13 Feb 345th Bomb Group, 5th Air Force, Air Apaches, Gone, But Not Forgotten
I have always viewed my father as my hero for many reasons. I respect his dedication to his family, his professional career in education, as my personal role model and for his combat record during World War II. I have never met another man with more integrity with his spoken word. During my childhood he instilled a sense of duty and patriotism in his seven kids. His three sons have served in active duty units in the military, two are retired United States Air Force, I myself served in Naval Aviation.
Whenever someone would ask my father what he did during the war, he would tell them. But he never seemed to dwell on it. What he did was an important part of his life, but it was only one portion. I did not begin to appreciate his combat record until I arrived in the Philippine Islands in 1978 onboard the Navy aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. During one port visit, I managed to visit my brother who was stationed at Clark Air Force Base which was a very short drive from my port of call, Subic Bay. My brother was a fighter pilot flying the F-4 Phantom fighter jet for the USAF.
My brother and I spoke about what it must have been like for our Dad during the war. All of his combat missions were flown from the Philippine Islands. I didn’t know it at the time, but he flew out of an air field near Subic Bay. He completed his combat tour by flying 48 combat missions. He flew combat missions as a B-25 radio / gunner against Japanese targets in the Philippines, Formosa and also French Indochina.
To date, I have only been able to locate two books that accurately describe in sharp detail what the 345th Bomb Group did in the South Pacific. One book was written by one of their combat pilots, Peppy Blount. My wife was able to find this book on eBay and it was my favorite Christmas gift. I tried to locate the book, “We Band of Brothers”, but without success, but she was able to find it and I have since loaned it to my Dad. The other book was written by Lawrence J Hickey, “Warpath across the Pacific”. Mr. Hickey spent many years of detailed research and the book is truly outstanding.
I met one of my Dad’s combat buddies who served with him. The thing that astonished me is how modest my Dad was on what he experienced. Their B-25 bombers flew low level strafing and skip bombing runs using the B-25 twin engine medium bomber. The aircraft had their bombardier compartment removed in the nose and it was replaced by fixed .50 caliber machine guns. All of their missions were flown at extreme low altitude. My Dad’s job was assigned as a B-25 radio operator / gunner. The bombs had delayed fuses in order to prevent damage to their aircraft. Some aircraft would return with dents from bombs that bounced back hitting the underbody of the airplane. One version had a total of eighteen .50 caliber machine guns. Eight in the nose, two on the left side of the cockpit, two on the right side of the cockpit, two on the top turret gunner, one on the left waist gun, one on the right waist gun and two at the tail gunner position. In addition, they could carry four 500lb bombs internally.
By getting down at tree top level, they were deadly accurate, but they paid a heavy price in crews. My Dad was grounded for one mission and his crew was shot down near Clark Air Force Base. His crew survived the crash, but they were unable to escape due to their injuries. The only crewmember to return alive was the man who replaced him for the mission. The rest were murdered by Japanese troops who killed them on the spot. After Dad completed his combat missions, he returned to the USA. The last crew he flew with were shot down and killed a short time later.
I have often wondered why the 345th Bomb Group had so little press coverage after the war. It was a very common practice for combat war correspondents to fly combat missions for documentary purposes. I honestly believe that one of the reasons was due to the loss of aircraft shot down when the war correspondents flew with them in combat. A total of eight war correspondents / photographers were killed on combat flights.
In 26 months of combat, the 345th flew 58,562 combat hours on 9120 strike sorties, dropped over 58,000 bombs with a total weight of 6340 tons, and fired over 12.5 million rounds of ammunition. Intelligence credited their unit with sinking 260 enemy vessels, totaling nearly 190,000 tons, and damaging 275 others. It was also awarded credit for destroying 260 Japanese planes on the ground and another 107 in aerial combat. Its units won Distinguished Unit Citations for four missions and the Group was awarded the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation. This record cost the Air Apaches, 712 dead from all causes, including 580 killed on flights, and 177 aircraft.
I took my parents to an air show at Langley Air Force Base many years ago and they enjoyed the show. But when we passed an A-10 ground attack airplane on static display, we could not help notice how the A-10 and B-25 had a similar role in combat. They both fly within gun range at low altitude to strafe enemy targets. The A-10 also had a twin tail as did the B-25.
In conclusion, I hope this article will give you a little insight to the mission that was assigned to the 345th Bomb Group, 5th Air Force during World War II. I hope you enjoyed this article. My parents don’t have internet access, but I will print this out and send it via the mail. I’m sure they will enjoy it. If you like the article, please pass it along to your friends and have a wonderful day!