BOMBING RAIDS OVER THAILAND – B-24s Liberators

B-24 LIBERATORS – THAILAND WW2

 

WX92370 FURY, Thomas Joseph ‘A’ Coy.  ‘Blackforce’. Was selected to work the Burma end of the Burma-Thai Railway with Java Party No. 4 Willams Force.   Fury was killed during an Allied air raid  at Thanbuzayat, Burma  15/6/44.

Tom Fury was Goldfields born and lived most of his life there. He had married and was the father of three sons.
Tom also close to his mother and step-brothers and sisters.
WX7467 HOLDMAN, Norman Phillip (Norm or Lofty) was working at the wharves at Bangkok on go-downs when he was killed instantly during an air raid on 27 March 1945.    He was 34 years old, married with young children.
Holdman Norman Phillip
Lofty survived the hellish conditions of working on the Burma-Thailand Railway with Williams Force during the monsoons and speedo.  Working conditions were horrific, they had little food and medicine and were at the mercy of their spiteful and sadistic Japanese and Korean guards.  Whilst at Kanchanaburi he was selected for Japan (probably Awa Maru Party) in 1945.   His work party was directed through Bangkok supposedly to sail to Japan.
More than 18,400 B-24s were built.  It was the most produced of American wartime aircraft and gained a distinguished war record with operations in the European, Pacific, African and Middle Eastern theatres. It followed in the footsteps of the other great American WW II bomber, the Boeing B-17 Fortress.    But it did have its critics. Its flying characteristics were not as refined as the B-17.
In 1938, the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) sent a request to the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation to become a second source for B-17s.
Instead of building B-17s Consolidated’s Company President Reuben Fleet decided he did not want to build an aircraft which was already 4 years old.  He wanted to design something new.
The new bomber had to meet the following specifications:
300 mph (483 km/h) airspeed.
3,000 mile (4,828 km) range.
35,000 ft (10,668 m) ceiling.
There were continual modifications.
Strangely there were more deaths in the B-24s than  B-17s and became known as the widow makers!
The B-24 became the natural choice for the war in the Pacific. Its faster speed gave it an advantage. In Europe, speed was less an important than flying a tight formation. While in the Pacific, speed was more important and formation flying less. Flak was also less of a factor than it was in Europe and its long range allowed for greater access to distant targets. Some B-24s were converted to carry the first US air-to-surface, radar-guided missile called the Bat and in April 1945, a Bat sank a Japanese naval destroyer.

 

B-24 Liberator – Specifications (B-24J)
  • Length: 67 ft. 8 in.
  • Wingspan: 110 ft.
  • Height: 18 ft.
  • Wing Area: 1,048 sq. ft.
  • Empty Weight: 36,500 lbs.
  • Loaded Weight: 55,000 lbs.
  • Crew: 7-10

Performance

  • Power Plant: 4 × Pratt & Whitney R-1830 turbo-supercharged radial engines, 1,200 hp each
  • Combat Radius: 2,100 miles
  • Max Speed: 290 mph
  • Ceiling: 28,000 ft.

Armament

  • Guns: 10 × .50 in. M2 Browning machine guns
  • Bombs: 2,700-8,000 lbs. depending on range
Above and Below:  bombing raids of bridges Thailand
Above: Bombing of Bangkok
In 1942, the Allied position in the China Burma India campaign was precarious. The British Army’s defence of its Burma colony collapsed quickly; surviving British forces retreated to India, which the Japanese were already preparing to conquer. America had just entered the war and was still mustering its forces and establishing the complex logistical network required to support sustained military operations.
In August 1942, American war planners decided the 7th  Bomb Group would be reconstituted as a heavy bomb group with four squadrons. The new commander of Tenth Air Force in India, Brigadier General Clayton Bissell, did not consider the B-17 Flying Fortress suitable for the China-Burma-India Theatre (CBI). The B-17 lacked the long distance range.  He asked the B-17s be replaced by Consolidated B-24 Liberators. However It would be months before B-24s reached India with the European war in full swing.
Meanwhile the group flew out of Calcutta and Agra while a new base was prepared for the 7th at Pandaveswar, India, outside Calcutta.

