From Fiji Through The Philippines
The History of the 13th Army “Jungle” Air Force in WWII
By Lt. Col. Benjamin E. Lippincott, Historian, Thirteenth Air Force
Assisted by Capt. Kenneth E. Duffey. Capt. C. Blaine Hays, Jr., Capt. Marvin Freiman, S/Sgt. Bertil Westlin
Paintings by Staff Sgt. Robert A. Laessig
Foreword by General George C. Kenney, Commanding General, Far Eastern Air Forces
Published by Newsfoto Publishing Co., San Angelo, Texas
Distributed by The Macmillan Company, New York, N. Y.
DEDICATED TO THE MEN OF THE THIRTEENTH AIR FORCE WHO FOUGHT AGAINST JAPANESE AGGRESSION IN ORDER TO ESTABLISH A FREER WORLD
The southward surge of the victorious Japanese forces in their march to Australia was stopped and turned into a northward route by the valiant efforts of relatively small forces. One of these fast moving, hard hitting forces that contributed much to the Army Air Forces' success in the Pacific and that I was fortunate to have in my command was the Thirteenth Air Force.
It gives me great pleasure to introduce this war time history of the Thirteenth Air Force. The saga of the Thirteenth Air Force is fittingly portrayed both in words and by pictures in this document. The realism achieved in the water colors of Robert Laessig makes this one of the outstanding records of World War II. These illustrations will serve as a vivid reminder to those who served in the Pacific, while to the uninitiated it faithfully presents the breathtaking beauty of air war fought across great island chains.
George C. Kenney
General, United States Army
Commanding General, Far East Air Forces, Pacific Air Command
Copyright. 1948, U. S. Air Forces Aid Society. Manufactured in the United States of America
The official history of the Army Air Forces will be published over the next few years by the University of Chicago Press. The work as now contemplated will consist of seven volumes; two volumes will be devoted to each theater, in which the various Air Forces are treated as a whole, inasmuch as the overall strategy was developed by theaters. A seventh volume is projected, which will evaluate the operations of the Air Forces. Whether official histories of the individually numbered Air Forces will appear at a future date has not yet been determined.
The purpose of this book is to portray the life and chief activities of the Thirteenth Air Force as it took part in the air offensive against Japan. This book is a history of island warfare as it was fought by the Thirteenth over the vast water spaces of the South and Southwest Pacific. It is designed primarily to follow combat operations as they were conducted from island bases. Yet account is taken of the origins and formation of the Thirteenth, as it is of station life and of rest leave activities. The history is carried down to VJ Day.
Much of the material appearing in this chapter was also used in a study, “Thirteenth Air Force Operations In the War Against Japan,” January 1946, prepared by Col. R. A. Livingstone, Lt. Col. S. H. Kirkland, and the editor.
From Fiji Through The Philippines is a history in terms of text and water color paintings. These media were chosen on the ground that in no other way could the life and activities of the Thirteenth be so well presented. Painting that is distinctive in composition and is characterized by detail can scarcely be equaled in refreshing the memories of men. Color recaptures a sense of place, as it does the spirit of man’s past activity. Although the special appeal of color is to feeling, emotion, and sentiment, color by itself, obviously, cannot provide an adequate account of what happened; a written text is necessary to the telling of a story.
Opposite each painting in this book is a narrative describing in some detail the life suggested by the picture or the events that lay behind it. Each write-up is developed as a unit in itself although both paintings and text are integrated to the history, which follows in chronological order. An introductory chapter entitled “A Short History of the Thirteenth Air Force” is provided to give an overall view of the characteristics, record, and achievement of the Thirteenth.
Although this book is addressed to the members of the Thirteenth Air Force, and involves a considerable number of technical facts, it is not strictly a technical history; among other things, there is no special treatment of planning, administration, personnel, and logistics. From Fiji through the Philippines is a general history, which gives an account of operations, reveals the Air Force at work, and deals with its life and movement.
An attempt has been made to maintain a balance among the fighter, bomber, and service activities, as it has been to place station life, rest leave, and other interests in their proper perspective. As airstrips were a center of life, and, in their setting, reveal the island background, they were given considerable prominence. Although it was impossible to mention the names of all units, names have been introduced at significant points; to show, for example, the kind of units from which the Thirteenth was built, and what units took part in major movements, and what took part in combat.
From Fiji Through The Philippines portrays not only the background of the Thirteenth Air Force, but also to a great extent the background of the Navy, Marines, Ground Forces, Fifth Air Force, and the background of our New Zealand and Australian allies, who fought over the same islands and the same seas as did the men of the Thirteenth; paintings of Guadalcanal and Leyte, for example, are as significant for the members of these forces as for the Thirteenth. Although pictorial representation could not be given to all fighting organizations, paintings were made of the First Marine Air Wing, of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and of the Royal Australian Air Force, for these worked closely with the Thirteenth on numerous occasions.
It will be noticed that a characteristic of the paintings in this volume is accurate representation of subject matter. It was the aim of the artist to mirror as faithfully as possible, without sacrificing aesthetic requirements, the life as it was lived. He worked to achieve this aim through direct observation, the use of photographs, and historical texts. He flew hundreds of miles in order to see at first hand the subject that he painted. Except for combat pictures, the paintings of Mackay and of Fiji. every scene portrayed in this volume was visited by the artist.
Combat paintings were reconstructed from photographs and unit histories, although in almost every case the artist saw the area in which the action took place. Every combat painting, and the text opposite as well, is based upon a mission report. Practically all the combat paintings, furthermore, were checked by men who took part in the action, or by men who were closely acquainted with the participants, prior to completion.
It may be observed, finally, that the historical narrative in this volume was written from the materials collected by the Historical Section of the Thirteenth Air Force. It may be noted here that all ranks indicated in this book are those held at the time the action took place in the field.
I should like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to the many unit historians and to others in the Thirteenth who provided us with historical materials, gave us advice, or aided us in traveling to the many bases shown in this volume. Without their backing and cooperation, this work could never have been completed. 1 should like to thank especially General George C. Kenney, Major General St. Clair Streett, and Brigadier General Thomas D. White for their strong support and keen interest in the undertaking. I am also under deep obligation to the late Major General Paul B. Wurtsmith whose assistance was most valuable.
I should like to thank, too, the Navy and Marines whose courtesy and assistance at Espiritu Santo and Bougainville helped to make this volume a richer one. No one was more generous in putting his facilities at our disposal than Major General Ralph J. Mitchell at Empress Augusta Bay. I wish also to extend my appreciation to members of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, in Auckland and in Wellington, New Zealand, and to members of the Royal Australian Air Force, in Melbourne, Australia, for their kindness and aid in furnishing us with materials and in expediting our travel.
It goes without saying that I am deeply grateful to my principal assistants, Capts. Kenneth E. Duffey, C. Blaine Hays, Jr., Marvin A. H. Freiman, and S/Sgt. Bertil Westlin, who in most instances performed the research and wrote the first drafts of the texts. I am especially indebted to S/Sgt. Westlin who carried the heaviest burden here. I am also indebted to Capt. Dudley T. Moorhead, Major Austin E. Fife, and Lt. William R. Julian, historical officers of the Bomber Service, and Fighter commands respectively, for their generous assistance. The greatest debt of all, however, is to S/Sgt. Laessig, the artist, whose talent has created a record that will live in the annals of the Army Air Forces. Thanks are also due to T/Sgt. Allen T. Fariss and S/Sgt. William G. Fisher for typing the texts, to Cpl. Dennis F. Cone for the maps, and to Cpl. Donald Baldwin for assembling the book.
No profit from the sale of this work will accrue to any member of the Thirteenth AAF. All royalties which would normally go to the editor, his assistants, and to the artist, will go to the Army Air Forces Aid Society, Washington, D. C.
Benjamin E. Lippincott, Lt. Colonel. AC., Thirteenth Air Force Historian
ALTHOUGH the original plan for this book called for publication more than a year ago and for the reproduction of all paintings in full color, it became necessary to deviate from this plan both as to the date of publication and in the mechanical reproduction of the contents. Principal obstacles were rapidly advancing printing costs, which could not be anticipated when this project was initiated in the Philippines in 1945, and the necessity for obtaining prepaid subscriptions from men who had ordered copies to be sent C.O.D. For a time it seemed as though some of the paintings would have to be eliminated from the book. It was only the result of the diligent efforts of many who were vitally interested in this publication that we now are able to present a book which is complete, with all 96 of the original paintings appearing, 16 of them in full natural color and 80 in rich duotone reproduction.
I should like to take this opportunity to thank Major General Howard C. Davidson of the Army Air Forces Aid Society, and Major General Eugene L. Eubank, Commander Thirteenth Air Force in the Philippines, for their most generous aid. Without their support, the Chronicle of the Thirteenth would not have been possible on its present scale.
Owing to circumstances beyond my control, I was not able to make a final visit to the AAF Historical Office in Washington to crosscheck certain items in the history. If errors are present, I hope it may be possible to correct them in a future edition.
Finally, I should like to express my appreciation to the AAF Historical Office for the various courtesies they extended to me.
Benjamin E. Lippincott, Lt. Colonel. AC
20 October 1947
Although the Thirteenth Air Force was relatively small, and could not compare in size with the Eighth or Ninth as they were organized in Europe, it yielded to none in mobility, performance, and color. It did not fight from centralized bases closely tied together. It fought from island bases, spread hundreds of miles apart. It never enjoyed the usual overland communications: telegraph, long distance telephone, and good roads or roadbeds. It could communicate only by radio, ship or airplane. From its origins to VJ Day, its units were spread over at least forty-five islands in the South and Southwest Pacific.
Units of the Thirteenth moved from the Fijis and Australia through New Caledonia and New Hebrides, up the ladder of the Solomons to the Admiralties and the Netherlands Indies, and finally through the Philippines. From the most easterly point, Bora Bora, in the Society Islands, to the most northerly, Lingayen, in the Philippines, they traveled approximately 7,000 statute miles. Taking into account the establishment of the 868th Bombardment Squadron on Okinawa during the last months of the war, they traveled even farther: approximately 7,900 statute miles.
They operated over an area of at least 4 million square miles, which is an area approximately one and one-third times the size of the United States. Most units made many moves, and, of course, they often moved without much warning. As General Matheny, former commander of the Bomber Command, said speaking of his own units, “those outfits got so much practice they could move at an hour’s notice, just like a circus troupe.”
The story of the Thirteenth is not only a story of leap frog; of air force units jumping across island chains in the Pacific. It is also a story of combat waged against the Japanese under the most difficult conditions. It is the story of bombers and fighters flying over great water spaces to meet the enemy: of Liberators flying, in some instances, as far as 2600 and 3000 statute miles, 16 and 18 hours; of Lightnings flying, in some instances, 1900 and 2100 statute miles. It is the story, too, of heavy bombers flying mission after mission without fighter escort. It can truly be said that the bomber crews of the Thirteenth were gunner crews.
If the long distances taught them to make bombers serve as fighters, the lack of planes taught them to make fighters serve as bombers, and both conditions led them to use fighters and bombers for reconnaissance. The great distances not only placed a premium upon adaptability, but also upon transport. Getting the right man and the right material at the right places at the right time was a contribution of air transport without which the Thirteenth could not have functioned.
The Thirteenth seldom suspended operations because of weather. Fliers were seldom stopped by the tropical fronts with their massive black clouds, their turbulent air, and hidden storms within. As a rule, they either navigated around or penetrated through the danger zone, for friendly landing fields were usually hundreds of miles away. Ditching on the ocean was a possibility. Many who were forced down at sea lived to fight another day through the courageous efforts of air-sea rescue squadrons.
The Thirteenth not only fought against the enemy, distance, vast water spaces, and weather; it also fought against isolation, terrain, climate, animal life, and disease. Long supply lines vulnerable to enemy submarines, long plane routes open to operational losses, meant lack of equipment and long periods of C-rations. Setting up camps on coral or volcanic islands, in strange lands unknown to most Americans, meant lessons in self-sufficiency. There was always, for example, the problem of fresh water. So far from living in civilized areas, most units of the Air Force lived most of the time in the jungle. For over two years the headquarters of the Air Force never knew city, town nor village. It is not without reason that the Thirteenth was called the Jungle Air Force.
But other physical conditions were present that men will always remember. There were equatorial rains, and water drenched camps with mud in and around the tents. There were sudden downpours, and gumbo roads with mired trucks, roads which after three hours of a scorching sun were dry and covered with dust. In the jungle, physical exertion in almost any degree meant that a man broke out in a sweat. In the tropics, clothes were like a blotter; they absorbed moisture as well as protected against the sun. There was no change of season, little chance for freshness in the equatorial areas. There was a feeling of imprisonment, for there was seldom any escape from the heat and humidity, which left men in a state of enervation. Living in the tropics never ceased to mean a life of salt pills, Atabrine tablets, and sack time. The campaign against small animals that flew, crawled, and hopped never ended. .And there was always the fight against malaria, dengue, scrub typhus and the crud.
Yet no Air Force has had a more colorful life than the Thirteenth. It has been an island air force, living by the ocean and ranging over the South Seas. Units of the Thirteenth lived, at some time or another, in at least eleven different island groups: the Fiji, Society, Tonga, Cook, Ellice, Solomons, Admiralties, Netherlands Indies, Philippines, Carolines, and Ryukyus. The Jungle Air Force was in contact with the native cultures of Melanesia and Polynesia; and it flew over islands of Micronesia. Planes of the Thirteenth flew over parts of the world that have yet to be explored.
The Thirteenth operated over two continents: Australia and Asia. It fought in four areas of operations; the South Pacific, the Southwest Pacific, the Central Pacific, the China-India-Burma, and Air Offensive Japan. Apart from islands controlled by the United States, it set up camp on the territories of six different nations: Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, France, and Japan. Planes of the Thirteenth flew over twelve seas: the Coral, Arafura, Tasman, Banda, Celebes, Sulu, Ceram, Mindanao, South China, East China, Java, and the Sea of Japan.
The islands on which the Air Force lived, the seas which they crossed, and the skies in which they flew were full of color. Although the sight of a coconut tree might become monotonous, there was nevertheless beauty in the tall trunks and the curved palm fronds. True, the blanket greenness of the jungle, the greenness that never changed and was always present, might blunt the sense of beauty. But there were arresting colors, lights, and shapes in the jungle; in the undergrowth, in the vines, in the grasses and among the giant ferns: in the trees, among the banyan, the mahoganies, and the banana: and in the exotic blooms that appeared overnight in the greenness.
But color came into its own in the South Pacific when a man left the ground and climbed into the air. From the air, the brilliant hues of the South Seas are laid out as upon a carpet. Every shade of blue from azure to indigo, the deep purples, the sandy browns, the emerald greens, and the chalk whites, all of these fringe the coral islands and ring the atolls. From the air the tropical sunsets cast their yellow and orange lights across the sky in an eerie vividness, reflecting their tints on the billowy clouds strewn along the horizon. From the air, the white coral runways split apart the jungle green, and, in the moonlight, are like strips of silver in a deep green setting.
The combat record of the Thirteenth is no less colorful than the surroundings in which it operated. Units of the Jungle Air Force participated in thirteen campaigns: Guadalcanal, Northern Solomons, Bismarck Archipelago, Eastern Mandates, Central Pacific, Western Pacific. New Guinea, Southern Philippines, Luzon, China, Air Combat Borneo, Ryukyus, and Air Offensive Japan.
Fighters that later were to become part of the Thirteenth stood guard in Australia in the critical days of early 1942, when the Japanese penetration along New Guinea threatened the continent down under. Fighters that were later to become part of the Jungle Air Force participated in the first offensive against the Japanese; they helped the Marines and Army ground forces drive the enemy from Guadalcanal, just as they .helped Marine aircraft and Navy surface vessels destroy the “Tokyo Express,” which time and again sailed down the “Slot” to bring reinforcements to Guadalcanal. Fighters and bombers patrolled and carried out searches to protect the supply lines from Tongatabu and the Fijis to New Caledonia and the Solomons.
B25 medium bombers, in a strike against Kahili, carried out the first parafrag mission in the South Pacific. Equally brilliant was the shooting down of Admiral Yamamoto. In one of the most perfectly executed missions of the war, a small group of fighters knocked the Japanese celebrity from the skies as he was preparing to land at Kahili, to be received by an admiring throng. Both fighters and bombers, furthermore, helped to prepare the way for landings at Munda and on Bougainville.
Although the Fifth Air Force had struck Rabaul time and again in 1942 and 1943, it remained for Liberators of the Thirteenth to deal the knockout blow to the great Japanese bastion, the main enemy air base and supply center of the South Pacific. The heavies traveled outside their own area of operations to hit Tarawa, Truk, Woleai, Yap and Palau in the Central Pacific, and Batavia in the China-Burma-India Area. By pounding Truk, Woleai, Yap, and Palau, they secured an air blockade in the Caroline Islands to help to protect amphibious landings at Hollandia and Saipan. B-24s, in more than one daring strike against Balikpapan and Lutong, damaged oil installations, and curtailed production.
By bombing Japanese airstrips in the Netherlands Indies and the Central Philippines, the heavies assisted by the fighters, provided support for the Leyte campaign. Thirteenth Liberators, pursuing a major element of the Japanese fleet during the great naval battle that followed the landings on Leyte sank a Japanese cruiser in the Sulu Sea. The first fighter group to land and operate from Luzon since the fall of the Philippines was from the Thirteenth Air Force. Striking from Lingayen, the group gave support to the Sixth Army in its drive for Manila.
The Thirteenth acted as the assault air force for the Eighth Army, as it extended American power through the Philippine Archipelago: at Palawan, at Zamboanga, at Panay, at Negros, at Cebu and at Mindanao. The Thirteenth, although technically acting in support of Australia’s First Tactical Air Force, was in fact the assault air force for the amphibious operation of the Australian Army on Borneo. The Thirteenth gave support to Filipino guerrillas. Both fighters and bombers played their role in neutralizing fields, shooting down planes, blasting supply areas, as well as destroying shipping, in the campaign to liberate the Philippines and Borneo, just as they had done in the campaign to achieve victory in the Solomons.
As the Thirteenth was preparing to initiate its next great offensive, the attack from Okinawa, Liberators hit Formosa, B-25s -Indochina, and Snoopers - Java, Korea and Kyushu. The longest flight ever made by B-24s in strike formation was made in a mission by Snoopers from Palawan to Batavia and return; and P38s set a record in flying from the Philippines to Singapore and Borneo. It was during this interim period, when the Thirteenth was stretching its arm still farther, getting ready for future operations, that the atomic bomb was dropped in Japan and Russia entered the war; within a few days, the Japanese surrendered.
The Thirteenth is colorful, finally, as a fighting organization. It counts among its units the first Medical Air Evacuation Squadron organized by the Army Air Forces. The Thirteenth was the first among Army Air Forces to develop, in combat, radar bombing with B-24s. It organized PBY air-sea rescue squadrons to a high degree of efficiency, and went to sea with a small fleet of emergency rescue boats. It acted as a strategic as well as a tactical air force. Its operations were directed by Admirals and Marine Generals as well as by Air Force Generals; it was under the overall command, in turn, of the Navy and the Army.
From beginning to end. the history of the Thirteenth was very much a history of teamwork. Not only was it a history of ground men, sweating, improvising, and doing much with little, to keep planes flying for air crews. Not only was it an organization of many units, working together over many islands, separated by great distances. It was also an organization that worked with other armed services of the United States and with many allies. It worked with the Navy, Marine and Army ground forces; it worked with New Zealanders, Australians, British, Free French, Dutch, Filipinos, and with friendly natives.
Although the Thirteenth Air Force was not founded until January 1943, its origins reach back almost to the beginning of the Japanese war. Units that later became part of the Thirteenth were dispatched to the Pacific early in 1942, to help stem the Japanese drive toward Australia, which was advancing with lightning speed.
The Dutch, Australians, and New Zealanders were ill-prepared, to take air power alone, for war with Japan. In December 1941, the Australians had 491 aircraft of all types. The Royal New Zealand Air Force had only 11 combat planes available outside New Zealand, and 67 within. Their force barely totaled 10,000 officers and men, and lacked even training planes. There were operational air bases at Vila, Tulagi, Rabaul, New Caledonia, Fijis, and Port Moresby. The Japanese quickly seized the bases at Tulagi and Rabaul in the early months of 1942. At best, the outer chain of airfields could serve as little more than a reconnaissance line to observe Japanese air and naval movements.
The Japanese war broke upon the Pacific with all the violence and suddenness of a tropical thunderstorm. The crippling blow dealt the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941, was followed by the seizure of Guam and Wake: communications were cut between America and Southeastern Asia. The Japanese were not long in striking the Philippines, which stood on their southern flank. Luzon was invaded 10 December; and the outnumbered American and Filipino troops were soon forced to retreat to Bataan. By New Year’s Day the enemy had entered Manila; the city fell the following day. The Japanese tidal wave swept on with only an eddy about Bataan and Corregidor.
Eighteen days after the fall of Manila, the Japanese were softening up Rabaul in New Britain; on 23 January, Rabaul was in the hands of the Japanese. What was to be the principal advanced operational base of the enemy in the South and Southwest Pacific was soon under construction. The Japanese campaign in Southeastern Asia proceeded at an even faster pace. Japan struck Hong Kong in China, invaded Thailand, and made surprise landings on Malaya, all on the same day that they hit Pearl Harbor. The sinking of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse by Japanese air attacks was a turning point in the campaign. The Japanese gained complete control of Malaya except for Singapore by 31 January 1942; after a short siege, Singapore fell on 15 February 1942. The attack on Burma opened early in January from Japan’s Thailand bases; Rangoon was taken 8 March, and a few days later Mandalay. With the withdrawal of British, Indian and Chinese forces over the frontier of India, Burma was under control of the enemy by 6 May.
The way had been paved for an attack on the Netherlands East Indies, the richest prize of all. The Japanese steam roller overran Borneo, Timor, Celebes, and part of New Guinea by 23 January 1942. In the battle of the Java Sea, on 27 February, the Japanese defeated Allied naval forces, thus removing the last obstacle to their conquest of Java and Sumatra; they landed on Java the next day. By 9 March, they had control of all of the possessions of the Dutch East Indies, with their teaming millions and their wealth of rubber, tin, quinine and tungsten.
At the same time that the Japanese were overrunning Malaya, Burma and the Dutch East Indies, they were busy protecting their eastern flank, as they made ready to isolate Australia from America. They struck at the Bismarcks, thrust into New Guinea, and penetrated into the Solomons: they occupied Rabaul in New Britain, and Kieving in New Ireland, and Kieta in Bougainville. During the latter part of January; they occupied Gasmata in New Britain, and Finschhafen in New Guinea. Early in February, they made landings at Lae and Salamaua in New Guinea, early in March; they landed at Faisi in the Shortland Islands on the last day of March, and Buka on Bougainville the first day of April; and they occupied Manus in the Admiralty on 7 April.
For four months the Japanese had taken the initiative and set the pace as they drove toward their objectives, India and Australia. The enemy technique of conquest was clear. Land, sea, and air forces were coordinated in a triphibious game of leapfrog, played for the possession of airfields. Hostile planes smashed air and surface opposition, destroyed installations at the focal point of attack, and cut supply lines. Then transports, screened by warships, moved to the objective. Surface ships shelled the target area; following the bombardment, specially trained landing forces rushed ashore. Immediately after they secured control of the area, their engineers built an airstrip and prepared for the next leap. The pace of the Japanese offensive was almost breathless; in four months the enemy had taken Hong Kong, swept over Malaya, Thailand, Burma, the Philippines, Dutch East Indies, Bismarcks, Admiralties, and had established positions in Southeastern New Guinea and the Solomons. Australia was threatened from three directions: from the Netherlands East Indies; from southeastern New Guinea; and from the Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomons.
The Japanese prepared for new thrusts. They consolidated their position in Rabaul; from its two airdromes as many as 53 planes were operating by the beginning of May. At the same time, their position in New Guinea had been strengthened; Lae and Salamaua were being used as shipping centers, and airfields in the area were supporting almost as many planes as Rabaul. The Japanese were ready to strike again.
They sailed into Tulagi Harbor, chief port and government seat of the British Solomon Islands, on 3 May; and, although attacked by U. S. planes from the Yorktown, on the following day, they managed to secure their position. The landing on Tulagi, which was to be followed by a landing on Guadalcanal two months later, pointed to one thing: the strangulation of Australia through possession of a strategic blockade, consisting of the New Hebrides, New Caledonia, the Fijis and New Zealand. With this island chain in Japanese hands, along with the Dutch East Indies and New Guinea, the enemy could consolidate his enormous gains and deal with Australia at will. But the Japanese needed one more foothold in New Guinea: Port Moresby, at the southwestern tip of the great island. On the same day that they put troops ashore on Tulagi, the Japanese made a strong bid for Port Moresby. An enemy striking force of battleships, carriers, and troop transports was sailing for the objective, when it was intercepted by American ships in Louisiade Gulf.
The historic battle of the Coral Sea took place 7-8 May; it was notable for the fact that for the first time in history rival surface forces did not exchange a single shot. The battle between the aircraft carriers was a decisive victory for the American fleet. The Japanese suffered heavy losses and retired; they had received their first major setback of the war. The drive for Australia had been checked. Japanese aggression had reached its zenith in the Pacific war; from that date on, Japanese power entered into a decline.
The threat to Australia, as to the American west coast, was reduced still further by the battle of Midway, which occurred almost a month later, 3-6 June. Amassing the greatest concentration of naval strength yet to be assembled by the Japanese in the Pacific, the enemy prepared to invade Midway and Dutch Harbor. His loss of 4 carriers, 2 heavy cruisers. 3 destroyers and 275 planes, as well as 2 battleships, 3 heavy and 1 light cruisers seriously damaged, against our losses of 1 carrier, 10 destroyers and 150 planes, restricted the power of the enemy to take the offensive. Although turned back in their attempt to reach Port Moresby, in the battle of the Coral Sea, the Japanese turned to a land offensive. They landed at Buna and Gona, on the east coast of New Guinea, 22 July, with a bold plan to march over the Owen Stanley mountains and capture Port Moresby.
The Japanese made rapid progress, reaching within approximately 30 miles of their objective before they were stopped. General Kenney concentrated his air power against enemy supply lines from Buna to Kokoda. Through his air offensive and the magnificent fighting of Australian troops, the Japanese threat to the American base at Port Moresby was stopped.
ALTHOUGH in retrospect the tide had turned with the battle of Midway, it was not clear at the time that the Japanese had shot their greatest offensive bolt. In spite of the victory in the Coral Sea and at Midway, the Japanese still enjoyed sea and air supremacy in the South Pacific. In the spring of 1942, invasion was expected almost daily in New Caledonia. The mission of American forces was to protect communications between America and Australia. Our forces were on the strategic defensive.
Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley, who was the first Commander of the South Pacific Area, received orders from the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), in the spring of 1942, to maintain the defensive with a view to an offensive in the future when our strength could at last be built up.
Prior to the preparations for the campaign in the Lower Solomons, the Army Air Forces had assigned two medium bombardment and three fighter squadrons to the South Pacific to assist small Army garrison forces in the defense of the island stepping-stones to Australia.
The 70th Fighter Squadron arrived in the Fiji Islands from the United States late in January 1942. The 67th Fighter Squadron reached New Caledonia two months later via Australia. The 68th Fighter Squadron did not arrive in Tongatabu until May after spending more than two months in Australia.
The ground echelons of the 69th and 70th Medium Bombardment Squadrons left Australia in May 1942 for New Caledonia and the Fiji Islands respectively. The flying echelons had not completed their training in the United States at the time, and were further delayed in Hawaii by the Battle of Midway in June, not reaching the area until June and July.
No heavy bombardment units were available for assignment to the South Pacific Area during this period because of AAF commitments in other theaters. Because of the obvious need for long range reconnaissance and bombing, the 11th Bombardment Group in Hawaii and the 19th Bombardment Group in Australia were designated mobile units to be moved to any point in the South Pacific in case of an emergency. During the last week of July 1942, the 11th Bombardment Group arrived in the South Pacific to participate in the Lower Solomons campaign.
Thus, at the time the American offensive was launched against the Japanese at Guadalcanal and Tulagi, the AAF had only one heavy bombardment group, two medium bombardment squadrons, and three fighter squadrons in the entire South Pacific. Because of the severity of the Lower Solomons campaign, the AAF in the South Pacific was authorized to increase their combat strength. In the fall of 1942, the 347th Fighter Group was formed to include the fighter squadrons in the area, the 67th, 68th, and 70th, and the newly activated 339th. Before the end of the year, the 5th Bombardment Group and the 12th and 44th Fighter Squadrons of the Seventh Air Force had been assigned to AAF South Pacific and were actually operating in the area.
Prior to the Guadalcanal offensive, AAF units in the South Pacific were employed in a purely defensive role. Their principal mission in this connection was sea search in order to prevent any surprise attacks against the key bases along the shipping route to Australia. No enemy bases were within range of the medium bombers and fighters based in the area.
Late in July, Marine and Naval forces were mobilized in New Zealand for the Tulagi-Guadalcanal operation. Preliminary air plans called for extensive scouting by land-based aircraft. Units later to become a part of the Thirteenth played an active part; the 69th Bombardment Squadron (M) and the 67th Fighter Squadron were directed to search sectors northwest of Plaines Des Gaiacs, in central New Caledonia, to a depth of 400 miles.
On 7 August 1942, the Marines of the 1st Division hit the beaches at Tulagi and Guadalcanal. Air support was furnished by carrier aircraft. The carriers retired on the 9th leaving the embattled Marines without effective air support until the 20th, when a squadron of Marine Grumman fighters and another of Douglas dive bombers arrived. On 22 August, 5 short range P-400s of the 67th Fighter Squadron made the long hop from Espiritu Santo to be the first Army planes at Guadalcanal. More P-400s followed.
The 67th came in at the height of the Japanese aerial counteroffensive.
The pilots of the P-400s soon discovered that their planes were not cut out for high level interception, and they began furnishing ground support. In the words of Major General A. A. Vandegrift, Commander of the Marines, “their armament and the zeal and fine training of the pilots enabled them to undertake ground support missions which were to contribute as materially, if not as spectacularly, to the defense of Guadalcanal.”
In September the Japanese redoubled their efforts to blast American troops off the island and to put in reinforcements. The “Tokyo Express”, which was made up of fast enemy naval vessels, continually attempted to reinforce and supply Guadalcanal at night but proved inadequate. Before large transports could be brought in, our air and naval power had to be crippled.
Japanese surface forces concentrated their attacks on Henderson. They shelled the field on the night of 14 October, for 1 hour and 20 minutes, leaving only 1 bomber and 10 fighters whole. Six large transports came in. The lone bomber sank one of these. SBDs were flown in, and with the help of the 11th Bombardment Group’s B17s, they fired 4 of the beached transports and damaged the 5th, but not until they had disgorged an estimated 16,000 troops.
Frequent shelling of Henderson Field by the Japanese continued, as well as daily air attacks.
The primary mission of all American aircraft was to stop the “Tokyo Express.” Although the crisis in the Guadalcanal operation came toward the end of October when the enemy was driven back after his major land assault against Henderson Field and was forced to withdraw a battered naval force from the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, 26 October, the “Express” continued to run. But it never again was able to land enough forces to threaten our hold on the island. The decisive naval battle which ended all Japanese hopes of conquering the islands was the Battle of Guadalcanal, which took place 13-15 November.
The Americal Division, which had reinforced the Marines, 13 October, for critical battles during the remainder of the month, relieved the Marines 9 December. Under Major General Patch, the Americal Division assisted by the 25th under Major General J. Lawton Collins, began an offensive to drive the Japanese from the island. The enemy was completely beaten by 9 February.
It was not until the 11th Bombardment Group arrived in the South Pacific in July 1942, that the AAF could engage in offensive operations. Such operations were launched under the most trying conditions immediately after the arrival of the Group. Even before the arrival of the ground crews, the 11th was flying 710 nautical miles from Efate, in the New Hebrides Islands, on search and photographic missions over the Tulagi-Guadalcanal-Gavutu area.
Before the Marine landings at Guadalcanal and Tulagi, the 11th Group was designated a task force which was to hit the landing areas with maximum force, from 31 July through 6 August, and to continue its normal reconnaissance activity. During this period the 11th Group flew 56 bombing sorties and 22 reconnaissance missions. After 1 August, the planes were able to return to base via the new field at Espiritu Santo. The headquarters of the 11th Group was moved to Espiritu Santo soon after the field became operational. Because of limited facilities at forward bases at Efate and Espiritu Santo, a considerable part of the aircraft strength had to be dispersed on fields in New Caledonia and in the Fiji Islands. Daily search missions were flown from all bases.
Between the pre-landing assault on Tulagi and Guadalcanal, in August, and mid-November 1942, when Henderson Field became available for heavy bomber operations, the mission of the 11th was primarily reconnaissance of sea areas. With the exception of occasional strikes against enemy bases, bombing missions were limited to enemy surface units that came within range. A notable target of this type presented itself on 24 August, when a large Japanese task force, in an attempt to retake Guadalcanal, was defeated in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. The 11th Group participated in this battle with Navy and Marine aircraft and with surface units.
After moving to Henderson Field, the Group’s range was extended to the northernmost Solomons, thus facilitating attacks against a number of important enemy bases, such as Munda, Shortland-Faisi, Kahili, and Buka. A further increase in our heavy bomber operations from Guadalcanal was subsequently made possible by the construction of two additional bomber strips near Koli Point, about 10 miles east of Henderson Field.
Units of the 5th Bombardment Group had begun moving into the South Pacific in September 1942. Their operations followed the pattern of the 11th Group, being limited for the most part to sea search until they were moved to Guadalcanal, within effective range of the enemy bases.
In the fall of 1942, Lieutenant General Millard F. Harmon, Commanding General of United States Army Forces in the South Pacific Area, became increasingly conscious of the need for creating an air force in the theater in order to centralize control of the diverse and scattered Army Air Force units which had been operating in the South Pacific. The War Department authorized the establishment of the Thirteenth Air Force, which was activated on 13 January 1943.
Brigadier General Nathan F. Twining, relieved as General Harmon’s Chief of Staff, assumed command of the new Air Force on the same day, and immediately set up headquarters at Espiritu Santo. AAF units were assigned to the Thirteenth: the 5th and 11th Bombardment Groups (H), the 69th and 70th Bombardment Squadrons (M), the 347th Fighter Group, the 12th and 44th Fighter Squadrons, and the 13th Troop Carrier Squadron.
With Army, Navy, Marine and Royal New Zealand aircraft all operating in the area, there was need, from the very beginning, for coordination. This was achieved through the principle of “the unity of command”, which gave tactical control over an area to the preponderant armed service, but which left control over discipline, administration, and training to the subordinate service. Thus all air operations in the South Pacific Area were placed under Admiral Ghormley’s Commander of Air, South Pacific, known as COMAIRSOPAC. The same principle was applied to smaller geographical areas within the area through the establishment of island air commanders. The most important air commander and the one most closely connected with the control of Thirteenth Air Force operations came to be known as COMAIRSOLS: Commander Air Solomons.
COMAIRSOLS was directly responsible to COMAIRSOPAC. The command was eventually to rotate among leading Army, Navy and Marine airmen. The effect of this system of control of operations was to deprive Thirteenth Air Force Headquarters of operational control of its tactical units so long as they remained in the South Pacific.
The Air Force was activated without a service command. A number of service units present in the theater were assigned directly to the Thirteenth Air Force Headquarters, but for the most part Army Air Force service units remained under the control of the island commanders until the middle of 1943, when they were assigned to the XIII Air Force Service Command which had been activated in April.
Tactical aircraft of the Thirteenth were not suited entirely for the operations expected of them. The 5th and 11th were using B17s which were not as well suited to the vast distances of the Pacific as the B24. The medium bombardment squadrons were only beginning to replace their B26s with B25s. Two of the fighter squadrons were using P40s, three were flying P39s, and during the first half of the year, only one, the 339th, was equipped with what was considered the best fighter in the theater, the P38. As a result the bombers were compelled to rely to a great extent upon Navy and Marine fighters for cover.
The war against the Japanese in the Pacific Area required perhaps a greater degree of coordination of land, sea and air forces than in any other area, for the war in the Pacific was essentially amphibious. Strong island bases had to be established from which air, sea, and land offensives could be launched into enemy territory. In order to carry out this task, it was necessary to achieve air and sea supremacy in the area.
The mission of the Thirteenth Air Force was to provide land based air power, in cooperation with Marine air units, with the Navy. and with the Fifth Air Force, in the assault against the enemy from the Solomons through the Hyukus campaigns. Army Air Force units that were sent out to the South Pacific early in the war, as well as the Thirteenth Air Force, were under the operational control of the Commander South Pacific (COMSOPAC), who was a Navy officer. During the SOPAC period, the Thirteenth was the air assault and supporting air force for Navy and Marine air units, and for Ground Forces.
After transfer to the Southwest Pacific, the Thirteenth came into its own and exercised operational control over its fighter and bomber squadrons. In the initial part of this period, its role was to support the Fifth Air Force as the Sixth Army drove up the New Guinea coast through Morotai and into Leyte. Air support was also furnished the Navy and Central Pacific forces during this period. In the Visayan and Mindanao Campaigns, the Thirteenth was designated the air assault force and worked in close coordination with the Eighth Army in securing the Central and Southern Philippines. During this period the Thirteenth continued to furnish support to the Fifth Air Force in the Luzon Campaign. Although the Thirteenth was assigned near the end of the war the task of supporting the Australian Imperial Forces and the RAAF Command in the Borneo campaigns, it was by and large the assault air force for this operation. It also should be pointed out that throughout the entire war much effort was devoted to the continuing mission of sea search, sea blockade, and the destruction of enemy shipping within the Air Force’s area of responsibility.
ORGANIZED enemy resistance on Guadalcanal came to an end 9 February 1943. In spite of our maximum air effort, the Japanese managed to evacuate a large part of their remaining forces on Guadalcanal during the first week in February. The enemy reaction to the loss of Guadalcanal was the rapid development of new and heavy defenses in the Northern Solomons. It was evident from the Japanese air strength in the Solomons and Bismarcks that the enemy contemplated more than defensive warfare. While continuing to strengthen their positions in the middle and upper Solomons, they did their best to retard our development of Guadalcanal. Large scale enemy air attacks against our installations on the island and shipping offshore continued until the middle of the year.
One of the largest raids came on 7 April when 50 Japanese bombers escorted by 48 fighters made a night attack on shipping off Guadalcanal. The enemy lost 37 planes to Allied fighters in the attempt. The P38s proved their worth as high altitude night fighters when 4 of them shot down 7 of 11 Zeros contacted at 35,000 feet. One of the most spectacular feats of the war in the Pacific occurred, 16 June, when Yamamoto, perhaps Japan’s most distinguished admiral, was shot down near Kahili, off the southeast coast of Bougainville by 16 fighters of the 339th Squadron, Thirteenth Air Force. In June, the enemy brought his offensive against Guadalcanal to an end with three large scale raids. The enemy withdrew from each of these with heavy losses. On 7 June, he lost 23 planes, on 12 June 25, and in the climactic raid on 16 June when he sent over about 120 fighters and bombers, he lost 77 to Allied fighters and 7 more to antiaircraft fire. During the last raid the fighters of the Thirteenth Air Force gave a particularly good account of themselves. shooting down 39 enemy planes while losing only one of the 43 planes they had in the air. It was during this engagement that the quickest record for kills was made in the Thirteenth; 2nd Lt. Marry J. Shubin shot down 5 Japanese fighters in 45 minutes.
