3rd Bombardment Group

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The 3rd Bombardment Group was a light bomber group that took part in the long campaign in New Guinea and the reconquest of the Philippines, before flying a few missions over Japan before the end of the war.

The group was originally formed as a reconnaissance group in 1919, and spent three years patrolling the Mexican border. It became an attack group in 1921 and a bombardment group in 1939. In 1939-41 the group was used as a training organisation, providing trained crews to form other groups during the expansion of the Air Corps.

After the Japanese entry into the war the group was sent to Australia, arriving in February 1942. The newly arrived group was fully equipped but inexperienced. In contrast the 27th Bombardment Group had been caught in the fighting on the Philippines (as infantry) and on Java (as airmen). The surviving aircrews from the fighting on Java were assigned to the 3rd Bombardment Group, giving it a core of experienced men.

The group began operations with its B-25s in early April 1942. It was based in Australia, but used Port Moresby as a staging post. Its early operations were against targets on New Guinea, where the group helped to stop the Japanese advance towards Port Moresby and then took part in the Allied counterattacks. The group also was also used for reconnaissance missions, flying more than 120 recon sorties in May 1942 (partly looking for the Japanese fleet in the Coral Sea).

By July 1942 the group had a mix of aircraft, with twenty two A-24s, thirty-eight A-20s and seventeen B-25s. The number of B-25s slowly rose and by the end of the summer two squadrons were operating the type. The group operated as far away as Rabaul, but most sorties were nearer to their bases.

At the start of 1943 the group officially moved to New Guinea, and it took part in the Allied advance along the north coast of the island, fighting at Salamaua, Lae, Hollandia, Wakde, Biak and Noemfoor. The plan was to re-equip the entire group with the A-20 by the end of 1943, but deliveries were delayed and so the group kept some B-25s for longer than expected.

In March 1943 the group took part in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. In August it took part in a series of attacks on Wewak, and the group won a Distinguished Unit Citation for its part in an attack on 17 August.

From September 1943 the group was part of the First Air Task Force, which had operational control of the attacks on Rabaul. On 12 October 1943 the group took part in an attack on Rabaul that was the largest air attack in the Pacific to that date. The 3rd used three squadrons to attack Rapopo airfield, attacking with its .50in machine guns and 20lb parafrag bombs. The group claimed to had destroyed 15-25 aircraft on the ground and three in the air, but admitted that the results were uncertain due to dust and smoke. The group returned to Rapapo again on 24 October.

On 2 November the group took part in an attack on Simpson Harbor, New Britain. This time shipping was the target and the Japanese later admitted to the loss of 18,000 tons in an oil tanker and three merchant vessels as well as a minesweeper and two other bats. This was lower than the original US claims, but higher than their final figures. The attack cost the group the commander of the 8th Squadron, Raymond H Wilkins, whose aircraft was shot down as he attempted to draw fire from a Japanese destroyer. Wilkins was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor.

The group supported the landings at Cape Gloucester in December 1943, including an attack on Japanese machine gun positions on 28 December (carried out by A-20s).

On 15 February four squadrons of A-20s attacked shipping and a floatplane base on Kavieng in an attempt to distract the Japanese from the invasion of Nissan Island. Four days later the group attacked a Japanese convoy of ships that were attempting to escape from the danger area.

March 1944 saw the group's attention switch to the Japanese base at Wewak, part on an attempt to neutralize Hollandia. On 3 April the group took part in the largest Fifth Air Force raid to date, using its A-20s for low level strafing and 100lb parademolition bombs during an attack on Hollandia. Attacks on shipping also continued, and the group sank the 1,915 ton Narita Maru in Humboldt Bay on 12 April.

The group supported the invasions of Wakde and Biak in May 1944. The 8th Squadron was allocated to Wakde, with the rest of the group used at Biak. The group was under the control of the 310th Bombardment Wing during this operation.

During the landing on Biak the group's A-20s orbited off the island, responding to calls for help. One A-20 was lost to Japanese flak, the only Allied aircraft lost over the island on the day of the invasion.

In June 1944 the group attacks Japanese airfields at Babo and Geelvink Bay. It was also used for attacks on Japanese barges at Manokwari, claiming 74 of the 107 ships sunk. The group also took part in attacks on Moemfoor, making June 1944 the group's busiest operational month.

