|In addition to its support of
ground forces in New Guinea, the 63rd Bombardment Squadron conducted
sea search missions and attacked enemy shipping. On 9 and 10 October
the squadron, in coordination with the 28th and 93rd Squadrons of the
19th Bombardment Group, carried out the largest raids up until that
time against the enemy's powerful base of Rabaul, New Britain.
The 63rd Squadron's attacks on enemy shipping during that period were
unsuccessful because the bombing was done at night and at high
altitudes. In order to make those strikes more effective, Major William
Benn, Commanding Officer of the 63rd Squadron, decided to try skip
bombing. The concept of skip bombing had been originated by the RAF,
but after experimentation the English had rejected it as being too
dangerous and difficult. Nevertheless, Major Benn, aided by Major
Edward Scott (later Commanding Officer of the 63rd Squadron), and
Captains Kenneth McCullar and Franklin Green, experimented with the
techniques of skip bombing on a submerged hulk beyond the harbor at
Port Moresby. Trial runs were made after a low-altitude bombsight had
been improvised by marking crosses on the bombardiers windshield. Only
partial success resulted until the men improvised delay -action fuzes
on the bombs. By October they were ready to test their techniques in
Intelligence reports of that period showed continually a high
concentration of shipping in Rabaul Harbor. An especially heavy
concentration, reported on 20 October, invited a test of the recently
developed techniques for low-level attacks. On the night of 22 October
three flights of the 63 Squadron's B-27's took off for the strike.
While two of the flights bombed according to the standard bombing
procedures, picked planes of the squadron, including that of Major
Benn, glided down through the "moonlit darkness" and released their
bombs from less than 250 feet. "Violent explosions and flying debris
were observed, with the result that the experiment was considered a
success"; the squadron claimed one cruiser, one destroyer, and two
cargo vessels left sinking, and two cargo ships and a transport
severely damaged. "A later assessment, however, indicated that no
vessels were actually sunk."
On 30 October the 63rd Bombardment Squadron, accompanied by several
planes from the 403rd Squadron, made a second attack on shipping in
Rabaul Harbor. Again, several hits were made but no vessels were
actually sunk. Although those first two missions met with little
success, Major Benn, who was lost in a mission to Buna on 13 November,
had paved the way for future experiments with skip-bombing techniques.
As a result of Major Benn's efforts, Major Paul Gunn of the 3rd
Bombardment Group was able to perfect skip-bombing techniques with
modified B-25's. His experiments resulted in complete success in the
Battle of the Bismarck Sea and established skip bombing as standard
attack procedure in the Fifth Air Force.
By 24 November 1942, when the 65th Squadron knocked out enemy gun
positions at Sanananda Point in support of ground forces, the entire
43rd Group had been committed to combat. On that same day the 63rd
Squadron attacked enemy shipping in the Huon Gulf. The dangers involved
in those shipping strikes, not to mention the skill and endurance of
the aircrews is clearly illustrated in the following account. Just
before midnight on 24 November, seven B-17's of the 63rd Squadron
--five of which had participated earlier that day in two missions aimed
at supply dumps at Sanananda Point-- took off to attack five enemy
destroyers reported in the Huon Gulf. After spotting the ships, the
planes climbed to 3,500 feet, then dropped to 200 feet to make their
first run. At that point antiaircraft fire bursting around the planes
penetrated the tail gunner's post of the B-17 piloted by Captain "Ken"
McCullar, exploding "about 70 shells and starting quite a fire."
Sergeant Reser, the tail gunner, succeeded in smothering the flames
with winter flying equipment. McCullar made a second run. That time the
radio operator and two other members of the crew were scratched by
flying shrapnel. On the third run "the number 1 motor was hit and all
controls shot away." The fourth run brought only minor damage to the
plane, but as the bomber sought out a target for the fifth time, number
3 engine sputtered and finally "cut out." By now, one destroyer was
burning fiercely and another was seriously disabled; so with the
bombardier and navigator in the back compartment of the ship "in case
the prop flew off or we had to set it down," Captain McCullar fought
for sufficient altitude to clear the Owen Stanley Mountains.
Fortunately, number 3 engine began to function again, and after two and
one half hours, according to the pilot, the crew "found a pass to sneak
through, landed o.k. and forgot about it."