; nearly 300 miles of tunnels that prisoners of war and other slave labor dug deep into the surrounding hills to shelter the Japanese; the new airport was built six years ago with Japanese foreign aid (locally known as "we're sorry" money) on the site of a World War II fighter base; all the stories of the war, told with awe and fascination by local people born years after.

    Webster, his son and I stayed in town at the Kaivuna Hotel, one of the few buildings to survive the 1994 eruption. Brian and Bev Martin, its Australian owners and 20-year veterans of Papua, New Guinea, dug the hotel out from under 200 truckloads of ash.

    The rest of the time, Webster's touring base was 25 miles from Rabaul Harbor at an old plantation that the Martins have turned into a small resort hotel. Webster knew the name: Rapopo. It was the site of a Japanese airfield he'd bombed twice in 1943.

    It stirred another memory, filtered through time in a spirit of a Russian proverb he quoted during a 1995 Democrat-Gazette interview: "What is difficult to endure is a pleasure to remember."



    Payson's Last Mission (4 Jul 1944) (Courtesy Bill Swain)

    3rd BW Convert to A-20G: The 89th and 90th Bombardment Squadrons converted to the A-20G in early 1944, making 3rd Bomb Group an all A-20 Havoc outfit. According to the Joe Baugher on the Joe Baugher: A-20A, "In early 1944, the 3rd Bombardment Group was joined in New Guinea by the 312th and 417th Bombardment Groups. The 312th and 417th Bombardment Groups began their combat operations with the A-20G from the start and the 3rd BG converted to the A-20G at about the same time.

    Douglas A-20G Havoc


    In September of 1944, there were 370 Havocs on duty with the Fifth Air Force in the South West Pacific Area. They received quite a bit of action in the New Guinea theatre of operation. Most sorties were flown at low level, since Japanese flak was not nearly as intense as was German flak in Europe. During these low level bombing operations, it was found that there was little need for a bomb aimer. Consequently, the bomb aimer was often replaced by additional forward-firing machine guns mounted in a faired-over nose.

    The A-20's heavy firepower, maneuverability, speed and bombload made it an ideal weapon for pinpoint strikes against aircraft, hangers, and supply dumps. In formation, their heavy forward firepower could overwhelm shipboard anti-aircraft defenses and at low level the A-20s could skip their bombs into the sides of transports and destroyers with deadly effect. These tactics were initially worked out by Army Captain Paul I. "Pappy" Gunn, who also adapted the same tactics to the B-25 Mitchell.

    The spectacularly successful results of these field adaptations led to increases in the forward firepower of production A-20 which were introduced on the production line with the A-20G model."

    A-20G Uploading Bombs


    Douglas A-20G Havoc

    According to the Joe Baugher on the Joe Baugher: A-20A, "The A-20 groups turned their attention to the Philippines following the end of the New Guinea campaign. By mid-April of 1944, three full four-squadron A-20 groups of the 5th Air Force were active in the island hopping campaign that led to the invasion of Luzon on January 7, 1945."

    The following is excerpted from Joe Baugher: A-20G,

    The A-20G variant was produced in greater numbers than any other A-20 variant. A total of 2850 were built at the Douglas Santa Monica plant from 1943 to 1944.

    The A-20G was first ordered on June 1, 1942 and first delivered in February of 1943. It introduced a solid nose armed with four 20-mm M2 cannon with 60 rpg and two 0.50-inch machine guns with 350 rpg. The four cannon were grouped in the forward part of the nose and projected well forward of the nose, with the two machine guns further back in the lower part of the nose. This new nose was introduced as a result of combat experience in the Pacific, where glass-nosed A-20s had been fitted with field modifications to increase their forward firepower during low-level strafing missions. The new nose made the A-20G slightly longer than previous variants. The A-20G retained the 0.50-inch flexible machine gun with 500 rounds in the rear cockpit, as well as the 0.30-in or 0.50-inch tunnel gun. The dorsal gunner's position was no longer equipped with emergency flight controls, and provision for photographic equipment was also deleted. Heavier-gauge armor plate was used, adding some 400 pounds to the weight. Carburetor deicing equipment was added.

    However, the 20-mm nose cannon had a slow rate of fire and were prone to jamming, and after 250 aircraft were completed, the four cannon were replaced by four 0.50-inch machine guns beginning with the A-20G-5-DO production block. Two more 0.50-inch machine guns were added in the lower portion of the nose, bringing the total number of forward-firing machine guns to six. Most of the cannon-armed A-20Gs were eventually turned over to the Soviet Union.

    Production block A-20G-10-DO introduced an improved carburetor air filter. Block -15 introduced heating for winter operations.

    With production block A-20G-20-DO, an electrically-driven manned Martin power turret equipped with two 0.50-inch machine guns was introduced in place of the single hand-held machine gun in the rear compartment. To accommodate this new turret, the fuselage had to be widened by six inches in the area of the gunner's compartment. The turret could rotate 360 degrees, and the guns could be elevated from horizontal to directly upwards. At the same time, the 0.50-inch machine gun in the ventral tunnel position was standardized. Also introduced on block -20 was a pair of bomb racks stressed to carry 500-lb bombs underneath the outer wing panels. Internal fuel capacity was increased from 540 US gallons to 725 gallons, and provision was made for the mounting of a 374-gallon drop tank underneath the fuselage.

    A-20G-30-DO introduced an improved collection system for spent cartridges, and heavier-gauge skin on the stabilizer was introduced on A-20G-35-DO. A modified engine exhaust system was introduced on A-20G-40-DO.

    Most of the A-20G-1-DOs, as well as a large number of later A-20G variants were delivered to the Soviet Union. Many of the later Soviet A-20Gs had their Martin turrets replaced by Russian-built rear turrets. There is an A-20G on display at the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. It is painted as A-20G-45-DO serial number 43-22200.


    Specification of Douglas A-20G Havoc:

    Powerplant:

    Two 1600 hp Wright R-2600-23 Double Cyclone 14 cylinder twin-row air-cooled radial engines equipped with two-speed superchargers. Rated at 1600 hp for takeoff, 1675 hp war emergency, and 1400 hp at 10,000 feet.

    Performance:

    Maximum speed 339 mph at 12,400 feet, 317 mph at 10,000 feet. Cruising speed 230-272 mph. Initial climb rate 1300 feet per minute. An altitude of 10,000 feet could be attained in 7.1 minutes. Service ceiling 25,800 feet. Range 1025 miles with 2000-lb bombload at 238 mph. Maximum ferry range 2035 miles.

    Dimensions:

    Wingspan 61 feet 4 inches, length 48 feet 0 inches, height 17 feet 7 inches, wing area 465 square feet.

    Weights:

    17,200 pounds empty, 24,000 pounds normal combat takeoff, maximum combat 27,200 pounds, 30,000 pounds maximum.

    Armament:

    Six forward-firing 0.50 Colt-Browning machine guns in the nose with 350 rpg. Two 0.50-inch machine gun in dorsal power turret with 400 rpg. One 0.50-inch machine gun in the ventral tunnel position with 400 rounds. Models prior to A-20G-20-DO had two 0.50-inch machine guns on a flexible dorsal mount. Maximum internal bomb load 2000 pounds in split bomb bay plus (on later models) 2000 pounds on four underwing hardpoints.
    8th Squadron A-20 with Rocket Launchers (Courtesy Bill Swain) (NOTE: Ed Shook flew mission like this.)

    Eighth Converts to A-20G Havocs The November B-25 raids were the last for the 8th in this aircraft as the A-20s were arriving. The upswing began when the Squadron started flying in support of the Cape Gloucester landings on New Britain in December 1943.

    The following is from the History, 8th Bombardment Squadron (L), 3d Bombardment Group (L) AAF, 31 May 1917 - 31 March 1944 (Compiled September 1945), Combat Narratives, showing the 8th's use of A-20s from November 1943 through February 1944. The primary mission was supply interdiction. Many of the missions were against "barge hideouts" which provided the resupply for the Japanese troops. Many missions targeted dumps and personnel areas -- and troop staging areas. During this period, there started the missions against "targets of opportunity" meaning that the A-20s were freed to search a designated area where suspected Japanese troop buildups were going on, but also indicated that the Japanese were withdrawing from the areas making targets harder to find.

    19 November - 322_DD ... Nine A-20s bombed and strafed camp, supply and barge staging, areas from Gunke to Sialua Island. 7500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 12100 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    24 November - 327-CC ... Six A-20s bombed and strafed Kalasa Village with 5700 pounds of bombs and 6200 rounds of ammunition.

    24. November - 327_DD ... Five A-20s made a barge search in Kelanea Harbor and the camp area and barge hideout near Kiari. 4500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 2000 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    28 November - 331_BB ... Nine A-20s bombed and strafed the track from Kalasa to Sialum with 9600 pounds of bombs and 6425 rounds of ammunition.

    1 December - 334-DD ... Eight A-20s bombed and strafed barges and installations at Rottock Bay with 4800 pounds of bombs and 5150 rounds of ammunition.

    3 December -336-AA ... 11 A-20s strafed and bombed the track from Wandokai to Masaweng River with 9300 pounds of bombs and 15400 rounds of ammunition.

    4 December - 337-CC ... Six A-20s took off on a photo mission from Rein Bay to Borgen Bay. The mission turned back due to bad weather.

    6 December - 339-AA ... Nine A-20s participated in a bombing and strafing mission in the Lakona area. Results were unobserved. 8100 pounds of bombs were dropped and 10450 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    8 December -341-AA ... Six A-20s took off on a barge sweep mission in the Arawe Islands and a photo reconnaissance of Cape Merkus coast. No barges were sighted but villages in the Cape Merkus area were thoroughly bombed and strafed with 5700 pounds of bombs and 2750 rounds of ammunition.

    13 December - 346-EE ... 12 A-20s went on a bombing and strafing mission of dumps, supplies and personnel areas at Daurooina and along the Bogadjim Road. 10500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 5000 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    14 December - 347_EE ... Amalut Plantation was the target for 12 A-20s. 14100 pounds of bombs and 7450 rounds of ammunition were used in throughly bombing and strafing the plantation.

    14 December - 347-FF ... 12 A-20s in an afternoon mission again bombed and strafed Amalut Plantation. Bombing was considered excellent with 11950 pounds of bombs dropped and 13250 rounds of ammunition expended.

    18 December - 351-AA ... 11 A-20s participated in a bombing and strafing mission of ammunition dumps and personnel areas in the Rua and Walingai areas. One large explosion and one hut were observed to be hit. 12600 pounds of bombs were dropped and 9400 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    19 December - 352_LL ... Tracks in the Arawe area were the targets of nine A-20s. One machine gun position was silenced by strafing and the targets were thoroughly plastered by 8000 pounds of bombs. 10750 rounds of ammunition were expended by strafing.

    20 December - 353-KK ... A barge hunt and targets of opportunity along the coast and up the Pulie River was the mission of seven A-20s. Results were unobserved due to dense jungle. 6000 pounds of bombs were cropped and 6850 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    21 December - 354-KK ... 11 A-20s went on a mission to bomb and strafe the camp area and defense positions east and west of Wandokai. The Walangai area was bombed and strafed instead of Wandokai through mistaking map references. 10500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 11625 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    22 December - 355_BB ... 11 A-20s went on a mission to bomb and strafe the Wandokai area. A possible serviceable barge was strafed. All targets were thoroughly hit by bombs and strafed 9750 pounds of bombs were dropped and 7560 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    24 December - 357_JJ ... Ten A-20s participated in a bombing and strafing mission in the Cape Gloucester area. The bombing was excellent with several huts seen to be destroyed. 9500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 11450 rounds of ammunition expended in strafing.

    24 December - 357-PP ... Nine A-20s went on a search for barge hideouts and possible supply depots between Gneisenau and Scharnhorst Points. Several fires in the brush were started by the bombing and strafing. 9000 pounds of bombs were dropped and 11200 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    25 December - 358-HH ... 12 A-20s bombed and strafed targets in the Cape Gloucester Area. Results were unobserved. 10000 pounds of bombs were dropped and 15375 rounds of ammunition expended in strafing.

    25 December - 358-LL ... Nine A-20s bombed, strafed and made a photo reconnaissance of a small unnamed island in the Cape Gloucester area. 7750 pounds of bombs were dropped and 9400 rounds of. ammunition were expended.

    26 December - 359-GG ... 12 A-20s bombed and strafed Target Ridge with unobserved results. Bombing was considered excellent. 10250 pounds of bombs were dropped and 10650 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    27 December - 360-FF ... 12 A-20s bombed and strafed the coast south of Walingai. The target was badly torn up by bombs. 10500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 9300 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    28 December - 361-AA. ... Ten A-20s participated in a strike against a ridge in the Cape Gloucester area.. The results were unobserved. 9750 pounds of bombs ere dropped and 12000 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    30 December - 363-JJ ... 12 A-20s participated in a mission to bomb a gun position in the Sag Sag area and to strafe the coastal track. One large explosion was observed due to the bombing. A machine gun position was strafed and silenced by one plane. 10750 pounds of bombs were dropped and 19150 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    1944

    2 January - 2-K-1 ... 12 A-20s bombed and strafed Mur Village and vicinity with two columns of white smoke observed where one bomb had exploded. Another bomb threw up logs and debris. 19000 pounds of bombs were dropped and 11450 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    3 January - 3-A-1 ... 12 A-20s bombed and strafed the troop-staging areas near Borgen Bay. Bombing and strafing was excellent. 11500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 16500 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    6 January - 8-I-1 ... 12 A-20s bombed and strafed Bogadjim-Yaula Road. Bombing was considered excellent. 11500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 16350 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    8 January - 8-I-1 ... A barge sweep on the Pulie and Nayaru Rivers and a bombing and strafing strike on Didmop village was participated in by six A-20s. No barges were sighted but several huts were destroyed or damaged by bombing and strafing in the village. 5750 pounds of bombs were dropped and 10000 rounds of .50 calibre ammunition were expended.

    13 January - 13-C-1 ... A bombing and strafing mission against targets of opportunity on the Pogadjim-Yaula Road was flown by 12 A-20s. Several plantations and villages were thoroughly bombed and strafed and the entire road was strafed. 9,600 pounds of bombs were dropped and 14,550 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    14 January - 14-J-1... Magiarapu village was the target for 12 A-20s. One hut was completely destroyed and several were damaged by the bombing. 12650 pounds of bombs were dropped and 20650 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    16 January - 16-C-1 ... 12 A-20s participated in a strike against targets on Bogadjim Road near Maumoina.. Several Villages were bombed with good results and one barge suffered a direct bomb hit. 12050 pounds of bombs were dropped and 19400 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    20 January - 20-B-1 ... Targets of opportunity in Pulie River area, Rein Bay, and west of Cape Rasult were the goal of 12 A-20s. Villages anti plantation in the areas were thoroughly bombed and strafed. 8000 pounds of bombs were dropped and 10450 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    21 January - 21..D-1 ... 12 A-20s bombed and strafed Goli Village and the track along the coast. Reinji village was also strafed. Bombing and strafing results were considered good. 11250 pounds of bombs were dropped and 22100 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    26 January - 27-C-1 ... Yara village and Goli Village were the targets for a bombing and strafing mission of 12 A-20s. 11250 pounds of bombs were dropped and 22100 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    27 January - 27-J_1 ... 12 A-20s participated in a strike against Nobinob Village. Three European-type buildings were destroyed by bombing and the mansion and other buildings were badly damaged by bombing and strafing. 8500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 11400 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    28 January - 28-T-1 ... Troop concentrations near Silimati Point were the targets for 12 A-20s. Bombs started a large white smoke fire and two small fires. 23500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 21200 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    29 January - 28-G-1 ... 12 A-20s struck at stores, personnel and barge hideout area at Tutop River near Cape Bushing. Two columns of white smoke and two small fires resulted from bombing 22000 pods of bombs were dropped and 17640 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    Move to Nadzab (Feb 1944) On 5 Feb 1944, the unit moved to Nadzab, New Guinea. On 1 February 1944, the Squadron had a strength of 40 officers and 270 enlisted men with 17 A-20Gs and 1 B-25D1. This included 19 trained combat pilots and 39 trained combat gunners and photographers. Captain David J. Donovan, Adjutant, 8th Squadron (1944), stated, "On 1 February 1944, we moved to Nadzab and Captain (now Colonel) Howe took over as Squadron C.O. This was another period of outstanding missions - Kavieng in February, Wewak in March, and Hollandia in April. The camp area in Nadzab was excellent, being in the highlands of New Guinea. The food was still poor, but it was beginning to be supplemented by "the Fat Cats" flying from Australia."

    The early morning mists of the camp area for the 3rd Attack group have dissipated at Nadzab in New Guinea's Markham Valley, some time mid 1943. This is typical of living conditions for Fifth AF crews in New Guinea, although Nadzab was considered a more comfortable base than most. In the year 2000 this area is still exactly as shown here - except that the tents are long gone and tall kunai grass covers the area. (Source: Aerothentic)

    Sign for the Eighth Attack Squadron at Nadzab, circa early 1944. At this stage the squadron was flying a mixture of A-20G-20s and A-20G-25s.

    The hills in the background were always a lush green, and Nadzab was not far from the Markham River where the men could bathe in the afternoon after missions or working on their aircraft. (Source: Aerothentic)

    The following is from the History, 8th Bombardment Squadron (L), 3d Bombardment Group (L) AAF, 31 May 1917 - 31 March 1944 (Compiled September 1945), Combat Narratives, showing the 8th's use of A-20s from February 1944 through March 1944. The squadron continued its primary mission of interdiction. The missions were not without some humor interjected. On 4 Feb, "Three cows and four horses were strafed with undetermined results." Larger coordinated attacks against airdromes provided outstanding results with Japanese aircraft left burning on the ground. Attacks on harbors resulted in excellent results.

    2 February - 33 ... 12 A-20s struck at Nobinob Mission and completely destroyed the mission and village with 10000 pounds of bombs and 17850 rounds of ammunition.

