IE SHIMA, RYUKYU RETTO, JAPAN Headquarters, 348th Fighter Group
APO -245, c/o Postmaster
San Francisco, California
Dear Fellow “Minute Men”:
Now that the war has ended and most of us are looking forward either to an early return to the States or to a new way of living as part of the Army of Occupation, it seems a good time to look back and review the achievements of the 348th Group.
We have written a short summary of the Group’s accomplishments, in order that the members may have some record of the successes they have helped to gain. The best thing about this summary is its inadequacy; it touches only the high points of a story that could fill volumes.
It is, even in its bare outline, a history of which every member of the Group can be proud, because every man contributed to accomplish it. We hope everyone of you will feel that it is, in a very
personal sense, your story.
WILLIAM M. BANKS
Lt. Colonel, Air Corps
The 348th Fighter Group was formed October 1, 1942. The group was one of the first to be equipped with the P-47 Thunderbolt and under the command of Colonel Neel E. Kearby, received intensive training at Westover Field, Springfield, Mass., and Green Field, Providence, R.I. In May of 1943 the outfit left the States for the Southwest Pacific, and in July it was flying combat missions from Port Moresby.
The, arrival of the 348th as the first P-47 outfit in the SWPA coincided with the opening of the Allied offensive in New Guinea. During the summer of 1943 the P-47’s missions were chiefly as cover for bombers in the Lae-Salamaua area, and for transports carrying supplies to the new mountain-locked airstrip at Tsili Tsili, only a few miles from the Jap-held Markham Valley. The group met its first air combat over Tsili Tsili on 16 August 43, when two squadrons tangled with the fighter cover of an enemy bomber formation, and shot down three Nips.
In September the 348th’s planes provided cover for the paratroop landing at Nadzab in the Markham valley, and with the capture of Nadzab and Lae the group entered into one of the most spectacular phases of its overseas career, in a series of fighter sweeps, generally by flights of four planes, over the Nip stronghold of Wewak. Colonel Neel Kearby first planned and instituted the sweeps, and won fame when, leading one of the first four-plane missions, he attacked a formation of more than 40 Japanese planes, shooting down six enemy fighters while the rest of his flight shot down three more. For this achievement Colonel Kearby received the Medal of Honor.
Although the 348th’s Wewak sweeps won notice in the U.S. press and in Australia where the P-47’ s became known as “the Wewak Scourges”, perhaps the most heart-felt tribute was in a captured article by a high-ranking Japanese officer. Entitling his study “Battle Lessons Learned”, he explained the demoralization and losses that resulted at Wewak from the frequent presence high over the airfields of “pilots of superior skill in P-47’ s”.
In December of ‘43 the group moved to Finchhaven, and in the following month, covering the U.S. landings at Arawe, Cape Gloucester, and Saidor, its pilot, shot down 100 Japanese planes without the loss of a single pilot in aerial combat. The group received a Distinguished Unit Citation for it’s work during this period. From Finchhaven the group flew its first fighter bomber missions. In the early spring of 1944, while the group was at Saidor, fighter-bomber work began in earnest with attacks on the Jap concentrations in the Hansa Bay region just ahead of the advancing Australian troops.
With the U.S. landing in Dutch New Guinea the 348th advanced to tiny Wakde Island, whence its planes covered the landing on Biak lsland, and flew bombing and strafing missions in support of U.S. forces at Sarmi on the New Guinea mainland only a few miles from Wakde. At this time the group’s score for air combat stood, 231 enemy plones definitely destroyed; our losses, one pilot shot down; four missing in action.
Next moving to Noemfoor Island, the group bombed enemy airfields over a wide area from the Halmaheras to Ceram to the Kai Islands. Then, after 18 months in New Guinea the 348th boarded ship and plane for the Philippines. One squadron, the 460th, arrived several weeks before the other three, and proceeded to roll up and imposing score of enemy planes, shipping, and personnel destroyed. During a three-week period it sunk 50,000 tons of enemy shipping, which was slightly more than one-tenth of all the shipping sunk by the entire Fifth Air Force during the year 1944. On one mission seven planes of the 460th squadron wiped out a convoy loaded with an estimated 10,000 enemy troops enroute to reinforce the Jap army on Leyte. The squadron’s planes were the first of the Army Air Force to fly over Manila after the Jap capture of the Phillppines. A flight led by Colonel Dunham, the squadron C.O. and the group’s leading ace, made the first return flight on 17 November 1944.
The group’s greatest day, in point of total of enemy planes destroyed, was December 14, 1944, when in protection of the invasion fleet heading to Mindoro, 5 planes were shot down, an estimated 75 were destroyed and 20 more damaged, on the airfields of Negros Island only a few minutes flight from our invasion force, which landed on Mindoro the following morning.
In aerial combat the 348th’s best day came on December 24 when its planes escorting B-24’s in one of the first heavy bomber strikes on Clark field, met an attempted interception by an estimated 100 Japanese fighters. Thirty-two of the Nips were definitely destroyed, 7 probably destroyed, the remainder were driven off, and the bombers proceeded undamaged to carry out their mission.
Early in December, while the group’s planes were operating from Tacloban strip, the majority of our personnel were camped inland near Bureaun when the Japs landed several hundred paratroops on an uncompleted airstrip less than a quarter of a mile from the groups’ camp, cutting the only road leading from the camp. For several days the camp was isolated between the paratroops on the east and Jap patrols on the west. Two men on one guard post were surprised and killed by an enemy patrol, but the camp defense prevented any breakthrough and the paratroops were finally wiped out by infantry and tanks.
