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The new 475th Fighter Group Historical Foundation museum is now located at the Planes of Fame Air Museum at the Chino Airport in Chino, California. The stories and memorabilia of this highly decorated group, which flew the P-38 in combat, are now permanently housed in a new display hangar constructed entirely by the members of the 475th. The 475th Fighter Group hangar was donated to Planes of Fame Air Museum in October, 2009, and becomes the new home of the Museum’s Lockheed P-38 Lightning. If you haven’t been to Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, CA recently, make sure you stop to see this great new addition to the Museum.
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Thanks to author Ronald W. Yoshino's family for granting the 475th FGHF permission to share his book "Lightning Strikes", which includes the 475th FG’s involvement in the WWII Pacific Theater. Lightning Strikes will be shared via monthly installments of each chapter that will be uploaded to the website for reading.
Click To Read New Lightning Strikes Chapter: Chapter Seven: "I Have Returned" : Leyte to Lingayan, August-December 1944
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"Smoke bombs confused the enemy ..."
THE ATTACK OPENS: The antiaircraft neutralizing force spearheads the 2 November assault against Rabaul with Mitchell bombers utilizing forward firepower, parachute fragmentation bombs and phosphorous smoke bombs. In the above photo, Lakunai airdrome is being swiftly covered by the dense smoke which will soon blot out the harbor to the eyes of the shore defense batteries. On Lakaunai itself may be seen eight serviceable tactical aircraft. These were attacked by American airmen before the smoke bombs obliterated the target area. Below, the township is covered by phosphorous smoke and by fires started among installations. "Smoke bombs confused the enemy. His return fire against all but the first elements of the Group was inaccurate and sparse." (From Maj. Benjamin Fridge, deputy commander "neutralizing" group.)
"We hit Lakunai with para-frags & Smoke..."
NEUTRALIZING ATTACK: Lakunai airdrome, key Japanese fighter base in the Southwest Pacific Area and some of the enemy's most powerful anti-aircraft defenses, is shown being subjected to a low-level attack by parachute bombs and phosphorous smoke bombs.
Japanese fighters and medium bombers caught on the ground were heavily strafed and bombed, final recapitulation showing sixteen aircraft destroyed.
One hour before the 2 November attack by our airmen, the enemy reinforced his New Britain stronghold with 125 operational aircraft.
We hit Lakunai with para-frags and smoke bombs. Our strafing fire seemed to completely silence the Jap ground positions. We scored direct hits in many revetment areas which were filled with serviceable aircraft." (From narrative report by Maj. Benjamin Fridge.)
DIVERSION ESSENTIAL: In the opinion of tactical air commanders, the success of the Simpson Harbor mission depended on effectiveness of the neutralizing squadron against defenses.
Parachute fragmentation bombs were chosen to destroy aircraft and neutralize personnel and antiaircraft.
"From our standpoint, the neutralizers saved the day. Not only did they cut a path through the ack-ack around the northern volcanoes for us but they apparently completely subdued shore fire during the time of actual attack. Enemy fire came only from the volcano and warship batteries. Smoke bombs were extremely effective, particularly during the closing minutes of the shipping strike." (From narrative report by Capt. Richard H. Ellis, deputy commander of the Simpson Harbor force.)
"Attacking below masthead height ..."
"NEARNESS OF THE FOE: "Attacking below masthead height, we loosed our bombs from less than fifty feet against all enemy merchantmen which were the objectives of this squadron." (From narrative report by Lieutenant Rex Rutland.) Note on ship (6) captain and executive officer on the bridge; the sailor directly behind them firing a rifle at the incoming B-25; the gun crew firing from a twin position aft. The Mitchell, at left is beginning its run well below the 50-foot mark as indicated by the bomb splash.
AUXILIARIES ATTACKED: Twenty-one 500-ton naval auxiliaries of a type not seen before in the Southwest Pacific are subjected to a strafing and bomb attack in these pictures. At left, the target is obscured by an exploding bomb which scored a near miss. Past experience in mast-height bombardment has proven near misses of this type frequently result in destruction or severe damage to the objective. The bomb, with delayed fuse, bursts within the vessel or goes below the water-line and explodes under the comparatively fragile plates.
"This was undoubtedly one of the most effective strikes ever planned and executed in this theater. Although almost no sinkings are actually claimed in the results above, most of the vessels hit were undoubtedly left in sinking condition." (From the official report of the Intelligence Officer of one of the attack squadrons.)
"We scored a direct hit on the stern ..."
FREIGHTER HAMMERED: A 3,800-ton freighter (12) reels under the impact of a 1,000-pound bomb planted. Lower photograph details the damaging of a 6,400-ton freighter-transport (8) of the Tokyo Maru class. The smaller of the two vessels was later reported to be sinking by the stern.
