A Year-By-Year Look At The Air War 1943


Russian Ilyusin-2 fighter-bomber

Eastern Front

By the end of 1942 the eyes of the world were on the war in North Africa and the Russian industrial city, Stalingrad and its bitter fight for survival. In January it became clear to Hitler and his staff that the 6th Army was doomed unless they were rescued. Once again, Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring, promised Hitler that the air force could supply the beleaguered army in Stalingrad. And once again, just as he had done in the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe failed miserably. German 6th Army commander, Von Paulus requested permission to surrender, in order to save the lives of his remaining troops. Hitler denied his request, expecting them to fight until the end. A disheartened Von Paulus disobeyed orders and surrendered on January 31, 1943.


General Friedrich Paulus

When the 6th Army began its assault on Stalingrad in June 1942, the 6th Army had over 250,000 men, at the time of their surrender, 90,000 men walked into captivity , uncertain of their future. In addition, the Luftwaffe lost over 900 aircraft. In 1942, the Russians began flexing their manufacturing muscle, they produced over 25,000 aircraft (only the Americans produced more). While the Germans only managed 15,000. The Russian advantage would only grow in 1943. In late 1942, Russian pilot Grigory Rechkalov and his regiment were pulled to rear to begin training on fighter aircraft supplied by the U.S. under the lend lease Program. The fighter that Russian pilots fell in love with was Bell P-39 Airacobra, an all-metal, single low-wing monoplane, with the unusual configuration of the engine behind the pilot instead of the front of the aircraft. It also had a tricycle landing gear and was armed with two machine guns and a cannon in the nose. Rechkalov would later be awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union for 12 solo and 2 shared shootdowns.


Soviet P-39 Aircobra

In World War II, the Russians were the only country to allow women to engage in aerial combat as pilots. Other countries had female pilots, but they were relegated to “ferry Pilots”. Many of the Russian women pilots proved their metal in combat. One in particular, Lydia Litvyak was a cut above the rest. Lydia, a Jewish girl was born in Moscow in 1921. She would gain the distinction of become the first female to shot down another plane in combat, when, on September 13, 1942 in the skies above Stalingrad she shot down a Junkers 88, and a Messerschmitt Bf 109 piloted the German ace, Staff Sergeant Erwin Meier of the 2nd Staffel of Jagdgeschwader 53. Litvyak, better known as “White Lilly,” prove be a lethal pilot in her short service. On August 1, 1943, on an escort mission, Lydia spotted a formation of German bombers, and she attacked. She didn’t see the 109 escorts, and they pounced on her, shooting her down. Lydia’s body was not discovered at the time. She would be discovered in 1990 by several of her comrades who discovered her grave site, Lydia was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.


Russian Fighter Pilot Lydia Litvyak

For the Russians, the hard-fought victory at Stalingrad signaled the beginning of the beginning of the end for the Germans. With the failure at Stalingrad, the Germans were forced to withdraw from their attack on the oil fields further south to avoid being cutoff. The Russian 1943 Winter offensive steamrolled the Germans, liberating towns and villages along the way. The Germans were searching for a way to counter-attack. They determined that Russians had over-extended themselves at the rail junction of Kursk. In July 1943 one of the fiercest battles in history began. The Germans were determined to halt the successes of the Russian offensive. This battle would be the largest concentration of tanks in one singular engagement. The Germans had 2,900 tanks, while the Russians had 5,000. The Germans would field 780,000 troops, compared to the overwhelming two million Russians soldiers.

After defeating the Germans at Stalingrad, Russian forces continued to push the Germans back. The Russians successfully drove the Germans out of the cities of Kursk and Rostov in February. Now facing encirclement, the Germans began preparing plans for a counterstroke at the Kursk salient. The Germans determined that the best time to launch the attack was the end of the spring rasputitsa. The Germans were faced with several delays in the battle due to changing circumstances in the Mediterranean, as Italy was now in the bullseye. Fierce debate with the German high command about the validity of plan raged for several months. Through their elaborate intelligence network, the Russians discovered the Russians plan. Russian general Georgiy Zhukov began the work of establishing massive defensive rings to thwart the coming attack. The German plan (Operation Citadel) was designed a double envelopment of Russian forces in the bulge at Kursk with an attack from the north and the south.

