Bombing of Wewak

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Bombing of Wewak
partof=World War II, Pacific War


caption=August 13, 1943, a pair of B-25s bombs the Wewak area, in the lead-up to the devastating raids of August 17
date=August 17, 1943
place=Wewak, Territory of New Guinea
result=Decisive United States victory
combatant1=
combatant2=
commander1= George Kenney
commander2= Kumaichi Teramoto
strength1=47 heavy bombers; 30 medium bombers; 80 fighters
strength2=130 aircraft
casualties1=3 destroyed
casualties2=100 destroyed

The Bombing of Wewak was an air raid by the United States Army Air Forces, on August 17, 1943, against the major air base of the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force on the mainland of New Guinea, at Wewak. The raid was a great success for the Allies: the Japanese Fourth Air Army lost about 100 planes on the ground, reducing its operational strength to about 30 planes. Only three aircraft from the U.S. Fifth Air Force were lost.

Background

By August 1943, the Fourth Air Army — which had been formed in June for the New Guinea campaign — had 130 operational aircraft. [http://www.awm.gov.au/journal/j34/shindo.htm Hiroyuki Shindo, 2001, "Japanese air operations over New Guinea during the Second World War" "Journal of the Australian War Memorial", No. 34 (June 2001) ] ] This was one third of its full complement of planes and represented an operational strength of 50%. According to Japanese historian Hiroyuki Shindo: "...the major causes of this low operational rate were widespread illness among the aircrews, along with ... the lack of aircraft replacements." Nevertheless, the planes included state-of-the-art fighters like the Nakajima Ki-43 "Hayabusa" ("Oscar"), the new piston-engined Kawasaki Ki-61 "Hien" ("Tony"), and the twin-engined Kawasaki Ki-45 "Toryu" ("Nick") ground attack/night fighter.

During the U.S. and Australian Armies' Lae campaign, the Fourth Air Army moved a large number of aircraft out of range of Allied fighters, to a cluster of airfields near Wewak, some 400 miles (650 km) west of the Huon Peninsula. Escort fighters did not have the range to reach Wewak from existing Allied air bases, and the Allies considered large-scale, long-range raids by unescorted heavy bombers to be at risk of heavy losses.

The Allied air commander in the South West Pacific Area, Major General George Kenney, devised a plan for a major attack on Wewak. [http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/warden/wrdchp02.htm Col. John A. Warden III, 1988, The Air Campaign Planning for Combat, Ch. 2 "Offense or Defense — the Chess Game" (National Defense University Press, Washington, D.C.] ] Allied personnel started construction of two dummy airfields, relatively close to Japanese infantry positions on the Huon Peninsula, north of Lae. Small construction crews created large clouds of dust, to create the impression that major construction was underway. The Japanese responded by frequently bombing the "airfields", and apparently preventing occupation by Allied units. Simultaneously, at Tsilli Tsilli, 50 miles (80 km) away, the Allies constructed a real airfield and transferred fighter planes there before the Japanese discovered its existence. (However, the Australian official history says the new, secret base was the separate airfield at nearby Marilinan, 40 miles from Lae.cite book
last = Odgers
first = George
year = 1957
url = http://www.awm.gov.au/histories/chapter.asp?volume=27
title = Volume II – Air War Against Japan, 1943–1945
series = Australia in the War of 1939–1945
location = Canberra
publisher = Australian War Memorial
chapter = Chapter 5 – Air Support During the Lae–Nadzab–Finschhafen Operations
chapterurl = http://www.awm.gov.au/cms_images/histories/27/chapters/05.pdf
accessdate = 2006-11-02
] )

On August 12, the Fourth Air Army began to carry out a wave of raids on the Allied air bases at Mount Hagen, Bena Bena, Wau, Salamaua and elsewhere. Some small Allied raids were undertaken against Wewak.

Attack

On August 17, 47 B-24 Liberators and B-17 Flying Fortresses made a pre-dawn attack on the main base at Wewak and satellite airfields at Boram, Dogaw and But. Japanese aircraft were parked wing-tip to wing-tip on runways. At Boram, 60 Japanese planes were being warmed up by their crews. Some attempted to take off but were destroyed in the process. At 09:00, more than 30 B-25 Mitchells, escorted by more than 80 P-38 Lightnings, made strafing attacks on Boram, Wewak, and Dogaw. Only three U.S. aircraft were lost in the two raids.

The raids caught the Japanese unprepared. Their New Guinea airbases were inadequate in terms of the concealment of planes, in hangars and other shelters, and they relied almost completely on a visual warning system, which did not allow enough time for aircraft on the ground to take off or be taken under cover. These problems were compounded by the poor quality of runways, a shortage of maintenance staff and a lack of heavy equipment at forward bases. These problems were not restricted to Wewak. According the Australian official historian, during this period, at least 50% of the Japanese aircraft lost were destroyed on the ground.

Aftermath

Colonel Kazuo Tanikawa, an Eighth Area Army staff officer, later said:

The Fourth Air Army had been reduced to an operational strength of about 30 planes, and this meant a virtual end to Japanese air operations in New Guinea until replacements arrived. The Allies could now conduct air operations virtually uncontested as far away as Aitape, whereas previously Madang had been the extent of air operations. The Fourth Air Army recovered to an extent but never again reached the strength it had in August 1943. The last major air combat between Allied and Japanese aircraft took place on June 3, 1944. The final aerial victories of the New Guinea campaign for the USAAF and Royal Australian Air Force occurred in June 1944. By that time the Fourth Air Army had ceased to exist.

Notes

External links

* [http://www.awm.gov.au/journal/j34/shindo.htm Hiroyuki Shindo, 2001, "Japanese air operations over New Guinea during the Second World War" "Journal of the Australian War Memorial", No. 34 (June 2001)]
* [http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/warden/wrdchp02.htm Col. John A. Warden III, 1988, "The Air Campaign Planning for Combat", Ch. 2 "Offense or Defense — the Chess Game" (National Defense University Press, Washington, D.C.]


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