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From: (CDB100620)
Subject: Re: "Skip" bombing in WWII
Date: 25 Sep 1997
Newsgroups: rec.aviation.military

The B-25 bombers used in the raids on Rabaul in the fall of 1943 were
glass-nosed versions that had been field-rigged to mount four .50s in the
nose.  In addition, they carried four in pods on the sides of the nose for
a total of eight.  The top turret (two .50s) could theoretically have been
turned to fire forward, but usually was not because the crews were
concerned about enemy fighters, which rose up from four airfields to
contest their passage.  These planes were flown by the 3AG, 38 and 345BGs.
They were escorted by fighters from the 49, 35, 8 and 475FGs.  (B-24s from
the 43 and 90BGs also took part in these raids).
The B-25s did most of the damage.  Although they dropped parafrags and WP,
the fixed nose  .50s throwing out about 650 lbs/min from each plane did the
most harm to the Japanese, even, apparently, sinking  ships.  Revetments
protected parked Japanese planes and structures from all but lucky hits
from the bombs, but there was no defense from aimed heavy machinegun fire.
That being the case, there certainly would have been incentive to pack as
many .50s into the nose of a B-25 as possible.

The Rabaul raids were pretty rugged.  On the four attacks between 2 Nov.
and 11 Nov.  20 B-24s (11 percent of the total number in the 5th Air
Force), 21 B-25s (8 percent of all those in the 5AF) and 38 P-38s  (19
percent of all those in the 5AF) were lost.
Anti-aircraft fire was intense, and included that from naval vessels in
the harbor as well as AA situated on the sides of the volcanoes firing
*down* on the B-25s and their escorts.  Weather was atrocious, and on one
of the missions the ceiling over the Rabual area was only 700 ft.  Huge
thunderheads towered well over 40,000 ft. Into that narrow bit of sky the
B-25s, their P-38 escorts and the defending Japanese fighters plunged while
torrential rain squalls, violent down and up drafts, blinding flashes of
lightning, boiling clouds, and sudden shafts of sunlight played over the
action.  Flak bursts were everywhere, the ships in the harbor and the guns
ashore flashed and winked continuously.  Lines of  tracers criss-crossed
again and again.  The B-25s, right on the deck, poured out heavy exhaust
from the full-rich settings and burning engine oil.  Once in a while, one
would break off streaming fire.  The Japanese fighters swarmed everywhere,
looping and rolling.
Some of them would dive directly into the midst of a B-25 formation and
pull right up to a bomber and just park there, pouring gunfire into it
until it went down, ignoring the defensive fire the Mitchells put out. The
fighter would get so close that the B-25 gunners didn't dare fire except
with extreme care in order to avoid hitting other B-25s.  If the fighter
was hit, he was so close that he would likely veer into one of the B-25s
and they would both go down.  The way the Jap pilots played it, it was a
lose-lose situation for the Mitchells.  They had nerves of steel and balls
the size of watermelons.  And they didn't seem to give a damn if they were
killed or not, as long as they took somebody with them.
The B-25 gunners would shoot at any plane that came in range, including
P-38s coming to their rescue.
 There were so many Japanese fighters that the P-38 drivers could only
afford to take snap shots at any individual plane.  It was almost
impossible to engage the Japanese fighters and keep up with the speeding
B-25s at the same time.  In that aerial dogknot,  all formation integrity
was quickly lost.  An individual P-38 would spot Japanese fighters
attacking a B-25, plow into them and break up the attack, exchange a few
shots,  shake them off and sprint after the B-25s to try and do the same
thing again.
Speeding across the harbor, the flak was murderous, with the Japanese
gunners just pouring steel into the sky, oblivious to what or who they hit,
friend or foe.  Then suddenly the terrain rose up and the fighting was
squeezed not only vertically by the cloud ceiling, but horizontally by the
volcanic slopes.  Visibility was reduced to near nil as bombs exploded,
starting fires, the Japanese set off smoke screens, and sheets of rain and
hail stones the size of 20mm rounds hammered on the canopy.  There were
airplanes everywhere....
Then past the objective and the B-25s pulled up into the clouds.  Fighters
did, too, and it was blind flying through a violent thunderstorm full of
other airplanes also flying blind.
Turn for home, break into a vast cloud canyon at 25,000 ft.  Canopy
frosted over, ice on the wings, radio on the fritz,  gyro compass spinning,
left engine running hot,  funny vibration coming from somewhere.  A wall of
thunderheads between you and home towering up at least another 25,000 ft.
above you, not another airplane in sight.  Holes in your wing. Gas a little
on the low side. Five-hundred miles to go for some Spam fried in axle
grease and a cup of coffee brewed with battery acid....
 Just another day at the office.

