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Air Combat over Guadalcanal and tne Solomons

Fighter Command
in World War II
Air Combat over Guadalcanal and the Solomons
William Wolf
Schiffer Military History
Atglen, PA
I dedicate this book to my new friends in the 13
Fighter Command, the 347'h and 18
Fighter Group Associations, and to myoId friends with the Death Rattlers, VMF-323. These
men-boys at the time-gave up their youth and sometimes their lives in a struggle that
was truly appreciated and supported by all the American people at the time. We, the next
generations, also owe these men of the "Greatest Generation" recognition and respect for
their sacrifice.
Book Design by Ian Robertson.
Copyright 2004 by William Wolf.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2004105244
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or used in any forms or by
any means - graphic, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or information
storage and retrieval systems - without written permission from the copyright holder.
Printed in China.
ISBN: 0-7643-2067-X
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Acknowledgments 6
Preface 7
Foreword by Col. Bill Harris 8
Part One: Prelude, On the Way to the South Pacific
Chapter I: Introduction 10
Chapter 2: Background of the Components
of the 13
Fighter Command II
Part Two: Guadalcanal
Chapter I: Guadalcanal Background and Japanese Invasion 20
Chapter 2: August 1942 21
Chapter 3: September 1942 42
Chapter 4: October 1942 53
Chapter 5: November 1942 73
Chapter 6: December 1942 90
Chapter 7: January 1943 99
Chapter 8: February 1943 107
Chapter 9: March 1943, Summary and Assessment ,
of the Battle for Guadalcanal III
Chapter I0: Statistics, Assessing the Guadalcanal
Air Campaign 113
Part Three: Central Solomons
Chapter I: Status of the Air War 1943 116
Chapter 2: February 1943 Continued 117
Chapter 3: Russell Islands (Operation CLeansLate) to March 119
Chapter 4: March 1943 121
Chapter 5: Mission to the Shortlands, 29 March 1943
by James Lansdale ; 123
Chapter 6: CartwheeL 127
Chapter 7: Apri I 1943 130
Chapter 8: Yamamoto Mission 18 April 1943 137
Mission Prolog 137
The Definitive Account of the Yamamoto Mission
by James Lansdale 142
Mission Epilogue 147
Controversy 149
Second Yamamoto Mission Association (SYMA) 154
Dr. Charles Darby's Forensic Examination
of the Yamamoto Bomber Wreckage 160
AFinal Word 162
Chapter 9: April 1943 Continued 163
Chapter 10: May 1943 166
Chapter II: June 1943 169
Chapter 12: New Georgia Campaign, 21 June-26 August,
Operation "ToenaiLs" 178
Chapter 13: July 1943 193
Chapter 14: August 1943 203
Chapter 15: Assessment of the New Georgia Campaign 207
Part Four: Northern Solomons
Chapter 1: BougainvilJe Campaign, Preparation
October 1943 209
Chapter 2: September 1943 213
Chapter 3: Bougainville Campaign, 27 October-
25 November 218
Chapter 4: Conclusions of the Bougainville Operation 230
Part Five: Reduction of Rabaul
Chapter l: Phase One, Prelude: October-November 1943 232
Chapter 2: December 1943 234
Chapter 3: Rabaul Phase Two, January 1944 238
Chapter 4: February 1944, Not the End by Any Means 250
Chapter 5: The "Milk Runs" Begin 256
Chapter 6: March 1944 258
Chapter 7: April 1944 260
Chapter 8: May 1944, The End for All Intents
and Purposes 263
Part Six: Beyond Rabaul: A Summing Up
Part Seven: Appendices
Fighters of the 13'h Fighter Command
Lockheed P-38 Lightning 270
Flying the P-38 Lightning by Bill Harris 271
Bell P-39/P-400 Airacobra 272
Flying the P-39 Airacobra by Paul Bechtel 273
Flying the P-400 Airacobra by John "Tommy" Thompson 274
Curtiss P-40 "Hawks" 275
Flying the P-40 by Stan Palmer 276
13'h Fighter Command Aces 279
Squadron Aces 279
Aces' Biographies 280
Group and Squadron Commanders 294
13'h Fighter Command Squadron Victories 295
Color Profiles 304
Abbreviations 321
Fighter Director Codes 323
Bibliography and Sources 324
Index - Personnel in text and captions (in bold) 328
This book could not have been completed without the help of
my good friend of 15 years, Jim Lansdale. Jim is a diligent histo-
rian and researcher, and an acknowledged expert on Japanese air
operations in the Pacific during World War II, and the Yamamoto
mission of 18 April 1943, in particular. Over the years he has col-
lected microfilm, documents, photos, and interviews with mem-
bers of the 13
Fighter Command and the Yamamoto Mission. For
the thirty years Jim has been an extremely busy science teacher and
a science department chairman at Pine Crest Preparatory School in
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and over the years has not had the time to
utilize the materials he has collected. Meanwhile, I retired from
dentistry 17 years ago and have collected 14,000 books and maga-
zines, thousands of feet of microfilm, and thousands of photographs
on World War II. Over the past four years I have had the time to
make use of my collection and have written three books for Schiffer
Publishing: Death Rattlers: Marine Squadron VMF-323 Over
Okinawa; Victory Roll: American Fighter Pilot and Aircraft in
World War 2 andAmerican labos in the MTO & ETO: American
Fighter-Bombers in World War 2. For this book Jim has graciously
lent me his microfilm collection of the histories of each of the squad-
rons of the 13
FC and over a hundred of his photographs so that
the unheralded account of these courageous pilots and personnel
could be finally be told. Also, he has contributed the story of the 29
March 1943 mission to the Shortlands and his expert elucidation of
the controversial Yamamoto mission of 18 April 1943 when the
Betty bomber carrying Admiral Yamamoto was shot down, chang-
ing the course of the war in the Pacific. Jim's analysis of this mis-
sion using contemporary records and the forensic examination and
photographs of the Yamamoto Betty wreckage by Dr. Charles Darby
will hopefully finally put an end to this ongoing controversy and
give Rex Barber his due as the pilot who shot down Yamamoto.
Also, I would like to acknowledge the invaluable help given
me by Col. Doug Canning, Capt. Stan Palmer, and Col. Bill Harris
during this project. Jim would like to acknowledge the late Col.
Rex Barber and Maj.Gen. Bob Petit for their friendship and help
over the years. Jim is especially indebted to Doug Canning, who is
a close personal friend and the ramrod of the 347
Fighter Group
Over the years I have collected 1,000s of photographs from
various sources. On trips to the U.S. Air Force Museum, Dayton,
Ohio, the USAF collection at the Albert Simpson facility, Maxwell
AFB, Alabama, and the Fernwood Photographic Depository I
brought my camera, copy stand, and hundreds of rolls of film and
copied 1,000s of photos. I have copied a multitude of photos from
the microfilm in my collection. I also have been lent private photo
collections that I have copied and acknowledge Doug Canning, Stan
Palmer, Grant Smith, George Chandler, and Bill Harris for use of
their personal collections for this book. Additional thanks for inter-
views and correspondence can be found in the bibliography section
at the end of tpe book. Jim thanks Carroll V. Glines for use of the
Wayne Shipp diagrams from his book Attack On Yamamoto, and
George Chandler for his untiring work for the SYMA (Second
Yamamoto Mission Association), as well as for the use of their
Yamamoto Mission website material.
Again I wish to thank my wife, Nancy, for her support and
allowing me to put time into my writing and collecting. And also
for not complaining about having my World War II collection stored
in our enclosed and air-conditioned three-car garage while her car
sits out in the torrid Arizona sun. Jim, too, owes his wife, Carol,
thanks for her support in his projects.
Author Bill Wolf (left) with friend and book contributor Jim Lansdale.
America was forced into World War II with a grave defeat at Pearl Harbor, but six
months later at the Battle of Midway the U.S. Navy sunk four Japanese aircraft carriers.
Midway has been called the decisive battle of the Pacific war, but it was the first savage
American battle at Guadalcanal and then the equally bloody battles up the Solomon chain,
New Georgia, and Bougainville that paved the way not only for the Pacific victory, but for
those in Africa, Italy, and then continental Europe. A defeat in the South Pacific would have
been a serious setback to U.S. global strategic plans, and the Japanese realized that they had
to win not only the battle, but also the war there. They committed thousands of troops on the
Tokyo Express to reinforce Guadalcanal, sent battleships, cruisers, and destroyers down the
Slot, and flew hundreds of aircraft from Rabaul and the Northern Solomons to drive out the
Americans. In the air the Marines rightfully garnered the lion's share of the credit, but the
Army Air Force played an important but largely unacknowledged role. Over Rabaul,
MacArthur's Army Air Force under Gen. George Kenney received the major credit for the
defeat of the Japanese air forces there while the 13
Fighter Command soldiered on. The
units of the 13
Fighter Command were called the Jungle Air Force and the Cactus Air
Force, but they were and are the Unknown Air Force.
History books have described in great detail the critical Ma-
rine Corps victories at Guadalcanal, Bougainville, and New Geor-
gia on the ground and in the air. Names of Marine aces such as Joe
Foss and Pappy Boyington are well known, and their F4F Wildcats
and the F4U Corsairs are famous as Zero killers. But untold is the
contribution of the squadrons of the Army Air Force and the 13
Fighter Command during this time. At Guadalcanal the first AAF
units were equipped with inferior aircraft, such as the P-400 and P-
39, that could not even climb to the altitude where the Japanese
were flying. Our disgruntled Army pilots were ordered to escort
Marine dive-bombers and to fly close air support missions against
Japanese troops, ships, barges, and installations. They did this with
good results while living under awful conditions on Guadalcanal,
fighting malaria, constant rain, and Japanese air, naval, and artH-
lery attacks. Finally, the better P-40 and P-38 fighters were sent to
the squadrons of the 13
Fighter Command and took on the Japa-
nese with improved results. But it was the Marine pilots who were
scrambled to meet and dogfight the Japs and added to their victory
totals, while Army pilots concentrated on flying as fighter-bombers
and bomber escorts, putting these obligations above personal vic-
tory totals. Later, when New Georgia, Bougainville, and Rabaul
were attacked, Marine F4U Corsairs and the P-38s of the 5
Air Force, with pilots like Dick Bong, ran up big victory numbers
and got all the newsprint. But at the same time the P-40s of the 44
Fighter Squadron and the P-38s of my 339
Fighter Squadron be-
gan to knock down Jap Zeros and bombers with regularity, but with-
out much credit. Bob Westbrook and Cotesworth Head with the
and Murray Shubin and I with the 339
got ten or more Japa-
nese while escorting our B-24s and B-25s and protecting our bases
on Guadalcanal and the Central Solomons. Throughout the war in
the Pacific the 13
Fighter Command took a back seat to the Ma-
rines, Navy, and the 5
Air Force in personnel, equipment, supply,
operations, and publicity. Dr. Wolf's book, 13
Fighter Command
in World War II, should finally bring to light the 13
Command's significant contributions to winning the air war in the
South Pacific.
Col. Bill Harris
(April 2003)
Part One
On the Way to the South Pacific
Although the 13
Air Force (l3AF) and its components-the
Bomber Command (13BC) and 13
Fighter Command
(l3FC)-were not founded until January 1943, their origins went
back to the beginning of the Pacific war. Units that were later part
of the 13AF were sent to the Pacific earlier to help stop the Japa-
nese advance toward the New Hebrides and New Caledonia, and to
protect the Allied supply line between American and Australia. The
Army Air Force precursor units of the 13AF were posted to a the-
ater commanded by the Navy and fought by the Marines, and were
never truly autonomous. The AAF fighter units came under the
operational control of Marine Aircraft Wing One (MAW-I) once
they arrived at Guadalcanal.
The early histories of the fighter groups of the 13
Air Force
were connected to the establishment of defensive air bases to pro-
tect the supply route from Hawaii to Australia. Five islands had
been chosen to base the air units of "Task Force Five Islands." These
islands and their assigned Pursuit (fighter) Squadrons were Fiji
(70PS), Canton (68PS), Christmas (l2PS), ew Caledonia (67PS),
and Palmyra (69PS). Gen. Henry H. "Hap" Arnold directed that the
equipment and personnel of these squadrons be given priority for
their shipment to their assigned bases. New Caledonia, New Zealand,
New Guinea, and southeastern Australia were to be the hubs of the
island supply route defense as advanced air and naval bases. The
U.S. Navy was so concerned that the Japanese would attack New
Caledonia that on 22 January 1942 Brig.Gen. Alexander Patch was
assigned as commander of the New Caledonia Task Force (the fu-
ture Americal Division) to protect the island. The concern was not
without merit, as the Japanese had planned to invade it after taking
Midway. The ground forces arrived on 12 March, and the 67PS
three days later. By 17 March Fiji, Christmas, and New Caledonia
had one squadron with 25 fighters in place, and soon all the islands
would have aircraft on them, including bomber squadrons on New
Caledonia. As there were no enemy bases within range of Ameri-
can medium bombers or fighters, before the Guadalcanal offensive
Army Air Force units in the South Pacific flew in a solely defen-
sive capacity. Their missions were sea searches to prevent Japanese
surprise attacks on the major bases on the islands along the U.S.-
Australia supply line.
' ..
South Pacific Line of Commu-
nication. (USAF)
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Background of the Components
of the 13
Fighter Command
Fighter Squadron: "Vampires"
The 44
Fighter Squadron, then called the 44
Pursuit Squadron
(Interceptor), was constituted on 22 November 1940 and activated
on 1January 1941 at Wheeler Field, Hawaii, under the command
of a Second Lieutenant (A.C. Newton) as part of the 18
Group. Newton was replaced two weeks later by Capt. J.L. HoHner,
who served until 27 February when Capt. K.P. Bergquist replaced
him. By mid-year the squadron consisted of nine officers and 126
enlisted men and was flying the P-40. Capt. A.R: Kingham took
over on 3 October and was succeeded by lLt. J.S. McBride on 7
November, and the squadron moved to Bellows Field for gunnery
practice. On 7 December 1941 the squadron was at Bellows and
escaped the initial Japanese attack that destroyed the P-40s at
1943 1944 1945
26th BS 8-17- To 7th Air Force
42nd BS
8-17- To 7th Air Force
BG 9Bth BS 6-17- To 7fhAir\Force
43t,tBS 8-17- To 7th Air Force
23rd BS l----a-17 -24
31,t BS I----S-17 6-24
72nd as l----e"17 8-24
394th BS 1----6-17 oft ops. :- 8-24
370th BS 6-24
371st BS f----a-24
372 nd as f----S-24
424th BS 8-24
69th BS 8-26 . S-25
70th BS 8-26 I 8-25
75thBS f-------8-2S
100th BS 8-25
390 th BS 1-----6-25
868th BS 6-24
67th FS P-39 P-38
68th FS P-36
70th FS
339 th FS f------P-3
12 th FS P-39....,....P-3S+-P-39-------:-- f-==--P-38
44 th FS f-----P-40 P-38
70th FS P-38
Oel.'B' 6th NFS To 7th Air Force
419 th NFS I-
P-36 P-61
550 th NFS f--
17th PRS f----F-5
IS th PMS/CMS 1-8-20 Deactivated
38 th PRS i- F-5
13th TCS r-C- 47 C-46-
63rd TCS I--C-47 C-46-
64th TCS 1-0-47 C-46-
25th LS I-L-5-
2nd ERS
Wheeler. The Wheeler pilots jumped into their autos and sped the
20 miles to Bellows, where the squadron's P-40s were being armed.
At 0855 2Lt. George Whiteman taxied out in his P-40 as the field
was attacked by six Zeros. When he lifted off the end of the runway
a Jap Zero got on his tail; Whiteman tried to pull up but was shot
down and killed. Meanwhile, 2Lt. Hans Christiansen was taxiing
when a Zero strafed his Warhawk, causing it to go out of control
and crash into the underbrush at the end of the field, killing him.
Next lLt. Samuel Bishop was able to take off and was turning at
400 feet over the ocean when he was shot down and crash-landed
into the sea off Oahu. Bishop suffered a leg wound but was able to
swim ashore. The Japanese attack ended before any other 44
lots could get off the ground and destroyed seven of the remaining
nine P-40s at Bellows.
Damaged 44FS P-40 at Bellows Field after the Pearl Harbor attack. (USAF)
Air Force Tactical Unit History (USAF)
Fighter Command in World War II
The ground crews worked overtime to salvage damaged planes
and soon had over 90 in flying condition. These were augmented
by several P-40Ds and Es from the States, divided about evenly
between Wheeler and Bellows. On 12 December the 44
back to Wheeler and flew patrols looking for an anticipated Japa-
nese invasion. The patrols themselves were uneventful, but the ner-
vous, trigger-happy U.S. Navy AA gunners could not always be
trusted to hold their fire as the pilots approached their bases. On 20
December the squadron-17 officers and 127 enlisted men still
under lLt. J.S. McBride (who would continue as CO until 23 Au-
gust 1943)-moved to Kaneohe NAS for further training and then
returned to Wheeler on 25 January 1942. On 22 May the 44
redesignated the 44
Fighter Squadron of the 18
Fighter Group,
and a month later moved back to Bellows Field. In August a num-
ber of new pilots joined the squadron, many from Class 42-G, in-
cluding the future 13
Fighter Command top ace, Robert Westbrook
(20 victories) and third-ranking ace, Coteswoth Head (14 victo-
ries). On 23 August the squadron was reorganized with Capt. E.W.
Stewart taking command, but for only three weeks, as the squadron
was again in flux. There was a transfer of enlisted men from squad-
rons of the 18
and 15
Fighter Groups, and the activation of the
339FS took 44
personnel, who were quickly dispatched by air-
craft carrier to Canton Island on 1September. On 9 September squad-
ron command was stabilized with the assignment of Maj. Kermit
Tyler, who would remain until 24 May 1943. At this time there
were 38 officers and 180 enlisted men, with five first lieutenants as
flight leaders to lead and train newly arrived inexperienced second
lieutenants from Class 42G. Combat reports from Guadalcanal
Fighter Squadron Insignia. (USAF)
pointed out that most of the combat there occurred at 20,000 feet
plus, so high altitude training was emphasized. On 20 October the
was transferred from the 18FG to the 318FGof the 71h Air Force.
However, on that day all its new pilots and principal ground crew
were transferred from Oahu to Toutonta, New Caledonia, by LB-
30s, where they were attached to the 339FS of the 347FG to reluc-
tantly train in the P-39. The remaining ground echelon left Hawaii
on 23 October via freighter, and the squadron's PAOs were loaded
on the aircraft tender Kittyhawk. After an arduous month long voy-
age, the squadron arrived at Havannah Harbor, Elfate, while the P-
40s arrived at Espiritu Santo. The Warhawks were in crates and,
once assembled, the squadron pilots left Toutonta and picked them
up and flew to a strip under construction at Quion Hill on Efate, in
the southern New Hebrides. The strip was located in a semi-jungle
area, and although only 4,500 of its 7,000 feet were finished it was
enough to land fighters. The men were housed in tents in a coconut
grove, and after their supplies and gear were unloaded it had to be
transported 13 miles over difficult jungle roads. The 12FS was also
based on Efate, and was chosen over the 44FS for combat on
Guadalcanal, as it was thought to be more experienced and was
equipped with P-39s that were already flying there. On 1 Decem-
ber the squadron was transferred from the 318FG, 7AF to become
a separate unit, assigned to no Air Force, no wing, and no group-
only the South Pacific Area. Because of this command situation
and the remoteness of Quoin (pronounced 'Coin') Hill, supplies
were scarce and facilities primitive. It was a two-day round trip by
truck to bring in supplies over a winding, hilly, often-muddy road
from the seaport village of Vila, 30 miles away. The squadron was
finally moved to Guadalcanal on 29 January as part of the new 13
Air Force. '
Insignia: A bat's head with leering expression, black with yel-
low and red detail, between two wings, expanded and inverted, red
with black ribs.
Fighter Squadron: "White Knights"
The unit was constituted on 14 December 1940 as the 70
Squadron (Interceptor) and activated on 1January 1941 at Hamilton
Field, CA. On 5 December 1941 the 70PS sailed from San Fran-
Mechanics and ground crew trying to assemble crated P-39s in the Fijis.
Note crates in the background and mechanic near the tail scratching his
head, either from the insects or in puzzlement. (USAF)
Part One, Chapter 2 - Background of the Components of the 13
Fighter Command
Assembled P-39 patrolling over Nandi, Fijis. (Canning)
Officer's quarters. (Canning)
Mess hall (Canning)
cisco headed for the Philippines, but returned to Hawaii after the
attack on Pearl Harbor. After the New Year the 70
left Hawaii and
arrived at Suva, Viti Levu Island, in the Fiji Islands on 29 January.
The squadron had sailed for 22 days and didn't know where they
were when they arrived. The islands were strategically located on
the Allied convoy route to Australia, New Zealand, and the South
Pacific, and were a base for ferrying bombers south. Before the war
the air route to Australia and the Philippines was via Hawaii, Mid-
way, Wake, Rabaul, Port Moresby, and Darwin on the northern
Australian coast. With the loss of Wake and Rabaul, a route via
Hawaii, Christmas Island, Fiji, and New Caledonia to Brisbane was
established in November 1941. The attack on Pearl Harbor caused
the development of another, more northerly route in early 1942 run-
ning from Hawaii to Palmyra Island to Canton Island to Samoa to
Fiji to New Caledonia to Australia. The British administered the
Fijis, and at the end of 1941 New Zealand airdrome construction
battalions had built an airbase at Nausori, near Suva. The airdrome
was completed at the end of the first week in January, but was not
an all-weather base. American and New Zealand engineers under
the Hawaiian Department were then assigned to build another airbase
at Nandi that was ready for operations at the start of July 1942 for
the Royal New Zealand Air Forces's (RNZAF) one and a half squad-
rons of Hudsons and a squadron of seaplanes, as well as the U.S.
Bombardment Squadron's B-26s (M). The 70PS under Maj.
Henry Viccellio had arrived at Suva, and when they debarked they
saw 25 crated P-39s that they did not know were aboard. The men
and aircraft were shipped 20 miles inland to an abandoned sugar
plantation named Latoka, where the fighters were assembled. The
ten "older" pilots (those from earlier 41 classes!) led by Capt. Wil-
liam Sharpsteen tested and were the first to fly each of the newly
assembled Airacobras. The squadron was assigned to the 3,000-
Fighter Squadron insignia. (USAF)
Fighter Command in World War II
foot Nausori grass strip and was flying patrols over the islands at
the end of February 1943. They moved over the mountains on the
other side of the island to the 5,000-foot Nandi strip that was oper-
ated by the RNZAF. The older pilots checked out the younger pi-
lots. In mid-September 15 pilots were transferred to the 67FS at
New Caledonia. The 70PS was redesignated as the 70
Squadron on 15 May 1942. On 1 January 1943 it became part of
the 347FG at Nandi, Fiji, under Capt. Richard Rivers.
Insignia: White knight in armor on the back of a galloping white
horse with yellow orange wings. The knight is holding a lance in
the form of a large, jagged yellow orange lightning bolt. The figure
is on an ultramarine blue circle with a yellow orange border edged
in black. (Note: the first 70FS insignia was a white knight chess
piece superimposed over a black and white chess boaTd but was not
Fighter Squadron: "Game Cocks"
The 67
Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) was constituted on 20 No-
vember 1940 and activated on 15 January 1941 when they had been
formed from the personnel from the 1Sl Pursui t Group as part of the
58PG at Selfridge Field, MI. The squadron moved to Baton Rouge,
LA, on 6 October 1942.
The 67PS and 68PS were some of the initial AAC elements to
arrive in Australia. After arriving by train from Louisiana the 67PS
left New York on 20 January on an uncomfortable, crowded trans-
port with an inadequate water supply. They transited through the
Panama Canal and landed at Melbourne on 26 February. Just be-
fore their departure for New Caledonia the squadron was supple-
mented by 15 pilots who had about 50 hours in the P-40. Three of
these pilots were Captains-James Bruce, Thomas Christian, and
Thomas Hubbard-who had served in bomber and pursuit units in
the Philippines. On 7 March they left for the French colony of New
Caledonia, where the Free French governed the island with Ameri-
can backing after deposing the Vichy French governor in early 1942.
The 44 officers and 200 enlisted men of the 67PS arrived at Noumea
Harbor on 15 March with 45 P-400s and two P-39s waiting for
Officers' Quarters, 67FS atTontouta, New Caledonia, Although primitive, the
conditions there were much better than at Guadalcanal a few weeks later.
"Pair of Dice:' an obvious play on words, Patsy flight was named after Patsy
Field, New Caledonia, (Lansdale/Canning)
them, but in 47 five-ton crates! The fighters had been aboard the
HMS Athena and were destined for the East Indies; when these
islands fell to the Japanese the Athena was recalled to Melbourne.
The fighters were then allocated to the 67PS, which had been as-
signed to Tontouta, 35 miles northwest of Noumea.
The French initially built the 6,000-foot strip at Tontouta in
1936, and in early 1942 the Australians added another 4,000-foot
strip. In April the U.S. 811
Engineer Aviation Battalion completely
renovated and expanded the French field and added 750 feet to the
Australian field. They built an extensive complex of hardstands,
taxiways, and parking areas, along with erecting many hangars,
warehouses, and machine shops. By November 1943 $1.45 million
was invested in Tontouta, an astronomical figure for the time. The
five-ton crated aircraft had to be hauled over the "Little Burma
Road"-a winding, hairpin road from Noumea to Tontouta-by the
one and only truck and trailer available, which transported one crate
every eight hours.-When the crates were opened instructions for P-
39 D, F, and K were included, but none for the 45 P-400s that were
the P-39 export version that the RAF had rejected and returned to
sender. None of the mechanics was familiar with the fighter, and
only two of its pilots, Lts. Dale Brannon and John Thompson, had
ever flown it. Assembly tools were not included in the crates, and
simple maintenance tools had to be used. An assembly line was set
up in the open, and the goal was "From crate to flying in one day."
Floodlights were set up, but the local insects were so voracious that
the night shift was discontinued. The men assembled 30 fighters in
29 days, and with the belated help of the 65
Materiel Squadron 11
more fighters were assembled. No spare parts were shipped, and
future spare parts came from cannibalizing accidents at Tontouta
Part One, Chapter 2 - Background of the Components of the 13
Fighter Command
Shark's mouth artist, cum pilot, Peter Childress
and "Chuck" (a dog named after 67FS Adjutant,
Charles Allard) at Patsy Field in July 1942.
Childress began to paint the design to alleviate
boredom oftraining and waiting to get into com-
bat. (Lansdale/347FGA)
and later Guadalcanal. The first P-400 was completed and ready on
28 March. Pilots and groundcrew gathered to watch as now Cap-
tain Dale Brannon successfully tested their assembly skills. Although
most of the Squadron's pilots had only recently graduated from
flying schools in the States and had little time in any fighter air-
craft, they checked out on the P-400 with only one accident. An
inexperienced pilot tried to go around after a misjudged landing
attempt and the engine torque put him through the trees along the
runway, but he was able to walk away from the crash uninjured,
and the maintenance department now had more spare parts. After a
few pilots had been checked out in the fighter the Squadron began
patrolling over the island. The pilots were disappointed in the P-
400 and found it to be second-rate at best. The instruments were of
poor quality, calibrated in the Metric System, and often a fighter
did not have a complete set of instruments in operation.
Spare parts remained a problem throughout the entire South
Pacific campaign, and there was one P-400 aptly named "Resur-
rection" that was almost entirely made up of spare parts and would
fly from its days at Tontouta and into the Guadalcanal air battles.
Resurrection (number 13) led an interesting life. She started out as
acheck out aircraft and survived numerous hard landings, until one
day she was landed on her belly, destroying the prop and a wing.
She was pounced on for spare parts, but soon it was decided to
recommission the fighter. When she was repaired a wing and some
replaced fuselage panels had the mottled RAF camouflage, while
the other wing and parts of the fuselage were U.S. Army olive green.
Ablade from another propjoined the two original undamaged blades.
Even in a factory prop balancing is an art, but the 67
drilled holes in the "new" blade and poured lead in until the prop
spun without vibration. It took a while for all the Resurrection s
cannibalized instruments to be replaced. Conditions at Tontouta
would be an introduction to those the 67
would find on
Guadalcanal. Hot, humid tropical sun interrupted by sudden, tor-
rential rains, followed by flooding and swarms of mosquitoes. The
enlisted men slept under shelter halves, and the 44 officers in a
small farmhouse. Because of the fear of Japanese air attacks it was
decided that the three developed fields on the island would be easy
targets, and small dispersal fields would be needed. Asuitable cow
pasture was found mid-island, and a work crew was detailed to
develop it. In April it was ready and was named "Patsy," after its
telephone code name. No grading was done on the field to preserve
its natural camouflage, and the surrounding low mountains and
rough runways made takeoffs and landings tricky. The original in-
habitants, cows and horses, learned to move away from the succu-
lent grass when they heard approaching aircraft! In May another
three fields were developed. One, on the opposite side of the island
at Thio, was nicknamed "Shoebox" because of its shape; it was
surrounded on two sides by low mountains. Another, "Dustbowl,"
named for its blinding dust on takeoff and landing, was built in the
middle of a desolate area. The third was Dumbea, and also was
located in the mountains and was plagued by a slow, chronically
wet runway. Flights of ten fighters each operated from these three
fields, with Tontouta acting as base HQ. Aircraft and engines wore
out, and there were many accidents that were met by ground crews
and pilots anxious to "salvage" parts and instruments needed for
their aircraft. The squadron had no tow targets to practice gunnery,
and there was an exchange of pilots from Marine VMF-2l2 on Efate.
Twelve 67
pilots flew 325 miles across the sea to Efate, and for
three weeks and took gunnery training from the Marines. Besides
training and patrolling, the 67
was responsible for refueling and
servicing the heavy bombers fen'ying through New Caledonia and
providing food and shelter for their crews. During this time at New
Caledonia nine Patsy Flight PAOOs were adorned with noses painted
in shark's mouth design, fashioned after the American Volunteer
Group's PAOs Flying Tiger motif. Peter Childress was the instiga-
tor of the design at Patsy Field, where he said, "there wasn't much
Fighter Command in World War II
Fighter squadron insignia. (USAF)
to do between the long, tedious patrols searching for a never to
come Japanese invasion." He hand-painted them with paint
scrounged from the Navy stores. The tails of the Dumbea P-400s
were painted with a pair of dice on a blue cloud, a play on words for
the "paradise" they lived in, The Dustbowl aircraft had their spin-
ners painted red. Many cockpit doors were painted with the squad-
ron "Fighting Cock" design developed and donated by Walt Disney.
Once the pilots were assigned individual aircraft a competition grew
to place personal names on the cowlings of their fighters: "Cicero
Kid," "Plastered Bastard," "Hot Nuts," "Ginny Lee, the Southern
Belle," "Whislin' Britches, " and "Eager Eagle" were a few. Once
the squadron arrived at Guadalcanal there would be no time to paint
the design on the other fighters. But once the squadron arrived it
would be ready for combat when the time came.
Insignia: A Walt Disney design. A bad-tempered white game-
cock with a red comb and wattles, yellow beak and feet, and a tail
with three feathers; orange, yellow, and blue. The cock wears a blur
green, light blue green, and black striped turtleneck sweatshirt and
brown boxing gloves while standing in front of three red, white,
and blue bars.
Note: The three flights of the 67FS had red spinners, white spin-
ners, or blue spinners, and all had white wing tips.
Fighter Squadron: "Lightning Lancers"
The 68
Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) as part of the 58
Group was constituted on 20 November 1940 and activated on 15
January 1941 at Selfridge Field, MS, and was commanded by lLt.
Robert Caldwell. The squadron moved to Baton Rouge, LA, on 6
October 1941, and then to Oakland, CA, on 22 January 1942. The
squadron sailed from California on 17 February 1942 and arrived
at Brisbane in early March. They bivouacked at Ascot Race Track,
and were then assigned to Amberley Air Field near Ipswich by mid-
month. The 68
mechanics and ground crew assembled crated P-
400s and a few P-39s, and squadron pilots ferried them to air bases
across Australia. On 8 May the 68
sailed aboard a Dutch transport
for Tongatabu, an island in the Tonga group that was 530 miles
southeast of Suva. When the squadron arri ved the stevedore's union
regulations allowed only a limited number of hours for daily un-
loading. The squadron's ground crews were forced to operate cranes
and unload during non-union hours. After unloading, the 25 crated
P-40Es had to be hauled miles by truck to their inland,base. There
was no hoisting equipment, and a chain block and tackle was im-
provised over a convenient tree trunk and the back of a 4x4. Through
hard work and ingenuity the ground crews assembled the 25 PAGs
in 25 days. For the next five months pilots and ground crews were
trained. During their long stay the bored crews also painted their P-
40s with shark's mouths, copying the Flying Tiger motif. The squad-
ron ran short of ammunition and tow targets for gunnery practice in
July. Fortunately the carrier, Wasp, came into Tongatabu on its way
to Pearl Harbor for refitting after the Battle of the Coral Sea, and
left much of its ammunition and'tow targets so the 68
could con-
tinue its training. Training progressed well, and only three pilots
were lost in flying accidents. On 3 October the squadron became
part of the 347
Fighter Group under lLt. Stanley Palmer. On 2
November the squadron moved up to Tontouta, New Caledonia,
and were attached to the 67
Fighter squadron. Here the squadron's
PAGEs were transferred to a New Zealand squadron, and they
checked out in P-39s under veteran Dale Brannon. The first flights
of P-39s were flown by attached 68
pilots to Guadalcanal on 7
November, and the ground echelon sailed there on 23 November.
In late December attached pilots of the 68
flew 12 new P-40Fs
that had been recently assembled on a carrier to Espiritu Santo, and
flew on to Guadalcanal on Christmas Day 1942. In January 1943
the 347FG became part of the 13AF when it was activated, and
Capt. Robert Hubbell became the CO of the 68
Insignia: Aknight in black armor wearing red gauntlets, boots,
and plume, carrying a white lance edged in black in his right hand
Personal marking "Phoebe" being added to the distinctive shark's mouth squad-
ron markings of the 68FS P-40 (Canning)
Part One, Chapter 2 - Background of the Components of the 13
Fighter Command
Fighter Squadron insignia. (USAF)
and holding a light red spade-shaped shield adorned with a white
cross in his other hand. The knight stands on yellow lightning bolts
running almost full length on either side from top to bottom of the
circular emblem, which is gray blue edged in black and has two
black cloud formations on either side of the bottom.
The 12
Fighter Squadron: "Dirty Dozen"
The 12
Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) was constituted on 20 No-
vember 1940 and was activated on 16 January 1941 as part of the
Pursuit Group of the GHQ Air Force at Selfridge Field, MI.
After a period of training and station duties they transferred to Key
Field, MS, on 3 October 1941. The major supply route from the
western United States to Hawaii was routed south to Palmyra/Christ-
mas Islands to Fiji to New Caledonia and terminating at Brisbane
on Australia's east coast. This supply route was protected by the
68PS at Tongatabu, Tonga, 70PS at Nousori, Fiji, and the 67PS at
Tontouta, New Caledonia. The 12
departed from San Francisco
on 31 January 1942, and on 10 February 1942 the 12PS joined the
protection of the supply line when it was stationed on Christmas
Island, a primitive small piece of hard coral not much above sea
level located north of the Equator about 2,200 miles northeast of
the Fijis. On arrival the ground crews found their P-39s were in
crates and had to be assembled. Despite conditions, the constant
threat and rampant rumors of an imminent Japanese invasion kept
morale high. The squadron's combat missions from Christmas were
escort, patrol, and interception. The escort missions were to aid
incoming ferried bombers to find Cassidy Field, which was often
difficult to locate. There were continual, monotonous, unproduc-
tive patrols that were only broken by the occasional bogie (uniden-
tified aircraft) that invariably turned out to be friendly bombers lost
and thankful to be led to Cassidy. Training, consisting mainly of
gunnery, combat flying, and dive-bombing, was a daily pilot duty
when not on patrols. Shortly after their arrival the squadron's tents
were replaced with wooden barracks, and fresh food was shipped
in from the States. Despite the perceived primitive conditions at the
time, Christmas Island would be remembered as the best of the
South Pacific bases the 12
occupied during the war. On IS May
1942 the squadron was redesignated as the 12
Fighter Squadron.
In August the Squadron was assigned to the 15FG of the 7AF that
was headquartered in Hawaii, and later (30 March 1943) became
part of the 18FG of the 13FC. The squadron was scheduled to move
on 17 October 1942, but was delayed for several days by the search
for World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker, who was lost and subse-
quently rescued after a plane crash in the area. On 22 October the
squadron left by ship for the staging area on Palmyra Island and
transited from there to Noumea, New Caledonia, on I November.
But orders were changed and the squadron stopped only briefly at
Noumea, and then went on to Efate Island in the New Hebrides in
late November 1942. At Efate they were based at Vila, a vacated
Marine airstrip, and were housed in the comfort of Quonset Huts.
Here they flew mainly escort, patrol, interception, and training mis-
sions. However, several pilots were detached to Guadalcanal and
flew successful ground support combat missions. On 20 December
a group of pilots left for Guadalcanal and was followed by the air
echelon and the ground crews on 3 January. On 7 February the
remainder of the ground echelon finally arrived at Guadalcanal for
a 19-month stay.
Insignia: Centered clawed blue fist and wrist with four black
claws and one white claw clutching a sword dripping with blood.
The circular emblem is bordered in black with the white lettered
inscription inside this border: "12
FIGHTER SQDN" located on
Fighter Squadron insignia. (USAF)
Fighter Command in World War II
top and "DIRTY DOZEN" located on the bottom. The background
is yellow with a white cloud surrounding the fist and another white
cloud on the bottom with the wrist coming out of it.
339'h Fighter Squadron: "Sunsetters" (sometimes the "Gremlins")
The 339
Fighter Squadron was not constituted until 29 September
1942 and was activated on 3 October of that same year on New
Caledonia. Its early history will be described later.
Insignia: Centered masked, yellow Gremlin in red shorts and
pointed boots holding a spiked club in his left hand and riding the
backs of two flying American Bald Eagles. The circular emblem
has a dark blue background with the eagle's wings and gremlin's
pointy ears extending beyond the black-edged circumference.
Photo Reconnaissance Squadron: "Lone Wolves"
The original 17
Photo-Reconnaissance Squadron was constituted
on 14 July 1942 and acti vated on 23 July 1942 at Colorado Springs
with lLt. William Ashton as its first CO. The squadron had a con-
voluted history. On 20 June 1942 the 11th PRS was redesignated the
PRS, which in turn became the 14
PRS on 17 July 1942 under
the command of Capt. John Folts. On 1August the 14
moved to a
new air base occupying the old Colorado Springs Municipal Air-
port with the original 17PRS. In September Capt. John Murray be-
came the 17
's CO. By late fall the 17
was scheduled for overseas
duty, but its personnel were not adequately trained, and on 18 Oc-
tober the members of the 17
and 14
Photo Squadrons were inter-
changed, not only in name, but the men of the 17
moved to the
barracks recently occupied by the 14
in Colorado for more train-
ing as the 14PRS. The new 17
PRS soon left Colorado by train for
California and overseas deployment. They sailed from San Fran-
cisco on 3 November and arrived in Noumea, New Caledonia, on
Photo Reconnaissance Squadron insignia. (USAF)
23 ovember followed by their P-38, F-5 photo recon aircraft. The
F-5s arrived aboard ship in crates and were assembled at Magenta
Airstrip (a Marine airbase), and then flown into Tontouta Airbase
for test flights. The ground personnel left Noumea on 13 January
aboard a transport and arrived off Guadalcanal on 17 January. The
squadron F-5s would not arrive until 2 February.
