Brief Unit History

The 345th Bomb Group was first activated at Columbia Army Air Base, South Carolina, in November of 1942, with flight crew training beginning in December of that same year. They trained there for five months before moving to Walterboro, S.C., for final preparation before deployment overseas. It was here in Walterboro that the four squadrons that made up the 345th adopted their nicknames, the 498th became the FALCONS, the 499TH , BATS OUTA HELL, the 500th,ROUGH RAIDERS, and the 501ST became the BLACK PANTHERS.

Originally the 345th was to deploy to England, however, Maj. Gen. George C. Kenney had successfully pleaded for more B-25's to be deployed to the Pacific. This was accomplished in part thanks to the recent success that B-25's had in the Battle of the Bismark sea. In April of 1943 the 345th headed west to the southwest pacific theater. After a brief stop in Australia, the 345th set up camp at the air bases of Port Moresby, New Guinea, becoming the first full Air Force combat Group sent the Pacific in World War II.

August of 1943 began the conversion from level bomber to the “strafer” role that the 345th would become famous for. This conversion entailed the removal of the bottom turret which was replaced with an extra gas tank, and the three hand-held machine guns manned by the bombardier-navigator were removed and the “greenhouse” nose was rebuilt to accommodate four forward-firing .50-caliber machine guns. Two side-pack machine guns were added on each side of the lower fuselage just aft of the cockpit, giving the plane eight new fifty-caliber machine guns in addition to the twin fifties in the top turret and tail, and single fifties at the waist positions. Later versions would bring the total forward firing capabilities to 14 forward firing .50 caliber machine guns that would make the superstructure of an enemy ship dissolve as the armor-piercing incendiary projectiles melted it.

During the 26 months that the 345th was in combat, 58,562 combat hours on 10,609 strikes were made. 58,000 bombs with a total weight of 6340 tons were dropped and over twelve-and-a-half million rounds of ammunition were expended. They were credited with sinking 260 enemy vessels and damaging 275 others. They destroyed 260 Japanese planes on the ground and another 107 in aerial combat. Its units won four Distinguished Unit Citations, including one for an unescorted raid on Rabaul in October of 1943. This record came at a high cost, 712 men dead from all causes, 580 killed on flights. Another 111 men were killed on November 12th, 1944, when Kamikaze's attacked the SS Nelson and SS Waite in Leyte Gulf. Most of these men were ground personnel waiting for the 345th to be moved ashore to their new home in the Philippines. 177 planes were also lost. In all, the 345th participated in nine major campaigns in the Asia-Pacific Theater, these included the New Guinea, Bismark Archipelago, Northern Solomons, Southern Philippines, Luzon, Western Pacific, China Defensive, China Offensive, and Air Offensive against Japan. The 345th became one of the most decorated units of the war.

In August of 1945, the Air Apaches were given the great honor of intercepting and escorting the two Japanese “Betty” bombers that were transporting the peace emissaries who were to initiate the Japanese surrender. The Group was officially deactivated at Camp Stoneman, Ca., on December 29th, 1945, after just over three years of existence.

Sources of Information:

Warpath Across the Pacific by Lawrence Hickey

International Research & Publishing Corp.

PO Box 3334, High Mar Station

Boulder, Co 80307


We Band of Brothers; by R.E. Peppy Blount