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Part of B-17 Formation (1 of 6)

Part of B-17 Formation (1 of 6)

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Part of B-17 Formation (1 of 6)

Here we see a view of part of a B-17 formation, made up of part of the 1st Air Division. This would appear to show three complete 'V's of three aircraft and one of only two.

Pictures provided by Sgt. Robert S. Tucker Sr. (Member of: The American Air Museum in Britain {Duxford} ).
Robert S. WWII Photo Book, Mighty 8th. AF, Ground Crew

A Virtual Tour Of The B-17

The Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” is arguably the most recognizable aircraft of the Second World War. Made infamous by the daring daylight strategic bombing runs they carried out over Germany, more than 12,000 of these four-engined bombers were produced between 1939 and 1945. Thanks to the plane’s renowned survivability in battle, approximately 60% of them made it through the war and returned home to the United States, only to be rounded up in so-called “boneyards” where they were ultimately cut up and sold as scrap. Today there are fewer than 50 intact Boeing B-17s left in the world, and of those, only 11 remain airworthy.

One of them is Nine-O-Nine, a B-17G built in April 7, 1945. This particular aircraft was built too late to see any combat, although in the 1950s she was fitted with various instruments and exposed to three separate nuclear blasts for research purposes. It’s actually not the real Nine-O-Nine either, the original was scrapped after it completed eighteen bombing runs over Berlin. Without a combat record of its own, this bomber was painted to look like the real Nine-O-Nine in honor of its incredible service record of never losing a crewman.

Since 1986, Nine-O-Nine has been owned by the Collings Foundation, who operate her as a living history exhibit. The bomber flies around the United States with an entourage of similarly iconic WWII aircraft as part of the Wings of Freedom Tour, stopping by various airports and giving the public a chance to climb aboard and see the pinnacle of mid-1940s strategic bombing technology. History buffs with suitably deep pockets can even book a seat on one of the scheduled 30-minute flights that take place at every stop on the Tour.

I was lucky enough to have the The Wings of Freedom Tour pass through my area recently, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to experience this incredible aircraft first hand. The fact that I’m equal parts a coward and miser kept me from taking a ride aboard the 74 year old Nine-O-Nine, at least for now, but I made sure to take plenty of pictures from inside this lovingly restored B-17G while it was safely on the ground.

17.2.6 Lab – Attacking a mySQL Database (Answers)

Instructor Note: Red font color or gray highlights indicate text that appears in the instructor copy only.


In this lab, you will view a PCAP file from a previous attack against a SQL database.

  • Part 1: Open Wireshark and load the PCAP file.
  • Part 2: View the SQL Injection Attack.
  • Part 3: The SQL Injection Attack continues…
  • Part 4: The SQL Injection Attack provides system information.
  • Part 5: The SQL Injection Attack and Table Information
  • Part 6: The SQL Injection Attack Concludes.

Background / Scenario

SQL injection attacks allow malicious hackers to type SQL statements in a web site and receive a response from the database. This allows attackers to tamper with current data in the database, spoof identities, and miscellaneous mischief.

A PCAP file has been created for you to view a previous attack against a SQL database. In this lab, you will view the SQL database attacks and answer the questions.

Required Resources


You will use Wireshark, a common network packet analyzer, to analyze network traffic. After starting Wireshark, you will open a previously saved network capture and view a step by step SQL injection attack against a SQL database.

Part 1: Open Wireshark and load the PCAP file.

The Wireshark application can be opened using a variety of methods on a Linux workstation.

a. Start the CyberOps Workstation VM.

b. Click Applications > CyberOPS > Wireshark on the desktop and browse to the Wireshark application.

c. In the Wireshark application, click Open in the middle of the application under Files.

d. Browse through the /home/analyst/ directory and search for lab.support.files. In the lab.support.files directory and open the SQL_Lab.pcap file.

e. The PCAP file opens within Wireshark and displays the captured network traffic. This capture file extends over an 8-minute (441 second) period, the duration of this SQL injection attack.

What are the two IP addresses involved in this SQL injection attack based on the information displayed?

Part 2: View the SQL Injection Attack.

In this step, you will be viewing the beginning of an attack.

a. Within the Wireshark capture, right-click line 13 and select Follow > HTTP Stream. Line 13 was chosen because it is a GET HTTP request. This will be very helpful in following the data stream as the application layers sees it and leads up to the query testing for the SQL injection.

The source traffic is shown in red. The source has sent a GET request to host In blue, the destination device is responding back to the source.

b. In the Find field, enter 1=1. Click Find Next.

c. The attacker has entered a query (1=1) into a UserID search box on the target to see if the application is vulnerable to SQL injection. Instead of the application responding with a login failure message, it responded with a record from a database. The attacker has verified they can input an SQL command and the database will respond. The search string 1=1 creates an SQL statement that will be always true. In the example, it does not matter what is entered into the field, it will always be true.

d. Close the Follow HTTP Stream window.

e. Click Clear display filter to display the entire Wireshark conversation.

Part 3: The SQL Injection Attack continues…

In this step, you will be viewing the continuation of an attack.

a. Within the Wireshark capture, right-click line 19, and click Follow > HTTP Stream.

b. In the Find field, enter 1=1. Click Find Next.

c. The attacker has entered a query (1’ or 1=1 union select database(), user()#) into a UserID search box on the target Instead of the application responding with a login failure message, it responded with the following information:

The database name is dvwa and the database user is [email protected]. There are also multiple user accounts being displayed.

d. Close the Follow HTTP Stream window.

e. Click Clear display filter to display the entire Wireshark conversation.

Part 4: The SQL Injection Attack provides system information.

The attacker continues and starts targeting more specific information.

a. Within the Wireshark capture, right-click line 22 and select Follow > HTTP Stream. In red, the source traffic is shown and is sending the GET request to host In blue, the destination device is responding back to the source.

b. In the Find field, enter 1=1. Click Find Next.

c. The attacker has entered a query (1’ or 1=1 union select null, version ()#) into a UserID search box on the target to locate the version identifier. Notice how the version identifier is at the end of the output right before the </pre>.</div> closing HTML code.

d. Close the Follow HTTP Stream window.

e. Click Clear display filter to display the entire Wireshark conversation.

Part 5: The SQL Injection Attack and Table Information.

The attacker knows that there is a large number of SQL tables that are full of information. The attacker attempts to find them.

a. Within the Wireshark capture, right-click on line 25 and select Follow > HTTP Stream. The source is shown in red. It has sent a GET request to host In blue, the destination device is responding back to the source.

b. In the Find field, enter users. Click Find Next.

c. The attacker has entered a query (1’or 1=1 union select null, table_name from information_schema.tables#) into a UserID search box on the target to view all the tables in the database. This provides a huge output of many tables, as the attacker specified “null” without any further specifications.

What would the modified command of (1′ OR 1=1 UNION SELECT null, column_name FROM INFORMATION_SCHEMA.columns WHERE table_name=’users’) do for the attacker?

The database would respond with a much shorter output filtered by the occurrence of the word “users”.

d. Close the Follow HTTP Stream window.

e. Click Clear display filter to display the entire Wireshark conversation.

Part 6: The SQL Injection Attack Concludes.

The attack ends with the best prize of all password hashes.

a. Within the Wireshark capture, right-click line 28 and select Follow > HTTP Stream. The source is shown in red. It has sent a GET request to host In blue, the destination device is responding back to the source.

b. Click Find and type in 1=1. Search for this entry. When the text is located, click Cancel in the Find text search box.

The attacker has entered a query (1’or 1=1 union select user, password from users#) into a UserID search box on the target to pull usernames and password hashes!

Which user has the password hash of 8d3533d75ae2c3966d7e0d4fcc69216b?

c. Using a website such as https://crackstation.net/, copy the password hash into the password hash cracker and get cracking.

What is the plain-text password?

d. Close the Follow HTTP Stream window. Close any open windows.

Reflection Questions

1. What is the risk of having platforms use the SQL langauge?

Web sites are commonly database driven and use the SQL language. The severity of a SQL injection attack is up to the attacker.

2. Browse the internet and perform a search on “prevent SQL injection attacks”. What are 2 methods or steps that can be taken to prevent SQL injection attacks?

Answers will vary, but should include: filter user input, deploy a web application firewall, disable unnecessary database features/capabilities, monitor SQL statements, use parameters with stored procedures, and use parameters with dynamic SQL.

Part of B-17 Formation (1 of 6) - History

Me standing in front of the B-17 I saw
at the fly-in. You can see how big the
plane was compared to the people.

Soldier standing guard over newly
manufactured B-17
Wikimedia, Public Domain


I’ve never piloted a plane, although I had a chance with my dad, who can fly. The heat in the small plane was too much for me. I have flown in a B-17 as research for my B-17 series. Biggest impression—the noise. I could not hear someone talking right in front of me.

Terri, I could have ridden in the B-17 at the fly-in but the price of a ticket exceeded my budge by quite a few dollars. In the instructional movie showing a trainer talking to a pilot in the cockpit of a B-17 while they were flying I didn' see any means of using a radiophone or whatever they would have had back then to be heard over the noise. Maybe the noise wasn't as bad in that position as farther back. I'm a little envious that you were able to experience the actual plane in flight like that!

Thanks for the post! I had heard of the WASPS before but didn't know the extent of their training. I love that the cartoony "Fifi" was allowed! Hopefully that didn't detract from the respect others gave these women as they were doing their jobs.

Connie, I haven't seen anything negative related to the cartoon-like figure of Fifi. I've seen quite a few pictures planes that were taken into battle with similar cartoon-like figures painted on the planes. Perhaps a bit of needed levity in the midst of a dangerous war.

This comment has been removed by the author.

I have never flown an airplane, but back during that war, I read about the WASPS. In my 8 year old mind, they and the women who served as nurses were real heroes. I didn't realize at the time that they weren't really a part of the armed services. I told my father I wanted to be in the armed services when I grew up. He laughed and said he could see me as many things, but not a soldier, and besides that, the wars would all be over by then. Also, back then, my grandmother said only loose women who wanted to be around men and do a man's job wanted to WASPS, WAACS or WAVES. I still love reading stories about them and learning more about about the women who took over tasks like the WASPS and the women who served. Thanks for the post.

Oh, I forgot to add I did a double take when I saw that last picture of the WASP. She looks enough like the mother of a friend that they could have been sisters. Almost eerie.

Part of B-17 Formation (1 of 6) - History

By Gene Eric Salecker

By September 1942, after numerous aerial strikes against the advancing Imperial Japanese Navy, the Battle of the Coral Sea in May, and numerous attacks against enemy convoys along the New Guinea coast in the summer of that year, Maj. Gen. George Kenney was convinced that it was too hard to hit a moving ship from high altitude with his four-engine Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers.

General Kenney had taken over General Douglas MacArthur’s air force on July 29, 1942, and had found the situation in shambles. Kenney discovered that after almost a year of trying to stop the advancing Japanese juggernaut most of the men belonging to the 19th Bomb Group (BG), which had retreated from the Philippines, were in desperate straits. “The crews were thinking only of going home,” Kenney commented. “Their morale was at a low ebb and they didn’t care who knew it.” Out of the 32 B-17s based at Mareeba Airfield at the base of Australia’s York Peninsula, General Kenney discovered that only 14 were combat ready, with the others waiting for repairs or parts or both. All 32 airplanes, however, were battered and worn. “Anywhere else but this theater,” he wrote, “they would probably have been withdrawn from combat, but they were all we had so I’d have to use them if we wanted to keep the war going.”

In spite of this deplorable first impression, Kenney worked hard and had 16 B-17s ready to attack the strong Japanese air and naval base at Rabaul on the northern tip of New Britain island on August 7, 1942, in conjunction with the Marine Corps attack on Guadalcanal. The town of Rabaul sat on the northern end of Blanche Bay. The bay’s entrance was four miles wide, and the entire bay was deep enough to take any ocean-going man-of-war. Inside the bay, directly below Rabaul, was horseshoe-shaped Simpson Harbor. After capturing the town and harbor from the Australians in January 1942, the Japanese had turned Rabaul into a major base complex that included the excellent deep-water harbor and two nearby airfields, Lakunai, almost immediately southeast of the town and harbor, and Vunakanau, nine miles almost due south. On August 7, 1942, the 19th BG struck Vunakanau Airfield for the first time, successfully damaging dozens of planes and drawing attention away from the Marine invasion of the Solomon Islands.

Over the next month, the 19th BG, joined by the 43rd BG, and now part of ’s newly christened Fifth Air Force, struck at Rabaul and at Japanese convoys moving out to reinforce their invasion forces on northern New Guinea. With the B-17s dropping their bombs from at least 25,000 feet, the Japanese ships had plenty of time to move out of the way of the falling bombs before the projectiles reached water level. It was estimated that less than one percent of all bombs dropped from high altitude on moving ships actually hit their mark. To be more effective, something had to change.

Back in July, General Kenney and his aide, Major William Benn, had discussed the possibility of low-level skip bombing attacks from about 50 feet altitude. When the bomber was about 100 feet away from the target ship, it would release a bomb that would skip across the surface of the water, like a flat pebble skipping across the surface of a lake, until it bumped into the side of the vessel. Then, with a five-second delay fuse, the bomb would sink beneath the ship and blow a hole in the hull when it detonated.