Insignia: A "big bad" wolf wearing goggles and leather flight
helmet, flight jacket, and tongue hanging out with a camera in his
left hand a'nd a strip of film in his right. "Lone Wolves" is written
on a scroll below the circular patch.
Part Two
Guadalcanal Background and Japanese Invasion
The Japanese captured bases south of the Equator during the
first months of 1942. They swept through the Southwest Pacific
islands of Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Celebes, and Timor in January
and February. On 23 January 1942 they captured the great harbor at
Rabaul, New Britain, and soon began building a primary air and
naval base there to control the area from New Guinea, New Brit-
ain/New Ireland, and the Solomon Island chain. On 8 March the
Japanese landed at Lae and Salamaua on New Guinea, which were
to become major naval and air bases for the final push to capture
that island. At the end of March the Japanese began landing to se-
cure their next target, the Solomon Islands.
The Solomons consist of two parallel chains of verdant islands
of volcanic origin running northwest-to-southeast with a wide pro-
tected channel separating them that would become known as "The
Slot." The islands extend 600 miles west to east dipping south 350
miles from their western to eastern end. The northern chain (west
to east) is made up of Baku, Bougainville (with Shortland and Ballale
to Bougainville's southwest), Choiseul, Santa Isabel, and Malaita,
while the southern chain (west to east) consists of Vella Lavella,
Kolombangara, New Georgia, Rendova, Vangunu, the Russells,
Guadalcanal (with Savo and Tulagi to Guadalcanal's north), and
San Cristobal. Rabaul is located approximately 565 miles from
Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, 300 miles southeast from
Bougainville, and 100 miles southeast from New Georgia. At the
time the British controlled the Solomon Islands.
Guadalcanal is an island measuring 92 miles long (east to west)
by 33 miles wide at its widest girth (north to south) for a total of
2,180 square miles. Guadalcanal is typical of the islands in the
Solomons chain, with coastal plains cut by numerous streams and
rivers and foothills and high volcanic mountains splitting the island's
length. The Kavo Mountains with its highest peak (Mt.
Popomanasiu, reaching 7,648 feet) are connected by ridges and
dominate the center of the island. The island is covered with a hot
and humid dense tropical rain forest. A small native population in-
habited remote villages on the north coast of the island. The Ameri-
can Lever Brothers Soap Company worked a large coconut planta-
tion near Lunga Point; this was the only developed area on the is-
land, and the Japanese made use of it to build their airfield. Very
little was known about the island, as there were no current maps or
marine charts available for planning the invasion. Aerial recon pho-
tos of the island were hurriedly taken by B-17s, but were lost on
their way from MacArthur's command. First Marine Intelligence
had to rely on sketch maps made from interviews of former island-
ers and Australian coast watchers, but were so inaccurate as to be
almost useless. The beaches on Guadalcanal's northern coast were
suitable for amphibious operations, but the area had no harbors, so
roadsteads had to be established offshore for the supporting ship-
ping. These anchorages were in the normally calm seas off the north
coast known as Skylark Channel, which would later become known
as "Iron Bottom Sound" due to the large numbers of ships sunk
The Japanese began their conquest of the northern Solomons
by taking Bonis on Bougainville's northern end and Buka on the
southern end of Buka Island, just across the Buka Passage, on 30
March, where they built airfields. Kieta, on Bougainville's north-
east central coast, was occupied at the same time, and another air-
field was slated to be constructed there. They landed at Faisi in the
Shortlands on 31 March to establish a naval base there. On 7 April
they landed at Buin on southern Bougainville to establish the Buin-
Faisi-Tonolei airfield complex. Important air bases were constructed
at Kahili, on the southeastern end of the Bougainville mainland,
and on nearby Ballale Island off the coast. Other minor float plane
bases were established at Giza and Rakata Bay.
Once the northern Solomons were secured the Japanese turned
their attention to the southern chain. On 3 May Tulagi Island, 20
miles to the north of Guadalcana1 and the seat of the British colo-
nial government, was captured, and its harbor was used as a sea-
planes base, and would provide a valuable anchorage. Immediately
the Japanese moved on Guadalcana1, and by July were building an
airfield near Lunga Point, which had one of the few flat areas suit-
able for an airfield. The capture of Tulagi and the Lunga airfield,
when completed, jeopardized the New Hebrides and New Caledonia,
as well as the Allied maritime supply line to Australia, and the Joint
Chiefs of Staff became concerned.
August 1942
The Joint Chiefs of Staff divided the Pacific into two major
areas of operations: the Pacific Ocean Area under Adm. Chester
Nimitz, and the Southwest Pacific Area under Gen. Douglas
MacArthur. Nimitz was the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific
Fleet, known as CINCPAC. The Pacific Ocean Area was divided
into two smaller areas: the Central Pacific and the South Pacific.
The South Pacific ran east of the l59
Meridian (below the Equator
and east of Australia, including New Zealand, ew Caledonia, Fiji
Islands, New Hebrides, and the Eastern Solomons): and the South-
west Pacific ran west of the l59
Meridian (below the Equator,
including Australia, New Guinea, New Britain, and New Ireland).
On 2 July 1942 the Japanese threat to the U.S.-Australia sup-
ply line caused Adm. Ernest J. King and Gen. George C. Marshall
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to order America's first Pacific offen-
sive, with an attack on Tulagi Harbor in the Florida Islands and
Guadalcanal. The operation was to be directed by Adm. Chester
Nimitz and was code-named Watchtower. The U.S. victory at the
Battle of Midway had somewhat restored the balance of naval power,
but American shipping to supply an invasion was at a premium.
Only the reinforced 1st Marine Division was available for the inva-
sion of Guadalcanal, as other units were tied down as garrisons on
the islands along the U.S.-Australian supply route. D-Day was set
for 1August. On 13 April 1942 the South Pacific Theater command
(COMSOPAC) had been assigned to VAdm. Robert Ghormley at
Noumea, New Caledonia. On his appointment Adm. Ernest King
told him "You have a large and important area and a most difficult
u. s. S. R.
Pacific Areas (I August
1942). (USN)

01 of I AUQult 1942
Fighter Command in World War 11
Army leaders in the South Pacific in October 1942. Left to right: Brig.Gen.
Nathan Twining, Lt.Gen. Millard Harmon and Col. Glen Jamison. (USAF)
VAdm. Robert Ghormley controlled all American ground. air and naval forces
in the South Pacific area as well as several New Zealand units and would
prove to be a poor selection for the daunting job. (USN)
RAdm. John McCain (left) commanded the air units and Maj. Gen.Alexander
Vandegrift the landing force for Watch Tower, the invasion of Guadalcanall
Tulagi. Here the two are discussing strategy on Guadalcanal outside the "Op-
erations Center" that is nothing more than a large supported tarp. (US Army)
task. I do not have the tools to give you to carry out the task as it
should be done." Ghormley controlled all American ground, air,
and naval forces in this area, as well as several New Zealand units,
and would prove to be a poor selection for the daunting job. The
mission of COMSOPAC (Ghormley) was the following: (1) hold
the island positions necessary for the security of the line of com-
munications between the U.S. and the Southwest Pacific Area
(SWPA); (2) support operations of forces in the Southwest and
Central Pacific areas; and (3) prepare to launch a major amphibi-
ous offensive against positions held by Japan. In order to fulfill
these assignments COMSOPAC was given command of all base
and local defense forces in the South Pacific. VAdm. Frank Fletcher
was to command the naval task force and would prove to be an-
other poor choice. Maj.Gen. Alexander Vandegrift, Commander of
the 1
Marine Division, was to prepare and conduct the landings,
and would do so admirably. The 1st Marines were not slated for
battle until 1943 and only had one minimal failed rehearsal in prepa-
ration for the landings. On 20 May control of all land-based air
units in the South Pacific (AAC, USN, USMC, and RNZAF). was
assigned to Maj.Gen. Millard Harmon, Commanding General, U.S.
Army Forces in the South Pacific Area (COMGENSOPAC). On 7
July the Army appointed Harmon to assume command of all U.S.
Army Forces in the South Pacific Area (USAFISPA) with head-
quarters at Noumea in late July. "Miff," as Harmon's close friends
knew him, was a veteran pilot who served in World War I, had been
the Chief of Staff of the Army Air Forces, and was knowledgeable
in contemporary strategic and tactical air operations. Harmon was
directed to train, supply, and administer all U.S. Army ground and
air forces in the South Pacific. Harmon, as the Chief of Air Staff,
had a small but very able staff to accompany him to Noumea in the
last week in July. Among his air staff were Brig.Gen. Nathan Twin-
ing, future CG of the 13
and 15'h Air Forces and the 20
Air Force
at the end of the war; Lt.Coi. Dean Strother, future commander of
the 13
Fighter Command; and Col. Frank Everest, future com-
mander of the 13
Air Force Bomber Command. Supply officer of
the USAFISPA was Col. Robert Breene, and Col. Glen Jamison
Part Two, Chapter 2 - August 1942
and Maj. Laurence Sherman were Harmon's G-3 and G-2, respec-
tively. In July 1942 the units the AAF had available in the South
Pacific were the lllh Bombardment Group (Heavy) (llBG) under
Col. Lavern Saunders and the 67
Fighter Squadron (67FS) under
Capt. Dale Brannon. The llBG had 27 B-17s on New Caledonia
and eight others at Nandi on the Fiji Islands. The 67FS had 38 fight-
ers-mostly P-400s and a few P-39s-all on New Caledonia. By
mid-July the Solomons Expeditionary Force was created, with the
lSI Marine Division commanded by Lt.Gen. Alexander Vandegrift
preparing for the attack in New Zealand and then moving to Fiji.
Two major naval Task Forces were to participate in the invasion:
R.Adm. Leigh Noyes commanded the carrier force, and R.Adm.
Richmond Kelly Turner commanded the amphibious force. VAdm.
Frank Jack Fletcher on the Saratoga was in command of both Task
Forces. Ghormley was the overall commander of Watchtower and
was again a dreadful choice, as he was against the plan from its
beginning and believed it would not succeed.
R.Adm. McCain had control of all Watchtower air units, land
and sea-based, with about 100 aircraft under his operational con-
trol: 3S B-17s and 22 B-26s on New Caledonia and the Fijis, 38 P-
39/P-400s of the 67FS at Tontouta, and a few USN and RNZAF
aircraft. The No.IS RNZAF squadron had taken 23 P-40s from the
AAF's 68FS in October 1942. On 2S July McCain placed the air-
craft under his command into seven task groups. One group was
made up of the 69BS, the 67FS, the No.IS RNZAF fighter squad-
ron, and two USN PBY Catalinas that were to scout in 400-mile
sectors from New Caledonia. Asecond group consisted of the IIBG
B-17s that were to scout from between New Caledonia and the north-
ern Solomons and bomb Guadalcanal and Tulagi until D-Day. A
third group was the Marine Squadrons, VMF-212 (F4Fs) and
VMSB-14. The other four groups consisted of PBY patrol bombers
and Marine Observation Squadron 251. McCain relinquished his
control of the AAC units, as their wide dispersion and disparate
organization would make his direct command of them unworkable,
but they remained within McCain's framework for the invasion.
The American base at Efate was over 700 miles away from
Guadalcanal and was the most malarial island in the South Pacific.
McCain was charged with procuring an airfield closer to the inva-
sion, and Efate and was never fully developed to its original intent.
Espiritu Santo was chosen, as it was the largest island in the New
Hebrides. It was located 200 miles north of Efate, 400 miles north
of Noumea, and 500 miles southeast of Guadalcanal, possessed a
first-rate harbor, and had a low incidence of malaria. On 12 July
detachments of the Fourth Defense Battalion, USN Seabees, and
the Army engineers landed on Espiritu Santo to begin construction
of an airfield. The Seabees had only been formed on 5 January
1942 under R.Adm. Benjamin Morrell. It selected its recruits from
the ranks of civilian building trades ranging in age from 18 to 60.
There was a saying at these early bases: "Don't hit a Seabee be-
cause he may be your grandfather!" These early Naval Construc-
tion B.attalions-"CB" or "Seabee"-battalions were hurriedly
formed and largely inadequately equipped and inexperienced units
who referred to themselves as "Confused Bastards ('CBs')." The
official motto of the Seabees was "Construimus, Batuimu"-"We
c e a H/

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.KdmtiP, SANTA CRUZ 15.
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2/-22 At/G.
FORCE. 1-12 Ave.
Solomons and Related Areas. (USN)
Fighter Command in World War II
On 7 August there were two Marine air squadrons available:
VMF-212 under Lt.Col. Joseph Bauer; and a long-range F4F pho-
tographic squadron (VMO-251) under Lt.Col. John Hart. Both
squadrons were based at Espiritu Santo, too far away to provide
any direct support for the landings. In the late June invasion plan-
ning Adm. Nimitz guaranteed McCain four Marine squadrons, two
fighter and two dive-bomber, from Col. William Wallace's MAG-
Build, We Fight." By the 28
an airstrip had been hacked out of the
jungle and was ready for Marine fighter aircraft, and in less than a
month a bomber field was ready and AAF B-17s began to bomb
Guadalcanal from it. Espiritu Santo was developed into the princi-
pal advance naval base for the invasion of Guadalcanal, as the
Seabees built two comprehensive bomber bases and two fighter
bases that were used to stage fighters to Guadalcanal. By early 1943
it was a well-developed base complementing Noumea, ew
In late July Marine and Navy forces were assembled in New
Zealand for an amphibious assault on Tulagi-Guadalcanal, code
named "Cactus-Ringbolt." Guadalcanal was code named "Cactus,"
and Tulagi was "Ringbolt" (Espiritu Santo was "Buttons," New
Caledonia was "Poppy," and Efate was "Roses"). Preliminary in-
vasion air operations were wide-ranging reconnaissance by land-
based aircraft. The 69BS and 67FS (both units would later become
part of the 13AF) were ordered to search sectors Northwest of
Plaines Des Gaiacs on central New Caledonia and out to 400 miles.
Plaines des Gaiacs, known as PD.G., was a heavy and medium
bomber base from which missions to Guadalcanal were flown until
the airfield on Espiritu Santo was built.
At the time of the invasion COMAIRSOPAC had only 291
aircraft in the South Pacific. These included:
New Caledonia:
18 fighters, 6 scouts, and 16 B-17s
38 P-400s and P-39s, 16 F4Fs, 3 scouts, 27
B-17s, 10 B-26s, 22 PBYs, and 6
Hudsons (RNZAF)
24 fighters and 6 scouts
17 fighters, 9 PBYs, 8 B-17s, 12 B-26s, and 24
RNZAF bombers and patrols planes (mostly ob-
solete types as the Singapore and Vincent).
18 fighters, 10 scouts, and 17 scout bombers.
23. The forward echelon, a F4F fighter squadron (VMF-223) under
Capt. John Smith and a SBD dive-bomber squadron (VMSB-232)
under Maj. Richard Mangrum were scheduled to be flown off a
carrier to Guadalcanal, but their pilots were not carrier qualified.
During July the pilots were trained intensively to carrier qualify at
Ewa, Hawaii, and boarded the carrier
Long Island on 2 August, headed for Guadalcanal. The rear
echelon squadrons, VMF-224 under Capt. Robert Galer and VMSB-
231 under Maj. Leo Smith, sailed from Hawaii on 15 August on the
Kitty Hawk and Hammondsport.
The task force rendezvoused on 26 July southwest Qf the Fijis,
while the landing force practiced maneuvers and support opera-
tions with the carrier force and then refueled. On 31 July Adm.
Turner's amphibious force left Fiji for the Solomons. The 19,000
Marine troops were divided into two forces: Lt.Gen. Alexander
Vandegrift landing on
"X" Guadalcanal; and those of Brig.Gen. William Rupertus
landing on "Y" Tulagi. USN F4F Wildcats provided air cover off
the carriers Saratoga and Enterprise, along with land-based air-
craft of COMAIRSOPAC. The invasion was also supported by B-
17Es of the IlBGthat had arrived from Hawaii on the New Hebrides
on 20 July. In the week before the invasion-31 July to 7 August-
the llBG flew 56 bombing sorties and 22 search sorties, flying 710
miles from Villa airfield, Efate, to Guadalcanal and Tulagi/Gavutu.
The invasion task force moved under radio silence and was cov-
ered by overcast weather, and at 0600-0630 on the morning of 7
August arri ved, undetected, 15 miles west of Cape Esperance, ready
to land on Tulagi and Guadalcanal. The Guadalcanal amphibious
landings were to go into shore at Beach Red, a point between Koli
Point and L'unga Point.
The 1st Marine amphibious force waited offshore, and after the
preliminary naval bombardment and carrier aircraft strikes ended
they went ashore first on Florida and Tulagi Islands, and then
Guadalcanal, east of Lunga Point, without opposition. Carrier air-
craft from the Saratoga and Enterprise flew over the landings but
received only a few requests from ground troops for air strikes.
Pre-invasion estimates put the Japanese garrison at 6,000 to 7,000
troops, but only 600 troops and 1,500 Korean laborers were en-
countered, and all quickly escaped into the surrounding hills and
jungles. Stiff resistance was met on Tulagi and Gavutu, across Sky-
lark Channel, but was subdued after several days of heavy fighting.
The medium Betty Rikko bomber units earned
their nickname,"One shot Ronsons:' due to their
extreme fiammability. The Mitsubishi bombers
were forced to fiy at higher altitudes, 25,000 feet
or more, over Guadalcanal to escape the Ameri-
can fighters and AA fire and while safer the higher
altitudes produced less accurate bombing resutts.
Part Two, Chapter 2 - August 1942
By sundown on Guadalcanal the Marines had moved nearly two
miles inland and 2,000 troops were on shore.
The landings were not totally unopposed, as on the afternoon
of the invasion the Japanese sent 24 bombers in two waves from
Adm. Sadayoshi Yamada's 25
Air Flotilla to disrupt the landings.
At 1100 a coast watcher reported 18 bombers heading south on
their way to Guadalcanal. A short time later a Royal Australian Air
Force (RAAF) coast watcher reported the formation. At 1320 the
first wave of 18 twin-engine Betty bombers escorted by Zero fight-
ers from Rabaul arrived to attack the invasion forces and shipping.
Eighteen F4Fs and 16 SBDs from VF-6 off the Enterprise, and VF-
5off the Saratoga were sent up in the first air battle between U.S.
carrier aircraft and land-based Japanese Zeros and bombers of the
war. This Japanese wave lost seven Bettys (plus two damaged) and
two Zeros (plus two damaged). At 1400 another wave of 12 enemy
dive-bombers surprised American invasion shipping and damaged
the destroyer Mugford, the first of many ships hit off Guadalcanal,
killing 22 crew. The F4Fs ofVF-5 and VF-6 shot down II of the 12
bombers and two Zeros. At 1500 the second formation of Val dive-
bombers attacked and three bombers were shot down. This attack
did no damage, but caused the transports to lift anchor to evade the
attacks and to lose important unloading time. It was in this air battle
that Japanese ace Saburo Sakai was permanently blinded in one
eye and would not fly combat for almost two years. For the day the
Japanese lost 25 aircraft, but half of the available F4Fs (nine) and
one SBD were lost. '
Late the next morning the Japanese sent their remaining 23
Bettys with a Zero escort to attack invasion shipping again. The
Japanese force broke through the Navy's air cover to attack the
shipping, losing four bombers and two Zeros to the Navy Wildcats.
The transport George F Elliott was sunk when a Zero damaged by
AA fire crashed into it. A Japanese torpedo damaged the destroyer
Jarvis, which steamed toward New Caledonia for repairs but never
reached Noumea, losing all hands. Naval AA fire was extremely
effective and took their toll of II Bettys and one Zero, while land-
based AA claimed two Bettys (a questionable loss total according
to post-war Japanese figures). The Japanese lost 17 of 25 bombers
and 125 crewmen, which was to be the largest single loss of Japa-
nese land-based bombers in the Guadalcanal campaign. The Betty
Rikko units were earning their nickname "One shot Ronsons," due
to their extreme flammability, as they were not armored and lacked
self-sealing fuel tanks. After these losses the Mitsubishi bombers
were forced to fly at higher altitudes over Guadalcanal-25,000
feet or more-to escape the American fighters and AA fire, and
while safer produced less accurate bombing results.
On D+I, the 8
h, Gen. Vandegrift's 1
Marines crossed the Lunga
River and captured Kokum Village, and by 1600 the airfield was
also taken. Alarge amount of Japanese supplies and equipment were
captured at the field, but much of it was damaged by gratuitous
destruction by Marine troops moving into the area, and their ac-
tions would deprive the occupiers of scarce supplies in the future.
By the evening of the 8
Adm. Fletcher had lost 21 fighters of his
99 in both combat and accidents, was running low on fuel, and the
Japanese air attacks had made him nervous. Immediately Fletcher
requested Ghormley's consent to withdraw his two carriers.
Ghormley agreed, and before dawn the Air Support Force sailed to
the south, leaving the remaining amphibious force dangerously
exposed to air and naval attack. When amphibious commander Adm.
Turner learned of Fletcher's request he met with Vandegrift that
midnight to discuss the situation. Turner informed the Marine com-
mander that he would also reluctantly be forced to withdraw his
transports and covering warships the next afternoon, despite being
scheduled to remain until 11 August. Turner's withdrawal would
leave the Marines with some of their troops and half of their sup-
plies and equipment remaining on the departing transports. These
confrontations between Turner and Vandegrift only increased the
theater's problems, as Turner, who was Vandegrift's superior, at-
tempted to control the land campaign to the Marine general's cha-
grin. Vandegrift wanted complete tactical control and finally, after
his continual appeals through the chain of command, it took the
personal intervention of President Roosevelt to put him in control
of the situation on land. For his heroic action on Guadalcanal
Vandegrift would be awarded the Navy Cross and Medal of Honor.
By midnight on 8/9 August the entire Tulagi area and the
Guadalcanal beachhead and ailfield from Kokum to Koli Point were
secured. The Japanese galTison of 1,500 men at Tulagi had been
wiped out for the minimal loss of 248 casualties. The Guadalcanal
invasion cost only a few casualties, a destroyer, and a transport.
Aircraft losses from the three carriers were high but acceptable at
21 of 99 aircraft.
Battle of Savo Island: 9 August 1942
Before Turner's amphibious/transport force could withdraw a Japa-
nese seaplane launched from a cruiser dropped flares over the Ameri-
can anchorage at 0130 on 9 August. A Japanese naval force of five
heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and a destroyer had been as-
sembled at Rabaul and sailed down the Slot and slipped in close to
the amphibious force on both sides of Savo Island. During the Battle
of Savo Island the Japanese were able to fire and launch torpedoes
at will under the light of airdropped flares and searchlights. The
Allied naval force of five heavy cruisers and six destroyers protect-
ing the transports were surprised, and four cruisers-the Astoria,
Quincy, and Vincennes, and the Australian Canberra-were sunk,
and the cruiser Chicago and the destroyer Ralph Talbot damaged.
The Japanese only sustained damage to two heavy cruisers, but the
Japanese commander, R.Adm. Gunichi Mikawa, decided to with-
draw to the northwest before attacking the transports. He was low
on torpedoes and needed to regroup his force in order to attack the
transports, and that would put him into daylight and perhaps in range
of Fletcher's non-existent American carrier aircraft that he did not
know had left. The Japanese Navy had achieved complete surprise
and dealt a severe defeat against a larger and well prepared Allied
naval force. The battle was the first night battle off Guadalcanal
involving only surface ships. The Japanese had the naval initiati ve
in the area, and they favored darkness, the element of surprise, and
short-range combat so as to make use of their superior torpedoes
and torpedo tactics. The Battle of Savo was to set the precedent for
the naval battles off Guadalcanal for the next IS months.
Fletcher and Ghormley's decision to withdraw the carrier force
is controversial even to this day and left the Marines on Guadalcanal
Fighter Command in World War Il
-----,50:;::-' __---.-__-----'-=--=-=-__"""'"--,-----'2:;:0___--,$,

4- 5 _..!.,O j'"
Henderson Field Area.
.f.:,L. -----',,6: (USN)
The Japanese airiield at Lunga just prior to the invasion. The taxiway to the
main runway and the circular revetments are clearly evident as is the "Pa-
goda" in the center left of the photo. (USMC)
Henderson looking southwest from Lengo Channel across the lIu (Tenaru)
River and coconut plantations with Mt. Austen to the south. (USN)
livid, also to this day. The reasons given for the withdrawal were
questionable. The carriers were refueled before leaving Fiji, and
aircraft losses had been in the acceptable range. After the with-
drawal, Ghormley decided that he would not risk his carrier task
force until there were protecting aircraft and gasoline supplies based
on Guadalcanal. He stationed the carriers far to the south in posi-
tion to attack only priority Japanese targets and protect his lines of
communication to New Caledonia. The situation made the cautious
Ghormley into the indecisive Ghormley, who did not leave his ship-
board at Noumea for a month. Ghormley considered the in-
vasion a lost cause and continued to do so until Halsey relieved
him in October. General of the Air Force H.H. Arnold also declined
to send more contemporary aircraft to Guadalcanal because he felt
they would be lost if the Japanese recaptured the island. Maj.Gen.
Harmon was concerned that the establishment of an airbase, that
was the priority of the landings, would now not be met, and pressed
for a concerted air and sea offensive to achieve this end. Mean-
After its capture the "Pagoda" was used as the airiield's operations center
housing the ground-to-air radio network. (USMC)
Part Two, Chapter 2 - August 1942
Acaptured Japanese roller that was very useful in rebuilding Henderson,
especially after Fletcher withdrew his transports with most of the Seabee
construction equipment on board. (US Army)
while, the only air forces covering the invasion were R.Adm.
McCain's land-based bombers and scouting units that continued as
areconnaissance force.
Despite the loss of the majority of their protecting warships
the night before, Turner's transports continued to unload into the
afternoon ofthe 9'\ when they lifted anchor and headed for Noumea
before the Japanese could return that night. The 10,900 Marines on
Guadalcanal and the 7,500 on Tulagi, already without air or naval
cover, and now with less than half of their 60 days of supplies, felt
they had been deserted. Undaunted, the Marines consolidated their
five-mile beachhead, drove two miles inland, and set up a defen-
sive perimeter. A critical loss was that there was no barbed wire
available. Anti-aircraft protection was inadequate, as many AAguns,
including the five-inch coastal AAguns and radar, were still aboard
the fleeing transports. The 3
Defense Battalion placed searchlights,
a90mmAAbattery, and 58 small caliber automatic AAguns around
the airfield. Vandegrift's first priority, the primary objective of the
invasion, was to repair the nearly completed Japanese airfield on
the grassy Lunga Plain. The Japanese had built hangars, machine
shops, a control tower, and an operations center nicknamed "The
Pagoda." Vandegrift ordered the airfield to be operational in two
days. The llBG had heavily bombed the field, but the pt Marine
Engineer Battalion easily repaired the 2,600-foot Japanese runway
by filling in the bomb craters. The lighter Japanese aircraft could
have used this grass runway, as they did not need a hard surface or
long runway. Heavier American aircraft would require the field to
be extended 1,200 to 3,800 feet with crushed coral rock that was
rolled and later covered with Marston Steel Matting. The Marine
engineer's equipment was still on Turner's transports, and even
shovels were in short supply. Fortunately there was a surprising
amount of captured supplies and serviceable Japanese equipment
left intact on the airfield. There were 34 trucks, four tractors, three
gasoline cement mixers, six gasoline rollers, and 150,000 gallons
of65 octane automotive gasoline to fuel them. Also there was 600
The improvement of Henderson continued into mid-I 944. It was converted
into a bomber field with lengthened and widened runways and additional
taxiways and hardstands. (USMC)
tons of cement, 80 tons of reinforcing bars, assorted steel building
materials, dynamite, shovels, wheel barrows, and grass mat bags.
To extend the runway a large 200-foot shallow gully at the 2,600-
foot Japanese field's end point had to be filled with about 10,000
cubic yards of dirt and coral. The Japanese engineers did not pay
much attention to drainage, and a crown had to be laid over the
existing runway without interfering with operations. The first SBDs
on the island were equipped with hard rubber tires intended for
carrier landings that cut long furrows in the soft runways. A mix-
ture of clay, gravel, and coral was used to fill in the ruts and bomb
and shell craters, but left large soft areas. On take offs and landings
these soft spots had to be avoided, as mud would be forcefully
splashed over the aircraft and into wheel wells, jeopardizing plane
and pilot. The west end of the runway had a stand of tall coconut
and banyan trees growing at a point where the Plain dropped off
toward the Lunga River. Since this was usually the approach end of
the field the trees were dynamited, and the new opening allowed a
longer and lower approach to the runway. The east end of the field
then had a good takeoff view to the west. The Marine engineers
built taxiways and revetments, and tried to establish the all-impor-
tant drainage for the field. Later the 6
Naval Seabee Battalion
landed to augment the Marine engineers. The field was called Lunga
Airstrip until the 17
\ when it was renamed Henderson Field in
honor of Maj. Lofton Henderson, who was killed leading a Marine
dive-bomber unit over Midway. Once completed, there were two
runway conditions on Henderson, dry dust that contaminated en-
gines and made visibility nil, or a quagmire that made take offs and
landings harrowing. After five weeks Henderson remained unus-
able by medium and heavy bombers, and except for the small de-
tachment of 67FS fighters no AAF unit would be based on Cactus
until December. Steel matting was not scheduled to be laid until 25
September and would make the field more operational, but once
down it would become shrapnel when hit by Japanese bombs and
shells. When repairs were made to fill the bomb and shell holes in
Fighter Command in World War II
Above: Maj. John Smith was the CO of Marine Fighter Squadron VMF-223
and was credited with 19 victories and awarded the Medal of Honor during
his tour there. (USMC)
Right: Lt.Col. Richard Mangrum was the CO ofVMSB-232, the first Marine
dive-bomber squadron on Guadalcanal. (USMC)
damaged matting the filling material could never be packed as sol-
idly as before and would become soft and muddy under the new
patching matting.
Even though the field would not be completed until the 18
, on
the 12
Vandegrift declared the field ready for fighters and dive-
bombers. That day a PBY-SA flown by R.Adm. McCain's aide, Lt.
William Sampson, was the first American aircraft to land on
Henderson, but it soon left, and for the next week the only aircraft
over Guadalcanal were the almost daily Japanese formations of
Bettys escorted by Zeros. Supply was a problem for the Americans
until air superiority could be achieved. On the 12
Ghormley had
approved the movement of Turner's destroyer-transports from
Espiritu Santo back to Guadalcanalloaded with bombs, ammuni-
tion, gasoline, lubricants, and ground crews. The destroyer-trans-
The Ichiki Regiment suffered heavy casualties that decimated its ranks along
the banks of the Ilu (Tenaru) River (USMC)
ports moved like fast blockade-runners, arriving off Lunga Point in
the late afternoon to offload at night and departing in the morning
before regular mid-day Tojo Time air attacks. The Japanese were
unable to capitalize on their victory at Savo, as there were no Ameri-
can ships to attack off Lunga. Japanese air raids were minimal, as
they lost h ~ l f of their Rabaul-based aircraft and only sent down a
few minor raids and recurrent small late night nuisance raids by
one or two aircraft nicknamed "Washing Machine Charlie" or "Louie
the Louse." The Japanese continued to attack the field in small air
formations and delayed finishing the field by destroying all but one
of the six important captured rollers. On the 18
, the day the entire
3,800 feet of runway was completed, Japanese bombers hit the area
with 17 bombs, and three heavy bombs cratered the runway; it took
another day of hard labor to fill and roll the craters.
Finally, on the afternoon of the 20
, the escort carrier Long
Island, laying 200-miles out, launched 12 Marine SBD Dauntless
dive-bombers of Richard Mangrum's VMSB-232 "Red Devils" and
19 F4F-4 fighters of John Smith's VMF-223 of the advanced squad-
rons of Marine Air Group (MAG) 23. Smith had exchanged eight
of his inexperienced pilots for eight of VMF-212's more experi-
enced pilots, and the squadron was assigned air defense immedi-
ately after its arrival. The new air force was nicknamed the "Cactus
Air Force" after the code name for Guadalcanal, "Cactus."
To supply Guadalcanal the Japanese formed what was to be
known as the "Tokyo Express." R.Adm. Raizo Tanaka was the in-
telligent and courageous leader of the Express, which consisted of
Destroyer Squadron 2 and destroyer/transports that were old de-
stroyers converted to fast transports. Tanaka's flagship, the light
cruiser Jintsu, led the Express and was occasionally strengthened
for specific missions with cruisers and additional destroyers.
Tanaka's Squadron had trained together, and was particularly pro-
Part Two, Chapter 2 - August 1942
ficient in night torpedo attacks. The Japanese would load destroyer/
transports with troops and supplies at Rabaul and lay off the central
Solomons until late afternoon, when they would sail down the Slot
to arrive after dark to disembark and then return safely to the cen-
tral Solomons to be out of aircraft range by daylight. The Express
was difficult to detect even though the Navy had radar. Early naval
radar was of the primitive SC type, and the Japanese hid in radar
shadows formed by some nearby island. The frequent tropical thun-
derstorms and rain showers added to the electronic jumble. The
dark, cloudy, tropical nights and poor weather hampered visual aerial
reconnaissance. The Tokyo Express slipped 1,000 troops ashore
under Col. Kiyono Ichiki, who organized an attack on the Marines
on the east bank of the Ilu River (mistakenly thought to be the
Tenaru). On the 21SI the Marines became aware of the massing Japa-
nese and withdrew to the west bank and prepared to defend their
position. The Japanese mounted a fierce frontal attack and lost 800
men. The sand spit at the mouth of the river was covered with Japa-
nese bodies, and Col. Ichiki was so distraught over the defeat that
he committed suicide. The first major battle since the Marines landed
was a decisive, morale-building victory, but the Marines lost 35
killed in action (KIA) and 75 wounded (WIA). The newly arrived
Marine aviators in single SBDs flew several reconnaissance flights
and strafed the shoreline and mouth of the Ilu, but were of little use
because the thick jungle prevented effecti ve attacks. After the battle
Capt. Dale Brannon, CO of the 67FS, the first AAF unit to arrive on
Guadalcanal. (Brannon)
the SBDs flew ground support sorties to disrupt enemy troops from
concentrating for further attacks. Capt. John Smith of VMF-223
led four Wildcats to intercept a small air raid, and lLt. Eugene
Trowbridge scored the first Marine victories on Guadalcanal, get-
ting two Zeros, while Smith added one. But two Wildcats were
badly damaged and one precious Grumman was written off after a
dead stick landing.
While on New Caledonia 27 P-400s were fitted with belly tanks
for the long flight to Guadalcanal. After several long-legged plan-
ning flights around New Caledonia Capt. Dale Brannon was able to
estimate flying time, fuel consumption, and engine cruise control
settings for a flight to Guadalcanal. Gen. Harmon had planned to
transfer three flights of five P-400s each, navigated by a B-17, to
Cactus. However, that would leave New Caledonia defense with
only 12 P-400s, two P-39s, and two P-43s, so Harmon modified his
plans. Two flights were to be sent, the first with five aircraft and the
second with nine later. At 1000 on 21 August, five P-400s piloted
by Brannon, and Lts. Davis, Erwin, Brzuska, and Fincher, took off
from Plaines des Gaiacs, New Caledonia, joined their B-17 escort,
and flew 325 miles to Efate in two hours 20 minutes. Then, after a
brief stop there flew 180 miles to Espiritu Santo. The next morning
their fuel tanks had to be topped off after warm up, as every ounce
of fuel would be critical for the final leg to Cactus. They left Espiritu
equipped with belly tanks and flew 640 miles to Henderson at 200
feet led by a B-17 navigating above, and followed by another B-17
equipped with rubber rafts to be dropped to any ditching pilots. The
flight was flown through intermittent low stratus clouds and mist,
and the pilots were happy to have the B-17 mother hen. All five
fighters landed safely at Henderson at 1030, 3:45 later, to come
under the command of MAG-23 of the 1
Marine Air Wing. The
next day Lt. Robert Chilson, with 30 enlisted men of the ground
echelon, arrived at Lunga on the transport Fomalhaute that left
Noumea on the 17

The 67
was ready for operations, but the conditions at
Henderson were abysmal at best. It was a frontline base in every
sense of the word. Once the two flights of 15 pilots, 30 ground
crew, and 15 P-400s arrived they were assigned to the Marines and
relied on the Leathernecks for food, supplies, quarters, and medical
care. The ground crew was quartered in an abandoned Japanese
hangar at the west end of the field that was close to their aircraft
and bomb shelters. Brannon and his pilots were billeted in mud-
floored, unscreened tents located between the ocean and airfield in
the Lever Brothers Company coconut plantation, which was often
flooded and referred to as the "Mosquito Grove." It was said that
the mosquitoes on Cactus were so large that one landed at Henderson
and was refueled and rearmed by a ground crew before being iden-
tified! Even mosquito netting did not help, since if the netting lay
too close to the body the "little bastards would work their stingers
through the little holes." (Doug Canning) The plentiful mosquitoes
were much more than a nuisance and caused malaria, a protozoan
disease transmitted by the female anopheles mosquito. "There were
so damn many mosquitoes that you couldn't help but to get ma-
laria." (Doug Canning) Once stung, the parasites course the blood-
stream to the liver, where they reproduce asexually. The parasite
can continue to live in the liver and bloodstream for long periods
Fighter Command in World War II
Above: Officers' "lounge." Note the handmade wooden "easy" chairs to the
left and right of officer. (Canning)
LeftThe pyramidal tents at FighterTwo on Guadalcanal.This is an early photo,
as the cots sit on bare ground and wooden floors have not been added.
and are able to recur several times, and some Guadalcanal veterans
suffered reoccurrences years after the war. Soon the personnel on
Guadalcanal were taking a yellow pill every day and twice on Sun-
day called Atabrine. There was no cure for malaria, and Atabrine
did not prevent or cure the disease, but only suppressed its symp-
toms, just as aspirin suppresses the symptoms of a cold but does
not prevent it. Afew men were hesitant about taking the drug, as it
was rumored to make one sterile, and despite dispensing Atabrine
there was a substantial incidence of malaria.
A song "Atabrine," sung to the tune of "Tangerine," a popular
song of the day, made the rounds on the island:
"Atabrine for malaria,
That's the pill that keeps the chill away.
Try to grin; don't let it scare you,
It you start to change color that's OK. You can see what
it's done for me,
Look! My face is gray; my hands are turning green,
But we have to get the Japs on the run
And when it's all said and done,
We owe it all to Atabrine, we don't mean quinine,
We owe it all to Atabrine."
Later, Army tests demonstrated the suppressive effectiveness
of Atabrine. When the Americal Infantry Division was withdrawn
from the fighting on Guadalcanal and returned to Fiji it was taken
off the anti -malarial. The incidence of the disease rose from 1,000
cases per 1,000 men per annum to 14,000 cases per 1,000 men per
annum within three weeks after discontinuing the drug. Bill Harris
(339FS) described having malaria:
"I had malaria, and you get a fever and your whole body shakes.
You feel like you're freezing and then you're roasting. Then sud-
denly it just goes away and you then have to wait for it to recur,
weeks and even years later."
Before the war a pilot who came down with malaria was hos-
pitalized and not allowed to fly for two years without a reoccur-
rence. Initially, on Guadalcanal treatment was rest and the continu-
ation of A t a b r ~ n e for a month in the dispensary, and only cases ex-
hibiting a very high fever and reoccun'ing attacks were referred to a
hospital administered by the Australians or New Zealanders back
in their countries. On Guadalcanal this therapy was immediately
forgotten, as the shortage of pilots in the early stages of the war
forced flight surgeons to allow many sick and fatigued men to fly
combat. Directives were issued for personnel to wear long-sleeved
shirts and long pants stuffed inside their socks, especially after sun-
set, but these were commonly ignored. It was not until mid-1943
that there were sufficient American hospitals, hospital ships, and
air ambulances in the theater to treat malaria. Insect repellent and
large scale insect control would not come into effect until 1944.
