43rd Bomb Group
by Lawrence J. Hickey, James T. Pettus, Zachary J. Dayhuff and Matthew Zepelin with Osamu Tagaya
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Activated less than a year before Pearl Harbor in the rush to build up American air power in an increasingly hostile world, the 43rd Bomb Group worked in Bangor, Maine on the B-17, America’s mightiest heavy bomber at that time. Its ground echelon deployed prematurely to Australia aboard the Queen Mary in February 1942, but it was not until mid-year that the air echelon began deploying to the Southwest Pacific Theater. There it trained with and eventually absorbed the battered remnants of the 19th Bomb Group, which had been devastated as a combat unit during the early fighting in the Philippines at the end of 1941 and over the Netherlands East Indies and Rabaul during the first ten months of 1942. When the 19th returned to the States to rebuild in late 1942, it turned over many of its remaining planes and personnel to the 43rd to continue the fight.
The 43rd began full operations in the theater in mid-November 1942 from bases in northern Australia. For the next year, the 43rd was one of two heavy bombardment groups in MacArthur’s Fifth Air Force, carrying the war to the Japanese at places such as Salamaua, Lae, Hansa Bay, Wewak and Rabaul. After participating in the watershed Battle of the Bismarck Sea, the Group began gradually re-equipping with the B-24 Liberator after the decision was made to discontinue support for two heavy bomber types in the theater, thereafter diverting all of the B-17 aircraft resources to Europe. During June of 1943, the unit experienced several B-17 losses over Rabaul as the Japanese attempted to develop successful night fighting tactics against heavy bombers.
In November of 1943, as part of the re-equipment with the B-24, the unit’s 63rd Squadron received a replacement package of aircrews and aircraft with special, radar-equipped B-24s that had the mission of conducting night radar search and destroy missions at low altitude against enemy shipping targets, eventually ranging around the entire Pacific perimeter of Asia. This unit operated exclusively at night and conducted its highly successful shipping search and attack flights separately from the other three squadrons. These continued to fly standard heavy bombardment missions against the far-flung land targets of the Southwest Pacific Theater from New Guinea to the Netherlands East Indies and the Philippines, until finally reaching the shores of Japan itself. The 43rd was one of the key units participating in the famous raids on Hollandia in Dutch New Guinea during the spring of 1944, and on the oilfields at Balikpapan, Borneo during the fall of that year. In 1945, it was instrumental in battering the industrial targets, ports and transportation infrastructure of Formosa to rubble. Along the way, the 43rd adopted the name “Ken’s Men,” after three famous theater leaders who were key to the history of the unit: General George C. Kenney, commander of 5th Air Force, Gen. Kenneth Walker, C.O. of Fifth Bomber Command, who was lost on a 43rd Bomb Group mission over Rabaul on January 5, 1943, and Ken McCullar, one of the most successful early squadron commanders.
Ken’s Men Against the Empire tells an amazing and important story, created from all available surviving unit records blended together with the stories of hundreds of the veterans who survived the war. The book is in final production and will appear as Volume 5 in the Eagles over the Pacific book series. It will consist of about 600 pages, a major color section with dozens of rare color photos of the artwork and markings on the unit’s aircraft, and 48 full color B-17 and B-24 aircraft profiles, including several pages of enlargements of unit markings and artwork rendered spectacularly in near-photographic images by IHRA art director Jack Fellows. All other aspects, such as maps and appendices follow the Eagles over the Pacific book standards and format.
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