The idea of skip bombing had originated with the British, but they had been unsuccessful in perfecting the technique and had abandoned its use as being too dangerous. Reviving the idea, General Kenney and Major Benn began experimenting. According to Lieutenant James T. Murphy, “Major Benn and General Kenney had originally thought that bombing enemy ships at extremely low altitude could only be accomplished by a medium bomber—the A-20, B-25, or B-26.” The three planes all mounted forward-firing machine guns, which was thought to make them perfect for coming in at a low altitude against an enemy vessel before dropping their bombs. After a few trial runs, the two men realized that “experiments and a lot of practice would be required,” and that “the aircraft would be shot down coming in during daylight hours if the Japanese ships had much gun protection on their decks.”

Still believing that they could make skip bombing work, General Kenny removed Major Benn from his staff and placed him in charge of the 63rd Bomb Squadron (BS), part of the newly formed 43rd BG. Reported Lieutenant Murphy, “Benn was given full authority from General Kenney to develop low-altitude and skip bombing for use against Japanese ships.” Both Kenney and Benn knew that their best chance to destroy Japanese ships was to hit them when they were anchored at their home base, Rabaul. Although both men wanted to use medium bombers for skip bombing, they knew that only their big four-engine B-17 bombers had sufficient range to strike the Japanese at Rabaul. Commented Murphy, “Therefore, they had no choice. The Allies had to stop the Japanese freedom of movement on the seas and hit them at the major Southwest Pacific installation.”

A Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber nicknamed Aztec Curse flies low over the Solomon Islands in October 1942. The B-17 became a successful skip bombing platform after much effort.

Major Benn began by looking for the right fuses. He started using Australian 10- and 12-second delay fuses. Lieutenant Murphy, a member of Major Benn’s 63rd BS, recalled, “We started dropping the bomb from 50 feet altitude. We quickly found many things that had to be changed. The altitude was too low—the bomb would almost bounce back at us. The timing accuracy of the supposed 10- and 12-second delay was totally unreliable. The detonation varied from milliseconds to 30 seconds.” Unable to get the correct type of fuses in Australia, Major Benn put in a requisition to Army command in the States while his crews continued to practice their bombing runs.

Experimenting with different size bombs, the crews of the 63rd BS began practicing against the hulk of the SS Pruth,an old freighter that was hung up on a reef just inside the harbor of Port Moresby, New Guinea. Although each pilot preferred his own speed and altitude, the general practice was to fly at approximately 2,000 feet altitude while searching for an enemy ship. Once one was spotted, the B-17 dropped down to about 250 feet and approached the side of the ship in level flight and at a speed of about 220 miles per hour.

Usually, the bombardier dropped the bomb 60 to 100 feet away from the side of the ship. If done correctly, the bomb would hit the surface of the water, skip into the air, strike the side of the vessel, and sink beside it. “From that low altitude,” reported the 43rd BG historian, “the bombs did not have time to point down. Instead they struck the water, still with more forward than downward momentum, skittered across the waves and struck the side of the freighter.” Lieutenant Murphy added, “[After skipping the bomb] I would fly directly over the ship, retaining my same airspeed and altitude. With the 4- to 5-second delay fuse in the bomb, I had time to get away while the bomb sank by the side of the ship. The explosion underwater often broke the ship in half and created almost immediate fire and explosions.”

On the morning of September 20, 1942, General Kenney watched a skip bombing practice off Port Moresby. Captain Ken McCullar proved to be “especially good,” skipping six out of 10 bombs against the side of the Pruth. To get the bombs to detonate at the precise moment, Kenney learned that the aircrews had been able to modify Australian 10- to 12-second fuses to 5-second fuses. Noted Kenney, “So far they worked pretty well. Sometimes they went off in three seconds, sometimes in seven, but that was good enough.” Until the American 5-second fuses arrived, the men would have to rely on the modified Australian fuses. Although Kenney liked what he saw, he knew that it was still too early to risk the skip bombing technique in combat. The 63rd BS was told to keep practicing.

lying in formation, B-17 heavy bombers of the Fifth Air Force wing their way toward the Japanese bastion of Rabaul. Despite early skepticism, the B-17 proved a capable skip bombing aircraft.

Knowing that Rabaul’s Simpson Harbor was protected by the Japanese planes from Vunakanau and Lakunai airfields, Major Benn stressed to his pilots that their number one advantage was the surprise night attack. Although the Japanese had hundreds of planes based in the Rabaul area in September 1942, they lacked an effective night fighter. Not until May 1943 would the Japanese develop the Nakajima J1N1-C “Gekko” twin-engine night fighter (American codename “Irving”). By that time, however, dozens of ships were already resting on the bottom of Simpson Harbor. “From our first skip bombing mission to our last, we skip bombed only at night,” recalled Lieutenant Murphy. “I made my approach into the rising moon or toward the east at daybreak to catch the first light of day. My bombardier and I could then see the ship before the crew saw us.”

Major Benn instructed his crews to get in and out as quickly as possible to “give them the least amount of time to get a shot at you.” Usually, the crew on the Japanese ship would spot the incoming American bomber at the last minute and attempt to turn their antiaircraft guns toward the low-flying airplane. “They were either too late, or we only received minor damage,” recalled Murphy. “We would then fly directly away without gaining altitude when at a decent distance over the water, we then began to gain altitude to return home.” Sometimes the B-17 crew went back for a second run against another ship if they had not dropped all of their bombs on the first ship, but as Benn stressed, the planes had to be far away before it got too light. Reported Murphy, “Once it got daylight, we could always expect a mass of fighters to try to find us, so we didn’t stay around very long.”

The highest priority targets for the skip bombing B-17 crews were the Japanese transports. “We have one objective and that is to bomb the Japanese,” stressed Major Benn, “to hurt them where we can, and especially in their shipping—transports, cargo, and whatever protection they have, i.e., warships.” Lieutenant Murphy verified this, writing, “We would be at different altitudes searching for the first priority—Japanese transports and cargo ships.”

The men of the 63rd BS continued to make regular bombing runs against the Japanese infantry at Buna and Gona in northern New Guinea, and at an occasional enemy ship moving along the New Guinea coast, but with whatever spare time was available, they practiced their skip bombing runs against the derelict freighter off Port Moresby. “Even though we were flying missions from Australia into New Guinea,” wrote Murphy, “we practiced skip bombing on the water at Port Moresby between missions. We were always testing our ability to skip bomb for the maximum effectiveness.”

By October 1943, the U.S. Army had begun to supply General Kenney’s Fifth Air Force with American-made fuses. On the night of October 22-23, the first skip bombing raid in American history occurred when the 63rd BS of the 43rd BG attacked a buildup of Japanese shipping at Rabaul. At midnight on October 22, six Fortresses from the 63rd BS took off from Port Moresby behind six from the 64th BS/43rd BG. While the 64th BS hit the town of Rabaul from 10,000 feet, attracting the searchlights and antiaircraft fire, the 63rd BS engaged the enemy ships in skip bombing.

The first successful skip bomber was Captain Franklyn T. Green. Before even entering Simpson Harbor, Green successfully skip bombed a light cruiser and a 5,000-ton cargo ship, then climbed in altitude and entered the harbor where he scored two direct hits on a 15,000-ton cargo ship. As he turned away, Green noted that both cargo ships were sinking and that the light cruiser was on fire with her stern already under water. Minutes later inside the harbor, Captain Carl Hustad skip bombed a 10,000-ton cargo vessel, setting it on fire, while Captain Ken McCullar in B-17F #41-24521 (Black Jack), skipped two bombs into the side of a Japanese destroyer.

Officers of the U.S. 43rd Bomb Group, an accomplished skip bombing unit, attend a briefing at Mareeba, Australia, in November 1942.

In only a matter of minutes, the 63rd BS had managed to sink or damage at least five Japanese ships. “This was jackpot night,” noted the 63rd BS historian, “and the first use of skip-bombing. It paid dividends.” Informed of the success of the raid, General MacArthur immediately congratulated Major Benn for his persistence in the development of skip bombing and presented him with a Distinguished Service Cross.

Only a few days after the first successful skip bombing mission, General Kenney began sending the first crews from the battered 19th BG home to the United States. The 90th BG, fresh from the United States and flying the longer range Consolidated B-24 Liberator four-engine bombers, was beginning to trickle into Australia and New Guinea. For months General Kenney had promised the 19th BG crews that they would soon be going home, and near the end of October that promise became a reality. Unfortunately, as soon as the 19th BG was gone, it was missed. Upon inspection of the B-24s of the 90th BG, it was discovered that every plane had a cracked nose wheel gear, a manufacturing flaw. Until the defect could be repaired, General Kenney had to rely solely on his few remaining Fortresses from the 19th BG and the B-17s of his 43rd BG, which “now constituted about all the heavy-bomber strength I had.”

On the night of October 25, the 63rd BS set out to skip bomb the Japanese ships in Rabaul’s Simpson Harbor once again. The 43rd BG historian dramatically wrote, “Eight planes nosed toward Rabaul like winged tigers who had the taste of blood still in their mouths.” Once again, the 63rd BS scored big. Lieutenant Jack Wilson, flying B-17F #41-24551 (Fire Ball Mail), sank a 5,000-ton cargo ship, and Captain Hustad badly damaged another. Additionally, Captain Green bombed and set fire to a coaling jetty next to the harbor. As the planes fled the scene, the fire from the jetty was still visible 80 miles away.

Unwilling to ease the pressure on Rabaul, General Kenney sent a total of 10 planes from the 403rd BS/43rd BG and the 28th BS/19th BG against Simpson Harbor on October 30. Having trained with the crews of the 63rd BS, the 403rd BS went in low, skip bombing and claiming hits on a large cargo ship and two destroyers. Noted General Kenney, “Photos taken the next day showed all three vessels half under water and aground.”

While Kenney continued attacks against Rabaul and the northern coast of Papua New Guinea, General MacArthur was contacted by the commanders of the South Pacific area to lend them assistance in attacking Japanese ships in the northern Solomons, specifically at Tonolei Harbor on the southern end of Bougainville Island. A few B-17s from the 43rd BG hit the harbor on November 11, and upon leaving the area noticed a number of enemy vessels lining both the east and west sides of the harbor.

B-17 Flying Fortress bombers and their ground crews prepare for a mission from an airfield located near Port Moresby on the coast of New Guinea.

With plenty of enemy targets available, four B-17s from the 63rd BS took off to strike Tonolei Harbor at 1:30 am on November 12. Flying the buddy system, the flight broke into pairs, with one pair attacking the transports on the west side of the harbor while the other pair struck the ships on the east side. Approaching at 2,000 feet, Lieutenant Murphy in B-17F #41-24384 (Pluto) spotted the phosphorescent wake of a 10,000-ton transport moving across the harbor and dropped down for a skip bombing run. “When I leveled off at 200 feet, I picked up the wake of the ship,” reported Murphy. “As I moved closer, the ‘X’ mark [I had scratched] on my window met the middle of the ship. I called, ‘Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb.’” With each command, Murphy’s bombardier toggled loose a bomb. As Plutopassed over the ship, the antiaircraft guns belatedly opened fire. “Our bombs had been delivered very accurately,” Murphy continued. “The transport was immediately on fire—explosions were seen on board, and [wingman, Captain Byron] Heichel and his crew confirmed that it had turned on its side.”

On the other side of the harbor, the other pair of pilots was having similar luck. Also using skip bombing, Captain Ed Scott hit an 8,000-ton cargo ship with two bombs, causing substantial damage, while Captain Folmer Sogaard, flying B-17F #41-24520 (Fightin’ Swede), sank a 10,000-ton transport with one bomb amidships and two more on the waterline.

Following an air raid on the Japanese base at Rabaul, a freighter slowly sinks in the harbor. As American forces advanced across the Pacific, Rabaul was reduced by air raids and left to wither as its supply lines were cut.

The next night, Lieutenant Murphy, still flying the Pluto, and his wingman Captain Heichel, set out from Port Moresby at 1 am for another raid on Tonolei Harbor. The two ran into a violent storm that had the crews “holding their breaths that the engines would continue running” between New Guinea and Bougainville but managed to reach the harbor just as the moon was rising.

Spotting a 10,000-ton cargo ship, Murphy was just starting his descent for a skip bombing run when an antiaircraft shell hit his No. 4 engine. Quickly feathering the propeller, Murphy steadied Plutoat 200 feet and skipped two 1,000-pound bombs into the ship. “We then flew over a runway and became the target for more antiaircraft fire, “he wrote. “There was another 8,000-ton cargo vessel at the harbor by the runway, so we dropped the other two 1,000-pound bombs and hit the ship fire erupted immediately.” A second later, an antiaircraft shell tore a two-foot hole in the upper left side of Pluto’s Plexiglas nose.

“It felt as though we were in a hurricane,” Murphy said as the airstream rushed in through the hole. “Everything was flying around in the nose and up in the cockpit.” In spite of the hole in the nose and the loss of partial power in another engine, Murphy successfully brought Plutothrough the same violent storm that he had faced on the way out and managed to land safely at Port Moresby. “The crew really took a physical pounding,” he reported, “and I still have great praise for the ability of the Boeing Flying Fortress to take punishment.”

