This Is What It Was like in the Bombing Campaign Against Imperial Japan
Warfare History Network
A hellish duty.
Key point: Bombing missions were important but very dangerous.
Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber crews of the U.S. 11th Bombardment Group spent the first three months of 1943 organizing on Hawaiian airfields and flying practice and patrol missions around the islands. By mid-April, with no strike missions and no contact with the enemy, the bomber crews were restless. But the morning of April 17 had a different feel—electric.
The group’s officers were still in a closed-door briefing while rumors buzzed about a bombing mission, their first. All that remained for pilots to tell their crews was when and where. When pilot Lieutenant Joe Deasy met with his crew and gave them the particulars, it was the first time they had heard of Funafuti. Twenty-three Liberators would fly to Canton Island, a pork-chop shaped atoll 1,900 miles southwest of Oahu, refuel, and continue 740 miles farther to Funafuti in the Ellice Islands group, more than 2,600 miles from Hawaii.
“We didn’t know where Funafuti was,” B-24 gunner Sergeant Ed Hess recalled. “When we saw the map, we griped about it being halfway to Australia.”
Airfield at Funafuti
Six months before, on October 2, 1942, 11 ships of the United States Navy entered Funafuti’s lagoon and landed a Navy construction battalion. The Seabees immediately began construction of an airfield and support facilities while Marines prepared defenses and set up antiaircraft guns. To build the runway, the Seabees bulldozed thousands of coconut trees and covered arable land with hard-packed coral. The airfield was completed before the end of the year.
On the long flight to Canton, the men ate sandwiches delivered to the flight line from Kahuku’s mess hall. They used their flak jackets for pillows and stole naps in the back of the airplane. A relief tube, or “piss pipe” as crewmen called it, was built into the side of the plane just aft of the left waist window; another one was installed behind the flight deck. There was a portable toilet that most men avoided, better to wait than use the “honey bucket” and have to wash it out after landing because “if you used it, it was yours to clean,” radio operator Sergeant Herman Scearce remembered. Even the piss pipe could be a nasty problem at higher altitudes where its flow could freeze and cause a messy backup.
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