The battle began on the morning of July 5, and would evolved into one of the largest battles in history. Each side was prepared to throw all available force into the conflict; the Russians committed nearly 2 million men, the Germans 770,000 men. The Germans amassed 3,000 tanks and 2,000 aircraft whilst the Soviets had brought in some 5,000 tanks and 3,000 aircraft. The Germans had some initial gains, however, in fighting their way through numerous Russian defenses began to wear down the Germans. Both sides suffered horrendous losses, but by now, the Russians had the ability to replace men and material better than the Germans. In the end the Russians gained another great victory. This battle would signal the end for the German vision of Lebensraum would now come to a crashing end as 1943 drew to a close.

Western Front

The Battle of the Atlantic continued to rage in 1943. At the end of 1942 the German U-Boat fleet experienced its 2nd “happy times” under the leadership of Admiral Dernitz, as the Allies fought to protect its lifeline to the Americas. The battle had evolved into several different aspects; air power, intelligence, and numbers of vessels on each side. Each side was capable of intercepting the others radio traffic, however, when the British cracked the German enigma code, it proved to be a game-changer in every theater in the war. Despite the Germans significant gains in late 1942, the Allies were gaining strength. The Germans by now had perfected the use of “wolf packs” in placing a group of submarines in the “black hole” the area of the Atlantic where the Allies could not provide air cover. Thanks to production prowess of the US, the Allies now had the maritime resources to better escort merchant ships, these dedicated forces were known as anti-submarine hunter-killer-groups centered around an escort carrier with about six to nine F4F Wildcat fighters and twelve TBF Avenger torpedo bombers, older models of Wildcats and Avengers that would have been at a disadvantage in the Pacific War. The tide began to turn in May 1943.


German Enigma Machine

The failed Dieppe raid the previous year was a clear indication that the Allied forces were not ready for a land invasion on the continent. However, what the British did very well were pin-prick commando raids on the continent, and nurturing resistance movements in France, Poland, and other occupied countries. They also trained, equipped, and incorporated nationals into British Forces. In particular, one group that stood out were the Polish pilots who served in the RAF since the beginning. As each day passed Britain became stronger and stronger with an influx of men and material form the US. The US Army Air Force was ready to fully take on the Germans in contesting the skies over Europe. The British began bombing Germany as early as 1940, now the US was ready to join the fray. The Allies had 4 very good heavy bombers at their disposal; the British Sterling and Avro Lancaster, and the US had the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, and Consolidated B-24 Liberator. The Allies had agreed going forward to a two-pronged aerial attack on Germany; the British would bomb at night, and the US would bomb in daylight.


Avro Lancaster Heavy Bomber

While the Allies had some of the best heavy bombers of the war, they also possessed several very good twin-engine bombers. The British utilized the legendary wooden wonder, the mosquito, the twin-engine fighter-bomber. The Mosquitos could motor along at 400 mph powered by its Merlin engines. It packed a wallop with 4 machine guns and 4 cannons. It was capable of a variety of missions from reconnaissance, to high-speed low-level bombing missions. In January 1943 the Mosquitos were assigned the tasking of bombing a Nazi radio tower in the heart of Berlin the moment Hermann Goering was about to give an address. They successfully completed the mission. One of their most daring raids would occur in early 1944 with Operation Jericho that took place on 18 February 1944, in the attack on the French Aimens Prison. The mission was to blow holes in the prison walls to free doomed resistance fighters and captured pilots.

