Port Moresby Air Raid: August 17, 1942
Bombing raid against 7 Mile Drome Port Moresby
On August 17, 1942 at dawn around Rabaul, twenty-five G4M1 Betty bombers including nine from the 4th Kōkūtai (4th Air Group) plus sixteen from Misawa Kokutai (Misawa Air Group) took off from Vunakanau Airfield. The bombers were armed with 250 kg and 60 kg bombs on a bombing mission against 7 Mile Drome near Port Moresby. The bomber formation was led by Lt. Tomo'o Nakamura from the Misawa Kōkūtai. Escorted by twenty-two A6M Zeros from the Tainan Kōkūtai (Tainan Air Group) that took off from Lakunai Airfield. The formation arrived from the south over the sea flying at 20,000' with the bombers in three "V" formations of eight bombers before reaching Port Moresby.
At 9:15am, the Betty bombers dropped their bombs over 7 Mile Drome, destroying and damaging many parked aircraft. Anti-aircraft fire damage five G4M1 Betty from the 4th Kokutai bombers with minor shrapnel damage and the bombers departed by 9:23am. The Japanese deemed the raid had "excellent results" and they claimed six aircraft destroyed on the ground and bomb hits on the runway.
Returning, the Japanese formation experienced bad weather between New Guinea and New Britain, with half the bombers and fighters diverting to Lae Airfield. The remainder of the formation flew through the weather to Rabaul. The only Japanese loss due to bad weather was A6M Zero piloted by Tokushige (MIA).
On the ground at 7 Mile Drome, the Allies were caught by surprise by the air raid. Before the bombers arrived overhead, there was no air raid or warning and no Allied fighters took off to intercept. Prior to this raid, Japanese air raids against Port Moresby had slackened in the recent weeks with only sporadic raids and night bombing. During early August 1942, there was no significant air raid, presumably because Japanese planes were targeting the U.S. forces off Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.
At 7 Mile Drome, the flight line was crowded with C-47 Skytrains that were ready for take off to air drop supplies to the Australian Army on the Kokoda Trail. Ten B-26 Marauders from the 22nd Bombardment Group (22nd BG) fully fueled and armed with their air crews standing by were awaiting the day's orders. At least two tried to take off to avoid being hit on the ground, B-26 40-1493 and B-26 "Wabash Cannonball" 40-1499 which was hit by shrapnel and force landed at 14 Mile Drome then written off but the crew were unhurt. Destroyed by a direct bomb hit was B-26 "Shamrock" 40-1437. Also destroyed were DC-5 VH-CXA, C-56B Lodestar VH-CAG, C-56B Lodestar VH-CAI.
Seven other aircraft were damaged including C-49 44-83228, C-39 (likely DC-2 VH-CXG, ex PK-AFK), C-53 41-20053 VH-CCB and C-53 41-20054 VH-CCC damaged and temporarily repaired before being flown to Australia. Also damaged were B-26 "The Avenger" 40-1399, B-26 "Rose of San Antone" 40-1552, B-26 "Sourpus" 40-1532 and B-26 "Rose of San Antone" 40-1552.
On the ground, Japanese bombs destroyed the control tower, operations shack, fuel dumps and vehicles. Killed in action (KIA) was Sgt William Edwin Logan (RAAF) plus thirteen wounded in action (WIA). To cleanup the damage, a labor party of 200 men were organized to remove debris that filled four trucks. Adding to the tension, unexploded Japanese aerial bombs with delayed fuzes detonated after the raid, the last bomb exploding 24 hours later. Australian war correspondents Thomas Fisher and Damian Parer took a series of photographs at 7 Mile Drome including debris and damaged aircraft.
Photos by Thomas Fisher, August 17, 1942
Photos by Damian Parer, August 17, 1942
This raid was dubbed "Raid 78" (other sources noted it as "Raid 77"). The bombs caused particularly heavy damage to parked aircraft because they were parked in close proximity, instead of being dispersed into revetments or around the runway. Following this air raid, twenty-four "U" shaped revetments were built at 7 Mile Drome by the 8th Service Group (8th SvG) to better disperse parked planes.
