19th Bombardment Group

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History

The 19th Bombardment Group was a heavy bomber group that was caught up in the Japanese invasion of the Philippines and Java and formed part of the defensive forces in Australia during 1942. It then returned to the US where in the spring of 1944 it was reformed as a B-29 group, returning to combat against Japan in February 1945.

The group was authorized as an Observation Group in 1927. It was redesignated as a bombardment group in 1929 but wasn't actually activated until 1932. It became a Heavy Bombardment Group in 1939, when it was equipped with the B-18. It converted to the B-17 Flying Fortress in 1941, giving it a true heavy bomber.

In the spring of 1941 the Air Corps decided to move a force of B-17s to Hawaii. The 19th was chosen to undertake the 2,400 mile flight, and after very careful preparation on 13-14 May twenty-one B-17Ds were flown from Hamilton Field, California to Hickham Field, Hawaii. All twenty-one aircraft arrived safely. Fifteen crewmen from the 19th remained on Hawaii to train the aircraft's new operators, while the rest sailed back to California.

In August it was decided to transfer the group to the Philippines. It was given priority in the assignment of new B-17s. The first B-17s to reach the Philippines were ferried there from Hawaii by the 14th Bombardment Squadron in early September 1941. The 19th made its flight from California to Hickham Field between 16-22 October 1941. The more complex movement from Hickham Field to Clark Field began on 22 October, and twenty-five of the twenty-six B-17s were in place by 6 November (the last followed a few days later). This gave the 19th a total of thirty-five B-17s.

The move saw the group lose one of its original three squadrons - only the 30th and 93rd Squadrons made the move. Some of its aircraft were used to re-equip the 28th Bombardment Squadron, which was already on the Philippines, while the 14th Bombardment Squadron, which had remained on the islands after the first ferry flight from Hawaii also joined the group.

By November 1941 was with Japan was clearly imminant, and the Philippines were believed to be their first target. The 19th was ordered to keep one squadron on alert at all times, ready to carry out any bombing or reconnaissance missions that were needed. The next stage was to open a safer airfield at Del Monte, which was out of range of the Japanese bombers based on Formosa. The 14th and 93rd Squadrons moved to Del Monte on 5 December 1941, just in time to avoid the first Japanese blows. Sixteen of the thirty-three B-17s available to the group were thus at Del Monte on 8 December, when the Japanese attacked.

The 19th prepared to launch a pre-planned attack on Japanese bases on Formosa, but this attack was never carried out. The B-17s were ordered into the air, partly to fly patrols off the west coast of Luzon and partly to avoid destruction on the ground. They were then recalled and ordered to prepare for a reconnaissance flight over Formosa, followed by a possible air strike. The Japanese finally attacked Clark Field at about noon on 8 December, and the B-17s were caught on the ground. Only one of the Clark Field B-17s was in the air, and that missed the attack completed. One aircraft from Del Monte arrived at Clark just in time for the attack, and was badly damaged in the air but managed to escape back to Del Monte. All of the B-17s caught on the ground were destroyed, reducing the group's strength from 33 to 17 in a single blow.

The remaining B-17s did make a valient attempt to destroy the Japanese invasion fleets. On 10 December five of them took part in an attack on a Japanese force landing at Vigan, in the far north of Luzon, hitting and damaging a number of ships. A second wave of five more aircraft was split into three - three attacked Vigan, one was sent against another force at Aparri and the fifth was sent to search for a Japanese aircraft carrier that had been reported off the north of Luzon. This aircraft found an attack the heavy cruiser Ashigara, and may have scored a single direct hit. The aicraft was shot down just before it reached Clark Field. This was the last attempt by the group to use Clark Field as a staging post, and from the 11th the remaining aircraft operated from Mindanao.

