Like the histories of the 38th and 43rd Bomb Groups in the Eagles Over the Pacific series, Lawrence J. Hickey encountered the same dilemma in the creation of the final history about the low-level B-25 units of the Southwest Pacific Theater: the 3rd Bomb Group had such an important history and so many incredible photos were discovered during the extensive research conducted for this project that it became necessary to split it into two separate 400 page volumes. This includes the history of the 27th Bomb Group. Originally formed Stateside with A-24 dive-bombers, this Group preceded the 3rd overseas, but was destroyed in the Japanese attack on the Philippines during December 1941. Although without assigned aircraft, most of the 27th pilots and aircrews escaped the fate of the captured and imprisoned ground crews and fled to Australia. One squadron fought briefly in the Netherlands East Indies before being withdrawn again to Australia. The survivors were subsequently folded into the newly arriving 3rd Bomb Group that landed in Australia with no immediately flyable aircraft.
The 3rd Bomb Group flew a variety of aircraft during its early operations, including the B-25, the A-24 and the A-20, and was the first American air unit to equip with the latter type and fly it in combat. In order to have enough aircraft to conduct operations, two squadrons took charge of a shipment of B-25s that had originally been sold to the Dutch for use in the Netherlands East Indies. Volume I covers these events through the unit’s eventual equipment with three squadrons of B-25s and one of A-20s.
By early 1943, the 3rd Bomb Group was converting its aircraft to low-level attack strafers on a model developed by the legendary and early unit member Maj. Paul I. "Pappy" Gunn. This strafer concept was employed in March 1943 with devastating effectiveness in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, and thereafter became the model for most B-25 attack operations for the rest of the war in the South and Southwest Pacific. The 3rd won a Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) for its operations during the Papuan Campaign of 1942-43. The story covers all the important targets and campaigns in Papua New Guinea through the early fall of 1943, including the devastating attacks by the 3rd Bomb Group strafers on the Japanese 4th Air Army on the ground at the Wewak airfields, for which the unit was awarded a second DUC for the air attack on August 17, 1943
Two factors made researching Volume I of the 3rd Bomb Group story particularly difficult. First, the chaos of early air operations in the Southwest Pacific provided very poor documentation of these early days. To make matters worse, the B-25 carrying the Adjutant and the unit's records vanished over the Coral Sea in January of 1943 and its fate remains a mystery to this day. Nevertheless, in no small measure due to the persistence of the IHRA research team, interviews, personal diaries, logbooks, letters and other sources have been found to replace the missing records. IHRA can now tell the incredible "lost" story of these important American air units during the early months of World War II. Harvest of the Grim Reapers Vol. I will be Volume 8 of the Eagles Over the Pacific series.
Read about Volume II.