While the war of attrition took place over Guadalcanal, COMAIRSOLS conducted an offensive against Japanese bases in the Middle Solomons. The newest and southernmost of these were Munda airfield on New Georgia, and Vila airdrome on nearby Kolombangara. Allied bombers spearheaded by the heavies of the Thirteenth Air Force concentrated on these fields in such force that by the end of March the Japanese discontinued basing aircraft there. Fortunately the enemy had been caught in the Middle Solomons before he could build unimportant bases. His maximum air strength at Vila and Munda was estimated at 35 planes in February. It was necessary to continue surveillance and occasionally to bomb the New Georgia airfields, however, until their capture.
The major bombing effort after March was directed against Upper Solomons fields at Kahili and Ballale and other installations in the Bougainville Shortland area. Attacks on these objectives had begun in the latter part of 1942 with the 11th Bombardment Group strike on Kahili in November. The bombing effort was now intensified in preparation for the coming offensive thrust into New Georgia. In May and June, 182 tons of bombs were dropped on Bougainville-Shortland targets almost entirely by heavy bombers. On 21 February 1943 our ground forces landed in the Russell Islands, a short distance west of Guadalcanal. Work was immediately begun on two airfields, suitable for fighters and light bombers, both of which were in operation by the middle of the year.
During February 1943, the 11th Bombardment Group had been returned to Hawaii and replaced by two squadrons of the 307th Bombardment Group, equipped with P24s. In June, two more squadrons of the 307th and two additional medium bombardment squadrons reached the area. The latter, with two medium squadrons already present, formed the 42nd Bombardment Group. During the first half of 1943, medium bombardment squadrons gradually were able to replace their B26s with B-25s, a more suitable aircraft for the theater.
Obviously the goal of the South Pacific forces was a drive through the Solomons to Rabaul, the keystone of Japanese strength in the South and Southwest Pacific. Originally Allied war plans contemplated the taking of Rabaul in a combined operation of South and Southwest Pacific forces. It was not until later, after Rabaul had been neutralized from the air by South Pacific forces, that it was decided to bypass it. Each phase in the drive northwestward was dictated by the need for additional air bases in order to place our striking force within range of the enemy’s gradually retreating air power. The first step after the completion of the Guadalcanal campaign and establishing air bases in the Russell Islands was the invasion of New Georgia.
The campaign began on 30 June 1943, with a landing on Rendova Island, preparing the way for the seizure of the Japanese air base at Munda. The Thirteenth Air Force effort was greater than ever before in its history. The tonnage of bombs dropped in July was greater than that dropped during the entire four months preceding. Its principal target was the important Japanese air base at Kalili on Bougainville, where the enemy had managed to maintain an air strength of approximately 100 planes. Vila, Munda and Ballale were also hit during the period. The operation ended, 5 August 1943, with the capture of Munda airdrome. In addition to denying the enemy the use of its airdromes, the Thirteenth Air Force destroyed 66 Japanese planes, sank an enemy cruiser and destroyer, 6 cargo ships and 2 other vessels during the period.
Immediately after the capture of Munda, all Allied aircraft in the South Pacific were employed in paving the way for landing at Empress Augusta Bay, 1 November 1943. General Twining who had become COMAIRSOLS, 25 July 1943, was the first army officer to hold this important post. When his tour ended, 19 November, Allied forces were established at Empress Augusta Bay. The major air mission was the neutralization of enemy air strength in the northern Solomons, which was based principally at Buka, Kahili and Ballale. General Millard Harmon was doubtful in September whether this could be accomplished by the South and Southwest Pacific Air Forces from fields which they then occupied. The task was accomplished, however, because of the rapid development of airfields in the Munda area, and the vigor of 113th Air Force strikes.
On the day of the landing, all Japanese fields in the northern Solomons were unserviceable, and enemy aircraft strength in the area had dwindled from 130 planes early in October to 31 by D-day. By 13 November, no Japanese aircraft were sighted on enemy bases in the area. By early October, the 67th Fighter Squadron was based at Munda, the 70th at nearby Ondonga. the 69th, 75th and 390th Bombardment Squadrons (M) were in the Russell Islands, and the 44th Fighter Squadron at Guadalcanal. The strength of the 5th and 307th Bombardment Groups (H) was divided between Guadalcanal and Espiritu Santo. During September and October alone, aircraft of the Thirteenth Air Force dropped 1800 tons of bombs on targets in Bougainville.
The landings on Bougainville had been preceded by landings in the Treasury Islands, south of Bougainville, on 27 October. Airfields at both Stirling Island in the Treasury Group and Torokina on Bougainville would permit fighter cover for the projected campaign to reduce Rabaul. Torokina fighter strip was completed and ready for operations 10 December 1943, while Stirling Field did not become operational until early in January the following year.
Rabaul had been hit repeatedly throughout the greater part of 1942 and 1943 by the Fifth Air Force. On Armistice Day 1943, the Thirteenth joined the Fifth Air Force and Navy carrier planes in an attack against shipping in Rabaul harbor. But for the Thirteenth and COMAIRSOLS, the Rabaul campaign did not begin in earnest until late in December 1943. Rabaul was by far the strongest and most important Japanese base in the Southwest Pacific. According to Navy estimates, 400,000 tons of shipping went in and out of this harbor in December 1943. Throughout the Solomons campaign, it had served as the rear base for the Japanese air strength, which had reached a peak of 367 planes by the end of August 1943.
The all-out attack to knock out Rabaul got under way 23 December 1943. From that date until the end of March. Thirteenth Air Force B-24s, B-25s. and P38s, along with all other aircraft at the disposal of COMAIRSOLS. were directed against the Rabaul area. The Japanese defended fiercely, pouring in fighter aircraft as the campaign progressed. It must have been apparent to the enemy that he was losing his planes and pilots at a faster rate than he could afford. Nevertheless, he refused to withdraw from the battle till the American carrier strike at Truk, during mid-February, forced him to rein force against the threat there. Between 19 February and the end of the month, most of the remaining Japanese air strength was withdrawn to the Truk strong point. The few aircraft left at Rabaul rarely attempted an interception. Thus, it may be said that the aerial battle of Rabaul had come to an end by the last of February 1944. During the battle COMAIRSOLS aircraft destroyed 705 enemy planes, of which 266 were shot down by the Thirteenth Air Force. A large proportion of the enemy planes were destroyed by Navy, Marine, and Royal New Zealand Air Force aircraft, which provided most of the fighter cover.
The enemy used his best Navy pilots and aircrafts in his attempt to stop the American advance through the Solomons. In the battle of attrition that followed, the Japanese lost heavily. According to statements of Japanese naval officers after VJ Day, the high rate of loss of experienced pilots in the Solomons and over Rabaul weakened their Navy air force more than any other operation of the war.
In the first three months of 1944, the Thirteenth Air Force, which was under the command of Major General Hubert R. Harmon (from 7 January), dropped nearly 5,000 tons of high explosives on the Rabaul area. The five airfields bore the brunt of the attack, but supply areas, shipping installations and the town itself were also hard hit. More than 640 tons were dropped on targets in New Ireland, principally the airdrome at Borpop, and approximately 34 tons were dropped on shipping in New Britain and New Ireland waters. The attacks on Rabaul and New Ireland during this period aided the Allied invasion of Green Island, 15 February, and the Admiralty Islands, 29 February, both of which were soon to be built into important air bases. With Rabaul neutralized, the Thirteenth’s heavies turned their attention to targets in the Caroline Islands, leaving the medium bombers and fighters, together with other COMAIRSOLS planes, to continue the neutralization of Rabaul.
In August 1943. the Thirteenth Air Force introduced a new weapon into the war. At that time the first LAB B24 (low altitude bomber) flew an anti shipping mission in the South Pacific. This aircraft was equipped with a new type radar which enabled accurate bombing of ships from low altitudes at night, even under instrument conditions. “The Snoopers”, as these planes were called, were eminently successful. Prior to the introduction of the LAB B24, the Japanese had been able to make fast shipping runs at night to their Solomons bases with relative safety. They lost a number of destroyers and other fast vessels to the Snoopers before they realized that night traffic had been closed to them as well as day. Later the Snoopers played an important part in the isolation of Rabaul by preventing fast shipping runs into the harbor at night. Eventually enough LAB B-24s reached the area to form the 868th Bombardment Squadron.
WITH the neutralization of the Rabaul and Kavieng area, the Thirteenth Air Force was prepared to enter upon a new phase of operations. It would help secure positions in New Guinea and the Netherlands Indies from which Allied Forces could launch an attack directly against the Philippines. Before turning, however, to assault Japanese positions in New Guinea and the Netherlands Indies, the Thirteenth took part in the Central Pacific campaign. Participation in the Central Pacific campaign served two main purposes: to aid the offensives in the Carolines and Marianas, and to neutralize the outer ring of islands protecting the western defenses of the Philippines.
Truk, Woleai, Yap and the Palau Islands, in the Carolines, were key bases in the outer ring flanking the approaches to Japan and the Philippines. All were vital shipping and supply centers. Still more significant, they formed links in an aerial chain connecting the Philippines, the Marianas and the Marshalls, a chain that gave Japanese airpower great flexibility and mobility in meeting Allied thrusts against the outer defenses of the Empire. Truk and Palau were perhaps the most important links in the vast Central Pacific.
The attacks on the Carolines were not uncoordinated blows in an aerial war of attrition, but part of a master plan of combined operations. They took place in a number of fairly well defined series, each of which had a different tactical purpose.
Large scale attacks on the Carolines began in the closing days of March 1944. The Thirteenth flew in support of Admiral Mitscher’s “Task Force 58”, which was steaming into position to hit Palau, while its carrier planes covered Yap, Woleai and Ulithi Islands. The job of the Thirteenth was to neutralize Truk, to prevent the Japanese from using air power to strike the Navy Task Force from the east. The Thirteenth worked with the Seventh, which hit Truk at night. Reconnaissance over the Truk group, 29 and 30 March, disclosed a total of 130 airplanes on Eton and Moen islands and in adjacent waters.
The first strike against Truk, on 29 March, was one of the most successful missions ever performed by the Thirteenth. It was the first land-based, daylight attack on this powerful enemy stronghold. It was the longest flight so far undertaken by the Air Force: the bombers flew, without fighter escort, nearly 1000 statute miles to the target, requiring 13 ½ hours for the round trip.
The Liberators of the 307th Bombardment Group (H), flying from Munda and from Guadalcanal, and staging through Green Island, delivered a heavy blow against the Japanese naval base, for which they were awarded a Presidential citation. They scored 200 direct hits on the target area. Thirty seven struck the concrete runway, rendering it unserviceable. Twenty-one hangars, shop buildings and warehouses were destroyed or severely damaged. The Japanese lost at least 80 planes: 49 enemy planes were destroyed on the ground; and in a bitter 45 minute fight with an estimated 75 enemy fighters, 31 were shot down in the air, 12 probably destroyed, and 10 damaged.
The strikes against Truk continued over a period of 5 days, from 29 March to 2 April; the 307th and 5th Groups destroyed 130 planes in the Truk area, virtually the entire air garrison at this key base. While the 307th and a number of “Snoopers” from the 866th Bombardment Squadron hit Truk through the greater part of April, the 5th moved up to Momole airfield in Los Negros, in the Admiralties, to get within range of new targets in order to drive deeper into the enemy defensive ring. The 5th Group, which was later joined by the 307th, traveled approximately 1000 miles from its Solomon Island base to reach its new home.
No advance was more significant tactically than the move to the Admiralties. Not only did the new base afford almost complete control of the Bismarck Sea and the approaches to Rabaul, Kavieng and the northeastern coast of New Guinea; it also brought the entire Caroline chain, Western New Guinea, and adjacent islands within range of heavy bombers. The Thirteenth Air Task Force (first one to be organized) was organized, under the command of Major General St. Clair Streett, to direct the heavies of the Thirteenth against targets in the new areas. The Task Force acted along with the Fifth Air Force, RAAF, and 7th Fleet Naval Air Units, which were permanently based at Cape Gloucester, New Britain.
The 5th Group, at Los Negros, was now in position to aid General MacArthur’s advance in New Guinea. Amphibious landings were scheduled at Hollandia and Aitape on the 22nd April. The 5th was assigned the task of knocking out Woleai, 690 miles northwest of Los Negros, in order to protect the northern flank of the Navy Task Force, which was supporting the landings. From Woleai Japanese search planes could watch the movements of the Task Force, and enemy fighters and bombers could harass it.
In a devastating series of bombings from 18 April to 1 May, Woleai was leveled. Two hundred forty-two Liberators dropped 140 tons on the island. On two occasions the Fifth fought their way through 40-45 enemy interceptors, leaving a trail of 20 sure kills, with 5 probables, while witnessing the destruction of 6 more planes on the ground. So complete was the reduction of Woleai that the Fifth Group received a presidential citation for the operation; thus the score was evened with their competitor, the 307th Group, which received a presidential citation for the attack on Truk. Concentrated attacks on the Carolines were discontinued until the end of May.
Although Hollandia was taken at almost no cost, and constituted a considerable advance along the coast of New Guinea, providing fighter cover for the next moves into enemy territory, there was insufficient space in the area for heavy bomber strips. It was necessary to seize advance operational bases of the enemy, in order to forward the drive to neutralize the southern approaches to the Philippines. Allied landings were made, in May, on Wakde and on Biak Islands, off the northern coast of New Guinea.
Biak, in the Schouten Islands, was a key base in a chain of enemy airfields that extended from the Philippines through the Moluccas, Schoutens, and down the northern coast of New Guinea. After the neutralization of the strong Japanese air base at Wewak, and the capture of Hollandia, the enemy made every effort to hold Biak. In the spring, the bases were being rushed to completion and the garrison was strongly reinforced. By the time of the Allied invasion, one airstrip had been completed and two were nearing completion. With Biak in Allied hands, bomber and lighter coverage could be extended still further over the areas of Western New Guinea, the Moluccas. and the Celebes.
The Thirteenth Air Task Force, whose main striking power consisted of the 5th and 307th Bombardment Groups (H) and the 868th Bombardment Squadron (H), was assigned the task of softening up the defenses of Biak preparatory to invasion. Commencing 4 May and continuing until D-day, the 27 May, the Task Force’s Liberators, operating from their newly acquired bases on Los Negros in the Admiralties, some 800 statute miles away, began the systematic destruction of the island’s defenses. Approximately 1500 tons were dropped on Japanese installations. Mokmer, the principal strip at Biak, was hit first, then bivouac and supply areas became the target. Finally, bombing was concentrated on Bosneck town and the beach defenses; on D-day, the assault was pressed until 3 minutes before the first wave of the 41st Division struck the beach.
Fifth Air Force fighters, based at Hollandia, escorted the Thirteenth’s Liberators for several days after they ran into enemy interceptors on the first two strikes, and the Fifth’s bombers joined in the D-day assault. But the Thirteenth was primarily the assault air force, with the Fifth playing a supporting role.
After the Biak landings, the heavies turned their attention back to the Carolines. This time their objective was to aid in the invasion of Saipan, which was to take place on 15 June. The Saipan operation was perhaps the most important yet undertaken in the Pacific. Air bases on Saipan would bring Tokyo within range of the Superfortress for the first lime.
The Thirteenth supported the Saipan operation by carrying out a series of strikes against Truk and Yap. From 28 May until 19 June, the main blows fell on Truk, principally on the Dublon supply and bivouac areas and on the air installations of Eten Island. A large Japanese task force, estimated at 40 or more ships, was sighted some distance north of Yap on the 19th of the month. While a long range aerial duel took place between this task force and our “Task Force 58”, which was also supporting Saipan operation, the Thirteenth’s Liberators were directed to attack any Japanese warships that might seek fuel or refuge in Yap Harbor.
Flying 1,023 miles, farther than they had ever flown before, the heavies were over Yap on the 22nd of June in search of warships. Finding none, they cut loose their bombs over Yap airdrome with devastating effect. The Japanese, caught completely by surprise, lost 19 planes on the ground and the runway was thoroughly post-holed. The Liberators made the long haul back to Yap each day for the next 6 days to pound the airdrome and the town, and to round out the third series of attacks on the Carolines.
In this series of strikes against Truk and Yap, from 28 May until 28 June, the Thirteenth Air Force dropped more than 1600 tons of high explosives. This third series cost the Japanese nearly as heavily in aircraft as did the first attacks on Truk. Liberator gunners claimed 90 enemy fighters destroyed, 1 probably destroyed, and 19 damaged in aerial combat, while bombardiers accounted for 21 aircraft of various types destroyed on the ground and 15 damaged. The Liberators did not escape unscathed. Thirteen were lost and 100 were damaged.
While the third series of attacks against the Carolines was underway, the most far-reaching changes took place in the command relationships and organization of the Thirteenth Air Force since its activation. The Air Force was transferred, 15 June 1944, from the jurisdiction of the South Pacific Commander, Admiral Halsey, to that of the Commander in Chief, Southwest Pacific Area, General MacArthur. The Air Force was transferred from the United States Army Force in the South Pacific Area, USAFISPA, to the United States Army Forces in the Far East, USAFFE. It was assigned to the newly created Far East Air Forces, and placed under the ultimate operational control of Allied Air Forces, SWPA.
The Thirteenth Air Task Force was dissolved on the same date, and Air Force Headquarters obtained immediate operational control of its heavy bombardment units stationed in the Admiralties. Thus, the Headquarters ceased to be purely administrative, and, for the first time in its history, became operational as well. Operational control of the Air Forces’ medium bombers and fighters, however, did not come under the Thirteenth until 30 September 1944; at this time, 15 June, it passed from COMAIRSOLS to COMAIRNORSOLS, who in turn was under the operational control of Allied Air Forces, SWPA. But these were not the only changes. The Air Force lost the 13th Air Depot Group, which was the only Depot Group it possessed, on 15 June 1944, to the Far East Air Service Command. No longer would the Thirteenth, through its XIII Air Service Command requisition technical supplies. These far-reaching changes brought with them a new Commanding General for the Air Force. Major General St. Clair Streett replaced Major General Hubert R. Harmon on 7 June 1944; General Harmon returned to the United States to become Commanding General of the Personnel Distribution Command.
Combat operations continued smoothly throughout the period of transition. Following the third series of attacks on the Carolines, the Thirteenth turned its attention to Noemfoor for a brief interlude. With Noemfoor’s 3 major airfields in Allied hands, a greater concentration of bombers could be used in support of the Philippine drive, and strategic Japanese oil resources in East Borneo could be brought within range of B-24s.
Softened up by a considerable number of bombings by the Fifth Air Force, the Thirteenth took part in a two day assault, on 30 June and 1 July, dropping 120 tons on Noemfoor, helping to prepare the way for invasion. Allied amphibious forces landed on the island, 2 July, to clear the way for the movement of Thirteenth Air Force bombers to Noemfoor in September.
Following the attack on Noemfoor, the heavies again concentrated effort on Yap. This fourth series of attacks on the Carolines was in support of the Allied return to Guam on 20 July, and the invasion of Tinian in the Marianas three days later. Beginning on 3 July and continuing daily, except for three days, until 23 July, 385 heavies hit Yap with 543 tons.
Yap lies within 525 statute miles of Guam and 300 of Palau. By successfully bombing the airstrip, while at the same time destroying supplies in Yap, the heavies could cut one of the normal routes for ferrying aircraft and transporting supplies between Guam and Palau, which the Japanese needed to support their troops in the Marianas.
The Japanese made a determined effort to defend Yap. Between bombings they labored long and hard to smooth the cratered runways. Each day, until near the end of the series, 15 to 25 eager interceptors were in the air. During the twenty day period, the unescorted Liberators destroyed 45 enemy fighters, probably destroyed 12 and damaged 23. Four Liberators were lost to air and ground fire, while 77 suffered various degrees of damage. The Yap series ended when the Liberators yielded the target to a carrier task force. The heavies struck out again at Yap from 2-10 August, to carry out a fifth series in the Carolines, cascading 250 tons on the already battered island. Following the last strike on Yap, the flight echelons of both the 5th and 307th Bombardment Groups began leaving Los Negros for a new base at Wakde, off the North Central coast of New Guinea, to place them in a better position to support the invasion of the Palau Islands and Morotai, which were to take place in September.
Support of the Palau Islands operation was given priority. The Palaus were no longer the powerful base that they had been, nevertheless, the Palaus in enemy hands constituted a serious threat to Allied invasion of the Philippines. The Palau Islands in Allied hands could serve as a stepping stone to the Philippines, as a base for heavy bombers, and as a strong Allied naval base.
While the 5th and 307th were on the move, the 868th Snoopers reached out more than 1,100 miles from Los Negros to hit the Palaus in nightly 2-plane attacks. On 25 August, the Liberators at Wakde were ready for operations. From 25 August to 5 September, the Wakde-based Liberators dropped 725 tons on the Palau Island targets in daylight attacks.
Interception was encountered on the first day only, when 8 enemy fighters succeeded in downing 1 Liberator while losing 2 of their own number. Ack ack damaged approximately 10% of the 371 Liberators making the attacks. Some were damaged by a new type of shell that exploded and shot out phosphorous streamers over a wide area.
On 6 September, a carrier task force moved in to do the final softening up for the invasion on 15 September, and the Thirteenth’s Liberators were released for operations against other targets.
During the entire Carolines campaign, from the first raid on Truk, 29 March 1944, through the last raid on Palau, 5 September 1944, the Thirteenth Air Force rained more than 4,800 tons of high explosives on Truk, Woleai, Yap, the Palau Islands, and lesser targets in the Carolines, in more than 2600 sorties. Vital installations in Truk, Woleai, and Yap were left as little more than burned-out ruins, while the Palau Islands, which had been blasted by the Fifth Air Force as well, were ripe for invasion. These were not bases to be yielded without a struggle. Japanese antiaircraft gunners sent up curtains of flak; more often than not skilled enemy pilots attacked the unescorted Liberators with machine gun fire and with phosphorous bombs. In aerial combat, Thirteenth Air Force Liberator gunners shot more than 250 enemy fighters from the Carolines’ skies. On the ground, 70 planes of all types were destroyed.
Since late March when the heavies began to strike new targets in the Carolines. Thirteenth Air Force fighters and medium bombers, together with other Solomons-based Allied planes, had continued to hit virtually the same targets that they had been hitting in January, February and March.
The Rabaul airfields remained a potential threat so long as the enemy retained the will to repair them. Day after day, through April, May, June and into July, the fighters and mediums kept these fields under attack to assure their continued neutralization. Supply areas, antiaircraft, and other installations in the Rabaul area were also hit. In the four months period, targets in the Rabaul area were hit with more than 2960 tons by the mediums and fighters. Liberator crews in training with the XIII Bomber Command Training Center added 302 tons to the destruction visited on the Rabaul area.
The Rabaul skies, once the scene of bitter aerial engagements, were clear of enemy fighters as our fighters, medium and heavy bombers went about their task of destruction. Concentrations of ack ack, however, reduced numerically from the earlier period but still to be reckoned with, remained in the area.
In the Bougainville-Buka area, the fighters and mediums dropped more than 1,050 tons of bombs from April through July, with Liberator crews in training adding another 50 tons. Fighters accounted for more than 750 tons. Supply and personnel areas were hardest hit with Buka, Bonis and Kahili airfields receiving minor attention.
By July, the Rabaul and Bougainville-Buka targets had reached the point of diminishing returns. The fighting days of the mediums and fighters in the Solomons had come to an end. As amphibious forces went into Sansapor on 30 July, ground personnel of the medium and fighter groups were on their way out of the Solomons, bound for Sansapor. The fighters and mediums were not to see action again until the end of August.
The final operation of the New Guinea Campaign was implemented on 30 July 1944, when the Sixth Army went ashore near Cape Sansapor in the Vogelkop and on Middelburg and Amsterdam Islands adjacent off shore. Brigadier General Earl W. Barnes, Commanding General of the XIII Fighter Command, was designated commander of a newly created Thirteenth Air Task Force which was the air arm of the Typhoon Task Force. The Thirteenth Air Task Force was comprised of the 18th and 347th Fighter Groups, a flight of the 419th Night Fighter Squadron, and the 42nd Medium Bombardment Group, and the 6th Service Group with attached units.
By the end of August and the first week of September both fighter groups were operational at the new bases of Middelburg Island and Mar Airdrome on Cape Sansapor. By 14 September the medium bombers were in action. As soon as these units moved into action they assumed the mission of supporting the Fifth Air Force in the Morotai Operation, scheduled for 15 September, by neutralizing enemy airdromes in Western New Guinea, Ceram, Boeroe, Kai and Halmahera Islands to furnish protection to the left flank of the advance. In this task the Thirteenth Air Task Force was aided by the 5th and 307th Heavy Bomb Groups based at Wakde and Noemfoor beginning 7 September and continuing until the 22nd, when they commenced preparation to make a series of “all-out” strikes against strategic petroleum targets in East Borneo.
The units of the Thirteenth Air Task Force continued their mission against enemy airdromes, and as these targets became neutralized, shifted their offensive to shipping in the Banda-Ceram-Moluccas-Halmahera Sea areas. In a relatively small area near Balikpapan, Dutch Borneo, huge industrial installations for refining crude oil with a yearly capacity of 7,000,000 barrels were located. It was a chief source of Japanese aviation high octane gasoline and lubricants. Also as a direct result of the heavy toll exacted from enemy shipping during the last six months, this area had become an important storage center for aviation gasoline and essential miscellaneous by-products. It was of great importance that this highly strategic target be reduced before the beginning of the Philippine campaign.
The Thirteenth Air Force was assigned the task of destruction of this target. Aided by Fifth Air Force heavies, the heavies of the 5th and 307th Bombardment Groups ran a series of five major strikes against this target during the period 30 September to 18 October 1944.
Planning for these strikes posed a difficult problem. The distance front the point of takeoff (Noemfoor) to the target area is roughly 1,080 nautical miles. Such a distance had never been flown by B24s on a combat mission in this theater. Considered by itself the length of flight was not an obstacle, but it became one if a bomb load of 2500 pounds or more was to be carried. Furthermore, enemy interceptors were to be expected not only over the target but also from some point near the Celebes, several hundred miles from the objective, which involved the problem of weight of adequate gunnery ammunition. Decision was made to fuel each aircraft with 3590 gallons of gasoline, load with 2500 pounds of bombs and 60% normal ammunition. This resulted in an average gross weight of 68,000 pounds.
The first two strikes, on 30 September and on 3 October, were unescorted. Enemy resistance was aggressive and prolonged with from 35 to 70 enemy fighters rising to intercept the raids in running battles lasting 45 minutes to an hour. While bombing results were excellent, the strikes were costly; 4 B-24s were lost on the first mission and 7 on the second. Of these, 5 were lost due to enemy aircraft, and 3 to heavy, intense and accurate anti-aircraft fire, while 3 were lost due to a combination of E/A and A/A.
Such losses necessitated fighter escort, which involved a flight of 2000 miles; in spite of this problem, however, the remaining three strikes were covered by Thirteenth and Fifth Air Force fighters operating from Sansapor and Morotai, with the result that no heavy bombers were lost, and bombing was accurate. Thirteenth Air Force fighters accounted for 2 enemy fighters destroyed, 1 probably destroyed and 1 damaged. Thirteenth Air Force Bombers shot down 30 fighters, got 5 probables and damaged 3. In the effective reduction of this important target, the Thirteenth put 209 heavy bombers over the target to drop a total of 262 tons of bombs.
ON 20 October, General Krueger’s Sixth Army landed on the sandy beaches of Leyte, and the campaign for the liberation of the Philippines began. The Thirteenth gave support to the Fifth Air Force with the primary mission of striking land targets in the Philippine Archipelago, reaching as far north as Manila. The familiar doctrine of denying the enemy his air power by destruction of hostile airfields was continued. Two days after the landings on Leyte, Thirteenth Liberators flew their first strike in support of ground action on Leyte, hitting Lahug Airdrome on Cebu Island. During the month of November, Thirteenth heavies pounded enemy airdromes in the Central Philippine Islands hitting installations at Negros, Cebu, Mactan and Palawan.
The Liberators of the Thirteenth, which flew their early strikes into the Central Philippines, were based at Noemfoor, although they staged through Morotai to hit their distant objectives. Missions from Noemfoor and Morotai were long and arduous. With still longer ones in view, such as strikes to the Manila area, the entire Bomber Command moved, early in November, to Morotai where they were joined by the 18th Fighter Group from Sansapor.
Flying cover for the Liberators, as well as flying separate sweeps over the Philippines, the P-38 pilots of the 18th Group for the first time in months found Japanese fighter planes in the skies. The fighter pilots ran up an impressive score of victories. The Japanese were using Ormoc on Leyte's west coast as their main port of supply to reinforce their troops on Leyte. During November and December, the P-38s struck hard at Japanese shipping in Ormoc Bay and surrounding waters, sinking troop laden transports and escort warships by low-level bombing and strafing attacks. In the month of November alone, approximately 208,200 tons of Japanese shipping were either sunk or damaged by Thirteenth bombers and fighters in the Philippines and Dutch Indies water.The ground war in the Philippines quickened with the landing on Mindoro Island, 15 December. During December, Thirteenth Air Force Liberators met the pace by dropping the greatest tonnage of explosives to date, and by flying a record number of strike sorties. The most vital target hit in support of the Mindoro landing was Puerto Princesa, Palawan, which was the connecting link between Japanese air power in Borneo and Asia and in the Central Philippines. Strikes by Liberators and Lightnings of the Thirteenth against Palawan again made it impossible for enemy aircraft based in the Netherlands East Indies and southeastern Asia to reinforce the declining Japanese air strength in the Philippines.
Preliminary blows, in September, by B-24s of the Fifth and Thirteenth had knocked out important targets in the Halmahera-Celebes area. The job of keeping airstrips in this area neutralized, while the heavies shifted to Philippine targets, was given to the 42nd Medium Bomb Group and the 18th and 347th Fighter Groups of the Thirteenth Air Task Force. Flying from their Sansapor bases, the B-25s and P-38s struck continually at enemy airdromes and installations in the Ceram-Ambon, Boeroe, Halmahera, and Celebes Islands, fire-bombing supply areas, knocking out scores of enemy planes on the ground, and keeping runways unserviceable by continual bombings. By denying the Japanese use of their Netherlands Indies airstrips, they were prevented from replenishing their dwindling Philippine air power by ferrying planes through from the Indies and Asiatic bases. It was on 22 November that the Thirteenth Air Force suffered the loss of its leading ace. Lieutenant Colonel Robert B. Westbrook of the 339th Fighter Squadron, who had shot down 20 Japanese fighters, was lost over Makassar Straight in an attack on a flak-boat.
The Sansapor force, however, was not sufficient to neutralize completely, all of the Indies bases from which the enemy was staging night bombing raids on Morotai; therefore, the Japanese forced the Thirteenth to divert occasionally its heavy bombers from the Philippines to the Celebes and Moluccas, in order to obviate the threat to the home base at Morotai. By the end of 1944, Japanese bases had been reduced to such an extent that the enemy could no longer launch effective raids against Morotai.
During the Philippine campaign, blockade of the Sulu Sea by squadrons of the Thirteenth was second in importance only to hitting land targets in the Philippines. In the war against Japanese naval power, Thirteenth Liberators were able on two different occasions to bring major units of the Japanese fleet under attack. On October 26, six days after the landing on Leyte, 27 heavies of the 307th Bomb Group took off from Noemfoor to strike at a Japanese naval task force in the Sulu Sea. Swinging into a wall of intense antiaircraft fire, the B-24s made their runs on the targets. Bombs bracketed both battleships while the ships engaged in violent evasive maneuvers. This was the first time in the Southwest Pacific theater that heavy bombardment squadrons had taken under attack major units of the enemy battle fleet deployed in battle formation. On the same day, 19 Liberators of the 5th Group attacked a Kuma-Natori Class cruiser in the Sulu Sea. Four direct hits were scored, sinking the enemy ship.
The 5th and 307th Groups teamed up again, on 16 November, to attack another major Japanese task force at Brunei Bay, Borneo. This force consisted of 14 naval ships including 3 battleships and 2 heavy cruisers. In spite of heavy damage done to the Liberators by the intense antiaircraft barrage sent up by the ships, a heavy cruiser was sunk. and a heavy cruiser was damaged.
By the end of 1944, Japanese air power in the Central Philippines had been crushed. In January 1945, a huge American task force steamed toward Lingayen Gulf to establish the first beachhead on Luzon. Heavies of the Thirteenth greeted the new year by striking into the heart of the Manila defensive ring. Nichols and Nielson Fields were heavily blasted, during the first week of January. Fragmentation bombs were used to knock out grounded enemy planes and to destroy maintenance facilities. After the Lingayen landing, on 9 January, Thirteenth Liberators shifted their targets to Japanese troop bivouac areas near Manila. Strikes of the Thirteenth in the Manila area effectively aided in paralyzing the movement of enemy reinforcements, which were to be sent against American ground forces speeding toward the city from the north.
Lightnings of the 18th Group landed at Lingayen on 16th January. The 18th was the first American fighter group to land on Luzon since the fall of Bataan. Operating temporarily under the control of the Fifth Air Force, the 18th Group struck hammer-like blows against the enemy by dive bombing and strafing his bivouac and supply areas, his transportation facilities, and his barges which were endeavoring to reinforce southern Luzon by sea.
Toward the end of January, the heavies bombed the Cavite Naval Base and historic Corregidor in Manila Bay. It was necessary to neutralize these installations, which had been destroyed in December 1941 and January 1942 and rebuilt by the Japanese in the months that followed, before Manila Bay could serve as a useful harbor for Allied shipping. American ground troops entered Manila. 4 February, to take the city that American troops had been forced to evacuate three years before. The liberation of Manila, however, did not mark the end of the Philippine Campaign; it was merely the completion of a phase.
The Thirteenth was now ready to support the Eighth Army in its campaigns to liberate the by-passed islands of the Central and Southern Philippines. To lead the Thirteenth in its new role as the assault air force for the Eighth Army, a new commander was appointed in February 1945. Brigadier General Paul B. Wurtsmith replaced Major General St. Clair Streett, who returned to the United States.
The next objective in the Philippines was Palawan. After a heavy pounding by Thirteenth Air Force planes, Palawan was quickly secured by troops of the Eighth Army on 28 February. The Thirteenth then turned to furnish air support for the liberation of Zamboanga on the southwestern tip of Mindanao. Enemy fortifications, gun emplacements, barracks, and supply and ammunition dumps were destroyed. Elements of the Eighth Army landed on Mindanao, 10 March, and quickly captured Zamboanga. The island of Sanga Sanga in the Tawi Tawi group was seized soon after for the purpose of establishing an airstrip there to protect our southern flank, and in order to provide an advance base from which to strike Borneo.
With the center of activity shifting to the Southern Philippines and Borneo, the Fighter Command and the 347th Fighter Group, together with the medium bombers of the 42nd, shifted the hub of their activities to Palawan immediately following the landing at the end of February. The 18th Group returned to the operational control of the Thirteenth Air Force, and after a brief period of activity at Mindoro moved to Zamboanga, Mindanao. From these strategically commanding positions at Zamboanga and Palawan, the fighters and mediums were prepared to strike as necessary at targets in the central and southern islands of the Philippine Archipelago in support of the Eighth Army.
With the passing of peak operations and with the decline in the air war in the Philippines, changes in the deployment of heavy groups took place within the Thirteenth Air Force. The 5th Group moved from Morotai in the Moluccas to Samar in the Philippines, in March, while the 307th Group remained at Morotai. Both heavy groups, however, flew against targets on Mindanao in March. With its mission in Mindanao completed by the end of March, the 307th Group turned to its next assignment: to soften up targets in Borneo prior to invasion by the Australian Imperial Forces. The Thirteenth provided air support for the Eighth Army landings which took place in quick succession on Panay, Negros, Cebu and on many smaller islands in the Visayan group.
By 17 April, the only major centers of Japanese resistance remaining in the Philippines within range of the Thirteenth Air Force were on Mindanao. Initial landings on Mindanao were made in the Cotobato-Malabang-Parang area. With the close of May, the Eighth Army had taken the key town of Davao and landed at vital points on Mindanao’s north and west coasts. Marine air units consisting of two fighter groups and one dive bomb group operated under the Thirteenth from bases at Zamboanga and Malabang, and provided a large share of close air support in the Mindanao campaign.
During the entire Visayan-Mindanao Campaign, the Thirteenth served as air assault force in support of 15 amphibious landings. The Thirteenth softened up the landing areas, provided cover for Naval convoys, and gave close support to the ground troops on the beach-heads as they fought their way inland.
As the requirement for strong air power in the Philippines diminished toward the close of the Mindanao Campaign, the Thirteenth turned to its next major task; support of the Australian Imperial Forces and the Royal Australian Air Force in the Borneo Campaign. In the period April-July 1945, major amphibious landings were made at Tarakan in northeast Borneo, Brunei Bay in northwest Borneo, and Balikpapan in east Borneo. Since the objective area lay largely beyond the range of aircraft of the RAAF, the task of furnishing air support fell to the Thirteenth. Utilizing fighters based at Palawan, Zamboanga, and Sanga Sanga, mediums at Palawan, and heavies at Samar and Marotai, the Thirteenth flew pre-assault softening up strikes, covered numerous convoys in the South China, Sulu and Celebes Seas and battle area fighter cover at the objective areas, and provided close support for the ground forces. The Thirteenth, in fact, was the assault air force.
In the Balikpapan operation, two things were noteworthy: one, the B25s of the 42nd Bombardment group operated over the objective area for a period of a month from Puerto Princesa, Palawan, 740 nautical miles distant from Balikpapan carrying an average bomb load of 2,000 pounds; two, Morotai based B24s were used as air alert close support - an innovation for heavy bombardment. This was necessitated by the fact that the Tarakan strip was not operational as planned, and the nearest available medium bomber operational strip was too distant to permit B25 aircraft to remain over the target area as required.
In support of the Australians in these three operations, the Thirteenth flew a total of 5052 sorties and dropped 7225 tons of bombs. In the period of the Borneo Campaign during times of light operations, the Thirteenth extended its striking power to include distant targets in Malaya, Indochina, the China coast and Java. These flights eclipsed even the earlier record-breaking Balikpapan flights from Noemfoor. Three particularly noteworthy flights are cited as examples.
Ten B24 “Snoopers” of the 868th Bomb Squadron struck Soerabaja, Java, on 7 May, flying a total distance of 2660 statute miles, in 17 hours and 40 minutes, one of the longest flights ever made by B24 aircraft in combat formation. Seven Snoopers shattered their own record soon after by flying a strike against Batavia, Java, 3 June 1945; they flew in formation from Palawan to Batavia and returned to cover a distance of over 3000 statute miles, in 18 hours and 40 minutes. A measure of success was achieved in both strikes against Java; in each case, the Japanese were taken by surprise and shipping in the harbors was left either sunk or damaged.
P38s of the 347th Fighter Group on 25 July performed one of the longest flights ever flown by fighter aircraft. Escorting F7 photo reconnaissance planes (B24 type planes converted to reconnaissance) to Singapore, eight P38s flew from Palawan to Singapore to Labuan in northwest Borneo, traveling a distance of approximately 2100 statute miles.
By the end of July 1945, the Thirteenth Air Force was beginning to move to Okinawa; indeed, one of its bombardment squadrons was establishing its position in the Japanese island to initiate the next major phase. The 868th Bomb Squadron spearheaded the movement to Okinawa; by 8 August, the Snoopers were flying strikes from Yontan airfield, Okinawa. From this base, the Thirteenth Air Force made its most northerly penetration of the disintegrating Japanese Empire. Snoopers on armed shipping searches, harassing missions, and weather reconnaissance flights flew as far as Genzan in Korea and carried out a heckling mission over Japan’s Kyushu Island.