It was apparent that the U.S. had not learned the lessons the Germans and British had learned when attempting bomber raids when confronted by a strong and determined fighter force. The U.S. wanted to show that daylight targeted bombing was more effective in destroying strategic German industries, versus British night-time area bombing. They placed their faith in heavily armed bombers, configured in “box formations” for mutual defense. The U.S. would soon learn that when escort fighters reached their fuel limits and were forced to return to base. It was then that the fierce air battles began against the tough and battle tested Luftwaffe fighter pilots, many of them aces. One raid proved the danger involved was the Regensburg/Schweinfurt mission in August 1943 to bomb the Messerschmitt factory in Regensburg and ball bearings plant in Schweinfurt. The attacks were to happen simultaneously, however, the Schweinfurt force was delayed by fog. This allowed the Germans to concentrate their forces on Regensburg attackers, land and refuel, then savage the Schweinfurt group. While bombers did damage some facilities, it came at a very high price. Sixty bombers (1 in 6) were shot down at a loss of 600 men killed, missing, or captured. Despite these horrendous losses, the U.S. would try again in October with a second raid.

The results of the October raid were just as bad as the August raid. Bomber pilots would later refer to the raid as “Black Thursday.” By the time the Americans returned their bases, they had lost another 60 B-17s, another 17 were no longer airworthy, and an additional 121 received minor damage. The message was now clear that these types of missions were no longer tenable without a fighter escort, which they did not have pass the 200-mile limit for fighters. The U.S. introduced a new fighter in the theater in April 1943, the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. The P-47 would go on to be one of the best fighters on either side. And was the heaviest single fighter of the war. While the British wisely choose to bomb at night they also faced several obstacles. The Germans defense consisted of a chain of radar stations across occupied Europe that could detect the British the moment they launched their aircraft. In the “cat and mouse” game of search and avoid, both the British and German were up to the task. To combat German radar technology, the British came up with a simple but ingenious idea of using thin aluminum strips (knows as window) bundled together to overwhelm German radar. In 1942 the British War Ministry made the decision to attack any German city with a population over 100,000 people.


Boeing B-17 Flyng Fortress Heavy Bomber

The British discovered that a mix of explosives and incendiaries was a deadly combination. The tactic involved dropping very large bombs first to damage roads, shatter water lines, and blow out windows. Then follow up with incendiaries to start massive fires. RAF Bomber Commander Sir Arthur Harris put the tactic to use in the massive fire-bombing of Germany’s 3rd largest city, Hamburg from July 24 to August 3, 1943. Windows was used for the first time with devasting effect as it clouded German radar. As 1943 drew to a close, this was a sign of what was to come the next year.

Mediterranean/Nort Africa

In a November 10, 1942, speech, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. I believe this is where we are today” after several devasting defeats of the Germans in North Africa. In addition, the U.S. has entered the war with their invasion of Vichi French held North Africa. In a 3 prong attack the Americans and British take Morocco, Algiers, Oran, and then, push west to take Tunisia, putting beleaguered German general Rommel in a vice. After their baptismal of fire, the Americans were confident as they turned their attention east to face the Germans. The coming months would reveal the names of future leaders who go down in history; Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton, Clark, and Doolittle to name a few.

At the beginning of 1943, the drive to Tunisia was delayed by winter rains which turned roads into dark seas of mud, making travel and air operations nearly impossible. The Germans used this lull in actions to re-organize and supply their forces in Tunisia for the coming fight. The Axis consolidated their defenses in and around Tunis, Tunisia. At this the Axis held an advantage in air power because of bases in Tunisia, while the Allies were saddled with conducting missions from Morocco, and Algeria. The RAF was well established in North Africa, while the U.S. was new to the conflict. The USAA 12th Air Force was the air arm constituted for the North African invasion. First formed in August 1942, the 12th moved to England in September in preparation for North Africa (Operation Torch.) Medal of Honor awardee, General Jimmie Doolittle, the leader of the bold, and daring raid on Tokyo the previous year was its first commander.


