345th Bombardment Group - Air Apaches
and the B-25 "Mitchell" Bomber

by Rene' Armstrong

The Japanese steadily expanded their domain in Asia during the first three decades of the 20th Century. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese turned their focus on the Southwestern Pacific, which would be the future operating area for the 345th Bombardment Group. The Japanese seized the strategic harbor at Rabaul, on the eastern tip of the island of New Britain, on January 23, 1942, and rapidly began building it into a key base for their forces moving east into the Solomons and southward into New Guinea. The Japanese first landed on the coast of Northeast New Guinea at Lae and Salamaua on March 8, 1942.

In the fall of 1942, the Army Air Corps was undergoing a vast expansion. New training schools and bases had sprung up throughout the United States to turn the hundreds of thousands of new volunteers and recruits into the pilots, navigators, bombardiers, engineers, radio operators, gunners and the other skills necessary to staff the Army Air Corps for its role in global warfare. Meanwhile, contracts had been let with the country's aviation industry for the production of tens of thousands of new aircraft. As the training camps and American industry poured forth their products, new air groups were formed to absorb them; the 345th was one of them.

The 345th Bombardment Group (Medium) was established on paper by 3rd Air Force Order #275 on September 6, 1942. The activation date was November 11, 1942, at Columbia Army Air Base, South Carolina. Its four squadrons were designated the 498th, 499th, 500th and 501st Bombardment Squadrons, which would take a total of 62 B-25 medium bombers into combat. Initially, the unit consisted of about forty officers and 350 enlisted men who were drawn mainly from the 309th Bomb Group, a training unit at Columbia. When it reached full strength, the 345th would number about 250 officers and 1250 enlisted men.

The 345th Bomb Group trained as a medium bombardment unit, flying America's most modern aviation technology, the North American B-25 "Mitchell" bomber. With the normal course of events, it would have served out the war flying its missions from eight to twelve thousand feet, making a valuable but not extraordinary contribution to America's victory in the Pacific war.

The air echelon of the 345th Bomb Group began arriving at Port Moresby, New Guinea, in June 1943. Two weeks later on June 30, 1943, the 345th entered combat for the first time as part of Operation Cartwheel, a major Allied counter-offensive in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands to capture the main Japanese base atRabaulonNew Britain, and clear the way for the eventual reconquest of the Philippines. The 345th received aDistinguished Unit Citationfor a series of attacks against flak positions, shore installations, and barracks atRabaul,New Britain, on 2 November 1943.

But fate was in the making. In Australia, at the rear base of the 5th Air Force, Maj. Paul I. "Pappy" Gunn, an engineer and a tinkerer, was about to unleash a devastating tool for eliminating Japan's ability to make and sustain war in the Southwest Pacific. By removing the bombardier-navigator from his greenhouse compartment in the nose of a B-25 medium bomber, Gunn eventually found he could install eight forward-firing .50-caliber machine guns in the aircraft. Thus was born the low-level B-25 strafer, a weapon which would revolutionize warfare in the Southwest Pacific and unleash the hell-raising aerial hot-rodder that lived in the soul of many young Air Corps medium-bombardment pilots.

During August of 1943, the crews flew their planes south to the depot at Townsville, Australia, where they were scheduled to undergo modification into strafers. The bottom turret was removed and faired over, and an extra gas tank was added to fill the space. The three hand-held machine guns manned by the bombardier-navigator were removed and the "greenhouse" nose was completely rebuilt to accommodate four forward-firing .50-caliber machine guns installed through a small metal nose cap. Metal access panels were installed on each side of the plexiglass nose section to facilitate maintenance on the new machine guns.

Two side-pack machine guns were added on each side of the lower fuselage just aft of the cockpit, giving the plane eight new fifty-caliber machine guns. The gun switches were wired to the cockpit and were fired by the pilot pressing a button on the control wheel.

The strafer was an ingenious weapon for neutralizing enemy airpower on the ground and devastating Japan's strategic shipping lanes across the Southwest Pacific. Using this tool, the planes of the 345th Bomb Group ripped their way across the southeastern reaches of the Japanese empire, strafing and bombing into ruin everything in their path. The planes flew so low that it was necessary to equip the bombs with delayed action fuses to allow the planes to escape before the bombs blew up.