The close ground support given the Eighth Army by the Air Force in the Philippines was excellent training for the types of missions that the Thirteenth expected to fly in the final stages of the war. In August 1945, at the time the Japanese agreed to surrender under the Potsdam terms, plans had been formed for a great amphibious operation which would land the Sixth and Tenth Armies on the Japanese home island of Kyushu sometime in November. Thirteenth bombers and fighters were to operate from Kyushu as soon after D-day as airfields could be built by the engineers.
The Thirteenth was to be reorganized as a Tactical Air Force with two Tactical Air Commands operating under it, and it was to be increased in size almost fourfold by June 1946. Units were to be equipped with the latest fighters, strafers (medium bombers), and heavies that were to spearhead attacks against the Japanese from bases on their own homeland. The Thirteenth was preparing to aid in the final death-dealing blows against the Japanese when the atom bomb was dropped and the Japanese surrendered.
IN addition to hitting land targets in the Netherlands Indies, fighters, mediums, and heavies
swept the waters of Makassar Strait and the Banda,
Cerom, Molucca, and Sulu Seas on shipping searches, from September 1944 through February 1945. The landings on Leyte and later on Mindoro sliced the Japanese Philippine Empire in two. Communications, however, between the bypassed troops in the Netherlands Indies were still possible. It was found that the enemy was attempting both to supply the Indies by small ships and to evacuate high ranking personnel and specialist troops with scores of luggers, barges, sailboats and occasionally small freighters.
Planes of the Thirteenth Air Task Force concentrated their attacks on these small Japanese ships during October and November, and blasted them from the seas. Prior to December 1944, the Snoopers of the 868th Bombardment Squadron (H) had been assigned the task of carrying out shipping searches along the Borneo coasts. The B24s operated as single search raiders, ferreting out enemy radar stations, searching for shipping, and bombing targets at night by special radar bombsights. When searches were negative, the Snoopers dropped their bombs on northeast Borneo oil targets. By the end of the year, enemy shipping in the Ambon-Ceram-Celebes area had disappeared.
The Snoopers shifted their sights in December; they turned from shipping targets to concentrate on the Lutong Oil Installations in Borneo. With Balikpapan neutralized, the Japanese routed their shipping around Brunei Bay in northwestern Borneo, to load oil from the Lutong Refineries at Sarawak, which were second only to Balikpapan as a source of petroleum. The task of sealing off Lutong was assigned to the Snoopers of the 868th Bomb Squadron. In a series of daring raids, Lutong was so effectively neutralized that thereafter little enemy shipping was found carrying oil north from Borneo.
TOTAL COMBAT SORTIES FLOWN
1943 (from 13 January) 26,214
1945 (to 2 September) …….31,942
Total (13 January 1943 to 2 September 1945)……. 97,038
TOTAL TONNAGE DROPPED ON TARGETS
1943 (from 13 January)……. 7,362
1945 (to 2 September)……. 26,176
Total (13 January 1943 to 2 September 1945)…….61,929
TOTAL JAPANESE AIRCRAFT DESTROYED
1943 (from 13 January…….551
1945 (to 2 September)……. 90
Total (13 January 1943 to 2 September 1945)…….1,439
TOTAL JAPANESE TONNAGE SUNK
13 January 1943 to 2 September 1945
Probably Sunk 213,325
TOTAL THIRTEENTH AIR FORCE AIRCRAFT LOSSES IN AIR COMBAT MISSIONS
1943 (from 1 July) 69
1945 (to 2 September) 188
Total (1 July 1943 to 2 September 1945) 490
On 5 December 1941, as the storm clouds gathered in the Pacific, the 70th Fighter Squadron sailed from San Francisco bound for the Philippines. When the storm broke, 7 December, the 70th headed back to San Francisco. One month later, the 70th was on its way again, destined for the Fiji Islands.
The 70th Bombardment Squadron (M) underwent a similar change of plans. Its ground echelon left San Francisco 30 January 1942, bound for Rangoon, railhead of the Burma Road; but its plans were changed by the Japanese success in Burma. It stopped in Australia, and wound up in the Fijis, May 1942, where their air echelon joined them early in July.
The Fijis are tropical islands, fringed by coral reefs and by numerous bays and harbors; inside are mountains and high plateaus, jagged volcanic peaks and rolling plains, meandering rivers and mangrove swamps.
The Fijis were strategically situated; they lay astride the Allied convoy route to the South and Southwest Pacific, and provided a valuable stepping stone in ferrying bombers to the battle fronts. With the Fijis in Allied hands a base was available from which air, naval, or amphibious operations could be launched against the onrushing Japanese.
The establishment of airways to Fiji was a first priority in the South Pacific. Before the war, the major air route to Australia was by way of Hawaii, Midway, Wake, Rabaul, Port Moresby, and Darwin. This route offered easy access to the Philippines and to Australia. With the loss of Wake and Rabaul to the Japanese, this airway was closed. In anticipation of such a possibility a second airway was begun in November 1941 and was half completed when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. This airway ran from Hawaii to Brisbane via Christmas Island, Fiji, and New Caledonia. A third and more northerly route was developed early in 1942, which ran from Hawaii to Palinyra, to Canton, to Samoa, to Fiji.
After Pearl Harbor, time was of the essence. It was necessary to develop Fiji as an air base. Credit must go to New Zealand for having sent a survey party and an airdrome construction unit to Fiji prior to December 1941, to build an air base near Suva, the capital. Nausori airdrome was operable within four weeks after Pearl Harbor. The first heavy bombers to use the field were 3 B-17s, which flew in from Hawaii and Canton, 7 January 1942. But Nausori was not an all-weather field.
Under the supervision of the Hawaiian Department, United States and New Zealand engineers rushed the development of an air base at Nandi. By 28 December 1942, the Nandi runway measured 4,200 feet; heavy bombers on a reconnaissance mission flew in from Hawaii, 16-30 January 1943. Nandi was in full operation by 2 August 1942; the strip was suitable for all types of planes and was an all-weather field.
At the time of the Japanese offensive, Fiji was lightly held by a New Zealand garrison of 5,000 men. The garrison was reinforced, 29 January 1942, by American Force 4514, numbering 623 men. In the landing party was the ground echelon of the 70th Fighter Squadron. With the arrival of the 37th Division, 9 June, strong support was added to the defense of Fiji.
The air defense of Fiji was equally light. The Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) could spare no more than one and a half squadrons of Hudsons, and a squadron of sea planes, which were stationed at Nausori. RNZAF planes performed reconnaissance and provided air cover for Allied shipping in waters around New Zealand, and between Fiji and the Tonga Islands.
The 70th Bombardment Squadron (M) winged their way into Nandi Airdrome from Hawaii early in July, and remained there for thirteen months; the B-26 Marauders flew daily patrol missions to the fringes of enemy territory. In November 1942, at the height of the Japanese effort to recapture Guadalcanal, a detachment went to the ‘Canal to help turn the tide of battle. In the months that followed, the 70th sent its planes to Guadalcanal to participate in the campaigns of the Middle and Lower Solomons.
In January 1943, the 70th Bombardment Squadron (M) became part of the newly activated Thirteenth Air Force, and two months later part of the 42nd Bombardment Group (M), which was equipped with B-25 Mitchells. With our position in the South Pacific no longer in danger by August 1943, the air echelon of the 70th left Nandi for Guadalcanal, which was more than 1,300 miles nearer the Philippines.
The arrival of the first Air Corps troops, in January 1942, was followed by others from the east and west. From the United States came the 1008th Signal Company, January 1942; the 903rd Air Base Security Battalion, February 1942; the 70th Fighter Squadron (air echelon), and 821st Engineer Aviation Battalion in July, 1942; the 578th Signal Air Warning Battalion, 330th Bomb Squadron (air echelon) and 13th Airdrome Squadron, in 1943.
In the summer of 1943, the 1625th Ordnance S & M Company, 38th Service Squadron, and 390th Bomb Squadron (ground echelon), came from New Caledonia, and the 68th Fighter Squadron and 69th Bombardment Squadron came from Guadalcanal.
Other Thirteenth Air Force units stationed at Fiji before moving up the line were: 902, 925 Airbase Security Battalions; 375 Base Headquarters and Airbase Squadron, 821 Engineers Aviation Battalion, 1008 Signal Company, 1625 Ordnance S & M Company, 38 Service Squadron, 13 Airdrome Squadron, and 63 Bombardment Squadron (M); 23 and 31 Bombardment Squadrons (H). By mid-1943, Fiji had become a major base of the Air Force.
AMERICAN troops found the Fijis far more cosmopolitan and culturally advanced than almost any other islands in the South Pacific. The natives were in a high state of civilization, which was the result to no small extent of British educational and missionary work. The main part of the island had undergone considerable development by commercial interests. Suva, the capital, was the headquarters of the British High Commissioner for the Western Pacific. Americans were surprised to find that Suva was in many respects a modern city.
Approximately half the natives were Melanesian; the other half were descendants of Indian coolies imported by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company to work on its plantations. The natives lived in bure huts like those shown in the painting.
The huts were built of heavy timber and a framework of bamboo; they were thatched with sugar cane and coconut leaves and long grass or reeds. The floor consisted of packed earth, built up a foot or so above the level of the ground in order to provide drainage. Doors were cut on two or three sides to let in light and air.
The furnishings in a bure hut were not elaborate; on the mud floor were strewn dry tree ferns and mats, on which the natives sat or slept. There was a small “fireplace” hollowed out of the floor, which was used for making smoke to keep mosquitoes away and to prevent insects from infesting the thatched roof; occasionally the “fireplace” was used for cooking.
Bure huts were used by the Thirteenth not only for living quarters, but also for offices and operations buildings at Nandi and at Nausori airfields. The Americans, of course, made alterations; they put in concrete floors, and sometimes placed a tin roof under the thatching. The larger bures housed sixteen men, and the smaller ones from six to eight. Officer and non-commissioned officer clubs were often constructed on the same motive as the bure hut.
The bure huts shown in the painting were used for mess halls and for day rooms by Company A of the 821st Engineers Aviation Battalion.
The indoctrination of the American soldier into native culture was not restricted to architecture. He was given the opportunity of seeing ceremonial dances called Mekes, and social dances called Tra-la-las. He was also invited by the natives to celebrations in honor of the Army. On such occasions our men were offered gifts of tropical fruits and vegetables, bananas, guava, mango, papaya, breadfruit, sugar cane, and tapioca. Sometimes the commanding officer of a unit received a special gift; a woven mat and a whale’s tooth signifying abiding friendship. In exchange for fruits and vegetables, the natives received cigarettes, bon bons, canned juices, and other items from the PX that struck their fancy. The acceptance of gifts was accompanied by a toast of Kava, a beverage that tasted, according to some like “torpedo bilge.”
The Fijians were natural singers. Their song of the islands, “Isa Lei”, was one that many Americans will long remember. There was scarcely a man who did not know the opening Fijian words:
Isa, Isa vulangi lasa dina, Nomu la ko au na rarawa kina. Isa, Isa, you are my only treasure. Must you leave me so lonely and forsaken.
Our troops were not long in setting up recreational activities at Nandi and Nausori. Sports ranked all the way from softball, volleyball, football, to swimming and horseback riding. Nor were these the only diversions; there were also card games, books, radio, and the indispensable nightly movie, all of which helped to pass the time away. Occasionally USO troupes and band concerts replaced the movie or became part of a double feature program.
Not a few of the Thirteenth will remember the visit to Fiji of Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Secretary of War Robert Patterson. Many will also recall the day that Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was brought to this base after his rescue from the open sea.
If life in the Fijis was more interesting and diverting than in most tropical islands, it was nevertheless subject to the same monotony and the same loneliness that characterized life in all the islands of the South Seas.
AUSTRALIA stood in grave danger in the dark days following Pearl Harbor when the Philippines had been lost and the Japanese were fanning out in all directions, sweeping down New Guinea, and leap-frogging to New Britain and Guadalcanal. The direction of Japanese advances made it clear that the enemy planned to cut the American supply line to Australia, and set the stage for an invasion of the land down under.
If and when invasion came, Australia planned to yield the northern portion of the country and to fight from a main line of defense anchored on the eastern end of Brisbane.
Australia needed American supplies for defense. America needed Australia for a base from which to launch a counter-offensive. Australia received arms through Lend-Lease; reverse Lend-Lease was arranged to provide American troops in the Southwest Pacific with food from Australia.
To help guard the American supply line and to protect Australia from invasion, a few air force units were rushed to the South Pacific early in 1942. More units followed. Some arrived in the South Pacific by way of Australia. At least nine of the units that landed in Australia early in 1942 later became a part of the Thirteenth Air Force.
The great American naval victory in the Coral Sea in May, and at Midway in June, upset the Japanese timetable; they reduced the threat to Australia, and gave the Allies time to muster their strength. Australians, however, were still acutely conscious of their danger in June, when a Japanese submarine shelled Sydney and New Castle, and when Darwin was heavily bombed by Japanese planes.
Despite their setback in the Solomons in August, the Japanese continued to drive toward Australia from New Guinea. Japanese troops, after a difficult crossing of the Owen Stanley range, in September 1942, approached within 20 miles of Port Moresby on the southern coast of New Guinea. The Japanese land assault, however, was halted and thrown back by the Australian Army. Further attempts by the Japanese to penetrate the southeastern tip of New Guinea, at Milne Bay and at Wau, were also crushed by the Australians.
American units that were quartered in or near Melbourne during the emergency disembarked at Port Melbourne or at the Melbourne docks within the city. The painting shows a ship unloading its cargo on Station Pier, Port Melbourne.
American troops were greeted in Melbourne, Australia, during the first months of 1942 by excited crowds of Australians standing on street comers shouting cheers of welcome.
Melbourne’s quiet reserve, was soon broken by the brisk activity of American soldiers setting up their quarters; rows of Army tents sprang up in many places throughout the city. Melbourne Cricket Grounds, Flagstaff Gardens, and other civic grounds became troop bivouac areas. Nearby towns like Baccus Marsh and Ballerat also provided camp facilities for American troops.
On off-duty hours, soldiers went sightseeing in Melbourne, anxious to learn more about the city and the people living there. A familiar landmark in the heart of the city was St. Paul’s Cathedral, towering over the smaller buildings not far from the Yarrow River. Below the Princess Street Bridge, small pleasure launches took aboard passengers for short cruises up and down the river.
Several units destined to become, at a later date, part of the Thirteenth Air Force were shipped overseas to Melbourne with the first American troops. Among them were the 67th Fighter Squadron, 810th Engineer Aviation Battalion, 1913th Quartermaster Truck Company, and 1008th and 1027th Signal Companies (Service Group). Their stay in Australia was short-lived, for they were quickly transferred to the South Pacific area of operations. For many men in these units, Melbourne was to be the last city they would see for a great many months.
AMONG the first Army Air Force units to be rushed from the United States to Australia when war broke out was the 68th Fighter Squadron.
Arriving in Brisbane early in March 1942, the 68th shared in the warm welcome extended to all American fighting men. A sports-loving people, Australians were not thinking of sports in those days. Horse racing, their favorite sport, was suspended at Ascot Race Track in the outskirts of the city, and the 68th was invited to set up camp in the infield. At the end of ten days, the 68th was off to Amberly Field on the outskirts of Ipswich, about 30 miles from Brisbane.
At Amberly Field, the ground crew assembled P-39s and P-400s while the pilots ferried planes to other Australian airfields. Two months after arriving in Australia, the 68th set sail for Tongatabu aboard a Dutch ship. In November, the 68th moved up to New Caledonia to join its brother squadrons of the 347th Fighter Group. In January 1943, upon the activation of the Thirteenth Air Force, the 347th became a part of the Thirteenth.
This scene, painted at Ascot Race Track in January 1945, simulates the conditions of March 1942.
Crossing the ocean to the South Pacific took weeks if travel was by ship. New personnel coming to the Thirteenth, during the period that the Air Force was operating in the South Pacific, were routed through Noumea, on the southwestern coast of New Caledonia.
Sailing from San Francisco, the men usually spent three weeks on the water before reaching New Caledonia. As ships moved in from the sea toward the island, troops aboard could see that New Caledonia was a land of steep, rugged mountains tumbling down to a coast of coral reefs stretching seaward under brilliant semi-tropical water.
Sailing past the lighthouse in the channel, from which flew the Tricolor of Free France, ships cautiously picked their way to anchor in well protected Noumea Harbor. Most ships sailing to the South Pacific were under orders to Noumea; upon arrival, they discharged their cargoes or moved forward to bases like Espiritu Santo and Guadalcanal.
From the harbor, the most prominent part of Noumea was the nickel docks, their stacks sending columns of yellow smoke into the air. Men who glanced through the Army Pocket Guide to New Caledonia read that shrimp, lobsters, and oysters abounded in the coral shallows, and that deer ran wild in the mountains. The view of Noumea in the distance, harboring as it did French culture in an out of the way island in the South Seas, gave men to believe that there were interesting days ahead.
Major General Millard Harmon was ordered from Washington, in July 1942, to assume command of United States Army Forces in the South Pacific (USAFISPA). General Harmon established his temporary headquarters at Noumea. Supreme command of the South Pacific Area was in the hands of the Navy under Admiral Ghormley, Commander, South Pacific Area, who also had his advanced headquarters at Noumea.
General Harmon was an air officer of long and varied experience, and well versed in tactical and strategic air operations, “Miff” Harmon, as he was known to his class associates, was a veteran pilot of the first World War; he had served as Chief of Staff of the Army Air Forces, and was regarded as one of its top commanders. Key members of General Harmon’s air staff, which he brought to Noumea with him, were versatile and experienced air officers. Brigadier General Nathan Twining was General Harmon’s Chief of Staff, while Colonel Everest and Colonel Dean C. Strother served as his bomber and fighter commanders respectively.
General Harmon was an exponent of the doctrine of offensive air power; the use of heavy bombers to strike at installations deep within enemy territory; the massing of air power to destroy enemy planes, enemy airdromes, and enemy supply areas. Building up an air force to carry through this doctrine was perhaps General Harmon’s chief concern as army commander in the South Pacific.
THE view from the local Catholic Church commands the panorama of Noumea- as it stretches across the waterfront and runs uphill from the docks to include the homes of the French residents. Looking out toward the harbor from the Church, the roofs of Noumea form colorful geometric patterns.
Descending down into the town of Noumea, there are buildings, walls and side streets that are hardly less colorful than the Noumea roofs; many are painted what might be called the characteristic pink of Noumea, others are violet, grey, white and cream. But there are dull and ugly colors in Noumea as well as pastels. There are’ primitive constructions of wood, and shacks of tin, in the town and on the outskirts. The architecture of Noumea is indeed mixed. Along with styles reminiscent of the French Riviera, are the little Hoovervilles and a decadent colonial type of structure, all of which create an atmosphere that is difficult to define, but is as interesting as it is bizarre.
The population, of Noumea is heterogeneous. There an native New Caledonians; there are Javanese and Tonkinese imported from Java and French Indo-China to labor in the nickel industry and to work on the land, under a system of indenture. The native population usually lives in squalid quarters, under the most primitive sanitary conditions.
Early in 1942, a clash between the Free French and Vichy elements of New Caledonia resulted in the overthrow of the Vichy governor. Armed with pistols, rakes, and all manner of weapons, the Free French marched on the governor’s mansion: the Vichy representative fled from his office. The Free French came into power upon the arrival of General Patch’s American task force in March 1942.
American soldiers who had just arrived overseas were quartered at the 6th Replacement Depot, about 30 miles from Noumea. From the Replacement Depot, men were assigned to the Thirteenth Air Force and other orgaffizations. While waiting for assignment, passes were frequently given to the men to visit Noumea. Usually after hitch-hiking into town on ttucks, the sightseers rambled through the town. searching for atmosphere.
Gimcrack souvenirs, displayed in unattractive little shops, were offered to the American soldier at exorbitant prices. Yet it was a novelty to visit the shops, trying out French phrases from Army Pocket Guides on clerks who preferred to speak English. It was likewise a novelty to visit one of the cinemas where French Westerns were shown.
WITH the coming of the Americans, Noumea was transformed from a sleepy, colonial town to a noisy, over-crowded community, bustling with soldiers and sailors. Troops monopolized the sidewalks and overflowed on to the streets; and trucks rumbled from the wharf area to camps and supply dumps outside the limits of the town. The Army and Navy took over the largest buildings in Noumea to provide offices for various headquarters and barracks for personnel. Noumea became the nerve center of the South Pacific war.
The Commander of all Navy forces of the South Pacific, COMSOPAC, as he was called in the terse language of the theater, was established in Noumea, just as was the Commander of United States Army Forces in the South Pacific, USAFISPA, until Camp Barnes was built a short distance from Noumea to provide space for the Army headquarters. The Thirteenth Air Force was born in Noumea on the day of its name, 13 January 1943; and it was from Noumea that the Thirteenth moved quickly after activation to its first jungle home, Espiritu Santo, in the New Hebrides.
No building was more significant in the early days than Noumea’s most colorful hotel, L’Hotel du Pacifique. At one time or another, the Pacific Hotel housed General Harmon’s headquarters, USAFISPA, the headquarters of the Americal Division, under General Patch, and General Lincoln’s headquarters, the Island Command of New Caledonia. As these headquarters grew in size, they moved to larger buildings; and the Pacific Hotel was converted into an officers’ club.
The Pacific Hotel was located at a main intersection some distance from the center of town, and only a few steps from the sea. With its shutters, its balconies, and ornamental iron railings and grill work, the hotel was reminiscent of the French architecture of old New Orleans. Built behind a high wall, which enclosed two courts, the hotel could maintain something of a life of its own. In the court to the left, the shade trees, which the artist has painted in the spirit of Corot, gave protection to those who sat in the café-garden during the hot summer months. To the right, and back of the flamingo tree, was the second court where outdoor movies were held in the evenings, and dances on Sunday afternoon.
The Pacific Hotel was operated jointly by the Army and Navy, and its name soon became a byword throughout the South Pacific as a common meeting place for American officers; it became what might be called the cross-roads of the South Pacific combat area. Fresh newcomers from the United States, on their way to bases further north, paused to meet older veterans in the bar or dining room. At the Pacific they often encountered former acquaintances whom they had lost track of in the shuffle of war. Early in 1943, Army and Marine fighter pilots from Guadalcanal, naval officers spending a night ashore from warships in the harbor, and merchant marine officers from Liberty ships that were unloading at Noumea piers, mingled with the service men of New Caledonia in an atmosphere of good fellowship at the Pacific Hotel. So long as American troops were in New Caledonia, the Hotel never ceased to serve as a congenial social center.
The road in the foreground of the painting, which ran along the front of the hotel and skirted the sea, led to Tontouta, the chief air base of New Caledonia. A constant flow of traffic, of trucks, jeeps, reconnaissance and command cars traveled over this road. And people from all sections of Noumea and from neighboring villages walked by the Pacific Hotel. Watching for a few moments, one could see French, Melanesian natives, Tonkinese, and Javanese passing by. It was a colorful parade. The Tonkinese women in their billowing black trousers and cone shaped headdress, and the native Melanesians in their flowing Mother Hubbards with their hair dyed a carrot color, were undoubtedly the most arresting. The Tonkinese woman in the painting has removed her headdress to balance a basketful of American laundry on her head.
WHILE the Japanese pushed south from the Philippines with lightning speed early in 1942, an American task force on New Caledonia was in a state of disorganization, sorting equipment, selecting camp sites, and dickering with the French. A Japanese assault was expected on New Caledonia at any time, and defense of the island was hastily evolved.
An increase in air facilities was necessary. A second air base was required to handle medium and heavy bombers. It was decided to construct the second base near Nepoui Bay on the west shore of New Caledonia, 130 miles from Noumea: Plaines des Gaiacs or more familiarly, P.D.G., was to be its name.
Plaines des Gaiacs could act as a protecting field for Tontouta. It could serve as a base from which search missions could be flown, seeking out Japanese task forces that might be headed for New Caledonia. Heavy bombers based at P.D.G. could strike into the Solomons, staging through a secondary field in the New Hebrides.
The original plans for such a base had been prepared by the United States Engineer Aviation Battalion and the 1918th Engineer Aviation Company. These organizations worked feverishly on a 24-hour schedule to complete the airfield. Gangs of Javanese laborers were employed to speed up the job. Early in May 1942, Plaines des Gaiacs was operational; and in June, the 69th Bomb Squadron flew in with B-26 medium bombers, to base at P.D.G. The 69th, which was the first medium bomb squadron in the South Pacific, was the sole air striking force of the Army on New Caledonia capable of carrying out an attack against Japanese warships. The 69th, along with the 70th medium bomb squadron, which arrived in the Fijis a week later, and which was also trained to carry torpedoes and use them against surface vessels, were the only two medium squadrons in the South Pacific at this time.
For many weeks the 69th carried out daily anti-submarine patrols, flying 150 mile sectors west of Noumea. The 69th was credited with an assist in the sinking of a Japanese submarine by a destroyer in Noumea Harbor, 26 July 1942.
The Japanese threat to New Caledonia had diminished by June 1942. Victory in the battle of the Coral Sea in May, and at Midway in June, had relieved the pressure on New Caledonia. The Japanese Fleet, like a too confident boxer hit hard in the initial rounds of a long fight, had retreated to reorganize and prepare for further combat.
Until the airfield at Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides was built, a few strikes by B-17s were flown from Plaines des Gaiacs against the Japanese at Guadalcanal. It was not long, however, before Plaines des Gaiacs outlived its usefulness as a tactical airfield. An advanced air base, Bomber Number 1, had been built on Espiritu Santo, by the summer of 1942. Guadalcanal had been invaded and what came to be known as Henderson Field was captured. The Japanese were fully occupied with the attempt to maintain their positions in the Solomons and New Guinea.
Work continued, however, on Plaines des Gaiacs. Red iron ore mined from nearby was used to lengthen two runways to 7,500 and 5,500 feet; six miles of roadway and five miles of taxiways were built. Five 25,000 gallon storage tanks, a 90 foot steel radio tower, and 34 plywood buildings were also constructed. By November 1943, the estimated cost of Plaines des Gaiacs reached two million dollars, making it one of the most expensive air bases in the South Pacific.
Plaines des Gaiacs airfield did not become useless as the war moved north. A training center was established at the field early in 1943 to orient new combat crews and train them in the newest methods of fighting the Japanese. But the most important use of Plaines des Gaiacs was made by the Air Transport Command. Plaines des Gaiacs became one of the South Pacific way stations for transPacific flights from California to Brisbane, Australia.
WHEN American forces came to New Caledonia, in March 1942, and made ready to defend the strategic island in that distant and vital corner of the world, they found one operational air base Tontouta, 30 miles northwest of Noumea. Tontouta remained the most important air base on New Caledonia and was for some time the largest in the entire South Pacific.
In 1936, the French built a 6,000 foot strip at Tontouta. The Australians, aware of the significance of New Caledonia in their scheme of defense, added a 4,000 foot strip early in 1942. In April, the 811th Engineer Aviation Battalion, which was later assigned to the Thirteenth Air Force, began a program of development that made Tontouta the chief base in the earlier period.
The French runway was rebuilt completely. The Australian runway was lengthened by 750 feet. Extensive hardstands, taxiways, roads and parking areas were built. Drainage facilities were improved. Numerous buildings, such as hangars, warehouses, and machine shops, were erected. A large gasoline tank farm with a 30,000 barrel capacity and 7 miles of pipeline was constructed.
By November 1943, it was estimated that $1,450,734 worth of American construction had gone into Tontouta. Development of the base continued until February 1944, when the forward thrust of the Allies began to leave New Caledonia far behind the lines.
The 811th, which labored continuously from April 1942, until its departure from New Caledonia in March 1944, was assisted for short periods of time by the 873rd Airborne Engineer Aviation Battalion, another Thirteenth Air Force unit, and by the 131st Engineers. After the departure of the 811th, the 891st Engineer Aviation Company, which was part of the Thirteenth until its reassignment in June 1944, was charged with the responsibility of maintenance.
Tontouta, in the early days, served as a ferry stop on the California-Australia run. The 67th Fighter Squadron, which arrived in Noumea, 15 March, and was based at Tontouta two days later, was the first Army Air Force unit to arrive at New Caledonia. The 67th came during the critical period, when an invasion was expected daily. For three months, the 67th was the only tactical air unit on the island.
Forty-five P-400s had been shipped to Noumea and were waiting to be assembled when the 67th Fighter Squadron arrived on the island. Hauling the 10,000 pound crates over the “Little Burma Road”, the rough, twisting highway, with hairpin turns, which ran from Noumea to Tontouta, the 67th transported the P-400s to their new base. With mechanics who had never before worked on P-400s, and, without a handbook of instructions, the 67th worked at a feverish pace to assemble their planes. The squadron achieved a remarkable record in putting together 30 planes in twenty-nine days. As one sergeant said, “In 20 years in the Army 1 have never seen it done before.” With three experienced fliers as instructors, the fighter pilots trained for five months in New Caledonia before going into action in the battle of Guadalcanal.
But Tontouta was an air supply depot rather than a base for tactical units. As such, it played a vital part in the history of the Air Force. The 13th Air Depot Group, which was the supply depot for the Thirteenth until June 1944, when the Far East Air Service Command assumed primary responsibility for supply, was located at Tontouta. The Group, in addition to providing technical supplies of all types, assembled, modified and performed fourth echelon repairs on the Air Force’s planes.
New arrivals in the South Pacific, after spending days or weeks at the Sixth Replacement Depot awaiting assignment, not infrequently drove over a stretch of New Caledonia’s “Little Burma Road” to Tontouta to take a Skytrain for one of the northern bases of the Air Force.
Tontouta ceased to be of any great military importance by the end of 1944, but it may yet live to become an important commercial airport. During the latter part of the war, the Air Transport Command used it in place of Plaines des Gaiacs as its main base between Fiji and Australia.
THE Army Air Force maintenance system has two main objectives: first, maximum mobility for air combat units; second, economy in the use of specialized personnel and repair equipment. To achieve these two objectives, maintenance is divided into four echelons or levels, ranging from first echelon servicing and minor repairs by the aircrews to complete overhaul by an air depot.
The Thirteenth’s air depot, the 13th Air Depot Group, was located at New Caledonia during the entire stay of the Air Force in the South Pacific. The 13th Depot Group arrived in New Caledonia late in November 1942, nearly two months before the activation of the Air Force.
Nature and the progress of the war in the South Pacific combined to point to the selection of New Caledonia as the location of the 13th Air Depot Group. As the tide of battle on Guadalcanal clearly turned in favor of American forces, following the great naval battles of mid-November, New Caledonia took on the aspect of a real base. The fears of invasion, which six months earlier seemed very real, were gone; the danger of hostile aerial attack no longer existed. New Caledonia had come to be the main Allied base in the South Pacific. Its climate, if not ideal, was much less enervating than the hot, humid climate of the islands to the north.
The 13th Depot Group made its home at Tontouta Airfield, some 30 miles north of Noumea, the principal city and capital of New Caledonia. At Tontouta, the Depot set up the machinery and equipment necessary to perform its responsibilities of fourth echelon maintenance. A large machine shop, capable of turning out complete overhaul jobs and fabricating critical parts not available through normal supply channels, was set up. “Prop” shops, sheet metal shops, paint shops, dope and fabric shops, and other maintenance and repair installations were erected. The Depot was prepared to do its job.
THE mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, French, and English names given to South Pacific islands form romantic links with the 16th and 17th centuries, when explorers sailed their galleons past the uncharted reefs and channels of the South Seas. Portuguese Pedro Fernandez de Quiros sighted and named the island of Espiritu Santo in 1606; Captain Cook gave the Celtic title “New Hebrides” to the entire group, in 1774. French colonists who followed the first explorers added the flavor of their language to the local geography.
Americans, in 1942, seeking a deep water harbor in the zone, near the action being fought in the Solomons, chose Segond Channel, on the southeastern edge of Espiritu Santo. Segond Channel was an ideal anchorage. It was deep, free of coral reefs, and large enough to anchor many fleet elements; on shore, warehouses could be constructed close to docks, set in deep water. Aore Island, which was situated across the Channel from the Santo docks, provided natural protection against the threat of submarines. Both entrances to the Channel were narrow and easily protected with submarine nets.
United States forces brought more than names to Espiritu Santo. This tropical island, hardly touched by civilization, was developed in the space of a few months into a major American base. Quonset warehouses, built by the Navy, mushroomed for blocks along the water front. Steamshovels cut coral for roadbeds from newly formed quarries; and men cleared decayed vegetation from coconut groves, transforming them into orderly camp sites.
As Espiritu Santo grew in importance, hundreds of ships moved their tons of cargo to the Segond wharves, and warships, damaged in naval action, found refuge in the Channel, where great floating dry docks were anchored, ready to make repairs. In entering the Channel, the SS President Coolidge accidentally struck one of our own mines, in 1942, and sank; practically all of the 5,000 troops that were aboard the ship were rescued.
ON the slope of San Juan Hill, an old French signal tower overlooks Segond Channel. The tower was built long before the war swept through the South Pacific; it was used to signal copra freighters which were waiting in the Channel to take aboard their cargoes.
Business picked up in the tower when its operation was taken over by the Navy early in the war. Signalmen working on a 24-hour basis, flashed messages almost continuously as they directed the movements of ships in Segond Channel, many of which came to unload their supplies. Materials of war, including everything from torpedoes to T-shirts, were stored in the quonset warehouses which were built near the dock areas. Sailors wearing blue denim trousers and white duck hats were the predominating figures along the water front.
Most of the supplies used by the Thirteenth Air Force on Espiritu Santo passed, in the early period, across the docks shown in the painting.
The headquarters of the Thirteenth Air Force was first established on Espiritu Santo in a coconut grove, located just above the Navy signal tower shown in the painting. Headquarters, like every other unit that begins housekeeping for the first time in the tropics, had to learn how to live in the jungle. The grove in which the Thirteenth set up its camp was a breeding ground for flies; the insects hatched out in the debris of rotting coconuts. Eating in the open was an ordeal, for flies were always present. Eventually the problem was met by screening the mess halls, by keeping the jungle cleared, and by improving the sanitation of the camp.
Dengue fever swept the island in 1943, and almost half of all troops on Espiritu Santo contracted the disease. Malaria control measures were soon taken seriously. Men were careful to cover their beds at night with mosquito netting; they used repellent when walking in the jungle; and they kept their shirts on and their sleeves rolled down at the movies. Swimming in the rivers stopped when men’s ears began to pain from fungus infection contracted in the river water.
On Espiritu Santo, the Thirteenth learned to pitch tents. Tents were arranged to catch the smallest breeze, and placed for maximum comfort under the shade of the coconuts. Office buildings were likewise placed under trees to make the most of the overhead insulation. Although these measures mitigated to some extent the torrid heat that beat down in the New Hebrides, nothing could be done, of course, to lessen the oppressive humidity.
The Thirteenth was not long in finding out that living arrangements could not be complete in the jungle without the help of the Navy. The Navy was the source of luxury items. When word was passed around the island that a shipment of luxury goods had arrived and was on sale in the ships’ stores, khaki clad soldiers almost replaced the blue clad sailors around the dock area in the rush for mattresses, pillows, sheets, and T-shirts.
The airstrip off Segond Channel on Espiritu Santo looks from the air as though it might have been borrowed from a Norman Bel Geddes Futurama of the Air Age. Pekoa appears to be the work of a master landscape architect, rather than of military engineers.
Officially opened a week before the activation of the Thirteenth Air Force, which occurred on 13 January 1943, Pekoa was known originally as Bomber Number 2. Pekoa is the native word for second. The first airfield built on Espiritu Santo was located just inside Pallikulo peninsula and was called Bomber Number 1.
Bomber Number 1 had been rushed to completion in the summer of 1942, to provide a base from which heavy bombers could strike Japanese positions in the Solomons. It was indeed fortunate for our planes that Bomber Number 1 was completed before the Japanese could finish what was to be known as Henderson Field. Had we lost this race in construction, in which engineers and others worked day and night, the Solomons campaign might have been very different. As it was, Bomber Number 1 was completed in time, and was used by the 11th Bombardment Group’s B-17s in support of the Guadalcanal operation. It is worth observing that Bomber Number 1 was hacked out of the jungle under most unusual circumstances. The order to build the strip was issued in July 1942. It was originally planned that a Navy Seabee unit would construct the field; but owing to confusion, the Seabees were routed elsewhere. All that arrived of the Seabee unit was its refrigeration equipment and its piano. Fortunately there were three bulldozers in the equipment of Army ground forces on the island. To construct the airstrip.
Pekoa, however, was more closely associated with the history of the Thirteenth Air Force. By the end of February 1943, all the Air Force’s heavy bombers, the 5th, 11th and 307th Bombardment Groups (H) were based here.
The 11th Group returned to Hawaii in March, but the planes of the 5th and 307th remained at Pekoa until April 1943, flying missions in support of the Solomons campaign. When the air echelons moved to Guadalcanal, the ground echelons continued to occupy their Santo camp sites near Pekoa until the summer of 1943, when they, too, moved to the ‘Canal. After the heavies had gone, the 403rd Troop Carrier Group moved in and remained at Pekoa until mid-1944. Two of the Air Force’s service groups operated and maintained the field: the 29th Service Group, from January 1943 to June 1943; and the 321st, from June 1943 to January 1944.
The runway was built of a coral base, and the entire length was covered with Marston steel matting. The construction of Pekoa was begun 1 October 1942, and was completed by 1 December; the runway was 5,500 feet long and 150 feet wide, with 2 miles of taxiways and 75 hardstands. It was not long before it was lengthened to 6,400 feet and widened to 200; and shortly after it was extended again to 7,400 feet. The 810th Engineer Aviation Battalion, which later became part of the Thirteenth, helped to construct Pekoa. In August 1943, work was begun by the 822nd Engineer Aviation Battalion on the construction of a vast parking area to be used in accommodating the growing transport service operating from the field.
By mid-1944, the war had moved deep into the Southwest Pacific. All the Air Force’s tactical units were either already in the Southwest Pacific or on their way. Pekoa ceased to be of great military importance. The beauty of its design, however, remained.
THE New Hebrides were ideally located to fill the Allied requirements for supply bases between Fiji and New Caledonia, and Guadalcanal. The excellence of their geographical location was recognized immediately. Efate, the most central and populated island of the New Hebrides group, became an air force supply point early in the war, with activities centering around Bauer Field. There was, however, another island, closer to Guadalcanal and more suitable for a base; that was Espiritu Santo.
Service activities of the Thirteenth Air Force at Espiritu Santo were centered around Pekoa airfield. The 29th Service Group, which arrived at Santo in late November, was assigned an area close to the field. The 29th cut their living space out of the dense jungle as the airfield itself was being finished. There were a few Japanese air raids at this time, but they were of the nuisance type.
Maintenance and repair of planes in the Air Corps is divided into four echelons or steps, depending on the type of repair and the amount of time required to accomplish it. First echelon of maintenance consists solely in making the necessary daily checks to see that the plane is in operating order; it does not include any repair work. Second echelon of maintenance involves simple repair work, such as repair of spark plugs or carburetors. First and second echelon of maintenance are the responsibility of the ground crew assigned to each squadron to take general care of the planes. They handle repairs that usually can be made within 24 to 36 hours, between one mission and the next.
Third echelon of maintenance deals with such things as major repairs of hydraulic and electrical systems, replacement of major parts, such as wing and tail assemblies, repairs of propellers, engine changes, and extensive sheet metal repairs.
When it is decided that second echelon cannot handle the repair job, the plane is turned over to a service group to perform third echelon of maintenance. Here the choice has first to be made by the engineering officer whether to salvage the plane or to repair it. During the early days in the Solomons, when plane replacements were very scarce, aircraft were repaired which would have been salvaged under normal operating conditions.
