Like the 3rd and 38th Bomb Group projects, our research on the 43rd Bomb Group developed so much material that we either had to edit out hundreds of pages of text and photos from the book, or split it into two volumes. We’ve opted for the latter, in order to present a comprehensive and truly definitive history of the 43rd during WWII.
Activated less than a year before Pearl Harbor the 43rd was created in the rush to quickly build up American air power as the country’s involvement in another global war loomed. It soon moved to Bangor, Maine where it grew into a full-sized bomb group. Only a single prototype of America's mightiest heavy bomber at that time, the B-17, nicknamed the Flying Fortress, was available to the unit at Bangor and that aircraft was soon destroyed in a crash. In February 1942, only weeks after the beginning of the war with Japan, the 43rd's ground echelon prematurely deployed overseas aboard the greatest ocean liner of the time, the Queen Mary, in an epic, unescorted voyage across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans that skirted Africa and the southern perimeter of Asia to Australia.
However, it was not until mid-year that the air echelon began deploying to the Southwest Pacific Theater as B-17s became available and crews trained on the aircraft could be assigned. Initially flying missions out of Australia in B-17Es and Fs, the air echelon of the 43rd trained with and eventually absorbed the battered remnants of the 19th Bomb Group, which had been worn out as a combat unit during the early fighting in the Philippines at the end of 1941 and during the first ten months of 1942 over the Netherlands East Indies and Rabaul. When the tired veterans from the 19th returned to the States in late-1942 to recuperate and rebuild the unit, many of its remaining planes and less-experienced personnel were turned over to the 43rd to continue the fight. A cadre of experienced 19th Bomb Group pilots remained behind to help fill out the leadership positions within the unit.
The 43rd began full-scale operations under its own headquarters in mid-November 1942 from bases in northern Australia and later, Port Moresby, New Guinea, conducting missions in the northern Solomons, Papua New Guinea and against Japanese island bases on New Britain and New Ireland, winning a Distinguished Unit Citation for its participation in the Papuan Campaign. For the next year, the 43rd was one of the two heavy bombardment groups in MacArthur's Fifth Air Force, that carried the war to the Japanese at Salamaua, Lae, Wewak and Rabaul.
During this period, on a special mapping mission in the Solomons on June 16, 1943, the crew of a B-17 piloted by Capt. Jay Zeamer won two Medals of Honor, and the rest Distinguished Service Crosses, becoming the most decorated aircraft flight crew in U.S. history. This is the only book to contain the full and complete story of the mission using all available sources. After participating in the watershed Battle of the Bismarck Sea, for which the unit was also awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation, 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 B-17 aircraft resources to Europe.
Ken's Men Against the Empire: The B-17 Era tells an amazing and important story of the early air war in the Pacific, created from all available surviving unit records integrated with the stories, records and accounts of hundreds of veterans who served with the nascent unit. As Volume 4 of the Eagles over the Pacific book series, the story of the B-24 Era will continue in Volume II.