|K e n s m e n : 4 3 r d B o m b G r o u p (H), 5 t h A A F|
|Late in July and early August
1943 the Group sent out as many as 28 planes a day to bomb Salamaua,
New Guinea, in support of ground troops. On 25 August the 43rd, in
coordination with the 90th Bombardment Group, blasted the Japanese base
at Wewak. Initially, Wewak had been built up as a major enemy base in
which the Japanese had poured the best of their air force units. On the
raid of 25 August the 43rd and 90th Groups claimed they destroyed
approximately 200 enemy planes at the Japanese base, and thus caused
the enemy to shift their major strength from Wewak to Hollandia,
farther up the New Guinea coast.
By the end of September the entire Group had completed the conversion to B-24 aircraft. The 63rd Squadron, the last of the Group's units to convert, flew its last mission in B-17's on 19 September, when it bombed a large store and personnel area at Cape Gloucester, New Britain. Earlier in the month, on 4 September, 12 of the Group's B-24's were assigned the task of destroying a heavy concentration of enemy gun emplacements on the south and the east runway at Lae, New Guinea. That attack was flown in support of the 9th Australian Division, which had made a landing at Hopoi in preparation for a coordinated drive toward Lae. On 5 September "Ken's Men" bombed gun emplacements at Heath's Plantation, about eight miles west of Lae airdrome. The official comment on the bombing was, "target obliterated, area plastered." A few minutes after the Group's attack, B-25's bombed Nadzab about five miles west of Heath's Plantation. Their strike was followed immediately by the landing of 1,500 paratroopers at Nadzab. General Douglas MacArthur observed the entire operation aboard a B-17 piloted by Colonel Harry J. Hawthorne, the 43rd Group's Commanding Officer.
In October 1943 Fifth Air Force units concentrated their attacks on Rabaul, New Britain. During October and the first part of November the 43rd completed many air strikes against that city. Then, late in November, the unit diverted its attention to the Gasmata area; 20-30 B-24's were over that city daily, pounding Ring Ring Plantation and other personnel areas.
After one mission to Wewak on the first of December, the 43rd devoted its efforts to the neutralization of enemy airdromes in New Britain during the remainder of the month. The Group also softened up the Cape Gloucester and Arawe areas in preparation for the invasion of New Britain. December 1943 was one of the 43rd's busiest months of the war because maximum effort was called for every day. Veterans of the aerial assault on New Britain referred to December 1943 as the "month my squadron flew 200 sorties."
From 13 to 15 December the 43rd Bombardment Group softened up the Arawe area. After our forces landed on the 15th, the organization continued to provide support on that front, but the weight of its attacks were directed at the Cape Gloucester area. On the 21st, 22nd, 24th, and 25th the Group flew double missions--a difficult task under the circumstances. "In the midst of moving to Dobodura, New Guinea, constructing a new camp, and attempting to carry on maintenance of the planes for twice the number of missions flown previously," the 65th Squadron reported, "the strength of the ground men had been taxed beyond the breaking point. They must be replaced before the entire maintenance crumbles." The 403rd Squadron registered a similar complaint, protesting that with a shortage of 67 ground personnel, the men were being asked to exert themselves beyond the point where efficiency could be expected. Regardless of the maintenance problems, the Group's personnel worked night and day to get the maximum number of aircraft in the air. From 19 to 25 December the 63rd, 65th and 403rd Squadrons (the 63rd Squadron was carrying out attacks against enemy shipping until late in the month) flew a total of 191 sorties--more than 25 a day--against the Cape Gloucester installations.
On 26 December, when the Marines landed at Cape Gloucester, all four squadrons of the Group dropped 229 of 276 bombs on a narrow strip of rain forest west of Silimati Point, which contained enemy gun positions, stores, and troops. That same afternoon, 21 B-24's blanketed Hill 660, a highly fortified region south of Silimati Point. During the last two days of the month, after rendering effective support to ground forces in New Britain, the Group directed its attacks against antiaircraft positions and supply dumps at Alexishafen, New Guinea.