Wednesday, November 02, 2011

TFH 11/2: Major Raymond H. Wilkins, USAAC

In November 1943, Major Raymond H. Wilkins commanded the 8th Bombardment Squadron of the US Army Air Corps' 3rd Attack Group. They flew the North American B-25 Mitchell medium bomber. On this day of that year, Major Wilkins led his squadron on an attack against Japanese shipping. Their unit was the last to attack, their targets obscured by fire and smoke, and the enemy's antiaircraft gunners were fully alerted. Into this inferno flew Major Raymond Wilkins, and America gained a true hero of the skies.


Rank and organization: Major, U.S. Army Air Corps. Place and date: Near Rabaul, New Britain, 2 November 1943. Entered service at: Portsmouth, Va. Born: 28 September 1917, Portsmouth, Va. G.O. No.: 23, 24 March 1944. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Rabaul, New Britain, on 2 November 1943. Leading his squadron in an attack on shipping in Simpson Harbor, during which intense antiaircraft fire was expected, Maj. Wilkins briefed his squadron so that his airplane would be in the position of greatest risk. His squadron was the last of 3 in the group to enter the target area. Smoke from bombs dropped by preceding aircraft necessitated a last-second revision of tactics on his part, which still enabled his squadron to strike vital shipping targets, but forced it to approach through concentrated fire, and increased the danger of Maj. Wilkins' left flank position. His airplane was hit almost immediately, the right wing damaged, and control rendered extremely difficult. Although he could have withdrawn, he held fast and led his squadron into the attack. He strafed a group of small harbor vessels, and then, at low level, attacked an enemy destroyer. His 1,000 pound bomb struck squarely amidships, causing the vessel to explode. Although antiaircraft fire from this vessel had seriously damaged his left vertical stabilizer, he refused to deviate from the course. From below-masthead height he attacked a transport of some 9,000 tons, scoring a hit which engulfed the ship in flames. Bombs expended, he began to withdraw his squadron. A heavy cruiser barred the path. Unhesitatingly, to neutralize the cruiser s guns and attract its fire, he went in for a strafing run. His damaged stabilizer was completely shot off. To avoid swerving into his wing planes he had to turn so as to expose the belly and full wing surfaces of his plane to the enemy fire; it caught and crumpled his left wing. Now past control, the bomber crashed into the sea. In the fierce engagement Maj. Wilkins destroyed 2 enemy vessels, and his heroic self-sacrifice made possible the safe withdrawal of the remaining planes of his squadron. 

The US Army Air Corps, of course, became today's United States Air Force. Major Wilkins' units still serve our Nation to this day. The 8th Bombardment Squadron is now known as the 8th Special Operations Squadron, part of the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, FL. The 3rd Attack Group's present-day descendant is the 3rd Operations Group of the 3rd Wing, located at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska.

The bodies of Major Wilkins and his crew were never recovered. They rest today, like so many courageous Americans, on the field of battle where they gave their lives for us. They will all continue to live in the hearts of those who cherish the freedom and liberty men like Raymond H. Wilkins so courageously protected.

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