History of the 475th Fighter Group
The Groups outstanding ability to provide effective cover for our bombers is best seen in the mission of 25 October. On that day, extremely bad weather was encountered en route to the target. As a result of this, one of the leading fighter squadrons radioed that it was turning back. Major Charles MacDonald, who later became Commanding Officer of the 475th, continued on course, noting that the bombers apparently had not heard the message. Unwilling to let the bombers face the strong defenses of Rabaul without fighter cover. Major MacDonald led the remaining P-38s through the severe weather. That small force covered the bombers over the target and turned back the enemy interceptors. Major MacDonald accounted for the only plane shot down in that mission.
While the Fifth Air Force's missions against Rabaul were being carried out, the Japanese, at times, slipped through and made strikes on our bases in New Guinea. For example, on 15 October, the controller at Oro Bay detected by radar, a large force of enemy planes heading for the base at Dobodura. All fighters of the 475th were ordered to scramble. The P-38's on alert took off immediately. Back at the camp, which was a good distance from the airstrip, the pilots of the group tumbled out of there tents and set out for the strip "in everything that had wheels." Major MacDonald and Captain William N. Ivey "set an unofficial jeep record from a standing start" in their dash to the airstrip. "Stealing" two planes from the 433rd Squadron, they took off and climbed to meet enemy. In all, 51 of the units P-38's were airborne to engage the enemy force of 60 planes. The aerial battle which ensued was viewed with intense pleasure by the Group's ground personnel, for it was the first time they had seen their pilots in action. in that battle, 36 Japanese planes were destroyed. The 475th suffered no losses, and only five planes damaged. Major MacDonald and Captain Ivey were well rewarded for their speedy dash to the flight line; they each destroyed two Japanese aircraft.
The losses on the attack apparently did not discourage the Japanese, for they came back for more on the 17th. Once more the pilots of the 475th were there to meet them, and in the engagement shot down 18 of the enemy attackers. Lt. Thomas B. McGuire of the 431st Squadron, after downing three enemy planes, had his aircraft shot up by friendly anti-aircraft fire, and was forced to bail out over the harbor.
On 27 October, our forces in the Solomon’s landed on the Treasury Islands, and five days later, troops poured ashore at Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville. To provide indirect support to our forces on Bouganville, and to keep Japanese power neutralized in New Britain, the Fifth Air Force continued it's strikes against Rabaul. On 2 November, the 475th, while escorting B-26's to that Japanese stronghold, encountered extremely strong enemy air opposition. Although outnumbered, the 475th pilots disposed of 19 enemy aircraft. However, it was a costly engagement, for the 475th lost five P-38's.
During the next few days the 475th Group completed two more escort missions to Rabaul; three others where canceled by bad weather. After 7 November, the Group turned its attention elsewhere until mid-December 1943. During the series of blows against Rabaul, the 475th had compiled a commendable record. In all, it had completed 20 missions (322 Sorties), and had destroyed 62 enemy aircraft. On the other hand, seven of the units planes had failed to come home, and five pilots had been lost. Two Pilots, Lt. Edward J. Czarnecki and Owen Giertsen, after being shot down in enemy territory, managed to make their way back to Australia.
Although the Groups aircraft losses had not been very high, battle damage to most of its P-38s was cause for alarm. A number of planes were grounded for repairs and others which had crash landed where damaged beyond repair. The result was a 30 percent loss in aircraft strength. To bring the Group's aircraft strength back to normal, the P-38's of the 9th Fighter Squadron of the 49th FG, and the 39th FS of the 35th FG were transferred to the 475th.
During the remainder of November and early December 1943, the 475th escorted bombers to targets in New Guinea- notably Alexishafen, Finschafen, and Wewak. On the first mission to Alexischafen, conducted on 9 November, the group lost one of it's best pilots, Captain Daniel J. Roberts. After taking command of the 433rd Squadron on 3 October, Capt. Roberts had led the unit in destroying 47 enemy planes, of which he personally shot down 8. At the time of his death, Capt. Roberts had 14 aerial victories, which made him the leading Ace in the 475th FG at that time, and one of the leading Aces in the Fifth Fighter Command.
The invasion of New Britain got under way on 15 December 1943, with the landings at Arawe. In support of the landing operations, the 475th flew 83 sorties. During the days following the invasion, the Japanese attempted several small-scale attacks against our ground forces, and the 475th added 19 more planes to it’s growing list of aerial victories.