Dengue fever, scrub typhus, dysentery, and jungle rot were
among the tropical diseases that also plagued the invaders. Dengue
was another mosquito-borne disease spread by the Aedes mosquito,
which flew in the daytime; malaria was spread by the nocturnal
Anopheles. Dengue was rarely fatal and not recurrent, but was much
more painful, with every part of the body hurting. Scrub typhus
was a mite-borne disease carried by animals that could be fatal and
could cause epidemics. Pets and mascots could carry it, and the
Army banned them, but to no avail, as the order was ignored. For-
tunately there was a shortage of lovable native pets in the South
Pacific. Of all the illnesses that plagued personnel in the Pacific the
most insidious and costly were the various types of dysentery. Dys-
entery is a microbial disease that had plagued armies for centuries
and was caused by unsanitary conditions. The most common type
was amoebic dysentery, which caused constant, watery, and often
Part Two, Chapter 2 - August 1942
bloody diarrhea that debilitated, made life miserable, and work
impossible. Latrines that were primitive open trenches, a bath that
was the Lunga River, unsanitary messes and cooking facilities of-
ten manned by an asymptomatic carrier, such as a food-handler,
could case the rapid spread of the disease. Doug Canning (67FS):
"We got dysentery so bad that we couldn't fly anymore and we
were sent back to New Caledonia to recover. There was a French-
man on the other side of the island who had what in later times I
would describe as a motel with six or seven cabins. We were sent
there to rest and recuperate. It was the most beautiful place I had
ever seen, with a big pond surrounded by palm trees. The French-
man had a daughter who was befriended by our Captain. One morn-
ing she walked by wearing his wings and we knew something had
transpired the night before! It took us about ten days to become
well enough to check out on our new P-38s, and a few weeks later
I was back at Guadalcanal."
The most prevalent of the jungle maladies was called "jungle
rot," and was caused by the chronic Pacific rains and humidity.
Doug Canning described it:
"We were always wet. Water ran through our tents in the rain
and our feet were always wet. The smallest cut could become in-
fected, and the areas between our fingers, toes, armI;lits, and even
crotch would become raw. They put some purple tincture (Gentian
Violet-author) on it and sent us out to fly. There was really no get-
ting rid of it until we were sent somewhere dry."
Amisunderstood affliction throughout the war was combat fa-
tigue. Statistics throughout the war show that 20 to 30% of the non-
battle casualties in the 13
and 5
Air Forces were lumped under
that heading and caused by stress, fatigue, and "psychiatric prob-
lems" that were exacerbated by night air raids, ground and naval
shelling, living conditions, food and supply shortages, boredom,
and the immediacy of possible death. The pilots who came to the
Pacific were young men who thought that nothing was going to
Besides the physical hardships endured by the men on the Canal, there was
always the specter of death.The price was heavy, as a Marine crew honors a
fallen comrade in the cemetery at Henderson. (USMC)
happen to them; that it would be the other guy. When they saw the
other guy go down they were secretly happy it was not them. The
Flight Surgeon had to deal with ambiguous psychological circum-
stances for which he was often untrained to identify and treat. Yet,
he was responsible not only for the physical, but also the psycho-
logical welfare of his squadron. Flight Surgeons found the symp-
toms of combat fatigue usually did not occur until the airman spent
six to eight months in combat. During World War II, especially the
early war, it was not common for a man to ask to be taken off com-
bat duty. Often combat fatigue was looked upon as a form of cow-
ardice or personal weakness. Men overcame fear, as they felt the
need to prove themselves to their squadron as a dependable and
responsible member. The Flight Surgeon was theoretically respon-
sible for the diagnosis and rotation of fatigued aircrew, but in prac-
tice the shortage of pilots in the early war portions of squadrons,
not individuals, were sent on leave. Everyone wanted to have the
Flight Surgeon as a tent mate, as he controlled the medical alcohol
that was the only alcohol available to the Air Force on the island.
Sam Howie (339FS):
'Three of us-Rex Barber, Joe Moore, and me-shared a tent
with the flight surgeon. Because of him we always had plenty of
alcohol. We mixed it with canned fruit juice. There was no other
alcohol on the island."
The Marine cooks provided the meals for the 67
would usually be served about 0900 depending on the mission sched-
ule, but dawn mission pilots had only coffee for breakfast. Coffee
was brewed in a split fuel drum, and the powdered eggs and pan-
cakes were cooked on a griddle made from a piece of armor plate.
Lunch and dinner consisted of dehydrated potatoes, the ubiquitous
Spam, and a mystery meat-either a form of hash or Australian
bully beef-and captured Japanese rice and canned food. John Th-
ompson (67FS):
"Japanese canned food was always an adventure, as the labels
had come off, but that didn't make much difference, as they were in
The 'Tojo Ice Company" was a Japanese ice-making facility that was captured
in tact. (Lansdale)
Fighter Command in World War II
Capt. Bill Harris (left) and ground crew. Harris considered his Crew Chief an
important part of his success and kept in touch with after the war. (Harris via
67FS ground crews pose in front of a well worn P-39 or P-400 # I00.
Japanese anyway. But sometimes there were pictures of the food
The daily ration of a package of Japanese cigarettes was the
saving grace for many men. They were also issued a box of 'pogey
bait' (Japanese caramels) once a day. One day, a bombing just be-
fore breakfast totally destroyed the kitchen and supply tent, and all
the cook's homemade utensils. The 'Tojo Ice Company' was a Japa-
nese ice-making facility that was captured intact, and was a bless-
ing in the tropical heat."
Rank and discipline were difficult to maintain in the confused
situation andjungle environment of Guadalcanal. Bill Harris (339FS
"To the credit of the ranking air officers and other air officers
there was no need for spit and polish type discipline. Everyone knew
his place and what was right and wrong. There was no need to sa-
lute. There was no formality. No one wore rank. No one pulled
rank. Don't forget there were 22-year old Captains giving orders to
Lieutenants who were only a year younger. It was mostly the flying
skill of a CO or pilot that gained him the respect of everyone around
him. It was in our (pilots) best interest to be on good terms with our
ground crews. I had six crew chiefs during my tours in the Pacific.
I kept in contact with all of them after the war until they passed
Aircraft servicing facilities were non-existent, and ground crews
had to work 14 to 16 hour days with rudimentary equipment and
insufficienr tools to maintain the aircraft, leaving them little time to
improve their living conditions. Operations on Guadalcanal were
dependent on naval transport to bring in fuel and heavy equipment
to improve the field. Fueling was a backbreaking task, as fuel had
to be hand-pumped out of 55-gallon drums, strained through cham-
ois into 12-quart buckets, and then poured into the aircraft fuel tanks.
The bomb supply was adequate, but there were no bomb hoists to
move and load them. There were too few ground crews, armorers,
Ground crews on Guadalcanallacked equipment and spare partsThis photo
shows them using an improvised wooden log as a hoist while servicing a P-
39. One of the few things in favor of the P-39 was that it was designed for
maintenance under primitive conditions. (USAF)
Part Two, Chapter 2 - August 1942
Bore-sighting and test firing the cannon of a P-39 at FighterTwo in Decem-
ber 1942.The Marston Matting can be seen in the foreground. By this time
there was enough of the steel mat to cover the taxiways. (Palmer)
and mechanics, and there were few tools, spare parts, and block
and tackle equipment. Only seven armorers were sent to service the
first 14 fighters.
Guadalcanal weather was typically tropical, with high altitude
clouds building up by mid-afternoon and thunder storms occurring
by late afternoon and early evening. The storms usually occurred
closer to land than out to sea and were locally heavy, but aircraft
could generally fly around them. Often the missions sent aircraft to
the limits of their fuel, and an unexpected weather front or storm
could be deadly, as could navigational errors. The reaction to being
caught in bad weather was for the pilot to drop below the clouds
and to try to get some visual fix. But flying blind at low altitude
could lead to hitting the highlands of a mountain, or even the ocean
itself. The advantage of navigation up or down the Slot was that the
two chains of islands that made up the Solomons generally ran along
the north and south of it toward Guadalcanal, and a pilot could
navigate between them. The South Pacific skies were extremely
Ground crewman fueling PAOO "Impotient Virgin" of Patsy Flight, which was
flown by Lts. Barcley Dillon and Vernon Head. Earlier fuel had to be hand-
pumped from 55-gallon drums and strained through chamois. (Haedtler via
The "BoneYard" ofthe 68FS Engineering section, located at the end of Fighter
Two. Here damaged fighters were repaired or cannibalized for spare parts.
clear and often made up for poor navigation. Against regulations
Cactus air controllers would often turn on radio beacons, radio si-
lence was neglected, and for late arriving flights in darkness the
searchlights were turned on. There were usually clouds nearby, and
this allowed outclassed fighter and vulnerable dive-bombers a place
to run and hide. American aircraft were exceptionally sturdy, and
pilots regularly flew through bad weather without the fear of struc-
tural damage. Probably as many American losses were due to op-
erational causes as to the Japanese. The sudden torrential equato-
rial rains were dried to dust by the first three hours of scorching sun
the next day. The extent and location of mud and dust depended on
drainage. Dust and mud caused a maintenance crisis, as aircraft
engines and instruments were complex and unable to cope with the
elements sucked into them via aircraft cooling systems on taxiing,
takeoff, and landing. It was the nature of the Pacific air war that the
air forces would fly from the worst fields, as they were recently
captured and closest to the battle. By the time the Seabees and en-
Doug Canning (67FS) in flight garb. Because the PAOO could not climb to
over 14,000 feet pilots never became cold in the tropical skies. (Canning)
Fighter Command in World War II
Typical ground attire at Fighter Two control tower The man on the left is
wearing a jumpsuit, while the man on the right is shirtless. Men often cut off
the legs of their khaki trousers to make shorts. (USAF)
gineers improved the fields the battles had moved on, to be fought
from other primitive forward bases that in turn would be improved.
The AAF pilots came to Cactus in low top shoes, and the mud
was often so deep that before they got into the cockpit they re-
moved them and gave them to the crew chief so as not to make a
mess. Pilot officers were supposed to buy their own shoes and cov-
eted the Marines their GI-issue high top boots, and solicited extra
pairs from them. Doug Canning (67FS):
"When we arrived at Guadalcanal we got the Marines to issue
us their boots, as our ankle high shoes were too low for the mud
and just didn't hold up. The boots were very comfortable, and we
wore them throughout our tour until we got back to the States."
Coast watcher Capt. Martin Clemens and his native scouts. The Australian
coast watchers located on islands along the Slot were vital to Henderson, as
they radioed early warnings of both approaching Japanese aircraft and war-
shipsThey were also responsible for rescuing and returning numerous downed
pilots. (USMC)
As the situation became less hectic at Cactus the men had time to relax.
Note the two sophisticated lawn chairs and the Japanese mats that were
captured by the hundreds. (Canning)
Pilots were issued .45 caliber pistols to carry into combat, but
the P-38 pilots made it a point to be armed with .38 caliber pistols!
Doug Canning stated:
"You flew in your flight suit, and if you were lucky you would
have two. I guess you would call themjumpsuits today. It was good
to climb to altitude, as you could finally get cool and you didn't
want to come back down. Even though we flew at 20 to 30,000 feet
I don't ever remember being cold in my flight suit. When we ar-
rived in Fiji, we had been issued long sleeved shirts and long pants,
so we went down to the tailor shop and had the locals make us
short-sleeved shirts and short pants. We didn't wear rank because
that gave the snipers a chance to identify the officers as targets."
The air defense of Henderson was under the control of VMF-
223 and a single battery of 90mmAA guns and 58 automatic weap-
ons located around the field. Air warning was essential, and a sys-
tem was established about the time Henderson was available for
aircraft. Australian coast watchers and their native scouts were or-
ganized into an early warning network extending from Buka,
Bougainville, New Georgia, Malaita, Santa Isabel, and on
GuadalcanaI. The coast watchers were New Zealand, Australian, or
British prewar island residents who had served as civil servants,
missionaries, planters, and traders. They were either stranded on or
voluntarily returned to these islands to report on the Japanese. Ra-
dio reports from these outposts on passing ships and aircraft were
their most important contribution, but they also reported on the Japa-
nese air and ground strength, as well as building, geographic, and
oceanographic information. The coast watcher on ew Georgia,
Donald Kennedy, provided reports on Japanese aircraft flying from
Rabaul, and his reports allowed fighter aircraft on Henderson to
take off and get to altitude before the bombers reached their target.
Coast watchers on Bougainville sent warnings on aircraft taking
off from there and those stopping over from RabauI. Henderson's
long-range SCR-270 radar would not become operational until Sep-
tember. The coordinated intelligence of reports from the coast watch-
Part Two, Chapter 2 - August 1942
ers and their scouts, along with daily aircraft patrols, warned of
approaching attacks and played an important role in the success of
Marine, Navy, and Air Force pilots over the Solomons. After a while
the Japanese formations would try to fly a course around islands
along the Slot to avoid the coast watchers. A black flag raised over
the Pagoda (Allied air ops HQ) indicated an imminent air raid, and
Cactus personnel headed for their slit trenches and the coconut log-
reinforced bomb shelters. Wildcats and PAOOs scrambled to take
off two by two through either blinding dust or slogging mud, de-
pending on the weather and time of day, on a runway that was cov-
ered with hastily filled bomb and shell craters and rutted by the
solid rubber tires of carrier aircraft.
Battle of the Eastern Solomons, 24/25 August 1942
Henderson Field posed a dangerous threat, and the Japanese sent
reinforcements to retake the air base. On 23 August Australian coast
watchers reported a large Japanese naval force massing at Rabaul
and moving toward Guadalcanal. The Japanese sent four transports,
a light cruiser, and four destroyers to land 1,500 troops on the is-
ILt. Deltis Fincher (left) scored the first AAF victory in the South Pacific on
18 November 1942 when he shot down the first of two Zeros while escort-
ing B-17s over Tonolei Harbor on the southern tip of Bougainville. (AAF)
land. Three carriers, eight battleships, four heavy cruisers, a light
cruiser, and 17 destroyers protected the landing force. The 25
nese Air Flotilla was transferred to Rabaul to provide air cover for
the operation. To oppose the landings two naval task forces com-
prised of a battleship (North Carolina), four cruisers, and ten de-
stroyers, along with the carriers Enterprise and Saratoga, were in
position 100 miles southeast of the Solomons. U.S. Navy search
planes discovered the enemy fleet, and the stage was set for the air-
naval Battle of the Eastern Solomons. The third carrier battle of the
war (after the Coral Sea and Midway) began at 1300 on 24 August
as the Japanese carrier Ryujo sent up six Kate bombers and 15 Ze-
ros to hit Henderson at Tojo Time. The 67FS crews were working
on their PAOOs when they heard aircraft overhead. Capt. Brannon
and Lt. Deltis Fincher managed to take off, just evading strafing
Zeros, but bombs from the Kate bombers fell almost immediately,
preventing other P-400s from taking off. The Marines sent up 14
Wildcats and downed 13 Kates and seven Zeros-probably from
the Ryujo-for four fighters lost. Capt. Marion Carl shot down three
bombers and a Zero to become an ace (he had a previous victory on
4 June with VMF-221 over Wake Island). Brannon and Fincher
came across a lone Zero climbing out of a strafing attack and shared
a victory for the first AAF victory in the South Pacific.
Meanwhile, at 1620 aircraft from the Saratoga found the car-
rier Ryujo and sank it with four direct bomb hits and a torpedo hit.
At the same time 70 aircraft from the Shokaku and Zuikaku attacked
the Enterprise and heavily damaged the carrier with three bomb
hits and several near misses. The Enterprise was able to deck land
its patrolling aircraft after they had failed to find the Japanese force.
But Lt. Turner Caldwell's 11 fuel-starved SBDs had to head to
Henderson and land in darkness, where they remained to become
part of the "Cactus Air Force" as Flight 300 until 27 September.
The Enterprise was forced to retreat for major repairs. B-17s from
the llBG out of Espiritu Santo claimed four hits on the crippled
Ryujo at 1705, and a hour later four other B-17s led by Maj. Allan
Sewart attacked another carrier. The B-17 formation claimed hits
on the carrier that were later confirmed as misses, while gunners
claimed five Zeros downed. All eight B-17s returned safely to base
through heavy rainstorms. IIBG B-17s flying from "Buttons"
(Espiritu Santo) were to continue to playa large role against the
Japanese in the South Pacific.
Unaccountably, that night the major Japanese warships with-
drew, but Adm. Raizo Tanaka in his flagship, the cruiser Jintsu, and
eight destroyers and destroyer transports of the landing force con-
tinued on toward Guadalcanal. At 08-35 on the 25
12 Henderson
SBDs of Lt.Col. Mangrum's VSB-232, escorted by F4Fs, attacked
the transports, sinking one, the 14,000 ton transport (Kinryu Maru),
heavily damaging an 8,000 ton transport, and damaging the Jintsu,
causing Tanaka to move his flag to a destroyer and withdraw. The
Marine aviators landed, and despite being slowly refueled by hand
were able to take off just before Tojo Time and avoid becoming
sitting ducks on the ground for Japanese bombs. At 1015 eight B-
17s came upon the veteran Japanese destroyer Mitzuki that was pick-
ing up survivors and sank it with three direct hits to close the Battle
of the Eastern Solomons.
Fighter Command in World War 11
That day, the PAOOs were assigned daily sunrise to sunset pa-
trols at 14,000 feet over Henderson. This was the highest altitude at
which the fighter was effective. The P-400s were intended for ex-
port to the RAF and were equipped with the English high-pressure
oxygen system, and no high-pressure oxygen bottles were avail-
able in the South Pacific. 67
pilots could not fly sustained patrols
at that altitude without oxygen, and after two hours on patrol the
pilots got headaches and became woozy. Even with oxygen the P-
400 had trouble operating above 16,000 feet, as it was equipped
with a two-stage blower and the engine could not get enough air
above that altitude and would slog along.
"With a belly tank it could climb to 18,000 feet but took 30
minutes to get there, and once it did the only maneuver it could pull
off was a dive!" (Doug Canning)
After the Japanese had been repelled in their effort to land troops
to recapture the island they sent down 16 Bettys and 12 Zeros the
next day. The Marines belatedly sent up 12 Wildcats but were un-
able to intercept them before the Bettys dropped their bombs. The
attack set 2,000 gallons of valuable gasoline on fire, and the fire
spread to an ammunition dump and exploded two 1,000lb. bombs,
causing heavy damage. Once VMF-212 climbed to intercept the
Japanese after their bomb run they shot down seven bombers and
five escorts for the loss of one Wildcat. For their part in the battle
two P-400s had to settle for a reconnaissance mission around the
circumference of the island.
On the 27
at 1110 Capt. John "Tommy" Thompson flew in
eight more P-400s of "Patsy Flight" from Espiritu Santo navigated
by a B-17.' Accompanying him were Lts. Bryan Brown, Peter
Childress, Barclay Dillon, Linwood Glazier, Vernon Head, and Keith
Wythes. John Thompson:
Adm. Raizo Tanaka was to lead a succession of "Tokyo Expresses" down the
Slot over the next several months. (USN)
PAOO ofthe 67FS at Guadalcanal.The PAOO can
easily be distinguished by the 12 exhaust stacks
located just behind the cockpit door versus the
six stacks on the P-39. (USAF)
Airacobra I, later to be returned to the Me as
the PAOO.The British version was fitted with an
incompatible British high-pressure oxygen system
and instruments calibrated in the Metric system.
Part Two, Chapter 2 - August 1942
Awell-worn P-400 being cannibalized at Guadalcanal in january 1943. Note
the British marking on its tail and the Solomons native (not a cannibal!)
standing by the wing. (USAF)
"As we approached Henderson I looked down and saw the
narrow 4,000-foot strip cut in the middle of a large grassy area near
the ocean. Bomb and shell craters pockmarked the entire area. There
was a grove of coconut trees extending probably 4,000 feet on the
oceanside, then there was the grassy area running from the river
(Tenaru/Ulu-author) to the east. Thick jungle sprung up immedi-
ately on the opposite side of the field."
As they landed the pilots were surprised that there was no one
around to greet them. Tojo Time was imminent, and the ground
crews reluctantly crawled out of their slit trenches and hurriedly
refueled the new reinforcements. The tired pilots took off to orbit
the eastern end of the island and waited out the raid that never ap-
peared. Lt. Zed Fountain left Espiritu late due to a minor repair,
managed to navigate to Cactus, and arrived later that day to put 13
total P-400s on the island.
On 27 August, "Patsy Flight" led by Capt. john "Tommy"Thompson and con-
sisting of Lts. Brown, Childress, Dillon, Glazier, Head, and Wythes landed at
Cactus during an air raid alert. Lt. Zed Fountain made it a baker's dozen of P-
400s on Cactus when he came that afternoon, as he left New Caledonia late
due to a mechanical problem. In this photo, Fountain's P-400 No.6 has the
original RAF camouflage and clearly shows the RAF serial number, BW 167,
located just below the tailplane. (Lansdale/USMC)
P-400 of the 67FS "Hawk Eye 1/" being pulled out of the Guadalcanal mud.
By this time the Japanese South Pacific strategy was formu-
lated. Their bases on Bougainville, Vella Lavella on Kula Gulf, and
Rekata Bay on Santa Isabel were readily supplied from Rabaul and
Truk. Men and supplies were loaded onto destroyer/transports and
sometimes cruisers from these bases, and made up the "Tokyo Ex-
press." The ships hid in the central Solomons in the daytime from
searching Allied aircraft from Cactus, and then passed quickly down
the Slot at night, landing troops and supplies near Henderson, and
concluded their mission by lobbing a few shells on the field. By
daylight the Tokyo Express had returned safely to the central
Solomons. The Japanese hoped to reinforce the island and drive the
Americans back to Australia in a final offensive. But the Japanese
were unable to fully control the air and seas around the lower
Solomons, and the Tokyo Express became a tenuous supply line. In
the meantime, the Japanese sent down almost daily Tojo Time air
attacks launched mainly from Kahili airfield on southern
67FS pilots (left to right): Linwood Glazier, Barclay Dillon, Zed Fountain, and
RB johnston at Tontouta, New Caledonia. (Lansdale/HeadI347FGA)
Fighter Command in World War 1I
Bougainville. In'egular nightly naval forces made up of warships
were sent down the Slot to bombard the field and created a psycho-
logical threat when they didn't arrive. Occasionally "Oscar," a sub-
marine, surfaced off Lunga and lobbed a few shells on Henderson
or Tulagi. But the main nightly annoyance was the twin-engine
bombers named "Washing Machine Charlie" or "Maytag Mike"
(the names were interchangeable), or a seaplane named "Louie the
Louse." They would fly back and forth and finally drop a few bombs
that usually did no physical damage, but interrupted the sleep of
the personnel below. The washing machine reference was derived
from the sound of their unsynchronized engines. A song became
popular to immortalize Charlie:
"Douglas, Vaught, Sikorsky, Bell-
All make planes that sound so swell.
But the Japanese, strange as it seems,
Make planes that sound like washing machines.
There's an isle in the Coral Sea
That we took from the Japanese.
From it came the story of a guy called 'Maytag Charlie.'
Every night at about 10: IS
The air raid warning used to scream,
Up would go the search light beam
And in flew 'Maytag Charlie.'
Now this Charlie guy, he flew so high
We couldn't score a hit
Until one night they set a trap-
And 'Magtag Charlie' bit.
He saw a light and he flew down low-
The anti-aircraft guns let go.
They heard the blast in Tokyo-
And down came 'Maytag CharUe.'"
On the 28
Lt.Gen. Harukichi Hyakutake, commander of the
Army on Rabaul, dispatched 3,500 infantry under Maj.Gen.
Kiyotake Kawaguchi on four destroyer transports down the Slot in
the late afternoon. Two SBDs on recon spotted the force and bombed
it without getting any hits, but 11 of Mangrum's SBDs took off
from Henderson and hit three of the destroyers only 70 miles off
Guadalcanal. They exploded the Asagiri and set the Yugiri on fire.
The Shirakumo was brought to a stop, and it had to be towed back
to the Shortlands by the undamaged destroyer. The Marines lost
one dive-bomber and had averted Japanese reinforcement of the
On the 29
at 1000 coast watchers on Bougainville reported 18
Bettys and a Zero escort headed southeast. At 1105 a coast watcher
on New Georgia corroborated the sighting. The newly established
Henderson radar set up on the northwest corner of the field then
picked up the Japanese formation. Ten VMF-223 Marine F4Fs and
three flights of four P-400s were scrambled at noon to intercept,
while other aircraft on the field took off and flew away to the east
to safety until after the attack. The F4Fs and the P-400s climbed to
14,000 feet, where the P-400s stayed and watched helplessly as the
Marine Wildcats continued to climb. The enemy bombers dropped
their bombs accurately on the field, but the Marine F4Fs reached
them and attacked. The Leathernecks were credited with II victo-
ries, six Zeros, and five bombers, with Capt. John Smith getting
two bombers to become an ace. All the disheartened AAF pilots
could do is watch helplessly as the bombers flew out of range above
them, juicy targets for Smith's Marine pilots. The Japanese bombs
had found their target, and Henderson was in chaos. The pilots landed
on the field, weaving around bomb craters marked by bushes set
out by ground crews and through the smoke from the burning grass
fields around the runway. Men were on the sides of the runways
beating out the grass fires with their blankets, and trucks were haul-
ing dirt to fill up the bomb craters on the runway. Crews unloaded
new steel mat from trucks to patch large sections of damaged mat-
ting. As the pilots taxied they passed two demolished former Japa-
nese hangars with two wrecked Wildcats burning in Hangar 2 and a
SBD burning in Hangar 3. Despite ammunition cooking off and
exploding from the burning aircraft, ground crews tried to save the
flaming Wildcats by beating them with blankets and pitching dirt
on them with shovels, and even their bare hands. Ground crews
rolled barrels of gasoline and oil out of the burning storage dump to
refuel the arriving aircraft with hand pumps so they would be ready
in case there was another attack approaching. That night four Japa-
nese destroyers from the Shortlands landed 450 troops on Taivu
Point just after dark.
Japanese snipers were an intermittent problem, hiding in trees
around the edge of the field and shooting at personnel and aircraft,
but they were quickly eliminated by Marine patrols. Officers were
urged to remove their insignias, as they were prime sniper targets.
John Thompson (67FS):
"Snipers were a problem, as they would take pot shots at our
aircraft taking off and landing from Henderson. One time we were
having lunch when a sniper off in a tree across the field hit our table
with a bullet. We all quickly took cover. It wasn't long before we
heard gunshots from a Marine patrol shooting the Jap out of his
Crew chiefs would take their straw ground mats, blankets, and
rifles down to their aircraft to guard against any Japanese infiltra-
tors trying to sabotage the aircraft at night.
On 30 August, SBDs reported a Japanese destroyer moving
southward toward Guadalcanal. That evening, after four days of
combat, of the original 14 P-400s only three remained immediately
operational, but mechanics worked feverishly all night to get oth-
ers into the air. Three Air Force pilots were on standby alert from
midnight, sitting in the cool hangars waiting for something to hap-
pen, but just before dawn the destroyer slipped in undetected, landed
its troops, and was gone. At 0930 Bougainville coast watchers re-
ported 20 single-engine aircraft coming down from Buka Passage,
flying to the southeast. At 1130 all Marine and Army CAP aircraft
were recalled for refueling to meet the daily Tojo Time. Since the
reported aircraft were single-engine it was assumed that a dive-
bombing attack on the shipping in Tulagi Harbor was imminent. At
1105 eight F4Fs and 11 (eight repaired that night) PAOOs took off
Part Two, Chapter 2 - August 1942
to meet the dive-bombers. One flight, led by Capt. Thomas Chris-
tian and made up of Lts. Chilson, Dutton, and Wythes, was sent on
CAP over the shipping at Tulagi, particularly the USS Burroughs,
which ran aground trying to anchor for the night after unloading
troops and supplies off Cactus. Flights led by Captains Brannon
and Thompson and followed by Lts. Childress, Dillon, Fincher,
Fountain, and Johnston climbed to their customary 14,000 feet, or-
biting in clouds, while the Wildcats climbed to 28,000 feet. The
dive-bombers turned out to be Zeros from the carriers Shokaku and
Zuikaku that were based at Buka airfield in the far western Solomons
for refueling. The seven P-400 pilots orbited at 14,000 feet and had
been on patrol for about a half hour; they were beginning to feel the
effects from the lack of oxygen when they were bounced from be-
hind and below by Zeros that came out of a cloud. The outnum-
bered Airacobra pilots went into a Lufbery defensive formation.
However the Lufbery, while workable against the Luftwaffe Me-
109s over Europe, was ineffective against the nimble Zero. The
Japanese fighter had a short turning radius that permitted it to get
inside the defensive circle, flying in the opposite direction. A P-39
or P-40 could not turn tight enough to hit the Zeros, and soon there
were more Zeros in the circle than PAOOs. But Marine Wildcats
dove to the rescue, and the air battle turned into a disorganized
dogfight. The P-400s were no match for the agile Zeros piloted by
veteran Imperial Navy pilots, and their only alternative was to dive
and duck into a cloud. Once inside the cloud the Army pilots at-
tempted to make an instrument turn and hoped to c ~ m e out on top
set to make an attack on a passing Zero. The weather had reduced
visibility to 1,000 feet, and Christian's four patrolling Airacobras
over TuJagi Harbor decided to return to base. As they headed out of
arainsquall they were attacked by six Zeros. Two pilots, Lts. Rob-
ert Chilson and Keith Wythes, were lost and listed MIA. Capt. John
Thompson landed with 15 bullet holes in his fighter and one in his
shoulder. About an hour later Lt. Peter Childress limped back into
camp. He had bailed out of his crippled fighter and:
" I floated down in my parachute I was worried that I was
going to land in Japanese territory. On my way down I was able to
get my bearings and landed about two miles from Henderson. I
made my way back through a no-man's land encountering a Jap
body along the way. As I approached the Marine lines I had to creep
past their booby traps and barbed wire, hoping not to be shot by
friendly fire. I was able to identify myself and return to the squad-
ron." (Childress)
During the CAPover Tulagi, Lt. Dutton's engine malfunctioned
and he bailed out. He landed in a grove of tall trees and fell through
the branches, and was knocked unconscious. When he came to he
was hanging upside down .15 feet above the ground in his para-
chute harness and covered head to toe by large biting black ants.
He cut himself down, stripped off his clothing, and brushed away
the vicious ants. Covered by painful bites, he made his way to
American lines and was returned by boat across Skylark Channel
the next day; he was given two ounces of medical brandy and sent
back to combat. Altogether, four P-400s were lost during combat,
and six of the seven returning fighters were riddled with bullet holes
and had to be written off for parts. The details of the combat are
muddled in the disastrous losses the squadron suffered that day.
Original 67
combat reports claimed four victories and three
probables, whileAAF records show two victories (Brannon's). But
diligent researcher Frank Olynyk in his USAAF (Pacific Theater)
Credits for the Destruction ofEnemy Aircraft in Air-to-Air Combat
World War 2 lists five victories and two probables. Capt. Dale
Brannon was credited with two of the victories, 2Lt. Barclay Dillon
a victory and a probable, 1Lts. Albert Dutton and Richard Johnson
a Zero each, and Capt. John Thompson a probable. VMF-223 Ma-
rines had another big day, bagging 14 Japanese Zeros, with Capt.
John Smith adding four and Capt. Marion Carl adding three to make
him a double ace with 11 victories.
At 1500 Col. William Wallace, MAG-23 commander, arrived
at Henderson with 19 Wildcats of Maj. Robert Galer's VMF-224
and 12 Dauntlesses of Maj. Leo Smith's VMSB-231, navigated by
two B-17 escort bombers. Ahalf hour later, with the airfield packed
with aircraft, 18 Japanese dive-bombers flying in two large Vs by-
passed the vulnerable airfield and attacked the shipping in Tulagi
Harbor instead. They sunk the destroyer Calhoun and hit the trans-
port William Ward Burrows that had run aground offTulagi. To add
to the day's confusion, two strong earthquakes rocked the island at
1645, but Mother Nature's damage was minor compared to that
caused by the Japanese. At 2100 Marine SBDs took off in the dark-
ness to search for three cruisers and two destroyers that shelled the
island and landed troops to the east. Rainstorms prevented a suc-
cessful attack on the ships but caused them to withdraw. At the end
of the day Cactus air strength numbered 86 pilots and 64 aircraft:
51 Marine; 10 Navy; and only 3 Air Force.
On 2 September the 6
Seabees arrived with five officers, 387
men, and two bulldozers to improve Henderson, and to clear a grass
fighter strip one mile to the east. The Seabees used the large quan-
tity of captured Japanese equipment to clear and roll the 4,600 x
300-foot grass strip. They leveled the hummocks and filled in the
trenches and foxholes, then rolled the field and cut down the sur-
rounding tall bush to a foot and a half. It was completed on the 9
and was originally called the Fighter Strip, then Fighter One, but
would be dubbed the "Cow Pasture" by those who were based on
it. At one time in October it served all Cactus aircraft-including
Early view of Fighter One, a grass emergency strip built by the 6
Seabees in
case Henderson was shut downThere was a barbed wire fence around the
field. (USN)
Fighter Command in World War II
Fighter One with Bloody Ridge in the center
background in January 1943. On the left are
Marine SBDs, with a PV in the centerforeground
and a P-38 on the right. In the background are
P-39s (right center), F4Fs (right) and a two C-
47s (in the distance center). In the foreground is
a barbed wire fence (AAF)
B-17s-when Pistol Pete put too many holes in Henderson's run-
ways. By mid-September only a small quantity of Marston steel
matting had arrived, and the daily average gasoline reserve on the
island could only support air operations for four days. The increased
enemy presence on Bougainville, the Bismarcks, and Guadalcanal
furnished choice targets for AAF heavy bombers, but the B-17s
were forced to remain at Espiritu Santo-some 640 miles away-
as they could not stage through Henderson. Once Henderson was
ready to handle the bombers they were only able to calTY out infre-
quent strikes against Japanese shipping in the Buin-Tonalei area,
and these were limited by the chronic lack of fuel at Henderson.
An important and unheralded segment of the Cactus Air Force
were Navy and Marine SBD units on Guadalcanal. SBD dive-bomb-
ing missions from Henderson were often without fighter escort,
which could not be spared, and consequently they suffered heavy
losses. Four Marine SBD COs were KIA during the campaign.
Fighter pilots never really enjoyed escorting SBDs, as they flew at
a slow 125 mph and climbed to altitude very slowly, wasting a lot
of the waiting escort's fuel. The fighters had to throttle back and
weave over a wide area, keeping a look out for each other, the SBDs,
and the Japanese. The escorts usually flew above the dive-bombers
and close enough to get in between them and any attackers.
The 6
Seabee Battalion on Guadalcanal was
instrumental in the air victory; as they kept the
field constantly open for operations after heavy
Japanese air and naval attacks. (USN)
Part Two, Chapter 2 - August 1942
Seabees laying Marston Mat on Henderson. (USN)
Navy SBn Units:
Flight 300 was a mixture of eight VS-5 and three VB-6 SBDs off
the Enterprise under Lt. Turner Caldwell that landed at Henderson
on 24 August.
YS-3 was detached from the Saratoga to Espiritu Santo after she
was damaged in late August. Lt.Cdr. Louis Kim's SBDs were sent
to Henderson from 6 September to 17 October.
YS-71 under able CO, Lt.Cdr. John Eldridge. Served on Cactus
from 28 September to 7 November after the Wasp was sunk on 15
YB-lO off the Enterprise, under Lt.Cdr. James Thomas, served from
13-16 November.
YS-lO off the
Enterprise, under Lt.Cdr. James Lee, served from 13-16 November
Marine SBn Units:
VMSB-232 had 12 SBDs under Lt.Col. Richard Mangrum from 20
August to 13 October.
VMSB-231 had 16 SBDs under Maj. Leo Smith (succeeded by Capt.
Ruben Iden MIA and then Capt. Elmer Glidden); landed on 30
August and was relieved on 16 October.
VMBS-141 had an advance element arrive on 23 September, after
which CO Maj. Gordon Bell landed with the largest squadron to
operate from Cactus on 5-6 October. The squadron left the island
by 19 November. Bell's successor, Lt. W.S. Ashcraft, was KIAon 8
VMBS-132, under Maj. Joseph Sailer, arrived on 1 November and
left on 9 December without its able leader, who was killed in action
on 7 December.
VMBS-142 had ten SBDs under Maj. Robert Richard that arrived
on 12 November and remained at Henderson into late April 1943.
VMBS-141 had the highest pilot casualty rate, as of the origi-
nal 43 pilots, 27 were KIA and nine were evacuated WIA in five
weeks. Three quarters of their pilots contracted malaria (two evacu-
ated). In addition 19 rear gunners were KIA or MIA.
September 1942
At the start of September General Vandegrift commanded less
than 20,000 troops that held a perimeter measuring five and half
miles along the north coast, and less than two miles in depth. For
the Japanese, the American invasion and its continued presence rep-
resented the first stumbling block since they started the war, as far
back as the late 1930s in China. The stinging defeat at the Ilu
(Tenaru) River on 20121 August and failure of their Navy and Air
Forces to dislodge the Marines caused the Japanese to try to save
face and increase the tempo of their offensive. The American car-
rier-based and land-based aircraft and 3
Defense Battalion and
naval AA had taken a large toll, as the Japanese had lost most of
their original complement of aircraft on Rabaul and still were un-
able to gain air supremacy. Distance was in the Americans' favor,
as they operated over and near Henderson, and their pilots were
able to land many damaged aircraft on the airfield. Also, the Navy
and friendly natives were able to rescue and return pilots who ditched
or bailed out. The Japanese had to fly 560 miles from Rabaul and
300 miles from southern Bougainville, and could not loiter long
over Cactus. The heavy fuel loads needed for the long return trip
handicapped air combat for the Zero fighters. Many American com-
bat reports described Japanese aircraft that flamed or exploded be-
cause of their large fuel load and unprotected gasoline tanks (a du-
bious weight savings that gave them extended range). Henderson
had received 31 new aircraft by I September, but the Japanese re-
ceived 36 fighters and 27 bombers that day. Both Harmon and
Ghormley had repeatedly requested that Gen. Arnold send the
Lockheed P-38 Lightning to the South Pacific, but the success of
the impending North African invasion in early November depended
on the P-38. The Lightning was the only fighter that was able to
cross the Atlantic Ocean to Great Britain and then fly to North Af-
rica, so none could be spared. Adm. Ghormley had also asked
MacArthur for P-38s, but MacArthur was under pressure from a
threatened Japanese invasion at Port Moresby, New Guinea. He
had only 18 P-38s himself and, in turn, asked Ghormley to lend
him some of his four aircraft carriers! Neither gave in. One bright
spot was the landing of the first transport plane at Guadalcanal on 3
September, carrying 1
MAW commander Brig.Gen. Roy Geiger,
who announced that MAG-14, with two combat squadrons and a
Maj',Gen. Roy Geiger was a veteran Marine Corps air commander and was
the CO of the Ist Marine Air Wing (I MAW) on Guadalcanal on 3 Septem-
ber His command included the Army Air Force and the Navy, and was dubbed
the "Cactus Air Force." (USMC)
Part Two, Chapter 3 - September 1942
67FS Patsy Flight P-400 'Whistlin' Bntches" starboard landing gear is being
serviced. There is a hydraulic jack supporting the wing and the mechanic is
holding the wheel and strut. (Lansdale/347FGA)
service squadron with III officers and 1,116 enlisted men, was to
be shipped to the South Pacific. On the 5
, MAG-25 began opera-
tions at Henderson when its first R4D transport landed with 3,000
Ibs of welcome cigarettes and candy and returned carrying wounded.