From: (CDB100620)
Subject: Re: P-51 D   mustang vs F-4u corsair
Date: 13 Feb 1998
Newsgroups: rec.aviation.military

>When the 5AF went after Rabaul in the fall of 1943, it was a very heavily
>defended target.

Japanese fighters (Zeros) generally intercepted about 150 miles out inbound
and continued engaging until about 75 miles out on the return.  That's
something an Me 109 could never do.  Made for a very interesting hour plus of
full throttle flight time.  A P-38 driver would generally lose about 10 pounds
of body weight on a mission.

From: (CDB100620)
Subject: Re: P-51 D   mustang vs F-4u corsair
Date: 17 Feb 1998
Newsgroups: rec.aviation.military

>It must be added that the claims of the 5th AF were greatly exaggerated,

Done some checking on this, and it doesn't seem to true.  The best estimate is
that they were overclaiming by a factor of about 2 to 1--at the most--which is
pretty good, and compares well with any other air force.  The big discrepancy
was not in counting the number of aircraft that took serious hits, either on
the air or ground, but in underestimating the Japanese ability to resurrect
flyable airplanes from wrecks.  The 5AF gave the Japanese a huge junkyard from
which to pull parts to put airplanes back into flying condition.  It also
allowed them to put out decoys--unflyable junkers that looked in good shape to
a straffer lining up a target at 250mph.
All 5AF claims eventually had to be filtered through MacArthur's own G-2, Brig.
Gen. Charles Willoughby, who was so good at his job that MacArthur kept at it
from 1941 to 1951--and a good G-2 makes a commanding general look like a
genius.  Willoughby was a notorious skeptic and 5AF boss George Kenney  was an
equally notorious optimist.  If Kenney passed on info Willoughby thought was
spurious, he would kick it back, informing Kenney that any conclusions he
forwarded to MacArthur had to be based on evidence and logic.  Kenney got the
message very quckly.

An example of Willoughby's accuracy came in the decision to invade the
Admiralties, an action which is generally considered to have shortened the war
by at least a month.  Willoughby estimated there were 4,050 Japanese on the
islands.  The 1st Cavalry, after conquering the Japanese garrison, buried 3,280
enemy and captured 75.  An additional 1,100 graves of Japanese killed by air
and naval bombardment were discovered, for a total of 4,455.  So Willoughby was
off by about 10 percent.  Not bad.
Since its harder to count people than airplanes, and since Willoughby was the
man ultimately responsible for the figures for 5AF e/a destroyed, they seem to
be based on a pretty solid foundation.
It was Willoughby who initially seriously questioned 5AF claims of e/a
destroyed at Rabaul because he had conflicting evidence from other sources, and
also because he just couldn't credit the enormous destructive power of the B-25
gunships, which could not only dump tons of parafrags and WP on enemy
airfields, but had the ability to single out individual aircraft tucked inside
revetments and attack them with their battery of up to 14 heavy machineguns.
Part of the problem he and others in his position faced was what weight to give
what information.  Intelligence  did not merely evaluate after-action pilot
reports and recon fotos of Rabaul, but aerial reconnaissance of Japanese
support facilities, submarine reports of shipping as far away as the Japanese
home islands, radio traffic, and Japanese air activity in other areas.
Arriving at accurate assessments of damage done to the enemy by air strikes has
always been difficult, but the 5th Air Force did an admirable job.  They
equipped bombers with not only still cameras (the gunships mounted them astern
so that the results of their attacks could be clearly seen) and motion picture
cameras.  (The fotos they took were among the most spectacular air warfare
images ever shot.) They adopted the use of color film in fighter gun cameras to
help show details black & white film couldn't.  Civilian reporters were
welcomed on the raids so they could be debriefed and the action examined from
their point of view.  And high ranking officers went along to make direct
assessments of the action; in fact,  Brig. Gen. Kenneth Walker, the Commander
of V Bomber Command,  was killed in action over Rabaul.  Maj. Skip Chase, Gen.
Kenney's personal aide, routinely rode as observer to report directly to the
general what happened.

