Hawaii Heaters


Today’s post is thanks to friend and colleague Dion Makowski at the current Airshows Downunder Australian International Air Show at Avalon airport, Victoria, Australia.

It’s patches, another vast topic! Unit patches are a crucial way of identifying various allegiances, from official versions, courses, units, and right down to scurrilous fabric graffiti, mainly military, though civilian and joint examples exist – in their thousands. Crews often carry a selection, for trading and gifts.


Dion says: “These patches from 23rd Bomb Squadron ‘Barons’ cover 80 years of history. They show a group of two bombs ‘2’ and three bombs ‘3’ making the ’23’ of the squadron’s number, plus a volcano. In 1935, Mauna Loa on Hawaii erupted. The 23rd used bombs to divert a lava flow which threatened the town of Hilo.”

“Keystone B-3A bombers dropped bombs into lava flows. The results, while debated today, are celebrated by the 23rd BS in the present day. The left hand patch is the traditional design, the right hand one is the current design.” These are via the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress crew currently at the Australian International Air Show from this unit, based at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, USA.

On the unit’s Wiki page, it says: “It was during the squadron’s stay in Hawaii that the event signified by the squadron emblem took place. On 27 December 1935, the Mauna Loa volcano on the island of Hawaii erupted, threatening the city of Hilo. Six Keystones of the 23d used precision bombing tactics to drop twenty 600-pound [272 kg] bombs in the path of the volcano’s lava flow, thus saving the city of Hilo by diverting the lava away from the city.” Further info can be found on the Wiki page on the volcano; “A bombing operation was decided upon to try and divert the flows, planned out by then-lieutenant colonel George S. Patton. The bombing, conducted on December 27, was declared a success by Thomas A. Jaggar, director of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, and lava stopped flowing by January 2, 1936. However, the role the bombing played in ending the eruption has since been heavily disputed by volcanologists.”


The Keystone bombers (image above, over the Philippines from J Tewell’s Flikr page] were in use for less than a decade, obsolete by the mid thirties, after introduction in 1929. The B-52 [below, seen at RAF Fairford, UK] has been operational for over half the history of heavier than air flight – and still has no retirement date set.


The two images of the unit’s insignia on the side of one of their B-52 bombers, above and below are via Macks Aviation Photography page, and a very interesting post on the unit’s role.


Artistically, the insignia is not (in my opinion) a great design, though it fulfils the criteria the period artist was set of showing the ’23’ in bombs (keystones couldn’t carry that many, hence, no doubt the use of ‘2’ and ‘3’, though B-52s can carry a LOT more than 23 bombs) and the volcano and lava flow. A good graphic artist could do a much better job. And the ‘tone down’ greys of the modern camouflage culture in current military use, as seen above on the side of the B-52’s nose, reduces the design to even more of an indecipherable cypher.But that’s not the point. Here it’s about holding onto a heritage, appropriate for a unit operating the now venerable B-52, and commemorating a remarkable and too-little-known piece of history, which is fascinating to learn about. There’s more, below.

James Kightly, Vintage Aero Writer.

Going well off the aviation art topic, there’s further stories with bombers and Hawaii’s volcanoes. From the same page above, it adds: “Mauna Loa’s 1942 eruption occurred only four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into World War II, and created a unique problem for the wartime United States. Occurring during an enforced night time blackout on the island, the eruption’s luminosity forced the government to issue a gag order on the local press, hoping to prevent news of its occurrence spreading, for fear that the Japanese would use it to launch a bombing run on the island. However, as flows from the eruption rapidly spread down the volcano’s flank and threatened the ʻOla’a flume, Mountain View’s primary water source, the United States Army Air Force decided to drop its own bombs on the island in the hopes of redirecting the flows away from the flume; sixteen bombs weighing between 300 and 600 lb [136 and 272 kg] each were dropped on the island, but produced little effect. Eventually, the eruption ceased on its own.” More detail on the USGS website here. Who knew?

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