    4 February - 35-A-2 ... 12 A-20s took off for bombing and strafing mission against Marienberg. Three large buildings were hit and badly damaged. A two-story frame house was demolished and other buildings were damaged. Three cows and four horses were strafed with undetermined results. Three fires were also started. 8850 pounds of bombs were dropped and 6850 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    5 February - 36 ... 12 A-20s participated in a shipping sweep of Hansa Bay and a bombing and strafing mission at Bogia Mission. One small lugger was completely destroyed by a direct hit. A direct hit was made on a large empty Type A barge. Stores, one large and one small building were hit and demolished and the mission building was holed. Strafing was considered excellent. One plane was damaged by anti-aircraft fire. 19000 pounds of bombs were dropped 16400 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    8 February 39-A--2 ... 12 A-20s struck at Alexishafen Plantation area. A possible barge or jetty was blown up. A barge was left burning and a jetty was destroyed. Bombs hit another jetty or barge but results were unobserved. A large black fuel fire was started in the village area. 19500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 17000 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    9 February -40-B-2 ... Mindiri Plantation was the target for 12 A-20s in a bombing and strafing mission. One bomb was dropped on a suspected 3 inch dual-purpose gun position on Herwarth Point. The target was heavily strafed and bombing was excellent. 24000 pounds of bombs were dropped and 18800 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    12 February - 2B-309 ... 12 A-20s attacked the Darapap and Karau villages in a bombing and strafing mission. Many shacks were set afire and a bomb blew up the largest native shack. 22500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 17450 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    14 February - 14B-309 ... Dague Airdrome was the target for 12 A-20s. Bombs were dropped on stores and dispersal strip, and among dispersal and revetment areas. One unidentified fighter had a direct hit scored on it. Four twin engine planes were definitely destroyed. One fuel dump fire was started. Two Helens were damaged. Bombs fell on six single seat fighters but damage was unobserved. A grey smoke fire was started. Other bombs were seen to fall among parked airplanes and in the stores area. but no specific results were observed. Bombing and strafing was considered excellent. The Squadron was intercepted twice by enemy aircraft. The first interception occurred when approximately 11 single seat fighters made one pass. The second happened when from10 to 15 single seat fighters made a similar pass. The squadron hit the deck and soon outdistanced the enemy. 7200 pounds of bombs were dropped and 12050 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    15 February -15B-309 ... Shipping in Kavieng Harbor; stores and personnel areas were the targets for 12 A-20s. A Fox Uncle or Fox Tare was believed damaged by near misses. Two luggers were destroyed and other luggers and barges were believed damaged. One unidentified float plane was strafed and set afire. A large square building in the building and dump area was bombed, demolishing it and setting the ruins afire. Two large buildings in the town area were blown up and one stores fire was started. Other buildings, stores and personnel areas along the east, coast of Kavieng Harbor were bombed. Four planes buffered damage from anti-aircraft fire and one gunner was slightly injured. 19500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 12950 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    19 February - 19A-309 ... 12 A-20s struck at Brandi Point and Cape Moem bombing and strafing buildings, stores, tents and two luggers near Cape Moem. A large building was blown up, and several large buildings were damaged. One small and one large fire was started and a near miss was probable on a lugger. One plane was damaged due to a premature bomb blast. 12500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 11500 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    21 February - 21C-309 ... Nine A-20s bombed and strafed Sa River from its mouth to two miles inland. Three villages were bombed and strafed with excellent results. 15000 pounds of bombs were dropped and 16600 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    23 February - 54-A-2 ... Buriu Airdrome, building areas in vicinity, and Keregi village were the targets for 11 A-20s. Two buildings received full direct hits and a large red-roofed building was also hit. The entire airdrome area was thoroughly strafed. 19000 pounds of bombs were dropped and 13750 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    24 February 55-A-2 ... 11 A-20s struck at Dagua Airdrome. An oil drum fire was started and three single seat fighters were bombed with unobserved results. An anti.-aircraft gun position was hit by one bomb. Shacks and tents were bombed and four moving trucks were strafed. One luger and two barges were strafed. Bombing and strafing were considered excellent. 16000 pounds of bombs were dropped and 14675 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    25 February - 56-D-2 ... Boram Airdrome was the target for ten A-20s. An anti-aircraft gun position, six parked planes, buildings and entire airdrome area were thoroughly bombed and strafed. Results were considered excellent. 18500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 11900 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    27 February - 58K ... . One A-20 completed a courier mission from Nadzab to Gusap and return.

    27 February - 58L ... One A-20 completed a courier mission from Nadzab to Finschhafen airdrome to Cape Gloucester airdrome and return.

    28 February - 59-C ... 11 A-20s struck at the dispersal area and stores east of Nubia airdrome. Bombing was very good although results were obscured by clouds of dust. The entire area was completely strafed. One small fire was started and a small barge was strafed. 19500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 8400 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    3 March - 63-H ... One A-20 made a search mission for a B-24 and crew downed on 29 February 1944. The missing B-24 crew was not sighted.

    3 March - 63-M ... One A-20 made a courier mission to Finschhafen and return.

    4 March - 64-J ... One A-20 made a courier mission to Dobodura and return.

    4 March - 64-L ... One A-20 made a courier mission to Saidor and return.

    5 March - 65-F ... 12 A-20s participated in a bombing and strafing mission at the landing beach at lalau Plantation. Only four planes reached the target due to bad weather. The rest turned back. No results were observed. One plane was missing. 6500 pounds or bombs were dropped and 4800 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    6 March - 68-A ... One A-20 completed a courier mission to Milne Bay, Finschhafen and return.

    6 -7 March - 66-L ... One A-20 completed a courier mission to Port Moresby, Mune Bay, Goodenough Island, Finschhafen and return.

    11 March- 71_G ... 12 A-20s struck at Boram Airdrome area with excellent bombing and strafing results. One gasoline dump fire was started and one plane and four trucks were strafed. One Sally bomber was also strafed. One anti-aircraft position was bombed and many anti-aircraft positions near Wewak mission were heavily strafed. Several native huts were seen to catch fire. Five planes were holed by machine gun fire. 28000 pounds of bombs were dropped and 14000 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    12 March- 72-G ... Boram Airdrome, stores and supply areas was the target for 12 A-20s. Wewak mission suffered a direct hit and one bomb hit the supply area. One single seat fighter was bombed and destroyed. Several anti-aircraft positions were straddled by bombs and practically silenced. The entire area was heavily strafed. Three planes were holed by anti-aircraft fire. 4800 rounds of ammunition expended.

    13 March - 73-F ... Brandi Plantation was struck by 12 A020s with many fires started, due to excellent bombing and strafing. Results were not definite due to excessive smoke and dust. 22500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 11800 rounds to ammunition were expended in strafing.

    14 March - 74-B ... One A-20 made a bombing and strafing mission on the Brandi Plantation area including Opa village. Damage was unassessed. 3000 pounds of bombs were dropped and 600 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    14 March - 74-B ... 11 A-20s struck at Brandi Plantation. Bombing and strafing was considered excellent with three black smoke fires and two large white smoke fires started. Several other fires were started in the area. 29000 pounds of bombs were dropped and 11400 rounds to ammunition were expended in strafing.

    15 March - 75-E ... 12 A-20s bombed and strafed Kairiru personnel area. One small lugger was probably destroyed. Many bombs fell among buildings in the target but damage was not determined. Two black smoke fires were started. The entire area. was heavily strafed. Six planes were holed by machine gun tire. 15000 pounds of bombs were dropped and 14450 rounds to ammunition were expended in strafing.

    15 March - 75-L ... One A-20 completed a courier mission to Finschhafen and return.

    16 March - 76-P ... One A-20 completed a courier mission to Dobodura, Milne Bay, Goodenough Island and return.

    17 March -77-D ... 11 A-20s struck at personnel areas at Cape Moem. Three fires were started and one small unserviceable power boat was strafed. The entire area was covered with bombs and thoroughly strafed. 24000 pounds of bombs were dropped and 16200 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    18 March -78-C ... Brandi Plantation was again the target for 12 A-20s. Three fires were started in the target area and one in the shacks of Kasimin village. Bombing and strafing was considered excellent. 32500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 14350 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    19 March - 79-F ... 12 A-20s attacked the 1000 yard airstrip along the west side of Cape Moem, but results were obscured due to excessive smoke, debris and dust over the whole target area. 25500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 10350 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    19 March - 79-L ... Seven A-20s took off to bomb and strafe a convoy northwest of Kairiru Island. One lugger was sunk by direct bomb hits. A large Fox Tare Charlie was sunk. One A-20 was believed shot down in the water by a strafing B-25 and one plane landed at Dumpu with machine gun holes in the gunner's compartment, also believed due to the strafing of the B-25. 4000 pounds of bombs were dropped and 4050 rounds to ammunition were expended in strafing.

    21 March - 81-E ... The south side of Brandi Plantation was bombed and strafed by seven A-20s, starting a small black smoke fire. Other results were unobserved due to heavy smoke and clouds of dust. One large truck was strafed. 19500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 10050 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    25 March - 85-F ... Eight A-20s bombed and strafed east and north sections of Wom Point. Several small fires were started and several. Native huts were hit by bombs. Specific results were unobserved due to smoke and dust. 20500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 5600 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    26 March - 86-K ... Nine A-20s struck at positions south of Lorengau. Many buildings were blown up in the target area but results were hard to see due to smoke and dust. 23500 pounds of bombs and 13600 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing.

    27 March - 87-B ... Eight A-20s hit Wom Point causing a. large fuel fire. One large bridge was damaged and three black smoke fires were started. A large 70 foot barge or lugger was heavily strafed and badly damaged. Several native huts were hit and damaged. 22500 pounds of bombs were dropped and 11500 rounds of ammunition were expended.

    31 March - 91-A ... Nine A-20s struck at barges off Muscha Island and personnel areas on the island. Native villages were heavily damaged end one barge was strafed. 8700 pounds of bombs were dropped and 11400 rounds of ammunition were expended in strafing. (15)
    The month of April was spent primarily strafing and bombing airfields or hunting for barges. The highlight of the month was the outstanding strike mission to Hollandia that left Japanese aircraft burning on the airfield. The missions concentrated on Hollandia which would be the next stop for the 8th. In the Monthly Unit History Report, 8th Bombardment Squadron (L), April 1944, it states,

    "The first mission performed by the 8th Bombardment Squadron (L) during the month of April was April 3rd. It was a bombing and strafing mission against grounded aircraft and anti-aircraft positions at Hollandia and Cyclops Airdromes, in Dutch New Guinea. 15 of our A-20G aircraft took off from Gusap, New Guinea. All planes reached the target and dropped 130X100 pound parachute demolition bombs on the target area. Bombs were seen to fall directly among 20 to 25 twin engine unidentified airplanes off the northwest end of Hollandia Airdrome, causing many of these planes to blow up or burn fiercely. 6 to 8 apparently serviceable aircraft on the northeast end of Hollandia Airdrome were bombed. They are believed to have been heavily damaged or destroyed. 2 twin engine bombers were left burning on the south end of Hollandia Airdrome. Several other bombers and single seater fighters were heavily strafed. The entire area of Sentani and Cyclops Airdromes was strafed with many parked aircraft set afire. All our planes returned safely, but one was forced to land at Dumpu, New Guinea, damaged by anti-aircraft fire."
    In May 1944, the same routine followed with the strafing and bombing along the coastal areas. Operations were temporarily suspended from 14th May to 17th May in preparation for the move to Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea.

    A-20s bombing over Hollandia (Courtesy Bill Swain)

    Hollandia Results: Destroyed Japanese aircraft at Hollandia (Courtesy Bill Swain)

    According to Nadzab: Jack Heyn,

    There were three things that stuck in my mind about our Nadzab stay. No. 1 was the encampment. Up to this point the Sqs. had all been located at different locations, and individual tents and offices were dispersed and not close together. After two years we pretty much owned the skies and the only raids we got now was a night-time nuisance raid occasionally. So the 5 Sqs. of the 3rd Bomb Gp. were all together, and the tents all in nice neat rows, close together with what could be considered streets between the rows. Looked more like a states side encampment getting ready for a general inspection -- and we hadn't had a general inspection since leaving Savannah, Ga. ...

    Our main target from here was Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea, which proved to be our next stop. Wewak had been a principal target for quite a spell, but it was pretty well neutralized. Once again MacArthur would use his leap frog approach and by pass Wewak and let it die on the vine. ...

    3rd Bomb Group Ground Crews
    In Front of A-20G at Nadzab (Aerothentic)

    We had four main courses of time-killers while over there: letter writing, card playing, volley ball and Chess tournaments. I was a prodigious letter writer. I spent a lot of time in Tack's operations office at the typewriter. ... Card playing - every bodies favorite, especially around payday. Poker and black jack were the games of choice. For about a week after payday the games were hot and heavy. We broke up many a game to go to breakfast. It took just about a week and all the money would wind up in a few hands, get sent home, and we would wait for the next payday. I did manage to send about $1200.00 home during the time that I was over there. After the money was gone Bridge and Pinochle were the big games, no money involved. ...

    Volley ball and softball were the ones that helped to keep one in shape. I never did care much for the softball, but just about everynite after supper, if we didn't have mission film to process we would play for a couple hours. Being in close proximity to the equator, one could work up quite a sweat, and work off some of the calories we had partaken of at supper time. Then a good refreshing shower and off to a card game, a typewriter -- or a chess game. Chess was big with a lot of the guys. The Photo Section, Operations Office and Intelligence Sections all had chess teams and we would have tournaments. What volley ball did for the body, chess did for the grey-cells -- kept one from getting rusty.

    On 1 March, the Squadron strength was 46 officers and 275 enlisted men including 30 trained combat pilots. There were 14 A-20Gs available for combat. March was the first month of operation with the new "long legger" type of A-20Gs. These planes gave the Squadron considerably longer range and more potent striking power as a result of larger gas tanks and the addition of wing racks. These racks enabled the planes to carry two additional 500 pound bombs one under each wing. Strikes against the enemy were frequent and morale was high.

    According to Kensmen: 5th AAF: April 1944, Sunday, 16 April, 1944 was referred to as "Black Sunday" in New Guinea "as the Fifth Air Force lost thirty-seven aircraft to a late-afternoon frontal system which cut them off from their home bases of Gusap, Nadzab and Saidor. Another nine were seriously damaged and, as a result, the Fifth Air Force suffered its biggest operational loss of the war. The freak weather created the biggest weather-related loss in aviation history. Also in New Guinea, over 170 B-24s, B-25s and A-20s bomb Hollandia town and airfield and numerous other targets in the area; P-39s hit a wooded area and communications targets along Hansa Bay and attack villages and supply dumps from Bogia to Uligan Harbor; P-38s hit Madang area; B-24s fly a light strike against Wakde Island; other aircraft, operating singly or in pairs, attack targets of opportunity on the Northeast coast of New Guinea and Southeast coast of New Britain Island. Other B-25s bomb Koepang on Timor Island."

    Move to Hollandia (May 1944) The group moved to Hollandia on 7 May 1944 as the Japanese gave way to repeated assaults on their New Guinea strongholds. The 3rd Bomb Group carried out strikes against Japanese shipping, struck airfields at low-level and supported Army landings at Wakde and Biak Islands off the northwest coast of Dutch New Guinea during May.

    According to theMonthly Unit History, 8th Bombardment Squadron (L), May 1944, Part II Administrative, "May was a most eventful month for the 8th Bombardment Squadron (L). On 8th May, the ground echelon left Lae on an LST for the new area at Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea, arriving on 12th May, where work was begun to prepare the new camp site for the arrival of the flight echelon. Progress was very slow until 15th May, when the rear echelon arrived with much needed materiel. The flight echelon arrived on 16th May and began operating the following day. The strength of the Squadron on 1st May was 42 officers and 275 enlisted men."

    The movement of the 8th to Hollandia took place between 14-17 May. On 17 May, operations from Hollandia Airdrome began with six plane missions supporting the landing at Wakde Island. Fires were started in fuel dumps on Wakde, causing several explosions. Two loaded barges, a fuel dump, several wooden shacks, and four or five trucks were bombed and strafed near Sarmi A/D, causing destruction of the barges and heavy damage to the other targets.

    According to the Monthly Unit History, 8th Bombardment Squadron (L), May 1944, Part I Chronological Narrative, it stated,

    Shipping at Manokwari Harbor and aircraft on Kamiri A/D on Noemfoor Island were the targets for 12 planes on 19th May was one of the most outstanding missions ever flown by the 8th Bombardment Squadron (L) as far as damage to the enemy is concerned. The strike resulted in the sinking or damaging of seven Sugar Charlies from 150-800 tons, direct hits on a 1000-1500 ton ship, and damage to several smaller luggers and a power launch by misses and strafing in Manokwari Harbor. Nine of the twelve planes made strafing passes on parked aircraft on Kamir A/D, destroying four planes definitely and causing heavy damage to at least ten others. Many Japs of a group of approximately 100 working on Kamiri strip were seen to fall after a strafing pass had been made on them. Four trucks were heavily strafed, probably rendering them completely unserviceable. Anti-aircraft first at Manokwari was of all calibers, ranging from moderate to intense, but inaccurate. At Kamiri A/D, medium and light A/A fire was received, inaccurate as to lead. One enemy float plane, type Pete, attempted to intercept, but was shot down by P-38 escort about one mile west of Kamiri A/D. All of our planes returned safely. (FFO 140).

    On 20th May, 12 planes were turned back from the primary target of Kamiri A/D by weather, but attacked the secondary target of the airdromes and vicinity on Biak Island. One type Tony fighter, three trucks, and four or five shacks were completely destroyed and several vehicles were damaged by near misses and strafing. Two 20 mm. A/A positions were silenced by strafing. One lugger and one barge were destroyed near Bosnek A/D and two other barges and supplies along the shore were heavily strafed. (FFO 141)

    Twelve planes hit Kamiri A/D on 21st May, destroying three bombers and five fighters in flames by bombing and strafing. At least eight other planes were heavily damaged, and two large fuel dump fires were started. (FFO 142)

    On 22nd May, 11 planes were turned back from an attack on Babo A/D and town by bad weather, but attacked the secondary target of Sorido A/D and shipping near Mokmer and Bosnek on Biak Island. Four barges were sunk and several others received heavy damage. Fuel and supplies on three jetties near Mokmer and Bosnek were set on fire by bombing and strafing, and four trucks were strafed near Bosnek Village with undetermined results. (FFO 143)

    Targets of opportunity on Biak Island west of Mokmer A/D were hit by 11 planes on 23rd May. Four trucks were damaged by bombing and strafing, one heavy A/A position was silenced, one large lugger was sunk and heavy damage was inflicted on several European type buildings and a jetty in Bransfari Village. (FFO 144)

    Kamiri and Namber A/Ds were attacked by 10 planes on 24th May, setting afire one Val dive bomber, two trucks, one staff car, and a fuel dump on Namber A/D. One barge was sunk and another damaged in a cove near Namber. Damage on Kamiri included three bombers and six fighters left in flames, one bomber and five fighters heavily damaged by strafing, two fuel dumps set ablaze, and piles of supplies damaged. (FFO 145A)

    Photo interpretation by Fifth Air Force showed that in the three strikes of 19th, 21st and 24th May on Kamiri A/D, 24 planes were destroyed and 12 rendered unserviceable, making a total of 36. Comment in the photo interpretation stated that "No serviceable planes remain on the A/D" (1)

    On 27th May, this squadron in conjunction with the other three squadrons of the 3rd Bombardment Group (L), furnished ground support for the landing operations on Biak Island. One flight of from 4-6 planes took off every 45 minutes, this unit furnishing two flights totalling 11 planes. On the first mission, 6 planes attacked targets designated by the ground station, starting fuel fires, and bombing and strafing the road to Mokmer A/D. No support was required on the second mission, so coastal area from Betaf to Podena was bombed and strafed, causing fires among the huts in all of the villages along that section of the coast. (FFO 148G)

    Two missions were scheduled for the 28th May, on the same basis as the preceeding day, continuing the ground support on Biak Island. The first flight was told by the ground station to return to base because no target was available. The second flight of four planes made bombing runs and strafing runs as directed by the ground stations. Damage was unobserved due to dust from exploding bombs and the speed of the planes. One of our A--20's, piloted by Lt. David W. Brown, with Captain Goldber as Observer, and S/Sgt. Darling as gunner, was hit in the right engine by enemy machine gun fire, causing it to crash and burn near Mokmer A/D with the loss of the entire crew. (FFO 149H/L)

    Under the same operating conditions as the two preceding days, two five plane ground support missions were flown on 29th May, striking targets designated by the ground station on Biak Island. One enemy tank was destroyed by a direct hit with a 500 lb. bomb, by Lt. James L. Brown, and a second tank was heavily strafed near Mokmer A/D. It is believed that this may the first instance of a tank being destroyed by a plane in this theater. A fuel fire was started about one-half mile east of Mokmer A/D, and various roads and tracks were bombed and strafed. (FFO 150A)

    On 31st May, three of the series of missions in aid of the operations at Biak Island flown by the the 3rd Bombardment Group (L) were carried out by a total of 18 planes of the 8th Bombardment Squadron (L). One flight attacked the secondary target causing damage to two fishing boats and several native huts on the south coast of Japan Island. One mission to Biak wa ordered to return to base for lack of targets, and the third mission caused undetermined damage along roads and tracks near Mokmer A/D. (FFO 152B)

    The month of May was outstanding for the number of missions carried out by the 8th Bombardment Squadron (L). A total of 28 missions involving 214 sorties and 784.3 combat hours were flown during the month. (1) 131.6 tons of bombs were dropped, and 233,475 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition were expended by strafing. (2) Maintenance of aircraft was particularly noteworthy, considering that 25 missions were flown from 17th May to 31st May and the fact that, for ten days, this squadron was the only offensive unit based at Hollandia and the planes had to be available every day for one or more missions. (3) This maintenance required much night work by both the armament the armament and engineering departments, in addition to very rapid work in refueling, checking engines, and replacing expended bombs and ammunition of days when from three to five missions were flown.
    The month of June saw the loss of six crews in combat, less on gunner. According to the Monthly Unit History, 8th Bombardment Squadron (L), June 1944, Part I Chronological Narrative, "Combat Losses": "This was attributed to intense pilot fatigue which developed toward the middle of June when 13 pilots had to fly 12 planes daily, some of them going on 6 to 7 missions of 5 to 6 hours duration in a row. It was also attributable in part to an abnormal number of mechanical failures due to three factors: -- (a) physical impossibility of the Engineering Section, under drastic orders to produce 12 flyable planes daily, to provide its previous top standard of maintenance and inspection; (b) to excessive wear and tear caused by the unusual dust and gravel conditions of Hollandia A/D; and (c) to the use of new A-20G-40s which had to be pressed into service immediately on receipt and which were found to have extremely dangerous exhaust stack defects. Another factor was the attacking of several enemy bases such as Moemi and Babo where the only targets were intense concentrations of A/A."