>perhaps also because of a
>competition with the Navy.

Not a chance of something like that happening.  The Navy provided much
intelligence to the Military Intelligence Section of the General Staff at GHQ
SWPA.  The Navy and the Army cooperated to reduce Rabaul.  They were engaged in
winning a war not a boasting contest.
 SIBs would always include information provided by the Navy.  An example from
an SIB:
"Northeast Sector
a)Navy:  Activity declined, a minumum of 33 aircraft being observed. These were
based as follows: Rabaul area 12, Kavieng 8, Vunakanau 7, Faisi 3, and
unidentified 3. 14 aircraft of 958 Naval Air Group were aloft, the majority
being from Matupi.  Three floatplanes of the 938 Kokutai were active from Faisi
on reconnaissance over the Central Solomons.  Seven divebombers of the 582
kokutai were active from Kavieng.
b)Army:  Activity slightly increased, a minimum of 13 aircraft from 5 bases
being noted...."
It goes on to describe in detail the analysis of aerial photographs taken by
F-5 foto joes.  From the summary:
"Photographs taken at 0915L showed 294 planes by actual count.  Yesterday,
photographs with incomplete coverage revealed 143 planes...."
The report also goes on to contrast the estimate of fighter strength on Rabaul
on this particular day--83 fighters--with the actual count revealed--145--and
discuss the reasons for the discrepencies.

Intelligence officers were professionals who went about their job with deadly
seriousness.  It is inconceivable that they would inflate figures to outdo a
rival military service during time of war--or if they had that they would have
kept their jobs for very long.  The careers of senior officers were cut short
for failure to get results, and one sure way to guarantee failure is to base
decisions on deliberately falsified information.

The bottom line is that by Feb., 1944, the air strength at Rabaul had been
destroyed, one of the most heavily defended bastions in any theater of the war
neutalized by air power alone.

From: (CDB100620)
Subject: Re: P-51 D   mustang vs F-4u corsair
Date: 04 Mar 1998
Newsgroups: rec.aviation.military

> the 5th AF claimed about 600 Japanese
>aircraft destroyed in air-to-air combat alone.

Can't imagine where Prados got this figure.  If this is an example of his
scholarship, the book is of questionable value.
For the nine raids over Rabaul in Oct. and Nov. 1943 the 5AF carried out,
official air-to-air credits were:
12 Oct = 3
23 Oct = 13
24 Oct = 40
25 Oct = 1
29 Oct = 18
2 Nov = 29
5 Nov = 2
7 Nov = 6
11 Nov = 0
Total = 112

HQ AAF Intelligence Situation Reports estimated that, in total--aircraft
destroyed in the air *and* on the ground--the series of attacks destroyed about
600 aircraft.   That may be the figure Prados is referring to.  But if he says
this is an air-to-air figure, he is dissembling.