Throughout the rest of November, the Fifth Air Force concentrated on aiding the Allied drive against the Japanese strongholds of Buna and Gona on the northern coast of New Guinea. Whenever enemy ships were spotted bringing supplies or reinforcements to the two bastions, Kenney’s men attacked. After sunset on November 24, a convoy of five Japanese destroyer transports was spotted making a run toward Buna. While most of the seven B-17s of the 63rd and 65th Bomb Squadrons attacked from low altitude, damaging two ships and sinking the Hayashio,Captain McCullar, in the Black Jackonce again, went in at 200 feet and skipped a couple of bombs against the stern of another destroyer. “The bombs hit just off the end of the boat,” McCullar reported, “and the AA [antiaircraft] hit in [our] tail gunner’s ammunition can exploding about 70 shells and starting quite a fire.” While McCullar circled for another bomb run, the crew frantically extinguished the fire.

Staying at 200 feet, McCullar hit the destroyer again, “starting a fire on the right front of the ship.” Again, antiaircraft fire hit McCullar’s Fortress, wounding two men and damaging the No. 1 engine. Climbing to 4,000 feet, McCullar went over the burning vessel one last time and dropped his last few bombs, which fell harmlessly into the sea. When another burst of antiaircraft fire took out the No. 3 engine, McCullar feathered the propeller and headed Black Jackback to Port Moresby. At the same time, the badly damaged Japanese convoy, less the Hayashio, headed back to Rabaul.

The Fifth Air Force B-17s continued to use skip bombing against Japanese ships whenever possible, with Captain McCullar leading the way. Promoted to major on January 16, 1943, McCullar was given command of the 64th BS and quickly started training his men in the techniques of skip bombing. Noted the squadron historian, “Capt. McCullar inspired the officers and men with his flying tactics. The Capt. was a skip-bombing expert.”

A North American B-25 Mitchell medium bomber successfully skip bombs a Japanese tanker in the South Pacific. The B-25 was also armed with heavy machine guns and cannons to devastate Japanese vessels.

Although skip bombing with a B-17 had been proven successful, General Kenney felt that the lack of forward firing guns in the nose of the Flying Fortresses limited their ability to do damage against the enemy vessel prior to the bomb strike. Because of this, he had Colonel Paul I. “Pappy” Gunn begin modifications on the lighter, faster North American B-25 Mitchell medium bombers of his 3rd BG. Eventually, Gunn mounted 10 forward-firing .50-caliber machine guns in the nose and alongside the fuselage of his B-25s.

In early March 1943, the Japanese put up a maximum effort to reinforce their garrisons on New Guinea, sending out eight destroyers, seven transports, and one special service vessel carrying the Japanese 51st Division. Spotted in the Bismarck Sea on March 2, the Japanese were soon under attack by hundreds of Allied planes.

Among the first to reach the convoy were seven B-17s of the 63rd BS. While five of the planes attacked from about 4,000 feet, Lieutenant Murphy in B-17F #41-24381 (Panama Hattie) and his wingman Captain Sogaard in the Fightin’ Swedewent down to skip bomb the transports. Spotting the 8,000-ton Kyokusei Maru, Murphy battled through the heavy antiaircraft fire of the protecting destroyers to hit the transport squarely amidships. “I turned the plane around, dropped closer to the water, and saw one end of the transport pointed towards the sky,” he wrote. “The ship had been split apart and was sinking.” Not to be outdone, Sogaard skip bombed a 5,000-pound transport, stopping her dead in the water.

During the rest of the day and into the early evening, the B-17s continued to attack the remaining vessels, although they dropped their bombs from about 4,000 feet and scored few hits. The next morning, March 3, 1942, a total of 106 Allied planes, both Australian and American, prepared to hit the convoy in waves. While the B-17s of the 43rd BG scored a number of hits from low altitude, the most successful attack came from 12 of Colonel Gunn’s B-25 medium bombers that came in low using skip bombing and hit 11 different ships, sinking one destroyer and one transport. The next day, the B-25s went in at masthead level again and sank two more destroyers and severely damaged two transports.

The Battle of the Bismarck Sea ended on March 4 as a resounding victory for the Allies. For the loss of three fighters, one B-17, and 13 airmen, the Allies had stopped the Japanese dead in the water, sinking all seven transports, one service vessel, and four destroyers, with a total loss of about 3,000 men. Although the B-17s had played a big part in the battle, being credited with sinking six ships, it was the B-25s that had shown their effectiveness at skip bombing against moving ships in broad daylight.

Lighter and faster than the B-17s, the twin-engine B-25s and their counterparts, the twin-engine Martin B-26 Marauder medium bomber and the Douglas A-20 Havoc light bomber, were highly maneuverable and made small targets when coming in at masthead level against an enemy vessel. Armed with multiple forward-firing machine guns and even cannons, the B-25s, B-26s, and A-20s could do plenty of damage to a Japanese ship before they ever got close enough to skip their bombs across the surface of the water.

Although the B-17 would continue to be used in both high- and low-level attacks for a few more months, its time in the Pacific was drawing to a close. As the Allies began to win the war in the Pacific, employing the “island-hopping” strategy to moved ever closer to Japan, the longer range B-24s began to replace the shorter range B-17s. By the end of 1943, the B-17 was no longer being used for combat missions in the Pacific. By that time, Major Benn was no longer around. On January 18, 1943, he had gone out in a B-25 on a reconnaissance mission. The plane never returned.

Although the B-17 was gone from the Pacific, the big Flying Fortress had pioneered the skip bombing technique and had proven to the world that skip bombing was a viable tactic, one that would be used repeatedly by the crews of the smaller, faster twin-engine bombers until Japan surrendered on September 2, 1945.

Gene Eric Salecker is a retired university police office who teaches eighth-grade social studies in Bensenville, Illinois. He is the author of four books, including Blossoming Silk Against the Rising Sun: US and Japanese Paratroopers in the Pacific in World War II .He resides in River Grove, Illinois.

The Rise and Fall of Laetrile

Laetrile is the trade name for laevo-mandelonitrile-beta-glucuronoside, a substance allegedly synthesized by Ernst T. Krebs, Jr., and registered with the U.S. Patent Office for the treatment of “disorders of intestinal fermentation.” This compound is chemically related to amygdalin, a substance found naturally in the pits of apricots and various other fruits. Most proponents of Laetrile for the treatment of cancer use the terms “Laetrile” and amygdalin interchangeably.

Amygdalin was originally isolated in 1830 by two French chemists. In the presence of certain enzymes, amygdalin breaks down into glucose, benzaldehyde, and hydrogen cyanide (which is poisonous). It was tried as an anticancer agent in Germany in 1892, but was discarded as ineffective and too toxic for that purpose. During the early 1950s, Ernst T. Krebs, Sr., M.D., and his son Ernst, Jr., began using a “purified” form of amygdalin to treat cancer patients. Since that time scientists have tested substances called “Laetrile” in more than 20 animal tumor models as well as in humans and found no benefit either alone or together with other substances. Along the way its proponents have varied their claims about Laetrile’s origin, chemical structure, mechanism of action, and therapeutic effects [1,2]. Its place in history is assured, however, as a focus of political activities intended to abolish the laws protecting Americans from quackery.

Krebs, Sr.—Laetrile’s “grandfather”—worked as a pharmacist before attending the San Francisco College of Physicians and Surgeons, from which he received his medical degree in 1903. During the influenza pandemic of 1918, he apparently became convinced that an old Indian remedy made from parsley was effective against the flu. He set up the Balsamea Company in San Francisco to market the remedy as Syrup Leptinol, which he claimed was effective against asthma, whooping cough, tuberculosis and pneumonia as well. During the early 1920s, supplies of Syrup Leptinol were seized by the FDA on charges that these claims were false and fraudulent. During the 1940s, Krebs, Sr., promoted Mutagen, an enzyme mixture containing chymotrypsin, which he claimed was effective against cancer. He and his son also patented and promoted “pangamic acid” (later called “vitamin B15”), which they claimed was effective against heart disease, cancer, and several other serious ailments. Krebs, Sr., died in 1970 at the age of 94.

Ernst T. Krebs, Jr.—Laetrile’s “father”—has often been referred to as “Dr. Krebs” although he has no accredited doctoral degree. He attended Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia from 1938 to 1941, but was expelled after repeating his freshman year and failing his sophomore year [3]. After taking courses in five different colleges and achieving low or failing grades in his science courses, he finally received a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Illinois in 1942 [3]. In 1973, after giving a 1-hour lecture on Laetrile, he obtained a “Doctor of Science” degree from American Christian College, a small, now-defunct Bible college in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The school, founded by evangelist Billy James Hargis, had no science department and lacked authority from Oklahoma to grant any doctoral degrees.

Laetrile’s Origin

Several versions of Laetrile’s development have been published. In a 1962 book, Krebs, Sr., said that he had theorized that “cancer proteins” could be broken down by an enzyme he had prepared when he was a pharmacy student. When the substance proved too toxic in animal experiments, he boiled it and obtained better results. However, according to Michael Culbert, another prominent Laetrile promoter, Krebs ran a lucrative business analyzing smuggled whiskey for wood alcohol and developed Laetrile while working on a bourbon flavoring extract. During experiments with a mold growing on the barrels in which the whiskey was aged, he isolated an enzyme that he thought might have anti-tumor activity. When his supply of barrel mold was exhausted, he switched to apricot pits and used extracts (which he called Sarcarcinase) for various tests on animals and humans during the next two decades. In 1949, Krebs, Jr., modified his father’s extraction process and named the result Laetrile.

Historian James Harvey Young has noted that Krebs, Sr., presented yet another version to FDA officials during an interview in 1962. Then he dated Laetrile’s birth to 1951 and said he had tested it on patients but kept no records [1]. Noting that this version was made public much earlier than the others, Dr. Young suspects that Laetrile’s origin was backdated to try to evade new drug provisions of 1938 and 1962 FDA laws. In 1977, after thorough investigation, FDA Commissioner Donald Kennedy concluded:

While it appears that Dr. Krebs, Sr., was utilizing some substance, which apparently had the trademark Sarcarcinase, before 1938, there is no evidence that the substance is identical . . . to the present-day Laetrile [4].

Proponents’ Rationales

In 1902, a Scottish embryologist named John Beard theorized that cancer cells and cells produced during pregnancy called trophoblasts are one and the same. According to Beard, trophoblasts invade the uterine wall to form the placenta and umbilical cord. The pancreas then produces chymotrypsin, which destroys the trophoblasts. Beard postulated that if the pancreas fails to produce enough chymotrypsin, trophoblasts circulate through the body of both mother and infant, making them vulnerable throughout life to cancer.

In 1945, Krebs, Jr., founded the John Beard Memorial Foundation to “develop and apply” Beard’s theories. In 1950, the Krebs published a version of Beard’s thesis and stated that amygdalin kills trophoblast cells where trypsin has failed. They claimed that cancer tissues are rich in an enzyme that causes amygdalin to release cyanide which destroys the cancer cells. According to this theory, noncancerous tissues are protected from this fate by another enzyme which renders the cyanide harmless. After enforcement agencies began trying to ban Laetrile as a drug, the Krebs claimed that amygdalin is a vitamin (“B17”) and that cancer is caused by a deficiency of this vitamin. None of these theories is valid [5].

Claims for Laetrile effectiveness have also shifted. At first it was claimed to cure cancer. Later it was claimed to “control” cancer. When the “vitamin” theory was developed, it was touted as a cancer preventive. It has also been claimed to be effective in relieving pain associated with cancer and in facilitating treatment with chemotherapy.

Scientific Review

One of the first practitioners to use Laetrile was Arthur T. Harris, M.D., who had trained in Scotland and reportedly studied embryology under John Beard. Harris, who had been doing family practice in Southern California, renamed his office the Harris Cancer Clinic. Within a year he submitted a report to Coronet Magazine which claimed that he was “working on something out here that is going to be the answer to cancer if there will ever be one,” but the magazine did not report what he was doing.

By that time, the California Medical Association was receiving inquiries about Laetrile. When members of its Cancer Commission approached Krebs, Sr., he claimed that “limited” trials of toxicity in animals had been performed with satisfactory results, but that the records had been destroyed. No human trials involving Laetrile had been undertaken, but the Commission was offered case reports of patients in which spectacular results had supposedly been observed. However, the details claimed by the Krebs team could not be confirmed by other sources. The Commission was able to obtain a small supply of Laetrile for animal tests at three medical centers—all of which produced negative results.

At one point, the Krebs’ agreed to supply Laetrile for a controlled clinical investigation at Los Angeles County Hospital. But later they said they would do so only if a Laetrile advocate were put in charge—which was not acceptable to hospital authorities. The Commission then evaluated the records of 44 patients treated according to the Krebs’ recommendations. Two years had elapsed since the first of these patients had been treated with Laetrile. Nineteen had already died and there was no evidence that Laetrile had helped any of the others [6].

Marketing Increased

In 1956 Ernst T. Krebs, Jr., was introduced to Andrew R.L. McNaughton, who has been dubbed Laetrile’s “godfather” by its supporters. McNaughton is the son of the late General A.G.L. McNaughton, commander of the Canadian Armed Forces during World War II. General McNaughton also served as president of the United Nations Security Council and the National Research Council of Canada.