"My airplane attacked a freighter from mast height dropping one 1,000-pound bomb. We scored a direct hit on the stern and my gunner reported debris filled the water and sky almost immediately. We strafed antiaircraft positions near Vulcan crater, a radar station, and three Zekes and four medium bombers which we found on Vunakanau airdrome." (From narrative report by Flight Officer K. R. Ladd.)
MAST-HEIGHT TACTICS: In these pictures, the destructive effect of low-level attack is graphically illustrated. These photographs show the blasting of more than 10,000 tons of Japanese shipping.
Proceeded by hundreds of rounds of machine gun fire, which has neutralized enemy antiaircraft batteries aboard the vessels, the airmen are comparatively free to select their own point for attack.
"Our flights were perfectly coordinated and while the harbor itself was so small, precision runs were almost impossible, the attack was followed according to plan.
"None of our echelons reported heavy return fire except from the maneuvering warships. The Nip seemed bewildered by our heavy concentrations of forward firepower. Some gunners saw Japs hiding behind their armor plating making no effort to return fire." (From report by Maj. John P. Henebry, Commander of the Simpson Harbor force.)
"Objective broke into flames ..." ANOTHER VICTIM: Included in the toll of nearly 115,000 tons of Japanese merchant marine and warships power sunk or damaged in Simpson Harbor 2 November was this 3,800-ton freighter-transport (17) shown as it received a direct hit amidships. Dropped at mast-height, the bomb blew debris high and started a large fire revealed vividly in these photographs.
"I began my run immediately after we entered the harbor area, strafing the ship heavily. I believe some fires started before I dropped my bombs. I pulled up sharply directly amidships, and dropped one 1,000-pound bomb. The objective broke into flames immediately and appeared to be seriously damaged if not in sinking condition." (From narrative report by Major Henebry, commander of the Simpson Harbor force.) This photograph was made by a member of Major Henebry's flight who followed him into the target area.
"The ship sank immediately ..."
OBJECTIVE DESTROYED: One of the most remarkable photographs of the entire attack shows a 1,500-ton freighter sinking seconds after a Mitchell strafing bomber hit it.
Left photograph records the explosion of the first in a two-bomb strike. Below, the freighter (7) is sinking by the stern.
"As we dropped into Simpson Harbor itself, it became apparent that there was not enough room for a nine-ship sweep. I broke away to avoid a collision with another airplane in the flight and at a speed of 230 miles per hour, I started a run on a freighter of approximately 1,500 tons. At a range of 800 yards I opened fire.
"I continued firing until forced to pull up clear of the vessel. One thousand-pound bomb dropped early skipped into the side of the boat, the other bomb banging off the ship's decks. My gunner reported later that the ship sank immediately." (From narrative by Capt. Charles W. Howe.)
"A scene of utter destruction ..."
TWO VESSELS ABLAZE: From the tail camera of a Mitchell bomber flying at mast-height the blasting of two Japanese merchantmen is brought into sharp focus. Scoring a direct hit on a 10,400-ton transport of the Hakone Maru class (24) the attackers have left it listing and burning.
In the right background, a cone of smoke rises from the stern of a 3,800-ton freighter (12).
"We came low over the hills in a formation of planes echeloned slightly to the rear. Before us was spread a scene of utter destruction. Flame and smoke, exploding bombs, fire from ship, shore, and aircraft were everywhere ..." (From narrative report by Lt. Henry B. Rust.)
DESTRUCTION - AND DEFENSE: While two ships blaze in the background, a heavy cruiser of the powerful Nachi class (25) maneuvers in the foreground. The cruiser, later damaged and possibly sunk, was one of mare than a dozen war vessels assembled in Simpson Harbor.
"I moved into close formation with Major Henebry as we started our run on a 10,000-ton transport. We dropped two 1,000-pound bombs on this vessel, one of which the gunner reports landed in number 2 hold. The whole side of the vessel appeared to blow out and fire could be seen to spread over the ship and water." (From narrative by Flight Officer Harold Prince.)
BOMB BLASTED HARBOR: Debris from the 6,800-ton destroyer tender Yamabiko Maru (26), hit amidships by a 1,000-pound bomb, hurtles high above the masts. In the background, a heavy cruiser (25) is almost hidden by geysers from exploding bombs.
"On this run I crossed the bow of a cruiser that was firing salvos at the second wave of airplanes. Fire from the tender was heavy and accurate. My right engine was hit by a 20-millimeter shell." (From narrative report by Capt. Richard Ellis.)
ATTACK IN PERSPECTIVE: with two more echelons yet to come in, lead elements of the striking force recorded this photograph of Rabaul as they made their escape over Vulcan volcano. Four vessels (26, 24, 12, and 10) can be seen burning, while the Nachi class cruiser (25), as yet untouched by bombs, maneuvers between two flaming ships (26 and 24).