The planes attacked Japanese ships at mast-top height, using their forward-facing machine guns to suppress counter fire, then skipped 500-pound bombs into the sides of the ships. Using these tactics, the low-level strafers accounted for most of the Japanese ships sunk. So great was their fear of attack by these planes that Japanese merchant seamen sometimes took to the lifeboats rather than face an attack.

Automatic K-21 cameras, taking a frame a second, were installed on the underside of the rear fuselage of most of the planes. They were to be turned on as the plane began its run over the target and shut off at the conclusion of the attack. Whether a tree-top level sweep or a brutal wave-top level assault, high resolution tail-mounted cameras were recording the action. These photos became an invaluable tool for intelligence officers attempting to assess the results of attacks. The result was unquestionably the most extraordinary collection of photographs ever taken by a unit in air combat.

The 345th participated in the following major raids/offensives:
Wewak - September 1943
Rabaul - October-November 1943
Western New Britain - December 1943
Dobodura - January-February 1944
Kavieng, New Ireland - February 1944
Nadzab - February-April, 1944
Hollandia - April 1944
Western New Guinea and the Netherlands East Indies - April-July 1944
Halmaheras, Morotai Islands, Wasile Bay - July-August 1944
Philippines - September-December 1944
Northern Philippine Islands - January-February 1945
Formosa - February 1945
Indochina Coast - March 1945
South China Sea - March-April 1945
Saigon - April 1945
Formosa - May 1945
Luzon - June 1945
Kyushu and shipping lanes in Sea of Japan - July-August 1945

Shortly after the Japanese surrender announcement, General MacArthur radioed Tokyo that the capitulation was accepted and that Japan must send emissaries to Manila on August 17, 1945, to arrange the formal surrender and occupation of Japan. To forestall the possibility of further Japanese resistance, the delegation was to bring all of Japan's defense plans with them.

The Japanese were to travel to Ie Shima in white aircraft marked with green surrender crosses. MacArthur would send a C-54 transport to fetch them to Manila from there.

Early on the morning of the 19th, Lt. Col. Glenn Doolittle of the 345th Bomb Group led the six escort aircraft which took off at intervals to patrol the search zone between Kyushu and Ie Shima. These planes escorted the Japanese "Betty Bombers" to Ie Shima. Betty's Dream was one of those six planes. There were many cameras in evidence both in the air and among the correspondents and thousands of troops who crowded along the runway. Members of the 345th Bomb Group were witnesses to this historical event.

For the next several weeks the Air Apaches continued to fly numerous search and patrol missions around the southern shores of Japan and a few courier missions to the mainland. Other missions were flown to take war correspondents and reporters, including some from Life magazine, over the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The planes were armed but there was no occasion to use their ammunition as the cessation of hostilities proceeded smoothly.

In September 1945, word came that the unit was going to be deactivate. The Group remained officially assigned on Ie Shima until December 10, 1945. The 345th was officially deactivated at Camp Stoneman, California, on December 29, 1945, after slightly more than three years of existence.

In 26 months of combat, the 345th flew 58,562 combat hours on 9,120 strike sorties, dropped over 58,000 bombs with a total weight of 6,340 tons, and fired over twelve-and-a-half million rounds of ammunition. Intelligence credited the unit with sinking 260 enemy vessels, totaling nearly 190,000 tons, and damaged 275 others. It was also awarded credit for destroying 260 Japanese planes on the ground and another 107 in aerial combat. Its units won Distinguished Unit Citations for four missions and the Group was awarded the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation.

The men of the 345th, particularly the aircrews, fought a brutal, bloody war with no quarter asked and none given. They fought an enemy they were told was sub-human and were instructed to kill anywhere they could and any way they could. Sometimes they were heroes. Sometimes their courage failed them. Most did their job and went home, carrying with them some sense that what they had done was important.

A flak-ravaged B-25 was unforgiving when it lost an engine at 250-miles-per-hour fifty feet above the ground. More than a few died unnecessary deaths at the hand of their captors, who were indifferent at best and brutal at worst. And a few, only a few, barely survived the primitive Japanese prison camps, nursing their starving, disease-racked bodies through just enough miserable days to survive to the end.

Approximately 4,000 men served in the 345th Bombardment Group. Their service cost the Air Apaches 712 men dead from all causes, including 580 killed on flights, and 177 aircraft lost.