On 14 July the group sent 74 aircraft on a successful attack on the Japanese oil facilities at Boela.

In November 1944 the ground echelon largely moved to Leyte The aircraft rather lagged behind, and the two parts of the groups didn't really come together until they met on Mindoro in December. From Mindoro they were used to support ground operations on Luzon, and early in 1945 they supported landings close to Manila. On 7 February 1945 they attacked the Japanese bases at Puerto Princesa on Palawan, in the west of the Philippines.

On 5 April 1945 the group's commander, Richard E. Ellis, took part in an experimental long range raid. He has extra fuel tanks installed in the wings of three A-20s, and accompanied a raid by the B-25s of the 308th Bombardment Wing. The B-25s missed their target, but Ellis and his three aircraft found one cargo ship and two escorts. The 2,193 ton merchant ship was sunk in shallow water while one destroyer escort was left dead in the water and the other badly damaged.

On 25 April the group took part in a campaign against the sugar industry on Formosa. The Japanese hoped to use the sugar to produce alcohol which could be used as aviation fuel. The 3rd destroyed a sugar refinery at Taito.

In June 1945 the group began to convert to the A-26, although this change wasn't completed before the end of the war. The group did move to Okinawa in August 1945 and flew a few missions over Japan before the end of the war.

After the end of the fighting the Group moved to Japan, where it formed part of the Far East Air Forces, the occupation forces on Japan.


To Follow


Douglas A-20 Boston/ Havoc: 1941-45
Douglas A-24 Banshee (SBD Dauntless ) ; 1941, 1942
Douglas A-26 Invader : 1945-1956
North American B-25 Mitchell: 1942-1944


1 July 1919 Organized as Army Surveillance Group
August 1919 Redesignated as 1st Surveillance Group
1921 Redesignated as 3rd Attack Group
1939 Redesignated as 3rd Bombardment Group (Light)
1942 To Australia and Fifth Air Force
1 April 1942 Combat Debut
September 1942 Redesignated as 3rd Bombardment Group (Dive)
May 1943 Redesignated as 3rd Bombardment Group (Light)

Commanders (with date of appointment)

Col John C McDonnell: Sep 1938
Lt Col R G Breen: Nov 1940
Lt Col Paul L Williams: Dec 1940
Lt Col Phillips Melville: 18 Aug 1941
1st Lt Robert F Strickland: 19 Jan 1942
Col John H Davies: 2 Apr 1942
Lt Col Robert F Strickland: 26 Oct 1942
Maj Donald P Hall: 28 Apr 1943
Lt Col James A Downs: 20 Oct 1943
Col John P Henebry: 7 Nov 1943
Lt Col Richard H Ellis: 27 Jun 1944
Col John P Henebry: 30 Oct 1944
Col Richard H Ellis: 28 Dec 1944
Col Charles W Howe: 1 May 1945
Lt Col James E Sweeney: 7 Dec 1945

Main Bases

Barksdale Field, La: 28 Feb 1935
Savannah, Ga: 6 Oct 1940-19 Jan 1942
Brisbane, Australia: 25 Feb 1942
Charters Towers, Australia: 10 Mar 1942
Port Moresby, New Guinea: 28 Jan 1943
Dobodura, New Guinea: 20 May 1943
Nadzab, New Guinea: 3 Feb 1944
Hollandia, New Guinea: 12 May 1944
Dulag, Leyte: 16 Nov 1944
San Jose, Mindoro: c. 30 Dec 1944
Okinawa: 6 Aug 1945
Atsugi, Japan: c. 8 Sep 1945

Component Units

8th Bombardment Squadron: 1919 onwards
13th: 1919-24: 1929 onwards
89th: 1941-46
90th: 1919-

Assigned To

1932-1940: 3rd Bombardment Wing
1940-1941: 17th Bombardment Wing
1942-1946: V Bomber Command; Fifth Air Force
  Summer 1944: 310th Bombardment Wing; V Bomber Command; Fifth Air Force

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (11 March 2013), 3rd Bombardment Group , http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/USAAF/3rd_Bombardment_Group.html

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