    Crew morale was dropping in June 1944. "The Group notified the Squadron that for an "indefinite period, there would be no pilot replacements and no pilots put in to go home regardless of length of service or number of missions flown: further, that the Squadron would continue to fly 12 plane missions as before. The chilling effect of the was tremendous. It was followed immediately by the tragic and unnecessary losses of 16 and 17 June, which so depleted and rocked the Squadron that there was no alternative but to give the surviving personnel the respite previously asked for (2 days). The combat losses in the three weeks, 28 May to 16 June, constituted 30% of the Squadron's pilot personnel and nearly 20% of the gunners." (NOTE: On 17 June 2Lt. Fick made an overwater landing after his aircraft sustained damage in an attack on Bentoni Bay, Dutch New Guinea. He ditched his A-20 fifty miles west of Babo and he and his gunner were seen to exit the aircraft via life raft. However, the PBY ran low of fuel and could not rescue them. When the PBY returned FIVE DAYS LATER, all they noted were crocodiles.)

    In addition, in June 1944, it was noted that many of the "elder" regular Army enlisted crew chiefs -- some with 30 months service -- could NOT be promoted because of Army regulations that stated that they could not be promoted to fill vacancies created by rotations. In effect, this allowed the draftees who were promoted in the states fill positions of responsibility while they stagnated. It would not be until October that the Army's oversight seemed to be corrected when many NCOs were promoted to Staff Sergeants and Technical Sergeants.

    According to the Monthly Unit History, 8th Bombardment Squadron (L), June 1944, Part I Chronological Narrative, it stated,

    Combat operations of the Squadron for the month of June 1944 were on a scale never before equalled by these Squadron for any period except during the last two weeks of May 1944 and in many respects, surpassing those of any other Squadron of the group for any like period. (1)

    A total of 24 combat missions and 246 combat missions and 246 individual sorties were flown on actual strikes against enemy targets in A-20G30s and 40s and A-26Bs, the second largest number (to the record, 28 in May 1944) ever flown by this Squadron and the third largest ever flown by any Squadron of the Group. None of these were reconnaissance, courier or weather, etc. missions.

    Hard to Get (Courtesy Bill Swain)


    A total of 1217.7 actual combat strike hours were flown during the month, an all time high for any Squadron of the 3rd Bombardment Group (L), exceeding the 33 1/3 % the highest number ever flown by any Squadron. In addition, 3 "combat" missions of 33 sorties and about 68 "combat" hours, were flown between Nadzab, Hollandia and Wakde Island on 7 and 11 June.

    Captain George R. Greene, Operations Officer, flew 4 strike sorties as well as numerous practice flights, giving A-26Bs their first combat tests in any theater of the War. Captain Greene flew a total of 16 actual combat strike missions during the month for 77 combat hours, an individual record for this Squadron and probably for the Group and also 6 technical "combat" missions. (2) (SITE NOTE: See A-26B Combat Trials for details.)

    Numerous targets were attacked for the first time during the month. Two missions of 1150 miles each, the longest to date by this Squadron, were led by Captain Charles C. Smith, C.O. of the Squadron.

    Expenditure of bombs and ammunition for the month also broke several records. 2146 bombs, totalling 157.57 tons were dropped on targets and 257,000 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition were expended. Both figures are all time records for this Squadron and very close seconds to all time records for any Squadron of the 3rd Group.

    In Combat Readiness of airplanes, the Squadron led the Group with 80%.
    In July 1944, the Squadron relaxed a bit in a slack period after the hectic May-June combat missions. Only 6 strike missions of 34 sorties were flown. August 1944 continued to be slow with 5 strike missions of 40 sorties. In September 1944, 14 missions totalling 108 sorties were flown. All missions (with the exception of 2 search mission and 3 photo missions) were medium altitude missions directed toward keeping enemy air strips unserviceable.

    In October 10 strike missions were flown (2 of them scheduled for Babo, but were turned back over Geelvink Bay. The missions were for medium altitude to deny the use of airstrips to the enemy. Low level missions were to strafe and bomb bivouac areas and dumps.

    According to Hollandia: Jack Heyn,

    "In May 1944 we boarded an L.S.T. and headed for Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea. We arrived two weeks after the initial landing. We pulled up to the most congested beach we had ever encountered. There was about 50 yards of beach, and then swamp. But one road led off that beach, and it was full of traffic 24 hours a day. We did manage to get our equipment unloaded on the beach, but there was no way we were going to get off the beach that day. So the cooks set up their field stoves, and proceeded to fix something for supper. The beach had been a prime target for Jap bombers and it had been blown up three times in those two weeks. The engineers just bulldozed the debris into the swamp. So that first nite we would spend on that beach amongst piles of 500 lb. bombs and 90mm artillery shells. A lot of prayers were said that nite, and fortunately the Japs did not come over that nite."


    Beach head at Hollandia (May 1944) (Jack Heyn)

    He went on, "While at Hollandia we had more entertainment than we had had the whole time we were over there. Bob Hope and his troupe, including Francis Langford, Jerry Colona, Patty Thomas and a guitar player I can't remember his name. Also Judith Anderson, a well-known Shakespearian actress and some lesser lights visited us. Thirdly we had a U.S.O. troupe come in, nobody famous, but good entertainers." (SITE NOTE: In August 1944, the Bob Hope Show visited Hollandia with Bob Hope, Frances Langford, Patty Thomas, Jerry Colona, Tony Ramano and Captain Lanny Ross. Two members of the 8th Cpl. William Dutton, Jr. (trumpet) and Sgt. Henry P. Hertl (accordion) performed 12 shows as members of the "Tropical Knights", a 12 piece orchestra comprised of Air Corps men of the region.)


    Softball at Hollandia (Jack Heyn)

    In August 1944, the enlisted men's club, known as the "El Bolero", opened with its large dance floor, band stand, circular bar and other outstanding features. According to the Monthly Unit History, 8th Bombardment Squadron (L), October 1944, the interior of the entire club was further filtered and tinted by the golden and blue parachutes suspended overhead in the ballroom and by white silk chutes in the reading room. The results were primarily the result of the efforts of Sergeant Higgins. One of the biggest attractions at the club was the ice-cold "cokes" served at the bar. A great deal of credit must go to the makers of the coco-cola machine -- Sergeant Hertl for procuring the plans and material, Sergeants Gatter and Heath for the construction of it from two discarded oxygen bottles, bits of tubing and hose, plus a large amount of American ingenuity. With the advent of the Women Army Corps to the island, the members voted to invite their "allies in arms" to share the benefits of their work. The first dance was a success and soon the fame of the club spread.

    Finally Jack added, "Being a ground support outfit we had always been the first Bomb Gp. to move up. In Oct. MacArthur fulfilled his promise to the Phillipines people and "Returned". For the first time the 3rd was not the first to move up. The 38th Bomb Gp., a B-25 outfit that had arrived in the summer of 1942 were moved up ahead of us. Unfortunately they paid a price. While waiting to disembark at Leyte they got hit by Jap bombers, and did suffer some casualties. Our pride might have been hurt, but we dodged a bullet. The next month, November, it was our turn. Once again we tore everything down, packed everything up and loaded it on an L.S.T and headed for Leyte Island in the Phillipines."

    Captain David J. Donovan, Adjutant, 8th Squadron (1944), stated, "In the middle of May 1944, the 8th Squadron moved alone to Hollandia and flew continuous missions from 16 to 28 May as the sole attack unit operating from this forward base. Six missions were flown the first day in support of Allied landings at Wakde Island; several missions the next, day to Riak; and continuous missions the following days to Manokwari, Biak, Utarom, and other enemy strong points. This was another tragic period for the Squadron -- seven crews were lost in 20 days, chiefly due to the lack of pilots and the intense combat fatigue which resulted. The 8th Squadron has been recommended for the Presidential Unit Citation for this period."

    In June 1944 the A-20 crews of the 3rd Bomb Group claimed the sinking of 74 Japanese vessels. During July, The 3rd Bomb Group supported the Army landing on Noemfoor Island west of Biak. General MacArthur needed the islands as staging bases for his planned invasion of the Philippines. On 17 July, the 3rd Bombardment Group conducted one its longest raids when it struck the Boela oil fields on Ceram Island in the Dutch East Indies. The raid further crippled Japan's already strained ability to provide fuel for its air and naval forces

    The 3rd Bomb Group spent the rest of the year supporting ground operations as the American and Australian Armies cleaned out the last vestiges of Japanese in the New Guinea and Bismarck Archipelago areas and seized additional islands closer to the Philippines. On 20 October 1944, General MacArthur’s forces landed on Leyete Island in the southern Philippines. After securing the island, they established logistical bases for further operations in the Philippines.

    When the landings were made upon Leyte Island in the central Philippines on October 20th, all men in the organization knew that soon their new destination would be some location in the Philippines. Rapid preparations were made in the closing days of October for a movement by water in the early part of November.

    A-26B Combat Trials (June 1944) According to the Monthly Unit History, 8th Bombardment Squadron (L), June 1944, Part I Chronological Narrative, "THE A-26B - COMBAT TRIALS" it stated:

    The pilots were greatly disappointed with the A-26Bs, which received considerable testing in combat during June. Unfortunately they did not run into any really good shipping or grounded aircraft targets, but average targets of this theater were attacked.

    Capts. Greene and Gordon and 1st. Lt. Shook were checked out and flew the A-26s as nearly as good a plane for low level attack as the A-20. They thought it would be good for medium bombardment and excellent as a "Fat Cat".

    The principal drawback was the extraordinarily poor lateral visibility caused by the projecting engine nacelles. Visibility to the sides during a barge search or on attack is practically nil. The forward vision also is considerably restricted, compared to the A-20. This feature alone was felt to count the A-36 completely out for low level attack on average targets in this theater.

    Another disappointment was the short range -- not exceeding that of an A-20; also the cruising and maximum speeds were considerably under what had been expected. On the advantage side were the terrific forward firepower (3500 X .50 cal. expenditure, or 1 1/2 to 2 times that of the A-20, being usual on strikes), the large bomb load, the comfortable cockpit and ease of flying, combined with the ability to carry a navigator, crew chief or observer, without crowding.
    First A-26: "The 8th's 1st A-26...one of 4 A-26's tried out by the Reapers for Combat evaluation. Each Sqdn received one while the Group was at Hollandia. Ed Shook was one of the 8th's pilots to try it out." (Courtesy Bill Swain)

    Move to Dulag, Leyte, PI (Nov 1944) In November 1944, the 8th again prepared to move -- this time to Dulag, Leyte, Philippines on November 15, 1944 with 20 officers and 177 enlisted men. These men boarded an LST for the P.I. while 19 officers and 34 enlisted men remained at Hollandia. According to the Monthly Unit History, 8th Bombardment Squadron (L), November 1944, "on the 8th of November the water echelon left for Leyte, P.I. APO 72, arriving there on 15 November..." On November 15th the unit landed on the beach at San Roque, Leyte and remained on the beach for two days. They then "proceeded to Rizal, south of Dulac, Leyte, where a permanent camp was set up. It was situated close to a beach. A good job was accomplished with only small amounts of essential materials, and in spite of terrific rainfalls prevalent in Leyte at that time of the year."

    The November Unit History also contained a biographical sketch of "Pat", a thoroughbred Irish Terrier, popularly known as the "Old Boy". He was the squadron mascot and made the moves with the squadron from Charter Towers to the P.I. -- always by air. In Dubodura, he would leap into the air to grab onto swinging vines and hang on with his teeth until he tired.

    Upon arrival in the Philippines the 8th continued to fly missions against the enemy in support of ground force action. On 1 November there were 16 serviceable A-20Gs and 1 serviceable B-25J airplanes. On 30 November there were 15 serviceable A-20Gs. While based in the Philippines, the unit attacked shipping off the northwest coast of Luzon, flew missions in support of landings at Subic Bay, provided support for the recapture of Manila and Bataan, and cooperated with allied ground forces in bombing enemy held areas on Luzon and adjacent islands.

    However, the biggest change was that the 3rd Bombardment Group was no longer was the primary ground support unit for the landing forces island hopping in the South West Pacific area. It had been constantly at the brunt of battle. It was now moved to a support role. In November, only one strike mission of 10 sorties and 4.5 combat hours was flown. No strike missions were flown during the month of December 1944. In December the new A-20Hs arrived. The first aircraft was A-20H (44-693) on a local test flight.

    According to Philippines: Jack Heyn,

    "Mid Nov. 1944 we landed on Leyte Island in the Phillipines. We landed on a beach about 20 miles south of Tacloban, the capitol of Leyte. We set up camp on the beach about 50 yards from the waters of the Gulf of Leyte. It would prove to be a period of six weeks of spinning our wheels. It was the rainy season on the east side of the archipeligo, and there was only one fighter strip in operation. Hence no place to bring our A-20s to. The six weeks surely didn't add anything to the war effort, but it was not without some interesting events.There was one variation to this camp site. There was no way to dig a slit trench in the sand.

    The fighter strip was about two miles inland from our camp. One night we had a red alert and there was a lot of ack-ack over by the strip. The Japs didn't drop bombs that nite - they dropped paratroops. We put perimeter guards around the camp area, and put in a long night. Don't believe any of us did any sleeping that nite. There was a quartermaster outfit down the beach from us and there was a lot of small arms fire from that direction. but it proved to be nervous fingers. At daylight the infantry rounded up the Japs in short order.

    Another night I had gone to bed, the only one in the tent. Two of them were still in Hollandia and the fourth guy was on night duty. About 2:00 AM I was awakened by rain in my face. A typhoon had blown in from Leyte Gulf with 90 MPH winds, and the rain was coming horizontally. About that time one of the cots had got upset, I stood up to set it right, and my own cot hit me right in the backside and about knocked me down.I sat down with that cot at my back, and there I stayed. Next morning there were three tents standing that had been framed with bamboo - ours was one of them. The next day was spent putting the camp back together; and we had experience another of the oddities of the South Pacific."
    Move to San Jose, Mindoro, PI (January 1945) The Group moved again to San Jose, Mindoro, Philippines on December 30, 1944.

    The move is related to be a nightmare. According to the Unit History, 8th Bombardment Squadron (L), December 1944,

    "Leyte to Mindoro"

    The last week or December, 1944 will never be forgotten by 7 officers and 150 enlisted men of the 8th Squadron. They made a voyage by water from Leyte to Mindoro, Philippine Islands. Instead of an enjoyment, it was worse than an ordeal; it was a nightmare.

    On Christmas Eve orders were unexpectedly issued that the squadron prepare to move immediately to Mindoro. Initial landings by ground forces had been accomplished on that island only a week previously.

    All the squadron equipment was loaded on an L.S.T. (Landing Ship Tank) beached close to the squadron area. All of Christmas Day and Night was occupied with the loading of the boat. It was completed at 0600 the following morning.

    On December 27 at 1400 the boat set sail for Mindoro. It was one of a convoy of many L.S.T.'s , Liberty ships and destroyers. Scarcely two hours after it had departed the convoy was attacked by a Japanese airplane, which attempted to dive directly on one of the boats. The aircraft missed its mark and went to a watery grave.

    Talk about the presence of Japanese pilots who participated in suicide attacks on shipping had been prevalent for the past two months. Most of it had emanated from Radio Tokyo. Its veracity was considered in the same vein as the daily Tokyo broadcasts of fantastic Japanese military and naval achievements.

    Now these airplanes and pilots were actualities, not myths. It was realized that they were part of the Japanese 27th Special Attack Corps. Pilots in that organization flew flimsy aircraft, containing barely enough gasoline to reach their targets, generally ships in Uncle Sam' s Navy. Once a Nipponese pilot of the Special Attack Corps took off, he knew he would never return. His sole aim was to dive upon the largest boat he could locate in a convoy.

    The 8th Squadron L.S.T., proceeded through the Surigao Straits, Mindanao Sea and north through the Sulu Sea for three days and nights. Throughout the voyage the convoy was under constant attack. An ammunition ship approximately one and one half miles behind the L.S.T., received a direct hit by a suicide diver. It exploded and caused a concussion so terrific that it jarred every man on 'Our L.S.T. Several men were literally tossed from their bunks. Another Special Attack' Corps plane dived directly at the L.S.T.; fortunately its pilot missed by a none comfortable margin.

    Sleep was out of the question for the men who participated in that voyage. They could only sweat 'out" the ride and hope for the best. Practically all the men stood on deck at all times with life preservers handy ready to abandon the ship immediately if it were hit by the Nipponese.

    During daylight suicide divers were close to the convoy incessantly. From nightfall to dawn enemy bombers performed harrassing attacks on the convoy.

    On December 30th at 0900 the L.S.T. beached at San Jose, Mindoro, Philippine Islands. Nipponese planes continued to attack boats in the convoy. One of their victims was a Liberty Ship. The 8th Squadron personnel could not consider themselves safe until they were on terra firma. They lost no time on the boat in departing and unloading the squadron equipment. The gun crews of all boats in the convoy shot down 29 Japanese airplanes. The gunners on the 8th Squadron L.S.T. accounted for two Nipponese suicide divers.

    Less than half of the members of the squadron participated in the move. The others, "fat catting" in Hollandia, Sydney, and other places far from the scene of combat subsequently heard many stories about the voyage. They were well satisfied that they did not make the boat trip.
    According to Philippines: Jack Heyn,

    He went on, "On the 28th of Dec. 1944 we reloaded our equipment on an LST and about midnite shoved off. This time we were headed for the Island of Mindoro on the west side of the archepeligo, where it was the dry season. The next morning we had rounded the end of Leyte and were heading west thru the Philippine Straits, in a pretty good sized convoy. We situated somewhere in the middle and couldn't see either end of the convoy. About 10:30 AM four of us were playing cards topside, when three Jap planes came buzzing in low from our right side (never could tell starboard from port). One flew right over us a headed for a Liberty Ship one lane over and one ship back. We had got over to the rail watching as it dove right into the ship. Ammunition ship, went strait up and mushroomed out like the A-bomb explosions. When I saw that I grabbed the rail and bent my knees, as I knew there was going to be a hell of a concussion. One of the guys had started down a hatch and it blew him to the bottom. When the pieces started coming down we scrambled to get under something. We had come face to face with the divine wind -- Kamakazis." He added, "For 2 days they came at us, day and nite. The navy gunners, bless their navy souls, succeeded in knocking 25 of them out of the sky, but they succeeded in sinking 8 ships out of our convoy."