To perform third echelon of maintenance, a service group is assigned two service squadrons. The personnel of each service squadron consists of many highly skilled and specialized mechanics; sheet metalworkers, electricians, dope and fabric men, welders, machinists, and many others. They work as crews, and they are assigned to each plane as it is turned into the shop after the damage has been assessed.
It must be understood that in the field, these men frequently performed all echelon of maintenance were usually performed as well as third or fourth, al-force supply stocks, and could be made in the service squadron shops, it was “manufactured”; thus fourth echelon work was performed. On the other hand, no plane left a repair shop until it was ready to fly. Thus first and second echelon of maintenance was usually performed as well as third or fourth, although the last was properly the function of an Air Depot Group.
As a great deal of precision work was necessary in repairing the intricate mechanisms of aircraft, each service squadron was assigned four semi-trailers to perform such work. One trailer was a machine shop, a second was an instrument shop, and the other two were supply units.
In the machine shop, aircraft parts were planed, shaped, turned and milled for repair or modification. The instrument shop specialized chiefly in bomb sight maintenance and repair of other delicate instruments. The supply trailers carried spare parts. The four trailers were generally parked together and worked as a unit, making one of the most useful and efficient parts of a service squadron engineering section.
The painting shows trailers of the 29th Service Group, as they were parked in a revetment just off the strip, at Pekoa airfield. Behind the trailers is the dense jungle which came down to the edge of the service area at Pekoa.
A STUDY by the Operations Analysis Section of the Thirteenth Air Force prepared in 1944, showed a marked decrease in the efficiency of men who had been overseas in the tropics for more than eighteen months. Apart from the strain of combat, probably the greatest single factor making for decreased efficiency was the climate.
The thermometer alone does not account for the enervating effect of the tropics. The average annual temperature of the various islands where units of the Air Force were stationed from Fiji through the Philippines does not vary more than a few degrees above or below eighty degrees. There is very little variation in the temperature throughout the year. At night, the temperature drops a few degrees, assuring sound sleep. “It’s not the heat; it’s the humidity.” Humidity is always close to the saturation point, and this probably accounts in large measure for the debilitating effect of the tropics.
Those who have lived in the tropics for any considerable length of time do not need to make out a scientific case for “sack time” to enjoy its benefits. The fact is that men spent time in the “sack” during the noon hour and after supper before the movie, in order to regain their energy for the remaining tasks of the day or evening.
“Sack” is Armyese for what you sleep on. The origin of the team “sack” is a job for an etymologist. Ask a soldier concerning its origin, and he may allude to the mattress cover which some men used as a sleeping bag, but no one seems to know really how an army cot came to be called a “sack”.
An army cot is no bed with inner spring mattress and box spring. Since the cot itself was only a shade more comfortable than a wooden floor to sleep on, many men contrived to “promote” mattresses. Navy bases were the best places to “promote” mattresses. Others managed to “promote” discarded inner tubes from which they were able to construct rubber-springed beds, which yielded more readily to the contour of the body. But whether or not a sack was of the advanced type, “sack time” will be remembered as the most satisfying period of the day.
FROM the Fijis to the Philippines, there were frequent reminders of Christianity. It was manifest now and again in the voices of the bright-eyed native children singing Christian hymns in a jungle village. It was also manifest in a crucifix hung from the neck of a native. It was manifest, too, in the native villager, who, with his face and body tattooed, his lips red with betel nut, smoking a pipe and smiling, raised his hand in a nonmilitary salute and cried, “Hello Joe”. At Espiritu Santo, it was manifest in a Catholic Church, set on a hill near the French Legation off Segond Channel.
At this church, French and American soldiers, French and English settlers, and Melanesians worshipped together in the Catholic faith.
The road of those who have carried the gospel of Christianity to the four corners of the earth has, perhaps, never been easy. In the New Hebrides their task was most difficult. The islands themselves were not friendly, but hot and disease-ridden. The natives, their minds crowded with century old superstitions, speaking a variety of tongues, had emerged only recently from the dark days of cannibalism.
In more than fifty years that had passed since the first Catholic missionaries settled in New Hebrides, the native Catholic population had barely reached 5,000; yet for those of Catholic faith the spark of Christianity was unmistakably present in the unpretentious little church on the hill.
THE strategic value of the Solomons was well known to American and Japanese forces. These islands lay stretched out like a fleet of deployed warships between American bases to the south and Japanese bases to the north. If the Japanese who had landed on the island, early in July, were permitted to establish an airdrome there, they would be in position to render our forward base at Espiritu Santo untenable, eventually neutralize New Caledonia, and cut our communications with Australia. If the Americans captured Guadalcanal, not only would they stem the hitherto unconquerable Japanese offensive, but they would be in a position to counterattack.
Guadalcanal, in the Central Solomons, is a forbidding island. Few people inhabit it, for miles of muddy swamps and kunai grass cover the eastern coastal plain, and give rise to swarms of malarial mosquitoes. Guadalcanal is 90 miles long by 33 miles wide and has a backbone of rugged, volcanic peaks, which rise from the flat Lunga plain on the east coast, with foothills and ridges at their base, and finally soar into the clouds which usually hang over their tops.
On the evening of 6 August 1942, the Japanese garrison on Guadalcanal received an extra ration of sake for bringing the Guadalcanal airstrip to over 80% completion in a month’s time. On 3 August, 6 Zeros landed on the field.
The next morning, 7 August, the First Marine Division hit the beach. On the afternoon of 8 August, the Marines took the airstrip without opposition. In the camp nearby, they found food, munitions, sake, Asahi beer, U. S. Springfield rifles taken at Guam, and bales of invasion money intended for future conquests.
Although taken by surprise, the Japanese were in a strong position to strike back. Their ground, air, and naval installations centered on the powerful base of Rabaul, in New Britain, were capable of great force. Powerful warships and large fast transports were available and able to reinforce the small Guadalcanal garrison. Japanese fighters and bombers could hit Guadalcanal without difficulty.
Combined efforts of the United States Army, Navy and Marines could place only a minimum of air power on Guadalcanal during the first month. Thirty Marine aircraft landed, 20 August, on the new strip now called Henderson Field; among them were 12 Douglas dive bombers and 18 Grumman Wildcat fighters. Two days later, the first Army planes, 5 P-400s, landed on the short, bumpy field. Not long after, 9 P-400s flew in, and 30 Army mechanics and ground crews arrived. This Army force was part of the gallant 67th Fighter Squadron, the first Army Air Force unit on Guadalcanal, and in later months became part of the Thirteenth Air Force.
In the late summer and early fall of 1942, the Marines held their own. Japanese reserve strength in the Bismarcks was proving its worth. The “Tokyo Express” was consistently able to replace Japanese losses on Guadalcanal. American ability to resupply Guadalcanal was dangerously weak owing to the ever present threat of Japanese air and naval strikes against shipping.
A handful of tired, hungry, grimy men kept a few airplanes patched, repaired and battling in the Solomon’s sky. Day after day the routine was work and fight. Meals were little more than canned sustenance. Baths were few and far between; the object of each man was not to stay clean but to stay alive. No words were adequate to describe the sanitary conditions brought about by flies, mosquitoes, and their corollaries, dysentery, malaria, and dengue fever.
The Japanese launched one of their heaviest attacks, on 13 September, against the Marine positions guarding the airstrip. Supported by assaults from two other directions, the Japanese struck their main blow in furious Banzai charges against Colonel Edson’s First Raider Battalion dug in on a strategic ridge. The attacks lasted all night, the enemy finally penetrating the Marine position and reaching the edge of the airstrip. Before the Japanese could consolidate their forces, a counter-attack was launched by a hastily organized medley of men from the headquarters, band, and weapons company of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines. In bitter hand to hand fighting the Marines drove the enemy from the ridge.
Early next morning, fresh Japanese troops were massing to overwhelm the exhausted defenders on the ridge. Army fighters played a decisive role in turning back the attack. Three P-400s dipped below the top of the ridge time after time, pressing trigger buttons that sent streams of machine gun and cannon fire into the massed Japanese. Henderson Field was saved. The Marines moved across the high ground, and buried the dead with a bulldozer. This was the battle of Bloody Ridge.
Worse than the hail of bombs from Japanese aircraft coming over the field at “Tojo Time” was the accuracy of shellfire from Japanese warships and submarines, which steamed close inshore to bracket Henderson Field from one end to the other. “Washing Machine Charlie”, the Japanese bomber which came at night to disturb the fitful sleep of American troops, was no great menace. Far more disturbing was “Pistol Pete,” who was able to drop artillery shells on Henderson Field with deadly accuracy for many weeks.
By December 1942, conditions on Guadalcanal had improved. “Guadalcanal isn’t what it used to be” was the attitude of the veterans of the early days. Yet, Eddie Rickenbacker paid a brief visit in December to Guadalcanal, and went home to write in LIFE Magazine, 8 February 1943: “If New Guinea is a hellhole, Guadalcanal is ten times so.”
The Guadalcanal campaign officially ended in February 1943, for by that time Japanese ground resistance on the island had been crushed, although enemy aircraft continued to plague the island through the summer. Off shore, in Iron Bottom Bay, where tons of American and Japanese warships lay sunk, American transports found relatively safe anchorage.
IN the history of the war in the Pacific, Lunga Beach on the northern coast of Guadalcanal will long be remembered. The initial impact of the Allied offensive in the Pacific fell 2 ½ miles east of this beach on 7 August 1942, when Marines of the 1st Division landed in the vicinity of Koli Point, to stem the Japanese advance and to begin the long Allied drive toward the Philippines.
On the morning of the 8th of August, the 5th Regiment of the 1st Division, moved across Lunga Beach and through the coconut groves to Lunga Lagoon, which is only 200 yards west of the scene shown in the painting. Here the first Japanese prisoner of the campaign was taken. Early in the afternoon, Marines of the 1st Regiment reached the highly prized airfield, only to find it abandoned. The 5th pushed on during the same day, almost unopposed to the Lunga Point area, where the enemy had originally concentrated his forces.
Why the Japanese failed to defend the field, why they gave up the center of their early defenses without a fight is still a mystery. It can only be surmised that our landing caught them completely off guard.
When the ground fighting had ended in February 1943, steps were taken to build up Guadalcanal as a key air and supply base in the South Pacific. Early in 1944, it became the nerve center and main supply base of the Thirteenth Air Force. During 1944, more than one third of the personnel of the entire Air Force was stationed there.
Lunga Beach was transformed in a matter of months from a quiet landing spot for native craft to a noisy, bustling place where cargo ships disgorged mountains of supplies. LSTs, DUKs and other small landing craft hauled supplies from the cargo ships to the beach. GI stevedores, using modern equipment, sweated under the equatorial sun and often into the cool of the night to load the supplies on trucks for transportation to supply depots. Pipe-smoking natives assisted the stevedores, concealing beneath a calm exterior their wonder at the strange world which had so suddenly enveloped them.
THE 67th Fighter Squadron, which landed on Henderson Field fifteen days after the Marines hit Lunga Beach, was equipped with P-400 fighter planes, a modified version of the early P-33s manufactured for export to the British. It was soon clear that the P-400 was no match for the Zero. Scrambling to hit a reported 20 or more single engine enemy planes heading towards Guadalcanal, on 30 August, Marine Grumman Wildcats took off with 10 P-400s. What happened is best told by one of the 67th Fighter Squadron pilots who was there.
“The P-400s started turning into a Luffberry, but there were more Zeros in the Luffberry than there were P-400s. Then the Grumman Wildcats came down from above and hit the Zeros. The mix-up began. Zeros were everywhere, zipping, darting, and twisting, climbing straight up, and practically making square turns. The 67th pilots, in their heavy, lumbering P-400s, felt like a herd of cows being attacked on every flank by agile wolves.”
Only 6 of the 10 P-400s came back, and those that did were badly damaged by enemy fire. Two of the pilots shot down were later rescued. Although the P-400s shot down 4 Zeros and 3 probables, it was clearly evident that they were outclassed. The P-400 was definitely a medium altitude plane. It could not climb high enough to reach Japanese bombers, nor could it maneuver and dogfight with the Zero. The pilots were willing, and eager to fight. How could they be used?
Despite its limitations, the P-400 was fitted with armor plate, with a 20 millimeter cannon, with two .50 calibre and four .30 calibre machine guns; it could carry a bomb; and its engine operated reasonably well at low altitudes. The decision was made to use the 67th Fighter Squadron and its P-400s as attack planes against Japanese ground forces and ships. The P-400 could bomb enemy installations; it could sink landing barges with its cannon: it could strafe ground troops with its six machine guns.
Attack operations began, on 2 September 1942, against enemy troops that landed 20 miles east of Henderson field. The bombing and strafing was so successful that attack work became the regular mission of the P-400s. Outposts of Marine infantry units would report a concentration of Japanese at a certain location. The target would be pin-pointed for the fighter pilots on maps and by cloth panels on the ground at the nearest American line.
Taking off with bombs, and sometimes with depth charges slung under the bellies of their P-400s, the pilots dive bombed the target and then made strafing runs with machine guns blazing. It was blind work; in skimming the tree tops, or in diving at 300 to 400 miles per hour at a 70 degree angle, the pilot had little time to see the enemy. But when the mission was finished, and infantry moved into the thick jungle or coconut groves, they found dozens of enemy dead which had been riddled from above by the Army fighters.
P-400s often lashed out in attack operations against the “Tokyo Express,” the fast, strongly protected transport, cargo, and combat ships attempting to reinforce Guadalcanal from Rabaul. Although Marine and Navy dive and torpedo bombers launched the main attack against the “Tokyo Express”, P-400s of the 67th, reinforced later by P-39s from the same squadron, aided the Marines by intercepting Zeros guarding the convoys.
The last great attempt of the “Tokyo Express” to reinforce Guadalcanal resulted in the combined Army, Navy, and Marine action of 14-15 November. The enemy convoy, which was sighted by a B-17 flying reconnaissance, consisted of 12 cargo and transport ships guarded by escorting warships. The convoy was carrying thousands of troops; Americans on Guadalcanal were in danger of being overwhelmed. On 14 November, Marine and Navy SBDs and TBFs, together with Army B-17s hit the convoy. By nightfall, 8 of the 12 transports, which had become separated from their escorts in the melee of battle, were either sunk or beached.
Early the next morning, while a Navy surface task force engaged the Japanese warships, a P-39 of the 67th Fighter Squadron was searching for signs of enemy activity along the shore on Guadalcanal. At Tassafaronga, about 18 miles from Lungo Point, a beached Japanese transport was spotted. Two others were in the process of being beached, and a fourth was in the channel heading for shore. Four ships, which had escaped the blows of the day before, were intent upon beaching their troops and cargoes. To make sure of his discovery, the pilot dropped down to 800 feet, while the antiaircraft fire sent up by the ships burst virtually under his nose. He then veered off and rushed back to Henderson Field with the news.
By nine o’clock in the morning 5 P-39s took off, loaded with bombs. They were joined by Navy dive bombers and Army B-26s flown in from other Pacific bases. Over the target, the planes chose a ship and dived to attack. The P-39s dived on the fourth ship, scoring direct hits. When all bombs were gone, they flew back to Henderson Field for more. Three times the P-39s struck the beached ships, bombing and strafing in vicious attacks. Marines, Navy, and Army B-17s continued the pressure. Finally, the Navy destroyer Meade came up to shell the already burning vessels.
The hulks of these ships, lying in the shallows on the beach between Lunga Point and Cape Esperance, are semi-permanent monuments to the little force of Army and Marine pilots who fought against great odds on Guadalcanal. A year after the attack on the beached vessels, when Guadalcanal was a peaceful, unmolested base, soldiers on days off traveled to Tassafaronga to climb over the burned hulks, exploring for souvenirs, or taking photographs of the Japanese remains.
THERE is nothing in this picture to suggest the “green hell” that war reporters have used in describing Guadalcanal. The winding stream, the cloud-capped mountains, the towering trees, banyan, rosewood and mahogany, while not producing the effect of a Garden of Eden, compare not unfavorably with scenes in the western part of the United States. Yet, behind the outward beauty are the jungles and swamps, the heat and malaria, that made Guadalcanal a “green hell” when American troops first fought on that island.
The river shown in the painting is the Malimbu; like the Tenaru and the Matanikau, it was a natural barrier of defense. American forces met the Japanese in the vicinity of the Malimbu, as they did along the banks of the Tenaru and the Matanikau. Although the fighting in the area of the Malimbu never reached the ferocity of the conflict on the Tenaru and the Matanikau, the victory that was scored here was essential to the maintenance of the eastern perimeter protecting Henderson Field.
On the night of 3 November, a force of approximately 2000 Japanese landed east of Koli point. To counter this threat to our eastern line, the 7th Marines less the 3rd Battalion, the 164th Infantry of the Americal Division, and Carlson’s 2nd Raider Battalion moved up to the Malimbu river, eliminated or drove back several Japanese detachments that had infiltrated across the stream and established a strong defensive position on the west bank. During the next few days, American forces succeeded in crossing the Malimbu, which was then at flood stage; with the help of Carlson’s raiders coming in from Asia, they began an enveloping movement to surround the Japanese. Although the largest part of the Japanese slipped away, those who were unable to escape were wiped out, and the beachhead was destroyed. It was left to Carlson’s raiders some time later to track down and destroy, in a brilliant jungle campaign, the force that escaped inland.
When Guadalcanal became secure and was a major base for American troops, the Malimbu was bridged. Trucks, jeeps, command cars, weapon carriers, and almost every other type of Army vehicle rumbled over the bridge day and night. The bridge was a link in the main road connecting Henderson Field with Carney, where Thirteenth Air Force heavy bombers were based.
Natives, who had retreated into the hills during the battles for the island, returned to the coast when the conflict was over. They watched silently while jeep and truck drivers drove vehicles into the Malimbu to wash away the dust and caked mud.
When torrential rains came in February and March 1944, the flooded river carried away a portion of the bridge, and for a time planes provided short-line transportation between Henderson and Carney Fields.
In building the new bridge, engineers, accustomed to field experiments, ingeniously made use of 5’x5’x8’ Navy pontoon “cubes” to construct the 50 foot center span. Maintenance of the bridge was at one time the responsibility of the 810th Engineer Aviation Battalion, a Thirteenth Air Force Negro outfit which was part of the first army task force to cross the Pacific after Pearl Harbor.
GUADALCANAL will long live in the history of the war in the Pacific. It marked a turning point in the struggle; the beginning of the Allied counter-offensive. It became a symbol of self-sacrifice, endurance and courage. These qualities, as well as strength in men and equipment, enabled American forces to invade, hold on, advance and win.
Guadalcanal will live in the memories of the men of the Thirteenth Air Force. It was the island over which Army fighters first went into combat, to meet the enemy in the air and on the ground. It was the island in which the B-17s and B-24s of the Thirteenth showed the offensive power of which they were capable, as they drove deep into enemy territory. It was the island which became the chief base of supplies for the Thirteenth. And it was the land of dust, mud, and mosquitoes.
But Guadalcanal will be remembered by members of the Thirteenth for still another reason. It is the resting place of many men whom they knew, men with whom they lived, worked and fought; it is the resting place of men who fell in the land, sea, and air battles of Guadalcanal.
The painting shows Guadalcanal Chapel and cemetery. Men from the Marines, Navy, Army Ground and Air Forces lie buried here. The Chapel was erected in their memory. Built by the natives in 1943, the presentation to the Americans was made by a barefoot Christian who said: “We have worked hard and we hope you like this church. And we pray that God will bless all of you and we hope you will pray for your friends who are lying in this cemetery . . . Now we give this church to you.”
“TONIGHT and every night” was theatre time in the Thirteenth. If your own organization showed movies only three times a week, there was always one showing not far down the road at a neighboring camp. Around seven o’clock in the evening, dusk faded into darkness, and men began to wander to the movie area to find a seat for the show, to relax and to escape into another world, where the tropics could be completely forgotten.
Special Service officers, knowing the morale value of movies, made every effort to get theatres constructed in new camps as soon as possible. Movie construction was usually as simple as building a small projection booth, hanging an improvised screen, and installing a sound system. Sometimes elaborate theatres were built with stages and a curtain displaying the unit’s insignia.
Some theatres were fortunate enough to have wooden seats. The favorite method of providing seats, however, was to use expendable bomb fin packing cases, which provided a four-legged metal stool. “Jungle Bowl,” “Tropicana,” and “Coralcabana” were typical names of outdoor theatres.
Jungle theatres had certain definite advantages over houses in the “States”. Whether to sit downstairs or in the balcony was never a problem for there were no balconies; smoking was permitted throughout the “house”; exits were not hard to find; air conditioning was a universal feature; and the price of admission never varied - it was always free. Among the disadvantages were mosquitoes and rain, which seldom discouraged anyone; men took their raincoats and ponchos, prepared to sit through the show no matter how hard the downpour.
Along with food and mail, the movie was an indispensable aid to morale. For men who had been out of touch with civilization for months and even years, movies formed a link with the past, and helped them to return to the world from which they had been separated.
WIMPY, whose friendship with Popeye the Sailor is as well known as his uncontrollable appetite for hamburger sandwiches, has his name on hamburger shops throughout the United States. His name is a synonym for ground beef on a bun, garnished with mustard, pickle, relish, onions, and other appetizers.
Renard Field, in the Russell Islands, which lie between Guadalcanal and Munda, was an unexpected place to discover another Wimpy’s Cafe. It was hard to believe that a man could find, in the midst of the Solomon Islands, fresh hamburgers served with mustard and pickle. Doubt was resolved, however, on approaching the cafe by the smell of sizzling beef permeating the air.
Wimpy’s was part of the world-girdling chain of enterprises operated by the American Red Cross, not only in crowded cities but also in lonely outposts such as the Russells. Most airfields throughout the South and Southwest Pacific had Red Cross canteens. Some were merely tents; others, like Wimpy’s Cafe, were products of a more vivid imagination.
The canteens were established to serve transient air crews and passengers stopping at a field. Transients stopping at Renard strip ate at Wimpy’s by obtaining a “chit” from the Air Freight Office. It is safe to assume that members of the Thirteenth Air Force medium bomber and fighter squadrons stationed in the Russells during 1944 managed to find ways to eat a mid-afternoon snack and “fan the breeze” with the American Red Cross girls without first stopping for the customary chit.
COMBAT flying in the Pacific was unusually hazardous because of peculiar weather conditions and the difficulties of flying great distances over open water. It was recognized by the Air Force from the very beginning that regular and adequate rest leaves were absolutely necessary for combat efficiency. During their period of operation in the South Pacific, the Thirteenth sent flying personnel to Auckland, New Zealand, for rest leaves. The policy of rest leaves was introduced in April 1943, and was continued until the Air Force left the South Pacific in June 1944. During this time, more than 8,000 men, mainly airmen, flew the 1,500 to 2,300 miles from the forward combat bases to Auckland.
Although flying personnel were given leaves every six weeks or so after the system was established, many were in the jungle at the beginning of the war for long periods of time before going on leave. There were also many ground officers who did not have the opportunity of going on leave in New Zealand, or later in Australia, until they had been in the tropics for a year or more. To these men, a trip to Auckland or Sydney had a special meaning.
It is difficult to describe the feelings of a man who first comes into contact with civilization after he has spent months in the jungle. He is impressed with the sight of streets and sidewalks; he is impressed with the sight of women in dresses, and of children, their voices and their laughter. He finds a brightness in the life about him to which he has not been accustomed. He notices colors whose existence he had almost forgotten: colors in the store windows, in the gardens and the parks, within homes, in the decorations, and in feminine attire. He is impressed, too, with the paraphernalia of civilization; the tools, the fabrics, the roofs and walls that keep out the heat and rain, and the hot and cold running water, to mention only a few items. He is no less sensitive to the refinements of civilized living; his eyes light up when he sits down to a white table cloth, set with china and silver service. All these things fill him with enthusiasm, recreate interests that for some time had been little more than a memory.
Delighted with their new environment, the men who came to Auckland lost no time in entering into the life of the city. The fact was that men turned loose in Auckland after living in the jungle were apt to crowd into their brief seven to nine day leave as much activity as possible, on as little rest as possible. Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand, with a population of 225,000 had almost everything that an American city of comparable size might have. Indeed, Auckland had at least two things not usually found in an American city of the same size; two race tracks, where followers of the “sport of kings” might exercise their royal intuition or skill in picking a winner.
But racing was not the only sport. There was also tennis, golfing, swimming, bicycling, and horseback riding; these sports were frequently carried on with New Zealand girls who enjoyed the international partnership as much as our men.
On the cultural side, the Auckland Art Gallery housed a representative collection of modern British and Continental painting and sculpture, as well as an exhibit of New Zealand artists. Legitimate stage productions could be seen at His Majesty’s theatre, while the War Memorial Museum contained a fine collection of Maori art.
Auckland also had its quota of night clubs. There was the Civic Theatre, which is shown in the painting. The Civic Theatre was a central meeting place for many; movies were shown in the Civic Theatre during the earlier part of the evening, and dances were held, on the lower floor of the house, during the latter part. Glendowie Club, on the outskirts of Auckland, was especially well known for its supper and dancing. The Trocadero and Peter Pan were night clubs in the city which attracted Americans, each in its own way. The Trocadero was sophisticated; Peter Pan was informal; if you did not have a date, you could find one here.
After spending a few days in Auckland, many airmen journeyed 150 miles to Rotorua, the Yellowstone of New Zealand. Here were geysers, hot bubbling springs, fumeroles; and nearby was Lake Taupo, whose color rivaled the deep sapphire blue of Crater Lake in Oregon. Resorts at Rotorua provided sports like tennis, golf, and horseback riding. The trout fishing was said to rank with the best in the world.
Upon arrival in Auckland, “restees” were given a physical examination and psychiatric and psychological interrogation, and medical or psychiatric care, if needed. The results of these examinations made possible a description of the “average” flying man.
The “average” flying officer or enlisted man who came to Auckland on official rest leave was 24 years old, unmarried and graduated from high school. He may have attended college for a few years. He had been six months in grade and away from the United States eight months. He had flown more than 600 hours in military aircraft of which 120 hours were flown in 21 combat missions. He was in good physical condition, although tired and in need of rest and recreation. He smoked a good many cigarettes and drank moderately. He had lost close friends and accepted it as inevitable. His morale was excellent and he was vitally interested in fighting and winning the war.
Auckland gave him a much needed change, and he went back to the jungle islands to fight and fly again, refreshed and relaxed.
In Auckland, officers usually put up at the Waverley or Royal Hotel, or at Kia Ora, which was an officers’ club managed by the American Red Cross. Kia Ora, which means “good luck”, in the Maori language provided quiet enjoyment for the men on leave from the battle areas of the South Pacific. Life centered around a large open fireplace in the main lounge, where “restees” could sit and listen to classical music or read books from the well stocked library, or converse with one another.
Recreation facilities in and around the club included croquet, pool, billiards, pingpong, and card games. Every Sunday or Monday night, a formal dance was held in the lounge. Candles and flowers lent a festive note. Dancing was followed by a midnight buffet supper which was calculated not only to tempt a fastidious gourmet, but which appealed especially to men who had been on a diet of C-rations and dehydrated potatoes.
When outside activities were requested, the staff at Kia Ora arranged tennis parties, golf, and horseback riding. An outstanding feature of Kia Ora was the “privilege of the kitchen”; each resident could use the kitchen as he would do in his own home. The ice box crammed with eggs, steaks, milk, and good things, was especially popular at midnight. The more enterprising would grill steaks, fry bacon and eggs, or manufacture “Dagwoods,” as well as drink milk, and brew coffee. Many problems of the world were settled during the midnight stand in the kitchen.
Kia Ora was opened in December 1942, with accommodations for forty-eight guests. An average of 5,000 to 6,000 meals was served per month, many of them to officers of the Thirteenth Air Force.
Kia Ora will be remembered by many men who wear the Maori good luck charm, a silver tiki, given to each guest as he registered.
MUNDA airfield during the early part of 1943 was a Japanese threat to the Allied base on Guadalcanal. Wrested from the Japanese in August, it was enlarged, and then used by the Allies to attack the greatest Japanese base in the South or Southwest Pacific - Rabaul.
The Japanese began the construction of Munda airfield in November 1942. In spite of attacks by B-17s from Espiritu Santo, and by other Allied craft, Zeros were operating from Munda by Christmas and by 29 December bombers were operating from the field. The Munda area, lying only 150 to 200 miles from Guadalcanal, offered protected anchorages and terrain suitable for military installations. The potential threat of this airfield was obvious.
From January 1943, when the Thirteenth Air Force was activated, through June, aircraft in the Solomons lashed out at Munda. Naval task forces joined in the assault, shelling Munda from the sea. Air and naval bombardment was unable to reduce the Japanese base. In order to end the enemy threat at Munda, and in order to use the area as an offensive base for our own operations, preparations were made to invade New Georgia and seize the Munda airfield.
The Munda offensive opened 30 June, with landings on Rendova Island, off Munda. A few days later, landings were made on New Georgia. After five weeks of hard fighting, Munda fell, on 5 August, to American troops converging on it from several directions.
From the time of the initial landings on Rendova to the final capture of the airfield at Munda, Thirteenth Air Force planes supported the offensive, attacking enemy strips in the Bougainville-Buka area, as well as at Munda itself. The Jungle Air Force also furnished patrols and air cover for our task forces. Thirteenth Air Force planes flew a greater number of sorties and dropped a greater tonnage of bombs in this offensive than during any prior five week period in their history. They flew more than 3,500 sorties and dropped more than 800 tons of bombs, while expending more than 300,000 rounds of ammunition. Thirteenth Air Force planes accounted for 66 of the 372 enemy planes destroyed in the campaign.
By 15 August, Seabees had the Munda strip ready for American operations. To add to their airfields on Guadalcanal and the Russell Islands, the Allies now had an airfield within 400 miles of Rabaul, and much closer to Bougainville to the northwest. Munda airfield was later developed by the Navy, to the point where its coral-packed strip, 300 feet wide and 8,000 feet long, came to be considered the finest in the Solomons.
The first Thirteenth Air Force unit to arrive at Munda was the 11th Airdrome Squadron, which arrived on 10 September 1943. The 11th remained there until the latter part of December, servicing Thirteenth Air Force fighters and bombers which staged through Munda for strikes farther north. In January 1944, other Thirteenth Air Force units arrived: the 14th Airdrome Squadron: the greater part of the 321st Service Group; the newly activated 868th Bombardment Squadron (H); and part of the ground and flight echelons of both the 5th and 307th Bombardment Groups.
In the initial stages of the all-out assault on Rabaul, which began in late December. Thirteenth Air Force Liberators, based on Guadalcanal, used Munda as a staging field. By late January, a large part of the Liberators were using Munda as their “permanent” base in the final stages of the attack on Rabaul.
By the end of March 1944, the Liberators were ripe for other targets. From Munda and Guadalcanal, the heavies, staging through Torokina and Green Island, reached out into the central Pacific to open the campaign against Truk, key Japanese base in the Mandated Islands.
The heavies did not remain long at Munda. By the first week in May, all of them, together with the 321st Service Group, had moved to newly won Los Negros in the Admiralty Islands. During the period when substantial numbers of Thirteenth Air Force men were stationed at Munda, enemy air raids had virtually ceased. Five small raids were experienced, however, from January to April 1944.
KEEPING an airplane operating, even under the best conditions in peacetime, requires continuous maintenance. In wartime, on the scattered island bases of the Thirteenth Air Force, the job was many times more difficult.
Maintenance crews in the South and Southwest Pacific were concerned largely with two types of problems: problems brought about by tropical climate, and those that resulted from combat. Humidity, which was always near the saturation point, corroded metal surfaces, produced condensation of moisture within instruments and leakage and short circuiting of electrical systems. The abrasive effect of ever-present coral or volcanic dust also presented a major problem of maintenance.
Maintenance crews of the heavy bombers found their work increased by the long distances flown by the Liberators. Twelve hour missions, which were not at all unusual, meant that the regular 25 hour inspection, requiring about 100 man-hours, came after every 2 missions.
Thirteenth Air Force planes enjoyed a low rate of damage from enemy action; during 1944, only about 4% were damaged by the Japanese. Each damaged plane, however, required an average of 300 man-hours to repair.
In spite of the difficulties, many of which were peculiar to jungle island warfare, maintenance crews achieved a commendable record in keeping the planes of the Thirteenth in flying condition. During 1944, they maintained a daily average of more than two-thirds of available aircraft ready for combat, while less than 4% failed to reach their distant targets owing to mechanical failure.
At no base was the maintenance function more important than at Munda, for Munda was the base from which the heavies administered the final knock-out blow to Rabaul. Service functions at Munda were performed by the ground crews of the tactical squadrons, and the 321st Service Group with its attached units. The 321st made up the Service Center at Munda and included approximately 2,500 enlisted men and officers. Among the units in the Service Group were the headquarters squadron, one service squadron and a detachment from another, two ordnance companies, one truck company, one quartermaster service company, one signal company, one airdrome squadron, one engineer aviation battalion, one air base security battalion, and part of a heavy signal construction battalion.
These units, working together, kept a daily average of 24 heavy bombers in the air against Rabaul. The 321st Service Group performed other services.
During January and February, it furnished drivers for all aviation gasoline maintenance and repair of its land-based PB4Ys (the Navy version of the B-24, used in long-range, over-water search).
Operations at Munda were carried on during January, February and March, 1944; the B-24s flew their first mission against Rabaul from the new base on 28 January 1944, and the last raid in force was 2 April. The greater part of the damage suffered by our planes was caused by Japanese anti-aircraft fire over the target, which was the worst that Allied flyers had experienced up to this time. Although not many planes were lost to Japanese ack-ack, the engineering facilities of the tactical and service groups were strained to the utmost to keep our planes in the air over Rabaul.
The Japanese raided Munda on 14 February and 14 March. Some damage was caused by the February raid when a few “daisy cutters” exploded on the southwest taxiway. The March raid, however, resulted in no damage; the Japanese pilot missed the strip entirely with a full stick of bombs which landed in the water off the west end. At Ondonga, however, a strip just across the island where the 70th Fighter Squadron was based, extensive damage was done, on 14 March, with accurate hits on supply and personnel areas.
The number of planes available at Munda was limited, and replacements were hard to get. Planes were repaired again and again; under normal circumstances, many of these planes would have been salvaged instead of repaired. After a plane was placed on the salvage list at Munda, it was immediately cannabalized for spare parts. Nor was the supply which was flown in from Guadalcanal sufficient: there were times when some planes were grounded for a month owing to a lack of parts.
“Skin” repairs, calling for sheet metal patches to be riveted onto the plane at some point over a hole caused by flak were the most frequent type made. Engine changes, such as that shown in the painting, were, of course, common. Still another source of trouble at Munda was faulty operation of turbo-super-chargers, which caused practically all the turnbacks. Repairs were also made to electrical systems which had been shot out, to hydraulic systems which had become unoperational, and to bomb release mechanisms which failed to function.
Working conditions for ground crew of the tactical groups on the open strip was most trying because of the intense heat; one group reported a temperature of 140 F. on Munda strip in February of 1944. The Service Group personnel, however, which worked in an area among some trees off the northwest end of the strip, fared somewhat better. They operated under canopies and inside Quonset huts, which, at least, shielded them from the scorching sun.
IN 1942 and 1943, Japanese-held Rabaul on New Britain could be said to be a dagger pointed at Australia. It was without a doubt the strongest, largest, and best defended Japanese base in the Southwest Pacific. Its ring of five airfields served as both a sword and a shield.
Throughout the greater part of 1942 and 1943, Rabaul was hit by Fifth Air Force bombers. By the end of 1943, Rabaul was bleeding, but was still strong. Its airfields were defended by more than 150 planes. It was still the hub of Japanese shipping in the Southwest Pacific. In the single month of December, 400,000 gross tons of shipping passed in and out of its deep and well-protected harbor. The Fifth Air Force moved on to other targets, leaving the Thirteenth, and other members of the South Pacific air team, to deliver the death blow.
Day after day, from the end of December through January and February and into March, Thirteenth Air Force Liberators and Mitchells, aided by Lightnings and Airacobras, hammered Rabaul and its satellite airfields. More than 4,700 tons of bombs were dropped by the Thirteenth in its all-out assault during the first three months of 1944.
The Japanese made a determined effort to stop the assault and save their key base. In the opening weeks, the enemy replaced its fighters as fast as they were knocked down; indeed, the number of enemy planes at Rabaul grew, reaching a peak of more than 250 on 21 January 1944. From that time on, enemy air power waned, and by 20 February, enemy fighter-interceptors were virtually driven from the Rabaul skies.
By mid-March, two-thirds of Rabaul’s 1,400 buildings were destroyed. Its airfields were cratered. Enemy shipping rarely dared venture into Samson Harbor. Rabaul was dead. The Liberators prepared their bombsights for new targets in the Carolines. Mitchells, Lightnings and Airacobras were left to watch over the corpse. They continued to bomb Rabaul in order to assure that there would be no resurrection. In July and August, they moved on to new targets in western New Guinea and the Netherlands East Indies.
It is worth pointing out that after V-J Day, when the small force left on Rabaul surrendered to the Allies, there was a Japanese general among them. Perhaps the most interesting testimony given by him to our intelligence officers was that Admiral Yamamoto had ordered that Navy fighters from Japanese carriers be used to defend Rabaul, that some 600 to 700 had been used up in its defense, and that this was probably the main reason why the Japanese were unable to put on a first-rate carrier attack during the remainder of the war.
The painting shows a day in January 1944, over Rabaul, when enemy fighters were still contesting the skies, and Liberators were escorted by Lightnings.
THE phrase, “Tokyo Express coming down the slot”, might seem more colorful than descriptive, but every veteran of the early fighting in the Solomons knew what it meant. In the early fighting on Guadalcanal, it usually meant trouble; it meant that Japanese reinforcements were coming down.
It meant a convoy of fast transports, accompanied by light warships coming full speed ahead along a route skirting the east coast of Bougainville, passing through the strait between Choisol and New Georgia, traveling by the west coast of Santa Isabel, to land reinforcements under cover of night at Guadalcanal, and then withdrawing, before the light of day exposed it to Allied air and naval patrols. Later, the “Express” was used to effect quick evacuations from Guadalcanal. After the fighting on Guadalcanal ended in February 1943, with the Japanese withdrawal, the “Express” continued to operate throughout the greater part of the campaign in the Solomons, bringing in reinforcements, but more often effecting evacuations, along an ever-shortening right of way.
The route traveled by the “Express” was never free from hazard, but was made immeasurably more hazardous by the arrival of 10 “Snooper” planes in August 1943. Equipped with radar search devices and blind bombing attachments, these modified Liberators were capable of lifting the cover of darkness guarding the operations of the “Express.” Indeed, the Snoopers, while them-selves relying upon the darkness to screen them from the enemy, could see his ships at a greater distance and more accurately at night than human eyes could see them in the daytime.
Upon arrival, the Snoopers became part of the Thirteenth’s 394th Bombardment Squadron (H), and were assigned the primary mission of searching out and destroying Japanese shipping at night. In October, they were taken out of the 394th and became known as the 5th Bombardment Group Project. On 1 January 1944, they were organized as an independent squadron - the 868th Bombardment Squadron (H).
The Snoopers were not long in proving the effectiveness of their night piercing eyes. Bombing at altitudes generally ranging from 1000 to 2000 feet, the Snoopers played havoc with Japanese shipping. In little more than four months, from August through December 1943, they were credited with more than 34,000 tons of Japanese shipping sunk; more than 8,000 tons probably sunk; and nearly 75,000 tons damaged. Included in the ships sunk were: an aircraft carrier; 2 destroyers; 2 submarines: and 2 transports. Ships probably sunk included: a cruiser; a destroyer; and a submarine. Those damaged included an aircraft carrier; a cruiser; 3 destroyers: and a submarine.