P-40 Warhawk Fighter

Not yet defeated, the Axis counter-attacked in February 1943. Rommel and his forces turned their attention to the relatively inexperienced Americans, who were now protecting a pass in the Grand Dorsal chain of the Atlas Mountains, Kasserine Pass. Prior to the fight at Kasserine, the Axis first defeated the Allies at the Battle of Battle of Sidi Bou Zid. The Allies were forced back to Kasserine, for a last defense to prevent the Axis from gaining a foothold in Algeria. Despite their success in Operation Torch, this would be their first test against a battle tested German force, the results for the Americans were disastrous. The first skirmish began on January 30 when Axis forces attacked French positions outside of Faïd. Despite loses, the Axis pushed the French back. The Americans attempted to aid the French but were soundly defeated with heavy losses.


German Junkers JU 88 Twin Engine Bomber

The Axis began their assault at Kasserine in the early hours of February 19. The U.S. II Corps was immediately under immense pressure as the Axis forces attacked them over serval days of fighting. By the end of the battle, the U.S. loses were staggering; 6,700 killed, wounded, missing. 184 tanks lost, 104 half-tracks, 208 guns and 512 trucks and motor vehicles were lost. The Axis loses were considerably lighter, less than 1,000 casualties, and 20 tanks. For the Allies it was time to regroup and change commanders and go back on the attack. For the Axis, the joy of victory was short-lived because Rommel’s nemesis, General Montgomery and his 8thn Army Forces were moving west again. Rommel would have no choice but to face Montgomery again, this time at Medenine at the Mareth Line on March 6. Forewarned of Rommel’s plan, Montgomery was well prepared, and forced Rommel back with devasting loses. For Rommel, this would be the end of his duty in North Africa, Hitler would recall him, leaving the Afrika Korps in the hands of General Hans-Jürgen von Arnim to face its final fate.

The final blow for the Afrika Korps came next. While the Axis were engaged with the 8th Army at Medenine, the Americans re-occupied the Kasserine Pass, this time under new leadership. General George Payton, had replaced Major General Lloyd Fredendall who was sent back to the U.S. Prior to assuming command of II Corps, Patton was in the process planning the invasion of Sicily. Patton, swiftly instituted his confidant, discipline style of leadership and had the II Corps ready for the next engagement at El Guettar, ‎Tunisia. The difference was like night and day. Patton masterfully deployed his forces and went top-to-toe with the Axis. At the end of the battle, the Americans held their ground. Later, II Corps would meet up the 8th Army and closed the noose on the Axis. The long war in North Africa was finally over. For the Axis, their last hope was the need to evacuate men and material from Tunisia by air. The Royal Navy, and now the U.S. Navy were in firm control of the Mediterranean. Any attempt by sea by Axis was certain destruction. It was here where the USAAF 12th Air Force, and RAF came into their own wresting control of the air from the Axis.


Lockheed P-38 Lightning

During World War II, the American people were universally united in the war effort to defeat the Axis powers. However, when you peel back the American society you see that the country itself has struggled with equality for all its citizens. It was common knowledge that America was a deeply segregated society. This racial practice manifested itself in the American armed forces. Throughout the war there were approximately 1,100 white generals, compared to only one African American. By design, all units were segregated, and in the majority of cases, African Americans were relegated to support or menial roles. In order to correct this injustice, the U.S. began training black pilots to fly in combat, all-be-it in a segregated unit. The 99th pursuit squadron was deemed ready for combat in April 1943, and shipped out to North Africa. The leader of the 99th Colonel Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the son of General Benjamin O. Davis Sr. the first African American general. They flew their first mission on June 2, to attack the island of Pantelleria in P-40 Warhawks. The 99th then moved on to Sicily and received a Distinguished Unit Citation for its performance in combat.


Tuskegee Airmen

As the Allies began planning their next move, the island of Malta became the center of attention when the Allied brass moved to the island to plan the next move. In an attempt to deceive the Axis a deception was needed to keep them guessing about the Allies next target. By now, the British had become masters of the dark art of deception. They devised a remarkable plan, Operation Mincemeat to hide the Allies true intentions. The target of the operation was getting the Axis to think the next target would be occupied Greece, when in reality, it would the island of Sicily, on their way to the Italian mainland. The deception appeared to work when the Allies detected that the Germans were strengthening their forces in Greece. Operation Husky began on the evening of July 9, when paratroopers landed on the island. General Bernard Montgomery led the British 8th Army, and General George Patton led the U.S. 7th Army. In 39 days of hard fighting the Allies pushed the Axis off the island. This victory confirmed what Winston Churchill had said the Italy would be the soft underbelly of Europe.