MacArthur's Headquarters minimized the damage from the air raid claiming "On the morning of August 17th, twenty-four Japanese bombers attacked the aerodrome at Port Moresby, which resulted in slight damage to installations and a few casualties". In fact, seven aircraft were destroyed, including four B-26 Marauders from the 22nd Bombardment Group (22nd BG) plus 25 planes damaged to varying degrees.
Allied aircraft destroyed on the ground:
1) B-26 "The Avenger" 40-1399 destroyed by bomb hit 20' off the left wing causing it to burn and explode, co-pilot wounded and died.
2) B-26 "Shamrock" 40-1437 destroyed on the ground.
3) B-26 "Wabash Cannonball" 40-1499 force landed at 12 Mile ran off the runway and written off.
4) B-26 Maruader details unknown.
DC-5 VH-CXA destroyed on the ground.
6) C-56 Lodestar VH-CAG destroyed on the ground.
C-56B Lodestar VH-CAI destroyed on the ground.
Allied aircraft that suffered significant damaged on the ground:
1) B-26 "Rose of San Antone" 40-1552 damaged and repaired.
2) B-26 "Sourpus" 40-1532 damaged and repaired.
3) C-49 44-83228 damaged and repaired.
4) B-26 Maruader details unknown.
C-39 (likely DC-2 VH-CXG) damaged and repaired.
41-20053 VH-CCB damaged and temporarily repaired before being flown to Australia.
7) C-53 41-20054 VH-CCC damaged and temporarily repaired before being flown to Australia.
Kodochosho, 4th Kōkūtai, August 17, 1942
Kodochosho, Misawa Kōkūtai, August 17, 1942
Kodochosho, Tainan Kōkūtai, August 17, 1942
AWM Moresby and Koitaki F01806 cine footage by Damien Parer including the aftermath of the August 17, 1942 air raid
Includes footage of the aftermath of the air raid AWM description: "Part of an item on the arrival of crack new troops to push into the Kokoda area and aerial supply route. Japanese bombing shows a knock back to this supply line. Identified personnel; Flight Lieutenant Lex Winton, No 75 Squadron (Kittyhawk) RAAF, 402963 Sergeant Stuart Munro."
CWGC - William Edwin Logan
War Diary 1942 (1984) page 78
"Twenty-four Jap bombers, flying in three Vs of eight, raided the 7-Mile 'drome from 23,000 feet. The raid was disastrous as we were caught utterly with our pants down and with planes lined up all across the field. Three bombers and a transport plane were destroyed, and six other planes badly damaged. Two other bombers were damaged taking off during the raid and another was damaged in making a forced landing at Kila. Petrol drums were hit and grass fires threatened other planes. The control tower was destroyed and the operations hut gutted and total casualties were one R.A.A.F. killed, 13 U.S. A. A. C. personnel wounded, several seriously. Fighters, caught on the ground, were too late taking off to be able to intercept, and although A. A. went into action there was no result. This raid was really one up to Nippon. Vern Haughland [a U.S. journalist] (A.P.) had been found alive in the jungle."
Royal Australian Air Force, 1939–1942 by Douglas Gillison shows this raid as "Raid 77"
Allied Air Transport Operations SWPA in WWII, Volume 1 (2003) page 329
"The greatest single day's loss of transport aircraft occurred as a result of a Japanese bombing raid on Jackson Field, Port Moresby, at 0920, 17 August 1942. This was the 78th raid on the Port Moresby installations and was executed by 23 bombers. Two C-56s VH-CAG (LT9-19) and VH-CAI (LT9-23) and one DC-5, VH-CXA (ex PK-ADB) were destroyed, and one DC-3, VH-CXD (ex PK-ALT) was severely damaged and out of commission for two months. Three other aircraft, a C-39 (probably DC-2 VH-CXG, ex PK-AFK) and two C-53s, 41-20053 VH-CCB and 41-20054 VH-CCC were damaged and temporarily repaired before being flown to the mainland within four or five days."
Revenge of the Red Raiders (2006) pages 129-131
Eagles of the Southern Sky (2012) pages 249-251
Thanks to Edward Rogers for additional research and analysis