Not a great deal of Japanese shipping remained in the Snoopers’ hunting preserves in the South Pacific after December 1943. From January until late April 1944, when they moved to Los Negros in the Admiralties, the Snoopers bagged only 12,000 tons of Japanese shipping sunk, 1,800 probably sunk and 11,000 damaged.
It was not until the Snoopers moved to Noemfoor, off western New Guinea, in October, that they found enemy game to be more plentiful. The amount proved however, to be smaller than what they had found in the Solomons during the days of the “Tokyo Express”. In the waters of the Netherlands East Indies and the Philippines, the Japanese relied mainly upon hundreds of small boats to maintain supply and communication lines between their scattered and isolated forces.
From October 1944 to V-J Day, the Snoopers hunted the small craft in the East Indies and Philippine waters; larger craft, when found, were not, of course, neglected. A final tabulation of the shipping sunk or damaged by the Snoopers during this period showed: 119 ships totaling more than 62,000 tons sunk; 31 ships totaling 38,000 tons probably sunk; and 322 ships totaling 110,000 tons damaged. The largest of the quarry was a 600 foot, 13,000 ton aircraft carrier, which was probably sunk in March 1945.
The painting simulates a Snooper intercepting the “Tokyo Express” on 28 September 1943. On that night, 11 enemy ships sped down the “Slot” to evacuate troops from Kolombangara. The Snoopers had 6 planes guarding the “Slot.” The enemy convoy was sighted in Bougainville Strait at nightfall. The Snoopers moved in quickly: they were credited with sinking an auxiliary aircraft carrier accompanying the convoy; they also scored several direct hits on a destroyer; and harried the convoy until it finally turned back.
IN 1943, Kahili airfield on southern Bougainville was by all odds the most important aerial target in the Solomons. Harboring as many as 100 Japanese aircraft at various times during the year, with a reservoir of replacements at Rabaul, Kahili presented a serious threat to the Allied forces dug in on Guadalcanal, just as it did to those that later were established on New Georgia and Bougainville.
To reduce the threat of Kahili, Allied planes hit the Japanese base time and again throughout the year. Some of the first missions flown by the Thirteenth upon its activation, in January 1943, were against Kahili. The Thirteenth’s attacks rose to a peak in July, while the New Georgia campaign was underway, and reached an even higher level in the month preceding the landing on Bougainville in November. At the year’s end, an accounting showed that more than 30% of the bombing effort of the Thirteenth Air Force during its first year had been directed against Kahili, with the result that Kahili was no longer a serious threat.
All the Thirteenth’s planes played a part in the reduction of Kahili. The heavies struck Kahili throughout 1943, while the mediums came into the spotlight during the latter part of the year when they moved up to Munda and were within easy striking range of the Japanese strong point.
Among the outstanding missions flown by the mediums was the strike on 6 October, which brought the 42nd Bombardment Group (M) a special commendation from the Air Command Solomons (COMAIRSOLS). In the first parafrag mission to be flown in the South Pacific, 24 Mitchells, with 14 Thirteenth Air Force Lightnings providing top cover, swept in at dusk to deliver a devastating blow. Coming in on the deck at 160 feet, and using parachute bombs to permit a get-away from the blast, the Mitchells in four waves cut loose 239 clusters of fragmentation bombs, and raked the field with machine gun fire. Intense and accurate antiaircraft fire peppered the last two waves.
The raid was all over in 3 minutes, but the effects of the strike lasted for many days.
The success of the attack prevented the Japanese from giving air support to the “Tokyo Express”, which was attempting to evacuate troops from Vella La Vella. The “Tokyo Express”, which consisted of light cruisers, destroyers and other fast ships, was caught by 3 American destroyers, on the night of 6 October 1943. The Americans attacked boldly and sent a light cruiser and 2 destroyers to the bottom, and damaged 2 other destroyers, before one of their own number was sunk, at which time they withdrew. Had the Japanese been able to place planes in the air from Kahili, which was 90 miles from the scene of the action, victory might have gone to the enemy.
In his commendation of the 42nd Bomb Group for the B-25 parafrag mission, Major General Nathan F. Twining, COMAIRSOLS, said: “This well-timed and devastating attack prevented enemy air operations against our forces during the next two days. The curtailment of his (Japanese) operations (air) in the New Georgia area was of inestimable value to our forces as it permitted our crippled destroyers to withdraw safely from the night action of 6 October 1943, made possible the unrestricted rescue operations by motor torpedo boats and Dumbos off the island of Vella La Vella, and enabled the large convoy of cargo ships to safely unload personnel and cargo at Barakoma; all accomplished without enemy air attacks, indicating complete success of the bombardment mission.”
In the painting, a wave of medium bombers can be seen, coming in over the taxi-way, with all forward guns firing, as they flew from the west at right angles to the northern end of the strip. On this mission, the B-25s expended 45,200 rounds of .50 calibre and 1,100 rounds of .30 calibre ammunition.
KNOW your enemy, know his strength and weakness, is a first principle of Army intelligence. Photographic reconnaissance is one of the most effective means of obtaining information of the enemy. It was especially valuable in the South and Southwest Pacific, where so little was known of the island territories.
The 17th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron was a member of the Thirteenth Air Force team since the Air Force’s activation in January 1943. It performed photographic reconnaissance not only for the Thirteenth, but also for other Allied air units.
The 17th commenced operations on 4 February 1943, at Guadalcanal. From that day until the end of June 1945, the squadron flew more than 3,600 combat missions, providing photographic coverage of targets from the Solomon Islands to the China coast and Singapore.
Most of the missions flown by the 17th were designed to provide the Air Force with information concerning aerial targets. The photographs, along with the aid of expert photographic interpretation, enabled the bombers to pin-point vital enemy installations and skirt enemy antiaircraft defenses. In addition, they provided the Air Force with an evaluation of bomb damage.
Many of the missions were flown in support of operations by other arms and services. The 17th’s photographs were particularly useful to the Eighth Army in its operations in the central and southern Philippines, enabling the ground force commanders to chart unfamiliar terrain, spot enemy troops and defenses. In two landings on Borneo - Brunei Bay and Balikpapan - in June 1945, the 17th’s planes photographed enemy defenses as the invasion fleets neared their objectives. The films were dropped on the flagships of the invasion fleets, giving the commanders last-minute information of the enemy.
The 17th used modified Lightnings, Mitchells and Liberators. Most of its missions were flown in stripped Lightnings, called F5s. Stripped of guns and with camera equipment weighing 500 pounds, the F5 was 400 pounds lighter than the combat Lightning. The lighter weight and smoother nose made possible a greater speed, while extra belly tanks afforded a greater range. In flying to Singapore from Palawan, to photograph the famous military bastion, the F5s traveled 2,100 miles.
Photographic reconnaissance men were among the few to experience the incongruity of winter weather in the tropics. Most of their missions were flown in below-zero temperatures above 25,000 feet.
The painting shows a 17th Photo plane over Rabaul on a day in January 1944, when Thirteenth Air Force Liberators, Mitchells, Lightnings, and Airacobras were engaged in one of the all-out assaults that led to the neutralization of the largest and most powerful Japanese base in the South and Southwest Pacific.
ALLIED forces invaded Japanese-held Bougainville near Torokina on Empress Augusta Bay on 1 November 1943. Forty days later, the Torokina fighter strip, which was one of three strips built at the Bougainville base, was open for operations. P-39 Airacobras and P-38 Lightnings of the Thirteenth Air Force were soon hammering Bougainville and Rabaul targets from Torokina.
Close by the sea, the strip was only 4 feet above sea level. Its 4,230 foot length and 100 foot width was covered with Marston steel matting, as was the 50 foot taxi-way running parallel to the strip.
Torokina is about 300 miles from Rabaul. Short-range Airacobras on Rabaul missions staged through Green Island after March 1944, while Lightnings were able to go the full distance.
Bougainville Island provided good hunting for the Torokina-based fighters. The Japanese sought to take full advantage of jungle and foliage cover, but jungle-wise fighter pilots searched out and destroyed Japanese personnel and supplies wherever they hid. Pilots learned to search under the camouflage of overhanging trees. Often by spraying a few bullets into a thick clump of trees near the shore or a trail, Japanese stores and bivouacs were revealed.
The Torokina fighter strip was also used by other Allied fighters; and from the beginning of February 1944, the Royal New Zealand Air Force controlled its operation. Fighter planes of the Thirteenth, which had been based at Torokina, left in August for Sansapor, on the western tip of New Guinea.
THE Allied forces in the South Pacific area constituted a holding force in 1942 and early 1943; their mission was to stem the aggressive thrusts of the Japanese towards New Caledonia and Australia. Their strategic holding action took the form of two offensives: the Guadalcanal campaign, from 7 August 1942 until 21 February 1943; and the Northern Solomons campaign, from 22 February 1943 until 21 November 1944. The latter included landings on Rendova, New Georgia, Vella Lavella, Treasury, Bougainville, and Green Islands; and was completed by the reduction of Rabaul by the Thirteenth Air Force.
The Army Air Forces did not send large numbers of aircraft to the South Pacific, for their main concern during 1942 and 1943 was building up air strength in the European theater, in order to launch gigantic attacks against Germany whose defeat was the first aim of the Allies.
During the Guadalcanal campaign, the heaviest burden of the air war in the Solomons fell upon the Marine Corps. Three Marine Air groups, MAG-23, MAG-11, and MAG-14, served on Guadalcanal; but of the three, MAG-23 bore the brunt of the early battles. The fliers of these groups wrote an epic story in the air above Guadalcanal, contributing in no small measure to the final victory over the enemy.
Almost every day and often at night during the six and a half months of the Guadalcanal campaign. Marine airmen participated in violent action over the island. They were forced to rise time after time into the air to ward off the enemy, for the Japanese had every intention of knocking out our planes on Henderson Field. They were fully aware that unless they achieved air supremacy over the island, they could not assure the success of landing reinforcements. Daily raids of Japanese bombers, with their accompanying Zero fighters, were usually intercepted and badly mauled by the Marine F4 (Wildcat) fighters.
The persistence of the Japanese to reinforce Guadalcanal by sea increased during October and November until a climax was reached with the naval battle of Guadalcanal which took place during 11-14 November; after a smashing victory by the American fleet, the Japanese retired to the Northern Solomons.
Prior to the naval battle of Guadalcanal, two other major attempts were made by the Japanese to convoy reinforcements to the hotly contested island.
These were marked by the battle of Cape Esperance, 11-12 October, and the battle of Santa Cruz Islands, 23-25 October; these three great movements of the enemy to reinforce Guadalcanal were repulsed not only by American naval action but also by unrelenting dive and torpedo bomber attacks, made against enemy warships and transports. These attacks were carried out mainly by Marine airmen flying from Henderson Field.
After the capture of Munda airstrip on New Georgia, 8 August 1943, Marine airmen were able to cover the landings on Vella La Vella, on Treasury and on Bougainville Islands. After the landing on Bougainville, 1 November 1943, the last major stepping stone to Rabaul was secured in the Northern Solomons. An airstrip was built at Torokina, near Empress Augusta Bay. The base on Bougainville placed fighters within range of Rabaul, permitting them to fly cover for the heavy bombers of the Thirteenth, which came from Munda to pound the great enemy stronghold on New Britain.
By the time Marine airmen flew into Torokina, on Bougainville, they were equipped with the new F4U (Corsair) fighters, which replaced the Wildcat of earlier days. The F4U gull-winged planes joined the P-38s of the Thirteenth and the P-40s of RNZAF to protect the heavies as they flew to their Rabaul targets. Flying top cover over the B-24s, the F4Us were prepared to knock down Japanese Zeros which came in over Simpson Harbor at high altitudes to attack the bomber formations of the Thirteenth.
The F4Us did not restrict their activities to defending the heavies. They also flew cover for Marine TBFs and SBDs, which struck at Japanese ships in Simpson Harbor and at enemy land installations in the Rabaul and Bougainvillea areas. The Corsairs carried out, in addition, independent fighter sweeps over New Britain and the Northern Solomons.
By the end of 1943, Marine airmen had achieved a remarkable record; they had destroyed over 800 enemy planes in combat over New Britain and the Solomons. With the exception of a few PBYs (the Marine version of the B-25), with which they were equipped during the Rabaul campaign, this record was made by single engine aircraft. As the brilliant score indicates, no Allied units fought more fearlessly and more effectively than the Marine air groups in the Guadalcanal and Northern Solomons campaign.
The painting shows a Marine F4U about to take off from Piva Yoke, a fighter strip near Torokina.
THROUGH radar’s magic eyes, enemy planes that would otherwise remain invisible could be spotted long before they reached their targets. Radar could detect enemy planes from 75 to 100 miles away. Radar disclosed their number, speed, altitude, distance and direction.
When unidentified planes appeared on the radarscope, the signal air warning men quickly called a “yellow alert”, which was notice to the base fighter controller and the antiaircraft artillery controller to get ready for an attack. Fighter planes were ordered to take off; those already in the air were directed toward the enemy. At the same time, gun crews were alerted.
When the enemy planes reached a point within approximately 30 miles of the base, a “red alert” was called, notifying all personnel to prepare for an air raid. Three resounding shots from the 40 and 90 millimeter guns, with the former using red tracers, announced the alert. If the attack was being made on a clear night, the enemy would know that he had been detected, for all lights would go out on the base.
If the enemy succeeded in skirting the fighters, and came in over the target area, 90 millimeter antiaircraft guns sent up a curtain of flak.
Radar was not infallible. Mountains interfered with its effectiveness. At Bougainville, Sansapor, and Morotai, enemy planes now and then slipped in behind the near-by mountains. In fact, the enemy managed to fly in unheralded to bomb Morotai 25 out of 82 times. Moderately large islands or groups of islands, such as Guadalcanal and Espiritu Santo, which permitted the location of radars so as to give a clear range of at least 50 miles, were good locations from the point of view of radar detection. Small islands, such as Los Negros, the Biak-Owi combination, and Noemfoor, which stood out for a distance of at least 50 miles in all directions from other land masses, were also good locations.
Sometimes the radar-wise enemy dropped “window”, thin strips of metallic paper calculated to set up plane-like images on the ‘scope, which was intended to confuse the radar operator. Occasionally the enemy was able to slip in undetected by coming in low over the water, or by tailing a friendly plane returning to base.
Radar was also used to locate friendly planes forced down in the sea or in the jungle.
Signal air warning men often worked and lived under conditions more difficult than those experienced by the average man of the Air Force. They followed in behind the assault forces on D-day. They were frequently stationed at isolated posts away from the main body of men. Often their only direct contact with the outside world was through weekly visits of an LCM or other small landing craft, which brought them mail and supplies. In some cases, Skytrains or tiny L-5s dropped supplies from the air.
These tiny bands of men at isolated outposts, deprived of even the limited diversions open to men at the main base, had the satisfaction of knowing that their work protected and saved Allied lives. The painting shows a radar installation of the 551st Signal Air Warning Battalion on Bougainville.
ALTHOUGH outnumbered by their Allies, the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) played a significant role in the victories of the United Nations in the South Pacific.
RNZAF had taken steps in 1941, prior to Pearl Harbor, to set up defenses against Japanese aggression. Survey parties had gone into areas of the South Pacific and the Malayan archipelago to lay the groundwork for the construction of airfields. A month after Pearl Harbor, heavy bombers from the United States were able to use the island of Vita Levu in the Fijis as a base, flying from a field built by a New Zealand airdrome construction unit.
New Zealand had been training air crews and pilots primarily for the European theater of war until the Japanese threat became a reality in the latter part of 1941 and early 1942. With the conquest of Malaya, New Guinea, and the Bismarcks, the very security of New Zealand was threatened: RNZAF was reorganized early in 1942 to defend the soil of its homeland.
By July 1942, RNZAF planes were flying bomber reconnaissance missions from Suva in the Fiji Islands to help American convoys in the South Pacific. As RNZAF grew in size, Catalina flying boat squadrons, torpedo-bomber squadrons, and a trans-Pacific ferry and transport squadron became part of the New Zealand organization.
By November 1942, one RNZAF bomber squadron was operating from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, and not long after, four bomber squadrons were operating from bases in the Solomons. These units participated in attacks on Japanese positions in Bougainville, New Britain, and New Ireland; they struck at the “Tokyo Express”, and took part in reconnaissance and patrol missions.
RNZAF flying boats, operating from bases in the Fijis, and from bases in the Tonga, New Hebrides, and Solomon Islands picked up 53 men adrift in the sea and directed rescue boats to many sinking ships and ditched air craft. The transport squadron carried supplies and personnel, operating regularly between New Zealand and RNZAF advanced bases.
RNZAF, however, emphasized the development of fighter squadrons.
After the elimination of the Japanese from Guadalcanal in February 1943, RNZAF fighters were in the air with Army and Marine fighters, helping to knock down Japanese planes, which continued to attack Guadalcanal until the summer of 1943.
RNZAF fighters flew patrols over New Georgia and the Treasury Islands, guarding bases and shipping; but RNZAF fighters flew their best strikes over Rabaul, which was persistently defended by the Japanese until finally neutralized by the Thirteenth Air Force. From Torokina, on Bougainville, RNZAF P-40 Warhawks flew fighter cover for B-24s of the Thirteenth as they attacked Rabaul. Flying directly over the Liberators, they were thought by many a bomber crew to be the most effective cover they had; no praise was too high for the protection they afforded. RNZAF Warhawks also conducted independent fighter sweeps against the Japanese bastion.
RNZAF fighters in the South Pacific shot down 99 Japanese planes by 13 February 1944. It was not long after, that Japanese fighter interception ceased entirely.
Perhaps the greatest action fought by RNZAF fighters in the South Pacific took place over Rabaul on 24 December 1943. Squadrons 16 and 17, each with 12 Warhawks, were over Rabaul Harbor, searching for action. Looking down, the pilots saw dust rising from one of the Rabaul fields: they knew that Japanese Zeros were coming upstairs to meet them. Flipping their P-40s into a dive, the fighters raced down to meet the Japanese at 18,000 feet, where a general dogfight developed. Planes were fighting in every section of the sky as RNZAF fighters and their wing men bored into the Japanese with their guns blazing.
The fight finished at sea level when the RNZAF fighters became heavily outnumbered; 40 miles from Rabaul, they fought themselves clear from the Japanese. RNZAF’s score for the engagement was 12 Zeros shot down, and 6 probably destroyed or badly damaged.
THE first American women to set foot on Guadalcanal, New Georgia, and many other South Pacific islands since the war in the Pacific began were flight nurses. They came as part of the Thirteenth’s 801st Medical Air Evacuation Squadron to help evacuate the sick and wounded from forward battle areas to rear hospitals, where the finest medical care went to save lives and speed recovery.
Not long after they arrived at New Caledonia in mid-February 1943, flight nurses began taking over the duties of air evacuation which the 801st’s flight surgeons had assumed one month earlier in the closing days of the Guadalcanal campaign.
From January 1943 to October 1944, when the squadron left the South Pacific to follow the advance of the tactical units of the Air Force into the Southwest Pacific, the 801st, using Thirteenth Air Force, Navy, and Marine Skytrains, evacuated more than 40,000 patients from the forward areas.
Air evacuation in the South Pacific reached a peak in March 1944, when the Japanese push was on at Bougainville. In ten days, the 801st evacuated more than 1,800 men to Guadalcanal and Espiritu Santo. As the attack died down in April, the work of the 801st tapered off. At this time, the 801st was based at Guadalcanal; it remained there until October, when it moved to Biak Island off western New Guinea.
The 801st operated out of Biak until March 1945, when it moved to Leyte in the Philippines. From October 1944 to April 1945, the squadron evacuated nearly 15,000 patients from Allied bases in the Philippines, the Netherlands East Indies and Palau. In April, a peak of 3,877 was reached.
Flight nurses averaged from 50 to 90 hours per month in the air, with flights averaging from 4 to 8 hours flying time. Tropical weather fronts added to the hazards of long over-water hops.
Flight nurses sometimes must pay the soldier’s price of devotion to duty which they voluntarily assume. Fortunately, up until April 1945, only 1 of the 801st’s 25 or 30 nurses was lost.
Flight nurses, as one of them put it are real people. They are perhaps endowed with a little more than the average share of physical endurance, perseverance, and enthusiasm, but they remain feminine. They dream of lace outlandish hats, impractical, high-heeled shoes and nylon stockings. At times they may even feel a little bit like martyrs, dressed in sensible girl-scout oxfords, slacks, and prim blouses.
It is not easy to say what the care of a flight nurse means to the comfort and welfare of her patients. There are so many little things that mean so much to the patients entrusted to her care. But one thing is certain: in the womanless world of the Jungle Air Force, her feminine qualities were not without a therapeutic effect.
IT is axiomatic that quick and efficient transport is necessary to the successful waging of war; men and materiel must be placed where they are most needed at the time they are needed. It was the job of the 403rd Troop Carrier Group of the Thirteenth Air Force to perform the function of air transportation from the Fijis through the Philippines, meeting their schedules as demanded.
Ground forces, supported by air and naval forces, assaulted and seized new island air bases. Skytrains quickly transported advanced echelons of air, service and combat troops to new locations. Strips were built. Not long after, bombers and fighters were attacking new targets along the road to victory in the South and Southwest Pacific.
As the Allied assault swept forward in 1943 and 1944, Skytrains played an increasingly important role in maintaining the offensive. In the last six months of 1944, with the center of gravity of the Air Force shifting from Los Negros in the Admiralties, to Morotai in the Moluccas, a distance of more than 1,300 miles, the 403rd’s C-47s flew more than 5,500,000 miles, and carried nearly 42,000 passengers and 14,000 tons of freight.
In the painting, the artist has caught a flight of Skytrains winging their way off Bougainville. Inside “Sad Sack” there are probably a few passengers, perhaps a major and a private, stretched out on a pile of mail bags, dozing or sleeping, secure in the knowledge that the 403rd’s safety record guarantees an uneventful landing.
TRIPHIBIOUS warfare in the Pacific required combining the technique peculiar to all services, ground, sea, and air. The history of the war in the South and Southwest Pacific was above all a history of joint operations, although emphasis was placed on sea and air power, whereas in Europe land and air power played the more crucial role.
There is nothing more complicated in the history of the South and Southwest Pacific than command relationships. In order to understand the position of the Thirteenth Air Force in the hierarchy of command, during the first year and a half of its operation, it is best to begin with a brief description of the Asiatic-Pacific theater of operations, which was under the direction, as was the European theater, of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Pacific was divided into two main areas of operations, the Pacific Ocean Area, under Admiral Nimitz, and the Southwest Pacific, under General MacArthur. The Pacific Ocean Area was divided, in turn, into two smaller Areas, the Central Pacific, and the South Pacific. At the beginning of the war, the South Pacific Area was under Admiral Ghormley, who was succeeded during the Guadalcanal campaign by Admiral Halsey. The latter area was bounded on the north by the equator and on the west by 159th east Meridian, which just included Guadalcanal. So far as actual operations were concerned, this was not a fixed line. Operations instructions, issued by General MacArthur’s headquarters extended SOPAC’s tactical responsibility to include, by 21 January 1944, Rabaul and Kavieng in the Bismarcks. GHQ also determined in the 1943-1944 period, the immediate objectives of the campaigns and the time tables, in consultation, of course, with the Navy.
The commander of the South Pacific area was called COMSOPAC; in the beginning he was responsible to Admiral Nimitz, and later to General MacArthur. COMSOPAC was always an admiral, on the principle of “the unity of command,” which assigns control over tactical operations to the armed service that is preponderant in the area, and leaves to the other services control over administration.
COMSOPAC’S responsibility for tactical operations meant that he decided where, when, and how to strike the enemy, after he received operations instructions from the commander above him.
Early in the war in the South Pacific, Army, Navy, Marine and Royal New Zealand air units were placed under a single commander. Commander Air, South Pacific, known as COMAIRSOPAC. The principle of the unity of command was also applied to smaller geographical areas and resulted in the creation of a number of island air commanders.
Shortly after the invasion of Guadalcanal, it became necessary to coordinate the work of the various air units based on Guadalcanal: Army, Navy, Marine and New Zealand. On September 3, 1942, Brigadier General Roy S. Geiger, USMC, as senior air officer on the island, assumed operational control of all combat air units based on Guadalcanal. General Geiger’s earlier title varied, but the most common was COMAIR CACTUS which meant Commander of the Air at Guadalcanal. He derived his authority from COMSOPAC upon the recommendations of COMAIRSOPAC.
Under pressure of the tactical situation when Allied forces were fighting hard to retain their hold on the island, the operations of COMAIR CACTUS were limited, and purely defensive in nature. Later on, however, in March of 1943, when an offensive campaign up the ladder of the Solomons became a possibility, the whole scope of COMAIR CACTUS responsibilities broadened and the name was changed to the more appropriate one of Commander, Air Command Solomons, known as COMAIRSOLS. During the campaign to take Munda, COMAIRSOLS’ headquarters was at Guadalcanal. After the capture of Munda, it was moved to that location, and stayed there almost until the end of Decemberv 1943, at which time it was moved to Bougainville and remained there for the rest of its existence.
COMAIRSOLS, from the very beginning under General Geiger, included on his staff, representatives of all arms and services. This was an informal but absolutely necessary arrangement in order to secure the ultimate in cooperation from all air units under his command. This experiment was novel, but it worked because the men “at the top” made it work, in spite of the conflicts of air doctrines between Army, Navy and Marines. Later on, COMSOPAC in the interests of expediting operations decided to rotate the command of COMAIRSOLS among officers of all three services. It is a matter of record that this unified command worked with unusual success, in an atmosphere of mutual respect for all concerned.
COMAIRSOLS came to be divided into four commands: the Strike Command, the Fighter Command, the Search Command, and the Bomber Command. The latter was always under the leadership of an officer from the Thirteenth Air Force, who served on the COMAIRSOLS staff.
After Brigadier General Geiger, USMC, as COMAIRSOLS, came Brigadier General Francis P. Mulcahy, USMA, then Rear Admiral C. P. Mason, USN, followed by Rear Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, USN. Major General Nathan F. Twining, USA, Thirteenth Air Force Commander was next, (from 25 July 1943 to 19 November 1943), and he was followed by Brigadier General R. J. Mitchell, USMC. The seventh COMAIRSOLS was Major General Hubert R. Harmon, USA, (from 15 March 1944 to 20 April 1944). who was in command of the Thirteenth Air Force, having succeeded General Twining. He, in turn, was followed by Brigadier General Field Harris, USMC.
Although originally COMAIRSOLS lived in a tent at Bougainville, the white cottage shown in the picture is where General Hubert R. Harmon lived and conducted his command as COMAIRSOLS. The tent to the left is where General Matheny directed the work of the Bomber Command.
ON 1 November 1943; the rising tide of the Allied offensive in the South Pacific swept into Bougainville with the establishment of a beachhead at Torokina on Empress Augusta Bay. In the latter part of January 1944, the 920th Air Base Security Battalion, a member of the Thirteenth Air Force team, landed at Torokina to take over the immediate defense of the three airstrips, which were being used by the Air Force’s planes.
They had not been there long when they came under enemy fire. In order to afford a reasonable security against the infiltration of small demolition squads, which could create havoc among airplanes, ammunition and supply dumps, the Torokina perimeter had to be organized as a cordon defense, a vermin-proof defense. As a consequence, it was impossible to extend our lines or seize positions far enough away from the airfields to deny the Japanese the opportunity to employ their artillery. It had been estimated that it would take the Japanese about two and a half to three months to move the artillery and ground forces available to them on Bougainville to the Torokina area. Actually it took the enemy longer to prepare for attack, but they were ready on 8 March 1944.
The 920th maintained a defense position at the west end of the Piva strip. This sector overlooked a wide draw through which the enemy forces were expected to come if they succeeded in breaking through the outer perimeter. The 920th covered the sector with rifle fire, BARs, .30 calibre machine guns, and 60 millimeter mortars. Half-tracks with .50 calibre machine guns patrolled the airfield periodically, while an advance element cruised behind the perimeter approximately 100 yards from the main line of resistance.
At 0600 on the 8th, Japanese artillery began shelling the Piva airfield area. The barrage continued almost daily until the 25th of March, when the main force of the Japanese offensive had spent itself, although intermittent attacks continued well into April. Approximately 300 shells fell in or near the 920th’s bivouac area.
The 920th stood up well under shell fire. Two of its members were decorated with the Bronze Star Medal, and 9 received citations from Major General Hubert R. Harmon, then commanding the Thirteenth, for their outstanding and untiring devotion to duty and display of personal courage while under fire.
Where the need for active defense of air bases and large supply points against hostile ground or airborne attack did not exist, the 920th and other air base security battalions assigned to the Air Force performed interior guard duty, helped in construction work, loaded and unloaded supplies, and generally assisted wherever they could be useful.
The painting shows the 920th’s First Sergeant and other members of the battalion manning a pillbox on their perimeter in the Bougainville jungles. Behind the gun position is a half-track ready to give support.
ALMOST anywhere from the Fijis through the Philippines with the Jungle Air Force, you washed at a place like this. Some of the features of modern bathrooms were missing, but the necessities were provided.
Washrooms had running water, cold and invigorating. There were faucets but they were not chromium plated nor were they of uniform design. They were begged, borrowed, or “procured” from various sources on the island. To shave, one brought his own mirror, probably a little 3” x 5” purchased in the PX. The wash stand was usually a split, all purpose gasoline drum: it served as a drain, keeping the water from splashing on your feet.
Usually water and water-pumping machinery were at a premium, and Thirteenth Air Force engineers found it necessary to initiate a campaign against water wasters. Posters were placed in washrooms with the following lesson in how to shower: (1) Wet well; (2) Shut the water off; (3) Soap yourself; (4) Rinse thoroughly; (5) Shut the water off. The same posters asked whether you were using 15 gallons with which to shave, 5 gallons to brush your teeth, and whether you removed shower heads and then yelled for water when there was a shortage. The culprits were invited to join the “International Water Wasters” by applying at the Engineer’s Office for a membership card and button.
A washroom with an adjoining shower was usually in operation from one to two weeks after a camp was set up in a new area. Usually the washroom was covered with canvas, corrugated iron, or wood and tar paper. Until the washroom was built, the men washed out of their helmets, or showered when a tropical rain swept through the camp. Even after running water was available, some men still preferred the privacy of their small metal wash basins. If this was the case, steps were taken to modernize the washing arrangement; wooden stands were built to support their helmet, water can, and mirror.
WATER and coconuts are perhaps the only two commodities found in more abundance in the South and Southwest Pacific than in the United States. For most soldiers, the coconuts proved to be merely a passing fancy, but the water never ceased to attract them.
Swimming was generally available to all. If a camp was not set up near a beach, the men, given sufficient time, had only to climb aboard a 6 by 6 truck to have easy access to the warm waters of the Pacific.
At many beaches, home-made rafts, native outrigger canoes, air mattresses, and yellow rubber life rafts dotted the waters and provided enjoyment for swimmers and non-swimmers alike.
Conditions were not always ideal. Not all units lived by sandy beaches; many islands were coral fringed. Coral reefs were hard on bare feet and usually dropped off into deep water. In some places, sharks, snakes, sea stingers and small octopuses presented a danger. In other spots, the natural freshness of the water was polluted, at times, by oil and refuse from ships off shore.
The absence, in all but a few places, of female forms stretched out on the sand or romping in the surf robbed men of one of the accustomed pleasures associated with swimming. Still, swimming was perhaps the most popular of sports. The refreshing breezes from the sea provided a welcome relief from the heat and humidity of the tropics.
The absence of women afforded perhaps one compensation - it enabled men to become temporary converts to nudism. Nudism went out, however, with the arrival of the first woman on the island. Skin-clinging GI cotton shorts generally constituted compliance with the dictates of modesty.
This scene shows the beach at Bougainville, looking out across Empress Augusta Bay.
JUNGLE living brought out latent, unsuspected talents. The man who on a Saturday afternoon at home was not able to put up curtain rods often turned out to be an amateur furniture builder. Although he chose to forget when it came to the little jobs around the house, he never completely lost the skill acquired in those 2 hours per week of manual training when he was a “senior” in elementary school.
Sitting on a coconut log at the movies inspired him to build a chair. The chair he constructed might not have been the ultimate in comfort, but it was infinitely better adapted to the human anatomy than a coconut log or a gas-line drum.
A few days of washing in a squat position out of a helmet precariously balanced on the ground suggested a washstand. So, he builds something resembling the stand in the foreground.
The advantages of a table for letter-writing were as obvious as the pleasure of receiving letters. A table was built not only for letter-writing, but also to put things on: it was a place to put a juice can, a package from home, tumblers if you were lucky enough to have them, just as it was a place on which to throw a blanket and play cards.
Weeks of fishing clothes out of a barracks bag in grab bag style moved all but the helpless to build footlockers or bureaus. Bureaus generally followed a modern design; C-ration cases staggered skyward like modernistic book-cases.
Getting materials and tools in the jungle often called for skill in “promoting,” and the handling of men. It was, of course, always desirable to keep on the “good side” of the unit carpenter. In the absence of a facile tongue or strong trading position, it was sometimes necessary to procure materials by “moonlight requisition” from an unguarded lumber pile.
By the time most of the men were settling down to a few of the comforts of home, they found that their unit was ready to move. When they packed up, most of the furniture was left behind. Men who went by air were sometimes able to smuggle along the latest bed springs: a 2” x 4” frame interlaced with rubber strips, cut from a damaged inner tube. Upon arrival at the new camp, the men, undiscouraged, went to work replacing the items left behind. After each move, the carpentry became a little more proficient, the furniture and fixtures a little more finished, just as after each move, a man seemed to have more property than he had before.
As part of the plan for the invasion of the Empress Augusta Bay area of Bougainville on 1 November 1943, American and New Zealand troops invaded Mono and Stirling Islands in the Treasury Group on D-day minus 5. Both islands were seized quickly against only meager opposition.
The Treasury Group lies less than 40 miles south of Bougainville and is a little more than 100 miles from Munda, New Georgia. The primary objective in seizing Mono and Stirling was to erect radar installations and to build
facilities for small craft, in order to give greater protection to future convoys sailing to Empress Augusta Bay. As it was thought that landings in the Treasuries might point the direction of the main attack on Bougainville, a diversionary force was landed on Choiseul Island on D-day minus 4 to screen the main thrust.
Soon after the seizure of Stirling, its possibilities as an airdrome site were recognized. Stirling is a small, coral island 3 miles long. It rises to a maximum height of 200 feet at one end, tapering down to sea level at the other. Seabees went to work with bulldozers, shovels, graders and trucks to construct an airfield. By the first week in January 1944, the strip was placed in operation under Navy control.
Within a short time, medium bombers and fighters of the Thirteenth Air Force were flying out of Stirling to join in the all-out attack on Rabaul, which had commenced in late December and continued into March with undiminished force. When the heavy bombers stopped hitting Rabaul late in March, to move on to new targets in the Carolines, the mediums and fighters continued to strike Rabaul from Stirling, as well as to carry on attacks against targets on Bougainville and adjacent areas.
By July, targets in the Rabaul area and the Solomons had reached the point of diminishing returns; the mediums and fighters flew their last combat missions from Stirling and prepared for the long hop that was to bring them to Sansapor on the western tip of New Guinea.
Veteran pilots considered Stirling Field one of the finest in the Solomons, second only to Munda. The 7,800 foot coral runway ran from a point near sea level, bordering on Blanche Harbor, to the top of a 100 foot cliff. The slight incline created very little difficulty, however, in taking off and landing.
The twin-engine, twin-boom plane circling the field, in the painting, is one of the first P-61 Black Widows to arrive in the South Pacific. Pilots of the Thirteenth’s 419th Night Fighter Squadron were first checked out in 61s in May 1944, at Guadalcanal. By that time, enemy planes no longer dared to venture into the Solomons’ skies.
In August and September, when Air Force units had moved deep into the Southwest Pacific at Sansapor and Morotai, the big, fast, radar-equipped Black Widows received their first chance to prove their worth as night interceptors. At Morotai, from 7 October to 1 February 1945, Black Widows were credited with destroying 5 enemy raiders, or more than 20% of all enemy planes destroyed by Morotai antiaircraft defenses during this period.
Geographical factors, such as mountains and tides, made radar-directed interceptions especially difficult at Morotai. Moreover, theater directives required visual identification of the bogey before the night fighter could open fire. A careful evaluation of the performance of the 61s at Morotai credits them with being eminently satisfactory.
The campaign against Rabaul, waged by the Thirteenth Air Force, the Navy, Marines and RNZAF, reached its height in January and February of 1944. Although Rabaul was no longer a serious threat after the all-out air offensive, there remained the job of keeping it neutralized. Rabaul was struck time and time again over many months after the spring of 1944.
In the assault on Rabaul, the Thirteenth Air Force gave an excellent account of itself. During January when the operations were most intensive, the Navy and Marines together had available for combat nearly three times as many planes as the Thirteenth, but they flew less than twice as many sorties. When the pressure was still on, in April, to keep Rabaul neutralized, the Navy and Marines together had available for combat four times as many planes as the Thirteenth Air Force, but they flew only a little more than three times as many sorties.
Except for the presence of one augmented squadron of Army planes at Torokina, the Navy and Marine planes were based much closer to their targets: hence they could fly more than one mission per day. This was not possible for most of the Army planes, which, with their longer range, were based farther away. Planes, furthermore, that turned back, owing to mechanical failure, could not be repaired in time to rejoin their squadrons. As can readily be seen, long flights made maintenance more difficult; engine changes, for example, were more frequent.
The B-25s of the 42nd Bombardment Group (M), which took part in the attack on Rabaul entered the campaign in earnest when the Group established its main base at Stirling airfield, in the Treasury Islands, 285 airline miles from Rabaul. The ground echelons of three squadrons arrived at Stirling between 15 January and 1 February 1944, while the ground echelons of the other two squadrons remained at the Russells. Combat crews were so rotated that three squadrons were always present at Stirling to fight, and two at rear bases for rest, relaxation and training. With the original crews returning to the United States, training of new, inexperienced personnel became more and more necessary.
From 6 January to 22 July 1944, the striking force of the Group was directed by COMAIRSOLS in the neutralization of Rabaul. Although the 42nd Bomb Group was under the administrative control of the XIII Bomber Command, it was assigned to COMAIRSOLS for operational control and received their mission assignments directly from him.
The Group’s part in the campaign can be divided into five reasonably well defined phases.
1. 6 January to 28 January 1944: Minimum altitude strafing and bombing attacks against ground aircraft and airdrome installations to eliminate enemy air strength.
2. 29 January to 25 February 1944: Medium altitude attacks against enemy airstrips to render them unserviceable, so as to deny their use as staging areas for counter-attack against the concentrations of Allied personnel, equipment and supplies on Bougainville, Stirling, and Green Islands.
3. 26 February to 18 March 1944: Medium altitude attacks designed to burn systematically and otherwise destroy Rabaul town, and to deny the use of its buildings and splendid facilities to the Japanese headquarters.
4. 18 March to 15 May 1944: Medium altitude strikes to destroy supply areas at Vunapope, Tahili Bay, and Rataval, in an effort to deny food and other supplies to the Japanese garrison.
5. 15 May to 22 July 1944: Daily medium altitude attacks against supply and personnel areas, antiaircraft guns, and airdromes, to complete the demoralization of the once first-class offensive base.
The variety of missions assigned to the B-25s of the 42nd Bomb Group attested to the versatility of the planes and to the competence of the pilots who flew them. In carrying out the assignments listed above, the mediums hit many different targets. Among the targets that they struck in the Rabaul area were truck parks, supply dumps, coastal guns, personnel areas, storage bays, runways, antiaircraft positions and ammunition dumps. On Bougainville, their targets included Japanese gardens, gun positions, pillboxes, and support of ground troops on the perimeter at Empress Augusta Bay.
