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Tuesday, January 5, 1943
Today in World War II Pacific History
Day by day chronology

ALASKA (Eleventh Air Force) Three B-25s sink a 6,500-ton cargo vessel previously sighted by a PBY off Holtz Bay, where a weather and armed reconnaissance B-24 with a direct bomb hits and sinks another freighter shortly afterwards. One B-24 flies photographic reconnaissance over Amchitka, concentrating on Constantine Harbor. A Kiska attack mission of six heavy bombers, six medium bombers and 12 fighters is canceled due to weather.

CBI (Tenth Air Force) The 490th and 491st Bombardment Squadrons (Medium), 341st Bombardment Group (Medium) with B-25s move from Karachi to Ondal. The units will enter combat on 10 Jan and 18 Feb 43 respectively.

SOUTH PACIFIC (Army Forces in South Pacific Area) B-17s with P-38 escort attack a cruiser at Buin. They are met by twenty-five Zekes and float biplanes; three Japanese aircraft are shot down for the loss of two P-38s.

SOUTHWEST PACIFIC (Fifth Air Force) B-26s pound the Sanananda Point area as Australian infantry and armored elements reach Soputa and U.S. Army 128th Infantry Regiment start northwest along the coast toward Tarakena as preliminary moves to an all-out assault on Sanananda get under way. A-20s and B-25s hit the airfield at Lae.

General Walker Leads bombing mission against Rabaul
After detecting a convoy forming at Rabaul, 5th Bomber Command launched the first daylight since 1942 over Rabaul. During the morning, three B-17s from the 43rd Bombardment Group, 403rd Bombardment Squadron took off on a bombing mission against Rabaul, ahead of the main formation whose mission was to bomb Lakunai Airfield to suppress defenses. Inbound, B-17F "The Reckless Mountain Boys" 41-24518 aborted the mission due to engine problems and returned to base. At 9:30am the two B-17s were over Rabaul but found clouds obscuring Lakunai Airfield and made three dry runs without releasing any bombs then instead bombed Vunakanau Airfield.

403rd Bomb Squadron
B-17F 41-24538  piloted by Jack, ditched, crew rescued
B-17F "The Reckless Mountain Boys" 41-24518  pilot Adams, aborted the mission
B-17E 41-2639  pilot Hocutt landed damaged

Over the target, the two B-17s experienced intense anti-aircraft over Simpson Harbor and were attacked by A6M Zeros from the 582 Kōkūtai. Damaged, B-17F 41-24538  piloted by Jack ditched off Urasi Island and the crew was later rescued. Another B-17 was damaged and landed at Dobodura.

Meanwhile, in Queensland, Australia, nine B-24s planned to take off from Iron Range Airfield were to rendezvous with the B-17 and B-24 formation over Cape Ward Hunt. Unable to take off due to bad weather, these B-24s abort the mission and did not participate.

At 7 Mile Drome near Port Moresby, six B-17 Flying Fortresses from the 43rd Bombardment Group. 64th Bombardment Squadron armed with 500 pound bombs plus six other B-24 Liberators from the 90th Bombardment Group armed with 1,000 pound bombs. Aboard one of the B-17s was a 5th Combat Camera Unit (5th CCU) photographer/cinematographer that took both still photographs and cine footage during the mission.

64th Bomb Squadron
B-17F "San Antonio Rose" 41-24458 pilot Lindberg Missing In Action (MIA), two crew Prisoners Of War (POW)
B-17E "Honi Kuu Okole" 41-9244  confirmed to have flown the mission, appears in cine footage
B-17E "The Jersey Skeeter" 41-2664  confirmed to have flown the mission, appears in cine footage
B-17E "R. D. F. Tojo" 41-2627  possibly flew the mission
B-17E "Lulu" 41-2665  possibly flew the mission, 5th CCU photographer and cameraman aboard
B-17E "Blue in the Night" 41-9209  possibly flew the mission
B-17F 42-24420  possibly flew the mission

90th Bomb Group
The identities of the six 90th BG B-24s that participated in the January 5, 1943 mission are unknown. On B-24 was piloted by 1st Lt. Henry L. Chovanec, his bombardier claimed to hit a 10,000 ton ship (Reference: 90th Bombardment Group page 32-33). Another B-24 was piloted by 1st Lt. Walter Higgins. Possibilities include these early 90th BG B-24 Liberators in service as of this date:
B-24D "Czech'em / The Falcon" 41-23828
B-24D "Pelly Can" 41-23688
B-24D "Sky Lady" 41-24043
B-24D "Crosby Curse" 41-23836 90th BG, 321st BS
B-24 ?
B-24 ?

The formation of six B-17s and six B-24 flew together towards New Britain arriving over the target area at roughly noon. Flying at roughly 8,500' the bombers approached from the southeast between Rapopo and Kokopo and bombed Japanese shipping in Blanche Bay and Simpson Harbor.

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Over Blanche Bay, a photograph and cine footage revealed the presence of the new runway at Lesson Point near Rapopo. This was the newly constructed Rapopo Airfield.

Meanwhile, from roughly 11:55am to 12:00pm, A6M Zeros from 582 Kokutai and 252 Kokutai attempted to intercept the bomber formation, but all but two Zeros lost the bombers in the clouds and failed to intercept. Also, Ki-43-I Oscars from the 11th Sentai, 3rd Chutai led by leader 1st Lt. Hiroatsu Hirano took off from Vunakanau Airfield and intercepted the formation.

The B-24s claimed hits on two ships, including a 10,000 ton ship. B-17s claimed hits on nine including a destroyer. One B-17s, possibly B-17F "San Antonio Rose" 41-24458 with General Walker aboard circled the harbor before attempting to rejoin the formation. Leaving the target area, the B-17s and B-24s never rejoined formation and proceeded back to Port Moresby individually.

At noon, the Japanese convoy departed Kokopo bound for Lae. Following this mission, 5th Bomber Command did not attempt another daylight raid over Rabaul until October 1943.

U. S. Losses
Two B-17s are lost: B-17F 41-24538 (crew rescued) and B-17F "San Antonio Rose" 41-24458 (MIA, two POW) aboard is Brigadier General Kenneth Walker, Commanding General V Bomber Command.

Japanese Losses
Despite the U. S. claims for shipping destroyed, only the Keifuku Maru sustained two near misses that caused her to sink. Bomb fragments did cause fires aboard other ships and inflicted 20 casualties. Also lost was a MLC (Motorized Landing Craft) Daihatsu Landing Barge. On the ground, casualties were inflicted in the Kokopo area and at Lakunai Airfield.

Lost attacking the B-17s were Ki-43 Oscar pilot Nagayo failed to return (11/1) also lost was a Ki-43 Oscar pilot ? (survived) (11/2).

Richard Dunn adds:
"The only Type 1 fighter lost with its pilot on 1/5 was a 1/11 FR pilot (Nagayo). A 2/11 FR pilot bailed out but returned. 1/11 FR was the Army unit responsible for attacking Walker's bomber. Probably after the Navy had already inflicted damage. See page 14 of article. Shishimoto's (1st chu) diary description of combat is consistent with what we know about Walker's demise and basis for my conclusion."

References
The Lae Convoy by Richard Dunn
Air Power History "The Search General Walker: New Insights" Fall 2014 pages 6-19 [PDF] by Richard Dunn
Thanks to Steve Birdsall and Richard Dunn for additional information

 

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