The Japanese would organize air and naval attacks 11 times in
September, 16 times in October, and eight times in ,ovember. The
Tokyo Express was operating nearly nightly. Beginning in August
and increasing in September and. 'early October the Japanese rein-
forced Guadalcanal by sendingJast destroyer/transports and cruis-
ers down the Slot from the Shortland Islands in the afternoon. By
nightfall they would be about 200 miles from Guadalcanal, and
then would speed in at night to land as many as 1,000 troops at
Cape Esperance. Over the months these fast destroyers, along with
larger vessels and barges, were able to land 20,000 troops and sup-
plies. The Marines and AAF had limited night-equipped aircraft to
counter the Tokyo Express and the nighttime air raids over the is-
A Patsy Flight P-400 (No. 22) carrying a 2501b. bomb. The Marines at
Guadalcanal experienced a chronic shortage of artillery ammunition, and
the emergence of the P-400 and its heavy firepower and bombs became a
welcome sight.The 67
pilots began to refer to themselves as the' 'JagstaffeI: '
a corruption of the Luftwaffe term "Jagdstaffel," which translates in German
as "fighter squadron," not fighter-bomber. (Lansdale/Ferguson)
67FS P-400 "Impatient Virgin" shows off the distinguishing features of the P-
400: its tricycle landing gear. 12 exhaust stacks, auto-type door and 20mm
cannon that fired through the propeller hub. (Lansdale/347FGA)
land. Japanese reinforcements were slowly increasing and organiz-
ing in the jungle, and it was a matter of time before they were a
force in strength ready to drive the lSI Marine Division from their
beachhead. The Japanese could pursue this objective as long as their
Navy controlled the Southern Solomons. The reluctant U.S. Navy
needed to become more aggressive and bring to bear greater force
to cause more casualties on the Japanese avy. If this could be
accomplished the Japanese, completely reliant on the Tokyo Ex-
press to bring in reinforcements, equipment, and supplies, could
not organize and deploy a large invasion force to retake the island.
Meanwhile, Japanese fighters and bombers from Rabaul and
Bougainville took part in Tojo Time at noon and several other times
a day, often taking costly losses from the Cactus Air Force. How-
ever, it was the almost nightly naval attacks, big guns firing salvo
after salvo, that exacted the greatest damage, both materiel and psy-
chological, on the defenders of the island.
The rough field conditions at Cactus are seen hereThe fragile tricycle land-
ing gear could collapse with disastrous results. (Lansdale/347FGA)
Fighter Command in World War II
After their poor showing, the PAOOs were assigned recon
flights, and embalTassingly sent to orbit the safe east end of the
island during Tojo Time to wait for the attack to end. The word
around the island was "the P-400 was a PAO with a Zero in its tail!"
67FS morale hit low ebb. The Game Cock pilots reluctantly recog-
nized their fighter did not have the performance to be an intercep-
tor, and the air battle of the 30
made it painfully obvious that the
P-400 was unable to intercept high-flying Bettys and Zeros. With-
out oxygen the AAF pilots were unable to climb to the altitudes of
the attacking Zeros and Bettys, and even if they were able to reach
the Japanese the fighter did not have the perfoITnance there to counter
the Betty bomber, much less the Zero. Besides the lack of high
altitude performance, the fighter had a low rate of climb, excessive
wing loading, and an engine that was very vulnerable to hits to the
glycol cooling system. Generals Harmon and Vandegrift found the
P-400 unsuitable for operations on Guadalcanal and urged that P-
38 and P-47 squadrons be sent.
Maj. John Smith, commander ofVMF-223, assessed the 67FS
in an intelligence report dated 10 November 1942:
"The first Army Squadron that came down there with P-400s
had some of the finest pilots that I've ever seen, even though they
didn't have the best plane in the world. And they were certainly
willing to do anything they were asked to do and cooperated well
with the Marine officer who was running the show there. The fact
that the P-400 didn't get up high enough didn't bother them a great
deal; they always wanted to go up every time they had a chance."
It did bother the 67
pilots that their aircraft was not an inter-
ceptor and that they were taken out of combat, but they were eager
to fly and fight, and a new assignment would be coming their way.
The P-400, known as the Model 14 or Airacobra I, was the P-
39D-l and D-2 model built for export to the French, who ordered
170 on 30 March 1940. When France fell the British assumed their
order and planned on naming the fighter the Caribou, but left the
name at Airacobra. The French contract was followed by two Brit-
ish orders of 205 and 300, and Bell built 675. The British flew the
A smoking Japanese bomber plunges to its destruction off Guadalcanal. The
bomber was undoubtedly shot down by Marine F4F Wildcats, as the Army
P-400s could not reach the altitude the Japanese flew to intercept. (USMC)
Airacobra for a limited time in combat and trials and couldn't wait
to foist 212 off on the desperate Russians. The USAAC "reclaimed"
179 RAP Airacobras that were renamed the P-400 and sent them to
the South Pacific. Most of the P-400s in the Pacific maintained
their RAF serial numbers and three-color camouflage, and had the
U.S. national insignia painted over the RAF roundels. It can-ied the
British high-pressure oxygen system and was armed with the Brit-
ish ordered 20mm Hispano-Suiza Mk 404 (M-l) cannon, while the
P-39 had an inferior American 37mm T9 cannon. The six .30 cali-
ber machine guns were replaced by six Browning .303 caliber ma-
chine guns. The identifying features of the P-400 vs. P-39C/D were
the line of twelve exhaust stacks located below and behind the cock-
pit door on each side of the P-400, versus the six on the P-39C/D.
Also, the 20mm cannon muzzle was longer than the 37mm cannon.
The P-400 had the centerline hardpoint that was found on the D
models and could carry a 500lb. bomb or jettisonable fuel tank.
The Model 14 was equipped with the Allison V-171O-E4 engine
that was rated at 60 more horsepower than the P-39C/D Allison.
The mixture and the prop control on the PAOO throttle quadrant
were reversed from the P-39 (the throttle was the same).
In early 1941 a Senate committee headed by Harry S. Truman
investigated the nation's preparedness problems and included a re-
port on why the obsolete P-39 was put into mass production and
continued in production when more contemporary fighters could
be pressed into production. The committee found that Senators pork
barreled the continued production of obsolete aircraft built in their
districts. Manufacturers justified large orders of Brewster F2As,
Curtiss P-40s, and Bell P-39s, as they were available, could be pro-
duced in large ,numbers, and could be improved upon. But the fact
was this assertion was cOlTect, as the newer and better aircraft-the
Lockheed P-38, the Republic P-47, and North American P-51-
were either in the developmental or prototype stage and not ready
for mass production. The P-39 and P-40 truly were all that was
readily available in the American fighter arsenal.
The AAF had known of the shortcomings of the P-39/P-400
several months before Guadalcanal. In May 1942 Lt.Col. Boyd
"Buzz" Wagner, who had scored three victories flying a P-39D for
the 5
Fighter Command over ew Guinea, had forwarded a report
to Gen. MacArthur on the P-39 and P-40. Wagner's report criti-
cized the fighter's low rate of climb and excessive wing loading,
which precluded aerial combat with the Zero, and the vulnerability
of its liquid-cooled engine. He also was angered by the P-39's con-
stant gun jamming problems. The .30 caliber wing guns and the
37mmpropeller-mounted cannon chronically jammed, and only the
two cowl-mounted .50 caliber machine guns could be trusted in
combat. He did feel that the P-39 was "10% better than the P-40 in
every respect except maneuverability below 18,000 feet." (Fighter
Aircraft Report to USAFTA, 21 May 1942). Col. Gordon Seville,
the Director of Air Defense, stated emphatically that neither the P-
39 nor P-40 could performeffectively against the Zero in the SWPA,
and the only American fighter that could was the P-38, and asked
that they be sent to the Pacific. (Memo, 27 May 1942 to the Chief
of Staff)
The reason for the P-400/P-39's perfoITnance shortcomings was
the absence of a turbocharger. The turbocharger is a mechanism
Part Two, Chapter 3 - September 1942
Crew Chief checks the maintenance log of a P-39 at Cactus. The ground
crews did yeoman's work, keeping the aircraft maintained and repaired dur-
ing the battle for the island. (USAF)
that helps an aircraft engine increase and maintain power output at
high altitudes. At the time the P-39 was designed American turbo-
chargers were not dependable, and wind tunnel tests of the design
had shown numerous lift and drag problems that were eliminated
by deleting the turbocharger. During the 1930s bomber aviation
was the vanguard of tactical air combat thinking, and fighter per-
formance expectations did not anticipate that the fighter would regu-
larly fly at high altitude or have to escort bombers. Although Allison
could have manufactured the V-I7l 0 engine with a turbocharger,
the Army revised Airacobra specifications and eliminated the tur-
bocharger. The move cut costs for Bell, reduced drag, and removed
the possibility of technical problems that the installation of a turbo-
charger may have caused. What remained was a sleek-looking lack-
luster fighter with virtually no high altitude capabilities, but with
good, but unexplored, low altitude qualities that 67FS pilots were
about to exploit.
The P-400s and P-39s were available in the South Pacific, and
62 more were on their way to the Pacific. The P-39D-2 was armed
with one nose-mounted 37mm cannon, two cowl-mounted .50 cali-
ber machine guns (300 rounds per gun), and four wing-mounted
.30 caliber machine guns (1,000 rpg). The soon to arrive P-39K-l
was stripped of 650 pounds of original equipment, and this im-
proved the Bell fighter's performance, as well as its service ceiling,
which theoretically reached 27,000 feet. The 37mm cannon (30
rounds) was to be replaced by a .50 caliber machine gun with 280
rounds of ammunition, but the resulting weight saving and increase
in the rate of firewas not worth the time and effort, and the project
was dropped. The other armament was the same. The K model was
also equipped to carry a 500lb. or auxiliary fuel tank. One third of
the P-39s were not stripped and were intended for fighter-bomber
use. Meanwhile, the AAC had the P-400 fighter that could not be
used as a fighter. Of the 13 Cactus P-400s, four had been shot down,
and in a single combat eight had been damaged, and of those six
would be eventually written off. Harmon felt that stripping the air-
craft of the recommended 1,500 pounds of weight still would not
make it a successful high altitude interceptor. The aircraft had good
low-altitude performance, good protective armor plate, and a heavy
armament of a 20mm cannon, two .50 caliber and four .30 caliber
machine guns, and could carry two bombs. The P-400 would be-
come the superlative attack aircraft over Guadalcanal, and the P-
400/39 would prove itself again in this role as a Lend-Lease air-
craft to the Soviets on the Eastern Front against the Germans.
On 3 September Maj.Gen. Archibald Vandegrift, Commander
of the 1sf Marine Division, advised Lt.Gen. Delos Emmons, Com-
mander of Army Aircraft in the Pacific, that:
"P-400s will not be employed further except in extreme emer-
gencies; they are entirely unsuitable for Cactus operations."
Harmon asked the Gen. George Marshall for aircraft (e.g. the
P-38) that could operate above 20,000 feet:
"If we are to maintain the morale and the elan of our fighter
pilots, obtain the desired effectiveness of our Army fighter effort,
and to avoid losses out of proportion to results obtain, a reasonable
proportion of Army fighter units in this area must be equipped with
the P-38 or P-47 types." (Harmon to Marshall, 8 September 1942)
But the P-400 did have a role in the Cactus Air Force, and soon
it flew its first mission in that new role. During the night of 1 Sep-
tember, two Japanese transports and two destroyers stood off
Tasimboko, a village about 20 miles east of Henderson. The Japa-
nese had disembarked a strong garrison of 300 troops and supplies
in bad weather that prevented SBDs from flying that night to inter-
"Fancy Nancy" (No.12) was a PAOa of Patsy
Flight flown by Lt. Richard Johnston that flew with
Brannon's original group on 22August. Not long
after this photo was taken she was caught on
the runway and destroyed by strafing Zeros.
Fighter Command in World War II
dict the landings. At 0500 the next morning, Japanese destroyers
shelled Henderson and woke every American in the perimeter. At
0600 five P-400s, led by now Major Brannon, and followed by Us.
Childress, Davis, Fincher, and Fountain, took off to attack the land-
ings. They found no troops, and only five beached landing craft
were spotted. At 0800 four more P-400s, led by Capt. Thompson
and followed by Us. Brzuska, Head, and Johnston, took off and
dropped their 500lb. bombs on the village and strafed both the land-
ing craft and village. At noon, with Tojo Time forthcoming, the 67
decided to fly another mission on Tasimboko, rather than to suffer
another Japanese bombing attack. They attacked the village, and
during their attack the Japanese sent down 18 Bettys escorted by 21
Zeros and attacked Henderson on schedule. The defending Marine
fighters of Maj. Robert Galer's VMF-224 shot down five bombers
and a Zero, while Smith's VMF-223 got three Zeros. But the Japa-
nese hit the airfield hard, and the returning Americans landed on
cratered runways, taxied past a burning hangar, three smoldering
SBDs, and burning fuel and ammo dumps. Throughout the next
several hours delayed action bombs detonated over the area
On 4 September the 67
had three P-400s operational and 13
pilots to fly them. Aerial reconnaissance disclosed that the Japa-
nese were using Santa Isabel as a staging area for barges and land-
ing craft that carried reinforcements to Guadalcanal, 75 miles to
the SSE. At 1440 on the 4
h, Maj. Robert Galer ofVMF-224 led the
three P-400s flown by Capt. Thomas Christian and Lts. Brown and
Glazier to small coves on Santa Isabel that concealed 34 loaded
landing craft ranging from 40 to 70 feet long. The P-400s dove on a
group of six boats loaded with men and supplies moving back to
safety toward shore. Two were destroyed by two direct hits from
500lb. bombs, and after the bombs were dropped the other boats
and landing troops were strafed. At debriefing Galer claimed that
25 landing craft in the area's coves had been destroyed and two
machine guns put out of action. The fighters returned safely, some
with several bullet holes from small anns fire. To make the day a
complete success, bad weather cancelled Tojo Time.
- During the late night of 5 September the Express, consisting of
a light cruiser and two destroyers, came down the Slot and sunk the
transports Gregory and Little off Savo Island, and then shelled the
Lt.Vernon Head's P-400 crashed on 8 September attempting to take off on
a muddy field carrying a SOOlb. bomb. 67FS Adjutant Charles Allard surveys
the damage. (Lansdale/Head/347FGA)
island, killing three men. Maj. Brannon and Lt. Fountain left on a
dawn patrol, and at 0700 came upon 15 Japanese landing barges
bringing troops ashore in daylight. Ten of the barges were about a
third of a mile offshore of Levers Pass and Visale on the northwest
coast. Brannon radioed the sighting back to Henderson, and the P-
400s dove low and repeatedly strafed the flotilla until they ran out
of ammunition, sinking one barge, damaging several others, and
killing many of the troops by gun fire or drowning before they could
reach shore. Six Wildcats from VMF-224 joined the P-400s and
continued the carnage. One Marine pilot was hit by the heavy small
arms fire and crashed into the ocean off the landing b e ~ c h e s . All
fighters taking part in the mission had holes from small arms fire.
Two hours later two P-400s, flown by Capt. Thompson and Lt.
Fincher, returned to strafe the barges that were unloading supplies
onshore, and to destroy the supplies that had been abandoned in the
landing craft that had been grounded on the reefs close inshore.
Despite the apparent success of these attacks, Japanese records in-
dicate that 5,200 troops had nonetheless landed by 7 September.
Despite their new success as fighter-bomber pilots, the 67
considered themselves fighter pilots, trained for air combat. But
during every Tojo Time they were sent out on ground support sor-
ties or to interdict suspected supply and troop concentrations, or to
go after targets of opportunity. These missions would put them out
of danger from falling bombs and marauding Zeros. Before long
the firepower and low-altitude attack capability of the P-400 and
the competence of the pilots led to outstanding results that were
directly appreciated by the Marine infantry below. Soon 67
thought maybe the P-400 wasn't so bad after all, and it had a place
in the Pacific War. COMAIRSOPAC Chief of Staff Capt. Matt
Gardner noted that the P-400 was "tremendously effective in its
strafing work." Time and again Gen. Vandegrift sent the once ma-
ligned fighter against Japanese strongpoints and asked for more of
them. The 67
morale began to swell. But if the pilots felt better,
Harmon was irritated that his Army fighters were put into a second-
ary role, and he again appealed to Gen. Emmons in Hawaii for P-
38s and P-47s.
The rains in early September made operations from Henderson
and reconnaissance patrols difficult. The Japanese took advantage
of the poor weather to continue their troop and supply build up near
Tasimboko. To interdict the Japanese the Marines planned a raid
from Tulagi, landing to the east of the village, attacking their rear,
and withdrawing the same day. At 0700, 8 September, Lt.Col. Merritt
Edson's 1Sl Marine Raider Battalion landed near Taivu Point to at-
tack Japanese positions at Tasimboko. Maj. Brannon and Us.
Childress, Fincher, and Head flew four P-400s in diving, strafing,
and bombing attacks to drive the Japanese under cover during the
Raider beach landing, and then attacked in front of the advancing
Raiders. The Raiders met heavy resistance from a strong rear guard
action as they neared their objective. The large main Japanese force
of 4,000 troops under Gen. Kiytake Kawaguchi had left the area
and was headed for the Marines' defensive perimeter near
Henderson. Edson moved toward the village, which was defended
by seasoned, well-equipped enemy troops ordered to protect their
newly arrived store of arms, ammunition, and supplies that were
vital to their offensive. As his force took up positions around
Part Two, Chapter 3 - September 1942
Tasimboko Edson called for a close air strike on huts that he knew
were occupied by the enemy. At 0900 the P-400s of Capt. Thomp-
son and Lts. Davis, Glazier, and Johnston attacked to aid the ad-
vance, but Edson continued to meet heavy opposition. Edson's
Raiders finally routed the Japanese and destroyed their arms and
supplies. He called for more air attacks at 1530 to support his
Raider's withdrawal. The previous heavy rains and the day's con-
tinuous operations had taken their toll on the condition of the air-
field, which had become a quagmire. To avoid most of the mud a
short take off run had to be made. Maj. Brannon and Lts. Fincher
and Head taxied their P-400s out onto the runway loaded with a
500lb. bomb and a full load of fuel and ammunition. Brannon tax-
ied to the end ofthe runway, followed by Head and Fincher. Brannon,
with half flaps, stood on the brakes and put the engine in full throttle.
He released the brakes and the plane moved slowly forward, sway-
ing and picking up speed, and finally lifted out of the sucking mud
into the air. Next Lt. Head tried the same procedure, but his plane,
in trying to pick up speed, skidded and soaked the plane with mud
as it sloshed through pools of water. His aircraft was running out of
runway and Head tried to lift it off, but the plane stalled from the
weight of the mud on the wings, hit the ground, fractured the land-
ing gear, broke the fuselage in half, and caught on fire. Head man-
aged to unbuckle his seat beat and scrambled out of the burning
wreckage. Fincher managed to take off over Head's burning wreck-
age. The two pilots covered the Marine withdrawal for two hours,
intimidating the Japanese by flying lazy eights over the beach until
the Marines were safely in the their landing craft calTying booty
such as tinned crab meat and bottles of beer and sake. The pilots
landed safely on reserve fuel at 1730 in a muddy spray. The Ma-
rines at Tasimboko commended the 67
for its support of their op-
eration there. They lost only two men and six wounded out of 600
men, and destroyed a large store of vital Japanese supplies that would
be needed for Kawakuchi's offensive. Head was burned and bruised
and was evacuated to New Caledonia the next day.
At nightfall F4Fs were returning late from a long mission.
Torches made from sake bottles with wicks were set along the run-
way, and truck lights lit the touchdown area. The lighting was inad-
equate, and the first F4F down ground looped and crashed off the
side of the deeply rutted runway. During the landings four more
Wildcats had to be written off, along with a bulldozer that was hit
by a careening Wildcat. At the end of the day there were only 11
F4Fs and two P-400s operational on Henderson. On the 9
, a F4F
crashed on take off and four more were shot down while destroying
seven bombers and three Zeros. After the arrival of four F4Fs from
Espititu Santo, air strength on the 10
was 11 F4Fs, 22 SBDs, and
three P-400s.
The Army pilots developed dive-bombing techniques for their
P-400s in these initial sorties. The pilots had to learn how to use the
aircraft as a dive-bomber, as it had no dive brakes and its terminal
velocity was high. They also had to use care when flying the air-
craft close to the ground because of its tendency to stall. There was
a warning notice on the fighter's instrument panel:
"Do not release bomb when the nose angle is 30 degrees up or
down or when the air speed exceeds 280mph."
This made the dive-bombing too horizontal and slow, expos-
ing the aircraft to enemy ground fire for too long. Pilots found that
they were able to release the bomb at 70 degrees and still have it
clear the propeller arc if immediate pressure were put on the stick
to yank the aircraft away from the falling bomb. Unlike the Navy
SBDs that began their dives at 15,000 feet or more, the P-400s
began their dives at 5,000 feet and released their bomb just above
the jungle at speeds of 300-350mph, then pulled up, weaving over
the trees to avoid ground fire. They would then turn to strafe the
area they had just bombed. The thickjungle made visual target iden-
tification difficult, and Marine units reported enemy targets on map
locations and indicated their own positions by setting out panels.
Nonetheless, most P-400 bombing and strafing attacks were blind,
never actually seeing the enemy. However, when the Marines moved
on the enemy position they often found it damaged or destroyed
and sUlTounded by dead enemy troops. The Marines at Guadalcanal
experienced a chronic shortage of artillery ammunition, and the
emergence of the P-400 and its heavy firepower became a welcome
sight. The 67
pilots began to refer to themselves as the "Jagstaffel,"
a corruption of the Luftwaffe term "Jagdstaffel" which translates in
German as "fighter squadron," not fighter-bomber. Maj.Gen. Archie
Vandegrift, USMC commander, commended the P-400s:
"... their armament and the zeal and training of their pilots en-
abled them to undertake ground support missions which were to
contribute as materially, if not spectacularly, to the defense of
Guadalcanal. "
A67FS P-400 had a fiat tire while taxiing; it suc-
cumbed to strafing Japanese fighters in Septem-
ber 1942 and had to be written off. Even as a
wreck the Airacobra soldiered on as a source of
spare parts, and then as a decoy for other straf-
ing Japs. (USAF)
Fighter Command in World War II
Standing outside a sandbag shelter in the pilot's bivouac at Henderson: Capts.
John Thompson (I) and Dale Brannon (2) and Lts. Obermiller (3), Childress
(4), and Ryan (5). (Lansdale/Head/347FGA)
Capt. Matt Gardner, R.Adm. McCain's Chief of Staff, stated
the P-400 "... was tremendously effective in strafing troops and land-
ing barges." But lessons were learned from these early operations.
The P-400 had poor air to ground communications and could not
be adequately directed to ground support targets. The squadron ar-
rived with insufficient ground personnel, as only seven armorers
had accompanied the original 14 P-400s. In the future each aircraft
would have its own crew chief and armorer. Fueling was a prob-
lem, as gasoline pumper trucks were unavailable, and each plane
did not have its own hand pump to transfer fuel from 55-gallon
drums. Spare parts were not shipped with the aircraft and had to be
cannibalized from wrecked aircraft.
The 67
continued its ground support missions in mid-Sep-
tember. On the 10
, Lt. Deltis Fincher scored a direct bomb hit on a
Japanese radio station on the island. On the return flight Lt. Zed
Fountain landed and taxied in, and as he shut down his engine his
20mm cannon fired two rounds into the roof of a hangar. The shells
exploded, slightly injuring 67
pilot Lt. Robert Ferguson. On the
at 0930, Maj. Brannon and Lts. Peter Childress, Zed Fountain,
and Vernon Head were assigned to search for a Japanese force that
was reported to be five miles east of Henderson. They sighted noth-
ing and moved west to Cape Esperance, but saw nothing but the
landing barges they had attacked previously. Capt. Thompson and
Lts. Brown, Davis, Fountain, and Johnston went out on patrol be-
fore Tojo Time searching for the reported Japanese force. While
they were gone 26 Betty bombers and eight Zeros attacked
Henderson at 1205. The bombers hit the east side of the field, where
Edson's Raiders were digging in, and eleven Marines were killed
and 17 injured. A P-400 was destroyed, but a bomb hit next to a
dugout sheltering 67
personnel. Lt. Peter Childress related his par-
ticipation in the raid:
"It was high noon on September 11th_Tojo Time-the black
flag was up at the Pagoda. Due to a shortage of planes, some of the
pilots had to take this bombing raid on the ground, and to deter-
mine who would fly; they cut for low cards in a very frayed and
incomplete deck. Those not winning: Capt. Brannon, and Lts.
Fincher, Glazier, and I retired to our favorite bomb-proof dugout, a
little beauty of 12 x 12 feet, with beam frame work that supported
three-eighths inch metal plates and hundreds of pounds of sand-
bags. We felt fairly safe in there.
About two minutes before the bombers came over our com-
pany in the shelter was increased by a Marine colonel, major, and
their driver, who were caught short and had to find shelter. We were
crouching in the dugout, puffing on our customary 'Tojo Time' ciga-
rette. Capt. Brannon was standing just outside, watching the bomb-
ers overhead. Suddenly he shouted, 'Here they come!' and dived
headlong into the dugout. He was in mid-air as the bOlJ1b hit us. I
remember a strange sensation of lazily floating in space, no pain,
no fright, just a momentary mental attitude of wondering what was
happening here. Thinking maybe I was dead. Then suddenly what
had happened dawned on me, as I was thrown into the air and plum-
meted down to earth with tons of dirt, armor plate, and 12 x 12
beams. I beat them all back to the ground and they landed on top of
me in the middle of a fresh crater.
Lucky Day. Maj. Dale Brannon stands in a bomb crater from a bomb explo-
sion that threw Brannon and several others into the air without serious
injury. 12 September /942. (347
Part Two, Chapter 3 - September 1942
The Japanese 1000 pound bomb had hit only five feet away
from the entrance of our dugout. It then penetrated the earth and
blasted a huge cone of earth at least 25 feet in diameter sky high.
Our dugout was part of this crater.
The dirt piled up quickly around me and began to engulf me. I
had bitter thoughts about being buried alive, ironically, after sur-
viving the blast of the bomb that was almost close enough for me to
touch. I felt helpless despair. I was pinned by Mother Earth, immo-
bile, in a slumped standing position. My arms and legs were held
fast. Desperately shaking my head, then extending my nose into
fresh air, through the dust and smoke I could see other explosions.
Then came a deadly silence in which joyously I was aware that I
was alive, quickly followed by anxiety and concern about the oth-
ers. The visions I had in my semi-stupor made me nauseated.
Then I heard Fincher, 'Where's Pete? For Christ's sake where's
Pete? Here he is.' He started digging like a dog, and after uncover-
ing my left arm he called for help. Some medical corpsmen came.
One was pulling on my tin hat and was about to pull my head off,
but the chinstrap as well as my neck held on. Another was jabbing
my free arm with a morphine shot. I think I got more needle than
Aview of Bloody Ridge, with Henderson Field located as the long open
patch just beyondThe ridgelines are denuded and scarred.AAF P-400s were
instrumental in the battle, as they flew close support missions, ravaging the
attacking Japs. (USMC)
Col. Merritt Edson lead his men in the valiant defense ofthe Ridge that saved
Henderson and was subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor. (USMC)
About this time a gang gathered to dig me out. As they crowded
around me they packed the dirt down. I felt my chest slowly col-
lapsing and I tried to get them away, but to my amazement I could
not speak. One fellow trying to get me free had his knee wedged
between my back and the dirt. Finally they interpreted my frantic
moans and some of them moved off. During the excavation I was
worried about my hands. Once they were free I was told that they
were not badly bunged up. With my relief about being alive and all
right and the increasing effect of the morphine I felt rather happy as
they hauled us off to the hospital in a bumpy truck. I must have
been on a morphine jag, as I was humming a ditty when I was ad-
mitted. No one was killed or seriously injured." (The Japanese lost
six bombers and a Zero during the attack - author)
Later that day 30 Marine SBDs patrolling under Lt. T. Caldwell
spotted a Japanese heavy cruiser and two destroyers, but only four
of the dive-bombers made the attack due to bad weather, and no
damage was done. Late that afternoon 24 Wildcats of VF-5 off the
Saratoga under Lt. Leroy Simpler landed at Henderson for tempo-
rary duty in expectation of the upcoming Japanese offensive. The
Saratoga had been torpedoed and withdrew for repairs, leaving VF-
Fighter Command in World War II
5 at Espiritu Santo. The F4F contingent on Cactus increased two
fold, but after five weeks of grinding combat only five of the VF-5
fighters would remain in combat. Previously, Ghormley had stead-
fastly refused to use carrier-based aircraft from Cactus, but intelli-
gence had detected the presence of a large Japanese naval and mili-
tary force in the Truk-Palau region, indicating a coordinated attack
on Guadalcanal with Rabaul-based aircraft and the newly landed
Tokyo Express troops. Later that night these warships bombarded
the island.
At 0500 on 12 September Maj. Brannon, with a large patch on
his chin from his encounter with the Jap bomb the day before, led a
scramble that was a false alert, and all P-400s returned by 0830.
Tojo Time came at 1100 when 26 Betty bombers escorted by 16
Zeros attacked. Simpler's Navy squadron was thrown into its first
combat, along with five of Smith's VMF-223 and six of Galer's
VMF-224 Wildcats. The Japanese lost 15 aircraft: four bombers
and a Zero to VF-5; six bombers and a Zero to VMF-223; and three
bombers to VMF-224. Marine AA fire claimed several bombers
that may actually have been air combat victims on their way down.
Henderson's radio facility sustained minor damage, and three SBDs
Capt. john Thompson, with Lts. Bryan Brown and Eugene Davis, attacked
"Bloody Ridge" and left over 600 japanese dead, allowing Edson's men to
retake the Ridge. (Thompson)
In the Aftermath of the savage battle for Bloody Ridge on 13/14 September,
a Marine infantryman overlooks the foxholes and debris ofthe battle where
Col. Edson's raiders repelled the japanese Kawaguchi Force to save Henderson
from being over run. (USMC)
were destroyed on the ground. In the afternoon a Japanese naval
force was reported on their way to Guadalcanal, and American in-
telligence had detected Gen. Kawaguchi's main Japanese force,
which had moved inland from Tasimboko. Vandegrift decided to
meet Kawaguchi's attack by concentrating his Marines on a ridge
connecting open hills about a mile south of the Henderson Field
runway. Lt.Col. Merritt Edson's lSI Raider Battalion, reinforced by
a parachute battalion, took up forward positions on the ridge and
waited for the attack. At midnight on 12/13 September the Japa-
nese made ~ concerted effort to recapture Henderson. A heavy na-
val bombardment alternated between the beachhead, airfield, and
ridge, and was followed by a three-pronged attack on Marine posi-
tions. Two of the attacks were repulsed, but the most brutal fighting
was on Lunga Ridge, defended by Edson's Raiders, who were driven
slowly from the ridge, and by the next morning only the inner pe-
rimeter defense kept the Japanese from overrunning Henderson.
Throughout the night the field was under mortar and artillery fire,
and snipers were firing on personnel on the field.
At 0730 on the 14
three P-400s led by Capt. John Thompson,
with Lts. Bryan Brown and Eugene Davis, attacked "Bloody Ridge,"
as it would come to be known. They did not have to fly far to the
ridge. After takeoff they only had to circle the field in a wide left
turn, climb to a 1,000 feet, and then dive on the ridge from the west
at tree top level. From the briefing at the Pagoda, Thompson only
knew the relative positions of the 2,000 Japanese troops and Edson's
800 Marines on a rough hand-drawn map. The air action was so
close to the airfield that the ground crews watched and heard the
battle. The surprised Japanese on and below the sOllthern ridge were
marshaling for another attack when the P-400s bombed and strafed
them at 25 to 30 feet. The fire from the 20mm cannon and two .50
caliber nose guns and the four .30 caliber machine guns in the wings
was devastating. On their second run the Japanese were prepared
and the P-400s faced heavy small arms and machine gun fire. Lt.
Brown's fighter received a hit in the radiator, and he used his straf-
ing dive speed t9 gain enough altitude to reach the runway before
Part Two, Chapter 3 - September 1942
his engine seized, and he dead sticked in safely. On the next run
Thompson's radiator was also hit, and he too used his diving speed
to gain altitude to reach the runway and also landed without power.
Lt. Davis continued to strafe the ridge until he ran out of ammuni-
tion. The attack devastated the Japanese, who suffered over 600
dead on the ridge and allowed a Marine counter attack to retake the
ridge from the demoralized enemy, who retreated into the jungle.
For their action, Capt. Thompson was awarded the Navy Cross and
LIs. Brown and Davis the Silver Star by Generals Vandegrift and
Geiger. Geiger told Thompson:
"You'll never read it in the papers, but that three PAOO mis-
sion of yours (at Bloody Ridge) saved Guadalcanal." When no one
was watching Geiger reached under the seat of his jeep and took
out a bottle of whiskey and handed it to Thompson, telling him to
hide it under his shirt, as he didn't have enough for everyone. (Th-
The last entry in a dead Japanese infantry officer's diary re-
flected the outcome of the P-400 attack:
"Intensive bombing and strafing followed our unsuccessful
attack at dawn, and our efforts to take the field are doomed to fail-
At 0700 the American high command b e c a m ~ desperate and
flew 18 more Wildcats-replacement aircraft for VMF-223 and
YMF-224-from the carriers Hornet and Wasp. They headed for
Henderson to meet the day's Tojo Time, but unfortunately four were
lost on landing or in accidents. During the afternoon additional
Saratoga aircraft arrived: Lt.Cdr. Louis Kirn flew in 12 SBDs of
YS-3, and Lt. Harold Larson flew in six TBFs ofVT-8. For the day
Cactus shot down 11 Japanese (The Marines claimed four bombers
and three Zeros and the Navy claimed two bombers and two Zeros)
but lost six aircraft. Between 11-13 September Henderson had gained
60 additional aircraft, but on the 12
Rabaul received 140 aircraft
(60 fighters, 72 bombers, and eight reconnaissance planes) of
VAdm. Masasato Yamagata's new 26
Air Flotilla.
The grim defeat at Bloody Ridge caused the Japanese to re-
think their Guadalcanal counter attack strategy. They had just ex-
pended much of the strength they had built up in costly Tokyo Ex-
press runs. The Ichiki and Kawaguchi forces squandered on the Ilu
River and Bloody Ridge were only a portion of the Japanese forces
that Gen. Harukichi Hyakutake, Commander of the Japanese 17
Army, commanded on Rabaul. The Japanese pulled back and at-
tempted to consolidate their three forces west of Henderson, and
the Marines sent out patrols to harass them. From the onset of the
Guadalcanal invasion the Japanese had underestimated the strength
and will of their American enemy. Their planning was inadequate
and unsupported by patrols and reconnaissance, and their attacks
were uncoordinated and mrogantly carried out. What they needed
were decisive naval battles and heavy reinforcements to retake
Guadalcanal-Tulagi. In the meantime they continued frequent air
raids, along with the nightly Washing Machine Charlie air raids
and small but ferocious hit and run infantry attacks in the jungle
around Henderson. By mid-September, the Tokyo Express arrived
on an almost nightly basis and replaced the Bloody Ridge losses
and added two infantry regiments. A powerful enemy force was
gathering far to the west under the cover of the jungle. Gen. Maseo
Murayama was in command ofthe Guadalcanal forces, and by mid-
October he mustered 20,000 well-equipped troops supplemented
with heavy weapons and artillery. The drawback to the small de-
stroyer/transports of the Tokyo Express was that trucks and tanks
could only be shipped in lm'ge transports.
In the early morning on 14 September Maj. Brannon and Lts.
Childress and Glazier left in a C-47 for Tontouta, and in the late
afternoon were replaced by Lts. Albert Farquharson, Robert
Ferguson, E. Fernam, and Delton Goerke, who arrived in the first
of several recurrent exchanges to relieve pilots from combat. For
their heroic actions from 14 August to 14 September, Capt. Dale
Brannon and 2Lt. Dellis Fincher were awarded the Silver Star. On
16 September Lts. Brown, Fincher, Fountain, and Johnston returned
to Tontouta, and Lts. D. Miller, 1. Morton, and 1. Sawyer arrived
from Espiritu Santo in P-400s. A P-400 piloted by Lt. Walsh was
lost in a landing accident on Espiritu, and another P-400 piloted by
Lt. R. Kaiser had engine problems and remained behind. The
Airacobra pilots on Guadalcanal nicknamed each other after the
characters in Damon Runyon stories: "Dancing Dan"; "Guinea
Mike"; "Harry the Horse"; "Handaxe John"; "Spanish John" (Saw-
yer); and "Little Isadore" (Patterson). The next day Capt. Thomp-
son checked out his new pilots by bombing and strafing the Japa-
nese front lines and flying interdiction against Japanese supplies
and Tokyo Express landing craft. On 19 September they attacked
landing craft near Morovovo village on the western end of the is-
land and destroyed two by bombs and two by strafing, and inca-
pacitated the rest by strafing. Astrafing run on the village exploded
a building containing ammunition in a huge explosion. On the 22
five P-400s and Marine SBDs hit newly built huts in the Visale
area. A P-400, flown by 2Lt. E. Fernam, was shot down, and S&R
was hindered by bad weather. Fernam returned to base in poor health
12 days later and evacuated after being rescued by a coast watcher.
On 17 September air strength on Guadalcanal was 63 opera-
tional aircraft, of which 36 were recent arrivals from the Navy car-
riers: 29 F4Fs; 26 SBDs; 5TBFs; and 3 P-400s. Maj.Gen. Ross
Rowell, CG of Marine Air Wings Pacific (MAWPac), commented:
"What saved Guadalcanal was the loss of so many carriers." Six
more Navy TBFs arrived on the 18
, and two more SBDs and TBFs
on the 28
During the last half of September Cactus lost two or
three planes per day, mostly through weather and accidents, as Japa-
nese attacks were diminished during that fortnight. The loss rate
for Marine VMFs for the first 25 days of the Guadalcanal cam-
paign was 57%, which could not be sustained. On 17 September
Navy COMINCHAdm. Ernest King sent a memo to Army Chief of
Staff, Gen. George Marshall. The memo stated that the grave situ-
ation at Guadalcanal:
"... made it imperative that the future continuous flow of army
fighters be planned at once, irrespective of, and in higher priority
than the commitments to any other theater" (e.g. "Europe first" -
Fighter Command in World War II
Marshall answered King, saying that Nimitz had the authority
to move aircraft in the Pacific and "higher authorities" had assigned
TORCH (the invasion of North Africa) the highest priority. The rift
between the Army and Navy was widening, and Arnold made a
brief visit to the Pacific in late September. He met with Harmon,
who gave him a very gloomy report on the meager supplies reach-
ing Guadalcanal and the steady stream of Japanese troops and air-
craft moving into the upper Solomons in preparation for a large
offensive on Guadalcanal. Arnold maintained that the base facili-
ties in the South Pacific were insufficient to handle anything but
what had been allocated to them, and the main problem was one of
distribution of aircraft and personnel from Hawaii, which he con-
sidered a vast base of supply. As the debate escalated Marshall re-
alized that the entire outcome in the South Pacific depended on the
Guadalcanal result. Marshall authorized 27 medium bombers and
133 fighters for the Pacific, with 23 heavy bombers to fly in and 53
additional fighters to be shipped in by water. At the time there were
1,014 air personnel at Cactus: 917 Marine; 64 Navy; and 33 Air
Force. Cactus ground forces were also reinforced, as on 18 Sep-
tember a large U.S. Navy convoy debarked in the early morning
and embarked before 1800, when the Japanese Navy usually came
down the Slot. The Marine garrison was reinforced with 4,262 troops
of the fresh 7
Marine Division, along with food and gasoline. The
reinforcements allowed Vandegrift to consolidate his defensive pe-
rimeter and consider a minor expansion.
