38th Bombardment Group

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The 38th Bombardment Group was a B-25 group that took part in the long campaigns in New Guinea and the Marshall Islands and supported the invasion of the Philippines.

The group was activated in January 1941 and trained with a mix of B-18s, B-25s and B-26s. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the group was allocated to the Pacific theatre. The group's ground echelon moved to Australia in January-February 1942, but its aircraft didn't arrive for several months. The air echelons needed further training, and many of their aircraft hadn't been issued.

The ground crew spent their time assembling aircraft for other groups and training as infantry for defence against a possible Japanese invasion of Australia. In May 208 men from the ground echelon of the 69th Squadron were moved to New Caledonia, to improve the defences of that vital chain in the supply route between Australia and the United States.

The air echelons of the 69th and 70th Bombardment Squadrons reached Hawaii in May 1942, but they were held up there, and took part in the Battle of Midway. They never rejoined the rest of the group and in 1943 were reassigned and in the same year the 822nd and 823rd Squadrons joined the group.

The other two squadron's air echelons reached Australia in August 1942, where they joined the Fifth Air Force. Their B-25s were ready by September and in October the two fully equipped squadrons moved to Port Moresby (where they would remain into 1944). Their main targets during this period were Japanese airfields and shipping in New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago, but they also flew ground support missions.

On 18 August 1943 Major Ralph Cheli was awarded the Medal of Honor. His aircraft was leading the 405th Squadron during an attack on an airfield on New Guinea. It was hit by enemy fire but Cheli managed to remain in formation to lead the attack, crashing into the sea after the attack.

In October 1943 the two new bombardment squadrons (822nd and 823rd) were finally ready to join the group, returning it to its full strength of four squadrons for the first time since it entered combat.

On 12 October 1943 the original two squadrons took part in the first of series of heavy attacks on the Japanese base at Rabaul. The 38th attacked Vunakanau (an airfield on a plateau just outside Rabaul). The group returned to Rabaul on 18 October, this time claiming sixteen Japanese aircraft on the ground at Tobera. Three squadrons were available for another attack on Rabaul on 2 November, this time targeting shipping. The Japanese admitted the loss of a 10,000 ton oil tanker, three merchant vessels totaling 8,000 tons, a minesweeper and two smaller boats.

The group was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for bombing and strafing attacks on Cape Gloucester in December 1943, in advance of the allied landings there.

Japanese Destroyer broken in two
Japanese Destroyer broken in two

During the first half of February 1944 the Fifth Air Force concentrated its efforts against Kavieng, to provide cover for operations in the Admiralty Islands and a landing on Nissan Island. The 38th took part in the last of these attacks, on 15 February, when it made a low level attack on Kavieng town.

The Admiralty Islands were also a target during this period, and the 38th took part in attacks on 25 January and 13 February (the second of these a rare medium altitude operation). The group returned to the islands on 27 February in advance of a planned invasion, but a planned aerial assault to support the landings on 29 February was badly affected by poor weather. Over the next few days the group flew in support of the invasion forces, flying one supply drop mission and acting in support of the ground troops.

On 3 April 1944 the group took part in the largest attack yet carried out by the Fifth Air Force, an assault on Hollandia. The 38th was part of the third attack wave, and dropped parafrag and para demolition bombs from low altitude.

In May 1944 the group took part in the operations to support the invasions of Biak and Wakde. This included a series of long range attacks on Babo, but the Mitchell was operating at the far reaches of its range and maintenance problems reduced the effectiveness of these attacks. Once staging posts at Hollandia became available in June the group became much more effective. They were able to provide close support for the troops on Biak, especially after the Japanese pulled back into a difficult area of caves and ravines.

By June 1944 combat fatigue was starting to take a heavy toll, and the group only had twenty-three operational crews from a total of sixty-seven. Despite these limits it was awarded a DUC for two missions over New Guinea on 16 and 17 June 1944, when the group attacked airfields and shipping.

On 26 and 27 June the group attacked Manokwari and Ransiki, both diversionary targets designed to draw Japanese attention away from Noemfoor, the next invasion target.

On 27 July the group took part in a large attack on a complex of Japanese airfields on Halmahera (to the west of New Guinea). The 38th attacked the airfield at Galela at the northern end of the island.

The group began to operate from Borokoe airfield on Biak from 31 August 1944, although it didn't officially move to that base until 1 October.

On 2 and 6 September the group attacked Morotai, in preparation for the upcoming invasion. On 12 September they returned to attack a possible radar base and on 13 September they made a final sweep over the invasion beaches. The invasion took place on 15 September and the B-25s returned to drop insecticide over the areas being attacked.

At the start of October the ground echelon moved to Morotai, and the air echelons arrived on 17 October. The group attacked airfields, ground targets, harbours and shipping in the southern Philippines in support of the US invasion of Leyte.

