After being claimed by the Germans in 1885, Buka was turned over to Australia in 1920. The Japanese seized Buka on March 9, 1942 and built an air base that grabbed Allied attention in June 1943 when preparations for Operation Cartwheel were in the works. A small canal separated Buka from the island of Bougainville, which was to be the site of a major invasion, and up-to-date reconnaissance of the two islands was required beforehand. That reconnaissance mission turned into one of the most dramatic moments of the Pacific war when Capt. Jay Zeamer, Jr. and his crew were attacked during their photomapping mission on June 16, 1943. In the end, Zeamer and his bombardier, 2/Lt. Joseph R. Sarnoski, were awarded the Medal of Honor (Sarnoski’s was posthumously awarded) and the rest of the crew was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for getting those photos while under fire. Contrary to internet lore, this photo was not taken during that mission. Buka remained under Japanese control until September 1945. It later gained independence from Papua New Guinea in 2005.
Save the date! This November, the first Colorado HistoryCamp will be held in Denver. HistoryCamp is a day for history lovers of all types to get together and learn about a wide variety of subjects. Our session is called Medal of Honor: General Walker’s Disappearance on January 5, 1943. We will be discussing the January 5th B-17 mission to Rabaul and its place in the New Guinea campaign, as well as the possible fate of the B-17 SAN ANTONIO ROSE. Between sessions, there will also be an author’s table where you can pick up a copy of any (or all) of our books. For information on how you can attend HistoryCamp Colorado, visit their website. You don’t want to miss it!
Rabaul was a German colony in the 1900s that was captured by the Australians in World War I. Two nearby volcanoes, Vulcan and Tavurvur, erupted violently in 1937, destroying most of the city. After World War II started, it was captured by the Japanese in January 1942, after which it was transformed into a major stronghold with approximately 97,000 troops that would easily fend off Allied attacks until October and November 1943. While the Allies continued to advance towards Japan, they cut off Japanese supply routes to Rabaul and continued to bomb the city and surrounding area. It was officially surrendered at the end of the war. After the war was over, the city became a trading hub until Tavurvur erupted in 1994, once again destroying a large part of the city. Developments closest to the volcano were never rebuilt.
Distances and courses between various airdromes in the Southwest Pacific in early 1943. This section of a larger map is used to visualize the distance between Port Moresby and Gasmata (highlighted in yellow) for a story about a close call during one of 2/Lt. Garrett Middlebrook’s missions.
An A-20 named THE COMET was scrapped after its nose gear collapsed. The wings from the aircraft were taken and propped up on barrels, ready for a new fuselage of the aircraft that would become THE “STEAK & EGG” SPECIAL. Read more about the construction of the plane.
This photo will appear in our upcoming book Harvest of the Grim Reapers Vol. I.
What does a combat unit do while under orders to stand down? Various leisure time activities helped pass the time during the spring of 1943, with baseball being one of the most popular. Under the direction of the newly assigned Special Services Officer, 2/Lt. “Buck” Weaver, many teams were formed and tournaments were organized. This photo was taken at Reid River, the camp for the 2nd and 408th Bomb Squadrons. (William K. Miller Collection)
Find this photo in Revenge of the Red Raiders.
On night harassment missions to Rabaul, B-17 aircrews would often be assigned a stack of 4-pound incendiary bombs for the rear fuselage in addition to the load in the bomb bay. The waist gunners tossed the bombs out the side of the aircraft as the pilot circled over the Japanese base. Pictured here is one such waist gunner preparing to throw an incendiary. Two other crewmembers, probably the radio operator and engineer, can also be seen. Our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire: Volume I describes one of these missions in detail on pages 124-126. (Kenneth A. Mead Collection)
After an air battle with Zeros over the Bismarck Sea on March 2nd, B-17F #41-24455, OLD BALDY, was safely landed at Seven Mile by 1/Lt. James C. Dieffenderfer despite having only minimal control of the plane’s vertical movement in what was thought to be an impossible feat. Note that the fabric on the stabilizers has been completely shredded, leaving only the small trim tabs on the inside of the stabilizers to control them. Dieffenderfer coaxed the B-17 over the Owen Stanley Mountains and down to Seven Mile Drome using only the trim tabs. Here, ground crew members remove the damaged stabilizers so they can be replaced.
This photo will be found in our upcoming book, Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume I. Pre-order your copy now!