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Operation PLUM

The Ill-fated 27th Bombardment Group and the Fight for the Western Pacific

By Adrian R. Martin and Larry W. Stephenson

Publication Year: 2010

They went in as confident young warriors. They came out as battle-scarred veterans, POW camp survivors . . . or worse.   The Army Air Corps’ 27th Bombardment Group arrived in the Philippines in November 1941 with 1,209 men; one year later, only twenty returned to the United States. The Japanese attacked the Philippines on the same morning as Pearl Harbor and invaded soon after. Allied air routes back to the Philippines were soon cut, forcing pilots to fight their air war from bases in Java, Australia, and New Guinea. The men on Bataan were eventually taken prisoner and forced into the infamous Death March. The 27th and other such units were pivotal in delaying the Japanese timetable for conquest. If not for these units, some have suggested, the Allied offensive in the Pacific might have started in Hawaii or even California instead of New Guinea and the surrounding islands. Based largely on primary materials, including a fifty-nine-page report written by the surviving unit members in September 1942, Operation PLUM (from the code name for the U.S. Army in the Philippines) gives an account of the 27th Bombardment Group and, through it, the opening months of the Pacific theater. Military historians and readers interested in World War II will appreciate the rich perspective presented in Operation PLUM.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Contents

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pp. vii-

Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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Preface

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pp. xi-xv

Glenwood Stephenson has always been considered something of a hero among the members and descendents of his family. In the summer of 1934, at the height of the Depression, Glen left his home in Wisconsin to seek a better life. What began as a nomadic odyssey of riding the rails and picking up odd jobs just to stay alive culminated in his graduation from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and subsequent death in ...

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1. Nearing the Brink of World Conflict

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pp. 1-23

By the summer of 1940, the world was poised for global war. But no one was certain exactly when and where it would break out. During the prior twelve months, Europe had become engulfed in war. In the Far East, Japan was becoming progressively more belligerent toward its neighbors. Its armies had already invaded the Asian mainland, and by 1940 Japan controlled most of eastern China. Meanwhile, the United States, in ...

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2. “This Rumor Has Gone Too Far!”

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pp. 24-50

Acronyms and code names played a big role in the military lexicon of World War II. “Radar,” “OVERLORD,” and “D-Day” all had an additional life once the war was over. One name, however, seemed to fade away not long after its birth. That was Operation PLUM. The word “PLUM” was stamped on every piece of equipment and footlocker in October after the 27th received their secret orders. The reason this term has received ...

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3. War Begins

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pp. 51-78

Col. Harold H. George, the chief of staff of the 5th Interceptor Command, spoke to his fighter pilots at Nichols Field outside Manila. “Men,” he said, “you are not a suicide squadron yet, but you are damn close to it. There will be war with Japan in a very few days. It may come in a matter of hours.”1 Later that morning George gave a similar speech to the pilots at Clark Field and added that a great Japanese fleet was drifting ...

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4. Fighting on Bataan

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pp. 79-109

The Japanese landings of December 22 and 24 both north and south of Manila had met little resistance. MacArthur learned quickly that the untested North and South Luzon Forces were no match for Homma’s Fourteenth Army and its accompanying air and naval superiority. MacArthur knew that if his troops stayed in Manila and central Luzon, they would rapidly be caught in the Japanese pincer movement. He decided ...

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5. Escape to Java

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pp. 110-144

The launch trip from Mariveles to the docks at Corregidor was only about six miles, but it gave Stephenson plenty of time to contemplate the hazardous adventures of the past two months and wonder what the future held for him. Perhaps he thought about his wife, Ann, back in Savannah, worrying about the dismal war reports from the Philippines, and the irony of her reading and worrying about Bataan during the next few ...

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6. March and Command Changes

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pp. 145-173

Today Broome, Australia, is a tropical paradise lying between the white sand beaches of the Indian Ocean to the west and the Great Sandy Desert to the southeast. Its reputation for beautiful pearls made the town a melting pot before World War II as adventurers from many countries sought their fortune. But in February 1942, residents were interested in only one thing—getting out of town. Most of the inhabitants ...

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7. Royce’s Raid—Overshadowed by Doolittle

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pp. 174-195

The Japanese captured the airfield at Gasmata on the southern coast of New Britain on February 8. Their carrier-based planes in the Solomon Sea then used the field to launch attacks on Allied positions and to soften up the defenses for their planned invasion of New Guinea. On April 5 Davies and his B-25s flew to Port Moresby. There he met with Group Captain (colonel in the U.S. military) James Hewett, the commander ...