    "We made landfall about midmorning on New Years eve 1944. By evening we had all of the equipment out to the camp site. Col. Ellis (later to become a 4-star General commanding SAC Hq. at Offut Air Base) called a group formation. The only thing I remember of what he said was - "I don't care what you steal from other outfits, but if I catch you stealing from one of or own Sqs. I'll court martial you." It was pretty common practice when you moved into a new area to scrounge around and get material to build a livable abode with midnite "rackquisitions". So several hundred guys prepared to spend the nite on the ground under shelter-halfs and figured it was one of the best New Years Eves we ever had -- we were just damned happy to be alive."
    During January the forward echelon of the 8th squadron was based at San Jose, Mindoro, P.I. The air echelon was stationed at Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea from 1 January to 23 January, on which date the 89th Squadron planes left for San Jose, Mindoro, P.I., arriving on 24 January. From the 24-31 January the entire Squadron was based at San Jose. On 1 January the Squadron had 16 serviceable A-20Hs and on 31 January there were 16 serviceable A-20Hs. The unit flew 6 missions for a total of 58 sorties. Resistance was light on the missions, but on 30 Jan they encountered a new hazard when 5 planes were slightly damaged while returning from a mission and flying through "clouds of bats" which flocked up from the target area.

    On 9 January 1945, Lt Col Richard H. Ellis, commander of the 3rd Bomb Group, led the first mission in the Philippines. The group, along with other units from the Fifth Air Force, conducted a massive air strike against Clark Field, near Manila. Later that month, The Grim Reapers supported the landing of US Forces at Subic Bay. On 9 February, Colonel Ellis led his group in a low-level attack against Japanese installations on Corregidor Island, in the beginning of a four-day attack. For the first time, The Grim Reapers used aerial rockets. They later supported the American parachute assault against the small island that had been the scene of the American surrender three years earlier.

    In February, the pace picked up. 25 missions for a total of 191 sorties were flown during the month. The squadron mainly worked on searching the road-nets for targets of opportunity. Ground support of action near Lake Taal. In some ground attacks napalm was used. In mid-February the 8th provided smoke cover using M-10 airplane smoke tanks in the Bataan-Corrigedor corridor. At the end of February, the 8th was involved in attacks on Puerto Princessa. Major Greene, the former Squadron C.O. was killed two days after reporting to Group HQ on a practice mission.

    In March, 29 missions for a total of 188 sorties were flown. At the beginning of the month, attacks on Puerto Princessa continued and towns in southern and northern Luzon. From mid-March to th end of March, most missions were for ground support in towns in the Lake Taal area. For example the 8th provided ground support in attacks on Cebu City, second largest city in the P.I., in support of the ground forces who landed and captured the city shortly thereafter. After the strike on Malvar, the ground forces were able to capture Malvar with comparative ease, finding many dead Japs, destroyed gun positions and burned out supply dumps.

    In April, 37 missions for a total of 215 sorties were flown. In the early part of the month, ground attacks were in the Legaspi and Negros Island area involving the dropping of napalm. After a 9 April attack in close support of the 11th Airborne Division in the Batangas area, the ground troops were able to move in immediately into Sulac town. At least 25 dead Japanese, eight 20mm. A/A guns, 2 machine guns were found destroyed. 78% of the town was leveled and the use of napalm had effectivel cleared the town of resistance.

    In April, some missions were flown under the 308th Bomb Wing on the China coast and in Formosa against factories such as the Kagi Sugar refinery. On 5 April, 3 A-20Hs of the 3rd Bomb Group attacked destroyers and a freighter off the China coast at Chis-txi Point. The pilots were Col. Ellis (Group C.O., Flight Lead), Captain Shook (8th C.O., Wingman) and Captain McClellan (90th). The damage inflicted on the enemy by such a small force against such great odds, but because the flight represents the longest range mission ever flown by A-20s -- made possible only by the innovation of using belly tanks on attack bombers.

    Colonel Ellis, 25 years old and the youngest lieutenant colonel in the Fifth Air Force, reluctantly received permission to conduct a long-range anti-shipping mission against a Japanese convoy. The convoy had departed Hong Kong for the Philippines with reinforcements and supplies. Colonel Ellis had already flow 200 combat mission when he and his gunner, Sergeant Harry Slaby, took off on 5 April with three other A-20s. Despite being separated from a group of B-25s he had been ordered to fly with for safety reasons, Colonel Ellis and his gunner succeeded in sinking a transport while the other A-20 crews damaged two destroyers. On return, General Kenney promoted him to colonel and replaced him with Lieutenant Colonel Charles Howe.

    As the war in the Philippines wound down, the Americans invaded Okinawa on 7 April 1945. The 3rd Bombardment Group continued its operations in the Philippines, supporting ground operations on Mindoro, Luzon and Mindanoa, attacking industrial targets and railways on Formosa. The group began receiving the Douglas A-26 Invader. Like the A-20, the Invader accommodated a pilot and a gunner. Faster, and with a longer range, it packed an impressive armament of 14 forward firing 50-caliber machine guns and could carry 2,000 pounds of bombs. (The A-26 Invader would later be redesignated as B-26s after the B-26 Marauder was decommissioned.)

    In May, 23 missions for a total of 198 sorties were flown. All aircraft were staged at McGuire Strip, San Jose. At the beginning of the month, the 8th attached Japanese troop concentrations in northern and southern Luzon. Army ground elements followed on the footsteps of the 8th air attacks and found the Japanese on the hills "dazed and killed by concussion and the remnants were easily annihilated." The last organized resistance in Souther Luzon was crushed.

    In June, the pace of action slowed. The squadron flew 5 missions for a total of 46 sorties. All aircraft were staged at McGuire Strip, San Jose. The 8th was involved in strikes against Japanese troop concentrations in the Cagayan Valley. Rumors of a move from Mindoro to Okinawa in July prevailed throughout the month.

    The Squadron remained at Mindoro until 25 July when the water echelon embarked for Okinawa. The end of July found the water echelon at sea, while the air echelon remained at San Jose. The unit flew four missions for a total of twelve sorties. The air war in the P.I. was winding down and all missions in July were in Formosa. On 6 July two A-20s attacked railroad yards in Formosa.

    Throughout July, local transition training for the A-26B was conducted with flights between San Jose and Clark Field. On 13 July "one A-26B of the 8th Squadron, flown by Captain Hellier, participated in an eight plane Group mission to the Karenko railroad yards in Formosa."

    According to the Unit History, 8th Bombardment Squadron (L), June 1945, Administrative, stated: "The redeployment plan, commonly known as the "point system" came into operation for the first time. It could not be described as a "howling success" for this organization. The 8th Squadron had approximately 30 enlisted men with more than 33 months of overseas service. Other men with less than 18 months of foreign duty had accumulated more points due to more service in the States and parenthood. The latter men would hence be sent home ahead of the former group. It was the opinion of a majority of the men in the squadron that the rotation plan should not have been suspended. It should have been retained at least as a supplement to the redeployment program."

    According to the Joe Baugher on the Joe Baugher: A-20A, "The old 3rd Bombardment Group still retained its A-20s until the end of the war, becoming the last operational Army A-20 unit. At the end of the war, it was in preparation to move to Okinawa in anticipation of the invasion of Japan."

    For their actions in the Philippines, the unit received the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation.

    Move to Okinawa (Aug 1945): The first day of August found the water echelon on the high seas enroute to Okinawa, while the air echelon remained at San Jose, Mindoro. The water echelon arrived on 6 August at Sobe, Okinawa and the air echelon arrived on 7 August. From the the 6th of August until hostilities ceased on the 12th of August, the 8th was flying missions as part of a group effort against strategic targets on Kyushu and Honshu. When peace came the 8th was transferred to the island of Honshu. In July 1945, the unit was re-equipped with the Douglas A-26Bs Invader (later redesignated as B-26s after the B-26 Marauder was decommissioned) along with its A-20Hs. According to the Unit History, 8th Bombardment Squadron (L), August 1945, "Local Interest",

    On August 1 most of the men in the squadron were on a boat headed for Okinawa. When their vessel, a Landing Ship Tank, had left Mindoro on July 25, it had been expected that it would reach its destination by the first day of August. However, severe storms were encountered. The ship had been forced to deviate its course to the southeast to avoid these tempests. At one time the boat was as far south as Legaspi on the east coast of Luzon. The weather compelled most of the officer and enlisted personnel to pass more than one day in their bunk. Even the hardy veterans of L.S.T. rides from Hollandia to Leyte and from Leyte to Mindoro were affected. A few neophytes who had been enchanted by the Navy and its good chow changed their minds before the trip was concluded. Henceforth they would be content to endure Army C and K rations for the duration and six months thereafter.

    Except for the weather the voyage was an excellent one. The Navy personnel were most pleasant and cooperative. Meals were fine. Movies were exhibited on deck. The balance of the time was spent in reading, card playing, or just plain "sacking". Most important, no Jap suicide planes caused any annoyance. Many a man who made the ride from Leyte to Mindoro was immensely relieved.

    On Monday, August 6 the Landing Ship Tank beached at Sobe. The unloading was accomplished in time for the boat to pull out by 0500 on the next morning.

    The camp area was situated a short distance from the beach. It consisted of a miserably small section. It was a task to squeeze sufficient tents for both officers and enlisted man.

    To add to the difficulties, the air echelon of the squadron arrived on the following day. Missions were flown immediately and continued until V-J Day. Thus few men could be spared for ordinary camp duties.

    The organization was slated to move to a new area. This location was cleared by bulldozers and would have been an ideal camp site. However, rumors of an impending move to Japan arose. Orders were issued that no permanent buildings be erected. As usual, the rumors did not become realities. On August 31, the men in the 8th squadron were still living in their temporary area.

    News of the powerful effects of the atomic bomb appeared on August 7. The next day it was learned that the Nipponese were ready to sue for peace. Two nights later there was a premature victory celebration. Veteran members of the squadron W declared that not since the days of Dobodura had they ever witnessed so great a barrage of anti-aircraft shells. Tracers seemed to be spitting from every gun of the Naval and coastal Artillery forces in the immediate vicinity. The following day press and radio reported the tragic consequences of this outburst. Orders were that in the event of an announcement of a cessation of hostilities no shooting would take place in the squadron area. When the armistice was officially announced the news was received happily and without disorder.

    On the night of August 25 at approximately 2300 a dramatic announcement was made. All men with more than 85 points were called out, told to pack at once, and prepare to depart in a few hours for a replacement center at Manila. Redeployment was at last an actuality, not a mirage. The orderly room and personnel section staff worked until 0400 on the following morning to process 32 fortunate enlisted men. Four days later 12 others with more than 85 points went through the same routine.

    The end of the month found the remaining members of the squadron awaiting a move to Japan and undergoing transition to the status of peace time soldiers.
    During August the squadron flew 6 missions for a total of 55 sorties. During this time, the transition to the A-26B was complete, but the squadron was a mix of A-20Hs and A-26Bs. There were 11 A-20Hs and 6 A-26Bs.

    On 9 August, the 8th Squadron participated in the first Group strike on the Japanese home islands. The town of Kushikino on Kyushu was successfully attacked with incendiaries and Napalm tanks, leaving a great part of the city enveloped in smoke and flame. Accurate light and medium anti-aircraft fire holed three planes. The important Kyushu city of Kumamoto was the target on 10 August. A number of large fires were started throughout the area, with dense palls of smoke obscuring most of the results. On 11 August the 8th Squadron participated in a Group mission to Kanjiki town on Kyushu with 11 A-20Hs. Many good sized fires were started in all sections of town, with smoke rising to 4,000 feet.

    On the morning of 12 August the town of Kushikino was attacked again with 7 A-20Hs and 4 A-26Bs. Large sections of the city had been completely leveled by the two attacks. Large fires were stated in the unburned parts of the city and the town was considered almost totally destroyed. On 12 August another mission was on the town of Akune. The entire southern and central sections of town were left in a mass of flames, and the last plane to leave the target estimated that 90% of the town was destroyed by the attack.

    The Eighth furnished 7 A-20Hs led by Major Shook and 4 A-26Bs led by Captain Hellier for a mission against Kushinko in Kyushu. All squadrons furnished aircraft to make three flights of A-20's and two flights of A-26's. One 8th Squadron A-26 turned back early due to engine trouble and returned all its bombs and ammunition to base. Ten 8th Squadron planes reached the target and made two passes from east to west in three plane elements. Approximately 95% of the bombs hit the buildings in the town. The first pass was made on the unburned part of the town just north of the river and near the waterfront. Six to eight large fires with smoke to 4000 feet and 20 to 25 smaller fires were started here, completely destroying this section of the town. In the large section of Kushinko just south of the river, a large number of good sized fires were started and 10 to 12 direct hits were made to previously undamaged buildings. Four or five large fires and several smaller ones were started in the southern section of the town.

    One plane was holed by accurate to inaccurate, machine gun fire.

    Eighteen 500 pound para-incendiaries, 28x500 pound para-demos, 5x165 gallon napalm tanks, and 14x75 gallon napalm tanks were dropped. 13.400 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition was expended in strafing. One 165 gallon napalm tank was returned due to mechanical failure.

    All planes returned safely to base.
    End of the War: According to the Carl Pettypiece site on the A-20A, "The old 3rd Bombardment Group still retained its A-20s until the end of the war, becoming the last operational Army A-20 unit."

    The war ended on 15 Aug 1945. The first US personnel from the 3rd Bomb Group to touch down at Atsugi were four 3rd Bomb Group commanders and former commanders, Colonels John P. Henebry, Richard H. Ellis, Charles Howe and Lt Col Stan Kline. The four gunners were Sergeant Cliff Britian, Sergeant Joe Watkins, Staff Sergeant Jim Lynch and Staff Sergeant Sam Hagenbush. They landed their A-26s at Atsugi Field, Japan on 31 August 1945. This landing was not without controversy as other units claimed the folks were "grandstanding."

    For its actions in World War II, its honors include: Campaign Streamers: Antisubmarine, American Theater; East Indies; Air Offensive, Japan; Papua; New Guinea; Bismarck Archipelago; Western Pacific; Leyte; Luzon; Southern Philippines. Decorations: Distinguished Unit Citations: Papua, 23-29 Jul 1942; New Guinea, 17 Aug 1943. Philippine Presidential Unit Citation.


    Medal of Honor: Major Raymond H. Wilkins

    For his actions on November 2, 1943, Major Raymond H. Wilkins, commander of the 8th Bombardment Squadron, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. He and his crew were killed while leading his squadron on a daring attack on shipping at Rabaul, New Britain as he deliberately drew gunfire away from the rest of his squadron. (NOTE: In 1946, they considered naming Yokota Air Base after him as the 3d Bombardment Wing was moving there. However, the name was not accepted due to a change in Air Force policy for overseas installations to name bases for localities. Consequently, Wilkins Ball park was dedicated in his honor on May 17, 1947.) His citation is as follows:

    WILKINS, RAYMOND H. (Air Mission)

    Rank and organization: Major, U.S. Army Air Corps. Place and date: Near Rabaul, New Britain, 2 November 1943. Entered service at: Portsmouth, Va. Born: 28 September 1917, Portsmouth, Va. G.O. No.: 23, 24 March 1944.

    Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Rabaul, New Britain, on 2 November 1943. Leading his squadron in an attack on shipping in Simpson Harbor, during which intense antiaircraft fire was expected, Maj. Wilkins briefed his squadron so that his airplane would be in the position of greatest risk. His squadron was the last of 3 in the group to enter the target area. Smoke from bombs dropped by preceding aircraft necessitated a last-second revision of tactics on his part, which still enabled his squadron to strike vital shipping targets, but forced it to approach through concentrated fire, and increased the danger of Maj. Wilkins' left flank position. His airplane was hit almost immediately, the right wing damaged, and control rendered extremely difficult. Although he could have withdrawn, he held fast and led his squadron into the attack. He strafed a group of small harbor vessels, and then, at low level, attacked an enemy destroyer. His 1,000 pound bomb struck squarely amidships, causing the vessel to explode. Although antiaircraft fire from this vessel had seriously damaged his left vertical stabilizer, he refused to deviate from the course. From below-masthead height he attacked a transport of some 9,000 tons, scoring a hit which engulfed the ship in flames. Bombs expended, he began to withdraw his squadron. A heavy cruiser barred the path. Unhesitatingly, to neutralize the cruisers guns and attract its fire, he went in for a strafing run. His damaged stabilizer was completely shot off. To avoid swerving into his wing planes he had to turn so as to expose the belly and full wing surfaces of his plane to the enemy fire; it caught and crumpled his left wing. Now past control, the bomber crashed into the sea. In the fierce engagement Maj. Wilkins destroyed 2 enemy vessels, and his heroic self-sacrifice made possible the safe withdrawal of the remaining planes of his squadron.

    Major Raymond Wilkins The following is from History, 8th Bombardment Squadron (L), 3d Bombardment Group (L) AAF, 31 May 1917 - 31 March 1944 (Compiled September 1945), taken from 8th Squadron Unit History for May 1945.

    Major Wilkins - "Wilkie" or "Ray" to his close friends and associates, was born at Portsmouth, Virginia in 1917. He was a true soldier and a perfect officer. He had been an enlisted man in the Signal Corps and then in the Air Corps, from 1936 to 1939. As Staff Sergeant, he instructed in radio at Chanute Field. He passed all entrance examinations for West Point but was excluded for slight occlusion of his otherwise perfect teeth. Determined to rise, nevertheless, he took pilot training at Parks Air College and Randolph Field. He graduated at Kelly Field, receiving his commission on 31October 1941. Requesting foreign service at once, he was sent overseas on 22 November 1941, as a member of the 27th Bombardment Group, originally headed for the Philippines.

    On 2 April 1942, with Major Floyd Rogers and others, he transferred to the 3rd Group, where he stayed until his death. 2nd Lt. Wilkins' schooling made him an able and cool, yet determined and eager pilot and forceful combat leader, came under "Buck" Rogers, in the first half of 1942, when the 8th Squadron traded blows in A-24s against infinitely superior Jap forces. His training in Squadron administration and in fair but firm dealing with his men and officers, was by Captain Virgil Schwab, - Operations Officer during the same period. Many times later in his friendly and instructive talks with younger pilots, Wilkie would refer to his two ideals, Bible~reading but hard riding "Buck" Rogers as the best combat leader he had ever known, and to Captain Schwab, as the absolute prototype of the ideal Army officer, always on the job, conversant with every department, with his primary thought the welfare of his men whom he inspired and led because they wanted to be as he was. When he had matured and had become C.O. of the 8th, Wilkie was the incarnation of the best in these two men he had strived to emulate. He was at times hard but always fair. He earned and.held the respect of all his enlisted men and officers in a manner rare in the Air Corps.

    As a combat pilot, Major Wilkins was regarded by his associates as incomparable. Throughout his career his ability to find the target and make quick decisions were notable. His combat judgment was flawless and his bombing accuracy was deadly. A 2nd lieutenant, with practically no experience or flying time, he flew on Major Rogers' wing in the first mission ever flown by bombers based in New Guinea over Lae in April 1942. He was the only pilot on that mission who flew the last mission over Lae on 13 September 1943, when he led the 8th Squadron and the 3rd Group in B-25D1s. He earned the Silver Star for repeated A-24 missions over Lae, Salamaua and against enemy shipping from April through July 1942.