Andrew McNaughton was educated at a Jesuit College and subsequently received training in electrical engineering, geology, mining, and business administration. During the war he was the chief test pilot for the Royal Canadian Air Force. Subsequently, he made a fortune by converting cheaply obtained war surplus items into useful products for other nations. He provided arms for the emerging nation of Israel and was also a double agent for Fidel Castro, ostensibly working for the Batista government in Cuba but often arranging for purchases to be hijacked by Castro supporters. For his efforts, Castro made him an “honorary citizen of Cuba.”

McNaughton met Krebs shortly after he had incorporated the McNaughton Foundation, which was seeking projects “on the outer limits of scientific knowledge.” Intrigued by Krebs’ account of the “Laetrile Wars,” McNaughton began promoting and distributing Laetrile. In 1961, to facilitate distribution in Canada, he founded International Biozymes Ltd. (later renamed Bioenzymes International Ltd), located in the same building as the McNaughton Foundation. Eventually, he built factories in seven countries.

It has been alleged that a major Biozymes stockholder (under someone else’s name) was a New Jersey mobster who was convicted of conspiring to bribe public officials in connection with gambling. In 1977, McNaughton told American Medical News that he had treated the man’s sister with Laetrile and that the man was a “wonderful guy” who had given $130,000 to the McNaughton Foundation.

During the 1970s, McNaughton experienced considerable difficulty in his financial dealings. In 1972, he was permanently enjoined from selling Biozymes stock in the United States as a result of a suit brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission. In 1973, he was charged by Italian police with having taken part in a $17 million swindle involving purchasers of Biozymes stock who were under the impression that they were investing in an Italian Laetrile factory. In 1974, in a Canadian courtroom, McNaughton was found guilty of stock fraud involving a company named Pan American Mines. It appears that $5 million had mysteriously disappeared. McNaughton was fined $10,000 and sentenced to serve one day in jail. A warrant for his arrest was issued after he refused to pay the fine and left Canada without serving his sentence.

Publicity Mounts

Besides overseeing production, McNaughton also sought publicity for Laetrile. He was able to convince a Jersey City surgeon, John A. Morrone, to attend a presentation that Krebs, Jr., gave in Montreal. After having lunch with Krebs, Jr., Morrone reportedly went back to New Jersey a “convinced laetrilist,” and began using Laetrile on his patients.

At McNaughton’s request, Morrone wrote a report on ten patients he had treated with Laetrile, which was published in 1962 in Experimental Medicine and Surgery, a journal no longer being published. McNaughton also arranged for a freelance writer named Glenn Kittler to write two magazine articles and a book on Laetrile. Kittler, who had studied to become a priest before becoming a journalist, had been an associate editor of Coronet magazine in 1952. The articles were published in March 1963 in American Weekly, a Sunday supplement to the Hearst newspapers. Immediately afterward, Kittler’s book, Laetrile: Control for Cancer, was rushed into print with an initial press run of 500,000 copies. The book carried a foreword by McNaughton—with his Foundation’s Montreal address. According to Kittler, the book’s publisher was so confident that publicity from the articles would boost sales that he didn’t send prepublication advertising to book distributors. When sales lagged, Kittler claimed that pressures from the AMA and FDA were partially responsible.

Support Groups

The efforts of McNaughton and Kittler were not fruitless, however. Cecile Hoffman was a San Diego schoolteacher who had undergone a radical mastectomy in 1959. After reading Kittler’s book, she visited the McNaughton Foundation in Montreal and received Laetrile. Although she was unable to find an American physician who would administer her intravenous Laetrile injections, she did find Ernesto Contreras, M.D., just across the Mexican border in Tijuana. This was perhaps the most fortunate thing that ever happened to Dr. Contreras.

Contreras was a former Mexican Army pathologist who was in private practice in Tijuana. After he administered the Laetrile, Mrs. Hoffman became convinced that it controlled her cancer and saved her life. She remained a fervent Laetrile supporter until she died of metastatic breast cancer in 1969. Hoffman’s convictions led her to form the International Association of Cancer Victims and Friends (IACVF) in 1963. (The word Victims was later changed to Victors.) IACVF’s purpose was “to educate the general public to the options available to cancer patients, especially terminal cancer patients.” Joining forces with health food industry promoters, the association began holding annual conventions in Los Angeles that drew thousands of people. These meetings provided a forum for virtually anyone who either promised or sold a cancer remedy that was not recognized as effective by the scientific community. The Krebs spoke often at these conferences. IACVF also founded the Cancer Book House, which sold literature promoting unorthodox cancer treatments. In addition, it arranged for room, board and transportation to Contreras’ clinic from a California motel near the border.

Contreras, meanwhile, expanded his clinic and added translators to his staff to accommodate the influx of American patients. Business was so brisk that in 1970 he constructed a new clinic-the Del Mar Medical Center and Hospital—which he promoted as “an oasis of hope.” (His facility is now called Oasis Hospital.)

In 1973, several leaders left IACVF to found the Cancer Control Society, whose activities are similar to those of IACVF. Another group promoting dubious cancer therapies is the National Health Federation (NHF), which supports a broad spectrum of questionable health methods. This group was founded in 1955 by Fred J. Hart, president of the Electronic Medical Foundation, a company that marketed quack devices. NHF sponsors meetings, generates massive letter-writing campaigns, and helps defend questionable methods in court cases. Four people who have served on its board of governors and the husband of its current president have been convicted of laetrile-related crimes.

Legal Problems

The first seizure of Laetrile in the United States occurred in 1960 at the former Hoxsey Cancer Clinic, which was then being operated by osteopathic physician Harry Taylor, a former Hoxsey employee. Two months before the seizure, a federal court judge had ordered Taylor to stop distributing the various Hoxsey concoctions. The seizure was not contested by Taylor.

In 1961, Krebs, Jr., and the John Beard Memorial Foundation were indicted for interstate shipment of an unapproved drug-not Laetrile but pangamic acid. After pleading guilty, Krebs was fined $3,750 and sentenced to prison. However, the sentence was suspended when Krebs and the Foundation agreed to terms of a 3-year probation in which neither would manufacture or distribute Laetrile unless the FDA approved its use for testing as a new drug [8].

In 1959, the California legislature had passed a law similar to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, banning commerce of hazardous foods, drugs and cosmetics within California. The California Department of Public Health then formed a Cancer Advisory Council which studied Laetrile and other dubious cancer treatments. The ten physicians and five research scientists carried out their investigation from 1960 to 1962 and issued their report in May 1963.

During 1962 and 1963, the Cancer Advisory Council examined more than 100 case histories submitted by various proponents and concluded that none provided any evidence that Laetrile was effective against cancer. The Council also reviewed the California Medical Association’s 1953 report on Laetrile, as well as a “new synthetic” Laetrile purportedly developed by Krebs, Jr. In addition, medical records of 144 patients treated with Laetrile were reviewed from physicians in both the United States and Canada.

After the Council determined that the drug was “of no value in the diagnosis, treatment, alleviation or cure of cancer,” it recommended that regulations be issued to ban the use of Laetrile and “substantially similar” agents for the treatment of cancer [7]. Despite considerable opposition from Laetrile promoters, the regulation was issued under provisions of California’s Cancer Law and became effective November 1, 1963. In 1965, the Council published a supplementary report that analyzed 14 more cases and again found no benefit [9].

The Krebs family returned to court several more times. In 1965, Krebs, Sr., was charged with disobeying a regulatory order forbidding interstate shipment of Laetrile and pleaded “no contest.” The following year he pleaded guilty to a contempt charge for shipping Laetrile in violation of injunctions and failing to register as a drug manufacturer. He received a suspended 1-year sentence. In 1974 Ernst, Jr., and his brother Byron pleaded guilty to violating the California state health and safety laws. Each was fined $500, given a suspended sentence of six months, and placed on probation. Byron had his osteopathic license revoked the same year for “mental incompetence”, and died shortly thereafter.

In 1977, Ernst, Jr., was found guilty of violating his probation by continuing to advocate Laetrile and was sentenced to 6 months in the county jail. He was jailed during 1983 after the appeals process ended. During the 1977 proceedings, the District Attorney noted that Krebs had (a) illegally promoted B15 for treating cancer and many other ailments, (b) helped transport vials used to package it for sale, (c) received shipments of the calcium gluconate from which the product was made, (d) gave frequent lectures promoting laetrile as the most effective anti-cancer agent, (e) been listed as a “doctor” in 1975 and 1976 telephone directories, (f) even used a license plate “VIT B 15” for his car, and (g) while claiming to be unemployed, accumulated large amounts of money, including large caches of cash found during searches [10].

Meanwhile, Howard H. Beard (not a relative of John Beard), who had worked with Krebs and Dr. Harris, suffered an unfavorable ruling from the California Cancer Advisory Council. For many years he had promoted various urine tests purported to measure the level of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). Both Krebs and Beard had claimed that all cases of cancer could be diagnosed on the basis of an elevated HCG test. In 1963 Krebs, Jr., stated that the “scientific implementation” of Laetrile relied upon Beard’s test.

Beard had further claimed that an elevated HCG level was sufficient indication for treatment with Laetrile, even in the absence of clinical findings or a positive biopsy for cancer. A true believer in his test, he reportedly began taking Laetrile himself after noting that his urine test was not quite normal. Beard maintained a laboratory offering mail-order service, including measurement of the urinary HCG levels.

Beard developed at least three alleged cancer tests, the most notable of which was his Anthrone Color Test. He claimed nearly 100% accuracy if patients who were pregnant, had liver disease or diabetes, or were taking sex hormones were excluded. He also claimed that the test was so sensitive that it was able to detect the development of cancer within 2-3 weeks after malignant transformation took place.

During the early 1960s, the California Cancer Advisory Council had provided Beard with 24-hour urine specimens from 198 patients, as well as two “urine” specimens which consisted of lactose dissolved in water. Simultaneous tests were performed at the California State Public Health Laboratories. Beard was unable to identify which urine came from patients with cancer and which came from patients with other conditions. The investigation also demonstrated that Beard’s test results had nothing to do with cancer but depended mainly on the amount of lactose in the urine. Consequently, the test was banned in California as of August 1965. In 1967, Beard was indicted by a federal grand jury in Texas on nine counts of mail fraud related to the marketing of his test. After pleading no contest, he was given a 6-month suspended jail sentence and 1-year probation.

In 1975, the California Board of Medical Examiners concluded that Stewart M. Jones, M.D., had acted unprofessionaly by prescribing laetrile to cancer patients. Jones argued that he merely administered “nutritional therapy” for what he called “nitriloside defiency disease.” The hearing officer ruled that this alleged intention did not excuse Jones completely because California law made it illegal to administer laetrile to people who had cancer or thought they had cancer. The board placed him on two years probation. The Cancer Advisory Council filed an amicus brief asserting that parts of the hearing officer’s ruling were poorly reasoned, but the board’s action ended the case.

Further Efforts toward Respectability

The McNaughton Foundation persisted in trying to make Laetrile respectable. They commissioned the SCIND Laboratories in San Francisco to conduct animal studies involving a transplanted tumor system in rats. Although the Foundation had reported that weekly doses of 1 or 2 grams of Laetrile had produced “a brilliant response” in cancer patients and the rats received human equivalents of 30-40 grams, the results were negative.

Undaunted by the negative report, the McNaughton Foundation filed an Investigational New Drug application with the FDA. The FDA responded with a routine form letter giving permission—subject to further review—for investigational clinical trials involving Laetrile. However, eight days later, when the review was completed, the agency requested additional information from the McNaughton Foundation to correct “serious deficiencies” in the application. When this was not produced, the authorization for clinical trials was withdrawn.

While the McNaughton Foundation was attempting to have Laetrile recognized as a drug, Krebs, Jr., began claiming that it was a vitamin, which he called B17. (It only took him about 20 years to come to this conclusion.) Krebs apparently hoped that as a “vitamin” Laetrile would not be subject to the “safety and efficacy” requirements for new drugs. He may have also hoped to capitalize on the popularity of vitamins.

By 1974, Dr. Contreras stated that he was seeing 100-120 new patients per month, with many more patients returning to obtain additional Laetrile. Patients typically were charged $150 for a month’s supply. Contreras acknowledged that few of his cancer patients were “controlled” with Laetrile. While admitting that 40% of the patients displayed no response, he claimed that 30% showed “most definite responses” to the drug. However, these statistics may not be reliable. In 1979, he claimed to have treated 26,000 cancer cases in 16 years. Yet when asked by the FDA to provide his most dramatic examples of success, Contreras submitted only 12 case histories. Six of the patients had died of cancer, one had used conventional cancer therapy, one had died of another disease after the cancer had been removed surgically, one still had cancer, and the other three could not be located [11].

The First “Metabolic” Doctor

John Richardson was a general practitioner who began practice in the San Francisco Bay area in 1954. In 1971, after discussions with Krebs, Jr., he decided to become a cancer specialist. He had not encountered overwhelming success as a general practitioner. His 1972 income tax return revealed that he had grossed $88,000 in his medical practice, leaving a net of only $10,400 taxable income.