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8. “No Mama, No Papa, No Uncle Sam”

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pp. 196-209

For the men of the 27th who made it out of the Philippines, uncertainty about the fate of comrades left behind lingered with them for the rest of the war. Their sentiments are reflected in the 27th Reports: “What happened to the 27th we don’t know until Tokyo gives up. We do know this though, it would be a cruel and insane enemy, who, after victory, could not treat such brave and honorable foe as gentleman and brave ...

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9. Air Missions over the Coral Sea and Beyond

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pp. 210-230

The mood around the Charters Towers airfield in April 1942 was vastly different for the pilots than the previous four months of the war. For the most part, the 27th Bombardment Group men spent the first 113 days of the war fighting a losing battle with the Japanese. When they merged with the 3rd Bomb Group, they were going on the offensive. The success of the air missions over Gasmata, Lae, and Mindanao made the ...

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10. The Changing Tides of War

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pp. 231-264

Flush with quick, easy victories, except of course for Bataan and Corregidor, the Japanese Navy that spring considered the possible conquest of Australia as the next logical step in denying the Americans a staging area in the Southwest Pacific. Although Australia had a population of only seven million and many of its combat units were off fighting elsewhere, the Japanese Army thought the country was too vast a land to adequately ...

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11. POW Camps and Hell Ships

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pp. 265-286

While the Americans and their Allies fought a determined enemy in the Pacific and elsewhere, the nightmare continued for the POWs in the Philippines. In June 1942 Camp O’Donnell was closed, and the surviving prisoners were moved to a prison camp near Cabanatuan, about thirty-five miles east of O’Donnell. Actually, there were three camps nearby. Cabanatuan Camp No. 3 received the group of POWs ...

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12. “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again”

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pp. 287-293

For some who survived Bataan and returned home after the war: “We had been given up, surrendered; we were marked as cowards. . . . There were no banners to welcome us home, no parades to march in, no speeches, and no acknowledgment of any kind. Our folks at home had so many heroes; they were busy welcoming winners, not losers.”1...

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Epilogue: Lesson Learned

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pp. 294-295

One has to wonder how the American and Filipino armies could have gotten themselves into such a predicament after hostilities began and how a fighting force that large could have been cut off from its sources of supply and reinforcement. What equipment and material they had at hand was often not enough, out of date, or both. In most cases the Filipino troops, who were to be a trump card, were not yet adequately trained. After ...

Appendix 1: Twenty-seventh Bomb Group Pilots Flown from the Philippines to Australia, December 17–18, 1941

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pp. 297-

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Appendix 2: Royce’s Raid Crews

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pp. 298-301

The original list was kept by William G. Hipps, who participated in the raid, and edited years later under the supervision of J. Harrison Mangan. Same names for B-25 pilots and copilots appear in the 27th Reports. The names of other crew members are known, but the plane each flew on cannot be verified....

Appendix 3: Commentary on the Mission of B-25 #41-12455 by Two Former 27th/3rd Pilots

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pp. 302-303

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Appendix 4: Followup of 27th Bomb Group Pilots

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pp. 304-310

Eighteen of the 27th Bomb Group’s pilots returned to the United States in the fall of 1942. They remained in the U.S. Army Air Forces, and most, because of their combat experience, were assigned to train new pilots. Some did return to the Pacific later during the war. Many afterward had distinguished U.S. Air Force careers. They are listed below by their rank in October 1942....

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Appendix 5: The 27th’s Wartime Legacy

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pp. 311-316

The 27th had been formed at Barksdale Air Base in February 1940, when the elite 3rd Bombardment Group was split down the middle so that many of its officers and enlisted men wound up in the new unit. In late March 1942 what was left of the 27th’s pilots and enlisted men (who were not POWs) were reabsorbed by the 3rd Bomb Group at Charters Towers, Australia, and many became leaders in the 3rd....

Notes

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pp. 317-336

Bibliography

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pp. 337-348

Index

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pp. 349-364


E-ISBN-13: 9781603442510
E-ISBN-10: 1603442510
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603441841
Print-ISBN-10: 1603441840

Page Count: 363
Illustrations: 34 b&w photos. 8 maps. 5 Apps.
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Williams-Ford Texas A&M University Military History Series