    On 29 July 1942 Major Rogers led 7 A-24s from Port Moresby to attack the large Jap convoy approaching Buna. The P-40 top cover disappeared as a six ship convoy, escorted by many Zeros was sighted. Rogers, nevertheless, called for attack and 2nd Lieutenant Wilkins dived on his wing; scoring a direct 500 lb. bomb hit on a 6000 ton vessel, with the destruction of which he is officially accredited. The planes of . Major Rogers, Captain Schwab and three other pilots, hopelessly outnumbered and out-gunned, were shot down in flames. Captain John Hill limped into Milne Bay with his gunner dead. Wilkins, by superb evasive action and good luck, ,was the only one to bring his plane back to base intact. A recommendation for the Distinguished Service Cross on this mission is still pending.

    With the 89th Squadron, Wilkie was Communications Officer, rose to 1st Lt. and then captain and became an outstanding pilot in A-20As. From September 1942 to April 1943 he flew many ground support missions over Buna, the Kokoda pass and between Wau and Salamaua at the time the tide of battle was being turned. A great regret of his life was that he was on leave at the time of the Bismarck Sea Battle on 3 March 1943.

    Wilkie led the Squadron on numbers of B-25 barge hunts, strikes against Salamaua, Lae, Madang and Cape Gloucester, and in ground support missions soon after his return to the 8th. On 27 and 28 July he led the 8th in its part against the two destroyers off Cape Gloucester. On the first day, in the face of oncoming enemy planes and without fighter cover, he made two runs after heavy interception. His plane was riddled on the trip home when his turret gunner, S/Sgt. Miles Rowe, expended every round keeping the Zekes at .bay. The second day photos from his plane showed that he definitely scored two direct hits on and blew up the surviving destroyer, for which he received official credit and the Distinguished Flying Cross. As C. O. Lt led the 8th in the first low-level attacks on Hansa Bay and nearby harbors, 25 and 28 August, where withering A/A fire was encountered. He hit two vessels the first day, sinking one, while his Squadron got five. He led the Group in a 27 plane mission the second day which destroyed many more vessels. Dropping 4 X 500 lb. bombs on four different ships, Major Wilkins scored direct hits on two and destructive near misses on two others. For this he received a second Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of the Distinguished Flying Cross (the first having been for 50 combat missions).

    Other important missions on which he led the Squadron or Group were the attack on the Gogol River Bridge near Madang on 23 July 1943, the deepest penetration of attack bomber into enemy territory on that date, and the first against shipping near Kairuru Island (Wewak) on 27 September where he sank a 4000 ton vessel in Victoria Bay. For his leadership on this mission and the terrific shipping destruction. effected by his squadron, together with the 13th and 90th, he received the third Oak Leaf Cluster to the Distinguished Flying Cross. Wilkie also led the 8th in the first low level attack on the Rabaul airdromes on 12 October 1943, when terrific damage was caused enemy planes on the ground. Only because it was known Wilkie would have wished it, was the Distinguished Flying Cross offered for this accomplishment to each given to his second in command.

    The finale of Major Wilkins', brilliant combat career came dramatically but tragically on2 November 1943. His great aspiration always had been to lead the first attack on shipping at Rabaul. He had studied. maps and models by the hour and aided General Smith of First Air Task Force in planning the approach and exit. He led the Group on the first mission on 26 October, but turned back from the Kiriwiri - as on order of the General, on account of weather. Wilkie "sweated out" the mission the next four days and nights, knowing it would end his regular combat career, for he was to go to Group the next week; knew it would end the squadron's B-25D era, for A-20s already were on hand; and he looked forward to getting it behind him 80 he could marry that month, the girl to who he had been engaged for over a year. Wilkie three times briefed the squadron that he would take the position nearest the heavy cruiser known to be on the west side of the harbor and would be the one to attack it if necessary. He, above all others, knew and appreciated its A/A power.

    On the mission, Major Wilkins led his squadron, which was, by rotation, then in third position. Due to an inexplicable mistake, the squadron ahead failed to make the approach as ordered. Wilkie, after two radio remonstrations, adhered to his soldier's discipline and followed. The result was a dive into the harbor through intense smoke, in such direction that Major Wilkins, in order not to crowd his echelon to the right, was forced to go straight down rather than across the harbor and to take on not the expected one, but two heavy cruisers in the narrow mouth of the harbor. This he did boldly and gallantly, strafing with all he had left. As he crossed them their terrific barrage cut oft half his left wing and his horizontal stabilizer and he.went down into the bay, but not before, with his plane already damaged as it entered the harbor, he had scored a direct hit on. and blown up a destroyer and hit and left in flames a large merchant vessel. For this crowning achievement of an extraordinary career, Wilkie received, posthumously, the Congressional Medal of Honor.

    Major Wilkins' motivating spirit was always to serve his Country, to give and do as a soldier what he was paid for, to give all that was expected of him and then more. He struck the enemy with all his might, but seemed to bear them no hate. He never talked in terms of revenge. He aspired to rise and to stay in the regular Army, but he never trampled over others to do so. His fairness was extreme. When he divided his pilots and gunners just before the Simpson Harbor raid, he paired them and sent men to other squadrons of stature equal to those he kept. The man who had more actual combat strike missions (87) and more awards (Medal of Honor, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Med:il with Oak Leaf Cluster; Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Cross pending) than any other man in the Group, never wore his medals when on leave. He deprecated his own achievements and gave all credit to his crews in the air and on the ground.

    The finest thing that can be said in Major Wilkins' honor and memory is that, through many subsequent adversities and under counter-influences, the enlisted men and the officers who knew him, have always held him as their ideal without peer and have instilled in the new men his great influence which has) enabled the 8th to carry on as Wilkie would have wished and done.

    ARTICLE FROM HOME OF HEROES:

    The following is excerpted with the permission of C. Douglas Sterner for Home of Heroes website relattng the stories of Medal of Honor Heroes. Due to space limitations, we have not reposted the photos accompanying the article. The accompanying photos are highly recommended.

    Requiem for: The Last Survivor

    July 29, 1942

    Seven aging U.S. Army A-24 dive bombers nosed neatly down in formation on the north side of New Guinea's Owen Stanley Range to break out of the heavy clouds. Ahead of them sparkled the blue-green waters of the Solomon Sea, while unseen in the dense jungle below determined Australian Diggers fought for survival.

    From his position as flight leader, Captain Floyd Buck Rogers scanned the clearing skies for any sign of the American P-39s that had been tasked with covering his seven strafer/bombers on today's mission. Somehow, in the clouds that covered the high mountains that split the Papuan peninsula, Major Tommy Lynch's fighter escort had become separated from the A-24 flight. It was time to make a critical decision.

    Captain Rogers was commander of the 8th Squadron of the 3d Bombardment Group, and had been well briefed on his target. A Japanese convoy had been sighted moving towards Buna to reinforce the enemy garrison that was already dealing death to the valiant but battle-weary Australian forces. To prevent these additional Japanese infantrymen from landing, Rogers had been ordered to take his eight A-24s, the last serviceable such aircraft in New Guinea, to intercept the convoy.

    One of the eight had been forced to return home shortly after take-off, leaving only seven dive bombers to rendezvous with their fighter escort from the 35th Squadron. It was not unusual. The few American aircraft still flying in the Southwest Pacific were all showing the strain of relentless days of combat against an overwhelming and well-supplied enemy air force. Battle-damage alone made it all too common for any flight to be quickly pared down, more as a result of equipment failure than as a result of enemy combat. Matters were even worse for the men who flew A-24s.

    The A-24 Dauntless was the Army Air Force's version of the Navy's SBD (Slow But Deadly), a dive bomber with lethal capabilities but a very slow air speed and limited range. The Dauntless was lightly armed and carried a two-man crew: pilot and gunner, the latter defending his aircraft by manning a 30-caliber machine gun from a standing position behind the pilot.

    Originally developed as a counterpart to Germany's Stuka dive-bombers for service in Europe, ironically 54 of the initial 78 A-24s were sent to fight Japanese shipping in the Pacific instead. By the summer of 1942 the slow-moving, lightly armed, 2-man dive bombers were both obsolete and nearly extinct.

    Without protective fighter cover Captain Roger's formation would be at the mercy of enemy Zeros. The squadron commander had every reason, and every right, to abort and return to Port Moresby for the sake of the thirteen men flying with him. When weighed against the cost for the men in the jungle below him if the enemy troop convoy proceed unmolested, it presented the veteran officer with a difficult decision. Such is the burden of command.

    In the distance fifty miles from Buna, small blotches came into focus across the swells of the Solomon Sea. The enemy convoy, target for the mission, quickly morphed from a distant speck on the water into a distinguishable convoy of six troop transports and two escorting warships. Captain Rogers made his decision and wagged his wings to signal his following pilots to prepare for battle.

    Diving at near water-level into the enemy guns, Captain Rogers felt his own airplane begin to shudder when his gunner, Sergeant Robert Nichols, opened up with the 30-caliber machine guns from his position behind the pilot. Two dozen Japanese Zeros of the Tainan Kokutani tore through the 8th Squadron formation like sharks in a frenzy, chewing the old A-24s into shreds. In a flash of fire Captain Rogers' lead dive bomber rolled over and plunged into the sea. He and Sergeant Nichols were the first casualties in what would become the darkest day in 8th Squadron history.

    Heedless of the fusillade reaching out for them from the enemy ships below, or the Zeros that swarmed in to devour them from above, the six surviving pilots pushed the attack. On Captain Rogers wing an A-24 dove on a 6000-ton vessel and scored a direct hit with one 500-pound bomb, destroying the first element of the advancing armada. The American pilot, his bomb rack now empty, turned towards shore in a running battle for the clouds and safety.

    First Lieutenant Virgil Schwab dove on another vessel and felt his dive-bomber coming apart as, no longer capable of flight, it careened into the sea to forever claim his body and that of Sergeant Philip Childs, his gunner. Two more A-24s erupted and Lieutenants Robert Cassels and Claude Dean went down along with their gunners, Sergeants Loree LeBoeuf and Alan LaRocque.

    In mere seconds Lieutenant John Hill had witnessed more than half of the flight going down in flames. Then his own Dauntless shook beneath a hail of incoming enemy fire. Ignoring the danger Hill dove on an enemy ship. Machine gun bullets from the ships below and angry Zeros above tore through metal and flesh, and behind him he heard a cry of pain from his own gunner, Ralph Sam. The young sergeant slumped to the floor of his battle station, his right hand and arm nearly severed. Sergeant Sam's blood splattered the fuselage as Lieutenant Hill released his bombs and then climbed quickly to clear the enemy mast and turn towards the distant coast of New Guinea.

    Behind Hill, Lieutenant Joseph Parker released his bomb while Sergeant Franklyn Hoppe fought furiously for survival as his pilot finished the mission and likewise turned to race for home. Seasoned Japanese pilots in nimble Zeros flashed by, machine guns lancing the withdrawing three A-24s as they fought to avenge the damaged ships and one destroyed by Captain Rogers' wing man. Behind Lieutenant Hill, Sergeant Sam found the strength to pull himself back up to his gun, firing back at the attackers with his unwounded left hand. The race, and the running battle, continued for miles. Even when the 30-caliber gun behind Lieutenant Hill fell silent, all its ammunition expended, the Jap pilots kept coming. His mortally wounded but determined gunner refused to give up, pulling his .45 pistol with his left hand and standing at his station to empty it at the enemy fighters.

    The pilot of the Dauntless that had destroyed the first ship while flying wing for the Captain Rogers raced for a rain cloud. His bullet-riddled A-24 fought for air to climb inland and over the Owen Stanley Range. His young enlisted gunner fought furiously, desperate to defend his own aircraft while simultaneously hoping against hope that the other two surviving A-24s would reach that same small screen of safety. The mist at the outer edges of the cloud began to fog his vision, but not before he saw Lieutenant Parker and his gunner going down in flames while another bevy of enemy fighters converged on Lieutenant Hill and his now-silent gunner. And then the looming rain cloud masked all signs of battle, leaving only one Dauntless to continue its desperate struggle to remain airborne long enough to get home.

    Of the seven aircraft that had crossed the Owen Stanley range less than an hour earlier on a mission to turn back the enemy convoy, only one badly-damaged Dauntless returned to Port Moresby. When at last it landed there was no celebration. Of fourteen men who began that fateful mission, Lieutenant Raymond Wilkins and his gunner Sergeant Al Clark were the only survivors.

    While many accounts of the July 29 mission note that Lieutenant Wilkins and Sergeant Al Clark were the only survivors, in fact Lieutenant Hill managed to nurse his damaged airplane to a landing at Milne Bay. His valiant gunner, who had remained at his post with only one hand until his ammunition was expended and then drew his pistol to continue his defiant defense, died of his wounds three days after the mission. Lieutenant Hill survived the war, only to be tragically killed along with his wife in an automobile accident. Both are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

    Raymond Wilkins

    Raymond Harrell Wilkins, known to his friends throughout his life as "Wilkie" or simply "Ray", was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, on September 28, 1917. Two years later he moved with his mother and brother, William S. Wilkins, III, to Columbia (Tyrrell County), North Carolina where he grew up and gained early-life experiences that shaped him as an immaculate, dedicated, and highly motivated member of what would become known as The Greatest Generation.

    After graduating from Columbia High School Wilkie attended the University of North Carolina for two years, and then enlisted in the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1936. Military service for the bright, clean-cut young man was almost a foregone conclusion--his step-father was himself a career military man.

    Wilkie served four years in various duties as a private at Langley, VA, and then at Chanute Field, IL. His sights, however, were on West Point. With his athletic physique, personal discipline, and quick mind, Wilkie epitomized the young academy cadets that graduated with the gold bars of a second lieutenant after four years of study. Wilkins passed all of the entrance tests for admission to West Point, but then was rejected for slight occlusion of his otherwise perfect teeth.

    Disappointed but determined to excel, Wilkie attended the Air Corps Technical School and was promoted to Corporal upon graduation in February 1940. Seven months later he earned the stripes of a staff sergeant and began instructing in radio at Chanute Field. The following year, in March, he began flight training at Parks Air College in East St. Louis. Additional training followed at Randolph and Kelly Fields in Texas.

    On October 31, 1941, Raymond Wilkins received his wings and the gold bars of a second lieutenant, graduating with Class of 41-H. Years later his hometown's monthly newspaper would recall, "The boy we all knew and loved, grew quickly into manhood and into efficiency as a member of the air force." That same story, written six months after Wilkins' death, recalled Raymond as a young man who was "amiable and reserved in nature. He always scored the highest goals among his fellow teammates. This was not only true while he was among us but continued with him in all his activities.

    One of Wilkie's close friends and classmates was William Beck. The two men would see combat together in the pacific less than six months after graduation. In a recent interview Mr. Beck recalled, "Ray was a perfect officer, clean-cut, smart, and a good pilot. He was determined to be the best leader he could be, and was eager to serve his country." Indeed, immediately upon earning his gold bar and pilot's rating, Second Lieutenant Raymond Wilkins requested foreign duty and was assigned to the 27th Bombardment Squadron in the Philippine Islands.

    The record is unclear when and where Lieutenant Wilkins joined the 27th. The squadron had been formed early in 1940 from a Cadre pulled from the 3d Bomb Group. They began a long convoy under Colonel John Davies to their assigned duty station in the Philippine Islands on November 2, 1941, and arrived late in the month. Their dive bombers, making the trip in a separate convoy, had not arrived by the time the Japanese attacked the Philippines ten hours after Pearl Harbor, leaving the frustrated airmen little more to do in defense than shoot back at the attacking enemy with their pistols.

    Lieutenant Bill Beck believes his friend may have been part of the same convoy that was taking him across the equator aboard the SS Willard A. Holbrook the day before World War II began. Called the Pensacola Convoy, the string of seven transport and cargo vessels escorted by the heavy cruiser USS Pensacola and submarine chaser Niagara departed San Francisco one week after President Roosevelt authorized Operation Plum to reinforce the Philippines on November 14, 1941.

    Though the United States was at peace when the Pensacola Convoy departed Pearl Harbor en route to the Philippine Islands on November 30, the prospects for war were evident. The seven transports were crammed with 4,600 National Guardsmen including the 148th Idaho and 147th South Dakota Artillery units and their 75mm guns. Also being dispatched to reinforce the Philippines was a number of young airmen, 52 Douglas A-24 Dauntless dive bombers, and 18 Curtiss P-40 Tomahawks.

    Early on the morning of December 8 (December 7th at Pearl Harbor due the convoy's position west of the International Date Line), the speakers on the Holbrook announced the sad news that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese. Before nightfall the news only got worse. The young men being sent to augment the defense of the Philippines learned that General MacArthur's Far East Air Force had also been attacked, its airfields bombed, and most of its airplanes destroyed.

    Thereafter the men in the Pensacola Convoy were ordered to wear life jackets at all times and to carry full canteens of water. Paint and brushes were issued and quickly the red, white, and blue hull of the Holebrook, formerly a commercial cruise ship, was converted to battleship gray. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the convoy became the subject of debate.

    Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, head of the Navy's War Plans Division, urged the President to send the convoy back to Pearl Harbor to reinforce the garrison that had been bombed into ruin. Army War Plans Division Chief General Leonard Gerow suggested that the troops be sent back to the United States to marshal a homeland defense. General George C. Marshall prevailed upon the President to maintain the integrity of the convoy's mission of reinforcing MacArthur. On December 10 the President issued his orders, concurring with General Marshall ordering the convoy to sail south of the Philippines to debark in Australia.

    On December 22 the Pensacola Convoy steamed into Brisbane Harbor. On that same day Colonel Big Jim Davies and 20 pilots of the 27th Bomb Group arrived at Darwin from the Philippines to claim their aircraft, hoping to return with them to defend the Manila. Instead, Colonel Davies and his men were diverted to Java where they fought valiantly but hopelessly to turn back the enemy advance. It would be in fact, two years before they could return to Manila for, on that same day, Japanese ground forces landed at Lingayen Gulf just north of the Bataan Peninsula. For Lieutenants Wilkins and Beck the war had moved far south of the Philippines to the Solomon Sea and the heavily jungled island of New Guinea. It would be a war of sacrifice and death. Together with air legends like Big Jim Davies and Pappy Gunn, they would become:

    THE 3d Bomb Group

    The U.S. Army Air Force's 3d Bomb Group (Light), based out of Savannah, Georgia, at the time Pearl Harbor was attacked, traced its lineage all the way back to World War I. As an air group it was initially organized under the name "Army Surveillance Group" on July 1, 1919, and re-named the "1st Surveillance Group" a month later. Its component squadrons were veterans of combat in France where they had established a solid record of combat service. Most had served as observation aircraft on low-level missions, though they had also engaged in both bombardment and pursuit combat.

    • The 8th Aero Squadron had been the first to fly DeHavilland DH-4s, often called Flying Coffins but also known as Liberty planes for their new Liberty engines. Five years after the war ended the 8th adopted its official logo based upon this designation, consisting of an eagle clutching the famous Liberty Bell, and all this superimposed upon a target.
    • The 90th Aero Squadron, known as The Dicemen for insignia featuring a pair of dice displaying a lucky "7", flew a variety of aircraft in World War I including Sopwith 1s, Salmson 2s, and even the newer Spad XIs. The squadron's missions were frequently low-level reconnaissance forays into enemy territory.
    • The 104th Aero (Observation) Squadron, which was later consolidated with the 13th and re-designated the 13th Attack Squadron, flew Spads in World War I and adopted insignia depicting a skeleton with a bloody scythe. They became known as The Devil's Own Grim Reapers.
    Despite a primary mission of low-level reconnaissance, observation, and aerial photography, the original squadrons that became the 3d Bombardment Group saw considerable combat action in the air. The 8th squadron was credited with eight aerial victories in World War I, the 90th with fourteen, and the 104th with four. (At the time the Group was established in 1919 there was a fourth squadron, the 12th, which was subsequently replaced by the 26th Squadron.)