 

 

The Japanese Army in Burma had its own logistical challenges.
All military equipment and supplies had to come from Japan by sea.  This voyage of 4,000 miles from the home islands to ports in Burma and Thailand.
From those ports to the  Burma front lines the journey included an additional 2,000 miles of single-track railroad line. Burma’s heavy jungle offered concealment for the Japanese and made them difficult to target and engage from the air. There were no industrial targets beyond the area of the Burmese capital at Rangoon.
“air war in Burma became a war against enemy communications and supplies.… The interruption of the movement and trans shipment of supplies by sea or land into lower Burma became the primary objective of the 7th Bomb Group.”
The 7th BGs’ bombers first went after the major targets –  ports at Bangkok and Rangoon, Japanese shipping heading there via the Gulf of Siam, the Andaman Sea, and the Bay of Bengal. In doing so, the 7th set bombing records.
On 19 December 1943, the group flew the longest known mission of the war at that point, to Bangkok, a 14- to 15-hour flight. It also inaugurated new bombing techniques.
On 1 November 1944, the campaign to destroy Japanese lines of communication in Burma began, and bridges became the primary targets.
“Bridges were never easy targets. Analysis of the bombing effort during 1943 shows 7th’s Liberators had managed to achieve only one direct hit for every 81 sorties.   These were targets that required direct hits—near misses did little damage to a bridge’s structure…. Part of the solution to the problem of bombing bridges came with the introduction of a new weapon, the AZON bomb.”
This was the first American smart bomb, a 1,000-pounder with a radio-controlled tail fin that allowed the bombardier to manoeuvre the weapon after it had been dropped to correct deflection errors in flight. A flare attached to the rear of the bomb enabled the bombardier to track its fall.
AZON is derived from “azimuth only,” which meant the bomb could be steered left or right but lacked pitch control. Much like today’s Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), the AZON control and guidance package was attached to the tail of a standard 1,000-pound bomb. The Eighth Air Force initially tried AZON bombing in Europe in the latter half of 1944, with disappointing results.
Europe’s inclement weather, the rain and the fog, affected AZON guidance. But thankfully in the clear, dry weather of Southeast Asia’s hot season, AZON bombs proved ideal for attacking the narrow bridges on the Thai-Burma rail lines.
By November 1944, the group had 10 dedicated AZON B-24s fitted with necessary transmitters and antennas and flown by crews specifically trained in the AZON technique. They were assigned to the 7th’s 493rd Bomb Squadron.
They also developed a new bombing technique. Referred to in some histories as “dive bombing,” it actually was “glide bombing” when performed with a B-24.
“A form of glide-bombing with a sharp pull-up at the end of the glide could send a bomb directly into a bridge structure instead of it bouncing off as had happened in many low-level attacks…. The pilot would approach the target along its long axis, begin a 20 to 25 degree glide at 1,500 feet, and release the bomb at 500 feet as he pulled out. A toggle switch was fitted to the control column so that the pilot could release the bomb using a special sight designed specifically for that purpose.”
On 14 April 1945, a total of 41 Liberators from all four of the 7th’s squadrons were sent out, the 493rd squadron equipped with AZON bombs, the other three prepared for glide bombing. Thirty bridges were destroyed, and 18 were damaged—a spectacular success
All of the missions were long ones and not all targeted railroads. One of the longest was to the port of Bangkok, to target a drydock that was duly put out of commission.
The flight from India to Bangkok was a round trip of 2,700 miles; it took 17½hours, the longest B-24 formation flight made in the CBI.
In nearly three years of combat the B-24s of the 7th BG dropped 13,165 tons of bombs in the course of nearly 500 combat missions and carried close to 3,000,000 gallons of fuel to China. The group lost 71 aeroplanes, 48 on combat missions and 23 on ‘gas hauling’ missions.
British and Americans were located at many airfields throughout India and Burma – names which challenge us!

MYITKYINA AIRSTRIP, BURMA 1944

 

The above map shows ‘the Hump’ and an idea of distances the air crews flew from India and Burma to Thailand.

 

During Southeast Asia’s monsoon season, from about mid-June to the end of September 1944, when extreme weather interfered with aircraft operations, the 7th’s B-24s were relieved from bombing missions and sent to haul gasoline to China over the famous ‘Hump’ aka the Himalayas. To convert the aircraft to tankers, gun turrets were removed and three gunners left behind; three 420-gallon tanks were installed in the bomb bays.
Flying the Hump involved some of the most dangerous missions of the war. They were flown through heavy rain, ice, and extreme turbulence. Foul weather took its toll, but so did overloading. The conditions were reflected in aircraft losses. The 7th Bomb Group lost more B-24s flying the Hump than in combat that year.
The Hump earned another name after so many air craft crashed – the ‘Aluminium Trail’.