On 14 December six B-17s were sent to attack a Japanese force at Legaspi in southern Luzon. Three reached the target, but two of them were forced to crash-land after the attack. Soon after this it was decided to withdraw the surviving aircraft to Darwin in Australia. Del Monte lacked the facilities to maintain the big bombers and was increasingly vulnerable to attack. The first major Japanese attack, on 19 December, failed to destroy any B-17s. Between 17-21 December fourteen of the group's B-17s reached the relative safety of Batchelor Field near Darwin.

This move didn't end the 19th's part in the battle for the Philippines. On 22 December it sent nine B-17s to attack Japanese ships in Davao Gulf, using Del Monte as a staging post. They then spent the night at Del Monte, before four carried out an attack on Lingayen Gulf. This second mission met Japanese resistance, and the bombers had to make their own ways back to safety. Remarkably all nine B-17s were back at Darwin by 24 December. On the same day three more B-17s made an attack on Davao, once again returning safely (if badly damaged) to Darwin.

The Japanese advance soon threatened to block the ferry route to the Philippines. On 30 December the group moved from Australian to Java, and on 19-20 January 1942 the 19th tried out a new route, a 1,500 mile flight from Malang to Del Monte. Six of the nine original aircraft completed the mission, attacking Japanese shipping at Jolo on the way and bringing 23 of the group's officers back from Del Monte.

New aircraft began to arrive on Java. Some were B-17Es, but others were LB-30 Liberators (British Liberator IIs that were taken back by the US after Pearl Harbor). The group was very short of group crews and so the aircrew had to help maintain their aircraft, a task made more difficult by this mix of aircraft types.

During late January and at the start of February the group flew a significant number of missions in an attempt to defend Java, but once the main Japanese assault on that island began on 3 February the situation rapidly deteriorated. The group remained on Java through February, but at the start of March had to retreat to Australia for a second time. The group was awarded a Distinquished Unit Citation for its role in the fighting on Java and the Philippines.

At the start of March the group had no operational B-17s, all of the aircraft that had escaped from Java needing urgent repairs. By the end of the month the aircraft and crews of the 7th Bombardment Group had been transfered to the 19th, giving it some capability for operations.

The group took part in the Battle of the Coral Sea (4-8 May 1942), flying reconnaissance searching for the Japanese fleet (the group also attempted to attack US warships that it had incorrectly identified as Japanese, fortunatly without any success). The group also attacked Japanese transport ships and ground forces durign their invasion of Papua.

In April, May and June 1942 the 19th carried out eighteen attacks on Rabaul, flying sixty sorties. They were awarded a second Distinquished Unit Citation for a series of raids on 7-12 April.

On 6-7 August Captain Harl Pease Jr was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor. One engine on his B-17 failed during a raid over New Britain. He returned to base, took the most serviceable of the remaining aircraft and joined a raid on Rabaul. He was able to stay in formation during the attack itself, but his aircraft fell behind on the way home and was lost.

During 1942 the 435th Squadron acted as a reconnaissance unit, searching for Japanese submarines in the waters north of Australia. It also operated further afield on occasions, and in June and July flew important missions over Guadalcanal.

In the summer of 1942 it was decided to move the 19th back to the US to rest, while at the same time the B-17s to be replaced by the longer range B-24 Liberators in the Pacific. The group officially left Australia in October 1942, but moved slowly across the Pacific, carrying out some last missions on its way. On 9 December the group officially arrived at its new base in Idaho.

The 19th spent 1943 and the first few months of 1944 acting as a replacement training unit. On 1 April 1944 the original 19th Bombardment Group was inactivated in Texas and a new 19th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy) was activated in Kansas. The new group spent the rest of 1944 training with its new B-29 Superfortresses, before leading for Guam in early December. The group arrived on Guam in February.

The 19th now joined the Twentieth Air Force. Its combat debut with the B-29 wa sa raid on a Japanese airfield on Rota on 12 February, and its first attack on Japan came during a major assault on Tokyo on 25 February. This raid was carried out to support Operation Detachment, the invasion of Iwo Jima. At the time the B-29s were flying a mix of high level daylight attacks and low level night incendiary attack. Poor weather meant that the attack on the 25th was a low level incendiary attack.