    Early post-war missions for the 1st Surveillance Group consisted of patrolling the nation's coast and borders. In 1921 the pilots in their DH-4s began intensive observation flights of the Texas/Mexico border. Such low-level specialties attracted the attention of General Billy Mitchell who saw in the group the potential for low-level strafing support of ground troops. He also noted the potential for dive bombing, and pilots and planes of the 1st Surveillance Group played an important role in the late-1921 experiments off the Virginia coast that proved air power would soon achieve preeminence over naval warfare.

    Perhaps as a direct result of the Mitchell tests, in 1921 the 1st Surveillance Group was re-designated the 3d Attack Group and adopted a crest featuring Maltese Crosses to depict its component squadrons' aerial victories in World War I. The Group's motto: "Non Solum Armis" (Not by Arms Alone), noted its important role in observation and reconnaissance. The green cactus on the crest symbolized the Group's post-war role patrolling the tense desert border between Texas and Mexico in defense of the homeland.

    Between the world wars the 3d Attack Group flew nearly every airplane developed and performed a variety of missions. On September 4, 1922, a young 90th Squadron pilot who had participated in the Mitchell experiment the previous year, took off from Pablo Beach, Florida, in his DH-4 sporting the logo of the Group's Dice Men. Twenty-two hours later Lieutenant Jimmy Doolittle landed at San Diego, California, becoming the first airman in history to cross the United States in a single day.

    In a 1924 paring of America's combat air force, the 3d Attack Group was reduced to two squadrons, the 8th and the 90th. Five years later the 13th was reactivated. In the decade of service that followed, a period marked by training and experimentation critical to the development of air power, the 3rd Attack Group became the root stock for U.S. Army Air Corps low-level bombing and strafing tactics. In 1939 it was again re-designated, this time as the 3d Bombardment Group (Light). The 3rd seemed not to suffer from an identity crisis as a result of four different titles in twenty years. By now most of the pilots of all three squadrons, as well as the newly assigned 89th Squadron, had adopted the nickname of the 13th. As a Group they were becoming known as The Grim Reapers.

    In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor the Army Air Force stripped the veteran 3d Bomb Group of all officers above the rank of first lieutenant, dispatching them to train the new recruits this new world war would require. The Group's A-20 combat planes were crated for shipment and one month later the Group, pared down to 17 officers and 800 enlisted men, sailed for Australia on the SS Ancon. The Group commander was First Lieutenant Robert Strickland, the highest-ranking officer remaining.

    The 3d Bomb Group was one of the first air-combat units deployed in World War II, arriving in Australia on February 25, 1942. On March 10 the Grim Reapers moved to Charters Towers, 90 miles inland on Australia's north-east coast. The unit was told that they would soon receive a shipment of new A-20 dive bombers, but at the moment Lieutenant Strickland had very few pilots, no airplanes, and four squadrons that basically existed in name only.

    Shortly after the arrival of the 3rd Bomb Group Colonel Big Jim Davies arrived at Charters Towers with 42 officers and 62 enlisted men--all that remained of the 27th Bomb Group. These men were the pilots and crew that left the Philippines in December to get aircraft, men that had arrived in the theater on the Pensacola Convoy. With these new planes they hoped to return to defend their comrades. That return was halted at Java by the advancing Japanese, and by March little remained at Luzon for them to defend. The pilots, including Lieutenant Wilkins, along with eighteen A-24 Dauntless SBDs, were assigned to the 8th Squadron under command of the 27th Group survivor Captain Floyd Buck Rogers.

    Due his senior rank, Big Jim Davies assumed command of the 3d Bomb Group while Lieutenant Strickland became his Executive Officer. For Davies it was something of a reunion. He had served as a pilot in the 3rd Bomb Group in the late 1930s, as had some of the other arriving 27th BG pilots. These were men who had been pulled from the group for duty in the Philippines the previous November. Also joining Davies at Charters Towers was a retired, enlisted Naval pilot who had received an Army commission shortly after the war began. He was a man who would become legendary in the Pacific, Captain Paul Irving Pappy Gunn.

    Pappy Gunn will long be remembered as the man who could work design miracles in any existing airplane in the Pacific, but in March 1942 the only existing aircraft in the 3d Bomb Group arsenal were the eighteen old A-24 Dauntlesses. The promised inventory of new A-20 attack bombers had yet to arrive. What Pappy Gunn did in late March to obtain the needed aircraft is a legend all its own. As with any legend, details have been changed and embellished in the retelling. The facts are, that a group of B-25 Mitchell Bombers ordered by the Dutch Air Force arrived in Australia in March. They had not gone unnoticed by Pappy. In his book The Grim Reapers, Lawrence Cortisi recounts what happened next:

    On 27 March, a few days after Davis took over the Reapers, Gunn came into Big Jim's office and grinned. "Johnny, there's a couple dozen B-25s at Batchelor Field* in Melbourne."

    Davis was surprised and asked if the executive officer had heard anything. Strickland shook his head. He had not heard of any aircraft reaching Australia for consignment to the 3rd Bomb Group. Davis then turned to Gunn with a frown.

    "They aren't exactly ours," Gunn said. "I think they've been allocated to the Dutch Air Force, but from what I hear, they'll never use them because they have no pilots. The planes are just sitting there, and we've got a war to fight. Why don't we go down and get them."

    Davies grinned. "You mean steal them?" "They said our planes were on the way," Gunn shrugged. "Who's to say those Mitchells aren't ours?" _____

    *This may have been an error in Cortisi's account, as Batchelor Field was near Darwin, and there is no such record at Melbourne.
    Pappy Gunn did indeed fly a contingent of 3d Bomb Group pilots in his C-47, either to Bachelor Field to pick up two dozen Dutch B-25s, or to Archerfield near Brisbane to pick up eighteen crated Mitchells. The newly arrived bombers were indeed property of the Netherlands Air Force, which in fact no longer had pilots to fly them. Whether appropriated by Pappy, "With all of the aplomb of a second-story bandit and a river-boat gambler" as described by General William Webster (USAF/Ret), or willingly bequeathed to the 3d Bomb Group by the Dutch, Big Jim Davies pilots at last had airplanes. The legend of how the Grim Reapers "stole" their bombers from the Dutch is an interesting story, well worth reading despite its discrepancies and obvious embellishments. Indeed Pappy got his planes, sans bomb sights, which he returned two days later to get (according to some written reports at gun point.)

    The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, though most men who knew Pappy Gunn can easily imagine him doing exactly what the legendary accounts detail. At any rate, at least fifteen B-25s were obtained from the Dutch and assigned to the 13th and 90th Squadrons at Charters Towers. Pappy promised to have them combat-ready within two days.

    On April 5, eleven days before Colonel Jimmy Doolittle and his sixteen Mitchell bombers took off from the USS Hornet near the Japanese coast, pilots of the 3d Bomb Group flew the first B-25 mission of the war. It was a largely uneventful attack on Japanese airfields at Gasmata on the south coast of New Britain Island, but for the Grim Reapers it marked the opening of their war in their questionably appropriated B-25 bombers. In the years that followed, they would turn those Mitchells into dive-bombers scarcely recognizable by their manufacturer, and re-define the term "low-level attack."

    Four days before the Gasmata raid Lieutenant Bob Ruegg led six A-24s of the 8th squadron in the first combat mission of the 3rd BG. Target for the day was the Lae Airdrome, but the port city was fogged in and the flight instead dropped five bombs over Salamua. The first of repeated assaults on Lae did not occur until April 7 when eight Dauntless dive bombers, escorted by six RAAF Kittyhawks, bombed the airfield. That flight was led by 8th BG commanding officer Captain Floyd Rogers. His wing man was Lieutenant Raymond Wilkins. It was the young pilots' first combat mission.

    April 7, 1942, was also the day the Grim Reapers suffered their first combat casualties. In the mission over Lae Lieutenant Henry Swartz and his gunner Sergeant J. Stephenson were shot down. Three months later Buck Rogers was killed in a fateful July 29 mission. When the LAST bombing attack on Lae was mounted by 8th Squadron B-25Ds more than a year later on September 13, 1943, the mission was led by Captain Raymond Wilkins. He was, by then, the only pilot remaining from the first Lae mission.

    At one o'clock in the morning on April 11 Big Jim Davies and Pappy Gunn led ten of their B-25s from the 13th and 90th Squadrons in a 1,600-mile flight back to the Philippines. All of the pilots and co-pilots were volunteers; ten of the twenty were former officers in the 27th Bomb Group who were returning with supplies and, hopefully, reinforcements for their beleaguered comrades who had been left behind. Sadly, the Royce Mission, named for its commander Brigadier General Ralph Royce, was too late. Two days before their departure General King had been forced to surrender his command at Bataan.

    For three days Colonel Davies and his B-25s flew missions out of Mindanao, south of Luzon, while three B-17s from the 19th Bomb Group struck enemy targets near Manila. One of the Flying Fortresses was destroyed, the other two badly damaged, and the Japanese advance continued. At midnight on April 13 the two remaining B-17s and nine of the ten B-25s left Mindanao to return to Australia. Each was filled to capacity in a futile evacuation attempt, including one bomber that ferried out PT Boat Commander John Bulkeley. Bulkeley was awarded the Medal of Honor for his own heroic actions in the early days of the war, and the daring leadership he had displayed when he ferried Douglas MacArthur safely out of Corregidor.

    For their role in the Royce Mission the 3d Bomb Group was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation and Big Jim Davies was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. There was little joy in the small success of that last effort to defend the Philippines. Left behind at the mercy of an enemy who knew no mercy were more than 400 airmen of the old 27th Bomb Group. They were stranded with thousands of beleaguered American foot-soldiers and sailors, and a small contingent of Army nurses. Many would be lost in the Bataan Death March, others would vanish over the four years of war that followed. Few would ever be heard from again.

    Also left behind was Captain Paul I. Pappy Gunn. For two frantic days his crew worked to replace his shot-up, long-range fuel tanks with two tanks from a destroyed B-18. When his Mitchell landed in Australia on April 16 it was fitting--the last American bomber our of the Philippine Islands was flown by Paul I. Pappy Gunn. Left behind in Manila along with the thousands who couldn't be rescued were his wife and children.

    New Guinea

    Charters Towers was home for the 3rd Bomb Group, and from there the 89th Squadron operated as a maintenance echelon while awaiting arrival of promised A-20s. Meanwhile the 8th Squadron with its A-24s was moved to Port Moresby on the south coast of Papua, New Guinea, in late March. From there they began launching the squandron's first missions beginning on April 1. At the time Japanese troops were landing en mass on the north side of the peninsula, and regular raids were mounted against both airfields and ground forces on the north side of the Owen Stanley Range.

    The slow SDBs often flew into enemy territory with fighter protection from the RAAF's No. 75 Squadron, but the valiant Australian pilots were also vastly outnumbered and their Kittyhawks were old and battle-damaged. On April 11 as the 3rd Bomb Group's B-25s were flying into Mindanao on the Royce Mission, dive-bombers of the 8th Squadron were again attacking Lea led by 27th Group veteran Captain Bob Ruegg. Lieutenant Gus Kitchens and his gunner Sergeant George Kehoe never returned and the casualties continued to mount.

    From April to July Captain Rogers repeatedly led his brave men in their aging Dauntless bombers over the mountains and into harm's way. His frequent wing man was Lieutenant Wilkins, who admired his squadron commander. The declassified official history of the 8th Squadron notes:

    "2nd Lt. Wilkins' schooling made him an able and cool, yet determined and eager pilot and forceful combat leader. (He) came under "Buck" Rogers, in the first half of 1942, when the 8th Squadron traded blows in A-24s against infinitely superior Jap forces. His training in Squadron administration and in fair but firm dealing with his men and officers, was by Captain Virgil Schwab, Operations Officer during the same period. Many times later in his friendly and instructive talks with younger pilots, Wilkie would refer to his two ideals,
    • Bible-reading but hard-riding "Buck" Rogers as the best combat leader he had ever known, and
    • Captain Schwab, as the absolute prototype of the idea army officer, always on the job, conversant with every department, with his primary thought the welfare of his men whom he inspired and led because they wanted to be as he was."
    On July 29 Lieutenant Wilkins flew his last mission with both Captain Rogers and Lieutenant Schwab (both men were posthumously promoted, accounting for the difference in rank in some historical documents.) Neither man returned and for Ray Wilkins, it was a crushing moment--his two most highly-regarded role models lost in the Solomon Sea or the jungles of New Guinea. It is interesting that the 8th Squadron history goes on to note:
    "When he (Lieutenant Wilkins) had matured and become C.O. of the 8th, Wilkie was the incarnation of the best in these two men he had strived to emulate. He was at times hard but always fair. He earned and held the respect of all his enlisted men and officers in a manner rare in the Air Corps."

    Fifth Air Force

    The tragic July 29 mission was the breaking point for the 8th Squadron, now reduced to fewer than ten pilots. Colonel Davies submitted Lieutenant Wilkins, the last survivor who had somehow managed to bring his badly damaged plane home, for the Distinguished Service Cross. (The award was still pending at the end of the war and there is nor record of it being subsequently awarded.) For his actions in combat from April to the end of July Wilkie was awarded the Silver Star. It was little consolation.

    Big Jim Davies ordered what remained of the 8th Squadron back to Charters Towers and, their heavy losses bearing mute testament to the inadequacies of the A-24, ended the Army use of the Dauntless. William Webster remembers the mood when he arrived to join the 8th Squadron shortly thereafter:

    "The 8th Squadron Officers Mess and tent area was a very somber place for several months after that fateful July 29, 1942. In the deathly quiet you could almost, but not quite, hear the tell-tale whirring of an A-24 engine trying to get back home to the safety of the 8th Squadron."
    Meanwhile, the 13th and 90th Squadrons continued their own missions, staging through Port Moresby to attack enemy airfields and shipping. The 89th Squadron was within a month of getting their first A-20s when something of vastly greater need arrived in Australia--unprecedented leadership.

    On August 4 Far East Air Force commander General George Brett returned to the United States. His replacement, General George Kenney, had arrived six days earlier. On the day Brett left Australia, Kenney flew to Charters Towers to check on his 3rd Bombardment Group.

    General Kenney had initially appraised the conditions in the Far East Air Force as "The Goddamest mess you ever saw." At Charters Towers he found a group of pilots, most of whom were still without planes. He also witnessed the ragged remnants of the 8th Squadron, devastated and demoralized by heavy losses and especially the disastrous July 29 mission. Despite these challenges and tragedies, Big Jim Davies' men were a resourceful and determined lot. In the mess that was the Far East Air Force Kenney described the 3d Bomb Group as a "Snappy, good looking outfit."

    The tragedy so recently heaped upon the 8th Squadron struck a sensitive nerve for General Kenney. This was his alma matter. From October 1919 until the following May Captain George C. Kenney had been Squadron Commander for the 8th. His keen understanding of the Group's history and mission is evident in his memoirs when he wrote of that visit:

    "The 3rd, which used to be the 3rd ATTACK Group back home, did low-altitude strafing and bombing work. They still wanted to be called an Attack Group, so I told them to go ahead and change their name. That organization had trained for years in low-altitude, hedge-hopping attack, sweeping in to their targets under cover of a grass cutting hail of machine-gun fire and dropping their delay-fuzed (sic) bombs with deadly precision. They were proud of their outfit and they liked the name 'ATTACK.' Now the powers that be had changed their name to 'Light Bombardment parenthesis Dive' and they didn't like it. I knew how they felt. I had been an attack man myself, had written textbooks on the subject and taught it for years in the Air Corps Tactical School. It seems like a little thing but it really isn't. Numbers, names, and insignia mean even more to a military organization than they do to Masons, Elks, or a college fraternity."
    From that day forward, no matter what name the "brass-hats" at high headquarters chose to give the men of the 3d Bomb Group, they called themselves:

    The 3d Attack Group

    General Kenney's rare insight into the importance of a name went beyond the air group based at Charters Towers. One month later the Far East Air Force became the U.S. Army's FIFTH AIR FORCE. For many war-weary, demoralized airmen, that new sense of identity provided a fresh start. They took advantage of it with a vengeance that, in a few short months, ripped aerial superiority from the Japanese.

    Kenney's visit to Charters Towers turned into both a reunion and an introduction. It was a return to his roots, the unit he had commanded in his own early days. It also introduced him to the man who would bring to life some of Kenney's own radical and innovative ideas--Captain Pappy Gunn.

    The first Douglas A-20 Havoc dive bombers that had been promised to the 3rd Bomb Group had arrived in May. Well-suited to low-level attack, their light armament however was too meager for the demands of war in the Pacific. Implementation of the new aircraft was delayed while Pappy Gunn and Captain Bob Reugg began experimenting with design changes.

    In August the 89th Squadron began getting its first shipments of new A-20 Havocs. These too, required modification. With General Kenney's eager support Pappy began installing four, forward firing .50-caliber machine guns in the bombardier's compartment (nose) to add massive strafing power. Two 405-gallon fuel tanks were installed in the bomb bay to increase their range, and special racks were invented so the dive-bombers could carry parafrag bombs, one of General Kenney's most innovative weapons.

    While Pappy was rebuilding dive-bombers, Colonel Davies began sending home the few remaining, battle-weary veterans of the old 27th Bomb Group. Lieutenant Wilkins elected to stay and was transferred to the budding 89th Squadron. Most of the other surviving 8th Squadron pilots and ground crews were relegated to status as support to the other squadrons. Their only combat missions resulted from TDY (temporary duty assignment) to the 89th Squadron. Since July 29 the 8th Squadron had ceased to exist as little more than a resource for the other squadrons.

    On September 2 the first six modified A-20s flew to Port Moresby to begin operations. Four days later Lieutenant Wilkins arrived at New Guinea with six more modified Havocs. For the next six months Wilkins flew repeated missions as a member of the 89th Squadron, many of them missions against Japanese ground troops crossing the Kokoda Trail to within 30 miles of Port Moresby. Additionally, again and again he returned to bomb and strafe Lae, Salamua, and other targets north of the high mountains.

    When Big Jim Davies turned command of the 3d Attack Group over to Lieutenant Colonel Strickland in October, 1942, and returned home, Ray Wilkins was one of the few remaining pilots from the old 27th. Only a few, like Davies, had lived to claim the well-deserved rotation home. Far too many had simply vanished into deep waters or dense jungle, their fate forever unknown.

    In November Pappy Gunn's remarkable talent for turning A-20s into formidable staffers was turned towards the B-25s that were the staple of the 3d Attack Group's assault on enemy air fields and shipping. First, the bomb sights were removed. In a low-level, diving attack from only a few hundred feet, they were unnecessary. In the bomb sights vacant cavity in the nose of the bombers Pappy mounted four, forward-firing .50-caliber machine guns to augment the two 50s on either side of the fuselage.

    The prevailing theory was that with such formidable a fusillade, the bombers could come in fast and low with guns blazing to clear the deck of a ship moments before skipping a 500-pound bomb into its side. When used against enemy airfields, such formidable incoming fire power could drive anti-aircraft gunners for shelter while the B-25s made their low-level pass to drop parafrags. These small, 23-pound parachute-deployed explosives in turn would explode on impact or with only a brief delay, shredding enemy fighters and bombers on the ground.

    Pappy's skills left 5th Air Force pilots wondering what he would come up with next. One cartoon featured a Pappy Gunn creation that was part bomber, part tank, and part battleship. Indeed, if the modified B-25s hadn't proved so successful on their own, Pappy might have actually built such a contraption. His skill attracted not only General Kenney's attention but that of North American's field representative Jack Fox. (North American was the company that built the B-25 Mitchell.) With the help of Fox, Pappy's proto-type, christened Margaret, began field tests in December.