On September 3, 1943, a momentous event occurred. After several tough years of combat, the Allies had returned to the continent with a major invasion. Landing in Italy would be a major benefit to their Russian allies; the Germans would need withdraw forces from the Eastern Front to thwart this move. The 8th Army led by Montgomery landed at Calabria–the “toe” of Italy. On the day of the invasion the Italian government agreed to the terms of surrender. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was deposed and placed under arrest. The Italians were given favorable terms if they joined the Allies, which they did. Another invasion the day before on the “heel” took the Germans by surprise at ports of Taranto and Brindisi. A forewarning of how difficult the invasion would be occurred when the Allies sailed to Salerno. Unbeknownst to the Allies the Germans had secretly developed a radio guided bomb. There were two different versions: the Fritz-X and Hs-293. When the Italian armistice was announced, the Italians were ordered to sail their fleet to surrender. To keep this from taking place, the Germans used the weapon to sink the Battleship, Roma and damaged her sister ship, Italia, received serious damage on September 9. When the Allies approached Salerno, the Germans hit the American light cruiser USS Savannah. The damage was extensive, the Savannah was forced to return to the U.S. for repair. The Royal Navy's light cruiser HMS Uganda was hit, and was dead in the water. She was towed back to Malta.

The Allies under U.S. Lieutenant general Marc Clark landed in Salerno on September 9. The Allies would soon find out they were up against crack, seasoned German troops, well equipped and holding the advantage of high ground, and determined to fight. The Germans nearly drove the Allies back into the sea. It would take four months to get an advantage. German Commander Albert Kesselring masterfully erected defensive lines, using the Italian topography to the Germans advantage. Progress for the Allies began to slow down when winter weather set in the mountainous regions. The year 1943 would conclude with the Allies 15th Air Force moving its operations to Italy and intensify the bombing of Axis targets.


In the war in the pacific in 1942 there were several momentous moments that altered the course of the war. The Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, the Battle of Midway; the fact the fact the American aircraft carriers were not at Pearl Harbor on December 7. Important at the time it occurred, the Battle of the Coral Sea turned away the Japanese in their intentions of landing at Port Moresby on the west coast of New Guinea, a short distance from North Australia. A Japanese base at Port Moresby would put Australia in danger of an invasion. The Japanese had a foothold on the east coast of New Guinea, in particular, a massive base on the island of Rabul that would be a thorn in the side of Allies for years to come. The reprieve at Port Moresby gave the Allies much needed time to strengthen the base, for what they knew who another attack by the Japanese. Both sides knew that the battle for Australia would be fought in New Guinea.

Like their American counterparts, the Australians suffered some early setbacks in the war, but by June of 1942 they had regrouped and were ready to go on the offensive in New Guinea. Early in the war, the Japanese routinely defeated Allied forces in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Dutch East Indies, and others with predominately indigenous populations. Australia would be their first attempt to attack one of the Allies in their own back yard so-to-speak. Wherever the British Crown was engaged, Australian Forces were there. Thanks to recent successes in North Africa, and America’s entry into the war, battle tested Australian Forces were re-deployed home to defend their country. One of the real strengths of the Australian Forces was their senior command structure. Many of them had come of age in World War I, and now were the experienced leaders to battle a deadly foe. In mid-1942 General MacArthur commanded 10 Australian and 2 U.S. divisions.