During 23-26 September Vandegrift decided to expand his pe-
rimeter on the east to the Tenaru River and the west to the Matanikau
River, while the southern line was to remain constant, as it was
bounded by impenetrable jungle. The 1Sl Battalion of the 7
rines made a landing on the coast west of Point Cruz, beyond the
Matanikau towards Kokumbona, while at the same time Edson's
Raiders attacked to the east bank of the Matanikau, hoping to link
up with the 1st Battalion. Both forces met unexpected heavy resis-
tance, with the 1st becoming surrounded on a ridge with heavy ca-
sualties, and the Raiders were pinned down at Matanikau's east
bank. Both forces requested close air support. The 1st Battalion got
support from 67
P-400s and Marine and Navy SBDs, as well as
naval gunfire from the destroyer Ballard. Lts. Farquharson,
Ferguson, Goerke, Miller, and Morton made numerous strafing at-
tacks, clearing a path to the beach. The 1st was then able to fight
their way back to the beach and evacuate into their landing craft.
The Raiders retreated back to the Henderson perimeter.
Between the 15
and 26
no Japanese aircraft were shot down
near Guadalcanal, as bad weather curtailed operations. During this
period the Japanese were reinforcing their depleted Betty units at
Rabaul and Kavieng, and withdrew the battered 4
Kokutai, which
had lost 40 crew and 50 aircraft over Guadalcanal and New Guinea.
On the 22
Gen. Roy Geiger answered pilot's complaints about
having to take off from the rough and cratered runway at Henderson
by taking off from the same runway himself in a SBD and dropping
a 1,000lb. bomb on reported troops in the Visale area. On 27 Sep-
tember air combat intensified, as a coast watcher on New Georgia
sighted 17 Japanese bombers and 14 escorts, but there were also 12
undetected Zeros patrolling in advance of the main formation to
ambush scrambling American fighters. Cactus sent up 34 F4Fs, but
the dozen patrolling Zeros did not see them and left the area. Ten
VMF-223 and VMF-224 pilots shot down six bombers and two
Zeros, and six VF-5 pilots shot down four Zeros, with two of the
pilots becoming aces (Ensigns John Wesolowski and Francis Reg-
ister). All six Wildcats returned with holes, and two pilots were
slightly wounded.
On the 28
27 Bettys and 42 Zeros attacked Henderson, and
the bombers were decimated, with 24 of the 27 attacking bombers
(and one Zero) shot down; however, as usual, Japanese figures were
much less, reporting eight bombers lost and 17 sustaining light to
heavy damage. VMF-223 claimed six bombers and the Zero, VMF-
224 claimed eight bombers (Galer became a double ace with three
bombers), a n ~ VF-5 claimed ten bombers. The large Zero escort
was largely ineffective, as many arrived late, were out of position,
or did not intercept the American Grummans. Their air losses and
battle damage for the past two days caused the Japanese to again
rethink their tactics, as the large number of escorts did not prevent
the disproportionate destruction of bombers by a smaller force of
Wildcats. On the 29
the Japanese sent nine Bettys down to act as
decoys for a 27-plane fighter sweep. The Bettys turned around be-
fore reaching Cactus after guiding the fighters to the island, and the
Zeros swept in, causing minimal damage, and there was no inter-
ceptions or claims. For the next ten days the Japanese cut back their
attacks, hoping for a change of fortune once they completed their
forward fighter base at Buin and the improved facilities at Buka.
October 1942
During the last days of September and first week in October
rains soaked Henderson and Fighter One, making the runways a
quagmire. On I October there was a hiatus in the rain, and Lts.
Farquharson, Jarman, Miller, Morton, and Sawyer took off armed
with 100lb. bombs to attack Japanese targets of opportunity to the
west. They found a new building at Visale and strafed through heavy
ground fire, causing it to blaze from fuel stored inside. On return-
ing to Henderson Lt. Faquharson found that his electrical system
was damaged, and he had to crank down his landing gear by hand,
Fighter Group insignia was fashioned aftertheAmericallnfantry Division's
insignia, with the lightning flash and Southern Cross. (USAF)
but his flaps could not be lowered. Faquharson tried to hit the very
end of the runway to give himself as much runway to slow down on
the no-flaps landing. He hit a few feet short of the steel matting into
the mud and tore off his landing gear. The fighter skidded along the
matting and safely stopped facing the direction of the landing. The
three other fighters in the landing pattern were forced to land at
Fighter One.
During the night of 3/4 October the destroyers of the Tokyo
Express were reinforced by the seaplane tender
Nisshin, whose size allowed it to land a large number of troops
and artillery pieces. The P-400s and SBDs had only limited success
against the Express, as it would not come into range until the late
afternoon, and poor weather and darkness interfered with missions
sent against it. Once landed these troops and equipment, and new
storage buildings became targets for the P-400s. The PAOOs and
SBDs were not the only aircraft to attack the Japanese in the area.
In August and September B-17s of the IIBG flew 299 search mis-
sions and 151 bombing missions against Japanese air bases, supply
centers, and shipping. By October there were 50 B-17s available in
the South Pacific.
Activation of the 347
Fighter Group
The 67
was a fighter squadron, but had been operating in a larger
capacity despite a chronic shortage of aircraft and equipment. It
was operating a combat base at Guadalcanal and a home base at
Tontouta. From Tontouta the 67
supplied pilots, ground crew, air-
craft and parts, ran a combat school for newly arrived pilots from
the States, provided periodic relief of crew and pilots back from
combat, and was responsible for the air defense of New Caledonia.
To make matters more difficult for the 67
\ on 29 September it was
divided in two by the Adjunctant General's Office, and from one
half the 339FS and the 347FG Headquarters was formed. Capt. John
Thompson took command of the stripped 67FS. On 3 October the
Fighter Group was activated with headquarters at Tontouta
and had the 6T\ 68
, 70
, and the planned 339FS assigned to it.
Recently arrived Maj. George McNeese commanded the new group,
rather than the more experienced Maj. Dale Brannon, who was to
command the 339th. The veteran Cactus pilots thought this to be an
Fighter Command in World War II
Meeting in the 67FS Operations hut at Guadalcanal. (L-R) Lt. Leland Ramp,
Lt. james jarman, and Capt. john Thompson. (USAF)
affront to Brannon, who pilot Doug Canning considered the "God-
father of the 13'h Fighter Command." The 347 HQ staff was made
up of eight officers and nine enlisted men of the 67FS. McNeese's
new Operations Officer was Philippines veteran Maj. Thomas Chris-
tian, and Maj. Thomas Hubbard, who in early 1942 escaped from
the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, was to be the group
Executive Officer. The formation of the 347'h was inauspicious. The
floors and sides of the Headquarter buildings were constructed from
empty aircraft crates, and the ceilings were made from stretched
tents. The eight officers were housed in a leased private home of a
wealthy farmer. The farm had a caretaker and two servants, along
with a small swimming pool. The 347FG and 67FS messed together,
as both camps were adjoining and the 347'h did not have adequate
personnel for a separate mess. "B" and "c" rations (Spam, Vienna
sausages, and corned beef) were all that was available for break-
fast, lunch, and dinner. Fortunately, the caretaker actually liked Spam
and traded the Americans for a few fresh eggs.
The disappointed Brannon was assigned as CO to the 339'h
Fighter Squadron, the "Sunsetters," which was to be a P-38 squad-
ron. The 339'h had 33 pilots and 102 enlisted men assig!1ed to it,
and of these, seven pilots (Canning, Dewey, Holmes, Miller,
Faquharson, Goerke, and Morton) and 16 enlisted men had been
sent to Guadalcanal. During their first weeks on Cactus, although
separation had taken place on paper, distinct squadron 67(h/339'h
operations were uncommon because of the shortage of aircraft and
pilots. Pilots from different squadrons lived and flew together un-
der one squadron name. 0 P-38s had aITived for the 339'h to fly,
and its seven pilots lived with their old friends from the 67FS and
flew their P-39s and P-400s. The Japanese had come to fear the
"long-nosed fighters," as the Japanese described the Aircobras in
their diaries, as the maligned fighter constantly and effectively dive-
bombed and strafed enemy troop concentrations, gun emplacements,
and supply lines.
At Tontouta the two squadrons lived and flew together, but by
22 October the 339FS was physically separated and operating on
its own, with a separate kitchen, mess tent, and squadron supply.
julius "jake" Jacobson was a very good pilot, and for that reason Mitchell
chose him as his wing man-to protect his back. (Lansdale)
Canning (left) and Mitchell at Fiji Island, September 1942. Canning credits
Mitchell for his training program that enabled the (Canning)
Part Two, Chapter 4 - October 1942
The 339
began flying the P-39, but would transition to the new P-
38 when it arrived. The 347
was assigned four squadrons: the 67
the 68
(stationed on Tonga); the 70
(stationed on Fiji); and the
All would soon be based at Tontouta and rotate their men and
aircraft to the AAF "Cactus Flight" fighter pool. The "new" fight-
ers arriving at Tontouta were P-39s and D-ls, Ls, and Ks. They
were assembled, tested, and assigned to individual pilots, who
trained in it and took it into combat. At Guadalcanal the P-39s joined
the remaining P-400s, which continued in their close support role.
The P-39, with better performance, flew close support, but also flew
escort missions for Navy and Marine dive-bombers and torpedo-
bombers and joined the F4Fs in scrambles. Doug Canning:
"I really enjoyed the P-39. John Mitchell ran the program and
trained us, and we got to be pretty good fighter pilots. Mitchell
picked the best pilot to be his wingman and Jake Jacobson was
picked, which was too bad for Jake. He never got to lead any mis-
sions, and he was never able to do much on his own, as he was
always watching that Mitchell wouldn't get shot down."
Maintenance and Repair
Maintenance and repair in the Air Force was divided into four ech-
elons that depended on the type and amount of time necessary to
complete it. The first echelon of maintenance was the completion
of daily checks to be certain that an aircraft was operational, but
did not include any repair work. The second echelon involved easy
field repairs and general care of aircraft so that it could participate
in daily operations. First and second echelon duties were the re-
sponsibility of squadron ground crews, and involved repairs that
could be completed within 12 to 36 hours (the time between mis-
sions). When the second echelon was unable to repair an aircraft it
was sent to a service group to make third echelon repairs. At this
time the engineering officer elected to write off or repair the air-
craft. Early in the Guadalcanal Campaign, when aircraft replace-
ments were in short supply, aircraft that would have otherwise been
written off were repaired. The third echelon involved major repairs,
The third echelon of repair involved major repairs, such as replacement of
major parts (e,g, wing and tail assemblies), substantial sheet metal repairs,
engine changes, repairs to the electrical and hydraulic systems, propeller re-
pairs, and landing gear repair and replacement. (Canning)
such as replacement of major parts (e.g. wing and tail assemblies),
substantial sheet metal repairs, engine changes, repairs to the elec-
trical and hydraulic systems, propeller repairs, and landing gear
repair and replacement. To perform third echelon maintenance, a
service group was assigned two service squadrons that consisted of
a number of highly skilled personnel: mechanics, electricians, in-
strument technicians, propeller technicians, sheet metal workers,
machinists, and dope and fabric men, etc. After the damage was
evaluated the aircraft was assigned to these specialists, who worked
as crews for repair. Each service squadron was allocated four trail-
ers to perform the various precision repairs: one was a machine
shop; one was an instrument shop; and the other two were supply
units. The machine shop planed, shaped, turned, and milled aircraft
parts for repair or modification. The instrument shop repaired, cali-
brated, maintained, or modified the delicate and accurate aircraft
instruments. The supply trailers contained and managed spare parts.
The four trailers functioned as an efficient and compact unit in the
field. Fourth echelon repair was the function of the Air Depot Group
that provided supplies of all kinds, not only to the service squad-
rons, but also for itself, as it set up the procedure and equipment to
perform large-scale maintenance functions, assembling, modify-
ing, and repairing aircraft at Tontouta. Tontouta was never a base
for tactical units, but was the Air Force's air supply depot adminis-
tered by the Air Depot Group, which arrived at New Caledonia in
late November 1942 and remained there until June 1944 when the
Far East Air Service Command undertook the duty. They built a
large machine shop capable of performing complete aircraft over-
hauls and producing parts that were not readily available. Every
maintenance function was set up: paint shops; dope and fabric shops;
sheet metal shops; and prop shops. Other necessary repair and main-
tenance facilities were established in a very central large facility.
In October, Lt.Gen. Harukichi Hyakutake proceeded with his
plans to recapture Guadalcanal, and after its capture would con-
tinue on to attack Port Moresby, New Guinea. Despite the massa-
cres of the Ichiki Detachment of 900 men at the Ilu River and then
of3,600 men of the Kawaguchi Force at Bloody Ridge, Hyakutake's
plan was to attack Guadalcanal by 12 October with the 2
Division and the veteran 38
Division. Rabaul was reinforced with
more than 180 naval aircraft, more than three times the number
available to the Americans on Guadalcanal. The air base at Buka in
the northern Solomons was improved to receive bombers, which
would shorten their route to Guadalcanal by 160 miles. The fighter
strip at Buin was completed, and 30 Zeros were sent there on 20
October. Naval forces were also increased, as the battleships Haruna,
Hiei, Kirishima, and Kongo were sent down t; the Solomons for
the first appearance of the Dreadnoughts in the theater. In his mes-
sage to the 17
Army Hyakutake stated:
"The operation to surround and recapture Guadalcanal will truly
decide the fate of the control of the entire Pacific."
As the situation in early October worsened Harmon made three
suggestions to COMSOPAC: (I) immediate reinforcement by not
less than one infantry combat team; (2) strengthen naval forces in
the area; and (3) bring in all available airdrome construction per-
Fighter Command in World War II
sonnel and their equipment. Harmon requested the completion of
two all-weather runways and dispersal areas, improved camouflage,
and airfield fueling systems and supply so that there would be a
constant minimum reserve of a quarter million gallons available.
Harmon had implored Ghormley to improve Henderson so that B-
17s could be based there so they would not have to fly 700 miles
from Espiritu Santo, as once based at Cactus the Flying Fortresses
could begin operations against the Buin-Tonolei-Buka area to at-
tack and disrupt enemy air operations.
By the beginning of October the Tokyo Express had used dark-
ness and consummate proficiency to land over 20,000 troops by
destroyer and barge. Again, destroyers carrying up to 1,000 troops
each would leave the Shortlands-Faisi area during the afternoon,
and by 1800, just before sunset, it would be just out of the 200 mile
range of Guadalcanal dive-bombers. Cactus sent out some very
unsuccessful SBD night attacks, losing several planes in the dark-
ness. The destroyers would then race down the Slot and arrive off
Guadalcanal at about midnight to unload troops across the Matanikau
River, about ten miles west of Henderson. The unloading of troops
was usually coordinated with Washing Machine Charlie or the na-
val shelling of the field. The unloading took two or three hours, and
then the Express raced out of the range of Henderson dive-bombers
and Army fighter-bombers before sunrise. Dive-bombers were suc-
cessful against the Express on only one day. On 5 October Lt.Cdr.
Louis Kim led a mixed group of nine VS-3 and VMSB-141 SBDs
against six destroyers. They claimed to have sunk one and possibly
sunk another, but the actuality was major damage to two destroyers
from near misses. On the 9
Gen. Hyakutake arrived at Guadalcanal
via the Express to take personal command of the recapture of the
Feating a Japanese invasion of Ndeni Island in the Santa Cruz
Islands, 335 miles to the southeast of Henderson, Adm. Ghormley,
supported by Adm. Turner, was pressing for their occupation. How-
ever, Generals Harmon and Vandegrift were openly against the di-
version of any forces from the precarious situation at Guadalcanal.
Ghormley held a conference with Turner and Harmon on 6 October
announcing his intention to proceed with the Ndeni oper:ation, but
agreed with Harmon to send reinforcements to Cactus at once. On
the 13
the 164
Infantry regiment of the Americal Division based
in New Caledonia was transferred to the island, and Edson's Raid-
ers were evacuated for a well-deserved rest.
With the 164
on hand, Vandegrift decided again to move his
western perimeter to the east bank of the Matanikau River to keep
Japanese artillery out of range of Henderson. On 7-9 October, ele-
ments of the 2
, 5
, and 7
Marines attacked and, unlike the unsuc-
cessful September attack, succeeded, as the main Japanese forces
were located far to the west, near Kokumbona and Tassafaronga.
Only about 150 Japanese resisted at the mouth ofthe river and were
surrounded and wiped out by the 5
Marines. Further upriver, the
Marines and the 3
Battalion of the 2
Marines forced a cross-
ing in heavy rains and then attacked toward the coast at Point Cruz.
They fought their way through thick jungle, sporadically trapping
RUSSELL I s . ~ r
o 30 GO
."01 "THE SLOT"
<3 755 MILES
IINIJR50N 1"/1) 1i PT: HOI?SBY I
270 T!?UE
The Slot. (USAF)
Part Two, Chapter 4 - October 1942
Maj.Gen. Roy Geiger (left) meets with his ace, Maj. Joe Foss, who tied World
War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker's record of 26 victories and was awarded the
Medal of Honor (USMC)
large enemy units in ravines, calling in artillery and SBD and P-
400 close air support directed from the ground to decimate the
trapped enemy. The threat of the new Japanese offensive supported
by naval units gathering at Rabaul caused the Marines to again with-
draw back to the defensive perimeter. The Japanese offensive in-
tended to move east of the Matanikau River in order to bring
Henderson back under artillery fire. Meanwhile, the 67
ously patrolled the area west of the river and bombed and strafed
anything that looked suspicious with their remaining P-400s and
newly arrived P-39s.
By early October air operations at Cactus were at a low point.
On 1 October Cactus aircraft numbered 58 aircraft (34 F4Fs, 16
SBDs, 5TBFs, and 3 P-400s), and two days later the figure dropped
to 49. The Marine squadrons had been on the island since 20 Au-
gust and were war-weary and depleted. Six pilots of John Smith's
VMF-223 had been killed or wounded, and Galer's VMF-224 was
only slightly better off. Both Smith and Galer had been forced to
bailout of damaged fighters on 2 October but both were rescued.
Each of the great air leaders would be awarded the Medal of Honor
for his exploits on Cactus. The 67FS had received sporadic replace-
ments and managed to keep their P-400s flying on bombing and
strafing missions. On 8 October the squadron received 11 new P-
The first of the great Marine aviators at Cactus (L-R): Maj. John Smith, Lt.Col.
Richard Mangrum, and Capt. Marion Carl. (USMC)
39s, and on the 9
VMF-121 under Maj. Leonard "Duke" Davis
arrived with 24 F4Fs. Davis' XO was Capt. Joe Foss, who would
later tie Eddie Rickenbacker for America's Ace of Aces with 26
victories and be awarded the Medal of Honor. On the 16
, VMF-
223 under Capt. John Smith was relieved after it had scored 111 1/
2 victories, 19 by Smith, who was the highest-scoring American
fighter pilot in the war to date. Capt. Marion Carl followed Smith
with 16.5 victories, and seven other Marine pilots became aces. Of
the VMSB-232 SBD pilots, only commander Lt.Col. Richard
Mangrum was miraculously as out of the rest of his pi-
lots seven were killed, four wounded, and the remainder were hos-
pitalized for disease and fatigue. Four rear seat gunners were killed
and one wounded. After the low point of 49 aircraft on the 3
, the
number increased to 61 on the 7
\ and 96 with the arrival of 11 P-
39s on the 8
and the 24 F4Fs ofVMF-121 on the 9'h.
On the 8'h 11 pilots flew new P-39s into Guadalcanal. Eight of
the pilots had been transferred from the 70FS that was part of the
new 347FG. The plan was for the new P-39s to fly off Fighter One
with the Wildcats, while the P-400s were to continue flying ground
support from Henderson. But Vandegrift was so pleased with the P-
400s in their close air support role that he diverted the P-39s to that
role, particularly after it was found that they also could not reach
70FS (August I 942).Top (L-R): Hendrix, Cosart,
Gorham, Robinson, W. Williams (CO), Stevens,
Harris, Schindler, and Houseworth. Middle (L-R):
Johnson, Petit, Lanphier, Debernardie, McKulla,
Barnes, Rivers, Buck, Barber, and Williams. Front
(L-R): Daggitt, Fiedler, Dunbar, Hendrix, Topoll,
Vargas, Holloway, Frame, Kuntz, and Koenig.
Fighter Command in World War II
Fighter Squadron "Fighting Cocks" pose on P-400 "Hell's Bells." Sitting on
Wing (L-R) Albert Faquharson (no shirt), james Jarman (cap), Jerome Saw-
yer (t-shirt), and james Campbell. Near cockpit: F.Williams (Pith helmet) and
A. Fitzgerald (cap/shirtless)-both were armorers. Front: (L-R) F. Fjelstad,
George Dewey, Leland Ramp (leaning on wing behind Dewey), Besby Holmes
(darkJacket holding door),james Morton (cap holding door), Delton Goerke
(cap behind Morton), Douglas Canning (holding door/hand on hip), Robert
Kerstetter Oust behind Goerke shoulder), G. Headtler; and D. Miller. (Lansdale/
V.Adm. Jinichi Kusaka was the C-in-C japanese Southeast Area Fleet and the
I Ith Air Fleet when he arrived at Rabaul on 8 October 1942. (USMC)
Betty bomber of the 705th Naval Air Group
being prepared for a missionThe Betty medium
bomber was the mainstay of the japanese
bomber force and took heavy losses. (Lansdale)
Part Two, Chapter 4 - October 1942
the altitude of the Japanese bombers and fighters. The new fighters
arrived with the standard red circle painted out of the white star of
the national insignia, as the red ball could be confused for a Japa-
nese "meatball' insignia.
VAdm. Jinichi Kusaka had arrived on Rabaul on 8 October as
the C-in-C of the Southeastern Fleet, and found 156 operational
aircraft (77 Zeros, 62 Bettys, and 17 assorted aircraft). These air-
craft were operating with the 25
Air Flotilla under R.Adm. Yamada
Sadayoshi, the 6
Air Flotilla under VAdm. Yamagata Seigo, and
the 1
Air Flotilla under R.Adm. Ichimaru Rinosuke. The 25
Flotilla consisted of the Tinain Air Group (36 Zeros and six recon
aircraft), 2
Air group (16 Zeros and five Vals), Toko Air Group
(six flying boats), and an advanced detachment of the 6th Air Group
(25 Zeros). The 26
Wing consisted of the Kisarazu Air Group (15
Bettys), the MisawaAir Group (12 Bettys), and the TakaoAir Group
Detachment (19 Bettys). The 21SI Air Group consisted of the Kanoya
Air Group (16 Bettys).
On the 9
\ after heavy rains during the night, six P-400s flown
by Lts. Holmes, Kerstetter, Kaiser, Morton, Patterson, and Sawyer
were scheduled for a mission to bomb and strafe the Kokumbona
area from 0545 to 0700. However, Lt. Holmes' fighter got two flat
tires while taxiing, Lt. Sawyer's aircraft hit a muddy hole and broke
Lee Ramp of the 67FS was an effective journeyman ground support and
strafing pilot. (Canning)
off the nose wheel, and Lt. Kaiser's engine ran rough and he aborted.
The remaining three P-400s dropped their bombs and strafed the
area in front of the Marine perimeter. At 0845 three P-400s were
scheduled for another mission, and Maj. Thomas Hubbard with Lts.
Kaiser and Stern taxied for take off. Lt. Kaiser's aircraft built up a
heavy accumulation of mud under its wheels and ground to a stop.
Fearing he would damage the gear Kaiser shut down, while the
other two aircraft managed to take off and attack the Japanese. At
1100, with the field drying under the hot sun, a flight of rearmed
and refueled P-400s took off, flown by Lts. Holmes, Kaiser, Miller,
and Sawyer. All were able to lift off and dropped bombs and strafed
the area between Matanikau and Kokumbona. The targets could
not be seen from the air, and ground-to-air radio and signal panels
directed the attack. The flight returned at 1200 just as the black
attack alert flag was flying and aircraft were being dispersed around
the field, but the Japanese bombers did not attack the field. The P-
400s were rearmed and refueled, and between 1410 and 1500 Maj.
Hubbard and Lts. Canning and Ramp bombed and blindly strafed
Japanese troop concentrations west of Point Cruz. The Marines
below directed the attacks and reported that they had been very
effective. Canning described their technique:
"The landscape on Guadalcanal was a series of parallel ridges,
their tops covered by brown grass and separated by deep ravines
covered in heavy jungle, where the Japs would hide. The Marines
would mark the ridge top where they were sitting with three panels,
and anything beyond that point was fair game. We didn't learn until
later that our bombs would hit the tree canopy and explode there,
causing little damage. The Marines reported that the .30 and .50
caliber fire could be effective if concentrated on a target we actu-
ally saw or were accurately directed to, but most of the time we just
dropped bombs and fired into the jungle. One effective method of
finding the Japs was to takeoff at sunrise and catch them when they
were cooking breakfast. At that time of the day there was no wind,
and the smoke from their fires rose directly up, giving away their
position so we could accurately hit their camps. It didn't take long
for the Japs to figure out what we were doing and start phony fires
to throw us off."
On the night of 8/9 October the Nisshin again joined the Tokyo
Express to land heavy equipment on Guadalcanal. Before sunrise
the next morning nine Marine SBDs of VS-71 under John Eldridge
took off to attack the withdrawing Japanese shipping at first light.
They were followed at 0545 by threeP-39s and four P-400s from
Henderson led by Capts. John Mitchell and William Sharpsteen,
and followed by Lts. Farron, Gillon, Jacobson, Purnell, and Shaw
to escort the SBDs. Lt. Jacobson returned after three-quarters of an
hour with a defective belly tank. Five destroyers and a cruiser were
spotted withdrawing 150 miles from Guadalcanal in the New Geor-
gia Channel. The naval force had been attacked the night before
and the cruiser was smoking, and the destroyers were screening as
the SBDs attacked. They made several hits on the ships but were
interrupted by five Zeros and fi ve float planes. The Airacobras were
flying at 12,000 feet when they spotted the enemy float planes be-
low them and peeled off to attack. Capt. Mitchell, flying a P-39,
Fighter Command in World War II
Mitchell and Gillon.
On 9 October Capt. John Mitchell scored the first of his eight I 3AF victories
and the first ofthe 339FS' 163 victories ofWWlI when he downed afloatplane.
dove on a biplane from behind and 3,000 feet above and hit the
agile but fragile float Zero with his cannon, blowing it to pieces.
Mitchell's 37mm cannon jammed, as did his .50 caliber machine
guns, and he was unable to take advantage of downing other good
targets. Lt. William Shaw dove into a head on attack from 8,000
feet. The Jap never wavered, and Shaw had to veer off after hitting
the Zero with both his cannon and machine guns, causing it to fall
into a spin. Shaw's aircraft was hit in the prop by small caliber
7.7mm bullets but kept flying. Lt. Farran was flying under Shaw's
spinning victim and finished it off when all his guns jammed and
he left the battle. Capt. Sharpsteen dove from 5,000 feet and missed
a .50 caliber full-deflection shot. He came around for a head on
attack and all his guns jammed. As the Japanese plane approached
the American plane was hit several times. A shell penetrated the
windscreen and cut Sharpsteen's face and hands. Lt. Purnell in a P-
400 hit a Japanese plane with his .50 caliber guns, as his 20mm
jammed. The bullets blew pieces off of the enemy, but Purnell had
to break off his attack before he could see the fate of his quarry, but
was credited with a victory. Lt. Oscar Gillon made three head-on
passes and undershot his target each time, and all his guns jammed
on the third pass and he left the battle. The Japanese shipping es-
caped with slight damage. The 339FS had scored its first aerial
victories of the 163 it would score during the war. The pilots cursed
the chronic gun jamming that deprived them of more victories that
Late that afternoon, the P-39s took part in two more missions
carrying 100lb. incendiaries and GP bombs. Capt. Mitchell and Lts.
Banfield, Dews, Dinn, Farron, Gillon, Jacobson, Purnell, Shaw, and
Stem hit the Marovovo area beyond Cape Esperance directed by
Marine forward observers. For his action that day Shaw was awarded
the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC). The next day the P-39s
flew two missions up to New Georgia as an escort for SBDs on
shipping attacks.
By 11 October both sides wished to bring the battle for
Guada1canal to a conclusion. The Japanese sent down 101 aircraft
in two attack waves. The first wave consisted of 18 Zeros and nine
Bettys, and the second wave consisted of 29 Zeros and 45 Betty
bombers to knock out Henderson. The first wave turned back at the
Russell Islands. At 1220 Henderson radar picked up the second
formation at 140 miles out. The three P-400s flew their customary
Part Two, Chapter 4 - October 1942
On II October, I Lt. Howard Stern became the first 339
KIA when he
bailed out at low altitude and his chute did not open. (Canning)
ground support missions, while nine P-39s of the 339FS were
scrambled with 39 F4Fs (8 fromVF-5, 15 from VMF-121, and 16
from a mixed VMF-223 and 224 formation). The P-39s climbed to
19,000 feet when oxygen failure relegated them to watching the
Japanese formations that were engaged by VMF-224 Wildcats,
which shot down four Zeros and seven bombers. Heavy cloud pre-
vented VF-5 and VMF-121 from contacting the enemy, but also
prevented the Japanese from completing their mission. Several
bombers trying to escape from the fight descended and Capt. Will-
iam Sharpsteen and Lt. Robert Rist of the 339FS each shot one
down. 1Lt. Howard Stern became the first 339
KIA when he bailed
out at low altitude and his chute did not open.
Battle of Cape Esperance, 11/12 October 1942
The naval task force under R.Adm. Norman Scott had protected
the convoy that brought in the 164th Infantry, and afterward were
assigned to disrupt Japanese supply and reinforcements coming
down from Rabaul and the northern Solomons (e.g. Tokyo Express).
Scott commanded the light cruisers Boise and Helena and heavy
cruisers Salt Lake City and San Francisco, as well as the destroyers
Buchanan, Duncan, Farenholt, Laffey, and McCalla, which were
loitering off the coast of Rennell Island, out of range of Japanese
air reconnaissance but within five hours of Savo. There were two
other task forces in the lower Solomons: one was a carrier group
led by the Hornet, and another group led by the battleship Wash-
ington. The Express was ready to come down the Slot with six de-
stroyers and the seaplane tenders Nisshin and Chitose, supported
by R.Adm. Aritomo Goto's three heavy cruisers and two destroy-
ers that were to make a run off Henderson and bombard the area. At
1345 Henderson SBD search planes and B-17s from Espiritu Santo
reported two cruisers (actually the seaplane tenders) and six de-
stroyers steaming down the Slot. The afternoon air attacks on
Henderson prevented further air recon on the Japanese force, and
the Nisshen-Chitose Force was undetected and unloaded its troops,
heavy artillery, and supplies and escaped safely back up the Slot.
Scott steamed toward Cape Esperence, off the western end of
Guadalcanal, and at 2200 was converging on Goto's force in Sealark
Channel, moving along the north coast. Scott launched his search
float planes, but one from the Salt Lake City crashed and burned in
the water some distance from the cruiser. The Japanese thought
that the fire was a signal fire from the shore and answered with
searchlights. The USN search planes spotted the Japanese ships,
and radar contact was made at the same time at ten miles. Scott's
force held the classic naval advantage when it crossed the "T" of
the oncoming line of Japanese warships. At 2346 the Americans
opened fire, and 35 minutes later the Japanese lost their commander,
Goto, who was killed on the bridge of his flagship, the Aoba, the
heavy cruiser Furutaka, and the destroyer Fabuki. The Aoba was
heavily damaged but made it back to Japan for repairs. However,
the official U.S. Navy summary at the time reported one Japanese
cruiser sunk, one heavily damaged, and four destroyers and a trans-
port sunk. Scott lost the destroyer Duncan, and the Salt Lake City
and Farenholt were lightly damaged. The Navy Department had
not announced their defeat at Savo and decided now that with this
victory at Esperance, the results of the two battles could be an-
nounced to the public to soften the Savo debacle.
On the 12
the Cactus Air Force had a full schedule to mop up
after the naval battle of the night before. The rains of early October
and the maximum effort flying schedule made the fields a hazard-
ous morass for operations. The P-400s of the 67FS flew ground
support missions, attacking gathering Japanese troops west of the
perimeter and newly arrived landing barges between Kokumbona
and Tassafaronga. At 0515 eight 339
P-39s under Capt. John
Mitchell and 16 VMF-121 F4Fs under Maj. Duke Davis flew top
cover for two divisions of SBDs, five dive-bombers under Lt.Cdr.
John Eldridge (VS-71) and 11 under Lt.Col. Albert Cooley, CO of
MAG-14. They attacked three destroyers detached from the
Nissen-Chotise force to rescue the Goto Force survivors that
were retreating up the Slot, north of the Russell Islands. The SBDs
were not successful in their first attacks, but later Lt.Cdr. Louis
Kirn ofVS-3 with seven SBDs and six TBFs found two destroyers,
the Shirayuki and Murakumo, off the coast of New Georgia, and
soon the Murakumo was dead in the water due to a TBF torpedo
Fighter Command in World War II
On 12 October 1943, the 339'h'S Lt. Oscar Gillon was taking off on his sec-
ond mission of the day when his wheels became clogged with mud forced
up through the Marston matting and covered the wings of his aircraft. As he
attempted to lift off, his mud-laden fighter stalled and rolled over, off the left
side of the runway. Gillon was pulled from the burning inverted plane by
nearby Marines and, though burned, later returned to duty. (Canning)
hole in her side. Later in the afternoon a third mission led by
Eldridge's 11 SBDs and a lone TBF escorted by four 339FS P-39s
and eight VF-5 F4Fs searched for crippled Japanese shipping. South-
east of New Georgia they found a "heavy cruiser surrounded by a
light cruiser and two destroyers," that in fact were the disabled de-
stroyer Murakumo surrounded by the destroyers Shirayuki,
Natsugumo, and Asagumo, which had also been detached from the
Nissen-Chitose Force. The SBDs attacked the Natsugamo, and near
misses by seven 1,000lb. bombs tore open her hull, and she sank
quickly after the attack. The P-39s and F4Fs continued the attack
on the "cruiser" Mukagamo, strafing in the face of heavy AA fire,
but did not sink her. The Shirayuki later torpedoed the Muragamo
hull to end the battle and to secure the waters around Guadalcanal
for the time being. R.Adm. Richmond Turner's reinforcement con-
voy was able to reach Lunga safely the next morning. The 339,h'S
Lt. Oscar Gillon had been taking off on his second mission of the
day when his wheels became clogged with mud forced up through
the Marston matting and covered the wings of his aircraft. As he
attempted to lift off the mud-laden fighter stalled and rolled over,
off the left side of the runway. Gillon was pulled from the burning
inverted plane by nearby Marines and, though burned, later returned
to duty.
In the early morning (0530) of the 13'h the 67'h, led by Maj.
Hubbard with Lts. Holmes, Patterson, and Sawyer, attacked Japa-
nese landing barges that had been beached during the night at the
western end of Guadalcanal. The daily Japanese air strategy again
consisted of a double raid of 27 bombers (three aborted) escorted
by 18 Zeros in the lead group, and two hours behind, 14 bombers
and 18 Zeros. The Japanese hoped that the American fighters would
oppose the first group and then the second group would catch them
on the ground while rearming and refueling. The coast watcher on
New Georgia reported the first Japanese wave at 1115, and
Henderson radar picked them up at 1130. Despite the warning the
Japanese closed more quickly than expected and were over Lunga
... ~ . --.-;
During the naval shelling of Henderson on 13 October 1942, several
overnighting B-17s of the 11BG were so damaged that they were unable to
return to Espiritu SantoThis B-17 had a shell explode under its wing, sending
shrapnel through wing and fuselage and throwing dirt on its wing. (USAF)
at 1200. Col. Wallace scrambled 42 F4Fs (22 VMF-121, II VMF-
224, and nine VF-5), six PAOOs, and seven P-39s. The six P-400s
struggled to 14,000, and the seven P-39s climbed higher, but their
pilots only could watch the exiting Bettys flying away at 24,000
feet. The 42 F4Fs scrambled too late and did not attack in force,
and only one bomber was shot down by VF-5 and two Zeros and a
bomber by VMF-121. The bombers effectively bombed both air-
fields, scoring thirteen hits on the runways, destroying a laid-over
B-17, damaging 12 planes and blowing up 5,000 gallons of avia-
tion gasoline. The newly arriving 164'11 Infantry Division suffered
casualties as it disembarked at Lunga Point. The Seabees rushed
out to fill the holes with all available shovels, and even helmets.
Radar picked up the second Japanese wave at 1335, and they came
at 1400, when the American fighters were being refueled and re-
armed. Only 12 F4Fs of VMF-121 scrambled, but were bounced
from above by the Zeros as they were climbing. On this mission
Capt. Joe Foss shot down a Zero that overran him, but then had his
I OSmm and ISOmm artillery of the 4
Japanese Heavy Artillery Field Regi-
ment opened up on Henderson and the shipping off Lunga.The gun(s) were
dubbed "Pistol Pete" (and sometimes "Millimeter Mike") by the American
troops on the island.The guns fired at irregular periods, usually three or four
shells per hour, so that the men thought it was only one gun. (USMC)
Part Two, Chapter 4 - October 1942
oil cooler shot out and had to make a harrowing crashlanding, heavily
bouncing through the dirt and stopping just short of the trees at the
end of the runway.
Later that afternoon a patrolling SBD, two hundred miles from
Guadalcanal, found three transports and three destroyers approach-
ing Guadalcanal at high speed. The transports carried seven infan-
try battalions, heavy weapons, and tanks of the 17
Army. These
ships, called the High Speed Convoy, were part ofR.Adm. Takama's
Destroyer Squadron of six transports and eight destroyers.
In the early evening (1800), the newly landed 105mm and
ISOmm artillery pieces of the 4
Japanese Heavy Artillery Field
Regiment opened fire. Soon the guns found the range and shelled
the infantry positions at Kukum Beach, cratered the west end of the
Henderson runway, and the shipping off Lunga, including Adm.