    Despite the success of these initial tests, and despite Pappy's legendary reputation, the men who would be tasked with flying the modified B-25s remained skeptical. Captain Jack Jock Henebry recalled the sales job Pappy had to do to convince the pilots:

    "This airplane is too dangerous," someone said. "With all the guns and ammunition in the nose, you'd have too much weight forward, too far ahead of the designated center of gravity. Where's your center of gravity?"

    "Center of gravity?" Pappy answered. "Hell, we took that out to lighten the ship and sent it back to Air Corps Supply."
    By the time the first full year of World War II came to a close the tide was turning in the Pacific. At Guadalcanal U.S. Marines had established a foothold in the Solomons and were turning control over to the U.S. Army while, they pulled back to prepare for the next assault. On the north shore of the Papuan Peninsula American and Australian ground forces were closing on Buna and Gona, poised to turn the strategic north side of the peninsula over to Allied control. At Port Moresby the A-20s and B-25s of the 3d Attack Group continued their important missions against enemy targets at Lae, Cape Gloucester, Arawe, Gasmata, and against enemy ground forces still hiding in the jungles of New Guinea. Longer range B-17s and B-24s were increasingly attacking further north in deadly night-time, high-altitude bombing missions against Rabaul. Far south in Australia, Pappy Gunn was pushing his crew of mechanics and welders as they worked their magic that would turn B-25 bombers into deadly dive-bombers.

    In early January 1943 Buna and Gona fell, and quickly General Kenney began moving his air assets to new fields north of the Owen Stanley Mountains, increasing the range of their reach into enemy territory. In February the 90th Attack Squadron was equipped with the first B-25C staffers rolled out by Gunn and Company at Brisbane. In the opening days of March a Japanese convoy intent on reinforcing Lae was sighted in the Bismarck Sea, initiating one of the greatest air/sea battles in history.

    On March 4 a dozen of Pappy Gunn's modified B-25s of the 90th Squadron saw their first test under squadron commander Major Ed Larner. Jock Henebry was leading the second element when the enemy ships were sighted, and recalled being "scared as hell at the thought of flying right up to their sides at water level." He remembered:

    "Larner peeled off and bore in on the lead cruiser. We watched him go in strafing, get a hit and start after the next one. Well, that instilled tremendous confidence in the rest of us. If he can do it so can we...and all hell broke loose then."
    The Mitchells blazed a flaming trail of bullets and bombs across the enemy convoy. Twelve A-20s from the 89th Squadron followed. When the 3d Attack Group had finished its first major combat test of Pappy Gunn's B-25s, left behind were two sinking destroyers (Henebry had mistaken a destroyer for a cruiser), and three sinking transports. Both Grim Reaper squadrons returned to their airfields elated at the success of the first-ever daylight, low-level, skip bombing mission of the war. (On April 30 Major Ed Larner was killed in an air crash. Captain Jock Henebry assumed command of the 90th Squadron.)

    After the great success of the March 4 air/sea battle the only disappointed member of the 89th Squadron was Lieutenant Raymond Wilkins. On leave to Australia during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, he had missed out on all the action. Two of his old friends from the 8th Squadron, on temporary assignment to the 89th, did see action and were awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses

    If there was any consolation for Wilkie it was to be found in fond memories of that brief R&R in Australia. A beautiful young Australian girl named Phyllis had attracted his attention. Upon his return to New Guinea he had his crew chief Melvin Freeman paint her nickname on the nose of his A-20. When Captain Wilkins transferred back to the 8th Squadron as Operations Officer in May and began flying B-25s, it too was named Fifi.

    That same month John Hill, Finlay MacGillivary, Bob Anderson, Ed Chudoba, and Captain Ostreicher rotated back to the United States. These five, aside from Ray Wilkins, were the last remaining 8th Squadron pilots from the dark days of the A-24 Dauntless. Captain Wilkins could have joined them in the return home, having already served fourteen months in combat, but he declined rotation to remain with his men.

    Rabaul - Japan's Pearl Harbor

    The spring and summer of 1943 was a busy time for the 3d Attack Group, all four squadrons of which were now based on New Guinea. The 8th, 13th and 90th Squadrons were equipped with modified B-25s and the 90th Squadron with A-20 Havocs. In desperation the Japanese struggled to reinforce their far-flung empire in the Southwest Pacific. A steady flow of troops, supplies, and aircraft were ferried regularly from Tokyo to Rabaul at the north tip of New Britain Island. From there they were dispersed east to Bougainville and the Solomons, south to Cape Gloucester and besieged Lae, and west to the north coast of New Guinea at Wewak.

    Rabaul's supply chain to the Solomons gained new precedence for Japanese war planners on June 30. Admiral Halsey landed the 43d Infantry Division on New Georgia Island northwest of Guadalcanal, and American soldiers were knocking on Bougainville's back door. From the Munda Airstrip on New Georgia, American aircraft mounted regular missions against Bougainville, and Rabaul as well.

    Meanwhile B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators based in Australia and New Guinea continued to pound Rabaul from miles above it's sheltered Simpson Harbor. The 3d Attack Group Mitchells and Havocs simultaneously did their best to intercept ships at sea. Hunting became slim-pickin's, but remained quite dangerous. Since the horrible defeat in the Bismarck Sea, seldom did ships travel any longer in convoys, and never without impressive fighter cover.

    On July 9 Wilkie's good friend Bill Webster was shot down by seven enemy fighters 50 miles south of Salamaua. It was a solemn reminder to Wilkins, who had lost all of his close friends in the deadly July mission one year earlier, that there was grave danger in getting too close to the men you flew with. It was a lesson especially driven home to him by his leadership roles. Fortunately, in this rare occasion, Webster and most of his crew were rescued by an Australian coast-watcher and returned to the squadron.

    Promoted to captain in February, upon his return to the 8th Squadron Ray Wilkins led repeated barge hunts and low-level strikes against Salamua, Lae, and other enemy strongholds. On July 20 he lead the attack on the Gogol River bridge near Madang, the deepest penetration by American attack bombers to that date.

    On July 28 he led the squadron in an attack against two destroyers off Cape Gloucester. Without fighter cover and under an intense barrage of surface-to-air fire, he made two passes on one of the enemy ships. Returning through a melee of enemy Zeroes, his B-25 was riddled with bullets but somehow he managed to break free and nurse it home. The very next day he returned to find one surviving destroyer, scoring two direct hits and sending it to the ocean floor. For that action he was awarded his first Distinguished Flying Cross. Soon thereafter he received an Oak Leaf Cluster to wear on his DFC, this for completing 50 combat missions.

    In mid-August General Kenney unleashed his heavy bombers and attack squadrons against the heavily reinforced Japanese airfields around Wewak. After a year of support roles to the 89th Squadron, and a summer of routine barge hunts and small strafing missions, this marked the first major operation for the 8th Squadron since the loss of six of seven A-24s the summer before.

    All three B-25 squadrons of the Grim Reapers were all involved in the important August 17 mission led by Group Commander Colonel Donald Hall. Twelve 8th Squadron Mitchells under Captain Wilkins attacked the Boram airdrome, destroying 25 enemy fighters and bombers on the ground and destroying at least twenty more with strafing rounds and parafrags. The 13th and 90th Squadrons had similar successes. The 3d Attack Group suffered no losses.

    The following day 8th Squadron Commander Major James Downs led a second attack against Boram. Again the mission met with great success and combined with the efforts of other Groups, in two days the men of the 5th Air Force destroyed as many as 200 enemy planes, most of them on the ground. Over Wewak the 38th Bomb Group lost Major Ralph Cheli, who was subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor. Over Boram, the 8th Squadron of the Grim Reapers lost two B-25s. William Webster recalls:

    "This loss was the only drawback to an otherwise pair of successful missions that really marked the rebirth of the 8th Squadron, literally from the ashes of July 29, 1942. At last we had earned respectability and self-confidence in combat after a year of virtual anonymity. Floyd Rogers et al were finally avenged."
    On August 25 Major Raymond Wilkins lead his squadron in the first low-level attack on Hansa Bay. Diving into a withering hail of ground fire Wilkins hit two enemy ships, sinking one while the rest of his squadron claimed five more. Three days later he led three squadrons of Grim Reapers back to Hansa Bay where he personally scored direct hits on two more ships. For that action he was awarded a second Oak Leaf Cluster for his Distinguished Flying Cross.

    Early in September Major Downs was promoted and moved to Group Headquarters, preparatory to assuming Group command upon the departure home of Colonel Hall. Major Raymond Wilkins, the last survivor of the original 8th, became squadron commander. Always a leader, Bill Webster remembers the impact Wilkie's new role as a commander had on him.

    "He (Wilkins) had a unique business-like personality, especially when compared to the happy-go-lucky styles of Ed Larner and Jock Henebry. He (had) turned down two earlier chances to end his combat tour because he felt he could personally influence the outcome of the war by his own commitment and example. Now he had his own squadron, and he'd shown everyone how to run a combat unit.

    "He moved away from the other pilots, because, as he told me, 'You can't be both a good friend and a good combat squadron commander at the same time and I am choosing the latter.

    "He seldom laughed or joked with the pilots at meetings. He addressed everyone by his rank, and he ran a tight ship both in Squadron Headquarters and on the flight line. He seemed to know what was going on all the time in every section."
    For Major Wilkins, command and leadership were inseparable characteristics. Over the next eight weeks virtually every mission tasked to the 8th Squadron was lead by its squadron commander. These included the first mission against enemy shipping near Kairuru Island (Wewak) on September 27. Leading all three Mitchell squadrons in the mission that wreaked devastation on the enemy supply line, Wilkins personally destroyed a 4,000-ton ship in Victoria Bay. For that, and for his leadership in the highly-successful raid, he was awarded a third Oak Leaf Cluster to be worn on his Distinguished Flying Cross.

    Lae, the last Japanese bastion on the Papuan Peninsula, fell to Australian ground troops supported by the Fifth Air Force on September 16. By October the enemy forces on New Guinea's north coast at Wewak, at Cape Gloucester across the Huon Gulf, and across the southern coast of New Britain were reeling from the unrelenting air attacks. Further east in the Solomons, New Georgia was in Allied hands and the captured Munda Air Field had been rebuilt to support the next step in the leap-frog advance, the long-anticipated assault on Bougainville. Tokyo scrambled to reinforce the region, pulling task forces from other critical duty stations and sending them to New Guinea and Bougainville.

    Hundreds of fighters and bombers were marshaled for deployment in the region and thousands of infantrymen, tanks, and equipment were shipped south. As always, all enemy assets marked for duty in the region had to pass through Rabaul.

    Gibralter of the Pacific

    General George C. Kenney stared intently downward, as he had one so many times in the previous year, at his large table-top mock up of Simpson Harbor and the nearby fortress that was Rabaul. From the earliest days of war in the Southwest Pacific the critical Japanese port had been the major obstacle in Allied advances throughout the region. Kenney's boss, General Douglas MacArthur, believed Rabaul to be the key to the Philippines. It was the wall, the barrier, that had to be destroyed before his promised return.

    Heavy bomber missions had targeted Rabaul again and again since the summer of 1942. The surrounding jungles and waters were strewn with the rusting hulks of American B-24s and B-17s, and the bodies of valiant airmen.

    One of the earliest such missions had been mounted on August 6-7, 1942, the day U.S. Marines launched the first ground offensive of World War II at Guadalcanal. To keep enemy aircraft based out of Rabaul from attacking the Marines, a B-17 strike against the harbor had been ordered. One of the B-17s never returned. Somewhere over New Britain, after dropping its bombs, it fell to a hail of enemy gunfire from attacking Zeros. The pilot, Captain Harl Pease who had survived the fall of the Philippines, was never heard from again. Posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for that mission, he was the second Army airman (after Jimmy Doolittle) to earn the Medal.

    Long-range, high-altitude bombing missions had continued against Rabaul through the last months of 1942 and into the next year. On January 5, 1943, Brigadier General Kenneth Walker was lost in a daylight bombing raid over Rabaul. He became the third Army Air Force Medal of Honor recipient of the war. His tragic loss was felt throughout the Fifth Air Force. Ultimately the highest-ranking MIA (missing in action) of World War II, Walker had been commander of Kenney's V Bomber Command.

    Throughout the spring and summer of 1943 Japanese troops, aircraft, and supplies continued to flow through Rabaul. Fifth Air Force heavy bombers mounted regular missions despite heavy losses. By fall, with advanced airfields and Pappy Gunn fuel tank modifications, Kenney's fighters and light bombers were at last in range of Simpson Harbor. In October, with Admiral Halsey's forces in the east preparing to make their next move up the Solomon Chain to attack Bougainville on November 1, Kenney mounted his largest campaign to date to knock out, or at least neutralize, Rabaul. It was a formidable assignment. Rabaul was known throughout the theater as The Gibralter of the Pacific.

    Simpson Harbor is the world's most protected sea port, a natural inlet surrounded on three sides and lying in the shadow of four semi-active volcanoes. The city of Rabaul, heavily fortified by Japanese troops in 1943, lies at the west end of the harbor. In addition to more than 100,000 ground troops to garrison the Gazelle Peninsula and man more than 350 anti-aircraft guns, five major airfields stood guard ominously at all approaches. In October General Kenney ordered his fighter and attack squadrons to begin assaults on these airfields on every day in which the weather was suitable for flying.

    The attack squadrons that had so effectively shellacked the Japanese air fields on the northern New Guinea coast in August now called the technique of low-level strafing and parafrag bombing "Wewaking." On October 12, in one of the largest raids yet mounted on the Gazelle Peninsula, the 3d Attack Group Wewaked the major airfield at Rapopo.

    Major John Jock Henebry (right) led the 90th Squadron over Rapopo in his B-25 Notre Dame De Victorie. Even at low altitude, Rabaul was clearly visible in the distance. Its sheltering Simpson Harbor was filled with enemy ships. They were "juicy, off-limits targets," he recalled. "Top priority for us then remained the destruction of the enemy air capability." Joining Jock and his crew of four in Notre Dame De Victorie was an extra passenger. INS correspondent Lee Van Atta had hitched a ride for this mission and then described it vividly in the story he filed.

    < /b>
    Eye Witness Story of Rabaul Smash

    By LEE VAN ATTA International News Service (Oct. 1 2, 1943)

    ABOARD AN AMERICAN MITCHELL BOMBER EN ROUTE FROM RABAUL

    Rabaul, key Jap bombardment base in the Southwest Pacific, was devastated today by a mighty Allied air assault, rivaling the enemy's Pearl Harbor raid. The smoking, flaming ruins of the bombardment base seared an unforgettable, crimson impression into our minds as we hurtled our way off target.

    Caught apparently with only the briefest warning, the Rapopo Airdrome--nesting ground for Nippon's Western Pacific heavy air craft strength--learned in all its devastating intensity the power of an American warplane attack.

    Even as our forward guns began cutting a swath across Rapopo, other strafing Mitchell bombers could be seen racing against Vunakanau Airdrome. Seconds later the scene was etched with billowing clouds of black smoke and towers of fire.

    To coin a word, Rabaul was "Wewakized." The impossible has been done again--and with accomplishment of the impossible, months of planning and preparations and hours of tense anticipation have come to an end.

    It was the first time in the history of the Pacific warfare that escorted assault and bombardment units had been sent to penetrate the Japs' fortress-like ack-ack defenses around Rabaul.
    All three Grim Reaper B-25 squadrons attacked Rapopo. Leading the 8th Squadron was Major Raymond Wilkins. It was his 86th combat mission in twenty-two months of combat duty, unequalled by any man in the Fifth Air Force. A fifth award of the Distinguished Flying Cross, proffered for his heroic leadership on October 12, was in acquiescence to Major Wilkins' preference awarded instead to his second-in-command.

    Additional missions against enemy airfields around Rabaul continued for two weeks. They were the first combat assignments in months that the 8th flew without Wilkins. Three days after the Rapopo raid, Major Wilkins afforded himself a well-deserved R&R in Australia to spend time with Phyllis.

    A few days later Wilkins cut short his respite to return to his squadron early. He had learned that the single largest, and most important mission against Rabaul was scheduled for the closing days of the month. Major Wilkins would not commit his airmen to so dangerous and critical a foray without his personal leadership.

    On Sunday, October 31, virtually every plane of the Fifth Air Force was fueled and standing by for the green light that would launch the mission to Wewak Rabaul and Simpson Harbor. After three hours, a P-38 near the target reported that the weather was too marginal for the mission. The squadrons shut down their engines and returned to their tents in tense anticipation of another attempt the following day. Bill Webster remembers that afternoon vividly:

    "Two things happened to me that undoubtedly changed my life. First, I was notified by Group Personnel that I was eligible fore rotation back to the States and that I was being reassigned to Group Operations for a week or so while waiting air transport to Brisbane. I was speechless--snatched right out of the fire just in the nick of time. I was going home to see my wife and meet my six month old son!!! I started packing immediately.

    "That night I got word to report to Wilkins' tent. He told me he was happy for my good news and that he had three bits of good news also.

    "First, the 8th Squadron was new to receive new A-20s shortly. Next, he was scheduled to move up to Group Headquarters. Third, he and his fiancée had set a wedding date late in December.

    "After mutual congratulations, he put a question to me that I'll never forget--'Will you delay your departure long enough to fly one more mission for the 8th Squadron. I need you as a flight leader and deputy commander on this upcoming Rabaul mission.'

    "My immediate thought was an emphatic negative, but I remembered his twenty-two month stint of combat flying, particularly the first six months in the A-24s and all of the times he had put his personal war effort above possible personal preferences. Against my better judgment, I said I would honor his request to fly this last mission."
    On November 1 reconnaissance planes again reported unsatisfactory weather all the way from New Guinea to the north side of New Britain Island. One recon pilot over Rabaul did however, manage to break through the clouds long enough to take photographs. When reviewed back at headquarters they depicted a stunning buildup in the Japanese port. When the mission to Simpson Harbor finally launched on November 2, Major Raymond Wilkins, Bill Webster, and the other men of The Devil's Own Grim Reapers knew they would be flying into hell itself.

    November 2, 1943

    Bloody Tuesday

    Major John Jock Henebry sat impatiently in the cockpit of his B-25 Notre Dame De Victorie. The commander of the 90th Attack Squadron was a seasoned veteran. With 79 missions behind him, he was second in longevity only to Major Raymond Wilkins.

    This was the third straight day in a routine that had twice ended in a mixture of emotions: both disappointment and relief. The pilots of the 3rd Bomb Group had risen each morning at 4 a.m. for a breakfast of canned grapefruit juice, french toast (made with dehydrated eggs and powdered milk,) some peanut butter and cheese, and coffee. By 6:30 a.m. both pilots and crew were in their aircraft to begin the long wait for the signal to start engines and takeoff to hit Rabaul. As the hours dragged on the interior of the planes warmed with the rising sun, making them insufferably hot. Men, nervous about the mission they both feared and anticipated, became impatient to launch if for no other reason than to find cooler air.

    Jock had been involved in virtually every major mission of the previous year: the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, Wewak, Lae, and the previous two weeks of assault on the airfields near Rabaul. He knew however, that if the weather improved, this would be his most important mission to date, perhaps of the entire war. If the weather didn't improve the American ground forces that had landed the previous day at Empress Augusta Bay at Bougainville would be at the mercy of an armada of enemy aircraft based out of Rabaul.

