The Wright Project and the 868th Bomb Squadron in World War II

Richard Phillip Lawless

The untold story of the 868th Bomb Squadron, the Nightstalkers, who paired cutting-edge technology with daring—launching single-aircraft night-time missions stalking the Japanese in the Pacific.
Date Published :
December 2022
Publisher :
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781636242057
Pages : 432
Dimensions : 10 X 7 inches
Stock Status : Not Yet Published. Available for Pre-Order


Never-before-told story of the 868th Bomb Squadron, the Nightstalkers, who paired cutting-edge technology with daring—launching single-aircraft night-time missions stalking the Japanese in the Pacific.

In August 1943, a highly classified US Army Air Force unit, code-named the “Wright Project,” departed Langley Field for Guadalcanal in the South Pacific to join the fight against the Empire of Japan. Operating independently, under sealed orders drafted at the highest levels of Army Air Force, the Wright Project was unique, both in terms of the war-fighting capabilities provided by classified systems the ten B-24 Liberators of this small group of airmen brought to the war, and in the success these “crash-built” technologies allowed. The Wright airmen would fly only at night, usually as lone hunters of enemy ships. In so doing they would pave the way for the United States to enter and dominate a new dimension of war in the air for generations to come.

This is their story, from humble beginnings at MIT’s Radiation Lab and hunting U-boats off America’s eastern shore, through to the campaigns of the war in the Pacific in their two-year march toward Tokyo. The Wright Project would prove itself to be a combat leader many times over and an outstanding technology innovator, evolving to become the 868th Bomb Squadron. Along the way the unit would be embraced by unique personalities and the dynamic leadership, from Army Air Force General Hap Arnold through combat commanders who flew the missions.

In this account, the reader will meet radar warfare pioneers and squadron leaders who were never satisfied that they had pushed the men, the aircraft, and the technologies to the full limit of their possibilities. Comprehensive and highly personal, this story can now be revealed for the very first time, based on official sources, and interviews with the young men who flew into the night.

About The Author

Richard Phillip Lawless is former CIA and Department of Defense (Deputy Under Secretary for Asian and Pacific Security, 2002-07).



Chapter 1 World War Comes to America January-May 1942
Chapter 2 Rad Labs and Microwave Radar 1940-1943
Chapter 3 Langley Field and the First Sea Search Attack Group June-December 1942
Chapter 4 Low-Altitude Bombing January-July 1943
Chapter 5 The Wright Project July-August 1943
Chapter 6 Guadalcanal August-September 1943
Chapter 7 Battles in the Slot October-December 1943
Chapter 8 Munda and Rabaul December 1943-March 1944
Chapter 9 Mighty Truk, Deadly Truk March-June 1944
Chapter 10 Vince Splane and “Devil’s Delight” September 1943-March 1944
Chapter 11 Munda to Momote April-June 1944
Chapter 12 Art De Land and Crew and “396” April-June 1944
Chapter 13 Radar Reflections 1943-1944
Chapter 14 Ever Forward Toward Tokyo July-November 1944
Chapter 15 Balikpapan and Makassar Strait October 1944
Chapter 16 The Philippines November-December 1944
Chapter 17 Captain Earle Smith and Lieutenant Ron Moyer August 1944
Chapter 18 Tough Times January-February 1945
Chapter 19 Turnaround and Baylis Harriss March 1945
Chapter 20 Morotai Missions April 1945
Chapter 21 Bob Thompson and Crew November 1944-June 1945
Chapter 22 Strangling the Empire, Morotai Operations May-June 1945
Chapter 23 Morotai to Okinawa Via Leyte July 1945
Chapter 24 Okinawa and Japan August 1945
Chapter 25 Coming Home September-October 1945
Chapter 26 The “Other Snoopers”: The Scott and Hopson SB-24 Projects 1943-1945



Nightstalkers is the well-told tale of American airmen flying into combat in the South Pacific in World War II under a secret and lethal program that mated state-of-the-art technology with the courage and tenacity of the young men taking their airplanes into the night sky. The speed and dedication with which this novel technology was conceived, engineered, tested, mated to the B-24 bomber, and rapidly deployed into combat serves as a marker for the ability today’s U.S. Air Force to develop and field advanced weapons systems. Such capabilities allow American airmen to continue to dominate the air and space battlespace today and promise to be able to do so in the future. But such capabilities must be planned, budgeted, and made real. This story of the Wright Project comprehensively captures an important but under-appreciated element of airpower history, reflecting the personal dedication of the author to research and tell in a compelling way, for the first time, the complete story of these amazing men.”

- Lieutenant General Bruce “Orville” Wright, USAF (ret), President, Air and Space Forces Association and former Commander, U.S. Forces Japan

“History is full of claims this or that technological change provided advantage. In Nightstalkers, Richard Lawless makes it all concrete. This is a limber romp across the world of electronics and into the history of World War II. Going beyond palaver, Lawless traces a critical development program through MIT’s Radiation Laboratory, shows how ultra-short wave radar was adapted for aircraft and a unit organized to prove the concept, then follows the exploits of this device right through the Pacific war. Nightstalkers illuminates U.S. tactics for night intruder operations, some critical battles, and reflects on the potential for these capabilities.”

- John Prados, author of "Islands of Destiny" and "Combined Fleet Decoded"

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