The big problem 5AF analysts had was figuring out what non-combat operational
losses to attribute to the Japanese.  Basing this on their own experience, they
generally overestimated by a wide margin.  (One reason was that the P-40 was
notoriously ground-loop prone in the hands of inexperienced pilots, and the
P-38's and P-39's nose gear frequently collapsed on the rough fields they flew
from; on the other hand, all the Japanese fighter planes were easy and
forgiving to land and take-off, so even low-time pilots rarely bent them.)

Japanese records indicate that as a result of  5AF attacks, 18 Japanese Naval
Air Force groups were withdrawn from combat in the SWPA or disbanded:  1,4,
938, 958, Tainan, Ginzan, Kisaragu, 705, 253, 204, 151, 251, 702, 201, 751,
501, 552, 582.   These comprised seven medium bomber (G4M), three light bomber
(D3, B5N), three reconnaissance (E13A, F1M), and five fighter groups (A6M).

From the Japanese 4th Army's Intelligence Report 102 (which discusses the
effects of 5AF attacks on Rabaul):  "Great numbers of parachute bombs
[parafrags] are used to inflict casualties on personnel and aircraft. The
horizontal burst effect is very great and very effective."  It also notes that
the "12.7mm" bullet the straffers fired was "very destructive."
This report dismisses U.S. Navy dive bombing attacks as "causing little damage
except when by luck a direct hit with a bomb is made."  It also contrasts the
method of Navy air attack--largely dive bombing, the planes coming down from
14,000 ft. or so, and lumbering torpedo bombers "glide bombing"--with the
method of Army attack--low level straffers coming in at high speed on the
deck--planes packed with heavy machineguns that depart leaving a trail of
parafrags and WP.   The report specifically cites the B-25 gunship as the most
dangerous and destructive airplane in the American arsenal.

>Prado is sarcastic

Obviously he has an ax to grind.  Dunno why.
For some reason, the Pacific War is generally written about from the U.S.
Navy/Marine point of view.  Navy admirals get admiring portraits, U.S. Army
generals, except MacArthur, are ignored; MacArthur gets trashed.  The
Australians aren't even noticed.  Generally, the Pacific War is written about
as Pearl Harbor--Midway--Guadalcanal--Marianas Turkey Shoot--Battle of Leyte
Gulf--Iwo Jima--atomic bombs.  What the Army or Air Force were doing, what the
allies were doing, is denigrated or ignored.  The whole New Guinea theater is
overlooked and the Philippine Islands campaign is dismissed as unnecessary.  If
it wasn't for the Flying Tigers episode and the lore of flying "the Hump," the
CBI would be largely ignored, as well.

>the Navy habitually reduced the claims of the 5th AF by 40%

Prados says this?
Here's the text of an official communication:

Subject:  Commendation
To:            Commander Allied Air Forces
1. Admiral Ghormley has informed me that he and Admiral Turner are convinced
that the attacks upon Vunakanau [Rabaul] contributed materially to the
successful accomplishment of Admiral Turner's mission in Guadalcanal.  Admiral
Ghormley asks that there be conveyed to the [air] crews his commendation, 'Well
2. It gives me great pleasure to convey to you this message.
                                                    Douglas MacArthur

>Rabaul was not even on top
>of their [5AF] target list.

Busy hands are happy hands.  The 5AF went after Rabaul because the Navy asked
them to.  It helped the gobs handle the Japanese in the Solomons (which they
were just barely able to do).  The 5AF's main job was to support the Australian
Army/ U.S. Army advance in Rabaul.  The U.S. Navy hardly ever--and always with
great reluctance--detached  elements of SOPAC to help the Army win in New
In one of the most well known cases of Navy reluctance to aid the Army, when
the decision was made to invade the Admiralties, a bold and dangerous move, the
Navy initially only provided a paltry four destroyers to escort the invasion
force and provide fire support.  MacArthur could not pursuade Adm. Kincaid to
provide anything more until he told Kincaid that he was going in with the first
wave of troops himself and invited Kincaid to join him.  Kincaid didn't dare
appear too chicken to go with MacArthur, so he came along--bringing with him
two cruisers  and four more destroyers.  It was only by such strategems that
the Army got the Navy to help it out.  All the Navy had to do to get help from
the Army was ask.

