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Turning the Tide in New Guinea


Attacking at treetop level, Allied aircrews withstood deadly ground fire to strafe Japanese airfields and shipping. Adding to devastation inflicted by their machine guns, the low-flying attackers destroyed Japanese aircraft on the ground with 23-pound fragmentation bombs. At the suggestion of General Kenney, small parachutes attached to these "parafrag" bombs slowed them enough for the attacker to escape the hail of shrapnel that destroyed the airplanes on the ground. Delayed action bombs left huge craters in the runway and prevented Japanese aircraft from taking off or landing. Through this tough war of aerial attrition, Kenney's fliers rendered the Japanese naval and air forces at Rabaul impotent.

Kenney's forces also cut off the Japanese supply lines through aerial interdiction. Complementing the attacks on Japanese port facilities and oil refineries with B-17 and B-24 bombers, the Allied fighters and bombers attacked ships from low altitude. The B-25s, some armed with 75mm cannons in the nose, and other aircraft employed the technique known as "skip bombing" played havoc with the enemy's ability to conduct offensive operations. During the Battle of the Bismarck Sea in March 1943, Allied airmen destroyed a large Japanese convoy transporting troops and supplies from Rabaul to New Guinea. At least 3,000 Japanese troops died when Allied aircrews sank 12 of the 16 ships in the convoy and effectively ended any Japanese hopes of conquering New Guinea.

Despite suffering miserable conditions, inadequate supplies and a determined enemy, Kenney's airmen made it possible for General MacArthur's ground forces to drive the Japanese out of New Guinea. Furthermore, these airmen altered the military strategy in the Southwest Pacific. With their naval and air forces destroyed, the Japanese ground troops at Rabaul no longer posed a threat, and General MacArthur bypassed them in what became known as island hopping. This strategy, which relied heavily upon the success of air power, hastened the Allied advance toward the Philippines and the Japanese mainland with much fewer casualties.

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