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History of the 475th Fighter Group

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5th Air Force - Southwest Pacific Area - WWII

p38photo04The 475th Fighter, "Satan's Angels" came into being at a critical stage in the war in the Southwest Pacific area. In January 1943, four months before the 475th Fighter Group was activated in Australia, the Papuan Campaign in New Guinea ended with the Allied victory at Sanananda Point. A crushing blow was also handed the Japanese early in March 1943, when an entire convoy of transports headed for New Guinea to reinforce Japanese troops was annihilated by the Fifth Air Force. Following those two major victories, the Allies were ready to begin a large-scale offensive against the Japanese in New Guinea. But before that offensive could be undertaken, the Fifth Air Force had to gain and maintain control of the air over New Guinea- a task which would not be accomplished easily.

Japanese air strength in the Southwest Pacific was powerful, and they were capable of launching large scale attacks against our ground forces and installations at any time. One such large-scale attack, involving more than a hundred enemy aircraft, had been carried out against Port Moresby, the Allied stronghold in New Guinea, in April 1943. To the north of Port Moresby, the enemy had many bases from which to launch their air strikes. The Japanese had a string of airbases- the largest being Wewak- stretching up the New Guinea coast. To the east of Rabaul, New Britain, the enemy had massed even greater air and naval strength.

The swiftest and most effective means of gaining control of the air was to bomb both of those Japanese strongholds and destroy as many aircraft on the ground as possible. Such bombing strikes could best be accomplished during daylight hours, when fighter escort was essential. The only fighter aircraft then in the Southwest Pacific with sufficient range to escort bombers to and from Rabaul and Wewak was the P-38. However, the P-38 strength in the Fifth Air Force in April 1943 consisted of only three squadrons. The 80th squadron of the 8th Fighter Group; the 39th squadron of the 35th Group; and the 9th squadron of the 49th Group. To augment the small force, the 475th Fighter Group was activated as a P-38 outfit on 14 May, 1943.

p38photo06Originally, the Group and its assigned units, the 431st, 432nd, and 433rd Squadrons were to have been activated at Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia. However, Amberley Field, located close to the supply depots on the outskirts of Brisbane, was substituted as the station of activation. Personnel for the 475th Group and its squadrons were drawn from the 11th Replacement Central Depot and from organizations under the control of the Fifth Fighter Command. The first Commanding Officer of the 475th was Major George W. Prentice, who formerly commanded the 39th Squadron of the 35th Group.

During the first three months after its activation, the Group trained for combat. By August, it was ready to move up to New Guinea aboard a Liberty Ship, and on the following day, the air echelon was transported to Port Moresby in C-47 aircraft. By 11 August, the 431st and 432nd were operating from Port Moresby- the 431st at Twelve Mile Strip and the 432nd at Ward's Drome. The 433rd Squadron moved up to Jackson Drome, Port Moresby on 16 August.

The 475th's first scheduled mission, an escort of transports to Tsili Tsili on 12 August, was canceled because of bad weather. On the following day, however, the weather cleared sufficiently to allow the unit to escort transports to Bena Bene. The mission was without incident. On 15 August, while the unit was flying patrol, its pilots spotted Japanese planes over Lasanga Island but could not make contact. On the following day, the 431st Squadron, while escorting transports to Tsili Tsili, encountered approximately 25 Japanese bombers and fighters. In the ensuing engagement the squadrons pilots accounted for twelve of the enemy aircraft, while only losing two of their own.

p38photo03During the latter part of August, the 475th was primarily engaged in escorting bombers to the powerful Japanese base at Wewak. During the next few weeks the 475th flew 16 missions, consisting of 257 sorties at Wewak. Despite the groups relative inexperience, the unit shot down a total of 41 enemy aircraft. The Group, on the other hand had lost only three P-38's. After that series of blows against Wewak, the Japanese were forced to shift their strength to bases further up the coast of New Guinea. In addition to its missions to Wewak, the Group also escorted bombers to Hansa Bay, and Saidor, New Guinea, and to Cape Gloucester, New Britain.

Throughout its raids on Wewak, the Fifth Air Force had achieved local control of the air, which paved the way for the Allied Ground offensive. On 4 September, amphibious forces landed east of Lae, New Guinea, under an "umbrella " of fighter aircraft, to which the 475th contributed 68 P-38 sorties. While covering that operation, the groups pilots disposed of five more enemy aircraft.

On 5 September, paratroops were dropped over Nadzab, under the protecting guns of 44 of the groups P-38's and fighter aircraft from other Fifth Air Force units. During the days following the paratroop drop, the 475th patrolled the Nadzab area, supported ground operations in the vicinity of Nadzab and Lae, and made frequent trips to the enemy field at Madang and Wewak in order to keep the Japanese air force out of action.

Our ground forces, aided by the air support of the 475th and other forces from the Fifth Air Force, scored a series of rapid successes over the Japanese. Salamaua was captured on 11 September, Lae on the 16th, and Kaiapit, farther up the Markham Valley, on the 20th. The allies took another step forward on 22 September when they completed a successful landing at Finschafen, New Guinea.

p38photo02On that day, the 432nd Fighter Squadron scored on of its greatest aerial victories of the war. Twelve planes of the squadrons' 16-plane patrol were covering the landing operations at Finschafen when 10 enemy bombers and 30 fighters came to attack the invasion convoy. The squadrons' pilots, led by Captain Frederick A. Harris, went into action swiftly. Capt. Harris led the first flight of four aircraft in a diving attack on the enemy fighters, hoping to scatter them so that the other two flights could attack the bombers unmolested. The maneuver worked; 7 of the 10 bombers were shot down, and 11 of the 30 fighters were destroyed. Only two P-38's and one pilot, Lieutenant Donald A. Garrison, were lost. For that mission, the 432nd received a commendation from Brigadier General Paul Wurtsmith, Commanding General of Fifth Fighter Command.

As the Month of October passed, our ground forces in New Guinea were slowly pushing the Japanese northward, and at the same time were consolidating the newly-won areas. Meanwhile, in the east, Allied forces were "Leap-Frogging" up the Solomon Islands. The main threat in their path was Rabaul, which would soon feel the weight of the Fifth and Thirteenth Air Force attacks.

p38photo01Although Allied ground forces were busy throughout the South and Southwest Pacific areas in early October, the first 11 days were comparatively quiet for the 475th. When the weather was suitable for flying, (7 of the 11 Days) the Group accompanied light and medium bombers on barge hunts along the New Guinea coast. On the 11th, operations and intelligence personnel of the 475th were summoned to a briefing at Headquarters, First Air Task Force at Dobodura. The next target was to be Rabaul. On the following morning more than 300 bombers and fighters, the largest force assembled by the Fifth Air Force up until that time, took off from New Guinea airfields toward Rabaul. On that mission, 55 P-38's of the 475th Group, staging through Kiriwina Island, escorted B-25's in their attacks on the Vunakenau and Rapope Airdromes. During the attack, the Groups P-38's covered the medium bombers as they swept an at low level to inflict devastating damage to the airfields and the aircraft on the ground. While the attack was in progress, two enemy planes attempted to intercept, but they were promptly shot down by the 475th. An attempt to repeat that successful mission on the following day was thwarted by the weather, but on the 14th a raid was completed against Cape Gloucester, New Britain. During the remainder of October, up until 7 November, the Fifth Air Force carried out a series of raids against Rabaul. The excellent cover afforded our bombers by the 475th on those strikes help make the missions overwhelming successes.

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