Here's a well-known anecdote that expresses how much Douglas MacArthur thought
of the 5AF:
George Kenney, boss of the 5AF, stopped by MacArthur's quarters one evening.
MacArthur was reading a biography of Robert E. Lee.
"George," he said.  "I've been reading about a remarkable coincidence.  When
Stonewall Jackson was dying, the last words he said were, 'Tell A.P. Hill to
bring up his infantry.'  Years later, when Lee died, his last words were,
'Hill, bring up the infantry.'
MacArthur paused, lit his corncob pipe, sucked on it pensively, looked at
Kenney and said, "If I should die today, or tomorrow or any time, if you listen
to my last words, you'll hear me say, 'George, bring up the 5th Air Force."

From: (CDB100620)
Subject: Re: P-51 D   mustang vs F-4u corsair
Date: 07 Mar 1998
Newsgroups: rec.aviation.military

>But this damage has
>to be distributed over the 5th AF, the forces of COMAIRSOL (that flew
>four times more missions against Rabaul than the 5th AF did), and the
>carrier air strikes.

It's not the number of missions so much as the destruction visited by them.
The Navy basically only had single-engine light bombers  that did very little
damage to Rabaul installations.  13AF at its peak before it was absorbed into
5AF had two B-24 groups, two fighter groups and one B-25 group.  Of the two
B-24 groups, the 5BG was a good outfit, but the 307BG was a collection of
abort-happy bad luck artists who never figured out how to fly formation, always
seemed to screw up rendevous, miss their fighter cover, bomb the wrong target
and get the shit shot out of them.  The B-25 group, while competent,  was not
equipped initially with gunships nor did it initially use low-level attack
techniques with parafrags, thus reducing its effectiveness.  The two P-38 FGs
did good work.
The 5AF sent B-24s and B-25s against Rabaul.  The two B-24 groups were both
good, with the 90BG being exceptional.  The B-24s  were used  mainly against
the town of Rabaul, harbor installations and shipping in the harbor, although
they were also used to attack airfields.  The B-25s were the main anti-airfield
weapon.  Each was loaded with 60 parafrag bombs.  In addition, each carried 10
fixed forward-firing .50 machineguns with 500 rounds of ammunition each.  It
was these B-25 gunships (along with A-20s)  that proved the most effective at
destroying Japanese air assests on the ground, not only at Rabual but at Wewak,
Hollandia, and elsewhere.  Other air units operating against Rabaul simply did
not have a comparably effective weapon.  Whatever air asset destruction the
Japanese suffered at Rabaul can be attributed almost exclusively to the 3AG,
38BG and 345 BG.  The crews of these groups performed with exceptional skill
and heroism against the most difficult circumstances of navigation, weather and
enemy opposition.  The credit due them for an extraordinary job should not be

>the point is that 600 was more than the Japanese actually had.

The original point was that the assertion was made that the 5AF overclaimed to
a much greater extent than other air forces.  This assertion is disputed.
Everybody overclaimed,  and the 5AF was not out of line.

>the Army units based on Rabaul, losing over 2/3 of its strength in a
>few attacks. That suggests that the measures of active and passive
>defense of army air bases on Rabaul were really effective.

The Japanese Army and Army Air Force have always dwelt in the shadows of
histories of the Pacific War.  The navies, both US and Japanese get center
stage.  But the Japanese Army was a collection of pretty tough nuts, who had
been fighting in Asia for years and had their ducks pretty well lined up.
There were never any "turkey shoots" involving the JAAF, and the Japanese Army
in New Guinea missed capturing the island by a bare thead.
 (And it was the Japanese Navy that screwed the pooch and left them in the
lurch--as it did again in the second PI campaign.)

>felt that the 5th did some very bad intelligence work --- that
>it was directly responsible for a great overestimation of the Japanese
>ability to recover.