Richardson’s practice boomed as a result of his newly found status as a cancer “expert.” He states that “Our office soon was filled with faces we had never seen before—hopeful faces of men and women who had been abandoned by orthodox medicine as hopeless or “terminal” cases.” In 1974, he reported that his medical practice had grossed $783,000, with a net income of $172,981. By charging patients $2,000 for a course of Laetrile, Richardson managed to increase his net income 17-fold in just two years. According to his income tax returns, Richardson grossed $2.8 million dollars from his Laetrile practice between January 1973 and March 1976. The actual amount of money he received may have even been higher. In Laetrile Case Histories, he claimed to have treated 4,000 patients, with an average charge of $2,500 per patient. Culbert states that by 1976 Richardson had treated 6,000 patients. If these figures are correct, Richardson would have grossed between $10 and $15 million dollars during this time.

Richardson’s practice changed significantly after he began treating cancer patients with Laetrile. He also began treating what he termed “pre-clinical syndrome” patients with Laetrile. These were patients with no identifiable tumor or lesion who complained of feelings of “impending doom, malaise, unexplained or vague pains, headaches, bowel changes, loss of appetite, loss of energy, and depression.” According to Richardson, cancer patients reported a reduction in pain, an improved appetite, return of strength, and an improved mental outlook. In addition, high blood pressure returned to normal.

In spite of these “dramatic improvements,” Richardson admitted that most of his cancer patients died. In an attempt to overcome this, he increased the Laetrile dosage to nine grams, six days a week, and placed patients on a vegetarian diet and “massive” doses of regular vitamins. Richardson coined the phrase “metabolic therapy” to refer to this combination of diet manipulation, vitamins and Laetrile.

In June 1972, Richardson’s office was raided and he was arrested for violating California’s Cancer Law. He was convicted of this charge, but the conviction was overturned on a technicality and a new trial ordered. Two more trials followed which resulted in hung juries. Hearings before the California Board of Medical Quality Assurance in 1976 resulted in the revocation of his California medical license. He then worked at a Mexican cancer clinic. During the 1980s, he practiced under a homeopathic license in Nevada until he had open heart surgery and entered an irreversible coma.

The Political Explosion

Dr. Richardson’s arrest triggered the formation of the Committee for Freedom of Choice in Cancer Therapy (later called the Committee for Freedom of Choice in Medicine). The group’s founder and President was Robert Bradford, a former laboratory technician at Stanford University. Michael Culbert, who at the time of Richardson’s arrest was an editor at the Berkeley Daily Gazette, became a major spokesman for the Committee, editing their newsletter, The Choice, and writing two books promoting Laetrile: Vitamin B-17: Forbidden Weapon Against Cancer (1974) and Freedom From Cancer (1976).

Culbert was assisted in editing The Choice by Maureen Salaman, wife of Committee vice-chairman Frank Salaman. The Committee’s legislative advisor was Georgia Congressman Larry McDonald, a urologist who used Laetrile. CFCCT’s activities were closely allied with the John Birch Society, to which Richardson, Bradford, Culbert, the Salamans and McDonald all belonged. Soon after its formation, CFCCT established local chapters throughout the United States and used bookshops associated with the John Birch Society to hold meetings and distribute literature.

In May 1976 Richardson was indicted, along with his office manager, Ralph Bowman, and fellow CFCCT members Robert Bradford and Frank Salaman, for conspiring to smuggle Laetrile [12]. A year later all were convicted of the charges. Bradford was fined $40,000, Richardson $20,000, and Salaman and Bowman $10,000 each. During the trial it was disclosed that Bradford had paid $1.2 million dollars for 700 shipments of Laetrile and that Richardson had banked more than $2.5 million during a 27-month period.

The NCI Scientist

Although facing problems on some fronts, the Laetrile movement gained adherents. Dr. Dean Burk was a biochemist with a Ph.D. from Cornell Medical College who had joined the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 1939 as a research fellow. After ten years he was appointed as Head of NCI’s Cytochemistry Section, which had a staff of four persons at the time of his retirement 25 years later.

At McNaughton’s request, Burk did an experiment in which Laetrile was used to kill a tissue culture of cancer cells. He reported to McNaughton that he could “see the cancer cells dying off like flies.” Eventually Burk concluded that Laetrile was the most effective treatment available for cancer, that it relieved the pain of terminal cancer victims, and that it might be useful in preventing cancer. He also claimed in Congressional testimony that Laetrile was less toxic than sugar. Burk became fast friends with Krebs, Jr., and was given a permanent room in Krebs’ San Francisco mansion. He was soon on the “Laetrile circuit” and was given the Cancer Control Society’s “Humanitarian Award” in 1973.

Burk also became active in opposing fluoridation and spoke against it in many cities throughout the United States and Europe. An inveterate tobacco user, he claimed in Congressional testimony that he had developed a safer cigarette.

The Professor

In 1977, Harold W. Manner, Ph.D., chairman of the biology department at Loyola University in Chicago, achieved considerable notoriety by claiming to have cured mammary cancers in mice with injections of Laetrile and proteolytic enzymes and massive oral doses of vitamin A. What he actually did was digest the tumors by injecting digestive enzymes in amounts equivalent to injecting a woman with a pint of salt water containing about 1½ ounces of meat tenderizer every other day for six weeks. Not surprisingly, the mice developed abscesses where the enzymes were injected, the tumors were liquefied, and the injected tissue fell off. Since no microscopic examinations were conducted and the animals were observed for only a few weeks following treatment, no legitimate assessment of this type of therapy could have been made. But Manner announced at a press conference sponsored by the National Health Federation that a combination of Laetrile, vitamins and enzymes was effective against cancer. He reported his experiments in a chiropractic journal and wrote a book called The Death of Cancer.

Manner also founded the Metabolic Research Foundation whose stated purpose was research into “metabolic diseases,” which—according to him—included arthritis, multiple sclerosis and cancer. Sponsored by the Nutri-Dyn company he held seminars throughout the country for chiropractors and unorthodox physicians [13]. Nutri-Dyn manufactured processed animal glands (“glandulars”), which Manner said would help the corresponding body parts of cancer patients. In 1982, a reporter from WBBM-TV Chicago became Metabolic Physician #219 by attending a seminar in Los Angeles and donating $200 to the Metabolic Research Foundation. To indicate his “professional” background the reporter used the initials “D.N.,” which, he later explained, stood for “Doctor of Nothing.” Manner promised to refer ten patients a year to him.

According to Manner, Loyola University officials became upset with his activities and asked him to either give them up or resign from his position at the school. During the early 1980s, he left his teaching position, became affiliated with a clinic in Tijuana that offered “metabolic therapy.” He died in 1988, but the clinic is still operating.

The Rutherford Case

Glen Rutherford was a 55-year-old Kansas seed salesman who was found to have a grape-sized polyp of the colon in 1971. When a biopsy revealed that it was cancerous, he was advised to have it removed. Fearful of surgery, he consulted Dr. Contreras, who treated him with Laetrile, vitamins and enzymes, and cauterized (burned off) the polyp. Although cauterization usually cures this type of cancer when it is localized in a polyp, Rutherford emerged from this experience claiming that Laetrile had cured him and was necessary to keep him alive. People Magazine reported that he also began taking 111 pills (mostly vitamins) costing $14 per day. In 1975, he became lead plaintiff in a class action suit to force the FDA to allow “terminal” cancer patients to obtain Laetrile for their own use.

The case was heard before Judge Luther Bohanon in the Western Oklahoma United States District Court. Bohanon was extremely sympathetic to Rutherford’s wishes. In 1977, Bohanon issued a court order permitting individuals to import Laetrile for personal use if they obtained a doctor’s affidavit stating they were “terminally ill.” Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the argument that drugs offered to “terminal” patients should be exempted from FDA regulation [14]. However, further efforts by Rutherford and his supporters plus defiant rulings by Bohanon enabled the affidavit system to remain in effect until 1987, when it was finally dissolved.

Legislative Action

During the mid-1970s, Laetrile promoters portrayed themselves as “little guys” struggling against “big government” and began trying to legalize the sale of Laetrile. Eventually, 27 states passed laws permitting the sale and use of Laetrile within their borders. Federal law still forbade interstate shipment of Laetrile, and since it was impractical to manufacture it for use in just one state, these state laws had little or no practical effect. Proponents hoped, however, that if enough states legalized its use within the states, Congress would change the federal law as well. Although bills were introduced to exempt Laetrile from FDA jurisdiction, they were unsuccessful and petered out with the death of Congressman McDonald in 1983.

In 1977, a U.S. Senate subcommittee chaired by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) held hearings on Laetrile that developed interesting testimony. Dr. Richardson claimed that the FDA, AMA, NCI, American Cancer Society, Rockefeller family and major oil and drug companies had all conspired against Laetrile. Robert Bradford said that he would welcome a test of Laetrile but that “orthodox medicine was not qualified” to do one. However, he Krebs, Jr., and Richardson were unable to agree on the formula for Laetrile. Senator Kennedy concluded that the Laetrile leaders were “slick salesmen who would offer a false sense of hope” to cancer patients. The New York Times commented that the Laetrile promoters were regarded by the Senators “with a blend of amusement and contempt.”

Victims in the News

As Laetrile became newsworthy, several cancer victims treated with it drew widespread media scrutiny. One was Chad Green, who developed acute lymphocytic leukemia at age 2. Although he was rapidly brought into remission with chemotherapy, his parents started him on “metabolic therapy” administered by a Manner Metabolic Physician. When Chad developed signs of cyanide toxicity, Massachusetts authorities had him declared a ward of the court for treatment purposes only. His parents then brought suit to reinstitute “metabolic therapy.” When the court ruled against them [15], they fled with Chad to Mexico, where he was treated by Dr. Contreras. Several months later Chad died in a manner suggestive of cyanide poisoning. Dr. Contreras stated that the boy had died of leukemia, but was a good example of the effectiveness of Laetrile because he had died a pleasant death! Chad’s parents stated that he had become very depressed because he missed his grandparents, his friends and his dog.

Joseph Hofbauer was a 9-year-old with Hodgkin’s disease. Unlike Chad Green’s parents, Joseph’s parents never allowed him to receive appropriate treatment but insisted that he receive Laetrile and “metabolic therapy.” When New York State authorities attempted to place him in protective custody, his parents filed suit and convinced family court judge Loren Brown to let the parents make the treatment decision. Brown stated that “This court also finds that metabolic therapy has a place in our society, and hopefully, its proponents are on the first rung of a ladder that will rid us of all forms of cancer.” The parwents rejected standard treatment, and Joseph died of his disease two years later. Acute lymphocytic leukemia and Hodgkin’s disease both have a 95% 5-year survival rate with appropriate chemotherapy.

In 1977, FDA Consumer magazine described cases of people who had been harmed by using Laetrile [16] and the FDA Commissiioner issued a prominent public warning.

During 1980, movie star Steve McQueen attracted considerable attention when he was treated with Laetrile at another Mexican clinic under the supervision of William D. Kelley, a dentist who had been delicensed by the State of Texas after several brushes with state and federal law enforcement authorities. Although McQueen gave a glowing report when he began his treatment, he died shortly afterward.

NCI Studies

In response to political pressure, the National Cancer Institute did two studies involving Laetrile. The first was a retrospective analysis of patients treated with Laetrile. Letters were written to 385,000 physicians in the United States as well as 70,000 other health professionals requesting case reports of cancer patients who were thought to have benefited from using Laetrile. In addition, the various pro-Laetrile groups were asked to provide information concerning any such patients.

Although it had been estimated that at least 70,000 Americans had used Laetrile—only 93 cases were submitted for evaluation. Twenty-six of these reports lacked adequate documentation to permit evaluation. The remaining 68 cases were “blinded” and submitted to an expert panel for review, along with data from 68 similar patients who had received chemotherapy. That way the panel did not know what treatment patients had received. The panel felt that two of the Laetrile-treated cases demonstrated complete remission of disease, four displayed partial remission, and the remaining 62 cases had exhibited no measurable response. No attempt was made to verify that any of the patients who might have benefited from Laetrile actually existed. The reviewers concluded that “the results allow no definite conclusions supporting the anti-cancer activity of Laetrile.” [17]

Although the NCI mailing had not been designed to uncover negative case reports, 220 physicians submitted data on more than 1,000 patients who had received Laetrile without any beneficial response.

In July 1980, the NCI undertook clinical trials of 178 cancer patients who received Laetrile, vitamins and enzymes at the Mayo Clinic and three other prominent cancer centers. The study included patients for whom no other treatment had been effective or for whom no proven treatment was known. All patients had tumor masses that could easily be measured, but most of the patients were in good physical condition. Since Laetrile proponents were unable to agree on the formula or testing protocol for Laetrile, NCI decided to use a preparation that corresponded to the substance distributed by the major Mexican supplier, American Biologics. The preparation was supplied by the NCI Pharmaceutical Resources Branch and verified by a variety of tests. The dosage of Laetrile was based on the published recommendations of Krebs, Jr., and the Bradford Foundation.