"To me, the whole harbor seemed to suddenly catch fire. I could see debris from vessels already attacked flying all over the sky. The heavy cruiser was firing repeated salvos at the bombers." (From Maj. Gerald Johnson, commander of fighter squadrons.)
" A crippling hit was observed ..."
A WARSHIP IS WOUNDED: This Nachi class heavy cruiser, most formidable of all the war vessels in Simpson Harbor, is shown in the three stages of its bid to escape the narrow confines of the inner anchorage.
Above, the vessel (25) is gathering headway. At right, its speed substantially increased, the warship steams out of the harbor firing great antiaircraft salvos at the invaders. The lower photograph shows a 1,000-pound bomb exploding just forward of number three turret.
"I was unable to make a run on any of the merchant vessels. A heavy cruiser was sighted in the southern part of the harbor, offshore from my copilot dropped a 1,000-pound bomb on it
"Strafing alone riddled a freighter ..."
.50 CALIBER VICTORY: In the final stages of the concentrated strike, Mitchells, their bombs already dropped on shipping targets close to the shore, launched strafing attacks against this freighter of the 1,900-ton Gosei Maru class, (4) in other pictures.
Flying three abreast, the B-25s leveled their guns against the freighter while three twin-turrets covered the escape from the area.
In the background, the town can be seen burning and smoking furiously.
The outstanding feature of the strafing attack is the great destructive effect of forward firepower even against the steel-plating of merchantmen.
Originally utilized only as antiaircraft neutralizers it was found the forward guns were invaluable in destroying deck cargo, in piercing oil lines and, in some cases, even penetrating to the boilers and furnaces.
As this photograph illustrates, inflammable cargo in the hold amidships of the Gosei Maru has been set ablaze by strafing.
"The vessel was beached ..."
THE ENEMY'S BEST: Three of the most effective units of Japan's merchant marine are shown.
At left is a 3,800-ton freighter-transport (32). In the upper picture, a near miss explodes to starboard and in the lower photograph, the geysers and smoke of a second bomb obscure the ship.
At right is a 10,000-ton tanker (31) of the Nippon Maru class, one of the largest of the foe's fleet tankers.
In the background (30) is the 8,500-ton tanker Naruto. The 8,000- to 10,000-ton vessel is regarded as the enemy's most effective merchant marine weapon for the supply of outlying bases.
"We saw a large, undamaged freighter-transport directly in our line of flight. We had begun violent evasive action immediately after entering the harbor and now we dropped lower, all the time skidding violently. It was my idea that the ack-ack on the ships was firing over us because we were so low and they must endanger their own vessels if they aimed directly at us. I could not strafe this vessel, but straightened out just before reaching it and, at my signal, the co-pilot dropped two 1,000-pound bombs, the second by accident. The first hit squarely into the ship at the waterline (confirmed by my wingman) while the second bomb skipped over and exploded just beyond the transport. The vessel was later beached." (From Capt. Harvey Minor.)
THE ENEMY IN ACTION: A graphic illustration of the concentration of Japanese antiaircraft assembled against the air invading force is shown in these two photographs.
Over the shore line may be seen bursts of antiaircraft fire accentuated by the white clouds which form a persistent veil around Rabaul
This fire, probably directed from the north and northwest shores of the harbor was calculated to strike the neutralizing bomber force which escaped over the southern ranges.
Pilots and intelligence officers have confirmed that the assemblage of enemy defensive strength at Rabaul was probably the most concentrated barrage ever encountered by an American attacking force in this theater.
The most potent batteries were concentrated around three volcano craters which afford a field of fire over the entire harbor and its approaches.
" .. attacked a destroyer ..."
WARSHIP POUNDED: With the flames of Lakunai airdrome providing a holocaust-like background, a Japanese destroyer (DD) is attacked and damaged by a 1,000-pound demolition bomb.
A large enemy minelayer (27) is strafed and bombed as the Mitchell completes its run over the outer fringes of Simpson Harbor.
Note the "beehives" in the lower picture as a Mitchell wings away after attacking a minelayer. The Volcano isles in Simpson Harbor are, in reality, the center of the antiaircraft defenses for the shipping concentrations. In the background, burning ships may be seen.
"I attacked a destroyer from bow to stern, dropping a 1,000-pound bomb. The destroyer was bracketed by the missile. I strafed both the destroyer and a transport beyond it." (From narrative report by Lt. Jack S. Saunders.)
"Hugging the treetops, we escaped ..."
ESCAPE - AND RUIN: A Mitchell bomber, winging over the caked lava and bush slopes of Vulcan volcano, speeds out of Simpson Harbor.