When u.s. troops landed on Luzon, the 348th, now in process of conversion from P-47’s to P-51 Mustangs, began operation from San Marcelino airstrip a few days after the landing at San Mercelino and Subic Bay. From this location the unit entered upon what many of its members consider its most outstanding work of the war, bombing and strafing in close support of group troops. This work lacks the excitement and glamour of aerial combat, or even of bombing and and strafing of seen targets. Bombs and bullets are poured into areas where the enemy is reported to be, and day after day the mission reports repeat “Results unobserved due to foliage”. Only rarely are advancing ground troops able to tell what part of the damage found was done by a particular air strike.
At the time the 348th began ground support operations from San Marcelino, the infantry had taken Subic Bay and Olongapo and had started East with the objective of sealing off Bataan so that the Japanese, retreating southward from Lingayen, could not use the Bataan Peninsula’s defensive strength as did the US forces in 1942. However, a few miles East of Olongapo stubborn Jap resistance suddenly had been met in Zigzag Pass, where the road climbed in a series of hairpin turns overlooked by the enemy’s positions. Our ground forces had suffered some casualties, had dug in, and in four days had been unable to make any appreciable gain.
On Leyte the 348th had done experimental bombing with a new and highly effective firebomb, and it was proposed that it be used to break the deadlock in Zigzag Pass. However, the infantry division occupying the west end of the pass was uncertain about the use of the bomb in close support of their troops, for fear of inaccurate bombing So a Jap supply area, well back of their front line, was bombed as a demonstration of accuracy, and was left neatly blanketed with flame There was no further lack of confidence; the infantry proceeded to direct our pilots bombing and strafing just ahead of their front line, and for seven days advanced steadily until their mission of sealing off the Bataan peninsula had been accomplished.
Occasionally the curtain of “unobserved results” would lift. One strike, directed by Filipino guerillas who set off smoke pots to mark an enemy bivouac area, was later found to have caused 700 Jap casualties. After another strike west of Fort Stotsenburg, ground troops were able to move in quickly and found 574 Japs, all killed by the single air attack. Neither of those missions involved more than 32 sorties, at a time when the group frequently flew 200 sorties and 30 missions a day It would be impossible to estimate how many other thousands of enemy dead are covered with the phrase “results unobserved”.
During the month of April ‘45, the 348th met a record for tonnage of bombs dropped on the enemy, with a total of 2091.5 tons Total ammunition expended was just under two million rounds So far as is known, this bomb tonnage is the greatest ever dropped in one month by any group, either fighter or bomber, and the accuracy of the bombing attested repeatedly by reports from ground observers Most of the record tonnage was dropped in the IPO DAM area northeast of Manila, and helped pave the way for the infantry’s capture of that vital control-point of Manila’s water supply. From San Marcelino the 348th also flew missions over French Indo-China, Hainan, China, and Formosa.
In May ‘45, the group moved to Floridablanca airfield, west of Ft Stotsenburg, and from there continued attacks on Jap ground troops, chiefly in the Cagayan Valley in northern Luzon.
By the middle of June the enemy forces had disintegrated and scattered so that profitable& targets were hard to find—so the 348th embarked for the Ryukyus, and began operations from Ie Shima in mid-July.
Contrary to expectations the Japanese air forces did not choose to fight, and in the following month only 15 enemy planes were shot down—without loss to the 348th in air combat. However, there was an abundance of ground and shipping targets in Kyushu and North China, and the group’s P-5l’s took a constant toll of enemy transportation on water and land before the afternoon of August 14 when the planes of the 348th delivered the last bombs dropped on Japan before the order was given to “cease firing”.
No account of the 348th Group would give proper perspective without mention of its members -- particularly its enlisted personnel and the life they have led between Australia and Japan. The majority of its members came overseas with the unit 28 months ago Most of these spent an unbroken 18 months in New Guinea without so much as the opportunity to speak to a white woman; endured, without the loss of a man, encountered scores of enemy air raids; moved and built a new camp on an average of once every two months; repeatedly lived for weeks on end on a diet of “C” rations varied with “bully beef”; and in their 24-month overseas showed their undiminished vigor and skill by breaking all Air Force bombing records. The pilots of the group shot down 361 enemy planes and received, in medals and clusters; Medal of Honor -1; Distinguished Service Crosses -4; Legion of Merit -2; Silver Stars -13; Distinguished ‘ Flying Crosses -123; Air Medals -819; and Purple Hearts -12.
It is not a cheapening of their successes to point out that the achievements of the group’s enlisted men must pass without equal individual recognition only because their work is less spectacular, and not because their accomplishments and merits have been less worthy of high praise.
The group leaders for enemy aircraft destroyed are: Colonel N. E. Kearby -22; Lt. Colonel W. D. Dunham -16; Lt. Colonel William M. Banks -9; Colonel R. R. Rowland -8; Major W. G. Benz -8; Lt. Colonel E. F. Roddy -8; Major S. V. Blair - 7; Captain G. A. Davis Jr. -7; Captain M. E. Grant -7; Major J. T. Moore -7; Major E. S. Popek -7; Major M. M. Brown -6; Captain R. H. Fleischer -6; and Captain W. B. Foulis -6.