One more mission to go -- then the Mitchells would be retired and replaced by the big Liberators. After four years, two of them in combat, the veteran Group was stepping out of a Medium Bombardment category to emerge within a short time equipped with powerful, long-range, heavy bombers. Half of the Group was already in the process of making the change. It needed only this last mission to completely wind up the shining career of an outfit which had successively flown both the Martin Marauder and the North American Billy Mitchell.
Nubia, the target, would be no cinch, rigged as it was with a heavy concentration of ack-ack guns, and the crews were tense and tired. That morning they had completed a good job on the important Jap barge station at Bogia, a job that did much to lessen the flow of supplies and men to the beleaguered enemy troops in the Ramu Valley.
By 12:30 the ships were ready to go again and early in the afternoon both squadrons took off. Falling into a tight formation over the field, the fifteen planes headed up the Ramu valley and over the rough mountains where Australian troops were steadily driving the Japs back to Madang. Several thousand feet above the formation, Thunderbolt fighters scissored back and forth, strong poison for desperate Zeros.
Nubia was sighted around 2:00 o'clock, a nice collection of jetties for medium-size vessels, large piles of supplies, and an airfield. The B-25's straightened out on their bombing run and were promptly faced with a terrific concentration of ack-ack. Forty five guns were throwing up a solid wall of bursting steel both above and below the formation; in the words of the veteran leading one element of the formation, Captain Richard H. Ford, Jr., Oakland, California, ".....the worst ack-ack I'd seen in fifty-six missions." There was nothing else to do, however, except drive through it.
Usually they managed to touch off a satisfying blaze here and there also, and splatter any grounded aircraft in sight. As a result, Alexishafen had almost become a really peaceful spot and now the boys could cruise around as they pleased, lining up the target in a leisurely manner.
Both missions that day were quite successful. In the morning everybody dropped his bombs within the target area and one Squadron even got a surprise package in the form of an unexpectedly large explosion at the waters edge. Tracer smoke and debris was blown high into the air with a gratifying flash of fire and billowing clouds of black smoke -- an ammunition ship probably, cleverly camouflaged and feeling reasonably secure. On the second mission that afternoon, one enemy ship was definitely destroyed and one left burning and listing. A third, according to the photographs taken at the time, was apparently burning as well, and there was a fire visible in the mangrove trees along the shore.
The sudden disappointment of the preceding day was not repeated this time and when the boys landed it was definite that they had pulled their final mission with the B-25's, a fitting climax to the record of the 22nd Bombardment Group as a medium bombardment unit.
In the early days of the defense of Australia, the Group was entirely equipped with the Martin B-26 Marauder, the first ones off the assembly line at that. The 19th Squadron was the first to take their planes into combat, and within a short time the whole Group was performing a major share of the defensive strikes against the advancing enemy. After nine months of combat the Group was re-equipped with B-25's, except for the 19th which drew the remaining Marauders. Together they aided in the offensives in the Ramu Valley, Cape Gloucester, Arawe, Lae, Finschafen and the northern New Guinea coast.
Coming down 2,000 feet in a flashing dive, the formation roared over the target at 280 m.p.h. The bomb racks cleared, they winged over in a steep diving turn to the right to avoid the solid sheet of ack-ack bursts on the left which was almost close enough to touch. Skillful flying and a hat full of luck, however, brought all the planes through unscathed.
The crews were jubilant as they climbed stiffly from the ships upon landing back at the base. 1,850 sorties over enemy territory and not a ship failed to return. A large piece of celebration was definitely in order. Some of the boys were going home, and within a few days the Squadrons would also bid goodbye to their tough old Mitchells.
That night, parties were revving up in a very satisfactory manner all over camp. Toasts were downed to the boys going back to the States, to the retiring airplanes, and to anything else that needed toasting. Just when everyone was getting nicely crisped around the ears, an apologetic Operations Officer turned off the heat: there would be a mission in the morning AND another in the afternoon.
An audible thump punctuated this announcement as sagging spirits hit the floor. It was too much; it was tempting Fate, that's what it was"For Pete's sake," was one of the expressions used at the time.
Fate was to be tempted, nevertheless, and the next morning twenty-one ships scurried down the runway, circled the field, and headed north. Within a short time it was apparent that the primary target would have to be shelved because of the weather and Alexishafen, the secondary target, be presented with a load of demolition bombs instead. There was shipping in the harbor there, and an attractive row of stores and equipment along the beach.
It was a familiar target, for during the past month or so, the boys had often stared down at the Alexishafen drome through a murky fog of bursting ack-ack day in and day out. Each time they flew away though, there were lots more holes in the runway and a few more silent gun positions.
In December 1943, the Group broke all records in the Southwest Pacific Area for the number of combat sorties performed and, in the medium bombardment classification, carried more bombs than had ever been carried before. Except for the first week the 2nd and 408th Squadrons were the only ones operating out of the Group. Those two units alone carried nearly as many bombs during this period as had the entire Group during the record-breaking month of December.
To attain this magnificent record it was necessary for the crews to fly without let up, day in and day out, sometimes doing two or even three missions a day. In one memorable 24 hour period one performed four strike missions, beginning in the early morning and completing the fourth one late that night.
From the Collection of the 22nd Bombardment Association in the B-26 Marauder Historical Society Archives at the Pima Air & Space Museum.
Blond Bomber and 408th Squadron
Bob Crawford Collection