The results of the trial were clear-cut. Not one patient was cured or even stabilized. The median survival rate was 4.8 months from the start of therapy, and in those still alive after seven months, tumor size had increased. This was the expected result for patients receiving no treatment at all. In addition, several patients experienced symptoms of cyanide toxicity or had blood levels of cyanide approaching the lethal range [18]. An accompanying editorial concluded:

Laetrile has had its day in court. The evidence, beyond reasonable doubt, is that it doesn’t benefit patients with advanced cancer, and there is no reason to believe that it would be any more effective in the earlier stages of the disease . . . The time has come to close the books [19].

Bradford and American Biologics responded to the study with three different lawsuits against the National Cancer Institute, alleging that as a result of the study, they had sustained serious financial damage from a drastic drop in demand for Laetrile. All three suits were thrown out of court. Today few sources of laetrile are available within the United States, but it still is utilized at Mexican clinics and marketed as amygdalin or “vitamin B17” through the Internet.

Some Final Thoughts

As long as there remain crippling and fatal diseases, there will undoubtedly be individuals eager to offer “alternatives” to scientific treatment and large numbers of desperate individuals willing to purchase them. The Laetrile phenomenon started with a pharmacist-physician who developed one concoction after another for the treatment of serious diseases, especially cancer. It continued with his son, a self-imagined scientist, who spent many years in college but failed to earn any graduate degree. A man who earned his fortune from gun-running and a catholic newspaper columnist promoted it as a persecuted drug that cured cancer. A cadre of John Birch Society members saw the repression of Laetrile as a sinister plot against their basic freedoms. After it was dubbed “vitamin B-17,” an army of health food devotees promoted Laetrile, along with vitamins and diet, as nature’s answer to cancer.

After peaking in the late 1970s, the “Laetrile Movement” ran out of steam in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, the NCI study, the death of Steve McQueen, and other unfavorable publicity. But as the Laetrile fantasy faded, its prime movers added many other “miracle cures” to their arsenal and added AIDS, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and multiple sclerosis to the list of diseases they claim to treat. Although they appear to speak with sincerity, they still fail to sponsor the type of research which could persuade the scientific world that anything they offer is effective.

A systematic review that included all reports available through 2005 concluded that the claim that laetrile has beneficial effects for cancer patients is not supported by sound clinical data [20].

Part of B-17 Formation (1 of 6) - History

Assigned to the 19th Bombardment Group (19th BG). On May 13, 1941 took off from Hamilton Field on a ferry flight of B-17C and B-17D that landed at Hickam Field on May 14, 1941 in the morning.

Next, assigned to the 11th Bombardment Group (11th BG), 14th Bombardment Squadron (14th BS). This B-17 had tail number 21 with the rudder painted with red and white stripes. Nicknamed "Old Betsy" without nose art.

During September 1941, this bomber B-17 was part of the first group of 14th Bombardment Squadron (14th BS) flying across the Pacific bound for the Philippines. At the time, this was the longest mass flight of land based aircraft in the world to date. The group flew across the Pacific via Rabaul, 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby on September 9, 1941 and Darwin before finally arriving at Clark Field.

Wartime History
On December 8, 1941 took off fron Del Monte Airfield pilot unknown with co-pilot Robert S. Clinkscales on a reconnaissance mission that was likely the first American combat mission of the Pacific War.

In the middle of December 1941, took off from Del Monte Airfield piloted by Goodman on a bombing mission against Japanese forces in Lingayen Gulf. Soon after taking off, it experienced engine trouble and bombed the alternate target Davao arriving after dark, the first American night bombing mission of the war.

At the end of December 1941, this B-17 evacuated from the Philippines flying from Del Monte Airfield south to Singosari Airfield on Java.

On January 3, 1942 took off from Singosari Airfield on Java piloted by Major Cecil Combs (C. O. 19th Bombardment Group (19th BG) leading seven B-17Ds including B-17D 40-3067 on a flight to Samarinda Airfield and loaded with bombs and refueled. On January 4, 1942 then took from Samarinda Airfield to bomb Japanese shipping in Davao Bay off Mindanao and returns. On January 5, 1942 flown back to Singosari Airfield.

On January 11, 1942 at 5:55am took off from Malang Airfield or Singosari Airfield on Java piloted by Major Cecil Combs armed with Dutch 600 pound bombs as one of seven B-17D Flying Fortresses on a bombing mission against the Japanese landing force off Tarakan Island. Inbound over the Java Sea at 9,500' the formation encountered a tropical storm and became separated. Due to bad weather only three B-17Ds reached the target at 11:30am and bombed from 21,000' and all missed then were intercepted by three A6M Zeros that slightly damaged this bomber. Aboard, her gunners claimed two fighters shot down before the third broke off attacks. Returning, this B-17 landed at Soerabaja Airfield on the north coast of Java.

On January 12, 1942 took off from Soerabaja Airfield and returned to Singosari Airfield.

During late January 1942, flown to Laverton Field near Melbourne for a complete overhaul. During the repair, this bomber was fitted with a new tail scavenged from B-17D 40-3091.

After repairs, 19th Bomb Group pilot Captain Weldon Smith to dub the aircraft "The Swoose" after the popular song Alexander the Swoose from a ditty written by Franklin Furlett and performed by bandleader Kay Kyser about a bird that was "half swan, half goose: Alexander is a swoose". On the starboard side of the fuselage was painted a bird with the "The Swoose (It Flys)" [sic].

This B-17 flew navigation and escort missions for fighters and anti-submarine patrols, until withdrawn from duty in March 1942. Afterwards, used a VIP transport in Australia and flew Lt. General George H. Brett from Australia across the Pacific to the United States arriving August 4, 1942.

On December 9, 1942 "Swoose" was flown to Panama and assigned to the Caribbean Defense Command for use by General Brett, a combat vet from another theater to serve in Panama. Operated by CDC-PCD flight section. The regular pilot was Captain Jack Crane.

Went to the Panama Air Depot (PAD) at Albrook Field for work and was extensively modified, completed January 1943. Returned to PAD for additional word between April to July 1943 but continued to make flights during this period.

By 1944, the aircraft required extensive repairs following an inpsection during February that revealed cracked wing spars and corrosion that required the replacement of the inner wing panels. On March 7, conference was held at 6th Air Force service command to determine of the repairs were cost effective. A pair of B-17D inner wing panels were discovered by Captain Jack Crane at France Field and these were shipped on March 8, 1944 via barge from Albrook Field via the Panama Canal arriving the next day to Albrook Field.

Deciding to proceed, "Swoose" returned PAD on March 20, 1944 and the major overhaul and rework on the entire airframe was begun, requiring a staff double shift. On April 22, General Brett personally inspected the work, then only 45% complete. During this overhaul, four additional passenger seats and a galley were added and equipment brought up to model E standards. On the nose, the flags of all nations the aircraft had visited were painted. Repairs were completed on June 1, but cost more than the aircraft itself when new built.

During late 1944, redesignated "RB-17D", the "R" for restricted but continued to fly in the Panama area until the end of the war.

This B-17 continued to be used by General Brett until December 1945 when he personally made the last flight from Mines Field (Los Angles Airport) to Kirtland Field, New Mexico. The bomber was assigned to the War Assets Administration facility at Kingman, Arizona where it would be scrapped. Instead, saved by the efforts of Col. Frank Kurtz, who flew the bomber and named his daughter Swoosie Kurtz after it.

On April 6, 1946, Kurtz flew the B-17 to Mines Field (Los Angles Airport) with passengers aboard including the mayor of Los Angeles and Mrs. Kurtz. Following acceptance ceremonies, airport personnel stored "Swoose" inside a hangar at the airport. Plans for war memorial fell through and Frank Kurtz arranged for the National Air Museum in Washington to acquire the aircraft instead.

During May 1948, Kurtz flew "Swoose" to Park Ridge, IL for storage. In June 1950 the USAF claimed the Park Ridge facility for military use. On Jan 18, 1952, an Air Force crew flew the plane to Pyote Airfield in Texas for storage. On December 3, 1953 flown to Andrews AFB, Maryland and stored outdoors for six years.

In April 1961, the plane was transported by truck to the National Air & Space Museum Paul Garber Facility and placed into storage in a preserved in an unrestored state from 1961-2008. The drift meter from this bomber is part of the NASM collection, Inventory Number: A19500075025. This is the oldest B-17 Flying Fortress in the world.

During July 2008, "The Swoose" was moved from National Air & Space Museum Paul Garber Facility to the USAF Museum, arriving on July 14, 2008. Visitors can see "The Swoose" in the restoration facility by signing up for a behind the scenes tour each Friday. Advanced registration is required.

At this time, USAF Museum staff has not finalized restoration plans. The Swoose will undergo an extensive and detailed technical inspection. Based on the findings, the museum will determine how to best restore and display the historic aircraft. The extensive restoration is expected to take a number of years.

Eugene Eisenberg adds:
"The pilot of B-17D 40-3095 was Hank Godman, who became the personal pilot of General Douglas MacArthur during the early part of the war. His bombardier was John Wallach. I have his 1941 flight jacket that was given to him after flight training."

Swoosie Kurtz (daughter of Col. Frank Kurtz) was named named "Swoosie" for this bomber.

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Battle of the Bismarck Sea

An A-20 Havoc flown by 1Lt. John Soloc pulls up after his attack on the Japanese transport Taiyei Maru.

“Last night I dreamed I saw a dragon rising out of the sea,” an unknown Japanese soldier wrote in his diary on February 24, 1943. He was sailing aboard Tosei Maru, a passenger-cargo ship traveling to Rabaul, on New Britain, to deliver soldiers and supplies for transport to New Guinea. The Japanese were preparing to launch a flotilla of eight transport ships and eight destroyers destined for Lae, on the eastern coast of New Guinea, to reinforce the garrisons tenuously defending Japan’s grip on the Southwest Pacific.

A week later, now aboard the 6,896-ton Teiyo Maru, the author of the diary would indeed encounter a fire-breathing foe, but it would emerge from the heavens rather than from the sea. “Discovered by the enemy,” his final journal entry reads. “At night, enemy planes dropped flares and reconnoitered.” The next day, more than one hundred Allied planes swarmed and decimated the Japanese convoy.

Allied soldiers discovered the diary some time later, washed up on the shores of Goodenough Island.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur called the Allied victory in the Bismarck Sea “one of the most complete and annihilating combats of all time.” The three-day battle on March 2–4, 1943, simply stunned the Japanese military and changed the course of the Pacific war. “Japan’s defeat there was unbelievable,” one of the destroyer skippers, Capt. Tameichi Hara, said. “Never was there such a debacle.” Thereafter, the war in New Guinea, New Britain, and the Solomon Islands was a losing fight for Japan. Vice Adm. Gunichi Mikawa, the commander of the Japanese Eighth Fleet at Rabaul, lamented shortly afterward, “It is certain that the success obtained by the American air force in this battle dealt a fatal blow to the South Pacific.”

More than that, the Battle of the Bismarck Sea would become an enduring milestone in modern air power history, a lopsided naval defeat that involved not a single ship on the victorious side.

The battle immediately convinced the Japanese that they could not operate even strongly escorted convoys in areas within range of land-based Allied airplanes. From then on, they were forced to rely on barges, small coastal vessels, and submarines to provide a lifeline to their vital strategic outposts in the archipelago. Aerial attacks continued to exact a dreadful price on Japanese ships, even as they hugged the coasts in desperate attempts to escape detection from above. Submarines met with more success but could not move significant quantities of men and materiel.

Without the necessary supplies or reinforcements, the Japanese shifted to a defensive strategy and never would regain the initiative for the rest of the war. Admiral Mikawa had planned to “carry out lively air operations at the strategic moment” in mid-April by sending four hundred carrier-based planes to Lae, Rabaul, and the Salamaua area but gave up these plans after Bismarck Sea. Because one of the supply ships lost during the battle, Kembu Maru, had carried a large shipment of aviation fuel, the Japanese navy’s ability to conduct offensive operations there was crippled. And the Japanese army never received the reinforcements, artillery pieces, antiaircraft guns, and ammunition it desperately needed. Allied air power decimated the ranks of the Japanese 51st Division and sent the bulk of their equipment to the bottom of the sea, thereby setting the stage for a successful Allied ground campaign.

Yet the Allied victory at the Battle of the Bismarck Sea was far from inevitable and might not have occurred at all were it not for a humiliating failure Allied air forces suffered just a few months earlier. In January, a Japanese convoy of five transports and five destroyers successfully delivered the main body of the 20th Division, almost ten thousand men, to forces fighting in Wewak, on the north coast of New Guinea. This was particularly embarrassing for Maj. Gen. George C. Kenney, commander of the Fifth Air Force, who had personally vowed to cut off and isolate the enemy forces fighting in New Guinea.

The convoy departed Rabaul on January 5 and sailed the shortest route, south to Lae. It was halfway to its goal before it was first spotted by Allied air patrols the morning of January 6. From that point, Allied reconnaissance aircraft demonstrated remarkable persistence and tenacity. In total, thirty-seven separate missions monitored and tracked the convoy. Single planes used squall lines and clouds to conceal their presence and dodge enemy Ki-43 Oscar fighters. Some reconnaissance planes were jumped by as many as nine Oscars but managed to fight off their attackers and escape. Others shot down six enemy fighters and probably destroyed an additional four during these engagements.