On 9 November a large Japanese convoy, carrying the 26th Division, left Manila heading for Leyte. At noon on 10 November thirty of the group's B-25s attacked the convoy off Ormoc Bay. The 38th attacked a low level, destroying two of three cargo ships in the convoy and forcing the third to return to Manila. Two warships were also badly damaged. The unit was awarded its third DUC for this attack.

The group was meant to move onto Lingayen in late January 1945, but rain delayed the move until 2-3 February. Once there it supported the ground troops fighting on Luzon, attacked industrial targets on Formosa and shipping off the China coast.

On 17 February the group took part in a large attack on Formosa, carrying out a low level attack on Koshun. The group returned to Formosa on 2 March when it attacked Taichu airfield. On 1 April Karenko airfield was the target, on the 16th it was Osono, in the north of Formosa and on the 17th it was Taito. In between the attacks on airfields the group also attacked the Tsan-Bun sugar and alcohol plant. April also saw the group attack some of the smaller towns on Formosa, in an attack on dispersed Japanese industries.

On 22 February the group attacked a convoy of four merchant ships and four escorts, and claimed to have badly damaged one of the merchant ships and sunk a destroyer.

On 13 March the group operated alongside the 42nd Bombardment to carry out a coastal sweep between Swatow and Hainan Island on the south coast of China, claiming a merchant ship. Another coastal sweep on 20 March saw the group claim one cargo ship and one merchant ship sunk and two more cargo ships were claimed on 21 March.

On 23 June the 38th moved to Palawan, in the Thirteenth Air Force area, to provide extra air support for the Australian landings at Balikpapan on Borneo.

The group moved to Okinawa in July 1945, as part of a rapid movement of USAAF units designed to make sure that the Navy didn't take every airfield on the island! From Okinawa it attacked industry, rail and shipping in southern Japan.

After the end of the war the group moved to Japan and in November it joined the Far East Air Forces. It was inactivated in the Far East in 1949.


To Follow


1941-1942: Douglas B-18 Bolo, North American B-25 Mitchell, Martin B-26 Marauder (training)
1942-1946: North American B-25 Mitchell (combat)
1946-1949: Douglas A-26 Invader


20 November 1940 Constituted as 38th Bombardment Group (Medium)
15 January 1941 Activated
Jan-Feb 1942 Ground echelon to Australia
May 1942 Air echelon of two squadrons to Hawaii
August 1942 Air echelosn to Australia and Fifth Air Force
November 1945 To Japan
May 1946 Redesignated 38th Bombardment Group (Light)
1 April 1949 Inactivated

Commanders (with date of appointment)

Lt Col Robert D Knapp: 15 Jan 1941
Col Fay R Upthegrove: c. 18 Jan 1942-unkn
Lt Col Brian O’Neill: 19 Oct 1942
Lt Col Lawrence Tanberg: 1 Oct 1943
Lt Col Carl C Lausman: Jul 1944
Maj Howard M Paquin: 18 Aug 1944
Col Edward M Gavin: 9 Nov 1944
Lt Col Edwin H Hawes: 16 Mar 1945
Lt Col Vernon D Torgerson: 9 Aug 1945
Lt Col Bruce T Marston: 12 Sep 1945
Lt Col Joseph P Gentile: 17 Mar 1946
Lt Col John P Crocker: 16 May 1946
Col C J Bondley Jr: 2 Jul 1946
Col Dale D Brannon: 12 Nov 1946
Col C J Bondley Jr: 13 Dec 1946
Col John J Hutchison: 25 Jan 1947
Col Donald D Fitzgerald: 26 Feb 1948
Col Preston P Pender: 7 May 1948
Lt Col Charles R Johnson: 18 Jul 1948-1 Apr 1949.

Main Bases

Langley Field, Va: 15 Jan 1941
Jackson AAB, Miss: c. 5 Jun 1941-18 Jan 1942
Doomben Field, Australia: 25 Feb 1942
Ballarat, Australia: 8 Mar 1942
Amberley Field, Australia: 30 Apr 1942
Eagle Farms, Australia: c. 10 Jun 1942
Breddan Field, Australia: 7 Aug 1942
Townsville, Australia: 30 Sep 1942
Port Moresby, New Guinea: Oct 1942
Nadzab, New Guinea: 4 Mar 1944
Biak: 1 Oct 1944
Morotai: 15 Oct 1944
Lingayen, Luzon: c. 29 Jan 1945
Okinawa: 25 Jul 1945
Itazuke, Japan: c. 22 Nov 1945
Itami, Japan: 26 Oct 1946-1 Apr 1949

Component Units

69th Bombardment Squadron: 1941-1943
70th Bombardment Squadron: 1941-1943
71st Bombardment Squadron: 1941-1949; 1953-
405th Bombardment Squadron: 1942-1949; 1953-
822nd Bombardment Squadron: 1943-1946; 1953-
823nd Bombardment Squadron: 1943-1946.

Assigned To

1942-1945: V Bomber Command; Fifth Air Force
1945-1946: V Fighter Command; Fifth Air Force

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (20 March 2013), 38th Bombardment Group, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/USAAF/38th_Bombardment_Group.html

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