Japan’s raids bombed out
IN JULY 1942, only eight months after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan’s supply chain for the 14th Kokutai ( Naval Air Wing) in Rabaul Harbour was failing. Allied raids on shipping were starving the unit of fuel and spare parts.
Equipped with an aircraft so new that Allied aircraft recognition posters did not yet feature them, the Kawanishi H8K1 Emily flying boat was well defended with many machineguns and carbon- dioxide fire extinguishers. Aside from its protective armour, its fuel tanks were partially self- sealing and designed that if punctured, fuel was pumped into an undamaged tank.
With a range of more than 4100km, this meant a 15- hour flight to Townsville and returning to base was possible.
High- level reconnaissance aircraft had been flying over Townsville since March. This occurred around midday over the port and Garbutt so future “targets” in the city would not be hidden by shadows. Major Misaburo Koizumi devised a bold plan; undertake night raids on the harbour and airfields at Townsville, a 3500km round trip.
Five raids would occur over consecutive nights with four aircraft on each raid. These new aircraft and their crews would be pushed to their limits with each plane carrying eight 250kg bombs.
What eventuated was considerably less: three raids on Townsville with a fourth started; this aircraft experienced engine problems near Mossman and was forced to jettisonj its bombs, injuring a babyb on a farm at Miallo. The fifth raid was cancelled.
On all four missions, accompanying aircraft had to return due to engine issues. Only on the first raid on the night of July 25- 26, 1942, wouldw there be two with the remainderrema being single aircraft.
Radar direction finding units tracked the aircraft on all missions and a secret unit that intercepted Japanese transmissions in French St, Pimlico, picked up the aircraft’s departure from Rabaul.
On this occasion they were surprised to hear the lead aircraft transmitting in uncoded Japanese; call sign “Eight ball”.
Less organised was the relaying of this vital information to local commanders on the first raid. No one was informed and they were neither intercepted nor fired on.
Roaming over Townsville, they used the operating Cape Cleveland lighthouse as a guide point to bomb the harbour with all bombs falling harmlessly in the vicinity of the Ross River mouth.
It was blatant propaganda for the Japanese in The Bangkok Times: “Tokyo. First Japanese raid on Townsville by the Imperial Japanese Navy Unit. Many vessels anchored in Port and along the Quay were set on fire. Bombs found their mark on respective objectives. The entire area, it was ascertained by the returning airmen, was reduced to a sea of flames with columns of black smoke shooting to the sky.”
The second raid on July 28 was a similar failure with bombs dropping on Many Peaks Range. Anti- aircraft gun fire near Three Mile Creek hit the nose of the aircraft, but Allied aircraft couldn’t intercept the plane due to the intense fire.
The final raid on the 29th came close to success for the Allies.
Having again received advanced warning, US P39 fighter pilots Robert Harriger and John Mainwaring were already circling Magnetic Island. Kingo Shoji and his co- pilot Fukuki Morifuji in Emily W- 47 were attacked between the island and the harbour, jettisoning their bombs near the shipping channel.
Diving to gain speed, they were attacked multiple times with explosive cannon fire killing their rear gunner. One bomb had been stuck in the rack; this explosion shook it free where it detonated in a paddock at Oonoonba. Shoji sent a message to Rabaul: “The Emperor’s ship has been attacked from both broadsides and damaged.”
The US fighters followed the aircraft until the Palm Islands, when low fuel and exhausted ammunition forced them to return.
Damaged, Shoji returned to Rabaul the follow morning. With no damage or fatalities to Townsville, these attacks would yield little more than propaganda for the Japanese.