In hitting these objectives, the mediums used almost every type of bomb and missile from fragmentation clusters and empty beer bottles (on night heckling missions) to 1000 pounders. In addition, the B-25s made use of their unusual firepower, in strafing runs over the target after dropping their bomb loads, and in “shooting-up” targets of opportunity, such as barges, on the return to base.
During the Rabaul campaign, the mediums flew a total of 4,378 sorties on 256 missions: and dropped a total of 4,032.6 tons of bombs. During the period of 28 May 1944 to 30 June 1944, when the Rabaul antiaircraft guns were the chief target, approximately 331 sorties were flown on 14 missions; and 421 tons of bombs were dropped.
The painting illustrates one of the more colorful strikes of the mediums. On 28 January 1944, the B-25s flew a minimum altitude bombing and strafing attack on Tobera Airdrome, in the defense ring round Rabaul. After dropping their parafrags, they expended 33,000 rounds of ammunition on buildings, supply dumps and antiaircraft positions. Two automatic gun positions, which were in a clearing at the southeast end of the runway, were silenced by the attack. The gun positions can be seen in the middle and foreground of the painting.
SMALL, crescent-shaped Los Negros Island, in the Admiralty group, which is the most northerly of the Melanesian Islands, lies but 2 degrees south of the equator. Los Negros was practically unheard of before the war. With the enemy in control of islands not far away, Los Negros assumed a new importance. Strategically situated, in a position to control the Bismarck Sea and the approaches to Rabaul, within Liberator-range of key Japanese bases in the Carolines and New Guinea, Los Negros was of great military value.
The Japanese had recognized this early in the war and had built an air-strip on the southeastern corner of the island. Although not a large field, it was used by the Japanese to support their defense of Rabaul and New Guinea. Near the end of 1943, it was vulnerable to attack by the Fifth Air Force; by March 1944, its effectiveness as a Japanese base was neutralized.
Early in February plans were completed by General MacArthur to seize the Admiralties on 1 April 1944, by a combined operation. Major provisions of this plan provided for: (1) the seizure of Kavieng by South Pacific Forces, thus neutralizing Japanese defensive strength in the New Ireland-New Britain area: (2) the invasion of Los Negros by the Sixth Army, supported by Allied air and naval forces; (3) the continued pressure by the New Guinea Force against the enemy in the Ramu River Valley and along the New Guinea coast; (4) and the cooperation of Central Pacific Forces by their continued pressure against the Japanese in the Carolines to the north.
A number of circumstances led SHQ to change the date for the invasion of the Admiralties from 1 April to 29 February. The Japanese were found to be unexpectedly weak in the Central Pacific; they were unable to resist the Navy’s successful carrier strikes against Truk, on 16 and 17 February. There was an unexpected decrease in Japanese air strength at Rabaul in the middle of February. Thus there seemed to be signs that the Japanese were abandoning the fight in the South Pacific; these were supported by the fact that intensive reconnaissance of the Admiralties failed to show any Japanese activity there. For the above reasons, along with the desire to press forward the offensive, and to keep pace with the Navy’s drive in the Central Pacific, General MacArthur decided to advance D-day to the last day in February.
The ability of the Japanese to keep their installations concealed was not overlooked. While the intent was to capture and to seize Los Negros, a retirement was planned in case the enemy showed unexpected strength. Another Tarawa was to be avoided. The 5th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division, which later led the march into Tokyo, landed on schedule, 29 February; and in one hour and thirty-five minutes captured Momote against weak opposition. Their initial success led General MacArthur to decide to complete the seizure of all the islands in the Admiralty group, which was the original purpose of the action. It was not long, however, before the small Japanese garrison on Los Negros was reinforced from Manus island. A sharp struggle took place against mounting opposition, which was met successfully by throwing into the fight the resources of the 1st Division, which now had arrived on Los Negros in its entirety.
Momote proved to be at best only an average airdrome. It had to be improved both with regard to the length of the runway and the size of the revetment areas. The runway was not level; there was a gentle slope from each end to a rise of several feet in the middle. This caused many operational accidents on the take-off, for an inexperienced pilot would have the sensation of taking off in the middle of the runway, believing, as he cleared the “hump”, that he had sufficient air speed when in fact his plane was not really ready to leave the ground. This difficulty was never corrected, for it would have been necessary to close the field for several weeks in order to make the required changes; the field was too badly needed to permit closing it down for so long a period of time.
The first elements of the Thirteenth Air Force to arrive in the Admiralties, elements of the XIII Bomber and XIII Air Force Service Commands, were based at Momote, for Mokerang airdrome was not yet ready for use, A RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) Fighter Wing was based on Momote when these units arrived in mid-April. Later on the 5th Bomb Group, with the necessary service units from the 321st Service Group, took up most of the revetment area on the west side of the field. The 321st Service Group controlled the tower. On the east side of the strip, RAAF maintained a Troop Movement Office; and two naval construction battalions were bivouacked to the south. In the summer of 1944, the Navy took over the entire eastern side of the strip for an aviation overhaul and repair unit, which was maintained in connection with the huge naval base at Manus.
During 1944 and 1945, the Japanese flew patched up aircraft from Rabaul to make semi-weekly reconnaissance missions over the Admiralties. During this period, two raids were undertaken by them. The first raid was carried out, on 9 November 1944, by 3 Zekes based on Vunakanau airfield at Rabaul: the bombs dropped were incendiary clusters; they damaged a number of Navy aircraft, which were closely parked in revetments on the western side of Momote. The second attack was made by 2 Kates on the night of 28 April 1945, and came as the result of a reconnaissance plane sighting a carrier in Seeadler Harbor. With no alarm being sounded and no lights being extinguished, the Japanese pilot was able to make a perfect pass on the carrier, which was successfully hit about two thirds the way from the bow. A get-away was made without any interference from ground or air defenses.
In the painting we see Momote from the northwest corner of the airfield. The revetment areas to the right were occupied by our heavy bombers, while across the strip can be seen the installations of the naval aviation overhaul and repair unit.
LOS NEGROS with its coral base was an ideal island for airstrips. Soon after its conquest, Army and Navy engineers went to work and built a second airfield at Mokerang Plantation on the northern tip of the crescent; nor was it long before they began improving Momote. By mid-April, Momote was ready for the 5th Bombardment Group’s Liberators. Work on one strip at Mokerang was rapidly nearing completion and work on a second strip had begun. The Thirteenth Air Force’s 821st Engineer Aviation Battalion arrived to help complete the airfield construction that alone justified the 1st Cavalry’s expenditure of sweat and blood.
On 1 May, the 821st went to work on number 2 runway at Mokerang. The ground had already been cleared, grubbed, stripped, and partially excavated. There remained the work of grading, surfacing, draining, and extending the runway. Bulldozers, tractors, scrapers, rollers, and equipment captured from the enemy, such as generators, pumps, lumber and pipes: all were used by the engineers. The job was the biggest undertaken by the 821st since it joined the Thirteenth in the Fijis. Working around the clock, with two giant antiaircraft searchlights serving as floodlights for the night shift, the 821st had the 8,000 foot runway ready for use on the 26th of May.
After completing the runway, the 821st went on to add improvements to both Momote and Mokerang. Work in clearing the jungles with bulldozers was often made exciting by snakes ranging in size from 1 to 6 ½ feet dropping on equipment operators from the trees overhead. What were believed to be Phalangers were also encountered. These animals were about 30 inches long, 18 inches high, fuzzy brown and white, and hung from the trees by a 2 foot tail.
In addition to the work on the airfields, the 821st successfully completed a variety of other projects for Thirteenth Air Force units on Los Negros; they cleared camp areas, erected buildings and tent frames, and carried on various types of construction work.
Aviation engineers may not make the headlines, but a considerable share in the final victory belongs to them.
THE harbor shown in the painting was the beginning of the end of the gasoline line reaching from the oil fields and refineries of Texas and California to Los Negros in the Admiralties. The four ever-thirsty engines of a Liberator consumed nearly 200 gallons of 100 octane gasoline per hour. During their stay at Los Negros, from April to August 1944, Thirteenth Air Force Liberators frequently flew 12 to 14 hour missions to hit targets in the Carolines. A single Liberator on one such mission consumed enough gasoline to send a light automobile from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast and back about 10 times.
During May, June, and July, the height of Thirteenth Air Force activity in the Admiralties, more than 10,000,000 gallons of aviation gasoline were piped into Los Negros. Most of it went into the Thirteenth’s Liberators. Part of it went into Navy, RAAF and transient aircraft.
This shallow-draft Navy refueling barge was the go-between of the big tankers in Seeadler Harbor and the Momote Tank Farm near this mooring, at Portalaka, Los Negros. Gasoline was pumped directly from the barge into storage tanks.
ALMOST significant change took place in the command relationships of the Thirteenth Air Force, on June 15. The Thirteenth was transferred from the South to the Southwest Pacific area, and became linked with the Fifth Air Force; together they formed the team known as the Far East Air Forces, under the command of General Kenney, who was in charge of all air operations for General MacArthur. Operational control of the heavy bombers, which had been under the Navy and had rested with COMAIRSOLS in the South Pacific Area, became a direct responsibility of the headquarters of the Thirteenth.
The headquarters of the Thirteenth Air Force moved from Guadalcanal to Los Negros, in the Admiralty Islands, during June and July of 1944, in order more effectively to assume its new role of directing operations of the heavy bombardment squadrons. Major General St. Clair Streett became commander of the Thirteenth Air Force, on 15 June, relieving General Hubert R. Harmon, who returned to the United States to take command of the AAF Personnel Distribution Command.
Under General Streett, the Thirteenth acquired direct operational control not only of its heavy bombers, but also, later on, of its medium bombers and fighters. Operational control of the latter was transferred from Commander Aircraft, Northern Solomons (COMAIRNORSOLS) to the headquarters, on 30 September 1944. With the operational control of its own tactical units, it may be said that the Thirteenth came into its own. There was a distinct improvement in morale at headquarters; men could now see and feel that the Air Force was performing the function for which it had been designed: their actions had meaning, for they were related to the ultimate purpose of operations. Staff sections of the headquarters were strengthened and integrated, and the Thirteenth started on the long road leading to the Philippines.
A characteristic of Los Negros was white coral. Coral was used to build strips and hardstands as well as roads, and coral was used for the floors of tents and of office buildings. Natives were put to work building thatched huts over the coral floors.
The office buildings and chapel of headquarters, as well as the officers’ club, were all of native construction. The huts consisted of a roof supported by native timber or poles, with sides open to catch the breezes blowing from the Pacific. Although it may be thought that pre-fabrication is a recent product of American ingenuity, it was employed by the natives, who apparently had been using this principle of construction for many years. Roofing and siding came in 6 x 2 ½ ft. pre-fabricated sections of thatched sago palm, made by the women-folk in their native village. The sago palm sections were transported to the headquarters area and placed on the wooden frames which the men had already lashed into place. About 100 natives a day were employed in the construction work.
The office huts were arranged in a horseshoe pattern which created a symmetrical effect and added to the unusual architecture of the buildings. They were the coolest type of construction that the Air Force had ever lived under.
The Admiralties are under Australian Mandate. The native population is divided between the people living inland and the seafarers living along the coasts. One group of seafarers, the Manus, or “salt water boys”, as they are called, are darker skinned and more aggressive than their inland neighbors.
Two dollars per month, one pound of rice daily, and a weekly issue of tinned beef, sugar, fish, tomato juice, tobacco, matches, Atabrine, and soap were paid the natives by the Australian Government to work for Americans on the island. The natives lived in their own villages and were requisitioned by the Thirteenth Air Force Engineers as their services were needed for construction work.
Thirteenth Air Force Liberators can claim a large share in the neutralization of Truk, strongly fortified and heavily defended enemy base and shipping center in the Caroline Islands, and a key to the Japanese inner defense circle. The Jungle Air Force began hammering Truk on 29 March 1944, and continued into the latter part of June, when the successful invasion of Saipan effectively sealed the fate of Truk.
The Thirteenth was not the first to hit Truk. Hundreds of carrier planes from powerful Task Force “58” had hit the Japanese stronghold in February 1944. Five Australian Catalinas based at Rabaul had hit it much earlier, on the night of 15 January 1942 less than two weeks before Rabaul fell into Japanese hands. But the strike, on 29 March, by 20 Liberators of the Thirteenth’s 307th Bombardment Group (H) was the first land-based, daylight attack on this enemy bastion.
This strike earned the 307th Group a Presidential citation. It involved difficulties and hazards greater than any other single mission previously undertaken by units of the Thirteenth. It called for a flight of nearly 2,000 statute miles, entirely over water, through treacherous weather and without fighter support. The mission required 13 hours and 30 minutes for its completion. En route to the target two severe weather fronts were successfully penetrated. From a navigational standpoint the flight represented a peak in achievement.
The painting shows “bombs away” over Eten Island airdrome, key air base in the Truk group. The results were devastating: 49 planes were destroyed on the ground; 21 shop buildings, hangars and warehouses were destroyed or damaged; 37 direct hits were made on the concrete runway rendering it unserviceable; and in a 45 minute running fight with about 75 enemy interceptors, Liberator gunners shot down 31, probably destroyed 12, and damaged 10. Two of the 20 Liberators were lost in the raid.
“The brilliantly successful attack by the 307th Bombardment Group (H),” states the Presidential citation, “demonstrated the vulnerability of Truk to our land-based bombers. The success of this mission which struck such a devastating blow to the enemy, exemplifies the highest type of leadership, teamwork, and fighting skill, and is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service of the United States.”
AT dawn, on the 15th of June 1944, American amphibious forces swept into Saipan to begin the hard ground fighting that was to bring the Japanese homeland within range of our Superfortresses. For more than two weeks prior to the landings, Thirteenth Air Force Liberators, based on Los Negros, had been pounding Truk to neutralize the strategic Japanese base and to prevent the enemy from reinforcing Saipan by air.
A large Japanese task force, estimated at 40 ships or more, was sighted some distance north of Yap Island, on the 19th of June 1944. Carrier planes from this task force lashed out at the powerful units of the United States Pacific Fleet which were then supporting Allied ground forces on Saipan. The conflict that followed was the first major battle between elements of the Japanese and United States fleets in nearly two years. As at Midway, two years earlier, all of the offensive action was by carrier-based aircraft. By the time the Japanese fleet broke off the engagement, U. S. Task Force “58” had destroyed nearly 400 enemy aircraft and had sunk or damaged 14 Japanese ships.
Liberators of the Thirteenth Air Force were called upon to reach out more than 1,000 statute miles from their Los Negros base to hit Japanese warships that might seek refuge or fuel in Yap Harbor. On 22 June, 33 Liberators were over Yap in the longest mass mission the Thirteenth had yet flown. Trained eyes peered down on the harbor far below. There were no warships to be seen. The heavies wheeled and made their run on the secondary target, Yap Airdrome. Their 33 ton bomb load struck the runway and the dispersal areas with devastating effect.
The Japanese were caught completely by surprise; not a single one of the more than 40 planes on the ground was able to take off and fly into the air. Nineteen enemy planes were definitely destroyed, and 15 were damaged; the runway was cratered and rendered unserviceable.
For six consecutive days after the raid of the 22nd of June, the Liberators blasted Yap, keeping the runway unserviceable and preventing its use in ferrying planes from the Philippines to the Marianas to aid the hard-pressed defenders of Saipan.
The painting shows 5 Liberators breaking away from the target on the 22nd, leaving behind them 3 large fires, a number of smaller ones, and billowing black smoke.
LIBERATORS were built to go far, carry a heavy bomb load, and take punishment. Although “Long Rangers” was the title of the 307th Bombardment Group, it might well describe all the heavies of the Thirteenth Air Force. In March 1944, the Liberators of the Thirteenth began to concentrate on long distance flights. In the first daylight, land-based attacks on Truk, they flew almost 2,000 statute miles from take-off to landing. In June, they went on to fly better than 2,000 mile missions against Yap. Later in the year, they flew from Noemfoor to attack Balikpapan, in Borneo; the round-trip was more than 2,400 miles. In June 1945, the Snoopers established a new record for Liberators in strike formation; they flew approximately 3,000 miles to hit Batavia, Java, from Puerto Princesa, Palawan.
Taking off before dawn, it was often sunset by the time the Liberators returned from missions of 12 to more than 18 hours. And when they came in, they were frequently battered and cut by enemy ack-ack and by machine gun bullets. Long distance frequently meant bad weather somewhere along the way; bad weather usually meant blind flying, buffeting by tricky air currents, and a crew that was tired and groggy.
Here the artist catches a Liberator, with one of its engines knocked out, coming in for a landing on Mokerang strip, Los Negros.
The Thirteenth did not live by air crews and groundmen alone. It also had its sailors, men who manned the rescue boats. Rescue boats, such as the one shown here, picked up many airmen downed at sea. Rescue boats were first assigned to the Air Force in the spring of 1944. They did not really come into their own until the Air Force began operating out of Sansapor and Morotai in the late summer and fall of 1944. Based at Sansapor and Morotai, the 15th AAF Emergency Rescue Boat Squadron to which this boat belongs, effected 147 rescues from August 1944 to April 1945.
Rescue boats were of three types: 63, 85 and 104 feet in length. Each boat carried an armament from two to four twin-turret .50 calibre machine guns. Among the crew of 7 to 13 men, was a skilled medical technician. The boats carried large quantities of medical supplies, including blood plasma, for the immediate treatment of injuries.
Normally, the rescue boats covered only the waters within 100 miles of their base, leaving the longer rescues to the flying boats.
In addition to performing rescue work, the Thirteenth’s “Navy” also maintained contact with signal air warning and weather units, which were isolated on outlying islands. They brought the units mail supplies, new personnel; and they took back medical and other evacuees.
THIS thatched building looking eastward to the sea on tiny Los Negros Island was the officers’ club of the Thirteenth Air Force headquarters.
The administrative buildings of headquarters, as well as the officers’club, were of native construction. Pre-fabrication, thought by many to be a recent product of American ingenuity, was employed by the natives. Roofing and siding come in 6 x 2 ½ feet pre-fabricated sections of thatched sago palm, made by the womenfolk in their native village and assembled by the men on the job.
The seemingly inviting beach was in reality not as inviting as it looked. Los Negros is a coral island, fringed with sharp coral reefs, dropping off into deep water. Swimming directly off the narrow beach was all but impossible. Swimmers, however, who were willing to put on shoes and walk across the brown coral were amply rewarded, for over the edge of the reef were deep emerald pools no swimmer could resist. Those who put on diving glasses and dove beneath the surface saw revealed a world never dreamed of on the shore above. Along the sides of the pool were coral formations in brilliant colors, representing nearly every shade of the spectrum. Exotic fish in orange and brown stripes, fish in mottled patterns, and blue fish, swam in and out of the grottoes that lined the sides of the pool; at the bottom was a floor of pure white coral, which reflected the sun’s rays, suffusing the underwater world in a magic light.
The officers’ club provided salvation from the boredom of island environment. Without a club, men were thrown back upon the limited social contacts of their tent. The club building itself served as a living room and bar with dining room attached. Cards, games of chance, and ping pong were part of the activities: still more important, the club was a meeting place for friends, a center of good fellowship, a place for lively conversation. Dances were held occasionally, and the few nurses and Red Cross girls on the island were invited to attend. The disproportionate ratio between partners, however, seldom fell below one girl to ten men.
Building a club at each camp was the aim of every Thirteenth Air Force unit that had enough assigned officers to make the enterprise practicable. After exhausting combat missions or toilsome duties on the ground, the club’s atmosphere never failed to bring a welcome change at the end of the day.
IT was clear by June 1944 that General Millard Hannon’s South Pacific Army forces had fought themselves out of further assignments in the South Pacific. Redeployment of the Thirteenth Air Force against new targets could not long be delayed.
Effective 15 June, the entire Thirteenth Air Force, less a few units, was transferred to the command of General MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific and concurrently assigned to General Kenney’s newly created Far East Air Forces, FEAF, as General Kenney’s command was called, was composed at this time of the Fifth and Thirteenth Air Forces.
Liberators of the Thirteenth had been operating from the Admiralty Islands in the Southwest Pacific against targets to the north for two months prior to 15 June. It was clear that the remainder of the Thirteenth would follow the heavies into the Southwest Pacific and that the entire strength of the Thirteenth would be redeployed against targets on the route to the Philippines.
Brisbane, in Queensland, Australia, the southern continent’s third largest city with a population of 335,000, was the location of General Headquarters in the Southwest Pacific and also of FEAF. A modern city, located in central Australia near the coast, Brisbane was in many respects an ideal location for a large headquarters that was directing a war in New Guinea and near-by island chains. Although not a great many members of the Thirteenth Air Force saw Brisbane, it was visited by key personnel of the Thirteenth who had business to conduct at FEAF during the latter half of 1944, and it was used by some bomber units, for a rest leave area in 1945.
Thirteenth Air Force men flew to Brisbane via Biak, Hollandia (Nadzab) across the Owen Stanleys of New Guinea, to Townsville, Australia; or, more directly, over the Vogelkop, along the southern coast of New Guinea to Meurake, to Townsville. The trip to Australia was unforgettable, marked as it was by waterfalls in the mountains, glistening like streaks of silver in the tropical sun, by azure blue lakes folded in among the foothills, and by rivers turning and twisting through the mud flats and jungle.
Billeting United States Army personnel in Brisbane was a problem owing to lack of accommodations. The Army partially solved the problem by taking over most of the Brisbane hotels and converting them to Army billets.
The most modern hotel in Brisbane was Lennon’s, which was reserved for high ranking officers, colonels and generals. Lennon’s will undoubtedly be longest remembered as the hotel where General MacArthur, America’s most distinguished visitor, established his quarters.
Lennon’s was centrally located on George Street, one and a half blocks from Queen Street, the main thoroughfare of Brisbane. Across the street, the Court House palms remind the visitor that Brisbane is semi-tropical. On the corner, in the painting, three diggers of the Australian Army stand in their characteristic broad hats and leggings. The white helmeted bobby at his traffic post and the sign “Chemist”, which is British for “Drugstore”, show Brisbane’s connections. No mistake however, can be made in the nationality of the jeep parked in front of Lennon’s, nor of the sailor standing across the street.
But hotels such as Lennon’s were not the only “bases” of operations for Thirteenth Air Force men in Brisbane. There was the American Center, on Queen Street, where meals were served, where dances were held at teatime and in the evening. There was also the Gregory Terrace Officers’ Club. At Victoria Park, pay checks were cashed; and cigarette, beer and liquor rations were obtained. Officers will remember the excellent services of the Motor Pool, just as all will recall the names of Eagles Farm and Amberley Airfields.
ADELAIDE Street is second only to Queen Street as a main thoroughfare of Brisbane. The small shops lining the street’s sidewalks draw trade from the entire surrounding residential districts stretching for miles from the central part of town. Street car service is good in Brisbane, and many lines running into the heart of the city converge to travel down Adelaide Street.
Brisbane is not an Australian center of world trade nor of finance, but flourishes as a city of small shopkeepers and privately owned businesses. Characterized by Australians as an overgrown country town, Brisbane lacks the cultural and cosmopolitan atmosphere of cities like Sydney and Melbourne; nor can it match them in civic beauty. Nevertheless, it is a friendly city and a most welcome sight to a man from the jungle.
To any soldier long used to living in a village of olive drab canvas tents, Brisbane appeared to be a wonder city. The enlisted men from the Thirteenth Air Force who most enjoyed Brisbane were those who attended Officer Candidate-School, located 14 miles from the heart of the city. Candidates who were not too heavily “gigged” during the week, were free on week-ends to enjoy all that Brisbane could offer. Other soldiers passing through or visiting Brisbane for specific reasons were also glad of the chance to trade mud or coral for sidewalks.
By showing orders authorizing his stay in Brisbane, an enlisted man was given admission to the American Red Cross, which was located on Adelaide Street not far from the center of the downtown district. Providing sleeping accommodations, a restaurant, large game and recreation rooms, and a library, the Red Cross filled a real need. Excellent food, served at reasonable prices and prepared with an understanding for American tastes, gave the Red Cross an enviable reputation.
Strolling along Queen or Adelaide Street, in and out of the shops, was a favorite pastime for the visiting American soldier. Wartime economy had cut deeply into production of Australian luxury items, and most necessities were strictly rationed. Souvenirs for friends and families at home were eagerly purchased. Toy kangaroos, fur koala bears, and Australian woolen blankets headed the list. Of course, items that were difficult to obtain in the islands at Army PXs or at Navy stores, were also purchased in Brisbane. The only thing that prevented the ingenious soldier from bringing back enough gadgets to make his tent into a home of tomorrow was the restriction on the amount of baggage he could take aboard the plane.
AT twelve noon and again at five in the evening, crowds of American and Australian soldiers and sailors gathered in front of Brisbane pubs and hotel bars, waiting to lift a cool glass of beer to their lips.
Beer rationing was a wartime restriction in Australia: establishments could sell beer only between twelve and one in the afternoon and five and six in the evening. “First come, first served,” was the rule, with the result that beer drinkers lined the streets in front of their favorite Brisbane bar during the half hour before the doors swung open to admit the crowd.
Many establishments permitted only two beers per customer, but this situation could be overcome by visiting as many establishments as possible during the serving hour. “Making the rounds”, of necessity, became a race against time.
In the picture, a thirsty group of Australian and American soldiers and sailors, together with a sprinkling of Australian civilians, are blocking pedestrian traffic on Queen Street, waiting for the bar in the Carlton Hotel to open. The opening door is a signal for the passing pedestrian to make sure he is not engulfed in the rush, which is about to take place. Eager beer drinkers will crowd the entrance and swarm to the bar, while bartenders prove their ability to satisfy the customer. Speed is essential, for the beer drinking hours in wartime Australia seem much too short.
THE range of bombers and fighters was a great limiting factor in the Southwest Pacific air war. When targets within the range of an existing base had been destroyed, new bases had to be taken from which new enemy targets could be struck.
The Thirteenth Air Force, striking the Japanese through the outer rings of enemy island defenses separated by vast stretches of the Pacific Ocean, moved steadily north and west from old to new bases, to carry offensive air action against the enemy. The islands of Espiritu Santo, Guadalcanal, New Georgia, Bougainville, Stirling, Emirau, Admiralty, New Guinea, Wakde, Biak, Noemfoor, and Morotai were the Thirteenth’s main stepping stones to victory in the Philippines.
Whenever possible, the Thirteenth moved its personnel to new bases by plane. The heavy bomb groups set a swift pace of movement, with cargo rather than bombs as the payloads. The liberators, with their large carrying capacity, were used to transport both personnel and equipment. Ships were used for transporting only the heaviest equipment.
While fighter pilots flew their planes to new bases, ground personnel of fighter squadrons, signal air warning battalions, and scores of service units, took to ships. With the European theater receiving priority, the number of ships available in the Southwest Pacific was small in proportion to the demands. Most of the ships moving Thirteenth Air Force units were Liberties or LSTs. Neither type was built to accommodate troops, but expediency frequently required that they be converted into troop ships.
In July 1944, the air element of the Typhoon Task Force was organized under General Earl W. Barnes, Commanding General of the XIII Fighter Command. It was called the Thirteenth Air Task Force. Composed of the Thirteenth’s 347th and 18th Fighter Groups, 42nd Medium Bomb Group, 6th Service Group and other attached organizations, the Thirteenth Air Task Force was to land at Cape Sansapor, the most westerly point of Allied penetration at that time. The mission of the Task Force was to neutralize the Ambon-Ceram and surrounding territories, denying the Japanese the use of air and naval installations from which they could attack the flank of American forces assembling in New Guinea for the invasion of the Philippines.
The first water echelon of the Thirteenth Air Task Force, which came from rear bases in the Solomon Islands to stage on the New Guinea coast, transferred to LSTs. The LSTs, accompanied by smaller LSMs, moved in convoy toward Sansapor. Swift destroyer escorts, constantly on the alert for Japanese air or submarine attack, circled and maneuvered on the flanks, front, and rear of the convoy.
With every available foot of space on the LSTs occupied by equipment, men aboard ship were cramped for space. Between the vehicles on deck, tarpaulins and shelter-halves were strung for protection against rain and the merciless rays of the sun. Men passed the time as best they could. They talked, slept, ate, played cards, and read books of all kinds and descriptions. Some gazed for many minutes at the aquamarine sea, deep in reflection; others watched the ripples made by the ship’s bow as it cut through the glass-like Pacific, wondering what the future held in store for them.
Although the numerous automatic weapons on the LSTs were manned continually by alert gun crews, no enemy interceptors dived out of the skies to challenge the convoy. The close-by New Guinea shore was inhabited by thousands of by-passed Japanese troops. The United States forces moved freely past them, in full control of both sea lanes and skies above them.
The northeastern tip of New Guinea is called the Vogelkop (Bird’s-head) peninsula. A glance at the map will show the strategic importance of this peninsula, lying as it does astride air and sea routes to the Netherlands East Indies and to the Philippines.
Possession of an air base on the northern shore of this peninsula would further the campaign to retake the Philippines in two ways. It would place Allied forces closer to the Philippines; after the occupation of Biak and Noemfoor, it was the logical next step in establishing a chain of bases along the north coast of New Guinea. In the second place, it would be a logical point from which to protect our advance on the Philippines from Japanese flank attacks from the Netherlands East Indies.
An airdrome on the Vogelkop peninsula would provide bases within 300 miles of the center of Halmahera Island, focal point of Japanese defenses in the Netherlands East Indies, and 600 miles from the southern tip of Mindanao in the Philippines. An airdrome here would shorten the route of our fighters and bombers to the Moluccas, to enemy airdromes in Ceram and Boeroe Islands. It would bring all portions of the Celebes within range of our fighters, and the east coast of Borneo within range of our bombers. Such a base would also endanger vital Japanese oil installations in Borneo, and Japanese water routes through the Makassar Straits and the Molucca Sea.
After the invasion of the Vogelkop peninsula by the Sixth Army, 30 July 1944, a site was chosen about halfway from Cape Sansapor and Cape Opmarai. The installation was commonly known as “Sansapor”. Construction of the airdrome and near-by camp sites started immediately. A great deal of difficulty was experienced in the construction of the strip because of the existence of unexpected marshland; through filling and draining, the difficulty was overcome, and the airdrome was finished on schedule. It was called Mar airdrome and received its name from the native village of Mar located near-by.
Sansapor became the base for several Thirteenth Air Force units. Tactical squadrons from the XIII Fighter Command, and XIII Bomber Command were based here together with the necessary service units from the XIII Air Force Service Command. This group of more than 6,400 officers and enlisted men made up the Thirteenth Air Force garrison at Sansapor proper, and were there until the middle or latter part of February 1945, when they were ordered forward once again. This time they went north, into the Philippines.
The Thirteenth Air Force garrison together with nearly 4,000 more Air Corps personnel from the Fifth Air Force made up the Thirteenth Air Task Force, the air element of the Typhoon Task Force. The Thirteenth Air Task Force was under the command of Brigadier General Earl W. Barnes, Commander General of the XIII Fighter Command, and the Typhoon Task Force was under the command of Major General Franklin C. Sibert. The Sansapor operation of the Typhoon Task Force was officially terminated on 31 August 1944, but the Thirteenth Air Task Force was not disbanded until 1 October 1944. The XIII Fighter Command headquarters was also at Sansapor, and, although officially it operated separately from the headquarters of the Thirteenth Air Task Force, for all practical purposes, it was the same; wherever it was appropriate the same officers filled corresponding staff positions in both headquarters.
During the last quarter of 1944, Mar airdrome with its satellite field at Middelburg Island (Klenso Airdrome), became the key point in our air offensive against the Japanese. From here B-25s of the 42nd Bombardment Group, and P-38s of the 18th Fighter Group ranged daily through the islands of the Moluccas and the Celebes and over the adjacent waters, bombing and strafing enemy installations and shipping. Occasionally the B-25s were sent to Morotai for short periods; from Pitoe strip, on Morotai, they flew searches to the northern Celebes and the northeastern coast of Borneo.
During September and October, when the strikes against Balikpapan were flown by B-24s based on Noemfoor, many returning Liberators landed at Mar airdrome, which was over 100 miles closer to Balikpapan. When fighters accompanied the heavies over Balikpapan in October, they flew from Mar and Klenso airdromes. These flights by P-38s constituted some of the longest fighter missions of the war, covering as they did over 2,000 statute miles for the round trip.
Aircraft from Mar airdrome gave direct air support to Sixth Army troops invading Morotai on 15 September 1945; and by helping to neutralize enemy strength in the Netherlands East Indies, they gave indirect support to the landing at Leyte in the Philippines, on 20 October 1945. Neutralizing enemy strength in the Indies meant the application of constant pressure against the key airdromes in the Japanese defense line, namely Kendari in the Celebes, Ambon in Ceram, and Galela in Halmahera: it also meant giving attention to inter-island shipping, to oil installations on Ceram, and constant surveillance of by-passed enemy troops in New Guinea and the Moluccas.
The enemy did not give serious attention to the Sansapor area until twenty-five days after the landing of Allied forces. Between 25 August 1944 and 30 September 1944, Sansapor experienced 6 air raids, involving a total of 11 enemy planes. Some damage was caused to equipment and casualties were suffered; one man was killed and several others were wounded. After this series of attacks, the base was raided sporadically until the spring of 1945, but little damage was inflicted.
AMERICAN amphibious forces landed unopposed, on 30 July 1944, near Cape Sansapor on the western tip of New Guinea and on tiny Middelburg Island, a short distance off shore.
Brigadier General Earl W. Barnes, Commanding General of the Thirteenth Air Task Force and of the XIII Fighter Command, was among the first to land on Middelburg. It was his responsibility to select airfield sites for the Air Task Force. The General looked over coral-fringed Middelburg, later reconnoitered still-smaller, near-by Amsterdam Island, then went over to the mainland for an inspection of other sites.
The General looked at the Allied timetable: 45 days until the invasion of Morotai. His Task Force would have the job of providing air cover for the Morotai Task Force, and of neutralizing enemy air power in Western New Guinea and the southern Moluccas. Weighing all factors, the General selected Middelburg as the site for a fighter strip.
On D day plus 3, ground force engineer construction outfits were on Middelburg ready to go to work. They went to work; 4,300 coconut trees and dense secondary growth were cleared from half the island’s 240 acres;
150,000 cubic yards of topsoil and coral were stripped from the surface to provide a stable foundation; working at low tide, power shovels dug 43,000 cubic yards of coral sand from the surrounding reef, to provide a solid surface for the field; 540,000 square feet of steel matting were laid to cover the 5,400 by 100 foot coral-packed strip.
On D-day plus 19, General Barnes set down his P-61 Black Widow on Middelburg to officially open Klenso strip. He was followed by Lightnings of the 347th Fighter Group, ready and eager to begin operating from their new base, the farthest advanced in the Southwest Pacific.
Middelburg, in addition to being the base for 75 Lightnings, came to be a terminal of one of the shortest airlines in the world: the 3 mile Mar-Middelburg Line connecting the mainland and Middelburg. L-5s, flown by enlisted men, furnished regular taxi service to and from the mainland.
The ability in aerial warfare to hit the enemy day after day depends upon the ability to replace losses of both men and machines. This was one of the decisive factors in the success of the Allied Air forces in the Southwest Pacific. It was also a decisive factor in the failure of the Japanese Air Force to offer any more than token resistance to Allies air power in the final assault on the Philippines.
When Clark Field, the largest air base in the Philippines, was captured, many Japanese aircraft were found parked in the revetments and parking aprons. Investigation by FEAF intelligence teams showed that the Japanese were not short of aviation gasoline, for thousands of gallons were found in drums buried underground. Nor were they short of pilots. Lack of maintenance more than any other factor kept Japanese planes on the ground when they were sorely needed to oppose Allied aircraft.
Many Japanese aircraft were found to be in excellent condition except that they lacked one or two essential parts. It was discovered that although spare parts were on hand, improper supply and maintenance procedures rendered them inaccessible. It was discovered, still further, that there was an almost complete absence of well trained personnel to perform maintenance on the grounded aircraft.
Allied Air Force commanders were conscious of the importance of supply and maintenance. The number of personnel assigned to supply and maintenance in the Thirteenth Air Task Force serves to illustrate this. Of the approximate number of 9,700 men who made up the Task Force, over 2,300, or 24%, were supply and maintenance personnel, whose function was to service planes.
Service personnel are usually sent into a new area ahead of the tactical personnel in order that they may be ready to keep the aircraft going once they have arrived. At Sansapor, the service units began arriving on D-day plus 10, which was 10 August, a full week before the P-38s began to arrive, and five weeks before the B-25s flew in. This gave the service units time to establish their camp and work shops before performing their supply and maintenance functions.
The 6th Service Group, and several attached units - two airdrome squadrons, an ordnance unit, a quartermaster truck company, a signal company, and an additional service squadron - performed the supply and maintenance functions at Sansapor. These troops, which numbered approximately 2,000, were bivouacked just south of the west end of the strip; their repair shops were in the bivouac area, and on the strip itself.
Such camp and work areas had to be carved and hacked out of the dense New Guinea jungle, which was back-breaking work, although it was facilitated by the bulldozer. Their task was hazardous because they were exposed not only to the usual tropical diseases, but also to the dreaded scrub typhus, for which medical science has not yet found a cure, nor a means of suppression. Thanks to rigorous preventive measures, only 40 cases occurred among 10,000 men during the life of the Thirteenth Air Task Force. Most of these cases occurred among outlying signal air raid warning units, which were bivouacked in areas where the grass and undergrowth had not been cleared.
As with all new camps in the tropics, living conditions were “primitive”. Conditions improved, however, as the men found time to put floors under their tents and as they were able to screen them; so did they improve as recreational facilities became available. Although the food at Sansapor was not as bad as it was at Noemfoor, it was not of high quality. Fresh meats and vegetables were rare: the main part of the diet consisted of C-rations, canned pork and beans, canned meat, and canned vegetable stew, served in rotation with whatever dehydrated potatoes or carrots were on hand. The food was undoubtedly nourishing, but monotonous and tasteless. Boxes from home were a big event.
The success of the Thirteenth Air Task Force was due in no small measure to the work of supply and service units. That no B-25s were grounded for lack of parts during the entire period at Sansapor was a noteworthy achievement. Tactical commanders issued several commendations to maintenance units at Sansapor for their efficient work in keeping the planes in the air.
In the picture, we see a typical scene at Sansapor where maintenance men are making repairs on a P-38 in a revetment on the strip. Such scenes as this took place every day.
IN modern mechanized war no single commodity is perhaps more important than oil. The Japanese war machine depended heavily on the Netherland East Indies for its supplies of oil and petroleum products. The Balikpapan oil refineries on East Borneo were one of the brightest jewels in the stolen treasure house of the East Indies. The Japanese were dependent on Balikpapal for nearly 40% of their total requirements of lubricating oils.
Thirteenth Air Force Liberators, based at Noemfoor, flew their first mission against Balikpapan on 30 September 1944. To reach Balikpapan from Noemfoor, the Liberators flew a round trip of over 2400 statute miles, farther perhaps than a mass formation of Liberators had ever flown before.
Every phase of the mission was carefully planned. Engines were tuned to peak efficiency; to conserve fuel, power settings and manifold pressures were determined for every step of the way.
Each Liberator carried 3,500 gallons of gasoline, or more then 11 1/3 tons. The normal defensive, ammunition carried was cut in half to save weight. The bomb load was l ¼ tons. When the planes “weighed-in”, they tipped the beam at more than 12,000 pounds over the recommended load.