But efforts to attack the convoy, despite some remarkable individual feats of airmanship and courage, suffered from a piecemeal approach and disorganization at the top. Army Air Forces squadrons did not coordinate attacks units were sent out as soon as aircraft were loaded with ordnance. Of the seven missions flown against the convoy on the first day, six were single-plane sorties. The seventh mission was a sixteen-plane formation of P-38s that engaged Japanese fighters covering the convoy. That night, an Australian Catalina, in a virtuoso piece of navigation, dropped flares at the estimated position of the convoy and then managed to score a direct hit that sank the freighter Nichiryu Maru.

The next day, January 7, the Allies launched another series of ragged and uncoordinated attacks. In all, thirteen missions, of one to twenty planes each, went out. They were a hodgepodge of available aircraft, fighters and bombers: A-20, B-17, B-24, B-25, B-26, Beaufighter, P-38, P-40. Although 78 percent of the airplanes reached their primary targets, Allied air power sank only one transport and drove another, Myoko Maru, up on the beach where it was later destroyed. The majority of ships in the Japanese convoy made it to Lae and unloaded their cargo.

Expressing frustration in his personal journal, General Kenney admitted that his units were, up to that point, “taking it on the chin.” Kenney had been a fighter pilot during World War I and had developed a reputation as a problem solver. He immediately set to work figuring out what went wrong.

To improve bombing accuracy, Kenney advocated flying low-level attacks. But attacking ships at masthead height—which meant flying about fifty feet above the water—would require neutralizing shipborne antiaircraft artillery. For that task, Kenney turned to Maj. Paul “Pappy” Gunn, a colorful and innovative maintenance officer.

Gunn was known for being, in the words of an admiring Bell Aircraft factory representative, “exacting in efficiency and ability” and “able to do things with aircraft which others would not attempt.” In the summer of 1942, Gunn had supervised a major modification of the A-20 in his experimental workshop at Eagle Farm airfield in Brisbane, Australia, that equipped the light bomber with nose guns for strafing. The A-20’s success undoubtedly stimulated Kenney’s interest in further developing tactics that emphasized low-level bombing and strafing attacks to overwhelm antiaircraft opposition. Kenney directed Gunn to transform a number of Fifth Air Force B-25s into so-called commerce destroyers. Gunn installed ten .50-caliber machine guns: four in the nose, two on each side, and two more in the top turret. The 81st Air Depot Group in Townsville, Australia, then swung into production. Making only minor modifications to Gunn’s plan, and putting in twelve- to eighteen-hour working days, it produced thirty B-25C-1s in the first three months of 1943.

The B-25C-1 enjoyed a number of advantages over the modified A-20s—a longer range, a heavier bomb load, heavier firepower, and upper-turret protection. Additionally, the B-25C-1 carried a copilot and included instruments for flying in stormy weather or darkness—“extremely comforting factors for the flyers,” noted a Fifth Air Force report at the time. The B-25C-1 was, however, ten to twenty miles per hour slower than the A-20 and less maneuverable. The 2,000 rounds of ammunition for the forward-firing guns made the aircraft nose-heavy, although pilots became accustomed to its unique flight characteristics after a few flights.

Pilots soon hit on a deadly technique: using the rudder to yaw the plane slightly back and forth during a bombing approach to sweep the entire deck of the enemy vessel with machine gun fire. That proved key in making it possible to drop bombs from an altitude that, in Kenney’s words, “rendered a miss unlikely.”

This extreme low-level bombing created new technical problems, however, since the normal bomb fuzes were designed to detonate immediately on impact—which would mean the airplane would be caught in its own bomb blast. Capt. Benjamin Thompson, an officer in the 26th Ordnance Company, altered the inner workings of an M106 fuze and developed a delayed-action version. That version was rushed into production in the field by the men of the 46th Ordnance Company, who had to work continuously for forty-eight hours in order to generate a sufficient quantity.

The rush was ordered because General Kenney knew what was coming: decoded Japanese radio messages had given the Allies almost a full month’s warning of the sailing of another large Japanese convoy to Lae. Aircrews spent weeks carefully rehearsing tactics in preparation for the battle. Kenney canceled a major attack on Rabaul and reduced the number of daily combat sorties, so both maintainers and aircrew would have time to prepare. “Maintenance crews worked like mad getting every airplane in shape so that we could strike with everything we owned when time came,” Kenney said.

Kenney ordered pilots flying the newly modified B-25s to undergo an especially intense training regimen. Most of these pilots were accustomed to medium-altitude bombing with a bombardier. Their new mission involved very low-level attacks in which the pilots themselves controlled the bomb release. Each pilot dropped thirty to forty bombs in practice on a half-submerged ship called the Moresby wreck, learning to use a reference point on the nose of the airplane in place of a bombsight. One bomber and crew were killed when they hit the mast of the wreck and crashed. Despite the loss, Maj. Ed Larner, the commander of the squadron, reported that his B-25C-1 pilots remained a “cocky gang” and promised Kenney that his boys “wouldn’t miss.”

Their training culminated in a series of full-scale rehearsals at the end of February, a last chance to work out any glitches in the split-second timing on which everything depended. Attacking in pairs, B-25s took violent evasive action at full throttle one plane strafed the vessel from stem to stern, firing continuously from 1,200 yards, while the other plane strafed the vessel as it came in on its beam and bombed it.

The aircrews completed their preparations in time for the convoy’s departure the night of February 28, but one thing the Allies couldn’t control—the weather—almost spoiled everything. Originally, the Japanese planned for the convoy to proceed to Lae along the south side of New Britain, traversing the same route as the January convoy. But at the last minute the convoy was rerouted to the north of the island to take advantage of the cover offered by a storm front that was working its way toward New Guinea along that track. The weather was so bad on March 1 that reconnaissance planes could not locate the convoy for most of the day. At four o’clock in the afternoon, Lt. Walter Higgins, piloting a 321st Bomb Squadron B-24, caught sight of the ships as they attempted to hide under a low cloud deck. Higgins dutifully relayed a report of the convoy’s location to a command post at Port Moresby, New Guinea. It was too late in the day to order sorties for an attack, and the weather favored the Japanese to such an extent that Kenney let the convoy proceed relatively unmolested during the night.

At 8:25 a.m. on March 2, another B-24 reconnaissance plane was able to weave through the clouds and relocate the convoy. Meanwhile, six Royal Australian Air Force A-20s from Port Moresby bombed the airfield at Lae from both medium and “tree-scraping” altitude and liberally strafed the runway and dispersal areas to suppress Japanese fighter protection. They also dropped bombs on planes they found in the open.

Less than two hours later, twenty-nine heavy bombers hit the convoy. It was still too distant for coordinated attacks by all types of aircraft, so the burden of the initial attack rested on the B-17s. The plan called for long-range P-38 fighters from the 9th Fighter Squadron to provide an escort, but the fighters failed to reach the rendezvous point on time, and the first wave of bombers faced fierce enemy fighter attacks without protection. The low cloud deck and intermittent heavy thunderstorms contributed to the confusion. Eventually, the fighters would make it to the fight and repulse the Japanese Oscars, but not before nine of the B-17s were damaged.

Nonetheless, the initial attack achieved some success. B-17 pilots reported seeing the transport Kyokusei Maru breaking in half and sinking. The ship’s cargo hold contained a combustible mix of ammunition and gasoline. Teiyo Maru, the merchant ship that carried the diarist, also suffered damage in the attack. In the afternoon, nine B-17s returned and dropped thirty-one 1,000-pound bombs on the convoy, but weather hampered the observation of the results. Two destroyers, Asagumo and Yukikaze, picked up 820 survivors from Kyokusei Maru, left the convoy in the afternoon, and proceeded to Lae, where they arrived around midnight and unloaded cargo and personnel. The two ships rejoined the convoy the next morning.

In the morning of March 3, the convoy finally arrived within striking distance of the B-25C-1s. The storm had moved east, leaving the convoy in the clear as it traversed the Vitiaz Strait. Kenney ordered the “big brawl” to begin. By 9:30 a.m., all the planes in the strike package reached the assembly area, Cape Ward Hunt southeast of Lae, and were ready for action.

The first Allied planes roared overhead just as the commanding officer aboard Oigawa Maru, Captain Ino, was telling the troops assembled in formation on deck that they should not expect any air raids. Ino knew the Japanese had imminent plans to bomb the airfield at Port Moresby and surmised that all Allied planes would be too busy to muster an attack against the convoy. When Allied planes suddenly appeared from two different directions, “his men wished the CO would cut short his remarks and instructions so they could go below and prepare to leave the ship when it was bombed,” an Allied battle evaluation report later recounted.

Allied air attacks were so closely timed and heavily concentrated that postmission intelligence reports judged it was impossible to ascertain which airplane or squadron actually sank each ship. B-17s flying at 7,000 feet dropped their bombs first, causing the Japanese vessels to maneuver violently and break up their formation, thereby reducing their concentrated antiaircraft firepower. That left individual ships vulnerable to strafers and masthead bombers. B-25s bombing from 3,000 to 6,000 feet also arrived overhead to drop their load of 500-pound bombs. Crew members reported seeing two burning Japanese ships ram each other while attempting to avoid the bombs. Much of the Japanese antiaircraft fire was focused on the medium-altitude bombers, which left an opening for bombers flying at minimum altitude.

Then thirteen Beaufighters swept in low on the water, strafing the whole length of the convoy. The Japanese destroyers, mistakenly thinking they were torpedo bombers, turned toward the attacking planes to present a smaller target. This left the merchant ships with even less protection. Next Major Larner’s B-25C-1s joined the fray, flying at twenty-five to one hundred feet off the water. They literally blazed a path for their masthead bomb attacks with their forward-firing .50-caliber guns.

“We were indicating about 260 mph when we passed over the target,” Maj. John Henebry described in a postmission report of a broadside attack against one ship. “I fired in as close as I could as the decks were covered with troops and supplies. Just before I pulled up to clear the mast, my co-pilot released two of our three five-hundred pound bombs, one fell short and the other scored a direct hit into the side of the ship, at water line.”

The harrowing flying and devastating outcome of another run were described by 1st Lt. Roy Moore: “During this run I ‘cork screwed’ the airplane by making undulating changes in altitude not varying from 50 to 100 feet, and at the same time skidded the airplane from one side to the other,” he recounted. “These evasive tactics were made to avoid any possible gun fire from the target. When in strafing range, I opened fire with my forward guns. The decks were covered with enemy troops. It is interesting to note that the troops were lined up facing the attacking plane with rifles in hand. However, the forward guns of the airplane outranged their small arms, as I saw hundreds of the troops fall and others go over the side before they could bring their guns to bear.”

Last in line were the A-20s. Most A-20 attacks were made in groups of two or three aircraft, which increased their firepower. This massive volley of bullets had the effect of neutralizing deck gunfire, particularly on relatively underarmed transport vessels.

The attack was beautifully timed. Allied planes arrived just after Japanese navy planes protecting the convoy had departed but before their Japanese army aircraft replacements had arrived. Twenty minutes after the attack started, the majority of ships in the convoy were sunk, sinking, or badly damaged.

That afternoon, Allied air power returned to finish the job. At three o’clock, bombers sighted seven Japanese ships: four transports burning and stationary, one destroyer burning and immobile, another abandoned destroyer drifting low in the water, and a third that was picking up survivors. At 3:15 p.m., the attack recommenced. B-17 bombs found their mark simultaneously as B-25s finished their strafing runs. The day’s carnage ended twenty-one minutes later.

March 3 was a costly day for the Japanese. Eight transports and three destroyers were at the bottom of the Bismarck Sea. The destroyer Tokitsukaze floated helplessly all night and sank at sundown on March 4. Only the destroyers Shikinami, Asagumo, Yukikaze, and Uranami managed to escape. The Allies, in comparison, lost four aircraft: one B-17 and three P-38s. Thirteen American aircrewmen lost their lives: twelve in the four lost planes, plus a gunner on one of Ed Larner’s B-25s when battle damage caused it to collapse upon landing.

On the afternoon of the fourth, the Japanese mounted a retaliatory raid on the Buna area, the site of a base the Allies had captured that January, but their fighters did practically no damage. In his memoir, Kenney smugly wrote that the Japanese reprisal occurred “after the horse had been stolen from the barn.” Regarding his Japanese counterpart, he noted that “it was a good thing that the Nip air commander was stupid. Those hundred airplanes would have made our job awfully hard if they had taken part in the big fight over the convoy on March 3rd.”

For the next several days, American and Australian airmen returned to the sight of the battle, systematically prowling the seas in search of Japanese survivors. As a coup de grâce, Kenney ordered his aircrew to strafe Japanese lifeboats and rafts. He euphemistically called these missions “mopping up” operations. A March 20, 1943, secret report proudly proclaimed, “The slaughter continued till nightfall. If any survivors were permitted to slip by our strafing aircraft, they were a minimum of 30 miles from land, in water thickly infested by man-eating sharks.” Time after time, aircrew reported messages similar to the following: “Sighted, barge consisting of 200 survivors. Have finished attack. No survivors.”

Kenney’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Don Wilson, insisted that the Japanese “set the pace for ‘no quarter’ procedures” after an incident involving the only Allied bomber lost in the battle. During the initial assault on the morning of March 3, bullets penetrated the wing and radio compartment of the B-17 piloted by Lt. Woodrow Moore. Fire engulfed the plane and it went into a steep dive. Before the plane disintegrated, seven of the nine-man crew bailed out, but Japanese fighters strafed the airmen as they drifted to the sea six thousand feet below.