Clive Robertson Caldwell Top Australian Ace

In the Southwest Pacific, the year 1943 began with hard won Allied victories on Guadalcanal and in fending off another attempt by the Japanese to take Port Moresby, this time by land by marching over the Owen Stanley Mountains. A single event in 1943 had a dramatic effect on the Japanese war effort. After an intelligence break the Americans discovered the travel itinerary of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto on a scheduled visit to Bouganville to improve the morale of his forces after recent loses. An intercept mission was planned from the recently won island of Guadalcanal, in April. A squadron of long-range P-38 fighters intercepted Yamamoto and shot down two bombers carrying Yamamoto and his staff. Future Allied operations centered on a three-pronged approach; MacArthur pushing northward up the east coast of New Guinea, Admiral Halsey doing likewise up the Solomon chain of islands, and Admiral Nimitz taking islands in the Central Pacific. For the Allies, it was simply about taking locations that had Japanese airbases and inserting their own aircraft to work their way to Rabul. Operation Cartwheel, the joint operation with MacArthur and Halsey, the goal was to neutralization of the Japanese base at Rabul, and the Admiralty Islands, which were the center of Japan’s operations.


Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto

In an anticipation of the Allies intentions, in March of 1943 the Japanese attempted to reinforce their base at Lae. Forces sailed from Rabul, but unbeknownst to the Japanese the Allies had discovered their plans. The Allies discovered a 16-ship convoy, carrying 7,000 troops and supplies. The Allies attacked the convoy several times. In the end the Japanese lost 3,000 troops, and vast amounts of supplies. To make matters worse they lost 102 aircraft attempting to protect the convoy. Operation Cartwheel involved 11 different sub-campaigns beginning in June 1943 with the invasion of Nassau Bay south of Salamaua, then the islands of Kiriwina and Woodlark, followed by the New Georgia islands by Halsey’s forces, with the intent of taking the Munda airfield. After some difficult fighting, New Georgia was secured by September. Next, Halsey chooses to bypass heavily defended Kolobangaro, instead, blockade it and move on to Vella Lavella. The Allies gained a sizable victory in the Salamaua – Lae campaign when Australian forces landed east of Lae. Another Aussie force parachuted into Nadzab. The two forces combined and in vicious fighting captured Salamaua and Lae in September. With a firm foothold in Cartwheel, the big prize was now in view, the Japanese base at Rabul. The original plan had called for operation to assault the base. Plans were now changed because the Allies had gained significant amounts of territory to establish airbases to launch heavy bomber raids on Rabul, but more important, fighter bases to protect the bombers. Now they could simply bomb the hell out of Rabul and cut it off. The final leg would be the invasion of the island of New Britain.


General Sir Thomas Blamey

The Allies next target was now in sight, Bouganville, south of Rabul. On his way to Bouganville, Halsey’s forces took the Treasury Islands with a combination of U.S. and New Zealand forces. Halsey’s forces landed at Torokina and Augustus Bay in November. The mission was to take enough territory to build a landing strip to close the distance to Rabul. Caught off guard, the Japanaese sent sent naval and ground forces from Rabul to interdict the Allies. The Japanese feared that their forces were discovered and withdrew the ground forces. The naval arm continued and clashed with the Allies, losing a cruiser and destroyer. Halsey’s forces continued to expand their areas in difficult fighting, continuing to drive the Japanese back. As a result, the Allies were able to establish 3 airfields. The year 1943 would end with the Allies landing on Cape Gloucester, located on the western end of the island of New Britain. U.S. Marines took this location in December, fighting would last until early January 1944. Again, the Allies set up several airfields with the intention to isolate Rabul. The gains of Operation Cartwheel must have been troubling to the Japanese in 1943. Most of the territory they had gained was gone. They had lost thousands of men, enormous amounts of equipment, and hundreds of aircraft. In all reality, the future looked bleak for the Japanese in the Southwest Pacific theatre.