At 0035 on the morning of 30 September, the first Liberator taxied onto the runway, locked its brakes, raced its engines convulsively, released its brakes, opened the throttles wide and began eating up the 7,000 foot runway, easing its 34 tons into the air within the last 1,000 feet. Then came another and another, every 90 seconds, until 72 Liberators, 48 from the Thirteenth and 24 from the Fifth, were winging their way toward Balikpapan under cover of the night.
Between 0933 and 1042, 46 of the Thirteenth’s heavies were over the target. Clouds, aggressive enemy interceptors, moderate to intense and accurate ack ack, bedeviled the unescorted Liberators.
The 5th Bombardment Group’s 23 planes wheeled and turned, found a hole in the cloud cover and bombed visually. The 307th, coming in later, was unable to find an opening after 40 to 45 minutes of searching; the radar equipped squadrons of the 307th made radar bombing runs, while the others used whatever reference points they were able to find.
Fierce enemy resistance accounted for the destruction of 5 Liberators 2 of which were lost on crash landings on the incomplete Morotai strip; 15 others were damaged. Liberator gunners claimed 4 sures and 5 probables.
Neither distance, nor clouds, nor fierce enemy resistance could save Balikpapan from destructive blows. Four more long range attacks in October and Balikpapan oil installations were no longer considered a major target.
EVERY time a plane goes out on a combat mission, air crews and ground crews alike “sweat out” the take-off. Getting a fast, high-powered, heavily loaded military airplane into the air from a jungle strip is not easy, even though the ground crew has it tuned to peak operating efficiency. Safely landing the same plane, coming home from a long mission, after the enemy has peppered it with flak and machine gun fire, is still more difficult.
The very small number of planes lost by the Thirteenth Air Force on take-offs and landings is a tribute to the skill and efficiency of its air and ground crews. During 1944, when more than 23,000 bombing sorties alone were flown, only 3 planes, all of them Lightnings, were lost on take-offs and landings. During this period, nearly 900 planes were damaged by enemy anti aircraft fire or by enemy fighters.
Not infrequently planes returned from missions with engines or hydraulic systems shot out. On occasion, bomber crews fastened parachutes to the qun mounts to act as brakes when failure of the hydraulic system precluded normal operation of the wheel brakes, and thus saved themselves and their plane from injury or damage.
The P-38 Lightning, shown in the painting, was returning to Middelburg Island from a bombing and strafing mission against Old Namlea airdrome on Boeroe. Antiaircraft fire had shot out one engine and damaged the hydraulic system. Nevertheless, the P-38 was able to make the more than 400 mile trip back on one engine. As the ship landed near the end of the strip at Sansapor, the damage to the hydraulic system caused the landing gear to fold up with the result as shown. Fast action by ever-ready fire fighting crews squelched the blaze. The pilot walked away unharmed.
THE battles for Guadalcanal and New Georgia were campaigns of annihilation in which American forces destroyed the enemy completely. After these campaigns, the strategy in the South and Southwest Pacific changed. Instead of landing on an island with the purpose of totally destroying the enemy, amphibious forces landed with the purpose of thrusting the enemy out of a small area on which an airstrip could be built, and of setting up perimeter defense to protect the airstrip. Bougainville, New Guinea, and Morotai operations were excellent examples of this type of strategy.
An alternate plan was to land on islands so small that the Japanese could place relatively few troops on them: in such cases, the enemy could easily be wiped out by superior American forces. Complete American control of surrounding seas prevented any possibility of these islands being retaken by Japanese counter-attacks. Examples of this type of strategy were landings on Owi, Wakde, Noemfoor, and Middelburg, all of which were located off the coast of New Guinea, but so small that they rarely appear on anything but the most exacting maps.
Regardless of whether the strategy of perimeter defense or the occupation of small islands was used, the area occupied by airstrips, supply, and living areas was relatively small. Camps were always in close proximity to the airstrips, and planes roared overhead at all hours of the day and into the night. Bombers, fighters, and transports were in full view as they circled in the traffic pattern, frequently forming an aerial umbrella, as they prepared to land or to leave on a new course.
After nightfall, lights shone in the tents throughout the camp area. While men relaxed after their day’s work, overhead B-24s turned on their landing lights, preparing to land between the searchlight beams, which towered into the air like giant pedestals, framing the strip for planes homing-in between the clouds.
Both day and night, Snoopers of the 868th Bomb Squadron, with their special radar equipped B-24s, prowled for enemy shipping, heckled enemy airdromes, and sneaked in to blast supply areas or strategic installations such as the oil areas of Borneo.
With their home base on Noemfoor during part of 1944, Snoopers ranged over great distances on their prowling missions. Typical is a strike performer on 1 November 1944, when a Snooper ranged as far to the northwest as Palawan Island in the Philippines to destroy 3 enemy cargo vessels.
The painting shows a Snooper stopping at Morotai to refuel and check any possible damage to the plane and crew before returning to Noemfoor. As the big plane cut its engines and glided in towards Pitoe airstrip, most men in the tents below paid little attention to the black B-24, for it was a familiar sight on Allied airfields used by the 13th Air Force.
SPORTS played an important part in maintaining the physical and mental welfare of men through many months of jungle living.
Athletic activities varied from the more leisurely to the more strenuous type - from horseshoe pitching and archery to basketball and boxing. Badminton, volley ball, softball, baseball, tennis, and swimming filled out the roster of sports. With most units usually having access to the warm waters of the Pacific, swimming was the most popular sport. Volley ball was also well adapted to the tropics, and had many adherents. There was a considerable number, however, who found the energy to play basketball.
Island and intra-group and squadron softball, baseball and basketball leagues were not uncommon, and frequently developed the same enthusiasm and spirit generally found in school and college competition.
Not infrequently top-flight stars could be found among the participants. During its stay on Morotai, the 307th Bombardment Group was host to several Australian Davis Cup tennis players, who put on brilliant exhibitions.
As a general rule, Air Force units built athletic facilities as soon after moving into a new camp area as the necessary labor and construction equipment could be spared from more basic tasks. The installation of lights made possible the enjoyment of strenuous sports, such as basketball, in the cool of the evening.
This scene was painted in the 403rd Troop Carrier area on Biak Island in May 1945. In the background can be seen one of the enlisted men’s clubs, of which the Group was very proud.
While sports were a definite part of the Thirteenth’s recreational program during its entire stay in the Pacific, it was not until about May 1945 that many Air Force units could boast of enlisted men’s clubs. More inviting than ordinary day rooms, equipped with bars serving cold drinks, the clubs provider a much-needed place for relaxation and for an occasional dance with hard to-get WACs, American, Australian and Dutch nurses, and Red Cross girls. In the Philippines, tiny Filipino girls were sometimes club guests at dances.
THROUGHOUT its history, the Air Force has maintained a continuous program of education for the return of its citizen-soldiers to civilian life. Here we see a group of men receiving basic training in the useful art of cleaning pots and pans. The tropical sun cutting through the ever-present coconut trees simulates the lighting effect in a model kitchen of tomorrow. The pots and pans are more nearly “king” than family size. Steel gasoline drums split vertically and laid horizontally have been substituted for monel sinks; but the basic principles remain the same – soap and water, elbow grease, and steel wool, if it was available.
The men on KP are supervised by well-trained KP “pushers”, who live more or less cloistered lives, depending somewhat on the extent to which they prod the KPs during periods of supervision.
This particular scene, typical of KP duty in the jungle, was painted in November 1944, outside the mess hall of the 68th Fighter Squadron on tiny Middelburg Island. Middelburg is located off Cape Sansapor on the western tip of New Guinea.
THE “States” and home were not quite so far away when a soldier stepped into a jungle theatre. The reality of the jungle was lost temporarily in the living personalities on the stage, or in the shadows on the screen, which conjured up memories of the past and dreams of the future.
Stage shows enjoyed wide popularity. The size and enthusiasm of the audience, of course, varied with the character of the presentation, and was not necessarily correlated with the artistry of the performance. Feminine charm alone was capable of evoking an enthusiastic response. Beauty combined with artistry brought down the house. A song such as “Embraceable You”, would have the men in the front rows ready to violate the ancient maxim, “never volunteer to do anything in the army.” A description of the island as “an Alcatraz with coconut trees” was “sure-fire”, as were references to the discomforts of wartime living in Uncle Sugar Able, and none-too-sly jabs at the higher ranks.
Thirteenth Air Force units saw a number of outstanding shows and personalities. Among the latter were Bob Hope and Terry Colonna, Kay Kyser, Jack Benny and Carole Landis, Gracie Fields, Ray Milland and Mary Elliott, of the stage, screen and radio: Frederick Jagel and Robert Weede of the Metropolitan Opera Company, and Isaac Stern, concert violinist. The shows included several streamlined, and in some cases expurgated, versions of recent Broadway productions. Among the more popular were: This Is The Army, Hellzapoppin’, Brother Rat, What A Life, Over 21, Girl Crazy, Mexican Hayride and Oklahoma.
Outstanding shows brought out audiences an hour and a half or more before curtain time. At least, that was the time when those who wanted a “$4.40 seat” usually arrived. They came armed with conversation, playing cards, or perhaps the hometown newspaper, ready to “sweat out” curtain and footlights. Early or late, nearly everyone brought raincoats, and was prepared to see the show no matter what kind of weather might follow.
A number of less pretentious shows also toured the jungle circuit under Army Special Service or USO auspices.
Band concerts, which often introduced stage shows, also lent variety to the soldiers’ entertainment. Regular Army bands and bands formed by the men themselves as an extra-curricular activity, joined in providing this form of entertainment. Not infrequently, a short band concert preceded the nightly movie. These bands also played in support of stage shows; and they provided music for occasional dances and parties at officers’ and enlisted men’s clubs.
Stage shows and band concerts, owing to their comparative infrequency, were, however, at best merely supplementary to movies as the principal form of evening diversion.
This scene shows a typical jungle theatre at Sansapor, New Guinea, in October 1944, during a band concert.
AIR Force chapels from Fiji through the Philippines did not follow any set pattern. Some, such as the chapel at Middelburg Island, shown in the painting, were housed in circus tents; others were housed in the smaller hospital tents, Quonset huts, Australian tin-roofed huts, thatched huts of native construction, or in open-air movie theatres. Still other chapels were built in the open, in which case a field table, or perhaps a gasoline drum, draped in white, was set in a coconut grove,
In all of them, men could worship in the faith of their fathers. The time was not ripe to beat swords into plowshares, but war material could be made to serve religious needs. Empty bomb crates made good, although hard, seats. Here, a salvaged parachute, clean and white, stretched out behind the altar helped to create an atmosphere of worship.
KING’S Cross is a name familiar to thousands of Allied service men who visited Sydney, Australia. Although King’s Cross is located some distance from the center of the city, it was nevertheless the chief meeting place in Sydney for men on rest leave. King’s Cross was a place of interest, of expectancy; at the “Cross”, a soldier might meet a friend from the Navy, or he might strike up an acquaintance with an Australian or British flier, or with a civilian. The atmosphere of the “Cross” was leisurely and friendly; it was also adventurous, for no man who was socially inclined need remain a stranger here.
King’s Cross and the area nearby is a city within a city. Located in one of the oldest parts of Sydney, it is laid out in the continental manner with narrow, crooked, twisting streets. Originally a residential suburb, King’s Cross grew, and became a modern apartment house district.
The shops in King’s Cross are many, and capable of serving almost any need; in fact, they make up the streets and corners of the “Cross” and are a center of activity and attraction. To a visitor from the jungle, the ice cream bars, beer parlors, florist shops, laundries, delicatessens, restaurants, tobacconist shops, notion stores, theatres, and night clubs were most colorful.
At the beginning of the war, many refugees came to Sydney; nationals from all over the world took up residence along Darlinghurst Road, giving the district a cosmopolitan character. Bizarre costumes and mannerisms went unnoticed at the “Cross”. If a man could identify five foreign tongues spoken here, there were probably ten he could not identify. Perhaps the cosmopolitan character of the “Cross” was another reason why service men were attracted to it.
Army personnel coming into Sydney frequently spent the first night in quarters provided by the Red Cross, and then went to King’s Cross the next day for accommodations. The best places were taken, of course, by personnel permanently stationed at Sydney. Personnel on rest leave were fortunate if they could obtain a one or two room apartment.
Night life at the “Cross” began at six in the evening. At this time, Navy personnel on shore leave were just arriving, and Army personnel were returning from sight-seeing, swimming, boating or a day at the races. At this time, Army and Navy men met their dates or quickly managed introductions to the girl of their choice; and the couples were ready to begin the evening’s round of entertainment. It may be observed in passing that the American custom of presenting a date with flowers was as popular with Australian as it was with New Zealand girls.
Restaurants, hotels, night clubs were visited for dinner and dancing. Festivities usually continued until twelve-thirty when the evening drew to a close, for at this time trams and taxis stopped running.
The Thirteenth Air Force used Sydney as a rest leave area for its flying personnel from July 1944 until March 1945. Officers and GIs who had the privilege of visiting Sydney, or for that matter any part of Australia, will not soon forget the hospitality extended to them, nor will they forget the warm reception they received.
MANY Thirteenth Air Force officers on rest leaves in Sydney found Cheverells Officers’ Club to be quite like their own homes. Australian volunteer workers played a large part in making Cheverells attractive for the American visitor; the Australian women served as hostesses, waitresses, receptionists, sewers, and even helped to make wedding arrangements.
Sunday afternoon tea parties and musicales featuring well-known artists, such as Eugene Ormandy, Benjamin de Loach and Marcel Lorber, provided a delightful return to civilization for the men of the Jungle Air Force. The club also sponsored interesting art exhibits in cooperation with the Australian Art Society.
Special parties were given at the club on Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and other time-honored American holidays. Birthdays were also celebrated here. The club frequently arranged for small informal dances in private homes. Outdoor activities were also available: deep-sea fishing trips, golfing at the Royal Sydney, or tennis at one of the nearby courts, afforded the men athletic diversions seldom found in the jungles.
Thirteenth Air Force officers began going to Cheverells during the Australian winter of 1944, and continued to make use of the club until March 1945, when Sydney was closed as a rest leave area for the Thirteenth. Exact data as to the number of officers of the Thirteenth who made use of its facilities is not available, but from August 1943, to the date of its closing in March 1945, more than 68,000 men of all arms and services were lodged in the club, and more than 194,000 meals were served there.
THIRTEENTH Air Force men on rest leave in Sydney soon came to feel that the Australian way of life was very much like their own. Australians, they found, were an outdoor people, vigorous and democratic, with a great love of sport.
Like the Americans, the Australians, are fond of the sun, sand and sea. The seaward side of Sydney is fringed with magnificent beaches. On Sundays, during the summer season, the beaches are taken over by the bathers. Unlike the beaches of the Solomons, New Guinea, and other islands to the north and east, the beaches of Sydney are sprinkled liberally with exhibits of feminine beauty. Bondi Beach, which is one of the most popular in the Sydney area, is as excellent for swimming as it is for sun bathing.
A feature of Sunday afternoons at Bondi Beach was the water carnival. Sydney’s well known corps of lifeguards were the principal contestants: the 6-man boat race through the choppy surf was the chief event of the afternoon.
The Bondi Officers’ Rest Home, operated by the Red Cross, was set close to the beach. The lounge was a rendezvous for officers on rest leave; it was used most of the day by men writing letters, reading, playing cards, or simply relaxing. The lounge was especially well suited to small get-togethers on late Sunday afternoon when coffee and cookies were served, and symphony music contributed to the atmosphere. The club took a strong interest in personal services. The reception desk arranged for fishing trips, renting cars, ordering flowers, mailing letters and packages, selecting gifts to send home, first aid, and repairing clothes. Colorful posters in the club advertised trips to Katoomba, Palm Beach, and night life activities in Sydney.
A small dance hall, which was located across the street from the club, proved an excellent “in-betweener” for those not inclined to make the 10-mile trip to visit the bright lights of downtown Sydney. Here at the “Beach Corral,”as it was known, Western style barn dances were held every night except Monday.
After 11 months of operation, the club closed in January 1945, and the building was turned over to the British Navy. During the eleven months, more than 27,000 officers were billeted and approximately 58,000 meals were served.
GROUND officers and enlisted men who were on their way to Mackay, Australia, for long overdue rest leaves, boarded planes at one of the bases of the Jungle Air Force, which was spread from the Solomon Islands to the western tip of New Guinea, and flew the first leg of their trip to Nadzab or Hollandia, in New Guinea. After an overnight stay in a dreary casual camp, they were awakened at dawn for an early take-off, to cover the distance from their station in New Guinea to Mackay. Leaving New Guinea, the planes winged south over the Great Barrier Reef off northern Queensland and over the barren Australian desert until late in the afternoon when they dropped their wheels over the Mackay airstrip.
Located on the Pioneer River and slightly inland from the coast, Mackay is 598 miles north of Brisbane. It is the center of an agricultural district, in which sugar cane is the principal crop. Mackay itself has a population of 12,000. Modern shops, business houses, newly-erected hotels and public buildings make up the center of the community. Soldiers spending leaves at Mackay felt that it was not unlike a small mid-western town in the United States.
The Mackay leave area was operated jointly by the American Red Cross and the US Army. Men on leave, however, were under few restrictions during their stay. Accommodations and food were available at nominal rates: soldiers could stay or eat where they chose. The Red Cross provided the best food; steak, roasts, eggs, fresh milk, butter, fresh fruits, vegetables, crisp salads and tempting desserts were served in both the officers’ and enlisted men’s mess.
The American Red Cross Hotel was the center of activities, as attested by the number of bicycles parked in front. A recreation hall, laundry service, American style soda fountain, and easy chairs were part of the facilities. With bicycles available for rent three days at a time, bicycling became a favorite sport of the visiting GIs, But their energies were not limited to bicycling; they played badminton, tennis, rode horses, and went deep sea fishing, and swimming.
At Eimeo Beach, 11 miles from Mackay, the men went surf bathing, and spent lazy hours basking in the sun. The Army ran regularly scheduled buses between Mackay and Eimeo beach. The Red Cross was always cooperative in arranging moonlight swims and steak fries for soldiers and their girls. A dance was held every night but Sunday in the Red Cross recreation hall, in Mackay. Excursions to near-by towns, Sarina and Farley, and picnics along the Pioneer River, were planned by the Red Cross. The noon and afternoon pub calls were attended regularly by those who had a taste for beer. Hard liquor could be bought only in the black market at fabulous prices.
On the eleventh day after arrival, the men rose early and prepared to return to camp. As dawn broke over the flat fields and the clean buildings of Mackay. Army busses carried soldiers to C-47s, which were waiting to take them back to the jungle. In looking down from the air, hours later, soldiers could see nothing but blue water or green jungle; what remained of Mackay was fast becoming part of their memories.
Thirteenth Air Force personnel did not have access to Mackay for very long; Mackay was opened to our men in December 1944, and was closed in March 1945.
THE headquarters of an Air Force follows its tactical units into newly won territory; seldom does it lead them. This doctrine was altered in September 1944, when headquarters personnel of the Thirteenth Air Force spear-headed the advance of its tactical units into newly invaded Morotai, which was at that time the farthest advanced Allied base in the Southwest Pacific.
As the first wave of Allied troops landed on the beaches of Morotai, on 15 September, the greater part of headquarters personnel boarded the SS Thomas Corwin at Los Negros. While temporary headquarters, consisting of a skeleton staff, functioned at Hollandia, New Guinea, and later at Noemfoor Island off the New Guinea coast, the Corwin proceeded by a devious route to Morotai.
The trip to Morotai followed the pattern in providing the discomforts associated with most Southwest Pacific troop movements in crowded Liberty ships. Hundreds of officers and men were jammed into the Corwin’s holds, modified to allow the installation of bunks in tiers of ten. The mess kitchens consisted of lean-to shacks, one on each side of the ship, built by the carpenters of Headquarters Squadron. Men stood in line to be served, and usually ate their food standing up. Lean-to latrine houses were built on the after deck. Pieces of pipe with holes in them, acting as shower heads, provided men with salt water showers. Decks were crowded with oily ships’ gear, vehicles, and hundreds of men, seeking out any shade which might provide escape from the equatorial sun.
On D-day plus 12, the morning of the 27th, the Corwin dropped anchor off Morotai. At dusk, with all personnel still aboard, 3 Japanese fighter planes streaked in from darkened eastern skies to blast the airstrip under construction near the beachhead. Before many men could get below deck, they witnessed a magnificent display of antiaircraft artillery. From one end of the beachhead to the other, 40 millimeter rapid fire Bofors sent up streams of orange incendiaries as if a thousand Roman candles had been directed at the speeding planes. Five more alerts gave the men crowded below deck a bad night.
Tracers lit the sky on two occasions during the second night, but only a few on duty above deck were there to see the fireworks. All was quiet on the 29th.
On the afternoon of the 30th, 100 enlisted men and a few officers went ashore to begin clearing the dense jungle, before the remainder disembarked to build the headquarters’ camp. At supper time that evening, enemy planes came in to attack the airstrip. While the men ashore scampered for cover, a stray ack ack shell fell in their midst, exploding, and wounding 5. Three more raids occurred that night. During one of them, a Japanese fighter peeled off to strafe shipping in the harbor; the enemy plane came in on a line with the Corwin, and sprayed the ship at the Corwin’s stern with machine-gun fire. By this time, everyone afloat and ashore was convinced that the weakened but still active Japanese air power in the Celebes, was preparing to make the American occupation of Morotai as costly as possible.
PITOE and Wama airstrips on Morotai, which are shown in the painting, played a significant part in the campaign to liberate the Philippines, in reducing Japanese power in the Netherlands East Indies, and in the capture of Borneo.
General Krueger’s Sixth Army landed on the sandy beaches of Leyte, 20 October 1944. The Thirteenth, flying from Morotai, gave support to the Fifth Air Force, which acted as the assault air force for the Leyte campaign. The Sixth Army landed on Lingayen, Luzon, in January 1945. The Thirteenth, flying from Pitoe and Wama, took part in the air offensive preceding and accompanying the capture of Manila, early in March 1945.
From Pitoe and Wama strips, the Thirteenth assumed a new role; it acted as the assault air force for the Eighth Army in its campaign to liberate the Central and Southern Philippines. From Morotai, planes flew to prepare the way for the invasion of Palawan, which was seized on 28 February 1945, and of Zamboanga, on the Southwestern tip of Mindanao, which was taken 10 March. Planes also flew from Morotai in March and April 1945, to support landings of the Eighth Army on Panay, Negros, Cebu and many smaller islands in the Visayan group.
Planes of the Thirteenth took off from Morotai in the last major task assigned to the Air Force: to support the Australian Imperial Forces and RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) in the Borneo campaign, in April-July 1945. Heavies of the 307th Bomb Group flew from Morotai to aid the Australians in landings at Tarakan at Brunei Bay, and at Balikpapan.
The island of Morotai lies at the northeast tip of the Halmahera Islands in the Netherlands East Indies. It is a mountainous jungle island, approximately 25 by 45 miles in size. At the southwestern corner, the mountains flatten out onto a level plain about 50 feet above sea level. Gila Peninsula, a long narrow neck of land, extends to the southwest for 5 miles. The south-western plain is lightly wooded with palm and banana groves: the remainder of the island is covered with dense rain forest. A coral reef partly exposed at low tides projects out from the island several hundred yards, protecting Morotai from heavy seas.
Pitoe and Wama airstrips were located on the southwest plain of the island. They were built by engineering units of the XI Corps and a RAAF Airdrome Construction Battalion; they were rushed to completion with the aid of Seabees of the 77 Wing (Navy). The 31st Division, which landed unopposed, 15 September, protected the airstrips from a Japanese force estimated at 2000 men by setting up a perimeter defense. Frequent machine gun and artillery fire kept the enemy at bay.
Morotai was a base for many units of the Thirteenth: headquarters of the Air Force, 5th and 307th Bomb Groups, 18th Fighter Group, 868th Snooper Bomb Squadron, headquarters of the XIII Air Force Service Command, 29th and 321st Service Groups, 4th Photo Reconnaissance Group, 38th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron, 2nd Emergency Rescue Squadron, 6th Combat Camera Unit, 410th Signal Company, 905th Engineers, 316th Signal Company Wing, Company B of the 429th Signal Construction Battalion, 600th AAF Band, and two boats of the 15th Emergency Rescue Squadron. There were, of course, many detachments from various other units also on Morotai.
For a short time during February-March 1945, air echelons of the 42nd Bomb Group (M), and squadrons of the 347th Fighter Group, along with the 550th Night Fighter Squadron, and air echelons of the 419th Night Fighter Squadron, were stationed at Morotai.
NIGHT life for men of the Thirteenth Air Force on Morotai was centered around the foxhole during the last quarter of 1944. The Allied base at Morotai was raided more frequently by the Japanese than any other base in the Southwest Pacific.
Digging a foxhole on Morotai was usually not easy. Most camp areas had only a few inches of topsail over a hard coral crust. But even men who were unaccustomed to hard labor eagerly traded sweat for safety soon after arriving on the island. Foxholes were dug as deep as possible, covered with logs cut from the near-by jungle or coconut plantations, and piled with sandbags on top. If one was lucky enough to find a piece of scrapped corrugated tin, he placed it on the top layer to keep the rains from seeping through into the hole.
Three resounding shots from the 90 millimeters unceremoniously announced to the entire island that a “bandit” had appeared on the radarscope and that the fighter sector had broadcast a red alert to all gun positions.
The next 50 minutes or so began with a dash from bed to foxhole in various stages of undress. When the show began, white fingers of light thrust into the sky to point the direction of approaching aircraft. A number of men frequently remained outside to watch the antiaircraft pin-point the enemy plane, ducking quickly into the foxhole when the plane got dangerously close.
In the foxhole, men were reassured by the rising crescendo of AA fire as our gunners concentrated on the enemy. At the same time there was a tenseness as men wondered whether the Japanese would turn their attention to the personnel areas instead of to the strips. Then, above the regularity of the AA thunder, came the sound everyone waited for, the slamming noise of enemy bombs, exploding in quick succession. If the string was hitting far away, you had time to become aware that your breathing was a little faster and perhaps noticed that a foxhole mate trembled a little as he pushed against you in the crowded quarters. If the string hit close by and the bombs started to walk in your direction, you counted the explosions as you hugged closer to the earth, wishing you had put another layer of logs on top of your foxhole, and, at the same time, reassuring yourself that the chance against a direct hit was greatly in your favor.
If the gunners scored a hit or a night interceptor plane sent a lethal burst into the enemy, everyone cheered, and the show concluded with the meteoric fall of the raider. If the raider was undamaged, the last guns on the far side of the island finally stopped firing, and the drone of the Japanese engines slowly died away. These sounds were soon replaced by the plop of shrapnel from exploded antiaircraft shells, sounding like gentle rain as they returned to earth. You stayed in the foxhole, knowing that the falling pieces might kill you.
AMERICAN forces went into Morotai on 15 September 1944 expecting heavy aerial opposition. Morotai lay within 400 miles of more than 30 enemy-held airstrips: 10 were on nearby Halmahera, 7 in the Celebes-Manado area, 14 in the Ambon-Ceram-Boeroe area and others were on the western tip of New Guinea and southern Mindanao. In August, it had been estimated that the enemy had sufficient air strength in the area to send 140 planes daily against Morotai.
To counter this threat, heavy concentrations of antiaircraft artillery were brought into Morotai with the first landings. Before long, there were 3 battalions of automatic weapons and 2 battalions of 90 millimeter guns on the island. In all, there were 96 of the 40 millimeter gun type shown in the painting, 96 of the quadruple mounted .50 calibre machine guns, and 32 of the radar-controlled 90 millimeter guns.
These sizable defenses were placed in a carefully integrated pattern throughout the occupied area. A gun defended area extending approximately 10 miles was laid out. The primary targets to be defended were, of course, the two airstrips: Pitoe and Wama.
While Morotai was never raided on the scale originally anticipated, it was attacked by 179 planes in 82 raids, from 15 September 1944, to 1 February 1945. Shore-based artillery resulted in the destruction of 17 planes, in the probable destruction of 7 planes and in damage to 11 others. Anti-aircraft on ships in the harbor destroyed 1 plane.
Automatic weapons were credited with 7 planes destroyed, 4 probably destroyed, and 5 damaged. The big 90 millimeter guns accounted for 7 planes destroyed, 1 probably destroyed and 6 damaged, while the automatic weapons and the heavies jointly shared credit for 3 planes destroyed, 2 probably destroyed and 1 damaged.
Statistics do not, however, afford a complete and accurate picture of the effectiveness of the antiaircraft artillery defenses of Morotai. Heavy low altitude casualties suffered by the Japanese in the first weeks following invasion forced the enemy to increase sharply the average altitude of attack from about 4,000 feet to approximately 18,000 feet. Moreover, more than 60 planes were turned back by 90 millimeter fire, indicating that much more damage was done by the big guns than the statistics show.
Night fighters, supplementing the work of antiaircraft artillery, shot down 8 enemy planes, probably destroyed 3 and damaged 1. Radar-equipped P-61 Black Widows accounted for 5 of the planes destroyed and for 1 of the damaged planes, while P-38 Lightnings and Spitfires in cooperation with the searchlights were credited with 3 destroyed and with an equal number probably destroyed.
MULTIPLY the light of an extra bright 50 candlepower sealed-beam automobile headlight by 7,000,000, double it, and add 100,000,000 candlepower, and you have the blinding light of a 60 inch antiaircraft searchlight. Shoot it at a man 18 miles away on a clear night and he would have enough light to read a newspaper.
On Morotai, where this scene was painted, the 229th Antiaircraft Artillery Searchlight Battalion began setting up its portable lights on D-day, 15 September 1944. Within a few weeks, twenty-four 60-inch lights were posted on the 25 square mile beachhead.
Half the lights on Morotai were radar controlled, and half were visually controlled. The radar lights were operated and maintained by 21 man crews: the visually controlled by 7- man crews. The visually aimed lights generally picked up the enemy plane after one of the radar lights had imprisoned it.
As the radar controlling the 90 millimeter antiaircraft guns was considered more effective than the searchlight’s own radar, some lights were synchronized with the heavy antiaircraft guns. This arrangement made possible a more accurate fire on the part of the medium and automatic antiaircraft guns, which were visually aimed.
The 229th worked in cooperation with the night fighters, as well as with antiaircraft artillery. The standard operating procedure for searchlight-fighter cooperation on Morotai called for the fighters to orbit at not less than 10,000 feet, north of the airstrip. When the signal was given for an alert, the fighters were directed to fly on the opposite side of the area of antiaircraft fire from which the enemy was approaching, and 1,000 yards above the expected level of attack.
Searchlights picked up and imprisoned as many “bandits” as possible with not more than 4, and preferably 3 lights on any one target. Antiaircraft guns engaged the “bandit” so long as he was on an incoming course, and well within the prescribed gun ceiling. Once the “bandit” began on an outgoing course, the ack ack fire ceased and the lights carried the enemy to the waiting night fighters.
Radar searchlights at Morotai, cooperating with night fighters, proved to be a valuable addition to antiaircraft defense.
IN planning for the invasion of Morotai on 15 September 1944, it was estimated that the Japanese were capable of delivering 140 planes daily in strikes against the narrow beachhead. Thanks to the effective neutralization of enemy air power by the Thirteenth and other Air Forces, aided perhaps by a Japanese decision to conserve strength for the Philippine campaign, this early estimate was never realized.
The plane-packed Wama and Pitoe airdromes on Morotai, however, were too lucrative as targets to be ignored completely. One 250 pound Japanese bomb could transform a $250,000 Liberator into the torn and twisted wreckage shown here. Pin-pointing was not necessary; a bomb hitting anywhere within the tightly woven net of the dispersal area lining the runways stood a 50-50 chance of setting the night sky aglow with flames and exploding planes.
As Allied planes poured into Morotai, the Japanese sent in what small forces they could spare as often as they could. These small raids reached a peak of 30 during the month of November. Morotai never became the “grave-yard of the Thirteenth Air Force” that was claimed by the Tokyo radio, but the raiders’ efforts were not without reward. In the 82 raids on Morotai, from 15 September 1944 to 1 February 1945, the enemy destroyed 42 Allied planes and damaged 33.
The painting shows men at work on Thanksgiving Day salvaging the wreckage of a Liberator hit the night before in the heaviest and most damaging attack made by the Japanese on Morotai, when 9 “bandits” succeeded in destroying 15 Allied planes and damaging 8.
AIR and sea power was an absolute prerequisite to a successful Japanese defense against the kind of leap-frogginq that Allied forces did on the Southwest Pacific. The Japanese could not be expected to maintain strong forces at every point where the Allies might invade. The absence of overland communications precluded the rapid shifting of ground forces from one island or sector to another.
Fifteen thousand Japanese troops at Manokwari were unable to threaten the Allied beachhead at Sansapor, which was less than 100 miles from Manokwari and could only be reached by traveling through a thick jungle. Thirty thousand Japanese troops on Halmahera were powerless to prevent the development of Morotai into a great Allied air base, although Morotai was separated from Halmahera by only a narrow strait of water.
The Allied thrusts into the Netherlands East Indies at Sansapor and Morotai presented a grave threat to the Japanese, but the enemy was not prepared to risk what remained of their sea power to counter the threat: nor was their air power strong enough, either quantitatively or qualitatively, to risk an aerial slug-test. What the Japanese lacked, however, in quantity and quality of air power, they apparently hoped to make up in flexibility.
In the western New Guinea area, the Moluccas, the Celebes, Borneo, and indeed, every portion of the Netherlands East Indies, the Japanese built up an elaborate network of airfields. This network, consisting mainly of large numbers of comparatively undeveloped staging fields, gave Japanese air power great flexibility, while at the same time it gave the Japanese the protection afforded by wide dispersion. By late 1944, the Japanese had built more than 30 airfields within a 400 mile radius of Morotai which was then the largest Allied tactical air base in the Southwest Pacific.
Thirteenth Air Force fighters and medium bombers, moving into Sansapor, in late August and early September 1944, were assigned the job of neutralizing enemy air power in western New Guinea, the Moluccas and the Celebes. Throughout the remainder of the year and early into 1945, the fighters and mediums, assisted from time to time by the heavy bombers, concentrated on this assignment. Day after day, they bombed and strafed enemy airfields within their area of responsibility, but they were never able to keep all the enemy airfields unserviceable all the time. To render Japanese air power completely impotent, it was not enough to crater runways. It was necessary to destroy the enemy’s aircraft and the supplies and equipment essential to their operation and maintenance.
In November, the fighters and mediums began to concentrate on the destruction of enemy supplies. Attacks on supply areas continued into January and February 1945. They served, of course, not merely to restrict the use of air power against the Allies, but also to destroy any hopes the enemy might have of saving them for use elsewhere, as in an amphibious operation against Morotai. Attacks were increased on Halmahera supply and personnel areas early in December, when it was thought that the enemy was preparing to risk an invasion of Morotai.
The Lightnings made wide use of Napalm fire bombs in attacking enemy supply areas, while the Mitchells generally followed a pattern of minimum altitude attacks, making full use of their great fire power in strafing.
Typical of the many low level attacks on enemy supply areas in the East Indies by the Mitchells is the attack on the Djailolo area of Halmahera on 30 January 1945, which is shown in the painting. The target area is scarcely distinguishable from a small native village. The enemy’s use of scattered native huts as storage warehouses made target identification difficult: low level attacks were very nearly the only effective means of destroying them.
Sinking a warship as it turns and circles requires courage, skill and luck; courage in plowing through the clouds of flak that a warship is able to send up; skill in plotting the course and speed of the moving target; luck in correctly guessing the position of the ship at the moment the bomb is calculated to strike it.
In the time that it takes a bomb to drop 10,000 feet, a ship moving at the rate of 30 knots will travel a full ¼ of a mile. The question always remains, which way will the ship turn? The bombardier must outguess the helmsman. Thirteenth Air Force pilots have been known to kick sandbags from the bomb bay in the hope that Japanese officers seeing “bombs away” would play their hands too quickly and turn the ship right or left. This, it was thought, would increase the bombardier’s chances of hitting his target.
When the chips were down, and the Japanese Fleet had come out of hiding to fight for the Philippines, late in October, the 5th Bombardment Group (H) Liberator crews combined courage, skill and luck to sink a Japanese cruiser of the Kuma-Natori class in the Sulu Sea.
Nineteen Liberators, carrying 48 half-tonners and 9 quarter-tonners, sighted the cruiser and destroyer on a southeasterly course, about 25 miles southwest of Negros Island on 26 October 1944. The cruiser immediately began taking evasive action, making 360 degree turns to the right. The Liberators stalked their quarry at 10,000 feet, an altitude calculated to take them out of range of medium and light ack ack, and then peeled off.
The 394th Squadron went in first through moderate, heavy and accurate ack ack and scored 3 direct hits. The 23rd, coming in next, got a direct hit on the stem, while the 31st completed the attack with many near misses. Explosions and fires were set off and the cruiser slowed from 20 to 5 knots.
The Liberators could not wait for the death plunge, but other Allied planes, passing over the scene some time later, testified to its sinking.
Black oil was the life blood of the Japanese Navy. Nearly 70% of all the black oil used by the Japanese war machine was consumed by the Mikado’s fleet. It was estimated that 80% of the Japanese requirements of black oil came from the Netherlands East Indies. Approximately 40% of the black oil yielded by the East Indies came from the Lutong area of northwest Borneo; 12% came from Tarakan off the east coast of Borneo, about 300 miles north of Balikpapan. Much of the oil from the wells of Tarakan and Lutong was of such high quality that it could be used as diesel and bunker fuel without refining.
The destruction of Lutong and Tarakan as important black oil producing centers could be expected to produce an immediate restriction upon Japanese naval operations. The movement of Thirteenth Air Force Liberators from Noemfoor to newly invaded Morotai in late October and early November 1944, placed them in a position to strike at the Borneo fields.
After the Balikpapan strikes of more than 1,200 miles, Tarakan, less than 800 miles from Morotai, and Lutong, only about 150 miles farther, could be considered within easy range of the Liberators. Tarakan was within the extreme range of Lightnings and Mitchells staging from Morotai.
Tarakan was hit first. The initial blow fell on 18 November 1944, one month after the first series of attacks on Balikpapan had ended. For the first time since the all-out attacks on Rabaul, early in 1944, all the Thirteenth’s 5 combat groups joined in delivering a coordinated attack. Fifty-four Lightnings, 49 Liberators and 5 Mitchells teamed up to smash the Tarakan oil installations. Great explosions, hot red flames and billowing black smoke spiraling to more than 15,000 feet bore testimony to the excellent results achieved.
Thirteenth Air Force attacks on Tarakan oil installations continued intermittently through April 1945, although none equaled the power of the initial blow. The strikes at Tarakan, along with attacks on shipping in the area, deprived the Japanese of the use of Tarakan as an important source of black oil. ‘
In late April and early May, Tarakan was hit heavily again by the Thirteenth; this time the action was in support of the Australian ground forces which invaded Tarakan on 1 May.
The attacks on Lutong were on a smaller scale, but extremely effective.
Because of the operational commitments of the 5th and 307th Bombardment Groups (H) in the Philippines, Lutong was assigned to the Snoopers of the 868th Bombardment Squadron (H). On 8 December 1944, a single Snooper delivered the first blow. Coming in at the unprecedented minimum altitude of 100 feet in broad daylight, passing through a wall of intense antiaircraft fire, the Snooper dropped fifteen 250 pound bombs on the cracking plant and made 6 strafing runs on oil storage tanks in the area before withdrawing.
The results matched those ordinarily achieved by an entire group. Three similar missions within a few days almost completely destroyed the Lutong refinery and tank farms.
The painting shows smoke billowing from the oil storage tanks at Tarakan shortly after the first planes struck, on 18 November 1944.