Aircrew who witnessed this incident were incensed. Capt. James Murphy recalled, “ I wanted to vent some of my anger and kill every Japanese son of a bitch I could find.” Three P-38 pilots dove their aircraft to engage the Japanese planes that were shooting the B-17 aircrew in their parachutes. All three P-38s were shot down, but not before taking five Japanese fighters with them.

Certainly, some aircrew were motivated by revenge, but most felt that military necessity justified their actions. In fact, Allied aircrews had commenced strafing survivors immediately after the initial attacks—before the loss of Lieutenant Moore’s plane. And aircrews who hadn’t witnessed Japanese fighters fire on the Americans in their parachutes also participated in the strafing of Japanese survivors. A tactical report by 2d Lt. Charles Howe detailing his March 3 attack in B-25-C1 No. 980 is typical: “Considerable time was spent after the release of all my bombs on strafing survivors and supplies which were strewn as far as the eye could see. On one strafing run against a previously damaged destroyer, I caught the survivors in the act of launching lifeboats. After firing for about seven seconds, I ceased firing to find the lifeboats overturned and the crowd of men attempting to gain the lifeboats definitely out of action.”

At the time, strafing Japanese survivors was not controversial. The public’s view was consistent with a comment made by one officer who flew on these missions: “The enemy is out to kill you and you are out to kill the enemy. You can’t be sporting in war.” The public rejoiced after hearing media reports that Japan suffered fifteen thousand casualties at the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. The New York Times and other newspapers ran the story on their front pages, and Life magazine featured General Kenney on its cover.

Enemy documents and diaries subsequently recovered from the convoy’s wreckage revealed that those initial estimates of Japanese losses were exaggerated. One report, compiled from Japanese sources, placed the losses at 2,890. Another, compiled by the Allied Translator & Interpreter Section, suggested the Japanese lost 6,912. Despite this, Kenney and MacArthur steadfastly refused to revise their claims. Kenney threatened “action against those responsible” for questioning his assessment of the battle. A Fifth Air Force intelligence officer accused Kenney of ordering that reports and evidence suggesting lower Japanese losses be burned. MacArthur said at the time that he thought “the navy was trying to belittle the whole thing because they weren’t in on it.…It’s against the rules for land-based airplanes to sink ships, especially naval vessels. It’s bad enough for them to sink merchant vessels. They ought to be sunk by battleship gunfire or by submarines. But for airplanes to do it, especially if they aren’t naval airplanes, it’s all wrong.”

Regardless of the exact number of soldiers who perished and ships that were sunk, the Battle of the Bismarck Sea was a complete and decisive victory for Allied air power. Only 820 Japanese soldiers, minus their equipment, supplies, and weapons, made it to Lae. Kenney’s congratulatory message to his staff summed up the effort well: “Air Power has written some important history in the past three days,” he wrote. “Tell the whole gang that I am so proud of them I am about to blow a fuze.”

This article was written by Lawrence Spinetta and originally published in the November 2007 issue of World War II Magazine. For more great articles, subscribe to World War II magazine today!

Man the B-17 was one good-looking plane..

Came here to say this. It's still a gorgeous aircraft.

Unless you are chasing it in a Bf-109.

IMHO, one of the most beautiful ever built.

Major boobage shows how the B17 is the most metal of all planes.

Nothing is more metal than a B17. And I mean nothing.

the plane could take more G overloads than any other bomber powered on propellers

The B17 is a swedish plane. What you should write is B-17.

I'm a bit more fan of the B-17B. Those Catalina like turrets just looks awesome!

Nearly 13,000 of them built, and less than 50 exist today, a shame.

If you ever find yourself in Southern California head out to Chino. At the old Cal Aero field there is a museum with a lot of WW2 planes. For a couple bucks on the weekend you can walk through the Picadilly Lilly II.

Sentimental Journey - flies out of Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum, Mesa AZ. Had the pleasure of walking through it twice. Once in Edmonton with my Dad and once with my daughter in Mesa.

Went through it in Mesa as well. Was with my grandfather who was a navigator during the war. Boy did he have some stories.

Flying a messerschmidt into a formation of these must have been a nerve wracking experience.

An interesting clip of a Luftwaffe pilot firing off a short burst at a large formation before deciding to turn around.

If you want to see something truly breath taking, look up the:

It was never produced. It also, more than likely, would not have the survivability of the B-17.

The B-17 has to be, in my opinion, the best looking aircraft ever built. I have never seen one in real life (probably never will unless I go to the USA) but, wow. so sexy!

I’ve flown in Aluminum Overcast, the EAA’s B-17 4 times over the years, and I also flew in Nine O’ Nine. I think it crashed 7-10 years ago. I toured a bunch more.

If you're in the UK or France, there's a few in museums here. Sally B in the UK, based at Duxford, is the only B-17 flying in Europe. [The Pink Lady](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pink_Lady_(aircraft)) was flying till 2010, but now seems to have been grounded.

Both aircraft took part in the filming of Memphis Belle. Sally B was the Belle, and The Pink Lady was Mother and Country, the rookie crew who had their fortress cut in half.

How the U.S. Military Turned a Explosive-Laden B-17 Into a Suicide Bomber

This is how the Allies figured out how to guide a suicide plane with radio control and set it on its deadly course.

Here’s What You Need to Remember: When it came to advanced military technology in World War II, arguably no one was better at it than Nazi Germany, whose scientists Adolf Hitler keep busy trying to invent the ultimate “super weapon” capable of defeating his enemies.

For a while, it seemed that Germany might just succeed. After all, it was the Germans who had created, tested, and deployed the V-1 flying bomb, the V-2 ballistic missile, the Fritz X glide bomb, and a family of jet-powered aircraft. German tanks were, in many respects, superior to American tanks. Only in the race to build an atomic bomb were the German scientists lagging behind the United States and Great Britain.

During Operation Avalanche—the invasion of Salerno, Italy, on September 9, 1943—the Allies had their first encounter with German drones. After Allied landing craft deposited infantry on the beaches south of the city, the battleships, cruisers, and destroyers accompanying the troop transports became targets of an unexpected new weapons system: a radio-controlled glide bomb called the Fritz X.

The Fritz X (also known variously as the Ruhrstahl SD 1400 X, Kramer X-1, FX 1400, and PC 1400X) was 11 feet long, had four stubby wings, carried 705 pounds of amatol explosive in an armor-piercing warhead, and had an operational range of just over three miles. It could reach a speed of 770 mph—faster than any aircraft of the day.

Early on September 13, a Dornier Do-217 K-2 bomber released a Fritz X from an altitude of 18,700 feet gunners aboard the USS Savannah (CL-42), a 9,475-ton Brooklyn-class light cruiser, saw the missile and tried to shoot it down as it streaked toward them, but without success. The drone slammed into the top of a 6-inch gun turret and penetrated deep into Savannah’s hull before exploding and killing 197 sailors and wounding 15 more. Only through sheer luck and incredible bravery on the part of her remaining crew was the badly damaged ship able to make port in Malta.

That drone was one of several used against American warships on September 13. Others barely missed the cruiser USS Philadelphia, while the British light cruiser HMS Uganda was hit that same afternoon two cargo ships may also have been struck. Three days later, the British battleship HMS Warspite was also hit by a guided bomb but remained afloat.

The United States was shocked by the technological lead the Germans had opened up in sky-borne weapons. Of course, by August 1944, the United States was already well along in its development of an atomic bomb, but in other aspects of weaponry America had slipped behind.

The United States began looking at ways to deliver a huge, conventional payload precisely on target. Even with the vaunted Norden bombsight, the boasted concept of “precision daylight bombing” rarely lived up to its billing.

What if, some officer in Washington D.C., said, we stuffed an unmanned bomber full of explosives and, by radio control or some other method, flew it directly into a target? The idea sounded good, especially since the United States (and Britain, too) was losing so many aviators on bombing runs over enemy-held territory. But how to accomplish it?

Engineers began working on the concept but discovered that it was well nigh impossible, given the technology of the time, to get a pilotless bomber to taxi and take off by remote control. The idea then evolved to a pilot and co-pilot taking off in an explosives-laden B-17 or B-24, gaining altitude, then bailing out over England while a trailing aircraft controlled the plane by radio signals, finally crashing it into the target.

On August 4, 1944, the Air Force put the concept to the test against hard-to-knock-out targets (such as V-1 and V-2 missile-launching sites, submarine pens, and deep underground installations) in what was called Operation Aphrodite.

The U.S. Army Air Forces loaded four war-weary, modified B-17 bombers, redesignated BQ-7s, each with 12,000 pounds of Torpex, which was used in both aerial and underwater torpedoes and was 50 percent more powerful than TNT.

The first test run out of RAF Fersfield, home of the 38th Bomb Group located northeast of London near Norwich, did not go well. The first B-17 took to the air and the pilots bailed out safely the plane, however, spiraled into the ground with a resultant massive explosion near the coastal village of Orford. The second plane developed problems with the radio-control system and it, too, crashed the pilot was also killed when he bailed out too soon. A third B-17 met a similar fate.

The fourth plane fared better, although it crashed about 1,500 feet short of its target, a massive, hardened V-2 site at Watten-Eperlecques in the Pas-de-Calais region of France, doing very little damage.

Three days later, Aphrodite was repeated––with similarly disappointing results. Two planes crashed into the sea off England, while a third was shot down over Gravelines, France. A third test resulted in a B-17 crewmember dying when something went wrong during his parachute jump the plane continued on to its destination in Heligoland but was shot down before it reached its target.

On September 3, 1944, an Aphrodite B-17 (#63945) attempted to attack the U-boat pens at the small German coastal town of Heide, Heligoland, Schleswig-Holstein, but the U.S. Navy controller accidentally crashed the plane into Düne Island. Eight days later, in one more attempt to hit the submarine pens, another radio-controlled B-17 came close but was downed by ground fire.

As terrifying as the V-2 rockets were to those on the receiving end, the Nazis were preparing an even more diabolical weapon: the V-3 “super cannon,” also called the London Gun. When completed, the underground cannon, whose barrel was 460 feet long, was supposedly capable of firing in an hour five 300-pound shells more than 100 miles. The muzzle velocity of the monster gun was estimated to be almost 5,000 feet per second. In September 1943, German engineers had begun preparing a site at Mimoyecques, France, from which the shells could be fired across the Pas de Calais and into London.

The Allies were tipped off to this new weapon by the French Resistance, which also reported that slave laborers were involved in its construction. Considered even more accurate and devastating than the V-1s and V-2s, the V-3 had to be neutralized. On July 6, 1944, RAF 617 Squadron attacked the site with several five-ton “Tall Boy” bombs and essentially put the site out of commission no V-3 shells were ever fired.

Either the U.S. Army Air Forces was not informed that the V-3 site was hors d’combat or, for some reason, decided to hit it again an Aphrodite mission was scheduled to hit Mimoyecques on August 12, 1944. This mission would be carried out by U.S. Navy aviator Lieutenant Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., and his flight engineer, Lieutenant Wilford J. Willy flying a PB4Y-1—the Navy’s version of a B-24J Liberator. Packed into the plane’s fuselage were 21,170 pounds of Torpex.

Kennedy, of course, was the oldest son of the former U.S. ambassador to Great Britain and older brother of future American president John F. Kennedy. Willy, from New Jersey, had “pulled rank” over Ensign James Simpson, Kennedy’s regular co-pilot, to fly the mission.

On that August day, Kennedy’s plane took off from RAF Fersfield, accompanied by two Lockheed Ventura aircraft equipped with radio-control sets that would fly the bomber once Kennedy and Willy bailed out two P-38 Lightning fighters approached to escort the BQ-18 across the Straits of Calais. A sixth aircraft, a de Havilland Mosquito camera plane, joined the formation aboard the Mosquito was Air Force Colonel Elliott Roosevelt, one of President Roosevelt’s sons, and the commanding officer of the 325th Photographic Reconnaissance Wing.

As they approached the coast over Halesworth, Lieutenants Kennedy and Willy transferred control of their aircraft to the Venturas. Before the two men bailed out, Willy switched on a primitive television camera in the bomber’s nose that would help guide the BQ-8 to its target Kennedy armed the 21,170 pounds of Torpex carried in 374 boxes. But then something inexplicable went terribly wrong.

At 6:20 pm, the plane suddenly disappeared in an enormous fireball, and pieces of the aircraft began raining on the rural countryside below. Hundreds of trees were destroyed, nearly 150 properties on the ground were damaged, and some 50 people on the ground were injured. Chunks of the exploding BQ-8 struck Colonel Roosevelt’s plane, but he was able to land safely. The bodies of Kennedy and Willy were never found.

Nine-year-old Mick Muttitt, a resident of nearby Darsham, told a reporter 60 years later that he and his brother were watching the formation flying about 2,000 feet above them. He said, “All of a sudden, there was a tremendous explosion and the Liberator aircraft was blown apart, with pieces falling in all directions over New Delight Wood, at Blythburgh.”

Watch the video: Oshkosh Departures Ballys Bomber! - Sunday Part 1 - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2021 (May 2022).