    The mission itself was to be an all P-38/B-25 effort, 84 strafer/bombers from three bombardment groups including the 3rd Attack Group, covered by an equal number of P-38 fighters. Prepared to launch from a dozen airfields on the north coast of the Papuan Peninsula, the aerial armada was to assemble over the Solomon Sea and proceed northward, skirting New Britain to slip into Rabaul from the east via St. George's channel. The tactical plan called for two fighter squadrons to sweep Simpson Harbor three minutes ahead of the second wave to neutralize enemy ground defenses.

    That first sweep was to be followed by four squadrons of B-25s from the 345th Bombardment Group under Major Ben Fridge. Escorted by two more P-38 fighter squadrons, this second was to split up and drop white phosphorus bombs and strafe either side of the harbor, masking the incoming third wave's attack on the Japanese ships.

    Major Jock Henebry had been tasked with leading that third wave's assault, followed by four more waves of B-25s under cover Captain Danny Roberts' 433d Fighter Squadron. If the mission went as planned, the massive raid on Simpson Harbor could severely cripple the enemy supply chain with little Allied loss. Colonel Freddy Smith of First Air Task Force estimated that the two-week campaign on the airfields around Rabaul had reduced the enemy fighter strength to as few as fifty aircraft.

    What Colonel Smith did not know was that in the previous two days, during which time the mission had been delayed by poor weather, more than 150 additional Japanese fighters had been rushed into the area to cover a harbor full of ships. When at last on Tuesday, November 2, Jock Henebry got the green light to start engines and take off, he and his trailing four squadrons were flying into a hornet's nest.

    Major Henebry was first to lift off, followed by Major Richard Ellis in Seabiscuit who would fly on Jock's wing. Joining Ellis in his B-25 was INS correspondent Lee Van Atta, who had flown combat missions with the 3rd Attack Group repeatedly in order to send reports of their work back home.

    Following the 90th Squadron into battle was the 13th under the command of Captain Walter J. Hearn. Captain Art Small, originally tasked to lead the 13th Squadron, unexpectedly fell ill in the early morning hours before the mission unfolded. Captain Hearn was his replacement. Unfortunately Hearn had not been involved in the briefings for the mission and accepted this backup role at a disadvantage.

    Third in rotation and leading two squadrons from the 38th Bomb Group was Major Ray Wilkins in Fifi. Captain Bill Webster, voluntarily flying this last mission before returning home to meet his six-month-old son, was preparing to lead his own 3-plane element in the 8th Squadron formation. Both men realized that by the time they entered the harbor any hoped-for advantage of surprise would be gone. Their's was a most unenviable position. Bill Webster recalls well that last mission:

    "This was to be a maximum effort mission, and eleven serviceable aircraft were all we (8th Squadron) had left after the losses of August, September, and October. We planned to have ten planes on our strike with the 11th plane as a spare in case we had any ground aborts.

    "As planned, the 8th Squadron was last to take off, and this made for another 10-12 minute delay, waiting for the other two squadrons to go. As I recall, our first eight planes took off okay, but the ninth and tenth, Bridges and Virdon, aborted because of excessive rpm drop on magneto checks. The eleventh plane (Vinson in the spare) took off to round out the three 3-plane flights. It was not an auspicious beginning, but for better or worse, we were finally on our way to Simpson Harbor.

    "About 20 minutes after take off, Vinson apparently developed fuel transfer problems and pulled out of the formation to return to base. I am sure Wilkins was furious, but he would not break radio silence to reprimand. The other eight continued on, last in the long string of nine squadrons of B-25s heading northeast at about 3,000 feet."

    "The escorting P-38s took off as planned about 30 minutes after the B-25s and soon caught up with us as we neared the IP. Wilkins used the customary visual signal, a slow fish-tailing of his aircraft, to spread out the squadron's planes to test all guns and then we formed back up in two "V"s and one two ship section behind and slightly to the east of the 13th Squadron which in turn was following the 90th."
    After more than two hours of low-level flight over the waters east of New Britain Island the formation had covered most of the 450-mile distance from their airfields to St. George's Channel. By the time the narrow slot that separated New Britain from southern tip of New Ireland came into view, the droppable turret tanks necessary for the long flight were empty and were jettisoned.

    The American pilots had hoped that their attack would surprise the enemy, but labored on under no delusion that their low-level approach had hidden them from Japanese radar. All hope for surprise vanished over the St. George's Channel when the lead elements sighted two Japanese destroyers passing through the narrow strip at a high speed. Jock Henebry recalls: "The temptation to make a pass at these two meaty targets was overcome in favor of keeping our flying pattern until we reached our primary targets, the ships of Simpson Harbor.

    Up through the channel Major Henebry continued, watching Cape Gazelle pass by on the left followed by the peaks of South Daughter volcano. The Mother (volcano) loomed ahead as the P-38s of the Headhunters slipped between it and North Daughter to make the first sweep (1), to send enemy ground-gunners scurrying for shelter. Three minutes behind them came the B-25s of the 345th Bomb Group (2), to rake the parallel shore lines with their big machine guns and drop Kenney Cocktails, white phosphorus bombs intended to set fires. More importantly on this mission, these bombs would fill the shoreline with a heavy film of smoke that would hopefully provide some cover for the five bomber squadrons that followed in the attack what was obviously a harbor unexpectedly filled with ships.

    Jock Henebry's 90th Squadron (3) passed The Mother and executed a close-order turn to pass between the two peaks. Enemy gunners emplaced on the slopes to either side opened fire as Jock led his brave airmen through the valley to drop down on the harbor below.

    "Now, with our first unobstructed look at our targets, we line dup our sights on the vessels beyond," he recalled. "As promised--what a sight. A hunter's dream. The harbor was alive with ships, tenders and boats. Forewarned, they were armed, ready for our bombardment. This battle would play out to be an attack equal to the Battle of the Bismarck Sea in its devastation."

    Breaking through the curtain of smoke left behind on the shoreline by the second wave, Jock flew into a harbor full of enemy ships. All of them were scrambling to hoist anchor while deck guns filled the heavens with a beehive of exploding shrapnel. Dropping nearly to water-level Jock found himself lined up on three ships in a row, closely anchored and desperately fighting for survival. Flying directly into the inferno, his eight .50-caliber machine guns raking the decks, Jock valiantly led one of the most important air missions of the Pacific war. He did so with a vengeance.

    "The setup offered what I thought would be three perfect broadside passes. I had three bombs ready. One for each.

    "The first, a freighter transport, was the smallest. Beyond it was a larger freighter transport that resembled our liberty ships. The third was the Japanese cruiser Haguro, a fearsome man-o'-war, the largest of the three.

    "I continued the approach down to water level and started firing the eight fifty-caliber machine guns. I opened the bomb bay doors. As I pulled up to clear the ship mast, I released the first bomb. 'Notre Dame' scored a hit.

    "As we cleared the mast I immediately started down sharply to get our guns onto the second ship deck, starting another bomb run, releasing another bomb, pulling up to clear the ship mast. I released the second bomb into the ship midsection just above the water line for maximum penetration. "Great! Another hit.

    "Two strikes, two hits but now I had problems. The Haguro was in too close to the second transport, making it impossible to push the nose of the B-25 down fast enough to get my guns onto the deck and silence the fire. I had bellied up to the target and was fair game. The ship was firing at us, fire we couldn't return. I couldn't even drop my third bomb.

    "I looked down and saw her gunners training their pom-pom guns to follow our flight path. They did hit us. And hard!"
    Notre Dame suffered heavy rudder damage and Jock and co-pilot Don Frye both struggled to level out and pull away from a harbor now filled with explosions, flaming debris, and deadly missiles. Amazingly, the strenuous effort kept Notre Dame intact. Though heavily damaged, the B-25 reached the edge of the harbor to wing out over the jungle only a few hundred feet above the vegetation below. Behind Henebry, Major Ellis dove Seabiscuit at a large transport. He released his first bomb only fifty feet from the target before pulling up to clear the deck, and then dove into a heavy cruiser. Missiles from the Japanese warship's eight-inch turrets filled his windshield, but Ellis stayed level to cross only ten feet above the deck, his own machine guns raining death. Seabiscuit was so close Lee Van Atta could see the ship's Japanese officers standing on the bridge nearly parallel to him.

    Seabiscuit had just cleared the large warship when gunfire hit its tail, sending the bomber nearly out of control. Ellis struggled to right his floundering ship, regaining control only ten feet above the water. With enemy tracers raking his wings he determinedly held the finger of his left hand on the trigger, his right on the bomb release, and dove into yet another freighter. His co-pilot, Lieutenant John Dean, struggled with the jinking and skidding airship until the two bomb lights on the instrument panel went out. Then he began the long climb to head for home.

    On Henebry's other wing Captain Chuck Howe lined up on a Japanese freighter while Seabiscuit was making its initial attack in the other direction. From 800 yards out all eight forward-firing machine guns on Here's Howe opened up. The B-25 dove on the enemy ship at 230 miles per hour. Japanese gunners, stunned by the fusillade, scrambled for the shelter of their armor plating, many of them opting for safety instead of firing back. Captain Howe released his first bomb to skip it into the freighter's side, then bounced a second onto its deck before climbing to avoid the mast. The ship sank almost immediately while Here's Howe climbed up over the shore line and headed for home. The remainder of the 90th squadron similarly completing their run before joining their comrades.

    Captain Jerry Johnson and Captain Dick Bong had their hands full covering the withdrawal of Jock Henebry's first wave of bombers. More than one hundred enemy fighters had taken to the air over Simpson Harbor, and all seemed more interested in attacking the incoming B-25s than in dueling with the P-38s. The arrival of Captain Danny Robert's 433d Fighter Squadron still left the American fighters vastly outnumbered. Heedless of the odds, they blazed through the sky above to protect the final four squadrons of bombers preparing to make their own runs on Simpson Harbor.

    Trailing the 13th Squadron, Major Wilkins noted with alarm the saddle between North Daughter and The Mother passing by to his left. Something seriously wrong had happened. Bill Webster can never forget the next few minutes. They were the longest of his life.

    "Unfortunately at this point, the combined efforts of thousands of ground personnel and possibly 400 combat crew men literally went down the tubes. The originally designated leader of the 13th Squadron had become ill during the very early hours of November 2, and he had turned the lead over at the last moment to a less experienced flight leader who apparently had not attended either Group mission briefing. Seeing this curtain of fire that closed behind the 90th, and awaited the 13th, but not realizing the importance of that approach and the NE to SW attack angle, Hearn opted to not turn the 13th behind the 90th, but to fly to the Northwest around the north side of North Daughter volcano.

    "Wilkins kept waiting for the 13th to turn to 225 (degrees) as planned, but by the time he realized the 13th's error, it was too late for the 8th to get into the right angle of attack. Wilkins broke radio silence to try to get the 13th leader to realize his error. The 8th was already in an eight ship loose echelon to the right preparatory to a 90 (degree) turn to the SW to come over the western edge of the town and slightly west of Vulcan Crater. (It was later claimed that three of the 13th Squadron planes did break away from the Squadron leader and attacked small shipping probably in Keravia Bay.)"
    By the time the remaining flight of bombers (4) made their turn into the harbor after circling North Daughter volcano, their bomb run was far off target. It would be nearly impossible, in the narrow confines of the harbor and with so many bombers closely grouped in formation, to correct, but Major Wilkins was determined to try.

    "Wilkins was committed to follow the 13th around the North Daughter about a mile astern but slightly inside the 13th's path. He continued in a descending 180 left turn to bring our 8 planes, still arranged in a right echelon, to a heading of about 100 and directly over the town of Rabaul.

    "The smoke from the burning buildings and the phosphorous bombs of the 345th and 38th Groups made visibility poor and the fumes made breathing difficult.

    "At about 200 feet in a shallow dive Ray probably caught his first clear climpse of the ship concentration in the Harbor and decided to get back on the original attack angle of 225. If he gave a radio signal or a wing dip to indicate his intentions, I wasn't aware of it. First thing I knew he had racked his plane into a vertical right bank to get lined up on a destroyer. I don't know how his wing man (Trout) avoided hitting him.

    "Each pilot had to do a similar vertical right turn to miss the plane on his left and hoped the plane on his right was alert enough to do likewise. By the time we recovered our balance, and went to max power, we were doing about 240 mph thundering out over the Harbor on a heading about SW (the prescribed course).

    "By now, at least five minutes had elapsed since the 90th's attack and the surprise element was totally gone. The defenders definitely were waiting for us. Wilkins was over the approximate center line of the Harbor and the rest of us were more or less in an echelon formation to his right, possibly 50 yards between each plane."
    In making those two dangerous turns the 8th Squadron was strung out line-astern, instead of the normal company-front formation that maximized the forward firepower of a B-25 echelon. Furthermore, Wilkins position to the left placed him at the point of maximum exposure. He was hit almost immediately as he dove Fifi into an enemy destroyer, skipping a bomb into its side. On the deck enemy gunners continued to fire, their rounds ripping off part of Fifi's left vertical stabilizer.

    Though severely damaged, even at that point Wilkins might have been able to climb for altitude and race for safety. His subsequent citation describes what he did instead:

    "Although he could have withdrawn, he held fast and led his squadron into the attack. He strafed a group of small harbor vessels, and then, at low level, attacked an enemy destroyer. His 1,000 pound bomb struck squarely amidships, causing the vessel to explode. Although antiaircraft fire from this vessel had seriously damaged his left vertical stabilizer, he refused to deviate from the course. From below-masthead height he attacked a transport of some 9,000 tons, scoring a hit which engulfed the ship in flames. Bombs expended, he began to withdraw his squadron. A heavy cruiser barred the path. Unhesitatingly, to neutralize the cruiser's guns and attract its fire, he went in for a strafing run. His damaged stabilizer was completely shot off. To avoid swerving into his wing planes he had to turn so as to expose the belly and full wing surfaces of his plane to enemy fire; it caught and crumpled his left wing. Now past control, the bomber crashed into the sea."
    The full details in the last moments in the life of Raymond Wilkins are not fully known. William Webster recalls:

    "I did not see Ray's plane make his attack on the shipping or get hit. I was busy watching ahead of me and trying to pick a good target. The smoke from our 8 machine guns filled the cockpit and made vision difficult. About half way across the Harbor, I became aware that there were no B-25s to my left where there had been three just a few moments earlier. Wilkins, his right wing man Lee Trout, and his left wing man Bill Mackey had all taken heavy fire from the heavy cruiser and destroyers to the east of the Harbor.

    "It was sheer chaos --

    Dante's Inferno couldn't be worse!"
    Bloody Tuesday dealt the Japanese heavy losses. In fewer than fifteen minutes the B-25s attacked forty-one ships, bombed two dozen, and strafed seventeen more. Destruction was estimated as:

    • 1 Heavy Cruiser
    • 1 Destroyer Tender
    • 1 Submarine Tender
    • 3 Destroyers
    • 2 Auxiliary Craft
    • 3 Mine Sweepers
    • 16 Merchant Ships
    • 2 Tankers
    • 1 Barge
    • 1 Tug Boat


    In all it amounted to more than 114,000 tons of enemy shipping lost, 300,000 tons damaged. In addition, sixty-eight enemy aircraft were destroyed either in the air or on the ground. For the pilots and their crews it was also one of the deadliest days in Fifth Air Force history. Forty-five American pilots were killed or missing, and aircraft losses were nine P-38s and eight B-25s.

    Among the planes lost was Major Henebry's Notre Dame de Victoire. Jock struggled to remain airborne despite enemy fighter attacks that knocked out one engine while he was trying to limp home. Captain Howe shadowed the battered bomber as far as Kiriwina, where Henebry ditched his fatally-damaged B-25 near a coral reef. Jock and all his crew were rescued by a PT boat as they paddled to shore. Here's Howe was waiting on the island to transport them all back to Dobodura.

    Four 8th Squadron bombers followed Bill Webster out of Simpson Harbor for the long flight home.

    "The flight back to New Guinea was like a trance. We took off our helmets, but felt no elation at still being alive. My only conversation was to keep asking the turret gunner if he could see any B-25s trying to catch up, like Wilkins, Mackey or Trout. "The last thirty minutes of the flight took forever. The five 8th Squadron ships landed straight into Dobo strip from off the water and I taxied in with shaking knees. At my plane's revetment Colonel Downs, the 3d Group CO and a close personal friend, and Captain Rig Baldwin waited with visible glee. They had heard at Group Operations the en route preliminary strike report that the 90th Squadron had sent in, and they were anxious to find about what the 8th had done. "The fact that I had only five ships taxi in didn't sink in on them at the moment. (Trout and Keyes in their wounded plane managed somehow to avoid the Jap fighters picking off stragglers and limped back to land about 15 minutes behind us.) "For two days we kept hoping that each phone call to the Squadron Headquarters would be from a Navy PT boat squadron or a PBY squadron or even a submarine headquarters saying that Wilkins and Mackey had somehow been snatched out of the Harbor or picked up off a remote beach on the south coast of New Britain. "The realization that Ray Wilkins, the one pilot who had outlasted all others in the Southwest Pacific and for 23 months had dodged that bullet bearing his name, was lost in action, finally set it."

    There were many heroes in the air on Bloody Tuesday over Rabaul in 1943. Courage, determination, and sacrifice was evident in each bomber and each fighter that confronted the Japanese and turned the Gibraltar of the Pacific into an inferno. In some measure Ken's Men saw themselves as at last avenging the attack on Pearl Harbor nearly two years before.

    Undoubtedly there were many acts that may have merited our Nation's highest honor. A great many airmen performed that day with courage Above and Beyond the Call of Duty.

    Ultimately, the heroism of one man came to represent the heroism of them all. On December 8, 1944 Lieutenant General William S. Knudsen presented the Medal of Honor to Mrs. Florida E. Valier on behalf of her son, Major Raymond Wilkins.

    How does one eulogize a hero of Major Wilkins caliber?

    General Douglas MacArthur wrote: "His service under me was characterized by his complete and unswerving devotion to our beloved country and he died in the name of freedom and liberty. Among his comrades-in-arms he is enshrined in our country's glory."
    Major General Barney M. Giles (US Army Chief of Air Staff) wrote:

    "Throughout his military career he maintained a standard of performance in all his work, earned the admiration of those who worked with him and he executed missions of importance in a courageous manner that won the praise of superiors."
    Captain Martin J. Radnick wrote:

    "It was my privilege to serve under a man of his caliber. His ability as a combat pilot set the criterion that all of us strived to attain but none ever equaled. His personal character was an example for every officer to copy. His intelligence and high ideals, the high standards that he set for himself and his squadron and above all his superb leadership makes the task of attempting to take his place immeasurably difficult. He was truly the type of leader that could lead men anywhere under the most adverse conditions. No other man that I know came nearer achieving the standard set by ancient chivalry--that of being 'without fear and reproach.'"
    Perhaps however, the most fitting eulogy for The Last Survivor is the words penned in May 1945 for the official history of the 8th Squadron:

    "The finest thing that can be said in Major Wilkins' honor and memory is that, through many subsequent adversities and under counter-influences, the enlisted men and the officers who knew him, have always held him as their ideal without peer and have instilled in the new men his great influence which has enabled the 8th to carry on as Wilkie would have wished and done."

    GO TO OCCUPATION FORCES IN JAPAN


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    NOTICE/DISCLAIMER: The content of this page is unofficial and the views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of anyone associated with this page or any of those linked from this site. All opinions are those of the writer and are intended for entertainment purposes only. Links to other web pages are provided for convenience and do not, in any way, constitute an endorsement of the linked pages or any commercial or private issues or products presented there.


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    For inputs or comments, contact Kalani O'Sullivan.

    NOTICE/DISCLAIMER: The content of this page is unofficial and the views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of anyone associated with this page or any of those linked from this site. All opinions are those of the writer and are intended for entertainment purposes only. Links to other web pages are provided for convenience and do not, in any way, constitute an endorsement of the linked pages or any commercial or private issues or products presented there.


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