On October 16, 1943 American aircraft from the 5th Air Force attacked Alexishafen. The force included thirty-eight B-25 Mitchell strafers from the 38th Bomb Group, escorted by twenty-five P-47 Thunderbolts from the 348th Fighter Group. The formation arrived over the target at roughly 10:30am and were intercepted by enemy fighters at roughly 10:48am.
Over the target, the 340th Fighter Squadron reported it was escorting two flights of B-25s at 9,000' over Alexishafen when they were suddenly attacked from 10,000' by twenty Zekes, Hamps and Tonys. Enemy fighter attacks against the B-25s were not pressed closer than 500 yards, P-47 cover was described excellent.
As the air combat began, one group of P-47s flying top cover dove down from 18,000 and hit the enemy fighters at 3,000 from 6 o'clock. They claimed two in first dive, zoomed for altitude, claimed 3 more in second pass which was head on. They reported that the enemy fighters made many evasive actions of all types and the enemy pilots were "eager and experienced."
P-47 Thunderbolts from the 342nd Fighter Squadron claimed 6 out of 7 "Hamps" intercepted. The 340th Fighter Squadron claimed 3 Hamp, 2 Zeke definite, and 1 each probable Hamp, Zeke, Tony and eventually received credit for six victories. It was very common for American pilots to misidentify the radial engine Ki-43 Oscar as a "Zero" or "Hamp".
Meanwhile, the B-25s attacked from minimum height and dropped 300lbs bombs on the airfield and the area was thoroughly strafed with machine gun fire and 75mm cannon rounds from B-25G's. Fires and explosions were seen and buildings destroyed. Despite the fighter escort, leaving the target, B-25D "Lucky Star" 41-30183 was reportedly damaged by fighters and crashed, the entire crew went Missing In Action (MIA).
Early that morning, sixteen Ki-43 Oscars from the 13th Sentai were available for operations. Some escorted 45th Sentai Ki-48 Lilys bombed Allied positions at the Song River near Scarlet Beach six miles north of Finschafen. None were lost aside from one damaged landing on return. When the American formation attacked, available Ki-43 Oscars took off from Alexishafen Airfield No. 1 (Danip) and intercepted the attackers immediately after take off.
In total, they claimed five American fighters shot down and lost three fighters. Two went missing: Capt Rokuro Asahi (credited with two victories) and Sgt Maj Hikosaburo Ikeda. Also, Sgt Jukichi Fujii (credited with three victories) bailed out. Four Ki-43s were damaged and one slightly damaged (unclear if damage sustained on the ground or in the air).
The Madang area (Alexishafen) attack was reported in Mainichi Shimbun on October 17th as happening at 8:30am Tokyo time (10:30am local time). Japanese reported the attacking force as 40 B-25s, P-40s, P-43s and P-38s. Ten Allied aircraft were claimed shot down: five P-40s and P-43s in aerial combat and four B-25s (one uncertain) plus one P-43 by ground fire. Three Japanese aircraft failed to return. Strange as it may seem, the Japanese sometimes misidentified P-47s as P-40s.
Demise of B-25D "Lucky Star"
Leaving the target, B-25D "Lucky Star" 41-30183 is damaged by fighters and crashed, the sole bomber loss on the mission. Who shot down this bomber? None of the Japanese fighter pilots that returned claimed any B-25 Mitchells. It seems logical that the two missing pilots (Asahi and Ikeda) may have engaged it while separated from the main formation and were not seen to have engaged the B-25 by other Japanese fighters. This is all subject to the vagaries of reporting accuracy / inaccuracy and lack of detail.
All that is certain is that while flying at minimum altitude, any damage or evasive maneuvering by the B-25 or attacking fighters might have caused it to crash. If any of the crew survived the crash, none are known to have become prisoners of the Japanese. Had they been captured, they would have been interrogated and most likely executed b the Kempei Tai (military police) at Amron.
Thanks to Richard Dunn for research and analysis
AAF, SWPA Intel Sum No. 148, 20 Oct 43 (reporting mission on October 16, 1943)
"Twenty B-25Gs, 9 B-25D1s, and 9 B-25C1s, escorted by 25 P-47s, attacked supply dumps and grounded airplanes from Alexishafen to Sio. Delay-fused 300-lb demos. were dropped from minimum height, and the area was thoroughly strafed with machine gun and 75mm ammunition. Fires and explosions were seen and buildings destroyed. Forces of 15-20 and 8 [possible duplication] enemy fighters intercepted, and were engaged by P-47s. B-25s described P-47 cover as very effective, preventing any enemy fighters from attacking the B-25s from closer than 500 yards. Twelve enemy fighters were destroyed, one of whose pilots was seen to parachute. Five ZEKES and an OSCAR intercepted the 9 B-25C1s north of Sek Island. The OSCAR and 2 ZEKES were destroyed; one B-25 crashed into the water. [B-25D "Lucky Star" 41-30183]"
Mainichi Shimbun October 17, 1943
ATIS Enemy Publication 270 includes losses on October 16, 1943 mission
Japanese Army AIr Force Fighter Units (page 43, 297-298) list pilot casualties for October 16 as three from 78th Sentai flying Ki-61 Tonys, three from 13th Sentai flying Ki-43 Oscars and one from 68th Sentai (flying Ki-43 Oscars at the time). At this time, the 59th Sentai was re-equipping in Manila.
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