BETTY'S DREAM - MISSION FFO 211-C-1, 30 JULY 1945

499th Bombardment Squadron (M) AAF
345th Bombardment Group (M) AAF
OFFICE OF THE INTELLIGENCE OFFICER
APO 245

PEG/rjl

7 August, 1945.

SUBJECT: Narrative Report, Mission FFO 211-C-1, 30, July 1945
TO: Commanding General, FEAF, APO 925. Attention of:
A.C. of S., A-2.

1. SYNOPSIS

On 30 July 1945, six B-25’s conducted a shipping search along the East Coast of KYUSHU ISLAND and into the INLAND SEA, finding all shipping targets and as a last resort, attacked a light house at CAPE SADANO and a radio installation at O SHIMA. In the attacks 18 X 500 lb. bombs and 6940 X .50 ammo were expanded. The lighthouse was damaged but lightly and the radio building at O SHIMA was reported destroyed, another building damaged and a third set afire. We sustained no casualties and no damage. Opposition to our strike was limited to meager, light inaccurate A/A fire.

2. OBJECTIVE

The purpose of this mission was to destroy and sink any surface craft found in the target area which included the entire East Coast of KYUSHU and the INLAND SEA between the SHIMONASEKI STRAITS and KURE. Areas to be avoided were SHIMOMOSEKI STRAIT, KURE and nearby islands, and MATSUGAMA AIRBASE on SHIKAKU ISLAND.

3. DETAILS OF THE MISSION

a. The squadron flying in the number 4 position of the Group Formation made rendezvous with the fighters at Cape Toi and proceeded along the east coast of KYUSHU to OSHIMA (3258N – 13205E) then crossed to the west coast of SHILUKU to TAKAYAMA to CAPE SADANO. Having found nil targets two planes made two passes at a lighthouse at this point. The formation then made a wide circle into the INLAND SEA just above the HOEJO STRAITS also with no targets sighted. This formation then returned along the E coast of KYUSHU to O SHIMA where a radio station was attacked. Formation over the target consisted of three, two-plane flights in trail at minimum altitude.

b. Pilots and Planes Participating.
1st Lt. C.E. Rice led the squadron in A/P # 934 with 2nd. Lt. Gwyn on his wing in A/P # 208. 1st. Lt. Tyree led the second element in A/P # 992 with 1st. Lt. McKinnon on his wing in A/P # 071. 1st Lt. Fitzpatrick flew as the third element in A/P # 904. Lt. Moeller returned to base early in A/P # 210 when fuel transfer system failed.

c. Attack
1st. L.T. Tyree and 1st Lt. McKinnon made two passes on the lighthouse at CAPE SADANO dropping four and two 500 lb. 4/5 sec. delay fuse demos respectively. The lighthouse was slightly damaged by one bomb which exploded near the base of the tower and by concentrated strafing. In the attack on the radio station at O SHIMA 12 bombs and concentrated strafing during several runs left the radio building destroyed according to crew reports. Mission photographs fail to confirm the reports but crews statements are sufficient to establish the fact that the building was at least heavily damaged. One building was left burning and another damaged. There was no fighter opposition. Meager, light, inaccurate A/A fire was received from vicinity of TURINOHAMA (3327N-13216E) and from a hill just W of CAPE TSUKE. There was no personnel causalities and no damage.

4. S-2 COMMENTS
Nil.

5. CITATIONS
Nil.

6. STATISTICS

a. Time Table
Take Off 0830/I IE SHIMA
1 plane landed 1058/I IE SHIMA
Fighter Rendezvous 1115/I CAF-TOI
HAYO STRAITS 1300/I
Attack 1220/I CAPE SADANO
Attack 1235/I O SHIMA
Land 1530/I IE SHIMA

b. Fighter Cover
Excellent.

c. Operational
Bombs on targets 18 X 500 lb.
Bombs salvoed 6 x 500 lb.
Ammo Fired 6940 X .50 cal.

For the Squadron COMMANDER:

PAT E. GOFORTH
Capt., Air Corps
INTELLIGENCE OFFICER


Compiled from:

Warpath Across the Pacific

Lawrence J. Hickey, author
To purchase book: http://irandpcorp.com/products/books/345bg
For other WWII books, please visit: http://irandpcorp.com