|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|
|When General Kenney took command
of the 5th Air Force, he explained to MacArthur that his primary
mission was to take out Japanese air power "until we owned the air over
New Guinea. There was no use talking about playing across the street
until we got the Nips off our front lawn"1
Doing this with Japanese air power dependent on its Navy bringing supplies and reinforcements in a part of the world covered with wide-open sea required that Kenney devise effective ways of bombing Japanese ships, something that had been ineffective using high-altitude bombing. Imagine trying to hit a ship with a bomb dropped from an altitude of 25,000 feet! The standard technique was so ineffective that, for example, less than 1% of of bombs dropped by the 19th Bomb Group's B-17s hit their ship-targets2. The answer: low-altitude bombing. What may sound like an obvious thing was not so easy to effect in real life; the British tried minimal altitude bombing and couldn't make it work. Something more was needed, something was missing.
Discussing the situation with Major Bill Benn, Kenney suggested the idea of 'skip bombing': dropping a bomb such that it literally skipped off the water like a stone, hitting its target from the side. To do this, the bombs, set with delayed fuzes so the plane would have time to clear the detonation, must be dropped at an extremely (dangerously!) low altitude and at the right speed and from the right distance. The bomber for the job must have enough fire power in the nose to defend itself from enemy flak at such low heights. The man for the job of making it work was Major Bill Benn, so Kenney fired him as his assistant and assigned him to command the 63rd Squadron and undertake the perfection of 'skip bombing'.
Major Benn then gathered together some of the best pilots in the 43rd --1st Lt. James T. Murphy, Capt. Ken McCullar, Lt. Folmer "The Swede" Sogaard, Capt. Ed Scott, Lt. Glenn Lewis-- who set about the task. Many hours of practice taught them that approaching the ship from 2,000 ft., then dropping down to an altitude of 200 to 250 ft. (maintaining the air speed of 200 to 250 m.p.h.) and releasing the bomb --equipped with a 4 to 5 second delay fuze-- 60 to 100 ft. away from the target was the way to do it.2 Thanks to the efforts of these men, the percentage of targets hit increased from less than 1% to 72%.2
1 from the book, "Airwar", by Edward Jablonski,
Company, Inc., 1971