AS Allied air and naval forces closed in on the Philippines and Netherlands East Indies in the latter part of 1944, small vessels, which had long been used by the Japanese Army and Navy, assumed an increasingly important role. In the forward areas, the Japanese adopted a policy of conserving their large ships and relying on small sea trucks for transportation.
The advantages inherent in the use of smaller vessels were clear. They were easy to conceal, they could travel easily in difficult waters, they could run near shore, they made a poor target for aircraft and submarines, and they represented a small loss if sunk. They usually moved by night: during the day, they lay anchored close inshore, camouflaged with leaves and branches.
Three of the most common types of small vessels used by the-Japanese came to be known as Sugar Dogs, Sugar Charlies and Sugar Bakers. The Sugar Dog ranged in size from 80 to 100 feet overall in length, 15 to 25 feet across the beam, and a gross tonnage of 100 to 300 tons. The Sugar Charlie averaged 120 to 180 feet in length, 20 to 30 feet across the beam, and a gross tonnage of 300 to 1000 tons. The Sugar Baker averaged 230 to 300 feet in length, with a beam of 35 to 50 feet, and a gross tonnage of 1500 to 2500 tons.
Thirteenth Air Force Lightnings on numerous shipping sweeps over the Philippines and Netherlands East Indies sank and damaged many of the Japanese sea trucks.
The scene depicted on the adjoining page is the artist’s conception of an action which took place on 24 November 1944, off the coast of Tagubanhan Island, which is located near Negros Island in the Philippines. Seven Thirteenth Air Force Lightnings found 2 Sugar Dogs, 2 Sugar Charlies, what were probably 2 Sugar Bakers, and 1 small 80 foot schooner. All were piled high with cargo and covered with tarpaulins and palm fronds.
With 3 Lightnings flying top cover, the remaining 4 zoomed in at deck level to strafe the ships. In the course of several strafing runs, in which the P-38s delivered a withering attack of 4800 rounds of .50 calibre machine gun fire and 500 rounds of 20 millimeter cannon, 5 ships were seen to sink and the 2 remaining, a Sugar Dog and the small schooner, were damaged to such an extent that they probably sank after the Lightnings left the scene.
Pilots who participated in the action believed the vessels were loaded with ammunition, for violent explosions were set off. Flames shot up to 800 feet and white towers of smoke rose to 5000 feet. The rain of debris damaged one P-38 as it swept over the exploding sea trucks.
AS American ground forces began closing in on Manila, 24 January 1945, Morotai based Thirteenth Air Force Liberators began the destruction of historic Cavite Naval Base, strategically situated just southwest of Manila. The military objectives were supply dumps and warehouses, a radio station, and naval defense guns protecting Manila and the seaplane bases at San Roque, Sangley Point, and the auxiliary base at Cavite itself.
First destroyed in December 1941, and early in 1942, by Japanese bombs and American demolitions, Cavite had been rebuilt completely and was being used by the Japanese when the Liberators .struck. From 24 January to 4 February when three American divisions crashed into Manila from three different sides to capture the city, more than 300 Thirteenth Air Force Liberators made the more than 1,000 mile trip from Morotai to drop 768 tons of bombs on Cavite and the San Roque Seaplane base. The Thirteenth was the first to hit Cavite.
Both targets were given almost complete coverage: the Cavite installations were left 99% destroyed and 1% damaged, while the Canacao installations were 79% destroyed and 7% damaged. Other Air Forces may claim partial credit for this work of destruction, but the Thirteenth performed the lion’s share.
TINY, tadpole-shaped Corregidor, guarding the entrance to Manila Bay, was tough for the Japanese to crack in 1942. It was still tough in 1945. For twenty-five days before American forces returned, the Rock was hammered by air and by sea with a hail of explosives that made the 1942 Japanese artillery barrage from Bataan look like Fourth of July fireworks.
Three Air Forces, the Thirteenth, Fifth and Seventh, took part in the all-out assault. From 23 January, until the morning of 16 February, when paratroopers of the 503rd Regiment flipped out of Skytrains and drifted onto the Rock to begin digging out the dazed defenders, the Thirteenth’s Liberators, in 479 sorties, dropped more than 1,000 tons on Corregidor. This was approximately one-third of the total tonnage dropped on the island’s hard crust by the three Air Forces.
Enemy antiaircraft batteries, weak from the start, were eliminated in short order. Liberators, A-20s, P-38s, P-47s, P-51s, and naval guns teamed up to destroy most of the enemy’s other gun positions.
Despite the saturation bombing and shelling of target areas, totaling little more than 1 square mile, the enemy had plenty of fight left when the paratroopers arrived. Men of the 24th Division, driving in from speedy landing craft two hours after the first paratroopers had landed, were met by mortar and artillery fire.
Both paratroopers and infantrymen pushed ahead, cut the enemy in two; by 1 March, they had wiped out the last Japanese resistance in hand-to-hand encounters in the deep tunnels where Lieutenant General Wainwright and his small band surrendered in May 1942. Throughout this period, ground troops were aided by supplies dropped by planes of the 403rd Troop Carrier Group.
Air power alone could not take the Rock, but it went a long way toward saving American lives. By 1 March, 4,215 enemy dead had been counted with hundreds more buried in tunnels and caves, while American losses were 136 killed, 531 wounded, and 8 missing.
The scene shows Thirteenth Air Force Liberators in pre-invasion bombing of the Rock on a day in February 1945.
AMPHIBIOUS planes, such as the PBY shown here, flew out over the Pacific in search of ditched airmen, covering areas where strikes had been scheduled. Fliers who had been shot down could not count on being seen by friendly planes flying in the same area: tiny rafts on the great expanse of blue were all but invisible from high altitudes. It was the function of the PBY rescue ships to be on the alert for the yellow speck below. After anxious hours, days, and in some cases weeks, a PBY would appear, dip its wings, circle and land. If the rescue was effected near enemy snore batteries, or if there was danger of interception, fighters would accompany the PBY to strafe the shore batteries or to hold the enemy fighters at bay. When the fliers had been brought into the rescue plane, a medical corpsman administered first aid and they were rushed back to base.
An analysis of water landings of Thirteenth Air Force bombers revealed that the Liberator usually broke up either fore or aft of the wing roots, and that an average of 1 crew member was killed. The Mitchells appeared to fare better. Another study showed that the incidence of psychoneurosis was 300% higher among airmen who had made water landings than among those who had not, which bears ample testimony to the nature of their experience.
Island warfare, necessitating long flights over water, made the development of a life-saving air-sea rescue program essential. Although passing ships and planes, as well as natives and emergency rescue boats, played a part in saving ditched airmen, the greater number were brought in by PBYs. Knowledge of the PBYs and their record was a great factor in reducing the mental strain of long over-water missions.
While the Air Force was stationed in the South Pacific, Navy PBYs, known as Dumbos, performed air-sea rescues for the Air Force. Major General Nathan F. Twining, first Commander of the Thirteenth, and his Chief of Staff, Colonel Glen C. Jamison, were rescued by Dumbo after six days at sea in a rubber raft in January 1943.
Since July 1944, the Air Force had had its own PBYs. They were first organized under the 3rd Emergency Rescue Squadron; and since September 1944, under the 2nd Emergency Rescue Squadron. From October 1944 through June 1945, the 2nd’s PBYs, known as Playmates, effected nearly 700 rescues.
THE Thirteenth and the Royal Australian Air Force were both members of the Southwest Pacific air team, although they joined at different times.
RAAF was a member of the Southwest Pacific team from the first of the war; heavies of the Thirteenth joined the team in April 1944, when they moved to Los Negros in the Admiralties.
At Los Negros, the heavy groups of the Thirteenth and fighters of the Royal Australian Air Force were brought together to form the Thirteenth Air Task Force, which was under operational control of the Fifth Air Force. Team-work at Los Negros, however, was more formal than real, for the long missions of the Liberators precluded the use of fighter cover. The function of RAAF fighters was to provide defense in case of a Japanese attack.
As Allied air power moved to newly won bases deeper in the Southwest Pacific, cooperation between the Thirteenth and RAAF units increased. At Hollandia, and again at Noemfoor, Thirteenth and RAAF planes used the same fields and in some instances hit the same targets. It was at Morotai, however, that the closest cooperation was achieved.
At Morotai, RAAF’s First Tactical Air Force was placed under the operational control of Headquarters, Thirteenth Air Force. RAAF support was made up of P-40s, Spitfires, A-20s, Beaufighters, Liberators and PBYs. RAAF attack bombers joined planes of the Thirteenth during the latter part of 1944 and early 1945 in blasting enemy airfields, supply and personnel areas on neighboring Halmahera and other targets in the Netherlands East Indies, while RAAF Spitfires joined the Thirteenth’s Black Widows and Lightnings in the aerial defense of Morotai.
After Headquarters Thirteenth Air Force had moved to Leyte in the spring of 1945, the First Tactical Air Force took over operational control of its own units. RAAF shifted its attack to the Celebes and Borneo, in order to prepare the way for the invasion of the latter island. The chief targets in Borneo were the airdromes and gun positions in and around Tarakan, Sandakan, Lubuan, and Brunei Bay. The greatest number of missions flown at this time, however, were against targets of opportunity, such as bridges, barges, and miscellaneous shipping along the coast of Borneo and Celebes. Destruction of targets in and around these islands brought about the disruption of Japanese communications and supply lines in this area.
The painting shows a typical RAAF attack on enemy supply lines in the Celebes. A Beaufighter has just dropped its bombs on a steel bridge near Gorontalo in the Celebes. Eight other Beaufighters took part in this attack, on 16 February 1945, which destroyed the bridge. Situated near the junction of four main roads, the bridge was a vital link in the Japanese supply lines, as was shown by the fact that the Japanese immediately threw across a pontoon bridge. A week later the Beaufighters returned and destroyed the pontoon bridge.
IT is not easy to generalize, but it is probably true that most men in the Thirteenth Air Force approached their mess halls with skepticism. A soldier might read the following menu on the mess hall bulletin board: “Beef Stew with Vegetables, Lyonnaise Potatoes, Cole Slaw, Fresh Rolls, Peanut Butter, Coffee, Cold Water.” Although this might seem to foreshadow an appetizing meal, there would be little reaction from his salivary glands. For he would undoubtedly tell you that the beef stew with vegetables is C-ration, a thick soup-like concoction containing an occasional chunk of beef: that the Lyonnaise potatoes are not the crisp, toothsome, “stateside” variety, but soggy, fried strings of dehydrated potatoes; and that the cole slaw is strictly ersatz.
Although he ate more than one meal that was much better than the one outlined above, he also ate many that fell below it. C-rations were supplemented by fresh and frozen foods whenever possible; nevertheless, fresh foods were the exception rather than the rule. This was to be expected, for there was insufficient refrigeration in the South and Southwest Pacific, with respect both to ships that could carry fresh foods, and to unit storage facilities.
The jungle islands themselves furnished very few fresh foods. For a short time, in the summer of 1944, an Army farm on Guadalcanal supplied some fresh foods to the relatively few units remaining there; and some units fortunate enough to have planes making trips to Australia were able to buy small quantities of fresh foods. But most of the Jungle Air Force units saw little fresh food until they reached the Philippines.
No matter where the units were located, mess halls were clean and sanitary. Mess halls were semi-permanent buildings, screened against flies; mess sergeants and mess officers closely supervised the cleanliness of stoves, pots and pans, and utensils; garbage disposal was thorough and efficient. If any irregularities occurred in regard to sanitation, a report from the medical officer soon straightened things out.
But no matter how clean the mess hall was kept, it could never be a substitute for the dining room at home. Standing in a “chow line”, having food dished out onto small, utilitarian, but unattractive, mess kits; eating dessert on the same plate with the main course; and standing in line again to wash mess kits never approached the dream in every soldier’s mind of “home cooking.”
Almost every soldier would agree, however, that he felt healthy. Yet, after an especially tasteless meal, he seldom failed to discuss the dinner he would order when he first stepped foot in San Francisco. He could hardly wait to sit down to oysters, clam chowder, broiled lobster, filet mignon with mushrooms, french fried potatoes, assorted fresh vegetables, a huge salad, ice cream with fresh strawberries, a tall glass of fresh milk, and coffee with real cream. Of course, liquid refreshments would precede and accompany the dinner of his heart’s desire.
THE east coast of Leyle Island, between Dulag and Tacloban, was chosen as the first beachhead from which the Sixth and Eighth Armies would battle their way back into the Philippines.
Leyte, eighth largest of the Philippine Islands, is located in the central group. Control of Leyte would divide Japanese forces on Mindanao, in the south, from Japanese forces on Luzon, in the north: and pin down Japanese forces remaining on Panay, Negros, and Cebu, in the Central Philippines.
A fairly level valley extends diagonally across Leyte from Leyte Gulf, on the east coast, to the Visayan Sea, on the west coast. The east coast beaches are broad and well adapted to amphibious landings. The strategy of the Sixth Army, which made the original landing on Leyte, was to drive diagonally across the island through the valley, smashing the Japanese defense line.
The Japanese had constructed a number of airstrips along the east coast of Leyte. These were to be seized by our forces and quickly improved after the amphibious landings: fighter planes of the Fifth Air Force were then to be based on these airstrips to support ground action on Leyte. The unpredictable equation in this plan, however, was the weather. Landing on Leyte, 20 October 1944, the Sixth Army commenced operations at the beginning of the rainy season; it was not long before the east coast was a sea of mud.
Flying missions in support of ground operations from Leyte became an impossibility. The air situation was critical; if the Japanese operated fighters from Panay, Negros, and Cebu, they could play havoc with the supplies, troop concentrations, and lines of communications of the advancing American forces on Leyte.
The mission of the Thirteenth Air Force, which had been to create an air blockade of the Sulu Sea, and to neutralize airfields on Borneo and Palawan, was altered to include strikes as far north as Manila.
The weight of the heavy bombers of the Thirteenth was added to that of the heavy bombers of the Fifth and Seventh Air Forces, operating from the Palaus. The B-24s of the Thirteenth, flying from Morotai, concentrated their strikes on Japanese airfields in Panay, Negros, and Cebu. Their attack interdicted these fields, preventing the Japanese from employing air power against American forces on Leyte. Thus a situation of great potential danger to the entire campaign was averted.
The painting portrays San Pedro Bay, looking east from Leyte. In the distance, the hills of Samar Island slope down to the water of San Pedro Bay, which is an extenuation of Leyte Gulf. It was in Leyte Gulf that the Japanese Imperial Navy was defeated by American naval forces in the famous battle that raged from 23-26 October 1944.
The painting shows San Pedro Bay as it looked in January 1945 when the Thirteenth Air Force set up an advanced headquarters on the east coast of Leyte, and moved next to GHQ and the headquarters of FEAF. The three headquarters were located near the beach not far from the foot of the hill from which this scene was painted.
The sandstone fortress on the crest of the hill was built in the early part of the seventeenth century by the Spaniards. The fortress was erected, according to the local inhabitants, to protect the coast of Leyte from bands of Moro pirates, who sailed up from Mindanao to pillage, steal, and capture slaves. It is also worth recalling that Magellan landed on a small island near Leyte in March 1521.
THE broad sandy beaches of the east coast at Leyte were ideal for the amphibious landings which were made against the Japanese, in October 1944: a few months later, the same beaches were ideal for Army and Navy camp sites.
The area of the Thirteenth Air Force Headquarters, which is shown in the painting, was located near the little village of Tulosa. This area was originally the camp site of the Far East Air Force Headquarters (FEAF). Although elements of the headquarters of the Thirteenth left Morotai and set up camp at Dulag in January, and a few officers set up tents in the FEAF area in February, it was not until March that the advanced echelon moved into the FEAF location.
The Thirteenth Air Force Headquarters took over the area and the pre-fabricated office buildings vacated by FEAF. Improvements were made in the camp to satisfy as many needs as possible consistent with the traditional shortage of materials at hand. Floors were placed under tents; and an officers’ club, which is shown in the right hand corner of the painting, and an enlisted men’s club, which is shown in the left, were constructed.
A thatched cottage was built next to the enlisted men’s club for Major General Paul Wurtsmith; between the General’s quarters and the officers’ club, cottages were built for the colonels of General Wurtsmith’s staff. Beyond the officers’ club and the tents of the lieutenant colonels and majors, was the officers’ club of the Seventh Fleet. All these structures faced upon San Pablo Bay, with Samar Island in the distance. Enlisted men and junior officers lived farther back from the beach, in pyramidal tents with wooden floors and supporting frames.
Sports on Leyte were popular in spite of the climate. The beach, sloping gently into the water of San Pablo Bay, provided a splendid opportunity for swimming and sun bathing; even volley ball was played on the sand. A spacious athletic ground was provided by the headquarters a few hundred yards from the beach. There were three baseball diamonds, a basketball court, and a large outdoor theatre. The recreation area was a mecca for athletic competition among the teams of various units stationed on Leyte. The concrete floor of the old mess hall was turned into a tennis court during the last months the headquarters was on the island; in spite of the tropical heat, the court was in use practically all day long.
The XIII Air Force Service Command Headquarters, the 17th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron, 1941st Engineer Company, 6th Photo Technical Squadron, and 12th Photo Intelligence Detachment, all were located on Leyte during 1945, and had beachfront camps similar to that of Air Force Headquarters.
The advance of the headquarters from Morotai to Leyte meant a lifting of spirits for men of the Thirteenth, for the ultimate goal of victory was one step nearer. Coming to Leyte was refreshing for still another reason: it meant contact with civilization after living in jungle areas for over two years. Even though it was a civilization of poverty, brought about in part by the depredation of the Japanese during their control of the Philippines, that was not important. The Filipino people were friendly, spoke English, and in many respects possessed a culture similar to that of the American.
Filipino women walking along the roads and through the camps filled the eye with a splash of color; their dresses were a brilliant red, blue, yellow, and green, cut as they were from nylon parachutes, which had been damaged and discarded by the Air Corps.
A number of the more enterprising Filipinos entered the souvenir business when the Americans returned to Leyte. Many pesos were spent by officers and GIs for reed floor mats, tea cloths, sandals, and fancy bolo knives, all of which topped .the list of available souvenirs. Girls and boys, men and women, vending their wares to soldiers wandered through the camp in such numbers that their activity was finally prohibited. It may be observed that had the Filipinos engaged strictly in business, probably their activity would not have been forbidden; but they were as much interested in seeing, conversing, improving their English, and just being with Americans, as they were in selling.
Filipino daughters, sisters, and mothers, had a corner on the Leyte laundry business, but few men objected to having their soiled clothing picked up at their tent doors, washed in the rivers, neatly folded or ironed, and delivered back to their tents.
Clothing was a scarce commodity to the Filipinos, and any old garment discarded by the Americans was sure to become eventually part of a Filipino wardrobe. Tiny lads dressed in jumpers made over from an old tan khaki shirt or from a pair of drab green overalls never failed to amuse our soldiers, who would teach the children “Pistol Packin’ Mama” or “You Are My Sunshine”. The offer of a cherished piece of gum or candy would bring a repeat performance. On the other hand. the Filipinos never seemed to tire of watching Americans; whether working or playing, soldiers usually had a group of awed Filipino youngsters gazing at their activities.
SANSAPOR to Leyte to Palawan was the route traveled by the headquarters of the XIII Fighter Command from 3 January to 1 March 1945. As the movement of the Fighter Command indicates, the forces of liberation were moving rapidly through the Philippines early in 1945.
Although the headquarters did not remain long at Leyte, the stop was significant in the history of the command. While at Leyte, the Fighter Command took over operational control of Fifth Air Force, Seventh Air Force, Naval, and Marine air units stationed on the islands of Leyte, Samar and Palau. Brigadier General Earl W. Barnes, Commanding General of the Fighter Command, had under his operational control more combat units than at any time since the activation of the command in July 1943.
The camp site used by the headquarters at Leyte was formerly occupied by a Filipino settlement and a small Japanese garrison. The camp was located between a broad tidal creek and an abandoned rice paddy. Rainfall in the area was heavy, and. until drainage measures were taken, the terrain resembled a sea of mud.
The painting shows part of the camp site occupied by Headquarters Squadron. The thatched hut in the center of the picture was the orderly room of the squadron. The tents on either side were officers’ quarters.
The stack of ration boxes in the foreground indicates that the camp is about to be broken up in preparation for the move to Palawan. Boxes of 10 in 1 rations are being loaded for shipment with the troops. The 10 in 1 ration contained enough food to feed 1 man for 10 days, or 10 men for 1 day.
The headquarters of the XIII Fighter Command was moving to Palawan to direct Allied air operations in support of landings in the Central Philippines, Mindanao, and Borneo. When the Leyte Camp was broken up, amphibious forces of the Eighth Army were on their way to Palawan. The Allied timetable was arranged to place the Fighter Command on Palawan a few days after the landing on 28 February 1945.
Experience of the Fighter Command in moving quickly into newly won areas behind combat troops led to taking large quantities of 10 in 1 rations in the move to Palawan. The 10 in 1 rations provided a quick, convenient method of feeding nourishing food to troops during the period of confusion that attends the setting up of a new camp.
FIFTH largest and farthest to the west of the Philippine Islands, Palawan stretches out over a distance of 275 miles, between the Sulu and the South China Seas. Puerto Princesa lies on the eastern coast midway between the ends of the island. It is the only town of any importance on Palawan; here the Japanese constructed an airfield.
In February 1945, Puerto Princesa became a pivotal center in the air strategy designed to liberate the central and southern Philippines and Borneo. Targets to the east, in the central Philippine Islands and on Mindanao, were only 300 to 400 miles from Puerto Princesa; targets to the south, in northern Borneo, were the same distance; targets in Indo-China lay across the South China Sea to the west, a minimum distance of 650 miles.
To win Palawan as an air base, a regimental combat team of the veteran 41st Division landed at Puerto Princesa, 28 February 1945, after heavy air assaults by the Fifth and Thirteenth Air Forces. The combat team met no opposition on the beaches. By early March, the XIII Air Force Fighter Command had landed and set up camp preparing to assume operational control of air activities, and to advise Eighth Army engineers concerning repair of the airstrip, which was damaged by air and naval bombardment. Airmen had done their jobs “too well” on Palawan. There were 186 heavy bomb craters on the concrete runway. Although it took time to repair the damage, the 1897th Engineer Aviation Battalion reconstructed 4,000 feet of the runway by D-day plus 20. Black Widows of the 419th Night Fighter Squadron dropped their wheels on the new strip the same day it became operational. Soon after, P-38s of the 347th Fighter Group and B-25s of the 42nd Medium Bomb Group landed on the field.
.With an airstrip at Palawan, Thirteenth Air Force medium bombers and fighters could operate over a wide area. A web was thrown over the central Philippines, north Borneo, and the South China Sea. P-38s and B-25s struck out in all directions to support Eighth Army ground forces mopping up in the Philippines, to protect shipping lanes through the Sulu Sea, to assault Borneo targets in support of landings by Australian forces, to harass Indo-China, and to deny use of the South China Sea to Japanese shipping.
In order to carry out searches in the South China Sea, the Navy placed Fleet Air Wing 10 under the control of the XIII Fighter Command. The Air Wing was equipped with PB4Y2 “Privateers”, which were a long range version of the B-24s, capable of flying long distances in search of Japanese shipping.
The painting shows the town of Puerto Princesa and Puerto Princesa airfield with the Sulu Sea in the background. The water in the foreground is Puerto Princesa Bay. The headquarters of the XIII Air Force Fighter Command and the combat groups were located in the coconut grove to the left of the strip and overlooking the Sulu Sea. The camps were ideally situated, for the coconut grove was cool, dry, and free of mosquitoes; equally important, the grove fronted on the ocean, where there was an exceptionally fine swimming beach.
Palawan remained the home of the XIII Air Force Fighter Command until the end of the war.
IT goes without saying that physical strength is a necessity in the handling of bombs and ammunition. But a strong back is not enough to qualify a man for ordnance work or to perform the job of an aircraft armorer. He has to have, in addition, specialized knowledge, training, and a sense of responsibility, for mistakes or careless work on his part could quickly lead to death in a plane carrying improperly armed or loaded bombs.
The ordnance men of a squadron handled the bombs and ammunition from the time they were picked up at the bomb dumps until they reached the plane. The fuse and the tail fin, stored separately in the dump, were attached to the bomb prior to loading on the plane.
The job of the ordnance men ended, strictly speaking, when they brought the assembled bombs to the aircraft. The armorers then took over; they placed the bombs in the bomb racks of the plane. In the Thirteenth Air Force, where tactical units were continually moving from island to island, ordnance work was frequently performed by armorers. and the work of armorers by ordnance men.
Aircraft armorers examined and repaired machine-guns, cannons, bomb racks, bomb release mechanisms, gun mounts, and gun turrets. Armorers were often rated aerial gunners; in such cases, they not only supervised the maintenance of their guns, but fought with them in the air.
Armament and ordnance work in a tactical squadron was a full time job. Bombs and belts of ammunition had to be prepared and placed in position in a plane before a strike, and machine guns had to be cleaned when the aircraft returned; guns firing from fixed mounts had to be harmonized regularly to assure that the bullets were converging at the proper distance in front of the plane. The number of machine guns on a B-25 of the 42nd Medium Bomb Group varied with the type of tactical mission performed by the Group; generally, each plane mounted between eight to twelve machine guns. It can easily be seen that there was a great deal of gun maintenance work in a squadron of B-25s, which was usually composed of 20 planes.
The handling and maintenance of ordnance is one thing, but the management of it is something quite different again. Starting at the top, in the Thirteenth Air Force Headquarters, ordnance staff officers kept accurate tabulations of numbers and types of bombs and ammunition on hand in each island where Thirteenth Air Force planes were based. Staff officers also made estimates of the quantity of bombs and ammunition necessary to meet future needs at various island bases.
It was necessary not only to estimate the expenditure of bombs and ammunition, and to carry them from dumps and to place them in planes; it was also necessary to take them from ships and to store them. This work was done by ordnance service and maintenance companies. They unloaded bombs and ammunition from ships, and stored and maintained them in dumps until they were moved to the airfields.
Thirteenth Air Force tactical units operated from the New Hebrides and the Solomons along with Navy and Marine units in the early part of the war. It became evident that loss in efficiency, duplication of effort, and confusion existed as a result of each service following its own method of requisitioning and distributing aviation ordnance. In January 1943, a system was evolved whereby the Army served as a clearing house for procuring and distributing aviation ordnance. The responsibility for all aviation ordnance was passed to the XIII Air Force Service Command in September 1943. The Command serviced air bases on twenty separate islands from which Army, Navy, and Marine units operated.
When the Thirteenth Air Force moved into the Southwest Pacific to team up with the Fifth Air Force, ordnance supply followed the channels laid down in the Southwest Pacific Area.
The painting shows a B-25 of the 42nd Bomb Group being loaded with 500 pound general purpose bombs on Palawan Island, in the Philippines, in April 1945. The bombs have been moved to the plane on a bomb trailer and are being lifted into the bomb racks by hand. Slung over one shoulder of an armorer is a powerful .50 calibre aerial machine gun; slung on the other shoulder is a belt of .50 calibre cartridges, including red tipped tracers, blue tipped incendiaries, and black tipped armor piercing rounds.
From Palawan, B-25s and P-38s of the Thirteenth Air Force gave close support to the Eighth Army in their campaign in the Philippines and to the Australians in Borneo. The aircraft armorers and ordnance men in the tactical squadrons, the ordnance service and maintenance companies, and the ordnance staff at Headquarters, along with the crews that flew the planes and dropped the bombs, were all part of a pattern of action that helped to make the strikes of the Thirteenth successful.
IN the campaign of Philippine liberation, it was not enough to carve out a beachhead, establish a “perimeter and hold the Japanese at bay, as at Bougainville. It was not enough to seize a weakly defended island and by-pass the main Japanese forces, as at Morotai. Nor was it enough to drive the Japanese into the hills and jungles, as on New Guinea. Throughout the long months of Japanese occupation, Filipino guerrilla forces had been able to hide in the mountains and jungles, coming out to make lightning thrusts at the Japanese and then returning to their hideouts.
American forces together with Filipino guerrillas were to drive the Japanese from every inch of Philippine territory. The Philippine Liberation campaign was to be a campaign of annihilation or surrender. The infantry faced a difficult task. The success of their campaign would depend in large measure on the speed with which they were able to move. In many cases ground transportation was not adequate to meet the supply needs of the men on foot. Air transportation was essential to keep the supplies flowing, to keep the infantry moving.
The Thirteenth’s 403rd Troop Carrier Group played a leading role in supplying ground forces on Negros, Panay, Cebu, Palawan and Mindanao in the central and southern Philippines.
Skytrains were invaluable in operations against Mindanao with its rugged terrain. Weeks before units of the Eighth Army went into Mindanao on 17 April 1945, the 403rd flew supplies into Filipino guerrilla forces, landing on guerrilla-held strips within enemy territory. When the Eighth Army went in, they advanced rapidly. Supply lines were stretched to the limit. Supply requirements exceeded stockpiles. Bad weather set in to add to the difficulties of ground transportation. Supply by air became vital to the operations of the infantry.
From 17 April through 31 May, the 403rd delivered nearly 5,000,000 pounds of cargo to Mindanao. The greater part was flown into poorly-developed fields. With the sole exception of Malabang, all fields were of dirt, sod or grass. More than 700,000 pounds were dropped.
Drop missions were for the most part free-fall, necessitating low level flying midst the high mountains, rugged foothills, canyons, gorges and ravines of central Mindanao. Drop areas were usually small and extremely hard to hit accurately. Panels of white cloth were used by the ground forces to assist the Skytrains in locating the drop area. Occasionally tiny L-5s were used to aid in spotting the drop area. In the latter stages of the campaign, radar, which had been set up by the 403rd’s radar officer traveling with the ground forces, was used.
The Skytrains flew across mountain ranges, cut their power and glided down over the contours of the mountains to the drop areas, then flew a trusting course to gain altitude and get out. As many as eight passes per mission were made in this manner.
Despite the hazards of the drop missions, the 403rd suffered only one major accident during the Mindanao operation. An engine of a fully loaded Sky-train cut out at 200 feet while making its first pass over the drop area. The prop feathering mechanism failed to function, and there was no time to jettison the cargo. The plane crashed at 80 miles an hour behind near-by Japanese positions. The left wing buckled, both engines were torn loose, and the fuselage broke in two near the tail section. Miraculously the crew escaped with minor bruises, and made a successful return to friendly territory.
A number of the drop missions were of the type shown in the painting. These parapack missions involved essentially the same hazards as the free-fall drops, although a somewhat higher altitude was possible. Different colored nylon parachutes indicated different classes of supplies. The red and blue “chutes” scattered over the drop area in the painting contain ammunition and food respectively for American troops fighting in the Malaybalay section of Mindanao.
IT would be difficult to guess the work of the Thirteenth’s 25th Liaison Squadron from its name. Liaison aviation is the term applied to aircraft and air units whose primary functions include courier and messenger service and observation of artillery fire. The work of the 25th Liaison Squadron certainly included the functions mentioned, but courier and artillery observation missions represented less than half the missions flown by the 25th.
The full story of the missions flown by the 25th Liaison Squadron would have to include rescue, search, photo, transport, supply dropping, reconnaissance, air evacuation, air strike pin-pointing, air ground communications, and even bombing missions.
Tiny planes bearing the name L-5, no more descriptive than the word, ”Liaison”, did the work. Known officially as the Stinson L-5, and unofficially as the “Grasshopper”, the average person has a hard time distinguishing it from the L-4 Cub. It is somewhat larger and sturdier than the Cub, however, and the enlisted men who pilot them can feel the difference when they get behind its 165 horsepower engine, which is 2’/2 times as powerful as the Cub engine.
The L-5 can land and take off where its larger brothers fear to tread. If necessary, an L-5 can land on a plot of grass that is no larger than a football field. In the Philippines, the jungle “Cub” landed on roads, short stretches of beach, and small clearings.
A detachment of the 25th went into Leyte two days after the initial Allied landings, on 20 October 1944. When Japanese paratroopers attacked their strip early in December and destroyed 7 of their 8 planes, the Leyte detachment was almost put out of business. But as soon as the paratroopers were driven off, the lone survivor went back to work. New planes were not long in arriving: and for the remainder of the month of December, the Leyte L-5s hauled supplies to isolated units of the 11th Airborne Division. Carrying 450 pound loads on each plane each trip, nearly 300,000 pounds of food and materiel were flown into areas that could not be reached by ground transport.
During the Mindanao Campaign, the L-5s reached a high peak of activity. A few hours after the first infantry wave landed at Point Baras, 17 April 1945, the 25th went ashore unopposed. Three days later the squadron started operations. From that time until 1 July 1945, the pilots of the 25th in more than 5,000 flying hours transported more than 250,000 pounds of critical supplies and mail, and more than 4,100 passengers, in addition to evacuating 675 sick and wounded.
Air evacuation of the sick and wounded from advanced areas was one of the biggest and most important jobs done by the pint-sized planes. More often than not the unarmed planes on their life-saving missions passed over territory where enemy fire was expected and probable.
The painting shows a medical evacuee being placed in the rear compartment of an L-5 on Mindanao, after the little plane had delivered its cargo of supplies to the Army and Filipino guerrilla forces.
ON the left bank of the Pasig River, which flows through the center of Manila, Intramuros stands in the heart of the Philippine capitol. The original “walled city” was built and fortified by the Spanish conquistadores in the sixteenth century. It is distinct from the “new” Manila, for within its walls the ancient Spanish architecture stands in sharp contrast to the modern American office buildings on the right bank of the Pasig river and to the residential districts spreading outward from the business sections.
As a defensive position against attack, the terrain on which Intramuros is built is ideal, for it is protected by the Pasig river on the north and Manila Bay on the west. The Spaniards under General Legaspi found the spot palisaded by natives when they first made their expeditions to Manila in 1571. The history of Manila began that year when General Legaspi started constructing the buildings which became Intramuros. The wall surrounding Intramuros was begun in 1590; it is 2 ½ miles in circumference, 30 to 40 feet thick, and 25 to 30 feet high. The wall makes Intramuros into a vast mediaeval system of defenses, with Fort Santiago in the northwest corner as its key. The same wall and buildings served the Japanese as a last ditch defense in February 1945, three hundred and fifty-five years after the wall was built.
The Sixth Army landed on the shores of Lingayen Gulf, over 100 miles north of Manila, 9 January 1945 and started to spread over Luzon in all directions. The 37th Division spearheaded the drive south toward Manila, meeting surprisingly little resistance from the Japanese. As the last leg of the drive on Manila began, the 1st Cavalry Division, paced by a flying squadron, raced forward to join forces with the 37th in a drive for the prized city. At the same time, the 11th Airborne Division of the Eighth Army landed at Nasagbu in Batangas Province, on 31 January. The 11th drove inland with almost no opposition and rapidly approached Manila from the south. The 37th, 1st Cavalry, and 11th Airborne Divisions, in one concerted effort, crashed into Manila from three sides on 4 February 1945.
Japanese resistance within the boundaries of Manila was fierce and determined. As the three divisions tightened their ring around the heart of the city, resistance centered within the walls of Intramuros. The Japanese had constructed mined areas, barbed-wire obstructions, and tank traps within Intramuros. All these defenses were covered by machine guns and mortars.
The elaborate medieval tunnel system within the wall surrounding Inrtamuros permitted the Japanese to move reinforcements freely within the walled city without being subject to American fire. Intramuros could not be bombarded from the air for the Japanese were holding over 2,000 non-belligerent women and children there.
When the Japanese gave no heed to an American plea that the civilians be evacuated, plans were immediately formulated to invade Intramuros. Elements of the 37th Division went into position along the north bank of the Pasig River opposite Intramuros. It was decided that the assault would begin with an amphibious crossing of the Pasig by the 129th Infantry, while the 145th Infantry would move westward to enter breaches in the walls, which would be made by heavy artillery of the Division.
The night before the attack, 26 heavy guns were moved up along the north bank of the Pasig, and at 0730 the next morning, they directed a crushing fire at a range of only a few hundred yards against the north and east walls of the Intramuros. One hour later, the fire lifted and the infantry plunged through the breaches of the wall to engage the pockets of Japanese defenders within the city. At Fort Santiago, the fighting continued all day in and around the ruined buildings, thick walls, ancient dungeons, and numerous tunnels and recesses harboring the enemy. One by one these strongpoints were taken until, by 26 February, Intramuros was again in American hands.
On 3 March 1945, Lt. General Griswold, commander of the XIV Corps wired General Kreuger, commanding the Sixth Army, that all organized resistance in Manila had ceased. Intramuros, symbol of a great campaign, was again in American hands.
For the Thirteenth Air Force, the fall of Manila meant the end of a series of campaigns which began in the Solomon Islands, in 1942, and continued for two and a half years. The Thirteenth Air Force had bombed Nichols and Nielson Fields near Manila, blasted Cavite Naval Base and Corregidor Island in Manila Bay, and disrupted Japanese ground installations by fighter strikes in support of Sixth Army troops in central Luzon, all in support of the Luzon Campaign. But the outstanding contribution of the Thirteenth, in the long struggle to drive the Japanese from the Philippines, was made over Rabaul during the end of 1943 and the beginning of 1944, and over the central Philippines during the battle for Leyte Island, which began in October 1944.
THE Thirteenth, as we have seen, was the assault air force for the Eighth Army in its drive through the Central and Southern Philippines. It played substantially the same part in the capture of Borneo, although technically it was supporting RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) which had been designated the assault air force.
Enemy targets had been under attack by the Thirteenth for many months prior to the assault phase. The Thirteenth hit Borneo, during September and October 1944, in six brilliantly executed raids designed to reduce the Balikpapan oil installations. Japanese airfields in northern Borneo were struck repeatedly during the Philippine liberation campaigns to prevent the Japanese from reinforcing their Philippine air power by ferrying planes from Asia through Borneo.
In April 1945, air attacks against Borneo were raised to a higher tempo. The Thirteenth was the assault air force whose task was to soften up defenses in preparation for landings by the Australians at Tarakan, Brunei Bay, and Balikpapan. Heavies of the Thirteenth kept the Borneo airfields neutralized; and medium bombers and fighters of the Allied Air Forces swept in to hit buildings, gun defense positions, radar stations, troop concentrations, and supply areas. Bombing and strafing by Allied aircraft left the Japanese with little strength to oppose the Australians when they landed at Tarakan and Brunei Bay; as a consequence, beachheads were quickly secured in these landing areas.
Mediums of the Thirteenth’s 42nd Bomb Group began the job of completely neutralizing the invasion beach at Balikpapan, fourteen days before the 7th Australian Division landed on 1 July. Fifty-four B-25s of the 42nd Bomb Group, together with 24 from the 38th Group of the Fifth Air Force, commenced the reduction of the beach area, which was kept under bombardment and machine gun fire until D-day. It may be noted that antiaircraft fire at Balikpapan, which had been the heaviest in the Southwest Pacific in September and October 1944, was slight, medium, and generally ineffective by the time the mediums and fighters started preparing the beaches for invasion.
Essential to the landing operation was the removal of underwater defenses and mines by demolition crews. The Japanese had placed these defenses close to the beach to delay invasion. Demolition crews would have to remove these defenses prior to D-day.
B-25s of the 42nd Bomb Group were called upon to lay smoke screens along the beach in order to hide the crews from shore batteries and machine gun nests as they carried out their work of demolition. The B-25s skimmed along the beaches at top speed, laying dense clouds of smoke, while other B-25s acted as a diversionary force strafing targets behind the beaches.
The Australians landed successfully at Balikpapan on 5 July and started inland to secure their beachhead. The Borneo landings were made with ease as a result of overwhelming air and naval superiority; they demonstrated again the effective teamwork that was possible among ground, naval, and air forces, which characterized amphibious landings in the South and Southwest Pacific since the Guadalcanal and New Georgia campaigns.