Turner's flagship McCawley. The guns fired at irregular periods,
usually three or four shells per hour, so that the men thought it was
only one gun. The gun(s) was dubbed "Pistol Pete" (and sometimes
"Millimeter Mike") by the American troops on the island. The Japa-
nese decided that they would use a battleship bombardment of
Lunga/Henderson to facilitate the approach of the High Speed Con-
voy. Adm. Kurita Takeo's 3
Battleship Division (the Kongo and
Haruna), accompanied by R.Adm. Tanaka's 2
Destroyer Squad-
ron (the light cruiser Isuzu and nine destroyers), sped toward
Guadalcanal. At 0130 Kurita's float plane dropped three colored
flares, red over the western end of the runway, white over the Pa-
goda, and green over the eastern end of the runway. The men rushed
for their trenches just as shells began to fall. The Kongo fired spe-
cial14-inch incendiary shells that disgorged hundreds of fiery cin-
ders. The Haruna was loaded with HE shells, and both battlewagons
fired standard AP rounds. For two hours the two battleships lobbed
over 973 large caliber shells at the airfield. The thorough bombard-
ment pattern hit the runway and dispersal area, moved on to the
personnel bivouac area in the palm grove, and finally to the fuel
and ammunition dumps. A67
Squadron History described the bom-
"After midnight it started. First there was the noise of a small
plane, a lone one lung Charlie overhead. He dropped three flares; a
red one at the west end of the runway, a green one at the east end,
and a white one in the middle. We had hardly hit the foxholes be-
fore the air was filled with a bedlam of sound: the screaming of
shells, the dull roar of cannonading off shore, the whine of shrap-
nel, the thud of palm trees as they were severed and hit the ground,
and the lulls from the big noises, the ceaseless sifting of dirt into
the foxholes. We knew we were in for a shelling but we didn't know
how bad.
The first salvo hit the west side of the field and moved right
across it. It was pattern shelling, and the Japs did a thorough job of
it. First they plastered the runway and dispersal area, then they started
dropping shells in the palm grove where the campsites were. Planes
overhead dropped flares intermittently. Sometimes the whole area
was bright as day. The shells following trails, like comets, as they
whined over the palm trees. A gasoline dump and an ammunition
dump were hit and went up in flames. Airplanes were burning all
over the field.
And in hundreds of little foxholes in the palm groves and the
jungle men were cringing and praying. Once some of the 67
looked up to see a star shell burst directly above. They knew the
next salvo would knock the hell out of them. It did, killing five
dive-bomber pilots in a nearby foxhole.
The Japanese let up only to cool their guns (14-inch shells,
mostly). There was no relief from agonizing fear during these lulls.
The men knew there would be more shells, and the next ones would
probably be closer.
Two of the 67
pilots with an eye for comfort and style had
dug themselves a foxhole big enough to hold two cots. 'We will be
below ground level even on the cots,' they explained, 'so nothing
can hurt us except a direct hit, and if you get a direct hit nothing
matters anyway. So we will just lay there and watch the fireworks
go by.' When the first shell came over they rolled off their cots and
hugged the ground. Then when the sound stopped they got up and
dusted themselves off and reasoned with each other, 'Now, we
looked silly this time acting on mechanical impulse. Next time we
will just lie still.' Then there was the whine of another shell and
both of them hit the ground again.... This ritual was repeated three
more times, then they both threw their cots out of the foxhole and
hugged the good earth.
Past midnight and on and on into the morning the shells came.
In the foxholes there were cases of men screaming at God and sob-
bing for their mothers and gibbering like idiots. It seemed as if the
horror would never cease. And there were other cases of unsung
heroes who kept up a steady banter of quips and jibes.
At 3 AM, October 14
the shelling finally stopped. The battle-
ships pulled away from Lunga Point, as they believed that after
pouring such a tonnage of steel and explosive, nothing living could
The warships withdrew at 0300 and were followed by a series
of formations of two bombers each that dropped bombs until dawn.
In a day the Japanese shells and shrapnel had reduced the opera-
tional air strength at Henderson by 52 aircraft: from 39 to seven
SBDs; 41 to 29 F4Fs; six to two P-39s; and the four P-400s es-
caped. Fighter One fared somewhat better, as of the 30 Marine
Wildcats 18 were flyable. Nearly all the aviation gasoline was on
Marine SBD dive-bomber destroyed during the bombardment by the Japa-
nese battleships Kongo and Hurono during the night of 13 November 1942.
The naval bombardment almost put Henderson out of commission. (USMC)
Fighter Command in World War II
,-_.-- ........--".... _",. --="
The repair crews at Henderson were organized to quickly repair the Marston.
There are two B-17s and two P-39s parked at the upper far right of the
photo. (USAF)
fire, and there were 13 large craters in the Marston Matting on the
runway. The AP shells that hit the field burrowed deep, but made
very narrow, easily filled holes. The bombardment killed 41 Ameri-
cans; VMBS-14l suffered particularly heavy losses during the bom-
bardment, as it lost its CO, Maj. Gordon Bell, and four pilots. Seven
B-17s of the llBG were lying over at Henderson after a long bomb-
ing mission over Buka and Tonolei, and two were rendered unflyable
by shrapnel. Five Fortresses loaded their ground crews and seven
VF-5 pilots and took off for Espiritu Santo in mid-morning, and
were followed by a sixth that was quickly repaired and took off on
three engines. The bivouac area in the palm trees was littered with
fallen trees, fronds, coconuts, and debris from tents and buildings,
as the shells burst in the treetops. Shrapnel from the shells shred-
ded the tents and pilots' personal belongings, and the returning pi-
lots had to watch for falling trees and coconuts.
At 0500 the Japanese Combined Fleet announced that the
American air force on Guadalcanal had been decimated, but at 0540
SBDs took off from Henderson for their morning search and two
Marine F4Fs took off from Fighter One for their dawn patrol. Pistol
Pete began shelling the field, but the 6
Seabees filled shell craters
as quickly as the Japs could make them. Four P-400s were loaded
with 100lb. bombs while their pilots waited in nearby foxholes with
their parachutes strapped on. Between shell bursts a pilot would
make a run for his fighter, and finally the four P-400s (Maj. Hubbard
and Lts. Dewey, Morton, and Sawyer) took off to find and destroy
"Pete". As the P-400s approached the guns stopped firing, and the
Americans were unable to locate them, but strafed newly landed
barges and troops. Later, five P-400s (Lts. Dewey, Goerke, Holmes,
Kaiser, and Kerstetter) again took off to find "Pete," and again were
unsuccessful. The "Pete" search had to be called off to conserve
The shortage of gasoline restricted more air operations that
day, but on the bright side eight new SBDs arrived. The Japanese
artillery kept the 6
Seabees busy repairing craters on the runway.
Pre-cut sections of Marston Matting and loaded dump trucks were
ready to move on any new craters. The Seabees learned from expe-
rience how big the typical bomb and shell crater would be and filled
their dump trucks accordingly with sand and gravel, then stationed
them near the field. Once the air raid was finished or a shell had hit
the field the trucks would drive out and fill the crater. These were
followed by pneumatic tampers, a section of steel mat was placed,
and the crater would vanish in a half hour. Gen. Geiger finally de-
cided that the Pagoda gave the Japanese artillery spotters and bomber
crews a too convenient reference point and ordered that it be bull-
dozed. The radio equipment was transferred to a tunnel, and avia-
tion HQ moved into the trees south of Fighter One. The coast watcher
on New Georgia reported enemy aircraft at 0945. f4Fs were
scrambled-five from VF-5, 16 from VMF-12l, and four from
VMF-224-but the Japanese never arrived, and one F4F of VF-5
ground looped on landing, reducing the Navy fighter strength to
four. At ll57 the first wave of another two-prong Japanese attack
appeared without warning due to malfunctioning radar. The first
wave of 26 bombers, escorted by 18 Zeros, made the attack. Cactus
scrambled 25 F4Fs (12 from Foss' VMF-121, nine from Galer's
VMF-224, and four from Jensen's VF-5). To clear the field of tar-
gets most of the operational SBDs and P-39/400s followed them.
Before the Wildcats could gain altitude the Japanese bombers were
over Cactus and dropped their bombs on the two airfields, only
causing further damage to the wrecked aircraft below and making a
few more craters. Neither the Japanese nor Americas suffered any
losses in this attack. At 1303 the second wave of 12 bombers, es-
corted by IS Zeros, arrived, but this time the Wildcats were wait-
ing. Galer's VMF-224 shot down four bombers and three Zeros
(Galer got his 14
and final victory), and VF-5 got five bombers
(Lt. H a y d ~ n Jensen claimed two for his sixth and seventh victo-
After the air raid Pistol Pete continued to shell the airfields.
The Seabees filled crater after crater, but Pistol Pete was firing eight
to ten shells per hour, and by afternoon the field was inoperable.
Pete hit two F4Fs from VF-5, reducing its operable strength to two.
Marine HQ issued the following bleak communique:
"We don't know if we can hold the field or not. There's Japa-
nese task force of destroyers, cruisers, and troop transports headed
our way. We have enough gasoline left for one mission against them.
Over weeks the Pagoda was much improved from the open-sided Japanese
building, but later Maj.Gen.vandegrift had the building demolished, as he felt
it was an aiming point for Japanese naval shelling and aerial bombing. (USMC)
Part Two, Chapter 4 - October 1942
Load your airplanes with bombs and go out with the dive-bombers
and hit them. After the gas is gone we'll have to let the ground
troops take over. Then your officers and men will attach themselves
to some infantry outfit. God luck and good bye."
At 1600 SBDs spotted the Tokyo Express 180 miles from
Guadalcanal. Four P-39s armed with a 300lb. bomb and two P-
400s with 100 lb. bombs (piloted by Capt. Sharpsteen and Us. Dinn,
Farran, Haedtler, Miller, and Sawyer) took off with four SBDs to
find the oncoming Tokyo Express. The formation spotted the Japa-
nese task force off the coast of Santa Isabel. There were six trans-
ports in line covered by eight destroyers and cruisers, four on each
side. The formation dove safely through heavy AAfire, and Marine
SBD 2Lt. J. Waterman of VMSB-141 scored a direct hit on a trans-
port, but no other damage was done to the frantically maneuvering
ships. There was no gasoline available for another mission, but some-
one remembered the two abandoned llBG B-17s and their gaso-
line was siphoned off. At 1715 Capt. Mitchell and Lts. Farron and
Shaw in P-39s, and Us. Barr, Headtler, Holmes, Miller, and Saw-
yer in PAOOs, all armed with 500lb. bombs, flew with the SBDs to
attack the Japanese force, nowjust off the end of Santa Isabel. Saw-
yer and Haedtler returned early to base with mechanical problems.
Haedtler made a landing after dark, hit a pile of steel matting off
the edge of the field, and tore off a wing that killed a Marine field
maintenance man, but Haedtler was uninjured. The, SBDs scored
two near misses, and all aircraft strafed the ships before returning
to base as their ammunition ran out. Lt. Barr was the last pilot to
make a firing pass and was thought to have been hit by AA fire and
did not return to base. The returning aircraft had to land on Fighter
One, as Haedtler's wrecked aircraft was blocking the runway. Barr
managed to make it to Russell and returned to Cactus on the 21st.
Geiger desperately needed to reinforce Cactus air strength as
soon as possible. During the day, pilots from Lt.Col. Joe Bauer's
VMF-212 ferried SBDs from Efate to Espiritu Santo, then rode a
transport aircraft back to get their fighters. Just before sunset Lt.Cdr.
Raymond Davis of VB-6 flew in eight SBDs. But the situation at
Cactus was grave, as the regular Tokyo Express and Takama's High
Speed Convoy were about to deliver their troops that night, and
there was the threat of another bombardment by battleships sup-
ported by light cruisers and destroyers. That night everyone on
Guadalcanal hunkered down and waited.
At midnight Takama's High Speed Convoy was landing its
troops, weapons, and supplies 15 miles away between Tassafaronga
and Kokumbona, while the Express, two light cruisers and four
transports, landed troops at Cape Esperance. Shortly afterward two
heavy Japanese cruisers, the
Chokai and Kinugasa, and two destroyers under VAdm.
Gunichi Mikawa cruised off Lunga (now called "Sleepless Lagoon"
by the Marines) and lobbed 752 eight-inch shells at the airfield.
By dawn on the 15'h, the six Japanese transports did not sneak
away before light, but blatantly lay offshore west of Kokumbona,
hurriedly unloading the last of 10,000 infantry and supplies. The
Convoy was protected by destroyers cruising offshore and an um-
brella of fighters. Takama had gambled that the naval bombard-
ment had nullified American air power and that the continuing ar-
tillery barrage from Pistol Pete would prevent any surviving air-
craft from leaving the field. Actually, there wasn't enough fuel avail-
able for the remaining undamaged aircraft at Henderson to do much
of anything about this full-fledged invasion. At 0800 two F4Fs of
VF-5 took off, climbed to 7,000 feet, and dove into AA fire as they
strafed the transports anchored in a line. The Wildcats turned and
made a second run, then returned to base chased by a Jap seaplane
that they turned on and damaged. The gasoline shortage was re-
duced when someone remembered a hidden reserve of over 400
drums of fuel. Then by mid-morning, C-47s of the Marine trans-
port squadron VMJ-253 and the AAF 13
Troop Carrier Squadron
began to bring in drums of gasoline from Espiritu Santo. The R4Ds
(Marine C-47s) landed and braked to a stop and unloaded quickly,
with their engines running, hoping to take off before Pistol Pete
found the range. They continued their gasoline nms for a week,
while YP boats from Tulagi brought in another 200 drums. Each
drum could keep a fighter in the air for an hour. Ground crews
worked feverishly to repair damaged aircraft to get them into the
air. Everyone pitched in; pilots, ground crew, and any available
personnel to help in belting ammunition and rolling the newly de-
livered gasoline drums for delivery to the dispersal, then transfer-
ring the fuel from the drums to the aircraft. It took ten men to load
a 500lb. bomb onto a truck that then transported the bombs as close
as possible to the aircraft, where they were pushed off and then
rolled through the mud and under the belly of the fighter. As many
men as could get under each plane lifted the slippery bombs onto
the bomb shackles.
The three serviceable SBDs were scrambled from Fighter One,
but two were destroyed when they hit shell craters in the runway.
The P-39s and P-400s took off individually at 0700 and flew for
only a few minutes to bomb and strafe the transports that were cov-
ered by Zeros and heavy AA fire from the destroyers. When the
Airacobras reached the target they tried to ignore the Zeros and
flak, dove, and attempted to line up the ship below in the center of
their gunsight, then drop the bomb and get out at mast top level to
return to Henderson to rearm. The attacks only interrupted the un-
loading and caused no damage. At 1015 twelve SBDs of VMSB-
141 and Captains Mitchell and Sharpsteen in P-39s carrying 500lb.
bombs, accompanied by P-400s flown by Us. Campbell, Dewey,
and Holmes armed with 100lb. bombs, attacked the Convoy. Five
VMF-121 F4Fs flew cover. Sharpsteen claimed a probable hit or
near miss on a transport and then shot down a Zero that flew in
front of his aircraft for his second victory. Sawyer and Holmes also
claimed hits on a transport each, burtheir claims were probably
wishful thinking. The SBDs lost three pilots. At 1125 Capt.
Sharpsteen and Us. Dinn, Farron, Jacobson, and Purnell in P-39s
and Us. Dews, Kaiser, Kerstetter, and Sawyer in P-400s attacked
the Convoy again. At the same time eleven B-17s of the IlBG from
Espiritu Santo joined the attack and scored three hits on a transport.
Dinn claimed a possible direct hit on a transport that sunk, but his
claim may have been a transport hit by a B-17. Lt. Farron was hit
either by AA fire or by a marauding Zero and failed to return to
base. In the attack three transports were so extensively damaged
that they had to be beached, while the other two beat a hasty retreat.
Despite the air attacks the Japanese managed to land 4,500 troops
Fighter Command in World War II
and their equipment, as well as much of their gasoline and ammu-
nition. That day six more SBDs arrived, and Marine R4Ds flew in
enough gasoline so some operations could be carried out the next
day. At the end of the day the Marines had lost three F4Fs and three
SBDs, and the AAF lost one P-39 (Farron).
In a 67
Fighter Squadron Summary of 13 October 1942, en-
titled "Comments on Combat on Guadalcanal," the pilots of the
squadron gave their views on ground support and anti-shipping at-
tacks. Their observations were based first on advice given to them
by Marine SBD pilots and then by their combat experience. They
found that anti-shipping attacks should start in a shallow dive from
12,000 to 14,000 feet to about 8,000 to 10,000 feet, where they
would trim the aircraft for control and begin their bombing run.
The most effective anti-shipping attack was from stern to bow, with
the bomb release occurring just as the bow was about to disappear
under the nose. Strafing runs were to be made after the dive-bomb-
ing attack.
That night, just after midnight, the cruisers Myoko and Maya
and their destroyer escort came down the Slot and fired over 1,500
eight-inch shells on Henderson for an hour and destroyed several
more aircraft. The shelling was short but intense, and the men around
Henderson hunkered down in their shelters as the shells exploded
around them. Many felt that the Navy had abandoned them and left
them unprotected. Morale was at a low point, and scuttlebutt had it
that the Japanese were reinforcing the island nightly and that they
were in serious danger of being over run.
Most of the Japanese troops, equipment, and supplies had
reached shore, but the Japanese had placed these newly landed troops
and supplies in temporary dumps hidden in the trees near the beaches
until they could be moved inland. Over the next several days the
mission of the 67
was to attack these vulnerable troops and sup-
plies. They attacked the Japanese in short hops; taking off, climb-
ing quickly, dive-bombing, pulling up in a turn to come around and
strafe the area, and then flying back to base to rearm. Fortunately,
with the critical fuel situation, the targets were only a few miles
away. These repeated missions took their toll on the pilots and
ground crews, who had little sleep and subsisted on short rations of
hardtack and cold canned food. Men and aircraft wore out. On one
mission the remaining four PAOOs were readied for takeoff. One
was armed with a bomb but had only one .30 caliber machine gun
working, another carried a bomb and had no guns functioning, and
numbers three and four carried no bombs but had most of their
guns in service. Records show that combat fatigue forced the evacu-
ation of a number of men back to New Caledonia on the 18
of the
After the loss of 13 SBDs destroyed (plus 13 damaged and
repaired and ten damaged and requiring major overhaul), five TBDS
destroyed (plus three damaged and needing major overhaul), six
F4Fs destroyed (plus three damaged and repaired), and four PAOO
and P-39s destroyed, the operational strength on Cactus on the 16
was down to 19 SBDs, nine F4Fs, two P-39s, and four P-400s.
During the day the six remaining Air Force fighters joined the SBDs
and F4Fs in seven bombing and strafing attacks on the Tassafaronga
landing sites. That afternoon nine Vals attacked and critically dam-
aged the fuel tanker, McFarland, as it layoff Lunga Point, but not
before the tanker had pumped 40,000 gallons of fuel to barges, but
unfortunately also had taken 160 wounded aboard for evacuation.
As the Japanese Vals were diving on the tanker seven SBDs and 19
F4Fs of VMF-212 under Lt.Coi. Harold Bauer just arrived from
Espiritu Santo. With his fuel tanks almost empty Bauer got into
action, downing four Vals, and then turned to land and report in to
his CO, Gen. Geiger. After losing 27 killed and 28 wounded the
McFarland sailed back to Noumea.
With the arrival of new pilots the veterans could be sent out for
long overdue R&R. The last pilots of Smith's VMF-223, Mangrum's
VMSB-232, and Simpler's VF-s left by the 12
\ and VMF-
224, now under Maj. John Dobbin, left with the last 12 pilots. MAG-
23 CO WilliamWallace turned over tactical air command to MAG-
14. From 20 August to 16 October MAG-23 and its attached units
claimed 244 Japanese aircraft destroyed (III.s by VMF-223, 60.5
by VMF-224, 38 by VF-s, and eight by the 67FS; the remainder
were by the newly arrived VMF-121 and VMF-212 and by gun-
ners on SBDs and TBFs). Anti-shipping claims were for 28 ships
hit, six "seen to sink," and four "believed to have sunk." Japanese
records credit six sunk: three transports, two destroyers, and an
auxiliary cruiser-transport. MAG-23 lost 22 of its own pilots (three
to naval bombardment) and 33 attached Marine, Navy, and Air Force
pilots (five to naval gunfire). The KIAIMIA rate would have been
much higher if it had not been for the pilot and crew rescues by
coast watchers and friendly natives.
On the 17th P-39s, PAOOs, and six B-17s attacked the Japa-
nese supply base at Kokumbona. That night the Tokyo Express made
its last major foray for a time when four destroyers shelled the two
airfields. 18 October the Pistol Pete artillery pieces closed
Henderson for five days, and only Fighter One remained opera-
tional. To make matters worse, the Marine infantry waiting on the
Lunga perimeter were near their physical and mental breaking
points. The P-400s were one step from the scrap heap and could no
longer undertake long overwater missions, but with heroic mainte-
nance, could accompany P-39s and SBDs on short hop sorties to
bomb and strafe Japanese ships, landing boats, troops, and supplies
from Matanikau to Cape Esperance. The Japanese AA positions
near Kokumbona were proving to be particularly troublesome. On
the 21st Lt. Haedtler knocked out two positions with bombs, and Lt.
Dewey destroyed one position. The last 67FS hangar remaining
was destroyed by artillery fire, and Capt. Mitchell moved everyone
to Fighter One. Lt. Edgar Barr, who was shot down the previous
week, managed to swim to the Russell Islands and made contact
with a coast watcher, who notified the Navy. He was returned by a
PT boat from the Russell Islands with a wrenched back and knee,
and was evacuated by a CA7.
The new Marine fighter squadrons (VMF-121 and VMF-212)
quickly got blooded. On the 17
, Duke Davis ied eight F4Fs of
VMF-121 to intercept Japanese bombers over Kukem Beach, and
they shot down eight dive-bombers and two Zero escorts. The next
day five F4Fs from VMF-121 and six from VMF-212 shot down
six bombers and 15 Zeros over Cactus. Capt. Joe Foss shot down
two Zeros and a bomber to become an ace. VMF-121 got two more
on the 19
\ and on the 20
VMF-121 claimed four Zeros and a
dive-bomber, while VMF-212 claimed five Zeros and two dive-
Part Two, Chapter 4 - October 1942
bombers, and pilots from each squadron shared a dive-bomber. The
four-day total was 45 Japanese aircraft destroyed, and the Grummans
blunted the Japanese air attacks in preparation for their next big
offensive and maintained local air superiority.
Among the many problems faced by Nimitz in the South Pa-
cific, the most important was that of leadership. The deteriorating
situation on land and sea had made the typically cautious Ghormley
into the indecisive Ghormley, who did not leave his shipboard of-
fice at Noumea for a month. As the American naval defeats off
Guadalcanal continued Ghormley succumbed to debilitating worry
and depression. Finally, on the 18
Ghormley was relieved by
VAdm. William "Bull" Halsey as Nimitz, backed by Arnold, fi-
nally decided that the precarious situation at Guadalcanal needed a
more aggressive and decisive commander whose personality would
be able to inspire the beleaguered troops on the island. As early as
the mid-I920s Halsey was an advocate of naval aviation, but was
unable to qualify as a pilot due to poor vision. He persisted, and
finally in 1934 became a qualified pilot at the age of 52. Halsey had
carried out Nimitz' directive to carry out carrier attacks on Japa-
On 20 October Adm. William "Bull" Halsey (right) relieved VAdm. Robert
Ghormley (left) as commander of the South Pacific area (COMSOPAC).
nese bases in the Pacific with raids against Kwajalein in February
1942, and followed by raids on the Marshall, Gilbert, Wake, and
Marcus Islands. Halsey's appointment was widely hailed by both
the Naval command and the men on the ships. Halsey immediately
deep-sixed Ghormley's deni plan and committed to a zealous de-
fense of Cactus by air and ground reinforcements. He also sorted
out logistics problems and soon increased supply. Halsey's vigor
and decisiveness galvanized the beleaguered Marines on Cactus
and the sailors in the Slot. For his accomplishments on Guadalcanal
Halsey would be promoted to full Admiral on 26 November 1942.
Halsey and his Chief of Staff, Capt. Miles Browning, and 15
Staff Officers set up shop on Noumea and took charge of the entire
South Pacific (COMSOPAC)-on the ground, the sea, and in the
air. Also at this time the continuing Army-Navy aircraft deploy-
ment controversy was close to being settled. During the Guadalcanal
campaign Harmon had the problem of procuring regular crew and
aircraft replacement. His requests were met with the South Pacific
low priority "Europe first" rebuttal. Finally the situation at
Guadalcanal became so critical that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had to
Lt.Gen. Millard Harmon. Commander of the U.s. Army Air Forces in the
South Pacific Area. (USAFISPA)
Fighter Command in World War II
The aftermath of the Japanese air attack. Here a
hangar is burning in the background (center); a
F4F is damaged and knocked off its wheels on
the far left, but a P-400139 remains standing on
its tricycle gear on the far right. (USAF)
relent, and on 27 October the JCS accepted a complete schedule of
Army-Navy aircraft deployment. The plan called for a minimumof
70 heavy bombers, 52 medium bombers, and 150 fighters to be
under the command of Nimitz, but that he assign them to
COMSOPAC, as the units were not to be divided. Immediately,
Halsey's appointment brought new optimism to theAAF in the South
Pacific. Harmon had established his command at Noumea, New
Caledonia, even though New Zealand was the authorized HQ for
the South Pacific. The move put Harmon's HQjust across the har-
bor from COMSOPAC HQ stationed on the Argonne.
The Japanese senior commander, Lt.Gen. Harukichi Hyakutake,
was planning a coordinated three-pronged ground offensive on the
American beachhead set tentatively for the 18
Lt.Gen. Masao
Maruyama would lead the offensive, with his nine infantry battal-
ions assigned to attack the southeast perimeter of Henderson.
Maj.Gen. Kiyotake Kawaguchi, leader of the Bloody Ridge attack,
was to attack the east perimeter, and Maj.Gen. Yumio Nasu was to
attack the west perimeter. Maj.Gen. Tadashi Sumiyoshi was to bring
two infantry battalions and a tank company against the Matanikau
River line. Sumiyoshi also commanded the majority of Japanese
artillery, including the "Petes," and was to shell the perimeter and
lead a diversionary attack across the river. Before the attack could
begin Maruyama had to cut trails through the jungle to move his
force to their jump off points near the airfield. The complacent Japa-
nese did no previous reconnaissance of the forbidding jungle, and
this oversight would cost Maruyama. Heavy rains then slowed
progress further, damaged communications equipment, and forced
the abandonment of heavy weapons that would be needed for sup-
pOlting fire during the attack. The slow-moving Japanese battal-
ions were forced to postpone their assault to the 22
, and finally to
the 24
, when maximum but separate, uncoordinated attacks, lack-
ing communications and supporting fire, were made. However, air
reconnaissance and ground patrols failed to discover the Japanese
trail building. On the 23
the Japanese sent down a large air fleet to
attack the American perimeter in preparation for Hyakutake's of-
fensive. The two Marine squadrons sent up 24 F4Fs to intercept
and shot down 21 Zeros (ten each by VMF-12l and VMF-212)
and one bomber (by VMF-121). Capt. Joe Foss shot down four
Zeros to become a double ace with 11 victories. Sumiyoshi contin-
ued to be uninformed of the change of plans as to the delay in the
start of the offensive to the 24
On the 23
he began a heavy con-
centration of artillery fire on the Matanikau perimeter and sent a
tank column, followed by infantry, across the sandbar at the mouth
of the river towards the Marines in heavy, intermittent rains. The
Marine artillery fired behind the Japanese tanks, decimating
the waiting infantry. 75mm guns mounted on U.S. half-tracks
knocked out the enemy tanks as they tried to cross the Matanikau,
and then the lSI and 2
Battalions of the 5
Marines held back four
furious Japanese attacks, mowing down over 2,000 Japanese troops.
The rainy weather prevented close air support from Henderson.
Sumiyoshi regrouped that evening and launched a dawn attack on
~ - ,-;,- -'
,... '."
A Marine SBD Dauntless is totaled by a direct hit during "Tojo Time," the
almost daily early afternoon air raids on Cactus. (USMC)
Part Two, Chapter 4 - October 1942
the Matanikau. At sunrise the P-39s, P-400s, and SBDs began close
air support on the Japanese positions just west of the Marine line.
At 0645 Lts. Haedtler and Holmes dropped 100lb bombs on enemy
troop positions, and then returned to strafe until they were out of
ammunition. The numerous air attacks caused the aviation gasoline
supply at Henderson to be reduced to nearly empty, while the heavy
Marine artillery barrage depleted its stock. C-47s heroically landed
in heavy rains on a soggy field to bring in critical gasoline drums
and artillery shells. The heavy rains continued and grounded fur-
ther air support missions late that afternoon, but the Japanese main
thrust on the Matanikau had spent itself. The Japanese communica-
tions were broken, and the flexible Vandegrift was then able to di-
rect his Marine infantry to deal with each of the other divided, un-
coordinated Japanese attacks.
October 25
was named "Dugout Sunday," as Japanese threw
infantry and artillery, air raids, and naval guns of the light cruiser
Yura and five destroyers at the troops on the island. Due to the
heavy rains of the previous day Henderson was of no help, as it was
closed again; Fighter One became a morass, and operations had to
wait for the field to dry sufficiently by mid-morning. There were so
many Japanese air raids that day that Geiger's war diary states:
"Enemy fighter planes were over Cactus at irregular intervals
throughout the daylight hours. Our Grummans were almost con-
tinuously in the air, landing, refueling, reloading, and taking off
again, time after time." ,
Julius "Jake" Jacobson scored a direct hit on the Yum that caused flooding, and
she was so badly damaged that she had to be later sunk by her destroyer
escort. (Canning)
At 0800 five Zeros continued to circle Henderson without at-
tacking. Soon nine more Zeros and a medium bomber arrived and
circled, apparently waiting to land, thinking the field had been cap-
tured by Sumiyoshi. By 0930 the sun had dried the field enough for
eight F4Fs of VMF-121 to finally be scrambled, followed by four
more from VMF-212. The first F4Fs shot down three Zeros, two
more by Foss, and then the VMF-212 Wildcats got three more Ze-
ros and VMF-121 four Zeros. During a later attack at 1430,16 Japa-
nese bombers bombed a line of parked aircraft on Henderson, de-
stroying many of them. These aircraft were boneyard wrecks that
had been placed in the open to draw enemy attacks while opera-
tional aircraft were dispersed in the trees at the edge of the runway.
Again, the two Marine squadrons scrambled and shot down 12 Japa-
nese, seven Zeros, and five bombers. Foss got three Zeros on this
mission to become an ace-in-a-day and a triple ace with 16 victo-
ries. The Japanese air attacks further damaged the airfields, but the
Japanese Navy Air Force lost 22 aircraft-five Bettys and 17 Ze-
ros-losses that spent their ajr reserves. The Cactus Air Force lost
three fighters but no pilots, and its operational inventory totaled 11
SBDs, 12 F4Fs, three P-39s, and three P-400s.
At 0700 the next day, air reconnaissance and coast watchers
reported three enemy destroyers only 35 miles off the Guadalcanal
coast, and soon they were shelling the beach and sunk two small
vessels. Two fighters of the 67'h and two VS-71 SBDs managed to
slog through the mud and take off, but their strafing attacks on the
ships were ineffective. At 1300 an enemy naval force comprised of
the heavy cruiser Yum, three light cruisers (destroyers?), and two
destroyers were located 105 mjJes out, and were attacked by five
SBDs led by Lt.Cdr. John Eldridge of VS-71. The Yum took a di-
rect hit from Eldridge and was stopped dead in the water. At the
same time the P-39s attacked Japanese shipping off Lunga, sinkjng
a barge, tug, and patrol craft. At 1420 Lts. Dinn, Purnell, and
Jacobson attacked the ships off Florida Island, narrowly missing
them with 500lb. bombs. At 1630 the same three lieutenants and
Capt. John Mjtchell attacked the ships again, and Jacobson scored
a direct hit on the Yum that caused flooding, and she was so badly
damaged that she had to be sunk later by her destroyer escort. Near
misses bracketed a light cruiser as the warships withdrew. That day
the submarine Amberjack moved submerged toward the island and
surfaced offshore, bringing thousands of gallons of avjation gaso-
line in her spare tanks, 100lb. bombs, and 15 badly needed aircraft
mechanics and armorers from New Caledonia.
On the land, Surniyoshi's premature attack on the 23'd came
before Maruyama's forces could cut their way through the jungle
to be in position on the south of the perimeter. The Marine troops
that had been moved from the south perimeter to reinforce the
Matanikau and stop Sumiyoshi were now shifted back by Vandegrift
to the south to meet Maruyama. The southern Japanese attack did
not have any supporting artillery, as it had been abandoned on the
muddy jungle trails, and the attack had to rely on machine guns as
its heaviest weapons. At dawn, on the 25
, the furious, almost sui-
cidal Japanese attack was launched against the 7
Marines and 164
Infantry. The Japanese managed to penetrate American lines at sev-
eral points, but were repulsed and suffered gruesome losses to heavy
small arms, mortar, and artillery fire. By 0700 Maruyama was forced
Fighter Command in World War II
to withdraw to regroup his battered troops. After the "Dugout
Sunday's" constant heavy land, air, and sea attacks, both the Japa-
nese and Americans were regrouping to attack and defend their
positions, respectively. After sunset Maruyama ordered a last des-
perate frontal attack by wave after wave of fanatical infantry on
south Lunga Ridge. The Army 164
Infantry and 5
and 7
rines slaughtered the Japanese, who kept COIning, only to be stopped
by American artillery, mortar, small arms fire, and finally by hand-
to-hand combat. A night attack by Col. Oka almost broke through
to the airfield, but in the morning of the 26
the 7
Marines made a
furious counter attack that.drove the Japanese back into the jungle.
The 67FS' three old P-400s and two P-39s aided the Marine attack
by bombing and strafing the Japanese just south of Fighter One.
The Japanese ground attack had finally stopped, as they lost 3,568
troops. The third major Japanese offensive to retake Guadalcanal
was concluded, and their plans to capture Henderson and gain air
superiority to insure the unimpeded invasion of the island were
Capt. John Mitchell became the 339FS Co. Ranking with his contemporal-ies
in the Pacific-the Navy'sThach, Flatley, and O'Hare, and the Marine's Smith
and Foss-Mitchell was the ideal Commanding Officer of a fighter squadron
in a war zone. He was both a consummate fighter pilot and tactician. He led
by example, and trained his men hard to fight and to stay alive. (Mitchell)
ended. With each attack the Japanese had underestimated their en-
emy with disastrous results, first with Ichiki's Battalion, then
Kawaguchi's Brigade, and now Maruyama's Division. The Japa-
nese had been beaten off on the land, but the total fighter aircraft
available to counter them in the air was a precarious 18 aircraft:
three out of six P-400s; three of six P-39s; and 12 of 35 F4Fs.
There were command changes in the Army Air Forces during
the period. On the 24
Maj. Kermit Tyler, four first Lieutenants,
and 19 Second Lieutenants were transferred from the 44FS to duty
with the 339FS at Tontouta, with Tyler becoming squadron CO. On
the 25
Maj. Brannon transferred from CO ofthe 339
to tpe 347FG,
and Capt. John Mitchell became the 339FS CO. Mitchell's exper-
tise and leadership ranked him with his contemporaries in the Pa-
cific: the Navy's Thach, Flatley, and O'Hare; and the Marine's Smith
and Foss. He was the ideal Commanding Officer of a fighter squad-
ron in a war zone, as he was a consummate fighter pilot, tactician,
and leader of men. He led by example and trained his men hard to
fight and to stay alive. Veteran personnel from the 67FS were
mingled new arrivals from training in the States. The training and
administrative portion of the new squadron was to be located at
Oua Tom, then under construction on the central west coast of ew
Caledonia, while the operational portion was at Guadalcanal. Pi-
lots and ground crew were to be rotated in and out of Guadalcanal
back to Oua Tom at 25 mission intervals for the pilots, and about
every three months for the ground crew.
Battle of Santa Cruz. 26 October 1942
With the new Guadalcanal offensive the Japanese Navy was finally
committed to a major action as it gathered its forces from the Man-
dates. An e ~ o n e o u s communication stating that Guadalcanal was
in Japanese hands sputTed Lt.Gen. Harukichi Hyakutake at Rabaul
to send a powerful naval force to strike Guadalcanal. His forces
consisted of a Carrier Striking Force under VAdm. Chuichi Nagumo
of two carriers (Shokaku and Zuikaku), one light carrier (Zuiho),
one heavy cruiser, and seven destroyers; a second force of two battle-
ships (Hiei and Kirishima), three heavy cruisers, a light cruiser,
seven destroyers, and 12 submarines; and a Battleship Striking Force
under VAdm. Nobutake Kondo of two battleships (Kongo and
Haruna), a catTier (Junyo), three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser,
and eight destroyers. Adm. Halsey had to reach deep into his Pa-
cific reserves to meet this large Japanese force. He sent Task Force
16, consisting of the carrier Enterprise, newly repaired from the
damage of the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, and the new battle-
ship South Dakota from Hawaii to join a heavy and light cruiser
and five destroyers under R.Adm. Thomas Kinkaid. This force was
to join Task Force 17 under R.Adm. George Murray consisting of
the Hornet, two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and six destroy-
ers. The USN force, under the overall control of Kinkaid, was off
the Santa Cruz Islands on the 26
when a B-17 of the 5BG discov-
ered part of the Japanese force east of Malaita. The B-17, flown by
Lt. Mario Sesso, shadowed the enemy for 30 minutes before seven
Zeros off a carrier attacked it and caused heavy damage. The For-
tress beat off the attack and returned to Espiritu Santo to give its
report. The Battle of Santa Cruz took place on the 26
The results
were the sinking of the Hornet and the destroyer Porter. The Enter-
Part Two, Chapter 4 - October 1942
prise and battleship South Dakota, the cruiser San Juan, and de-
stroyer Smith were damaged. Twenty American planes were lost in
combat, and an additional 54 to other causes. The Japanese lost the
carrier Shokaku, the light carrier Zuiho, and the cruiser Chikuma,
and two destroyers were heavily damaged. They lost over 100 planes,
and more importantly, the experienced pilots flying them. After the
battle the remaining Japanese carriers and warships steamed slowly
off to the north. Japanese commander Nagamo had victory within
reach but withdrew, as he felt he had lost too many aircraft to chance
a meeting with the American fleet and its carrier aircraft, or to take
on land-based aircraft based at the still undefeated beachhead at
Guadalcanal. An attack by PBY Black Cats from Espiritu Santo
that night may also have influenced his decision, as one damaged a
destroyer and nearly missed getting a torpedo hit on the Zuikaku.
Following the Battle of Santa Cruz there were no raids on Cac-
tus, and American forces put pressure on the flagging Japanese air
bases and ground forces on Guadalcanal. Marine and Air Force air-
craft attacked Rakata, the home of "Louie the Louse" seaplanes,
Lt.Wallace Dinn, flying a P-39 carrying IOOlb. bombs, accompanied four SBDs
and six F4Fs to fly c o v e ~ then described a dive bombing and strafing attack
on the Japanese seaplane base at Rekata Bay on Santa Isabel Island. (Can-
four times in the next six days, while Air Force and other Marine
planes lent ground support on Japanese positions on the island and
flew continuous CAP. On the 28
Capt. John Mitchell and Lts.
Wallace Dinn and Jack Jacobson, flying P-39s carrying 100lb.
bombs, accompanied four SBDs and six F4Fs to fly cover and then
dive bomb and strafe the Japanese seaplane base at Rekata Bay on
Santa Isabel Island. The surprise morning attack on enemy installa-
tions was made through a 2,500 foot overcast with the SBDs diving
first, followed by the P-39s and then the Wildcats. The flights made
several runs without opposition. Dinn describes the action:
"After dropping our bombs we proceeded to strafe the enemy
float planes on the water and blast a few ground installations. Eight
enemy planes were reported destroyed, but I saw only six of them
get it. We experienced no enemy fire during several runs.
When we were pulling up off the target for home I spotted an
enemy gasoline dump of about 1,500 gallons well-camouflaged on
the beach. I called Capt. Mitchell's attention to my discovery, and
he told me to return and strafe the dump if I had any ammunition
left. My right .30 caliber wing guns were still firing so I went down.