On the night of 9/10 March 1945 the group took part in the first of a series of maximum effort low level night incendiary raids, designed to support the landings on Okinawa. This was a devesating raid and was the start of a series of attacked on targets in Tokyo, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka that won the unit another DUC.

In April-May the group focused its efforts on Japanese airfields that were being used by Kamikaze aircraft attacking the invasion fleet off Okinawa.

Another DUC was awarded form a single attack on the industrial area of Kobe on 5 June 1945.

After the end of the fighting the group dropped supplies to Allied POWs and took part in show-of-force flights over Japan. It then became part of the Far East Air Force, fighting in the Korean War.

Books

To Follow

Aircraft

1941: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress
1942: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress; Consolidated LB-30 Liberator; Consolidated B-24 Liberator
1944-45: Boeing B-29 Superfortress

Timeline

18 October 1927 Authorized as 19th Observation Group
1929 Redesignated as 19th Bombardment Group
24 June 1932 Activated
1939 Redesignated as 19th Bombardment Group (Heavy)

Commanders (with date of appointment)

Lt Col Harold M Mc- Clelland: c. 24 Jun 1932-1934
Col Harvey S Burwell: 1939
Col Eugene L Eubank: 2 Apr 1940
Maj David R Gibbs: 10 Dec 1941
Maj Emmett O'Donneli Jr: 12 Dec 1941
Lt Col Cecil E Combs, Jan 1942
Lt Col Kenneth B Hobson: 14 Mar 1942
Lt Col James T Connally: 15 Apr 1942
Lt Col Richard N Carmichael, 10 Jul 1942
Lt Col Felix M Hardison: 1 Jan 1943
Lt Col Elbert Helton: 13 Feb 1943
Col Louie P Turner: 5 May 1943
Lt Col Frank P Sturdivant: 27 Jan 1944
Col Bernard T Castor: 11 Feb-1 Apr 1944
Maj Joseph H Selliken: 28 Apr 1944
Col John G Fowler: 20 May 1944
Lt Col John C Wilson: 29 May 1944
Lt Col Philip L Mathewson: 30 Jun 1944
Col John A Roberts Jr: 16 Jul 1944
Lt Col George T Chadwell: Sep 1945
Col Vincent M Miles Jr, 1 Mar 1946

Main Bases

Rockwell Field, Calif: 24 Jun 1932
March Field, Calif: 25 Oct 1935
Albuquerque, NM: 7 Jul-29 Sep 1941
Clark Field, Luzon: 23 Oct 1941
Batchelor, Australia: 24 Dec 1941
Singosari, Java: 30 Dec 1941
Melbourne, Australia: 2 Mar 1942
Garbutt Field, Australia: 18 Apr 1942
Longreach, Australia: 18 May 1942;
Mareeba, Australia: 24 Jul-23 Oct 1942;
Pocatello, Idaho: 9 Dec 1942;
Pyote AAB, Tex: 1 Jan 1943-1 Apr 1944
Great Bend AAFld, Kan: 1 Apr-7 Dec 1944
North Field, Guam: 16 Jan 1945
Kadena, Okinawa: 5 Jul 1950-1 Jun 1953

Component Units

14th Bombardment Squadron: 1941-42
23rd Bombardment Squadron: 1935-38
28th Bombardment Squadron: 1941-44; 1944-53
30th Bombardment Squadron: 1932-44; 1944-53
32nd Bombardment Squadron: 1932-41
93rd Bombardment Squadron: 1939-44, 1944-53
435th (previously 40th) Bombardment Squadron: 1941-44

Assigned To

1941-1942: V Bomber Command; Fifth Air Force

April-December 1944: 314th Bombardment Wing; XXI Bomber Command; Second Air Force (Training in US)
December 1944-1946: 314th Bombardment Wing; XXI Bomber Command; Twentieth Air Force

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 March 2013), 19th Bombardment Group, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/USAAF/19th_Bombardment_Group.html

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