"Hugging the treetops, we escaped from Simpson Harbor to the southeast. Vulcan volcano, lined with antiaircraft guns, and heavy cruisers in Simpson Harbor and Keravia Bay kept up steady fire. Eight Zeros attempted to intercept us near Vunakanau airdrome." (From narrative report of Flight Officer Jack K. Harrington.)
Photographs on this page do not detail pictorially the full damage wrought in Simpson Harbor. These pictures were made from the tail of one of the first bombers away from the target before the attack by five other squadrons. The pictures are included because of the extraordinary clarity of detail with which they depict the harbor.
"There was heavy interception ..."
MITCHELLS FOUGHT BACK: Even the heroic efforts of the Lightning pilots to provide continuous close cover for Mitchell bombers could not prevent attacks by numerically superior fighters.
In combats which raged from Vunakanau airdrome to Wide Bay, bomber gunners repeatedly repulsed the enemy, destroying 27 Jap aircraft in the air.
In addition, 16 Japanese airplanes were destroyed on the ground.
"We hit land and saw antiaircraft fire coming from Vunakanau.. We passed over the southwest corner of the strip and at the same time were intercepted by seven to nine Zekes and Tonys. The rest of our formation was about 2 miles ahead of us. They started their passes our of my range and when I would give them a couple of bursts they would pull away and not come in. The last plane I saw was coming in our blind spot. He came within two hundred yards firing all the way. He pulled away to the left with his belly to me. I saw tracers entering his plane back of the cockpit. The whole tail section broke into flame and the pilot bailed out while the plane was in a 90' bank." (From sergeant Emmor Mullenhour.)
BUT: "We held them at bay ..."
"Enemy was aggressive, eager ..."
LIGHTNING ACTION: One of the outstanding features of bombardment attack in the Southwest Pacific Area has been the spirit of cooperation and excellent battle techniques perfected between bomber and fighter elements. That spirit and those techniques have never been more effectively demonstrated than at Rabaul on 2 November.
Operating as extreme close cover for Mitchell striking forces, Lightning fighters definitely destroyed 42 and probably destroyed another 11 enemy interceptors.
"I saw an Oscar climbing up in front of us. I got on his tail, giving him a short burst. He caught fire. The fire went out momentarily and after a few seconds burst out again and the airplane exploded. Next I got on the tail of a Zeke. I followed him around in a turn and gave him several long bursts. My wingman saw him burning and losing altitude after my pass." (From narrative report by Lt. Grover Gholson.)
"Lightning cover throughout the attack was perfect. No bomber element was left unprotected and none had to fight off Nip planes without almost constant support from the P-38s." (From report by Maj. John P. Henebry, commander of the Simpson Harbor force.)
BUT: "Our tactics bewildered him ..."
These were the tactics ...
DEPLOYMENT OF FORCES: The strategy of the attack on 2 November against shipping in Simpson Harbor and township installations is depicted in the above diagram.
Numeral 0 indicates the two fighter squadrons assigned to the fighter sweep of the harbor 3 minutes before the bombardment began.
Numeral 1 indicates the fighters and bombers assigned to neutralize shore antiaircraft positions by smoke, strafing fire, and bombs. This force also attacked Lakunai airdrome. Four bombardment squadrons were elements participating in the attack, while two fighter squadrons provided close cover.
Numeral 2 indicates the two squadrons assigned to lead the assault against Simpson Harbor shipping. Another fighter squadron provided close cover. As a diversionary move, these squadrons separated to withdraw from the target area.
Numeral 3 indicates attack route of three bomber squadrons. This force attacked Simpson Harbor approximately 4 minutes after the two leading elements had completed their mission. One fighter squadron gave close cover.
...and these the results
Following the escape of the bombers, fighter forces converged over Vunakanau field and St. George' Channel to cover the bombers.
"Perfect planning ... executions ..."
FORCE COMMANDER: Maj. John P. Henebry, 25 year old commander of an attack group, was leader of all shipping strike forces engaged in the Simpson Harbor mission. He is a veteran of 80 strafing missions against the enemy. His bomber was severely damaged during the attack and Major Henebry was forced to crash in the sea off Kiriwina Island. None of the crew was injured and all were rescued.
"Base engulfed in flames ..."
LED CLOSE COVER: Maj. Gerald R Johnson, 23 year old commander of a fighter squadron, led the close cover fighter forces which protected the Mitchell flights in the Rabaul attack.
"The attack will continue ..."
"I consider this one of the major victories of the Pacific war. But the Japanese Air Force is not yet destroyed. The attack will continue. "
(Excerpt from report of Commanding General, Advanced Echelon, Fifth Air Force, to Commanding General, Fifth Air Force, sent the night of 2 November 1943.)
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