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Skip Bombing, WWII and BRAC are Related

  • Published
  • By Dan Knickrehm
  • Base Historian
This article is my response to numerous requests for information about the 43rd Airlift Wing's activities during WWII. I just happened to pick up a book the other day titled "Skip Bombing: The True Story of Stealth Bombing Techniques Used in 1942." As I read the primer on the back of this book, written by James T. Murphy, one particular paragraph stood out: "The miserable living conditions in the New Guinea jungle, the stress of combat, the loss of friends, the terror inflicted by the Japanese, these were just some of the daily facts of brutal war that our pilots in the South Pacific faced. Nevertheless, in the end, men like those in the 43rd Bomb Group triumphed." This entire book is about the actions of 2nd Lt. James T. Murphy and other men assigned to our predecessor, the 43rd Bombardment Group.

These men and the B-17 "Flying Fortresses" they flew had a profound effect on the course of the war in the Pacific. Lieutenant Murphy and other members of the 43rd AW developed a technique called Skip Bombing that drastically increased the effectiveness of bombing missions against Japanese shipping. The lieutenant gives a description of the process:

"On spotting a ship I descended from 2,000 feet with my throttle pulled back at 200 to 220 miles per hour and leveled off at 200 to 250 feet above the water ... My sight was an X on my window, and I used the nose of the B-17 as my forward point of reference as one would use the sight on the nose of a shotgun barrel to shoot a flying duck.

"Under those conditions, and at level flight, the bombs would fall anywhere from 60 to 100 feet short of the vessel, skip into the air, and hit 60 to 100 feet beyond. If perfect, the bomb would hit the side of the boat and sink ... With the four to five second delay fuze in the bomb, I had time to get away while the bombs sank by the side of the ship. The explosion underwater often broke the ship in half, and it created almost immediate fire and explosions."

Skip Bombing increased the success rate of anti-ship bombing in the Pacific from about 2 percent to more than 70 percent. The actions of the 43rd Bombardment Group helped convince General MacArthur of the value of accurate bombing. "From August 1942 to January 1943 General MacArthur witnessed the combat capability of the various aircraft assigned to General Kenney. He became more enthusiastic about air power each day ... General MacArthur saw air warfare tested and proclaimed that it pointed the way to the defeat of the Japanese in the Pacific."

During the Battle of the Bismarck Sea in 1943, the 43rd AW performed admirably, sinking 10 warships, 12 transports carrying 15,000 troops and 38 planes. Murphy comments on the importance of these results: "The Battle of the Bismarck Sea was a major victory for land-based aviation. It was decisive -- important because of its completeness -- a conclusive demonstration of the effectiveness of minimum altitude bombing. It saved thousands of Allied ground troops from certain death by annihilating a Japanese division of troops with guns, ammunitions and supplies, thus preventing their getting into any action against the allies."

So now you may be wondering what this has to do with BRAC. After all, how could such a glorious past have an influence on the realignment we are currently going through? The answer is simple and outlines at least one element of the 43rd AW realignment that is right on target. The legacy built by Lieutenant Murphy, who was personally awarded the Silver Star by General MacArthur, and Lieutenant Zeamer, whose personal account of the 43rd AW's most famous combat mission graces the pages of this book as well, is carried on by our own 43rd Operations Group. The heritage these men represent forces anyone making decisions about the post-BRAC organizational structure of the 43rd AW to maintain our glorious past by realigning the 43rd OG into the 43rd Airlift Group rather than inactivating it and establishing a different group. Thus the realignment of the 43rd OG into the 43rd Airlift Group maintains a proud Air Force heritage ensuring the past heroics of these men remain active and alive in our actions ... as it should.