Possibly they did, but since the 5AF's main credo was to keep hitting a target
again and again until there was nothing left--bomb craters left unfilled, weeds
growing on the runways--what was the harm?  Overestimating the enemy's ability
to recover from your attacks is a good thing--far, far better than
underestimating, which, based on the Navy's repeated bloody fiascos in the
central Pacific, from Tarawa to Peleliu to Iwo Jima, was what it  and the
Marines did.  Contrast what the Navy did at Iwo Jima with what 5AF did for the
reconquest of Fortress Corregidor:  Some weeks of light air raids followed by a
limited, if intense, shore bombardment by naval vessels was all the preparation
provided before the Marines went ashore at Iwo.  At Corregidor, 5AF, 13AF plus
an attached Marine Air Wing bombarded the island for 10 straight days with
every aircraft at their disposal, including fighters loaded up with napalm.
They dumped more than 4,000 tons of HE, 1,500 tons of napalm and 380,000 rounds
of .50 machinegun ammo on "The Rock."  One parachute regiment and one infantry
battalion landed against almost no opposition.  The two week campaign to secure
the island cost 210 dead.  Japanese losses were never known exactly, as many of
the caves and tunnels were collapsed by the bombing and never opened, but the
bodies of more than 6,000 Japanese soldiers were recovered, most killed by the
intense air attack.  Contrast that with 60,000 Marines (rising to 110,000
troops ultimately)  going against 22,000 Japanese at Iwo Jima and suffering
almost 6,000 killed.  Doubtless the Marines would have been quite happy to have
had the Navy overestimate the ability of the Japanese to recover from air and
naval bombardment and shoveled on a few thousand more tons of HE before the

>operation in the Phillipines. He writes that the Army intelligence
>still accepted 5th AF claims as they were, but that the Navy
>counterpart systematically reduced them by 40%.
A 40 percent reduction is not bad.  By how much did the Navy reduce its own
intelligence estimates?
Actually, the Navy was most obvious in the Philippines after the first few days
by its absence, courtesy of Adm. King, who threw a fit because his pet project
of invading Formosa was sidelined in favor of reconquering the PI. (It was
sidelined, among other reasons,  because estimates were that it would require
200,000 more troops than were available in the entire Pacific Theater.) King
wouldn't let his fleet carriers stick around PI waters to aid the invasion
(afraid the Japs would sink them).  So it was up to the 5AF to take up to task
of providing air cover for the invasion, which it did, its fighter operating
from airfields in the combat zone.  Brig. Gen. Ennis Whitehead's 5AF command HQ
was actually cut off and surrounded by Japanese parachutists for five days
during the worst of the fighting, which saw the Japanese penetrating
Whitehead's own camp, his staff personnel, armed with .45 pistols and M1
carbines, fighting savagely hand-to-hand to repel them.  This was a time when
the air war was so furious that as soon as a P-38 landed it was refueled,
rearmed and took off again immediately, the pilot never getting out of the
plane, and never mind about flying in elements of two or flights of four.  No
time for any of that, nor,  with Japanese air raids so frequent, no sense in
risking a plane staying on the ground any longer than necessary.  Fighters took
off alone and often encountered enemy air before their gear had fully

>A beautiful anecdote. Wasn't it Eisenhower who said that he had "studied
>dramatics" under MacArthur?
If he did, he must have slept through the class.  Eisenhower, a natural-born
bureaucrat, was one of the most boring and inept public speakers ever to cause
an audience's eyes to glaze over and roll back in their heads.

MacArthur praised the 5AF because it saved his ass in the early days of the New
Guinea campaign and enabled him to gain victory after victory with minimal cost
thanks to the techniques of air attack it developed, including the often
overlooked skill of air lift.  It was said that there was nothing the 5AF
couldn't fit into a C-47.  From Moresby to Manila, the 5AF never failed
MacArthur, and it was only fitting that he pay it the tribute it was due.

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