The first burst set a small blaze at one end of the dump. I pulled
up and started down on the other end. As I dived I strafed the beach
and got in an extra burst at the already damaged float planes.
I had to fly along sideways to keep the two live guns on the
gasoline dump, and as I pulled up this time I heard a close explo-
sion and my right side went numb. This happened when I was thirty
feet off the water and a hundred feet or so from the coconut trees
along the shore. Smoke began filling my cockpit, and I saw Prestone
running in from the right side. Since I could move my arm without
difficulty I figured I wasn't hit badly, if at all.
Immediately I chandelled left, away from the enemy. Smoke
was boiling into the cockpit, and my breathing was becoming in-
creasingly difficult. The Prestone gauge was against the stop and
the oil was heating up like the devil. I tried to call Capt. Mitchell on
the radio to give him my position because I knew I would have to
bailout soon. I couldn't see any of our planes. When I receives no
answer, I knew my radio set had been disabled.
My burning ship struggled up to about 2,000 feet, and I spot-
ted two Marine fighters in front of me. I fired tracers in front of
them to attract their attention and immediately they turned. One
chap, named Watkins, seeing me smoking, pulled up along side.
My engine was pounding like hell and giving little power. Since
it was low tide there was a wide expanse of white sand below; I
started to crash-land but thought better of it when I realized how
near I was to the Jap seaplane base. So I figured I would have a
better chance of getting away if I bailed out.
I pulled the emergency door release, waved to Watkins, and
went over the side and seemed to fall in sort of a forward position
without tumbling. There was no sensation of falling. Probably I
was too excited to notice.
Suddenly I realized there was something else I should do-I
pulled the ripcord. The ground was coming up at an alarming rate,
and I began to wonder how I could land. It was all over in a mo-
ment. I came down with a bit of a thud in a little clearing at the foot
of a tree in which my chute had tangled. I cut my jungle pack free
Fighter Command in World War II
from my chute, cocked my .45, and started down the hillside." (Air.
Force Magazine March 1943)
On 30 October Gen. Vandegrift's Marines began their move to
the west supported by the light cruiser
Atlanta and four destroyers offshore. By 3 November they had
advanced to Point Cruz. That night the Tokyo Express disembarked
1,500 troops to the east of Lunga at Koli Point and stopped the
Marine offensive. On 4 November the
San Francisco, Helena, and Sterett shelled the newly landed
Japanese, and Marine and Army troops moved to the east the next
day to meet the current Japanese threat, and by the 8
had surrounded
and neutralized them.
At the end of October there were only 29 aircraft on opera-
tional status in the Cactus Air Force serviced and flown by 1,557
Marine and 197 Air Force aviation personnel. After a shamefullack
of support President Roosevelt ordered Gen. George Marshall and
Adm. Ernest King to immediately send additional troops, ships,
and aircraft to the Pacific, even if it meant cutting into the "Europe
first" mentality of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. By mid-November the
air situation had improved. The 347FG, activated in October with
the 339FS, had incorporated the 70
h, 69
, and 67
fighter squad-
rons. The 70
became part of Cactus Flight on 8 October when 11
new P-39s flew into Henderson. Four pilots of the 68
arrived on 7
November as the squadron moved from Tonga to New Caledonia.
Cactus Flight was under the 67FS until 2 December, when it began
to be referred to as the 347
Fighter Group. Elements of the 67
, 70
, and 339
rotated and operated through Cactus Flight as
early as mid-November. These fighter squadrons would not become
part of the 13
Fighter Command until January 1943 when the 13FC
was formed. Four squadrons of Lt.Col. William Brice's MAG-II
arrived at New Caledonia on 30 October and began to send aircraft
to Guadalcanal. On 1 November Maj. Joseph Sailer's, SBDs of
VMSB-132 began operations from Henderson, and nine pilots of
Maj. Paul Fontana's VMF-112 flew in by transport plane the next
day; the squadron completed its move nine days later. The new
units operated from the new strip at Turtle Bay that had been com-
pleted in three days by cutting through brush, filling in trenches,
foxholes, and bomb craters, and then grading and rolling the ground.
On 12 November Maj. Robert Richard's VMSB-142 and three pi-
lots from VMF-122 and VMSB-131-the Marine's first TBF tor-
pedo squadron at Cactus-began operations from Turtle Bay. AAF
bomber strength in the South Pacific increased to 50 B-17 and 20
B-26s, with 23 more heavy bombers on the way from Hawaii.
November 1942
In early November, at a time when there was a critical shortage
of personnel and materiel on the island, Adm. Turner decided to
push forward on one of his personal projects, the construction of a
secondary airfield at Aola Bay. Despite surveys that precluded the
area as an airfield site, Turner nonetheless diverted newly arrived
infantry, defense battalions, artillery units, and construction troops
that were vitally needed to strengthen perimeter defenses and to
improve Henderson and Fighter One. Turner wasted a month be-
fore abandoning the project. '
Despite the failure of their 23-25 October offensive the Japa-
nese began to plan for another offensive. Gen. Hyakutake, com-
mander of the 17
Army on Rabaul, decided to send Lt.Gen.
Tadayoshi Sano's division and its heavy equipment to Gaudalcanal
in larger troop transports instead of the Tokyo Express. Hyakutake
formed the Japanese 8
Area Army, and would personally take it to
Guadalcanal and recapture the island from a command post near
Kokumbona. Four naval task forces were organized to take the is-
land: two bombardment task forces to shell the American airfields
into oblivion; a third for general support; and the fourth to transport
troops and equipment. Despite their previous success the Japanese
did not wish to commit their carriers and would depend on land-
based aircraft and those that could be catapulted from cruisers. Japa-
nese troops remaining on the island after the third defeat were be-
ing reorganized west of the perimeter, one force west of Kokumbona
and a smaller force east at Koli. Vandegrift decided to strike first
while the Japanese were regrouping. He ordered an attack across
the Matanikau River to move the perimeter about five miles west
and capture the Kokumbona area. He would then move another 15
miles further west to the Poha River to finally put enemy artillery
out of range.
On I November the American attack began with an artillery
barrage across the river by the 11th Marines and 3
Defense Battal-
ion, and by naval cruisers shelling the Point Cruz area and west-
ward. P-39s and SBDs attacked Japanese infantry and artillery po-
sitions in front of the advance across the Matanikau, while 19 llBG
B-J7s from Espiritu Santo bombed Kokumbona. At 0615 Lts.
Dewey, Haedtler, Holmes, Jacobson, and Shaw strafed near Point
Cruz, and after the B-17s bombed Kokumbona they raked that area
with their guns. Dewey and Jacobson returned early due to me-
chanical problems with their over-worked aircraft. A second mis-
sion flown by Lts. Kerstetter and Patterson attacked artillery posi-
tions. A third mission flown by Capt. Mitchell and Lt. Jacobson
bombed the Kokumbona area but found that their bombs were duds
when they returned to strafe the area. A fourth mission flown by
Lts. Dewey, Haedtler, Holmes, and Patterson strafed ahead of the
advancing Army and Marine infantry, which was making good head-
way despite stubborn resistance. The fighters were guided by sig-
nal panels at the front indicating where they should bomb and strafe.
Lt.Arnold Patterson takes five
in front ofthe P-400 "Whistlin
Britches" he shared with Lt.
Zed Fountain. (Lansdale/
Haedtler via 347FGA)
Fighter Command in World War II
Haedtler left the battle early with jammed guns, and Patterson left
with propeller trouble. Lts. Dewey and Holmes bombed and strafed
Japanese road movement between Point Cruz and Lukumbona. On
the fifth mission Lts. Shaw and Purnell bombed and strafed
Kokumbona and reported starting several fires, a few of which ex-
ploded, indicating ammunition dumps. Once the initial bombard-
ment was lifted there were several crossings of the Matanikau by
the 5
Malines and 164
Infantry, gaining almost two miles in the
first day. The main Japanese resistance at the base of Point Cruz
was eliminated by several savage bayonet attacks by the 5
rines that killed 350 Japanese.
On the 2
the P-39s and P-400 continued day long close air
support, hitting Japanese troop movements, vehicles, artillery, AA
positions, bivouac areas, gasoline and ammunition dumps, and land-
ing boats. That day VS-71 lost its resolute leader, Lt.Cdr. John
Eldridge, and two Marine lieutenants of VMSB-132 on a volunteer
night SBD mission against suspected Japanese warships approach-
ing Guadalcanal.
On the 3
, 164
Infantry and 5
Marines moved another mile
beyond Point Cruz and were within two and half miles of
Kokumbona. The 67
joined in the attack, with P-400s and P-39s
flying in pairs carrying 100 and 500lb. bombs. Two bombed the
Japanese AA positions at Kokumbona that had made the area dan-
gerous for air attack. Soon aerial reconnaissance discovered that
the Japanese had landed troops to the east at Koli Point, near the
village of Tetere. To deal with the situation 15 SBDs, one TBF, five
P-39s (Capt. Mitchell, Lts. Dews, Jacobson, Purnell, and Shaw),
two P-400s (Lts. Dewey and Patterson), and seven F4Fs immedi-
ately bombed the reinforcements. They dropped 20 500lb. bombs,
76 100lb. bombs, and a 3251b. depth charge through heavy small
arms and small caliber AA fire. To reduce this new threat at Koli
Point the 5
Marines and l64
Infantry closed in on the Japanese
attempting to surround them. Four or five two-plane missions a day
were flown over the next few days and reached a high of 12 mis-
sions. Poor communications and the thick jungle made it difficult
to identify the front lines, and there were several friendly fire casu-
alties from strafing aircraft. By 10 November 450 Japanese had
been killed by ground troops and air attack at Koli Point. The re-
mainder of their force managed to escape into the jungle, but less
than half made the arduous journey to join the defense of
Kokumbona. The elimination of the Koli threat permitted the re-
newal of the American Kokumbona offensive.
On 4 November a local boat, "Horton's Schoone/;" arrived at
Lunga Point and dropped off five MIApilots who had been rescued
by friendly natives and coast watchers. One of the pilots was Lt.
Wallace Dinn, who was hit by AAfire and parachuted into the jungle
on the south coast of Santa Isabel Island on 28 October. Dinn came
upon a village of friendly natives, one of whom spoke mission school
pidgin English. Dinn talked two natives into taking him in a small
dugout canoe down the Santa Isabel coast toward Tulagi, 160 miles
away. After the first day they transferred to a 20-foot war canoe
with four paddlers following the coast. Dinn and his rescuers met
perils along the way. Since it was the rainy season they were soaked
most of the time. Occasionally, Japanese recon aircraft would fly
over and Dinn had to hide in the wet bottom of the canoe. Croco-
diles swam up to the canoe and Dinn fired his .45 to scare them
away. Adowned Japanese pilot was reported to be on a nearby small
island inhabited by nine adult natives and several children. Dinn
sent three of his paddlers over to the island in the early morning to
surprise and capture the lap while he was eating breakfast. The Jap
was captured and bound, and the group continued their voyage with
their prisoner. During a driving rainstorm in rough seas the next
evening the Jap overturned the canoe and escaped to a nearby is-
land by swimming ashore in the darkness. After a search the Jap
was recaptured the next afternoon, and he was carefully bound.
The group was faced with crossing 60 miles of open \Y,ater from
Santa Isabel to Florida Island, and then on to Tulagi. A large 30-
foot war canoe with a high pointed bow and stern was procured for
the 30-hour trip. The group paddled to the end of Santa Isabel when
they were informed that there was a British boat on the other side
of the island that could get them to Guadalcanal in an hour and a
half. The only problem was they had to cross the 2,000-foot spine
of the island. By this time everyone was becoming weak, and the
Japanese prisoner refused to walk, but a few jabs with a bayonet
persuaded him otherwise. The group struggled across the ridge only
Lt. Frederick Purnell. (Canning)
Part Two, Chapter 5 - November 1942
Nakajima A6M2 Rufe floatplane taking off from Rekata Bay. (Lansdale/Na-
tional Archives)
to find tht:<y had to paddle another canoe fi ve miles to meet the boat.
When they reached the 30-foot boat called "Horton s Schooner"
they found it had a top speed of only six knots. They left at 2200
that night heading for the Russell Islands to land supplies for a
coast watcher there, and to pick up a downed SBD pilot and his
gunner. They arrived at noon the next day and were told of three
stranded Japs on the island. The Japs eluded the search, but the
group destroyed their camp and supplies. They left the Russells at
0200 the next day and moved up the backside of Guadalcanal to
pick up a Marine fighter pilot and dive-bomber pilot who had been
lost for 28 days. The bedraggled group finally made it back to Cac-
tus late in the afternoon. Dinn had been traveling for six days in
canoes and two days in the "Schooner" and was back in the air
after a day's rest.
At this time the Cactus Air Force consisted of the following
aircraft (57 operational of73 total): P-400s (2 of 4); P-39s (5 of 5);
SBDs (12 of22); TBFs (1 of 2); and F4Fs (37 of 40). On the 7
h, ten
pilots in new P-39s joined the 67FS. Two of the pilots were on their
second tour (Ferguson and Jarman), and five pilots were from the
68FS. Capt. Mitchell and most of the pilots were scheduled to be
relieved and returned to Tontouta to be assigned to the 339FS and
transition to the newly arrived P-38s. But before they could leave
they had to meet the Tokyo Express.
The afternoon of the 7
the Tokyo Express, made up of 11
Japanese warships, one light cruiser, and ten destroyers, were spot-
ted moving northeast of Santa Isabel Island. A composite air attack
force was marshaled from Henderson consisting of seven SBDs of
Sailor's VMSB-132 with 1,000lb. bombs, three torpedo-carrying
TBFs of VT-8, eight P-39s (led by Capt. Mitchell with Lts. Dinn,
Ferguson, Geyer, Jacobson, Jarman, Purnell, and Shaw) with 500lb.
bombs, and all escorted by 23 F4Fs of VMF-121. The Express had
landed 1,300 troops under the cover of Rufe float planes and float
biplanes. The AAF pilots were instructed to attack the warships
first and then climb to fly CAP with the Wildcats as the SBDs and
TBFs attacked. However, the P-39s were delayed on takeoff and
were trying to catch up when they came upon three float Zeros and
two float biplanes about to bounce two F4Fs. The Airacobras jetti-
soned their bombs and went into aerial combat with a chance to
have some Rising Sun victory symbols painted on their cowlings.
The P-39 pilots shot down three Rufes and two biplane float planes.
Lt. Robert Ferguson of the 67FS, Capt. WilliamShaw, and the briefly
rested Lt. Walter Dinn of 339FS claimed the Rufes, while Capt.
John Mitchell and Lt. Fred Purnell claimed the biplanes. The victo-
. ries were the second for Mitchell and Shaw. The Navy TBFs hit a
cruiser with two torpedoes and put one into a destroyer, while the
SBDs hit another cruiser with a 1,000lb. bomb. VMF-121 shot down
11 float planes (three by Capt. Joe Foss to give him 19 total victo-
ries to tie John Smith's USMC record) and lost three of their own,
including Foss, who was rescued and returned to base. For the next
several days Capt. Mitchell and several of the veteran pilots who
were scheduled to be relieved remained to indoctrinate the new
pilots. The cadre included: returnees Lts. Ferguson and Jarman;
and new Lts. Bauer, Hull, Inciardi, Kellum, McLanahan, Norris,
Novak, Ryan, Shambrook, Waldmire, and Williams. To fix a rou-
tine, Mitchell had them fly close support missions in the
Tassafaronga area.
On the 7
Brig.Gen. Roy Geiger was relieved by Brig.Gen.
Louis Woods, who had been his chief of staff. The next day Adm.
Halsey flew into Guadalcanal from Noumea to get a first hand look
at the situation, and was accommodated by a Japanese destroyer
that lobbed in a few shells on Cactus during the night. When he
returned to headquarters he was given the intelligence estimates of
the strength ofthe next Japanese naval offensive. The Japanese naval
commitment would be similar to the Battle of Santa Cruz, while
Halsey's forces would be minus the sunken Hornet and the Enter-
prise and South Dakota, which were at Noumea for repairs. The
Japanese Army had failed to take Henderson, and the Japanese na-
val high command felt that too much effort had been expended;
naval bombardment alone could knock out the airfield, and then -
Gen. Hyakutake's reinforcements could land without interference.
The Japanese attack on Port Moresby, New Guinea, was postponed
so that the 38
Infantry scheduled to fight there could be landed,
along with 3,500 special naval landing force troops, on GuadalcanaI.
The landing was to be at Koli Point, east of the American perim-
eter, causing the Americans to divide their forces.
To mount the new offensi ve the undaunted Japanese marshaled
a convoy of 12 heavy transports off Buin-Faisi to carry 13,500
troops, supplies, and heavy artillery for a major effort to drive the
Americans off GuadalcanaI. The attack was to be supported by a
strong Ilaval force of four battleships, five heavy cruisers, and a
large destroyer escort, assembled at Truk and RabauI. All Halsey
had to defend were two task forces. Adm. Thomas Kincaid's car-
rier task force had the tough carrier
Enterprise as its nucleus, and was supported by the battleships
Washington and South Dakota, two cruisers, and eight destroyers
cruising off New Caledonia. Adm. Richard Kelly Turner's task force
consisted of three groups. The first group included three transports,
one cruiser, and four destroyers under Adm. Norman Scott that were
carrying Marines, supplies, and ammunition from Espiritu Santo to
Cactus. The second group was a force of five cruisers and ten de-
stroyers operating from Espiritu Santo, commanded by Adm. Daniel
Fighter Command in World War II
At the end of October. a few partially assembled P-38s had been shipped to the port of Dumbea, New Caledonia, near NoumeaThey were driven through
the streets to be quickly completed at the small strip at Magenta Field, then flown 40 miles up to Tontouta to avoid the arduous 30-mile truck drive. There
they were flight tested and readied, either for training or combat on Guadalcanal. (Lansdale)
Callaghan. He was charged with protecting the third force of four
transports carrying the 182
Infantry to the island that was com-
manded by Turner, who left Noumea on the 8
and was joined by
Scott and Callaghan.
To complicate the situation, COMSOPAC first needed to land
reinforcements and supplies on Guadalcanal and then turn to meet
the Japanese force. Adm. Turner was in command of the supply
situation and accurately predicted the Japanese timetable. The Japa-
nese would send down a land-based air attack on Henderson on the
; a naval bombardment on the night of the llth; a day carrier
attack on Henderson on the 12
; a naval bombardment and land-
ings that night; and an invasion in force on the 13
. All transports
and cargo vessels had to clear of Guadalcanal by the night of the
. On the morning of the lllh cargo ships at Guadalcanal were
unloaded at Lunga Point to make room for transports from Noumea
that would arrive on the morning of the 12
. The escorts of the
transports, commanded by R.Adm. Callaghan, were to defend
against any Japanese naval forces that might come down the Slot.
The main Japanese naval force had not yet been comrrUtted,
and on the 11
the Enterprise, South Dakota, and Washington sailed
from Noumea, COMSOPAC flew land-based aircraft into
Henderson, and SBD, TBF, and F4F reinforcements were also flown
in. At the end of October a few partially assembled P-38s had been
shipped to the port of Dumbea, New Caledonia, near Noumea, and
were hauled to a small nearby airstrip called Magenta Field and
quickly assembled to avoid the arduous 30 mile truck drive to their
base at Tontouta. At Tontouta they were flight tested and readied
either for training or combat on Guadalcanal. On 12 November, at
1530, a new aircraft appeared over Cactus for the first time, as
Lockheed P-38 Lightnings of the 339FS of the new 347FG landed
at Fighter Two. Maj. Dale Brannon led the eight P-38s that included
four other pilots who had also been on the inaugural P-400 flight to
Cactus on 7 August. Brannon, now recovered from his wounds, left
Tontouta at 0700 and routed through Espiritu 3.5 hours later to re-
fuel, then continued to Cactus. As the flight approached Cactus the
navigation B-17 carrying ground crew for the P-38s had to turn
back to San Cristobal, as they received an erroneous radio report
that Henderson was under air attack. Once the P-38s based at Cac-
tus Marine personnel serviced them until the AAF ground crews
arrived. From this point on, all 347FG squadrons were integrated
with Army Cactus Flight operations, flying Airacobras and Light-
nings with little squadron identity. However, 347
combat logs con-
tinued to be designated "The 67
Fighter Squadron" for some time
afterward. For the AAF keeping accurate records was a low prior-
ity on Cactus in fall 1942. It was impossible to determine who was
flying with which squadron, who was on TDY (temporary duty) to
which squadron, and which personnel were at Guadalcanal and
which were at New Caledonia.
The 339
P-38s had been diverted in September from Gen.
Kenney's 5
Air Force and transferred to Gen. Harmon's
The 339
's P-38s had been diverted in September from Gen. Kenney's 5
Air Force and transferred to Gen. Harmon COMAIRSOPAC at New
CaledoniaThe first Lightnings were flown in by ferry pilots, who immediately
boarded a transport and flew out. Soon eight more P-38s arrived, flying non-
stop from the 5AF at Milne Bay, New Guinea. (Canning)
Part Two, Chapter 5 - November 1942
COMAIRSOPAC at New Caledonia. Ferry pilots flying non-stop
from the 5AF at Milne Bay, New Guinea, brought in two groups of
eight Lightnings and immediately boarded transport planes and flew
back out. Lockheed sent out a factory representative who stayed
briefly, but neither he nor the ferry pilots did much to indoctrinate
the ex-Airacobra pilots on their new fighter. The fighters were held
at Tontouta, as the Japanese air attacks and naval bombardments on
Henderson made it too hazardous to base them there. During Octo-
ber 339
pilots became more or less self-trained at Tontouta in the
new fighter. They were given the pilot's handbook to read, then
checked out the cockpit instruments and controls and took off for
their first flight. Rex Barber stated that the only training he had in
the Lightning were several check out flights at Noumea before he
left for combat at Guadalcanal. He reported that it took him ten or
so combat missions from Cactus before he became familiar with all
the buttons, switches, and toggles.
On 12 November 1943 the 67FS carried on with its usual daily close sup-
port missions, At 0740, Us, Donald Hansen (pictured) and Kenneth Kellum
dropped I OOlb, bombs, then strafed Japanese positions along theTambelego
River. During a low strafing pass, Hansen's wing caught a treetop and his
plane cartwheeled into a flaming explosion, (Canning)
On the 11th at 0530 the transports Betelgeuse, Libra, and Zeilin
anchored at Lunga Point and unloaded on schedule, covered by
destroyers and cruisers. At 0935 they were attacked by ten Vals
with a 12 Zero escort. Several vessels received slight damage, and
VMF-121 shot down six Zeros and five dive-bombers, but lost five
F4Fs. At 1127 Bettys came over in a high altitude attack. Airacobras
of the 67FS and VMF-1l2 F4Fs were sent up to intercept. The P-
39s struggled and climbed and climbed, and finally ran out of alti-
tude at 24,000 feet and had to watch as the Marine fighters contin-
ued to climb and shot down seven Bettys. The Marine victories
were bittersweet, as they lost two more F4Fs for a total of seven
lost that day. The Japanese air raid disrupted unloading, as the cargo
ships had to get under way to evade the attack and the Zeilin was
slightly damaged. In other missions that day the P-39s and P-400s
strafed enemy landing boats in Doma Cove and near Tassafaronga,
and supported Marine artillery fire on Kokumbona. At 1800 the
transports were almost unloaded, but had to retire to safety to the
east for the night. Adm. Callaghan protected Adm. Turner's trans-
ports before midnight, and after midnight Adm. Scott's warships
joined Callaghan in the Sealark Channel.
On the 12
the status report for aircraft available at Cactus was
26 F4Fs, 23 SBDs, 18 P-39s, no P-400s, and approximately seven
P-38s. At 0530 the transports and cargo ships returned and contin-
ued unloading two battalions of the 182
Infantry off Kukum Point.
The 67FS carried on with its usual daily close support missions. At
0740 Us. Donald Hansen and Kenneth Kellum dropped 100lb.
bombs, then strafed Japanese positions along the Tambelego River.
During a low strafing pass Hansen's wing caught a treetop and his
plane cartwheeled into a flaming explosion.
At 1340 an air raid alert was sounded and the transports stopped
unloading and formed into a defensive AA formation. Capt. Joe
Foss' Wildcats scrambled into the high clouds, and eight P-39s
circled at mid-altitude. At 1405 25 Japanese torpedo-bombers flew
in line abreast at low altitude from behind Florida Island covered
by eight Zeros to attack shipping off Lunga Point. The Airacobras
were notified by radio of the impending attack, and for once the P-
39s could climb to altitude in time to dive into combat. However,
the temperatures at high altitude had cooled their canopies, and as
they dove into the warmer, humid lower altitudes their canopies
became covered by condensation. Lt. Frank Clark was blinded and
plunged to his death in the sea. The P-39 attack surprised the Japa-
nese torpedo bombers, prompting many of them to drop their tor-
pedoes too high, causing them to tumble and sink. Adm. Callaghans'
flagship, the cruiser San Francisco, and the destroyer Buchanan
were damaged in the attack. The San Francisco was crashed by a
Japanese aircraft in the after control station and suffered 30 killed,
including the cruiser's XO. Lt. James McLanahan of the 67FS
bagged a Zero that was reported to have an elongated cockpit to
accommodate a rear seat observer (a misidentified Val). McLanahan
hit the plane with a long burst to start it smoking, and then it burst
into flames and half-rolled into the ocean. lLt. William Norris of
the 70FS got a Val, and lLt. Martin Ryan claimed a Zero. VMF-
112 shot down six Bettys and four Zeros, while VMF-121 accounted
for eight bombers and three escorts, including two Bettys and a
Zero by Foss to give him 22 total victories. The Army Air Force's
Fighter Command in World War II
timely arri val had chased Zeros off the tails of several Marine Wild-
cats, and Joe Foss and his pilots were waiting on the ground after
the battle to thank the P-39 pilots for their help. The air battle cost
three more Wildcats and a P-39, further depleting the Cactus Air
During the day reconnaissance aircraft had reported a Japa-
nese task force that included two battleships steaming down the
Slot. Further to the north another recon plane spotted a convoy of
11 Japanese transports carrying an infantry landing force escorted
by 12 destroyers. After unloading almost 6,000 men Turner's trans-
ports weighed anchor at 1815 and were escorted by Callaghan and
Scott northeast to the safety ofIndispensable Strait, located between
eastern Guadalcanal and Malaita Island. The U.S. warships then
returned toward Guadalcanal to meet the Japanese task force.
First Battle of Guadalcanal 12/13 November 1942
The Japanese began their massive offensive on the night of 12/13
November as their 12 transports paused offshore, waiting VAdm.
Hiroaki Abe's force of two battleships (Hiei and Kirishima), a
cruiser, and 15 destroyers to bombard Henderson shortly after mid-
night. This was the first time the Japanese committed battleships in
the Solomons, albeit their oldest battlewagons, both launched in
1912. In the darkness R.Adm. Daniel Callaghan's force offive cruis-
ers and eight destroyers passed between the two columns of Japa-
nese warships, and in 36 confused, ferocious minutes the First Battle
of Guadalcanal was over. The Japanese battleship Hiei was severely
damaged by 85 shells and lost her steering, and two Japanese de-
stroyers were sunk. The U.S. avy lost the cruiser Atlanta, killing
R.Adm. Norman Scott. The San Francisco was heavily hit;
Callaghan and most of his staff were killed, and the cruiser had to
return to the American West Coast for repairs. The cruiser Portland
was also heavily damaged and towed first to Sydney, then to Cali-
fornia for repairs. The damage to the cruiser Helena was repaired at
Noumea. Half of the eight USN destroyers were sunk and three
damaged. The cruiser Juneau was heavily hit and limped away,
only to be hit by a torpedo from the Japanese submarine 1-26 the
next morning and blew up, killing all but ten of her 700 men, in-
cluding the famous five Sullivan brothers. It was a very costly battle
for the U.S. Navy, but losses caused both navies to withdraw. One
of the newly arrived P-38s was destroyed in the shelling.
At dawn on 13 November, while patrolling off Savo Island, six
SBDs found the severely damaged Hiei unable to maneuver and
escorted by three destroyers. At 0615 a Navy SBD hit the Hiei with
a bomb and was followed by a torpedo hit by a VMSB-13J TBF. At
1100 nine detached Enterprise TBFs escorted by six F4Fs of VF-
10 put three more torpedoes into the tough old battleship, which
refused to sink. Later 17 11BG B-17s that left Espiritu at 0500 ar-
rived and flew through heavy AA fire and got a hit and several near
misses. Five more Marine and Navy bomber attacks covered by the
67FS followed but could not hit the floundering battleship. Marine
Wildcats shot down ten of the Zeros the Japanese sent down from
Buin to protect the crippled battleship. As night approached the
Hiei had taken five bombs and ten torpedoes, and the crew was
finally ordered to scuttle the wreck a few hours later.
On the night of 13/14, for 45 minutes after midnight, three
cruisers and four destroyers under VAdm. Gunichi Mikawa lobbed
over 1,000 HE shells into Henderson and Fighter One and Two,
guided by flares dropped by Washing Machine Charlie. Two F4Fs
were destroyed and 15 F4Fs and one SBD were damaged, but could
be quickly repaired. However, the 67FS bore the brunt of the at-
tack, as of its 16 fighters in commission the day before only the
oldest and m ~ s t patched up fighter, the venerable "Resurrection,"
remained undamaged. During the fighter's stay at Cactus a IS-inch
naval shell had landed under its wing but didn't explode, and in a
later attack an aerial bomb landed nearby but also was a dud. "Res-
urrection" was truly charmed, as later, when the fighter's Allison
Of the 67FS P-400s. only the oldest and most patched up fighter, the vener-
able "Resurrection," remained undamaged. A IS-inch naval shell had landed
under its wing but did not explode, and in a later attack an aerial bomb
landed nearby but was a dud. "Resurrection" was truly charmed, as later, when
the fighter's Allison engine died, mechanics were able to squeeze the bigger
and more powerful engine from a P-39 into it. (Lansdale/Canning)
339FS P-38 at Fighter Two, parked off the Coconut plantation.There is an-
other P-38 in the background and a reveted Marine SBD. (Lansdale/Coley/
Part Two, Chapter 5 - November 1942
339FS P-38 at FighterTwoThe Marston matting in the foreground is chewed
up and studded with small rocks. There is a B-17 parked in the right back-
ground. (Lansdale/Coley/347FGA)
engine died, mechanics were able to squeeze the bigger and more
powerful engine from a P-39 into it. That morning after the Japa-
nese attacked ground crews, using parts from those aircraft written
off in the attack, quickly put the Airacobras with minor damage
back into operational status. None of the eight P-38s that arrived
the day before from New Guinea were damaged, nor were the eight
that flew in from Espiritu Santo on the 12
Over tue past several
days the total air strength on Cactus had risen to 41 F4Fs, 30 SBDs,
19 TBFs, two P-400s, and 16 P-38s. The 68FS sustained three
wounded enlisted men during the shelling for the only casualties it
would record during the war.
The next morning the Japanese did not send air reconnaissance
down to Henderson to check on the results of their attack and disre-
garded the fact that it had not been neutralized. They ordered their
transports that had been waiting in the northern Solomons toward
Cactus. At sunrise scout planes from Cactus and long-range patrol
Salvage crew hoists "Tojo's Fate" onto a flatbed truck for further cannibaliza-
tion. (USAF via Lansdale)
ILt Besby Holmes P-38 # 100 was the oldest Lightning in the 339FS. It is
pictured being towed through Noumea, New Caledonia, on their way to
Tontouta. (Lansdale/Holmes)
bombers from Button were searching the seas north and west of
Guadalcanal. These reconnaissance aircraft discovered Tanaka's
transports about 150 miles to the northwest in the Slot and Mikawa's
retreating bombardment force about 140 miles south of New Geor-
gia. Since the Japanese task force had no aircraft carriers their land-
based aircraft were furnishing air cover by flying in relays. Ground
crews at Cactus were busy from before dawn repairing and then
refueling and rearming aircraft. They had to roll bombs and gaso-
line from dumps through mud and around craters. SBDs escorted
by F4Fs and P-39s flew mission after mission that day. At 0800
seven SBDs and six TBFs escorted by seven F4Fs took off from
Henderson, and the SBDs scored direct hits on the heavy cruiser
Maya with 500lb. bombs, while the TBFs hit the heavy cruiser
Kinugasa with two torpedoes. At 0915 the SBDs from Henderson
hit the Kinugasa with a 500lb. bomb through the #2 turret, and
immediately the cruiser took another 500lb. bomb hit and was in
Ground crew prepare Capt Robert Petit's P-38 Lightning "Miss Virginia,"
No. 147. Petit named the fighter after his fiance, MissVirginia Woodard. Note
the I65-gallon auxiliary steel fuel tank in the background (behind the nose
wheel). (National Archives via Lansdale)
Fighter Command in World War II
Neatness doesn't count
Capt. Thomas Lanphier's "Phoebe," with its nose
wheel removed and strut resting on a box, and the tire lies under the fighter.
The port prop spinner and blade lay on the ground, right foregroundVarious
boxes, cans, and drums lay scattered around the plane. The U.S. Navy PBY
pilot is posing at FighterTwo. (Canning, 347FGA via Lansdale)
serious difficulty. At 101527 planes off the Enterprise arrived from
250 miles south and hit Mikawa's flagship, the heavy cruiser Chokai,
the light cruiser Isuz, and the destroyer Michishio. They scored a
near miss on the crippled Kinugasa that ruptured her side plate,
causing her to be abandoned before she sunk 15 miles south of
Rendova Island. Since the Enterprise had a damaged NO.1 elevator
these SBDs landed on Henderson, where they operated for the re-
mainder of the day. AB-17 discovered Tanaka's convoy of 11 trans-
ports and 13 destroyers heading toward Guadalcanal and called in
Marine and Navy aircraft from Guadalcanal and B-17s from Espiritu
Santo. Six of the transports were carrying 11,000 troops of the 38
Division, while five other cargo ships were transporting 10,000 tons
Capt. Robert Petit's "Miss Virginia" displays the "destroyer" sunk on the 29
March 1943 Shortland Mission. It was not discoyered until after the war that
the destroyer did not sink and was, in fact, a subchaser that was badly dam-
aged with great loss of life. The aircraft kill markings were Rufes that Petit
shot down on 27 February 1943 (He later was credited with one Rufe kill
and a probable). (Lansdale)
ILt. Doug Canning (70FS) holds the I Ifoot six inch, constant speed, selec-
tive pitch Curtiss Electric propeller that used electrical power to adjust the
pitch of the blades. The plate at Canning's hip says "Remove brushes before
removing propeller." (Canning via Lansdale)
of supplies and 2,500 elite naval troops. Forty-one planes from the
supposedly destroyed Henderson airfield surprised Tanaka, and B-
17s would be on their way from Espiritu Santo. Just before noon 18
Marine and Navy SBDs and seven TBF bombers, escorted by four
Airacobras of the 67FS (AAF mechanics were able to repair three
more fighters) and 12 F4Fs, attacked Tanaka's frantically maneu-
vering four-column convoy. Tanaka had anticipated that Mikawa's
cruisers and destroyers would arrive in time to add to his AA de-
fense, but'Mikawa was withdrawing his three damaged cruisers to
the Shortlands. Tanaka's destroyers laid a smoke screen and put up
a heavy AAbarrage. Two Maru transports (Niagara and Canberra)
were sunk by torpedoes, and the Sado Maru was crippled by a bomb
and headed back to the Shortlands escorted by two destroyers. The
Sado Maru had 38
Division officers aboard, leaving any troops
getting ashore without command. SBDs and TBFs made repeated
attacks and damaged the Marus throughout the day. At 1245 17
SBDs escorted by fighters sunk the Brisbane Maru, and at 1345 20
more SBDs sunk the Shinanogawa and Arizona Maru. The escort-
ing Japanese destroyers tried to put up an effective AAdefense while
attempting to rescue thousands of troops at the same time, but were
only able to shoot down three bombers. At 1430 15 B-17s from
Espiritu dropped 60 bombs on the convoy in two attacks: the first
flight hit a transport from 17,000 feet, and the second straddled a
seaplane tender from 20,000 feet. At 1530 the Enterprise sent eight
SBDs out and found the determined Tanaka heading toward
Guadalcanal, and set the Nako Maru on fire. An unescorted group
of seven SBDs dropped down to attack and were intercepted by
Zeros that shot down three and damaged two others. Tanaka radi-
oed a request to Adm. Kondo for permission to run his remaining
four cargo ships aground at Tassafaronga, as there would not be
enough time to unload during darkness and then withdraw. The air
score for the day was six Zeros shot down for six SBDs and two
F4Fs lost for the day. One of the F4Fs that did return was piloted by
legendary Marine ace Lt.Col. Joe Bauer, who shot down a Zero
Part Two, Chapter 5 - November 1942
The northwest coast of Guadalcanal was the area of the final battles for the
island, and the area of the landings of theTokyo Express.The even rows of a
large coconut plantation are seen in the foreground, and the landmark Cape
Esperance is seen in the far background. (USAF)
The 14 November attempt of the "Tokyo Express" was costly.Three trans-
ports are seen on this photo, two burning in the foreground offTassafaronga
Point, and one sunk along the upper right shore, which is also pictured in the
photo below with a destroyed landing barge in the foreground. (USMC)
that day to become a double ace with ten victories and would later
be awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. Tanaka had lost six
transports and had one damaged and turn back. There are no accu-
rate totals for the number of Japanese troops lost, but over 3,000
had drowned, and of the many rescued by the destroyers the major-
ity were burned or injured.
Second Battle of Guadalcanal14/lS November 1942
Later, V.Adm Kondo aboard the Atago moved down the Slot with
14 warships, including the battleship Kirishima, heavy cruisers
Atago and Takao, the light cruisers Nagara and Sendai, and nine
destroyers. His orders were to wipe out Henderson after R.Adm.
Abe failed to do it on the 13
and V.Adm. Mikawa the night before
that. Kondo split his 14 ships into three groups, a bombardment
group and two screening groups. Facing him was Task Force 64
under R.Adm. Willis "Ching" Lee in the battleship Washington and
accompanied by the battleship South Dakota and four escorting
destroyers. The Enterprise had withdrawn after its busy day. Early
in the battle the Japanese put the four American destroyers out of

- .
..c: ,""-:....
Fighter Command in World War II
action, sinking three and leaving the battleships virtually unescorted.
The South Dakota was heavily damaged by 27 hits but was able to
fire back, damaging the Takao and Atago. The Washington's radar
picked up the Kirishima, which was shelling the South Dakota. Lee's
guns crashed shell after shell into the Japanese battleship, and seven
minutes later she left the battle a flaming hulk. The Kirishima and
the destroyer Ayanami were sunk in the battle. The South Dakota
sustained heavy damage, but refused to sink and sailed to New York
for repairs, and would return to the Pacific the next spring. The
USN also lost three destroyers, the Preston, Walke, and Benham.
Tanaka's destroyers valiantly continued to pick up survivors through-
out the night, and then he led his remaining four transports to
Tassafaronga to be beached before daylight. As soon as they were
beached Tanaka withdrew his crowded destroyers back up the Slot.
The Americans had won a costly strategic victory. This was to be
the last major Japanese effort to destroy the Cactus airfields and to
transport and land a large infantry force and its equipment as rein-
forcements to mount an offensive on the island. The Japanese Navy
no longer had control of the Slot, and Japanese troops on the island
were near starvation; and not only battling the Americans, but dis-
ease and the jungle. Over the past four days the Japanese had not
only lost a battle, but she had lost the Guadalcanal campaign, and
eventually the war.
