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 Home > History > USAF Historical Division's Brief History of the 43rd Bombardment Group, 1940-1952 > November 1942 - winter 1942/43

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 combat.

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."