Close on the heals of the Arawe invasion, the Marines poured ashore at Bergen Bay, Cape Gloucester, New Britain. On the day of the landing, 26 December, the 431st Squadron, led by Captain Thomas B. McGuire, thwarted an enemy attempt to dive bomb the invasion convoy by destroying 13 of the enemy aircraft. Capt. McGuire, who shot down three enemy planes in the engagement, became the leading ace of the Group, a position he never relinquished.
Early in January 1944 the 475th flew nine missions in support of the landings at Saidor, New Guinea. At the same time, attacks were continued on Japanese air bases within fighter range. The Group did not engage the enemy in the air until 10 January, when Col. MacDonald led a 6 plane sweep to Wewak. When 40 enemy planes rose to intercept, the 6 P-38s were forced to make a hasty retreat, but not before Col. MacDonald had accounted for the destruction of 1 "Tony", his 10th confirmed aerial victory. The reception of 10 January called for a return visit by the 475th, and on 18 January the Groups' three squadrons and the 80th Squadron of the 8th FG made a fighter sweep to Wewak and Boram. Again, approximately 40 enemy planes rose to intercept; 4 were shot down.
At the end of January, the skies over New Guinea and New Britain were comparatively quiet. The Japanese Air Force in that area had been beaten. Combat was hard to find. The Fifth Air Force had gained control of the air. Personnel of the 475th Fighter Group could look back with satisfaction on their contribution to the Fifth Air Forces’ achievement. Since the beginning operations in August 1943, the group had flown 557 combat missions, consisting of 6069 sorties, and had shot down 285 enemy aircraft.
During February, the 475th was engaged for the most part in conducting routine patrols over New Guinea. Enemy air opposition was encountered only once, on 3 February, when pilots of the 431st shot down six Japanese aircraft. On 11 February, when it escorted B-24’s to Kavieng, New Ireland, the Group completed the longest over water flight (816 Miles) by fighter aircraft in that theater up until that time. Eleven more missions were conducted to the same target during the month.
The lack of enemy air activity within P-38 range of Dobodura called for the group to move elsewhere. On 20 February an advance echelon was sent to Cape Gloucester, New Britain, where it was to establish camp for the group. However, on 25 February the unit’s new station was changed to Finschafen, New Guinea. On 26 February the 431st and 433rd Squadrons moved up to Finschafen, and on the following day they were joined by the Groups advance echelon which had been recalled from Cape Gloucester. Group Headquarters and the 432nd remained at Dobodura until 24 March 1944, when it moved to Nadzab, farther north than Finschafen. A few days later the 431st and 433rd broke camp and joined the Group at Nadzab.
March 1944, although a quiet month, was highlighted by the Group’s escort mission to Hollandia on the 30th. Hollandia, where the Japanese had placed most of their aircraft strength after the raids on Wewak, had previously been immune to daylight bombing attacks because it was far out of range of fighter-escort aircraft. However, early in March, the 475th received new P-38s which were capable of making the long flight because they had a much greater fuel capacity. On 30 March, the 431st and 432nd squadrons, along with the 80th Squadron, escorted three B-24 Groups to Hollandia. The 433rd Squadron, not yet equipped with the long range P-38s, went as far as Tadji, from where it helped cover the bombers on the return flight. The mission went well; the bombers inflicted considerable damage to Hollandia airdromes. However, the fighter pilots of the 475th Group, expecting enemy fighter opposition, were disappointed when only a few enemy fighters rose to intercept, and these were driven off by the pilots of the 80th Squadron, which was leading the formation.
Two more strikes were made against Hollandia on 1 and 3 April. On the mission of 3 April, the Group destroyed 15 enemy planes in aerial combat. Lt. Joseph W. Forster of the 432nd shot down 3, his first aerial victories. During the remainder of April 1944 the 475th flew 9 more escort missions to Hollandia, and flew 5 strikes against Wadke Island, off the New Guinea coast. On 16 April, the Group suffered its greatest disaster of the war. On that day, commonly called "Black Sunday", the groups aircraft, returning from a mission to Hollandia, ran into extremely severe weather. As a result of the weather, 8 of the unit’s aircraft, and 6 of it’s pilots were lost- more than in any single combat with Japanese aircraft.