The author,Mat Gac, of this article joined the Photo Section of the 38th BG in Australia in June 1942 and this is his account of the early days.
The 3rd BG and 38th BG were among the first bomb groups to engage the Japanese in the battle for New Guinea and Australia. The 3rd BG ground echelon, like that of the 38th BG arrived in Australia early in 1942, but it was almost seven months later befor they got their first aircraft,
The Japanese had landed at Buna, New Guinea in July 1942. They had crossed the Owen Stanley range to Imita Ridge, about 20 to 30 miles from Port Morseby, by early September 1942. If Port Morseby were captured, the Japanese would control all of New Guinea from which it could readily invade Australia.
The 5th Air Foarce , formed in July 1942, when General MacArthur gave the Command to General George Kenny, consisted of a few B-17's which had escaped from the Phillippines, a partial B-24 Group and parts of two groups of P-39 and P-40 Fighters, all undermanned and lacking of supplies.
The 3rd and 38th bomb groups were designated part of the 5th Air Force, but had no planes. The 38th was scattered throughout Australia with part of Headquarters and the Photo Section with photo trailers near Darwin in the Northern Territory.The main body was stationed at Eagle Farms, a former race track on the outskirts of Brisbane. During August the scattered units were reunited at Breddon Field near Charters Towers, about 50 miles from Townsville.
In early June, word came through that the 69th and 70th Squadrons were enroute to join the 38th BG with their B-26's; however however, this encouraging news was shortly followed by a report that they had been ordered to Midway Island, arriving there just in time to take part in the historic "Battle of Midway" where superior Japanesse naval and landing forces were decisively defeated, ending any ambitious strategy to iinvade the Hawaiian Islands.
During early August, while the 3rd BG was stationed at Garbutt Field in Townsville, Colonel Paul "Pappy" Gunn (who was later instrumental in changing the character of B-25 medium bomber) learned of a number of B-25s in southern Australia. In face of the desperate need to prevent further Japanese advances toward Port Morseby, Gunn fabricated a formal order, flew to the base where the B-25s were deployed, presented the order and demanded the planes. The officer in charge refused, stating they were designated for the newly formed Dutch Air Force stationed at Merauke, Dutch New Guinea, 400 miles northwest of Port Morseby. Gunn insisted the officer call the General, but befor anyone could make contact, he ordered the pilots to fly the airplanes north for the 3rd BG.
The airplanes were were quicly armed, loaded with bombs and flown to Horn Island at the northern tip of Australia, then on to stage out of Port Morseby. OccasionallyJackson Strip (7mile) was so congested it was necessary to continue on over the Owen Stanley range to the Buna area, frequently without fighter escort and despite Japanese control of the air, bombed enemy troops in their dug-out fortifications and the airfield and the planes stationed there. An additional objective was the sinking of barges and support ships in the Buna area to prevent landing of additional supplies and troops.
Ten days after the 3rd BGs modified planes flew their first combat mission (8/20/42), the 38th got it's first three B-25s and crews, an additional six planes arriving shortly thereafter, Although some planes were lost enroute from the states and others crashed in Australia, more began to filter in.
Low level practice missions of a week or more were inaugurated with somewhat modified planes, one of which was lost along with it's crew. In early September, 1942, the 38th entered combat, assigned to the same mission as the 3rd BG-to interdict supplies and reinforcements from reaching the Kokoda Trail.
The fledgling 5th Air Force, undermanned and short of equipment and supplies, staggered under the almost impossible task of containing the much superior enemy force. During early combat missions, it was learned that B-25s used as medium altitude bombers were vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire and the Zero's superior fire power. The single .30 caliber machine gun, mounted in the nose above the bombadier, was augmented with .30's guns mounted on each side of the bambadier,s compartment, providing more protection from head-on attacks and serving to deter attacks from underneath, another vulnerable point. Atop the fuselage, twin .50 caliber machine guns were mounted in a gunner-manned revolving turret, while the radio gunner and photo gunner could man .30 guns from the waist windows.
With continued losses to Zero pilotattacking head-on and the lack of adequate fighter escort because of limited range. it was obvious more fire power was manatory. Col."Pappy" Gunn's obsession was to make the B-25 a more formidable, more effective weapon. Subsiquent experiments resulted in the development of the B-25 into a strafer, skip bomber and parachute bomb dispenser during November-December, 1942, and it became one of the Japanese most feared weapons. Gunn proceeded from four to six 50 caliber guns in the nose compartment, and four side mounted 50s on the fuselage. With the twin 50s in the top turret being swung into a frontal attack mode, the B-25 could concentrate 12 machine guns on strafing targets. Later two more 50s added to the nose installation provided 14 forward firing guns, which became standard for most B-25s. (Editors note: About this same time, Gunn succesfully experimented with a 75mm cannon in the nose of a B-25 and reportedly ran one mission on the west end of New Britian where he destroyed a Japanese transport plane carrying a number of command officers. Apparentlt the project was abandoned because of the stress on the planes frame caused by the recoil.) About August 1944, the improved B-25J was added to the group with eight 50s in the nose, two externally mounted 50s on each side of the nose, two 50s in the top turret. one 50 in eack window in the radio compartment and two .50' in the tail. for a total of 18 fifty caliber machine guns.
The heroic flying efforts of the men of the 5th Air Force, aided by the small Australian Royal Air Force, prevented most of the enemy supplies and reinforcements from reaching the entrenched troops at Buna. Meanwhile , Australian Infantry flown in as a last desperate measure, stopped the enemy troops moving toward Port Morseby, the high water mark of the Japanese advance. The interdictment of reinforcements and supplies forced the Japanese to retreat back across the mountains to Buna, the first steps of their long retreat.