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 Home > History > USAF Historical Division's Brief History of the 43rd Bombardment Group, 1940-1952 > 1940 - November 1942

Brief History of the 43rd Bombardment Group

The 43rd Bombardment Group, one of the Air Force's outstanding units, has a meritorious record dating back to 1940. In three years of combat against the Japanese in World War II, the Group compiled a commendable record. During that period, "Ken's Men" took part in many of the major Allied offensives which led to the fall of the Philippines in 1945. The Group participated in eleven campaigns and was awarded two Distinguished Unit Citations for outstanding performance of duty in action.

No history of the 43rd Bombardment Group would be complete if it did not mention such famous airmen of the Pacific as Colonel Roger M. Ramey, Major Kenneth D. McCullar, Major William Benn, Sergeant Meyer Levin, Major Jay Zeamer, Jr., and Lieutenant Joseph R. Sarnoski. Colonel Ramey, who was Commanding Officer of the 43rd Group from 21 October 1942 to 29 March 1943, was promoted to the rank of brigadier general and assigned as Commanding General of the V Bomber Command after leaving the Group. Major McCullar, whose deeds were an integral --almost legendary part-- of the history of the 43rd Group, was awarded (posthumously) the greatest number of medals ever presented to an American soldier at one time. The medals were the Silver Star with three Oak Leaf Clusters, Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross with one Oak Leaf Cluster, Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, and Purple Heart. Major Benn was the first man in the Pacific to develop skip-bombing techniques, which were later adopted by the Fifth Air Force as standard attack procedure against enemy shipping. Sergeant Meyer Levin, the "Brooklyn Bombardier", had been Colin Kelly's bombardier before joining the 43rd Group. Major Zeamer and Lieutenant Sarnoski were both awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor "for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty".

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The 43rd Bombardment Group, which had been constituted in November 1940, was activated at Langley Field, Virginia, on 15 January 1941. Initial personnel for the 43rd were supplied by the 2nd Bombardment Group, then stationed at Langley Field. At the time of activation the 43rd Group was composed of the 63rd, 64th and 65th Bombardment Squadrons. The 403rd Bombardment Squadron (formerly 13th Reconnaissance Squadron) was assigned as the Group's fourth component on 16 April 1942.

The Group's early training at Langley Field was hampered by the lack of trained personnel and airplanes. As a result, the 43rd did not accomplish much in the way of training until after it moved to Bangor Air Base (later Dow Field), Maine, on 28 August 1941. After the United States entered the war, the Group's pilots, in addition to their routine training, flew submarine patrols along the New England coast.

Early in February 1942 the 43rd Bombardment Group was alerted for shipment overseas and on the 17th the ground personnel moved to the Boston Port of Embarkation; the air echelon remained behind, and did not rejoin the rest of the Group until the summer and fall of 1942. On 18 February the ground echelon sailed for Australia aboard the Queen Mary. After stops at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Capetown, South Africa; and Fremantle, Australia, the 43rd landed at Sydney on 28 March and took station at the Randwick Race Track.

In May and June the unit's squadrons were moved to other bases in Australia for preliminary combat training, but by 1 August the 43rd and its elements were reunited at Torrens Creek. The following day the Group received its first plane, the Chief of Seattle, a gift from the city of Seattle, Washington. On 18 August four more B-17's arrived from the United States and were assigned to the 63rd Squadron; the rest of the Group's aircraft continued to arrive through November. In August the 63rd Squadron, the only component of the Group equipped with aircraft, moved to Mareeba, Queensland, where its personnel trained with the 19th Bombardment Group. By 20 August that squadron was ready to enter combat.

 In 1942 the primary base of operations for the Allies in the Southwest Pacific was Port Moresby, the last stronghold in New Guinea. The Japanese, realizing the importance of that base, made several attempts to capture it. In July 1942 Japanese forces landed at Buna, on the northeast coast of New Guinea, and advanced across the Owen Stanley Mountains in an effort to take Port Moresby. The following month a second thrust, aimed at that city through Milne Bay, was thrown back into the sea. Among the Allied forces in that important engagement was the 63rd Squadron, which flew its first combat mission on 21 August. Led by Kenneth McCullar, then a First Lieutenant, the squadron attacked a small enemy convoy off Milne Bay and damaged one destroyer. For the next few months the 63rd --and other squadrons of the Group, when they entered combat-- aided Australian ground forces in pushing back the Japanese thrust from Buna, which ended in the fall of that stronghold in November 1942.