USAAF General dies defying orders
5th January 1943: General Kenneth Walker awarded posthumous Medal of Honor for leading daylight attack on one of the most heavily defended targets in the Pacific
As the heavy bombers came into service there was still a debate about their tactical use. It had been hoped that the heavily armed B-17s would be able to defend themselves while flying in formation, and many USAAF men believed this was a critical aspect of their deployment.
In the Pacific high-level B-17 bombing attacks on ships had not been very successful. Brigadier General Kenneth Walker found himself in disagreement with his superior Lieutenant General Kenney about the best approach. But Kenney1 also disagreed with Walker about his desire to lead from the front, flying with most missions:
I told him that from then on I wanted him to run his command from his headquarters. In the airplane he was just extra baggage. He was probably not as good in any job on the plane as the man already assigned to it. In fact, in case of trouble, he was in the way.
On the other hand, he was the best bombardment commander I had and I wanted to keep him so that the planning and direction would be good and his outfit take minimum losses in the performance of their missions.
They would have known that a general was bound to have access to a lot of information and there was no limit to the lengths they would go to extract that knowledge from him. We had plenty of evidence that the Nips had tortured their prisoners until they either died or talked.
One of the big reasons for keeping him home was that I would hate to have him taken prisoner by the Japs. They would have known that a general was bound to have access to a lot of information and there was no limit to the lengths they would go to extract that knowledge from him.
We had plenty of evidence that the Nips had tortured their prisoners until they either died or talked. After the prisoners talked they were beheaded, anyhow, but most of them had broken under the strain. I told Walker that frankly I didn't believe he could take it without telling everything he knew, so I was not going to let him go on any more combat missions.
With intelligence that the Japanese were gathering a convoy of ships in Rabaul harbour, intended to resupply New Guinea, Kenney ordered a surprise dawn bombing raid. Walker disagreed, believing that his B-17s needed to get into formation in daylight rather than forming up in darkness.