Battle of the Bismarck Sea--2nd to 4th March 1943

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aurora
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Battle of the Bismarck Sea--2nd to 4th March 1943

Postby aurora » Fri Jul 17, 2015 6:55 pm

Due to Allied signals intelligence, Kenney was aware that a large Japanese convoy would be sailing for Lae in early March. Departing Rabaul, Kimura originally intended to pass south of New Britain but changed his mind at the last minute to take advantage a storm front that was moving along the north side of the island. This front provided cover through the day on March 1 and Allied reconnaissance planes were unable to locate the Japanese force. Around 4:00 PM, an American B-24 Liberator briefly spotted the convoy, but the weather and time of day precluded an attack (Map).

The next morning, another B-24 spotted the Kimura's ships. Due to the range, several flights of B-17 Flying Fortresses were dispatched to the area. To help reduce the Japanese air cover, Royal Australian Air Force A-20s from Port Moresby attacked the airfield at Lae. Arriving over the convoy, the B-17s began their attack and succeeded in sinking the transport Kyokusei Maru with the loss of 700 of the 1,500 men on board. B-17 strikes continued through the afternoon with marginal success as the weather frequently obscured the target area.

Tracked through the night by Australian PBY Catalinas, they came within range of the Royal Australian Air Force base at Milne Bay around around 3:25 AM. Though launching flight of Bristol Beaufort torpedo bombers, only two of the RAAF aircraft located the convoy and neither scored a hit. Later in the morning the convoy came into range of the bulk of Kenney's aircraft. While 90 aircraft were assigned to striking Kimura, 22 RAAF Douglas Bostons were ordered attack Lae through the day to reduce the Japanese air threat. Around 10:00 AM the first in series of closely coordinated aerial attacks began.

Bombing from around 7,000 feet, B-17s succeeded in breaking up Kimura's formation, reducing the effectiveness of the Japanese anti-aircraft fire. These were followed by B-25 Mitchells bombing from between 3,000 and 6,000 feet. These attacks drew the bulk of the Japanese fire leaving an opening for low-altitude strikes. Approaching the Japanese ships, the Bristol Beaufighters of No. 30 Squadron RAAF were mistaken by the Japanese for Bristol Beauforts. Believing the aircraft to be torpedo planes, the Japanese turned towards them to present a smaller profile.

This maneuver allowed the Australians to inflict maximum damage as the Beaufighters strafed the ships with their 20 mm cannons. Stunned by this attack, the Japanese were next hit by modified B-25s flying at low-altitude. Strafing the Japanese ships, they also made "skip bombing" attacks in which bombs were bounced along the surface of the water into the sides of enemy vessels. With the convoy in flames, a final attack was made by a flight of American A-20 Havocs. In short order, Kimura's ships had been reduced to burning hulks. Attacks continued through the afternoon to ensure their final destruction.

While the battle raged around the convoy, P-38 Lightnings provided cover from Japanese fighters and claimed 20 kills against three losses. The next day, the Japanese mounted a retaliatory raid against the Allied base at Buna, New Guinea, but inflicted little damage. For several days after the battle, Allied aircraft returned to the scene and attacked survivors in the water. Such attacks were viewed as necessary and were partially in retribution for the Japanese practice of strafing Allied airmen while they descended in their parachutes.

Battle of the Bismarck Sea - Aftermath:

In the fighting at Bismarck Sea, the Japanese lost eight transports, four destroyers, and 20 aircraft. In addition, between 3,000 and 7,000 men were killed. Allied losses totaled four aircraft and 13 airmen. A complete victory for the Allies, the Battle of the Bismarck Sea led Mikawa to comment a short time later, "It is certain that the success obtained by the American air force in this battle dealt a fatal blow to the South Pacific." The success of Allied air power convinced the Japanese that even strongly escorted convoys could not operate without air superiority. Unable to reinforce and re-supply troops in the region, the Japanese were permanently put on the defensive, opening the way for successful Allied campaigns.

A magnificent achievement by the USAAF and RAAF
aurora
Quo Fata Vocant-Whither the Fates call

Jim

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Re: Battle of the Bismarck Sea--2nd to 4th March 1943

Postby aurora » Sun Jul 19, 2015 12:43 pm

It must be remembered that on 16 February, naval codebreakers in Melbourne (FRUMEL) and Washington, D.C. finished decrypting and translating a coded message revealing the Japanese intention to land convoys at Wewak, Madang and Lae. Subsequently, codebreakers decrypted a message from the Japanese 11th Air Fleet to the effect that destroyers and six transports would reach Lae about 5 March. Another report indicated that they would reach Lae by 12 March. On 22 February, reconnaissance aircraft reported 59 merchant vessels in the harbour at Rabaul.This was crucial to the success of this operation.
Kenney read this Ultra intelligence in the office of the Supreme Allied Commander, South West Pacific Area – General Douglas MacArthur – on 25 February. The prospect of an additional 6,900 Japanese troops in the Lae area greatly disturbed MacArthur, as they might seriously affect his plans to capture and develop the area. Kenney wrote out orders, which were sent by courier, for Brigadier General Ennis Whitehead, the deputy commander of the Fifth Air Force, and the commander of its Advance Echelon (ADVON) in New Guinea. Under the Fifth Air Force’s unusual command arrangements, Whitehead controlled the Allied Air Forces units of all types in New Guinea. This included the RAAF units there, which were grouped as No. 9 Operational Group RAAF, under the command of Air Commodore Joe Hewitt.

aurora
Quo Fata Vocant-Whither the Fates call

Jim


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