While Operation Cartwheel was drawing to a close in 1943, a sister operation in the Central Pacific under the command of U.S. Naval Admiral Chester Nimitz was in the works. At the beginning of the war, the U.S. had 7 aircraft carriers, however, by mid-1943 they were down to 3. Two in the Pacific and one in the Atlantic. The Japanese had counted on a short and decisive victory to avoid the immense industrial capacity of the U.S. Just as the Japanese anticipated, by the latter half of 1943, American fire power began to show. A new breed of aircraft carrier, the Essex Class, was now at Nimitz’s disposal; the new Essex, Yorktown, Lexington, and Bunkerhill. In addition, the new Indepence Class carriers, and Escort Carriers. The Essex carriers were capable of carrying 100 plus aircraft and were armed to the teeth with anti-aircraft fire power. In addition a new class of fighter, bomber, and torpedo planes were on board. The replacement for the venerable Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter was the Grumman F6F Hellcat, a giant leap forward in design. The Hellcat was designed to tangle with the Japanese A6M Zero, based in large part of an intact Zero discovered in the Aleutians the year before. By war’s end the Hellcat established a 14 to 1 kill ratio. Another fighter, the F4U Corsair would join the fleet and become a legend in its own right.


Grumman F6F Hellcat

Operation Galvonic got underway in November, the mission was to take Tarawa, and Makin Island in the Gilbert Islands, in the Central Pacific. The fleet that sailed was considerably larger than the fleet that departed Pearl Harbor, after the December 7 attack. This impressive fleet contained 5 fast Battleships, 7 older Battleships for shore bombardment, 12 Cruisers and an astounding 17 aircraft carriers. On the morning of November 20, the Northern U.S. force commenced the attack on Makin. The Japanese force defending Makin was less than 1,000 men; 364 soldiers, 100 pilots without aircraft, and the rest were Korean laborers. Hundreds of U.S. aircraft bombed and strafed targets on Makin, when they departed the big guns of the battleships and cruisers opened up with a sustained barrage. U.S. fore quickly overwhelmed the Japanese without much resistance.

The battle for Tarawa would be quite different. Waiting for the U.S. Marines were 5,000 well trained and battle-test Japanese. The atoll itself was well defended; every inch would have to be contested. Despite the preinvasion bombardment, little damage was done to the Japanese fortifications. To make matters worse, there was difficulty for the landing craft to travel across the coral reef, forcing Marines to debark and wade through chest deep water, under heavy fire. Casualties were high on both sides as Marines fought their way onto the beach. The worst was yet to come. It would take some of the most vicious fighting of the war to subdue the Japanese. Nearly the entire Japanese force was wiped out, the U.S. suffered over 2,000 killed in action. Graphic footage of the battle was shown to President Roosevelt, who in turn, released it to the public to show them the true cost of the war. The film would later win an Academy Award.

The year 1943 was in essence the turning point, the Allies were advancing on all fronts, with one exception, Burma. The China-Burma-India fight was critical to the war effort. Keeping the Chinese supplied, and fighting was crucial. To hold onto their possessions in China, the Japanese had 38 divisions stationed there. In 1942 the Japanese invaded Burma with the intention of closing the land bridge to China in the east and be the staging point to march west to India. Badly outmanned the British were driven out of Burma by superior forces. The Allies were forced to supply China totally by air, along the dangerous route over the Himalayan Mountains, virtually the top of the world. However, this supply method was inadequate. At the beginning of 1943 the Allies re-organized, and more resources were pouring into the theater.


Douglas C-47 Air Transport

14th air force in China. General Stillwell was put in command of the next road project, the Ledo Road spanning Ledo, Assam, in Northeast India to Kunming, Yunnan, China. Stillwell’s command consisted of Chinese, and American troops, along with American construction, and Native laborers. Of the 15,000 U.S. construction troops, 60% were African American who would eventually take on the toughest construction jobs anywhere. In addition to the land route, an oil pipeline was laid simultaneously. Just as in other areas of war in Asia/Pacific, one battle signaled a change for the good for the Allies. Protecting the crown jewel of India was paramount.

The Japanese attempted to strike a serious blow by attacking into India in Assam, at the towns of Imphal and Kohima. After fierce fighting the overextended Japanese were driven back across the river Chindwin, in large part by air support from the RAF and U.S. 10th Air Force. The year 1943 would conclude with the Allied forces poised to attack in Burma.