The aircraft status summary for the 15t
reported the availabil-
ity of20 of29 F4Fs, II of22 SBDs, all eight TBFs, 13 of 16 P-38s,
six of ten P-39s, and no P-400s. An early patrol was scheduled for
the morning to search for Tanaka's surviving transports. From their
dispersal points on the nearly completed Fighter Two strip, Lt. James
Jarman taxied in the darkness followed by Lts. Ferguson, Norris,
and Ryan. Jarman proceeded down the runway, leading the flight
with his wing lights, and noticed bright flashes. As he turned at the
end of the runway he saw the flashes were from Japanese artillery
taking aim at the wing lights, and he ordered the other fighters to
disperse, shut down, and the pilots were to take cover. Jarman took
off a l o n ~ and climbed, and as he turned he saw the silhouette of a
large aircraft in the predawn darkness. As he closed in he was met
with machine gun fire that passed over his cockpit. He pulled away
to the side and could make out the roundels of the Royal New
Zealand Air Force on the fuselage of an approaching Lockheed
Hudson. Jarman flew off toward Savo Island searching for the sur-
viving transports from the previous night's battle. Looking toward
Tassafaronga and Kokumbona he discovered four transports; one
was beached and the others were heading toward the beach. Not
sure of their identity, he flew in a high-speed turn and descended to
500 feet for an inspection pass through heavy AA and small arms
fire that immediately revealed the transports as the enemy. Jarman
quickly returned to Henderson to gather his flight and took off to
get at the transports first. As they approached Point Cruz they now
saw three beached transports, with the last one heading toward shore.
Ferguson and Ryan dove and got direct bomb hits on a transport
each. Norris got a near miss, and Jarman's bomb did no damage.
Ferguson and Ryan turned and strafed with devastating results, and
the flight returned to base. After quickly rearming they returned to
Cruz Point, and Ryan and Ferguson shared the credit for another
transport damaged, hitting the last one to be finally beached. Both
Ryan and Ferguson would be awarded the DFC for this action. In
the next hour, 13 Navy and Marine SBDs and one TBF got seven
hits on the three beached transports. At 0900 seven P-39s now in
commission flown by Lts. Conrad, Geyer, Kellum, McLanahan,
Novak, Waldmire, and Williams hit the fourth transport with two
bombs. Three B-26s ofthe newly arrived 70BS hit a transport with
a 1,00Olb. bomb and put two 1,000 pounders on small vessels un-
loading supplies nearby. At 1045, with another P-39 repaired and
in service, four pilots (Lts. Jarman, Inciardi, Patterson, and Ryan)
attacked the least damaged transport and got a direct hit. Since the
skies over the transports were swarming with attacking friendly
aircraft, Jarman's flight flew out into Skylark Channeilooking for
other targets. The P-39s spotted the bow of a sinking ship and sur-
vivors bobbing among the debris in the water. Jarman radioed
Henderson for permission to attack and was told to go ahead, as
there were no American shipping losses in the area. As the Airacobras
turned to make their strafing runs, Henderson fighter control in-
structed them to hold their fire, as they had just learned of the loss
of the four American destroyers the night before. The P-39s flew
back to the destroyer Meade that had been shelling the beached
transports and flew low over the destroyer, waggling their wings
one after another and hoping to lead it out toward the survivors.
Finally, after three passes they convinced the Meade to follow and
pick up the American survivors floating about 12 miles away. When
the Meade arrived it picked up 264 survivors of the
Walke and Preston and took them to Tulagi.
American air attacks continued during the afternoon despite
Pistol Pete shelling the airfield as the aircraft took off and landed.
SBDs and TBFs attacked the transports that had been damaged the
previous day and were left burning and dead in the water 95 miles
from Guadalcanal. One transport was sunk, one was left a burning
hulk, and another was sinking as the attacks ended. With the Japa-
nese transports reduced to blazing hulks the air attacks concentrated
on the enemy troops and stores that were hurriedly brought ashore
from the beached transports, which were poorly camouflaged and
were vulnerable targets. The Pistol Petes had continued their ha-
rassment of Henderson. Doug Canning (67FS):
"During the last week of my tour Pistol Pete got so bad that the
guys dug a cave in a hillside, and I slept there on the comfortable
sandy floor with my blanket thrown over me. It was a lot better
than crouching in a foxhole all night waiting for an artillery shell to
hit you."
Finally a patrolling SBD located an artillery position and spot-
ted it with a smoke bomb. Lts. Geyer and McLanahan took off and
strafed the area around the gun to scatter its crew, and then
McLanahan was able to drop a 500lb. bomb within a few feet of the
gun. The two then came around and strafed again, with Geyer's
bullets blowing up its ammunition stores. At 1530 the Japanese
sent 12 Vals and eight Zeros to Henderson, but only two Zeros es-
caped the Marine fighter scramble. Late in the day two 339FS P-
38s were sent out to escort the withdrawing battleships
South Dakota and Washington back to Noumea, but were turned
back by bad weather.
Part Two, Chapter 5 - November 1942
In the battle both sides had the same objective; to reinforce
and supply their position on the island and deny it to the enemy by
air and sea. By nightfall the Japanese had been able to land only
2,000 troops, and most were lucky to have their rifles and minimal
supplies. Once landed they were tormented by American air power.
On the American-held beaches Turner had managed to land most
of his troops and supplies before withdrawing. The Japanese Navy
lost two battleships, a heavy cruiser, three destroyers, II transports,
and 16 Bettys and 25 Zeros that were going to be difficult to re-
place. The battle for Guada!canal was not over, and the Japanese
Army would not withdraw from the island for another two and a
half months.
On 16 November Maj. John Thompson, 67FS CO, led eight
new P-38s to Cactus from Tontouta, with seven of the pilots return-
ing for second tour. On his first tour Thompson's P-400 had been
shot up and he was wounded in the shoulder. Lt. Vernon Head had
been burned in a take off accident on a muddy field. Lt. Peter
Childress had bailed out of his damaged fighter and walked back
through the jungle, and had also been buried in a bomb blast and
was dug out. Lt. Deltis Fincher also returned after recovering from
his wounds. The pilot's they relieved were disappointed to find that
their R&R would be spent back at primitive, hot, and humid New
Caledonia, rather than Australia and New Zealand.
The air reinforcements put the number of aircraft in the Cactus
Air Force at 96: 25 F4Fs; 25 SBDs; eight TBFs; and 38 AAF P-39/
400s and P-38s. The Army aircraft continued their ground attack
duties, but the P-39s also supplied escort for SBDs, and the P-38s
flew escort missions with B-17s. Even though the squadron had
been conceived as a twin-engine unit the 339
had been flying P-
400s and P-39s, along with their P-38s. But By mid-November the
Sunsetters were finally able to realize this intention, as more P-38s
had arrived from the States, and pilots checked out and trained in
them at New Caledonia. The 339
had the distinction of being the
Col. La verne Saunders took control of the severely damaged B-17 whose
pilot and co-pilot were killed, made a successful ditching, and was rescued
with the rest of the crew. Pictured are South Pacific air leaders (L-R): R.Adm.
John "Slew" McCain; Col. LaVerne "Blondie" Saunders, CO of the I I BG; and
Maj.Gen. Millard "Miff" Harmon, commander of the AAF in the South Pacific.
first unit to fly the P-38 in the Pacific, but it would not be until mid-
March 1943 that the squadron was officially designated as a twin-
engine unit.
On 18 November the Air Force was able to begin offensive
operations against Japanese targets in the Central Solomons. The
first target was cargo shipping at Tonolei Harbor on the south end
of Bougainville Island, as II B-17Fs staging through Guadalcanal
were joined by four B-26s in the attack. This was to be the first
mission in which fighters would escort bombers all the way to their
target. Problems arose from the start, as the Flying Fortresses were
based at Henderson and the P-38s at Fighter Two, and the two groups
had problems assembling after takeoff. The fighter pilots were as-
signed to cover the bombers and prevent the usual Japanese frontal
attack on the B-17s by picking them off from above as they turned
into their attack. The bombers were flying at 12,000 feet, which
meant the P-38s had to fly escort at 16,000 feet, an altitude that was
too low for the Lightning to be effective. Eight P-38s were flown
by Maj. Brannon, 339FS CO, and Capt. Sharpsteen and Lts. Brzuska,
Farquharson, Fincher, Goerke, Miller, and Reagh, but soon after
take off Miller aborted with engine problems. The P-38s were the
only fighters capable of escorting the bombers to their full range to
Kahili-Buin, while the P-40s had to wait well short of these targets
to cover the bombers on their withdrawal. The lead B-17 was flown
by Maj. Allan Sewart, with Col. Laverne Saunders (strike force
commander) aboard. The P-38s flew in formation at 16,000 feet
over the bomber formation. Although the weather was good enroute,
it was cloudy and rainy over the target. As Sewart's B-17 made its
bombing run the bombs hung up, and he had to bring his flight of
five Fortresses over the target again. The Japanese sent up about 30
fighters; a few were land-based square-wing tip Zeros, but the ma-
jority were float biplanes. The Japanese made no attempt to attack
the bombers and the P-38s intercepted them. Lt. Grant Reagh, who
flew the mission with his right supercharger malfunctioning,
Lt.Albert Farquharson's Lightning was hit eight times; six machine gun bullets
damaged the tail, a 20mm shell drilled through the flap, and another ex-
ploded a large hole in his wing. Farquharson had also taken hits while flying
the P-39 on I October I 942.This P-38 is # 115 "Hod 'V' Unlimited." The "V"
inside the round white circle was red and had three dots and a dash under-
neath.The three dots and dash is "V" in Morse Code and the first four notes
of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. (Lansdale)
Fighter Command in World War II
"pressed a determined attack" and fired on a float plane and claimed
a hit the on the top of its cockpit, but left the battle to return to
Cactus. For this action Reagh was awarded the Silver Star. Lt. Deltis
Fincher shot down two Zeros to become the top AAF fighter pilot
in the South Pacific with three victories. Lt. James Obermiller also
claimed a Zero. Lt. Farquharson's Lightning was hit eight times:
six machine gun bullets damaged the tail; a 20mm shell drilled
through the flap; and another exploded a large hole in his wing. The
P-38 flight then headed back to Guadalcanal, as they had not been
informed of the B-17s having to return for a second run on the
target. The B-17s' second run put two direct hits on two cargo ships,
but 18 enemy fighters attacked the bomber formation for the next
half hour on their return to base. Maj. Sewart and his co-pilot were
hit and killed, and Col. Saunders took control of the B-17, which
had two engines down and the port wing on fire. Saunders skill-
fully flew the bomber and ditched it near Vella Lavella. All survi-
vors reached shore in rubber life rafts and were rescued by a PBY
the next afternoon. The B-17s claimed a heavy, but probably exag-
gerated, toll on the attacking enemy fighters with 12 being claimed-
eight by Sewart's crew. The B-26s also claimed two more Japs.
Capt. John Mitchell and 339
mascot. "Blackie:' (Canning)
In a combat report to the G-2 ofUSAFISPA, Group G-2, Capt.
George Phillips, stated:
"The conclusions drawn are the same as submitted in all previ-
ous reports-the P-38 is not an escort fighter, as the plane is too
unmaneuverable and blind. The P-38 has not yet been sent out at its
proper altitude, and the B-17s are always at poor altitude for the P-
38. If our pilots had some P-40s or P-S 1s, they could have had a
field day over Tonolei and given the Japs a real shellacking." (Re-
port on P-38 Escort Mission to Bougainville, 18 November 1942
dated 20 December 1942)
These first P-38 escort missions reiterated the lessons learned
in Europe; that the Lockheed fighter could not maneuver with the
more agile Luftwaffe Me-109s and FW-190s, nor now with the Japa-
nese Zeros. It had blind spots and was unable to turn with the en-
emy fighters. To compensate for their deficiencies, a mutually pro-
tective formation was devised with flights of four P-38s dispersed
in echelon right or left, with a distance of several plane lengths for
maneuvering. Each flight leader had a wingman on his port, and
the other two P-38s an element leader and his wingman to his right
in echelon to the starboard. This wingman was dubbed "tail-end
Charlie," as he was the last aircraft in the formation and needed to
be (but often was not -author) an experienced pilot, as he was to
protect the formation from attack from the rear. There were usually
four flights (16 aircraft) in an escort or fighter mission formation.
On an escort mission the P-38s were urged to continue their protec-
tive formation and only open fire on enemy aircraft entering the
formation a ~ e a d . During a fighter mission it was emphasized that
once the P-38s were engaged in combat the element (a leader and
his protecting wingman) was the smallest fighting unit. The P-38
needed to take advantage of its strengths, either to dive away to
safety or turn into the attacker utilizing the fighter's firepower and
On the 2S'h, Cactus veteran Capt. John Mitchell, who had three
victories in the P-39, replaced Maj. Brannon as 339FS CO. Brannon
transferred to 347FG HQ at Tontouta as Group XO. Soon after he
arrived Brannon attended a USAFISPA (US. Army Forces in the
South Pacific Area) meeting in Noumea, where he was able to brief
visiting Gen. H.H. "Hap" Arnold on the very poor performance of
the P-39/400 and the problems the P-38 was having with the Zero.
Arnold did not believe that the Zero could be effecti ve above 20,000
feet, or that the P-39 and the new P-38 could have the problems that
Brannon described. Brannon told Arnold that the B-17s needed to
fly their missions above at least 20,000 feet for the P-38s to be an
effective escort. The P-38s were at a distinct disadvantage when
escorting medium bombers, as they had to drop from high cover-
above 20,000 feet-to the Mitchell's or Marauder's much lower
operational altitude, where they were inferior to the Zero.
In mid-November two 7AF fighter squadrons arrived in the
South Pacific. The P-39 equipped 12FS left Christmas Island and
arrived at Efate in the ew Hebrides on 19 November, and the P-40
equipped 44FS arrived there from Hawaii on the 22
By the end
of the year detachments from both of these squadrons were operat-
ing from Guadalcanal with three other squadrons. At the end of
Part Two, Chapter 5 - November 1942
Panorama overlooking FighterTwo from pilot tents located on a low hill. (Canning)
The pilots' quarters were in tents dug in along the top of the hill on the right
from which the above photos were taken. A P-39 is parked at the far right of
the runway, and three Marine F4Fs on the adjacent runway. (Canning)
A 68FS PAO parked for maintenance at FighterTwo while a Marine F4F (dot
in sky above PAO) flies over the field. A damaged P-38 is being cannibalized
in the background (behind fuel truck). (Canning)
Fighter Command in World War II
November the 68FS sent a PAO detachment to Guadalcanal, and
by 8 December the entire unit was at Fighter Two. A detachment of
the 70FS entered operations on 21 December, and the next day the
67FS, which had done yeoman's work during the past months on
Guadalcanal, was transferred back to New Caledonia for R&R. At
the end of 1942 the 339FS (P-38s), 12FS and 70FS (P-39s), 44FS
(PAOs), and the 68FS (P-39s and PAOs) were operating from
After the Japanese lost their II transports and were only able
to land 2,000 troops the American Marine and Army troops on
Guadalcanal went on the offensive toward Kokumbona and the Poha
River. Brig.Gen. Roy Geiger planned to attack across the Matanikau
River, which recon patrols had determined to be undefended. How-
ever, Lt.Gen. Haruyoshi Hyakutake, now with about 25,000 troops,
was also planning an offensive to advance east from Kokumbona.
He planned to take the high ground east of the river as a line of
departure and set up artillery positions there. His troops would then
take the three American airfields and capture Mt. Austen, which
dominated the entire area around Henderson. On the 18
sent his 184
Infantry, backed by the 8
Marines, across the
Matanikau, and the next day the 8
Marines followed and moved to
the base of Point Cruz, where they dug in at noon, as they met stiff
resistance and artillery fire. The stalled Americans called in air sup-
port to help them hold their newly gained territory. Ground support
missions by the 67FS and Marine SBDs broke the Japanese Point
Cruz positions, but it was not until the 164
joined in that the attack
moved forward. The Army and Marines had to fight across one
ravine at a time, and were stopped by heavy fire from Japanese dug
in the sides and tops of the ravines. The two armies stopped, facing
each other on the high ground between the ravines that made up the
Point Cruz Line. Since an attempt to advance would cause heavy
casualties the Americans called in air and artillery interdiction to
keep the Japanese at bay. Although the American attack stalled un-
til the end of December, it had pre-empted the Japanese attack across
the Matanikau.
From the 18
and into mid-December, the Army Cactus Flight
flew almost constant close air support, interdiction, and search and
destroy missions, first to support Geiger's attack, and then to hold
off Hyutake's attack. The term "search and destroy" was credited
to Lt. Danforth Miller of the 67FS by Robert Ferguson in his book,
Gaudalcanal, The Island of Fire: Reflections of the 347'" Fighter
Group (Aero, PA, 1987). The pilots rarely caught sight of the Japa-
nese they were attacking, relying on ground radio directions or
ground signal panels. On the 21 st, Lts. Patterson and Tullis on a
search and destroy mission spotted about a dozen enemy soldiers
camped near a road on the mouth of a small river near the sea. The
attack surprised the Japs, who were bombed and strafed, but a 100lb.
bomb failed to explode when it hit the middle of the camp. The
67FS flew daily missions, coordinating its support with attacking
infantry, and flew continuous air interdiction attacks, hitting any-
thing that moved on the Japanese side of the line. On 23 November
Lt. McLanahan bombed and strafed a herd of cattle! The air arma-
ments of choice were the standard machine guns and cannons, as
well as demolition, fragmentation, and incendiary bombs. The in-
novati ve armorers rigged depth charges that flattened grassy areas
and served as very effective concussion bombs. Lt. Jim McLanahan
devised a bomb called the "Rube Goldberg," which was a belly
tank or Navy practice bomb filled with a mixture of gasoline and
oil fitted with an incendiary detonator. McLanahan had his doubt-
ers until he incinerated thick vegetation, exposing and also scorch-
ing a Japanese position.
The 67
Fighter Squadron War Diary (20 November 1942)
quotes a pilot's impression of everyday flying:
"The 67
fighters continued to sit and wait for a scramble. Their
only work lately has been dawn, dusk, and noonday patrols. Any
one of the three patrol assignments is disagreeable. On the dawn
shift you arise in the middle of the night, cold and damp from the
tropical damp, take off when you still cannot see the far end of the
runway, and fly for two hours without breakfast. Cigarettes that
you smoke to keep awake fill your stomach full of fuss. On the
noonday shift you sweat. The cockpit is oven hot, even if you suc-
ceed in stuffing the hot air opening with a towel. The glare from the
Lt. Jim McLanahan devised a bomb called the "Rube Goldberg" that was a
belly tank or Navy practice bomb filled with a mixture of gasoline and oil
fitted with an incendiary detonator. McLanahan had his doubters until he
incinerated thick vegetation, exposing and also scorching aJapanese position.
Part Two, Chapter 5 - November 1942
sun and altitude makes your eyes sting and gives you a headache.
Besides, you have to eat a second chow. On the dusk shift over the
harbor, you fly for two hours after everyone is off for the day. You
land after dark, and if the field is dusty the landing lights make a
false runway 20 feet in the air on top of the dust. You wonder if
there has been any beer, and if there has, if any would be left when
you get down. Two hours is a long time to sit hunched over in one
position. Your empennage gets so sore it aches."
On 23 November 1942, as part of a report to 7AF CG, Brig.Gen.
Willis Hale, Capt. Robert Hedges, 44FS Intelligence Officer, (Re-
port to Gen.) discussed air tactics:
'Talks with Air Corps, Marine, and Navy Pilots all indicate
that individual initiative must be used in fighting the Japs. The most
favorable positions must be assumed and followed through. Some
prefer the four-ship element, but at times should fly in pairs, and
under no circumstance attempt to dogfight with the Japs. One trick
was brought out clearly, namely that the Japs themselves will simu-
late dogfighting among themselves in an effort to get one of our
planes to approach when both have attacked, usually out of the sun.
It is suicidal to be enticed away from the formation by such Jap
methods, and many of our boys have learned that lesson. Our pilots
must think at all times and must stay together, or at least with an-
other ship, particularly in the climb. The tighter the formation the
more effective the operation. Weaving tactics have been used most
effectively by our men, but they are indoctrinated to get into the
spot where they can do the most damage. The scissors has not al-
ways proved effective over Cactus due to the Jap close formations.
Most ofthe Marine and Navy fliers, when attacking a bomber-fighter
formation, come down on them, making but one pass and then run-
ning away. They converge their sights at 250 yards, aiming at the
engine or engines or the gas tanks, and have experienced exceed-
ingly good fortune in bringing down many 97s by concentrating on
their engines, which are apparently vulnerable."
The important contribution the 67
Fighter Squadron's close
air support operations were overshadowed by the Marine Wildcats,
first under Maj. John Smith with 19 victories and Capt. Marion
Carl with 16.5 victories, and then by Capt. Joe Foss, who tied Capt.
Eddie Rickenbacker's World War I record of 26 victories to be-
come America's Ace of Aces. The Navy dispatches made little men-
tion of the Army's Cactus Flight and the successful and dangerous
work they did, especially in its ground attack role. To this day their
contribution to the victory on Guadalcanal is virtually unknown
and certainly unappreciated, except by the Marine and Army infan-
try who were there. This snub so irritated MacArthur that during
the Philippines Campaign at Leyte in December 1944 his
communiquEs did not include the Navy and Marine air operations
Establishment of the 13
Air Force and 13
Fighter Command
In late November it was apparent to Lt.Gen. Millard Harmon,
COMGENSOPAC (Commanding General in the South Pacific), that
something needed to done to increase AAF efficiency without af-
fecting the unity of command embodied in COMAIRSOPAC. To
accomplish this, Harmon urged the formation of a new South Pa-
cific air force and submitted his proposals to Joint Chiefs of Staff
on 19 November for the authorization of the new air force. Harmon
argued for directAAF operational control of its aircraft, personnel,
and operations within established AAF doctrine. Brig.Gen. Nathan
Twining was to be the new air force's proposed commander, and it
was to incorporate a bomber and fighter command to be staffed by
experienced personnel already in the South Pacific. Harmon pro-
posed a closer coordination with COMAIRSOPAC, as previously
it directed all air operations, so that Harmon had no control over
AAF units and no AAF air organization existed. AAF combat and
service units, training, and supply were under the control of com-
manders of the various island bases: Canton; Christmas; the Fijis;
New Caledonia; and Tongatabu. By mid-December the headquar-
ters and headquarters squadrons were established for the 13
Force, XIII Bomber Command, and XIII Fighter Command. Harmon
realized that the responsibilities of these two Commands would be
abridged because of the wide distribution of their units and com-
mands on the various island bases. But under the new air force
Harmon would have greater control, and as opportunities arose he
could gain even more control. Most of the 13AF personnel needed
would have to come from units in the field, as the Joint Chiefs were
not going to increase their previously agreed on commitments. The
physical administration and housing facilities were being quickly
constructed on Espiritu Santo. The Joint Chiefs had committed 70
heavy bombers (47 arrived in the theater by 30 December), 52 me-
dium bombers (26 were in the theater by 30 December), and 150
fighters (158 arrived by 30 December).
On Thanksgiving Day the American air forces went on the of-
fensive and attacked the Japanese seaplane base at Rekata Bay on
the north end of Santa Isabel Island, 165 miles northwest of
Henderson. Rekata Bay was garrisoned by several thousand troops
and was the largest seaplane facility in the Solomons. The 67
Fighter Squadron War Diary for 26 November 1942 describes this
"We were expecting and waiting for an enemy air annada for
the simple reason that Tojo seems to delight in cooking up some
sort of observance of our holidays. Thanksgiving is no holiday here,
of course, and there was no Tojo either. (Charlie came over at 4:30
this morning and shook our foxholes with four bombs, but that's
routine now.) Since the Nips didn't see fit to celebrate our Thanks-
giving, we did. We gave them bombs and bullets. The recipients of
our fireworks were the 3000-odd Nips who maintain a seaplane
base, gasoline, and ammunition dumps at Rekata Bay, on the north-
eastern shore of Santa Isabel Island, 165 miles from here. In the
flight were nine SBDs, each carrying a 500-pound bomb and two
100-pound bombs, and 15 of our P-39s carried 100 pounders.
The lumbering Navy dive-bombers took off in the late after-
noon, and sometime later our faster Army fighters started (piloted
by Lts. Bauer, Brewster, McLanahan, Norris, Patton, Ryan, Tullis,
Waldmire, Williams, and a few ofthe newly arrived pilots -author).
The SBDs headed across to make their bombing runs while we
sped back and forth overhead looking for float Zeros. There were
Fighter Command in World War II
none. The sun was just setting with a brilliant red when the first
bombs hit. The high mountain ridges in the middle of the island
cast a shadow over the harbor, but it was still light enough to see
that there were no flying boats on the water. We had been informed
that the Nips were ferrying in supplies that very afternoon. With no
flying boats to hit, we just bombed and strafed the shore area.
After the SBDs finished their business we started down. It was
a pretty, although a rather deadl y sight, and was more like the Fourth
of July than Thanksgiving. All the way down in a dive from 9,000
feet to where we pulled out at about 2,500 feet we fired our guns in
salvo. We figured the sight of all that lead coming from our wings
would cause a little consternation among the ground gunners and
maybe mess up their aim. The tracers from our two .50 calibers and
our cannon streaked down in front of us into the palm grove below.
It was dark enough to make the tracers show up well.
What also showed up were their tracers passing ours and com-
ing right at us-they were shots from the 20mm ground guns. This
wasn't so pretty. At the bottom of our dives we released our bombs,
then streaked across the water, zigzagging to make it harder for the
Nip anti-aircraft. one of us were hit on this mission. We rejoined
the formation neatly right above the SBDs and escorted them home-
ward for several miles, or out of danger, anyway. We couldn't fool
around with them too long, because we barely had enough gas to
get back as it was.
Naturally, in the excitement of getting away we did not line up
just right and Bauer, a new arrival from the class of 42-F, was a
little surprised and disturbed to find himself in the position of ele-
ment leader with not one, but two wingmen. 'How about taking the
lead, one of you, somebody,' he said over the radio. 'There's a
yardbird in this ship.'
It was well in the night when we got home. We managed to get
all 15 planes down on the fighter strip in the dust and darkness
without a single casualty. It was missions such as this that the squad-
ron began taking the war to the enemy. Meanwhile, the Jap fleet
was still determined to blast Henderson off the map."
Battle of Tassafaronga 30 November-l December 1942
The Japanese planned to reinforce and supply their troops on
Guadalcanal, but vigilant American air reconnaissance discovered
that the Tokyo Express was readying another sizable run. To counter
the Express, U.S. Navy Task Force 67 commanded by R.Adm.
Carlton Wright sailed from Espiritu Santo just before midnight on
29 November. Four heavy cruisers-the
New Orleans, Minneapolis (Wright's flagship), Northampton,
and Pensacola-the light cruiser Honolulu, and four destroyers ar-
rived off Tulagi-Guadalcanal the next night. The reason for the avail-
ability of USN cruisers and destroyers in the South Pacific was that
each time a carrier was sunk (the Enterprise, Yorktown, Wasp, and
Hornet) or left for repairs (the Saratoga) its escorting warships were
released. Adm. Yamamoto held the Japanese Combined Fleet back
at Truk, waiting to commit it for a decisive battle. Unknown to
Yamamoto was that the USN had only one operational carrier (the
Enterprise) that was not completely repaired from her damage at
the Battle of Santa Cruz. imitz was withholding his precious car-
rier back at Noumea. Adm. Raizo Tanaka was ordered to take eight
destroyers from the Buin anchorage and head north, away from
Guadalcanal, to mislead any patrol aircraft. On the 30
a coast
watcher at Buin reported that the Japanese destroyers had left the
anchorage, and the stage was set for the Battle of Tassafaronga.
The alerted Americans sent out an increased number of patrol air-
craft from Henderson and eight B-17s from Espiritu. The well-
trained Tanaka destroyer force evaded detection during the day-
time of the 30
as it turned back east toward Guadalcanal through
the uninhabited islands and reefs east of the Solomons. As Tanaka
approached Guadalcanal he was unaware of Task Force 67, and
concentrated on getting into position to off-load 24Q floating oil
drums that were lashed to the decks of six of his eight ships. The
drums contained food, medicine, and ammunition, and were chained
together to prevent their dispersal. To carry this cargo the destroy-
ers had to leave their replacement torpedoes and half of their am-
munition back at Rabaul. USN radar picked up the Japanese, but
their illumination seaplanes were unable to take off from Tulagi
because of calm water. The glassy calm water created a kind of
surface tension between it and the aircraft's pontoons and prevented
separation. The condition had been known for years, and the fix
was to have a fast boat create small waves in front of the aircraft so
it could take off. This was not done, despite the presence of over a
dozen PT-boats in the area. After vacillating for nearly a quarter
hour and losing much of the advantage of surprise, R.Adm. Wright
ordered his cruisers to open fire and launch their torpedoes. Tanaka,
seeing the gun flashes, ordered an immediate course reversal, and
all 20 American torpedoes missed, and their shells fell into the va-
cated ocean. The Japanese picket closest to the Americans opened
fire with9ut Tanaka's orders and was smothered by heavy return
fire. Tanaka's DDs executed a simultaneous fast night torpedo run
that they had practiced for over 18 months. Two long lance torpe-
does hit the Minneapolis, and the New Orleans was hit by another
torpedo. Both cruisers had their bows blown off and retired from
the battle. Soon the Pensacola was hit, losing her aft engine room
and three turrets. The Pensacola turned and limped back to Tulagi,
leaving only the Honolulu and Northampton to CatTy on the fight.
The Northampton was hit by two torpedoes that ruptured her fuel
tanks, causing her to catch fire and sink. It was a brilliant victory
for Tanaka's inferior destroyer force, but not knowing he no longer
had opposition he withdrew before he could off load his supply
drums. The Pensacola, Minneapolis, and New Orleans were saved
by heroic efforts of their crews, but were damaged so badly that
they all were out of action for over a year while undergoing repairs.
The Battle of Tassafaronga was another defeat for the U.S. Navy,
but as bad as it was, the Navy would soon be reinforced by the
return of the carriers Enterprise and Saratoga, the addition of three
new 16-inch and two old 14-inch battleships, several new cruisers,
and many new destroyers and submarines. The battle was to be the
last naval action off Guadalcanal in which major American war-
ships were involved. From this point on the Tokyo Express was
engaged by PT boats and the Cactus Air Force. During this time
Army Maj. Gen. Alexander Patch's Americal Division relieved
Vandegrift's 1
and 5
Marines. Patch, under Halsey's command,
was to direct tactical operations, taking over from Adm. Turner,
who continued to be responsible for transport of troops and sup-
plies. On 1 December the Americal assumed supply responsibili-
ties, and a week later Americal staff officers were in complete con-
trol. Cactus was no longer in danger of being lost from the sea.
The biggest changes on the island were in its air component
and facilities. Adm. Halsey had been commander of the South Pa-
cific (COMSOPAC) since 20 October 1942, and had named R.Adm.
Aubrey Fitchas his air commander (COMAIRSOPAC) on 15 Sep-
tember 1942. Fitch commanded all the air components in the South
Pacific, Army, Navy, Marine, and New Zealand. On 15 November,
Fitch designated Henderson as a Marine air base with Col. William
Fox as its commander. Fox initiated the rebuilding of the entire
runway system of Henderson and Fighter Two (Kukum) to improve
their drainage. Fighter One would be abandoned because it was
totally unusable during any wet weather. The lSI Marine Aviation
Engineers relieved the 6[h Seabees on 1 December and were fol-
lowed by the 2
Engineers on 30 January 1943 to improve the air
facilities. The coral of Lunga could not be used ,as it was too brittle
and turned to sludge in the rain, and more distant coral had to be
hauled in and rolled by Japanese equipment captured three months
before. Bundles of Marston matting (named after the location of its
first use, Marston, North Carolina) had to be separated and hauled
in pieces, as there were no cranes to unload it. Brig.Gen. Louis
Woods continued as COMAIR Cactus until 26 December, when
Brig.Gen. Francis McCauley, CG of the 2
MAW, relieved him.
MAG-14 was responsible for the administration of food and hous-
ing for Marine, Air Force, and the occasional transient naval units
on the island. COMAIR Cactus executed tactical employment of
the air units there. On 20 November there were 101 aircraft on the
island: 35 F4Fs; 24 SBDs; 8 TBFs; 17 P-38s; 16 P-39s; and 1 P-
400. By the end of the month there were 188, including 71 F4Fs.
EightB-17s of the merged 5[h and 11[h BGs were sent to Guadalcanal
to carry out long-range reconnaissance. The AAF sent the 12[h and
70[h Fighter Squadrons in December, and the 339[h FS was receiv-
ing more P-38s daily.
December 1942
Torrential tropical rains during the first week of December
deluged the Fighter One quarters of Cactus Flight and caused them
to evacuate to the Fighter Two strip (also called Kukum Field). The
Seabees had constructed the field in a coconut plantation on a nar-
row coastal plain parallel to the beach and several miles north of
Lunga Beach. Fighter Two was located on higher ground and better
drained, and its runway was constructed of crushed and rolled coral
and covered with steel matting. The pilots continued to be billeted
in the pyramidal tents, but cement floors had now been laid and the
tents were pitched over them. There was an abundance of wood
available for lumber from the surrounding trees, and portable saw
mills were shipped to the island to manufacture building materials
and tent floors. Unfortunately, most of the surrounding trees were
filled with shrapnel from the shellings and bombings and broke
many of the saw blades. The pilots were heartened by the promise
of Quonset Huts. More service and repair equipment and men had
arrived, and increased the aircraft serviceability rate. As in the past,
the majority of pilots and enlisted men were based back at New
Caledonia, and squadrons conducted training programs there for
both the veterans and newly arrived pilots from the States. In mid-
December the 339FS had nearly 100 pilots, along with 70 to 80
P-39 being run up by a mechanic at FighterTwo on Guadalcanal. (Palmer)
aircraft at its new facility at Oua Tom. There were often as many
pilots from other squadrons also based there. At the same time
Henderson was being refurbished with a new runway surface cov-
ered with fresh matting and restored taxiways to accommodate B-
l7s. Things were looking up at Guadalcanal, but it still wasn't the
proverbial bowl of cherries. Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker visited
Henderson and wrote in the February 1943 issue of Life magazine:
"I spent only one night and a day on the island, but it was
enough to make me mad at myself and my people back home for
ever thinking what war is. If New Guinea is a hellhole Guadalcanal
is ten times more so."
The failure of Tanaka to deliver supplies to the beleaguered
Japanese 17
Army necessitated the immediate formation of an-
other naval supply column. On 3 December a new Tokyo Express
made up of ten destroyers, seven destroyer/transports, and three
escorts was scheduled to come down the Slot and arrive after dark-
ness and under poor weather. The destroyer/transports were again
to use the chained drum technique and jettison them offshore. How-
ever, a coast watcher and a patrol plane warned of their approach.
Operations tent at appears that the pilots are playing cards or
dice. (Palmer)
Part Two, Chapter 6 - December 1942
Waiting for a scramble under an Improvised tarp sunscreen at Fighter Two.
Eight SBDs ofVMSB-142 and seven TBFs ofVMSB-131 escorted
by four F4Fs and six P-39s of the 67FS took off at 1730 in clouds
and mist with the visibility at one mile to intercept the Express at
160 miles out. The attackers flew west for over an hou;; they reached
the limit of their search radius and were ready to return to base
when they spotted the wakes of ships through the clouds. The SBDs
dove first, and the Japanese ships broke their formation, increased
their speed, and frantically dispersed. The haze and mist below the
clouds afforded the pilots no visual reference to the location of the
ocean's surface, but following the ship's zigzag wakes gave the
pilots that reference. After the SBDs attacked through a barrage of
AA fire, the P-39s dove and dropped their bombs and rejoined the
F4Fs for top cover. The Japanese sent up 12 Rufe float planes from
the Shortlands, and the F4Fs turned into their attack. The P-39s
were at 8,000 feet and climbing from their bombing attack when
they spotted the Rufes. The P-39 pilots knew they were unable to
dogfight with the agile float planes and executed a chandelle in
formation to climb to 11,000 feet to make a diving attack on them.
The float planes turned to meet the Airacobra attack and fired their
light caliber machine guns in a determined head-on attack, almost
ramming the P-39s, which had to pull sharply away. On passing
through the American formation the Japanese then pulled up verti-
cally to give their rear gunners a shot at the American fighters. The
P-39s went into another steep chandelle to reach altitude and dived
to the attack again. The old jammed gun bugaboo plagued the P-39
pilots again, but four of the ten Rufes shot down that day were shot
down by 67FS pilots: two by Lt. Lynwood Glazier and one each by
Us. Peter Childress and Zed Fountain. Childress and Glazier were
also credited with a probable each. Maj. Nathan Post ofVMF-121
and ILl. Michael Yunck ofVMO-251 were credited with three vic-
tories each. One Dauntless was lost in the action. The bombers
claimed two "cruisers" sunk and two damaged, but Japanese records
The compasses in the P-39s were notoriously undependable, and due to the
weather the pilots had no horizon to fly by. If one strayed off course there
was the danger of hitting the mountains on the neighboring island. As they
approached Henderson searchlights were switched on, and shafts of light
poked through the clouds to guide the planes. Pictured is Lt. Vernon Head
inbound over the Russell Islands from a mission to Lambetti Plantation Air-
drome, New Georgia, probably in December 1942. (Lansdale/347FGA)
show only the destroyer (Manama) to have sustained slight dam-
aged. Exhaustion, heavy drizzle, then darkness, and finally the con-
cern that they would run out fuel made the return flight harrowing.
The compasses in the P-39s were notoriously undependable, and
due to the weather the pilots had no horizon to fly by. If a pilot
strayed off course there was the danger of hitting the mountains on
the neighboring island. The pilots turned on their running lights in
an attempt to rendezvous, but everyone was on his own. As they
approached Henderson searchlights were switched on, and shafts
of light poked through the clouds to guide the planes. All 67FS P-
39s made it back, but an Avenger and Wildcat were lost on landing.
Several days later the 67
pilots received a shot of whiskey and
commendations from Adm. Halsey and Gen. Woods for this action.
On the 4
, Lts. McLanahan and Tullis were on patrol when
they detected what appeared to be strings of gasoline drums tied
together floating offshore between Tassafaronga and Kokumbona.
These were part of the 1,500 chain-linked drums the Japanese had
dropped the day before. The lack of Japanese shore personnel and
their physical incapacity from near starvation rations prevented the
pickup of many drums floating close to shore. The 67
spent the
day shuttling to strafe the drums and then returning to base to re-
arm. Aided by PT boats, all but 310 drums were sunk before they
reached shore. The next day Cactus flight bombed and strafed Japa-
nese dugouts and strong points, slowing the infantry advance along
the Point Cruz Line. Interdiction missions were flown against en-
emy movements and fuel and supply dumps behind enemy lines.
On 5 December all Army Air Force units in the South Pacific
were informed that on 13 January 1943 they would become part of
the 13
Air Force under Gen. Nathan Twining, headquartered at
New Caledonia. During December Cactus Flight, set up by the 67FS,
began to be referred to in daily operations as a "detachment of the
347th Fighter Group," and continued to include pilots of all the
squadrons of the group.
Fighter Command in World War II
Above and following: 68 Fighter Squadron P-40s at FighterTwo. (Canning)
The increased heavy American air attacks on Rabaul and the
Shortlands caused the Japanese High Command to decide to build
larger forward airfields to the east. These bases would put Japanese
aircraft within easy bombing distance of the bombers now based at
Henderson, and would base their fighters in better position to inter-
cept the American bombers flying west. The fighter strip at Buin, at
the southern end of Bougainville, was too small, and the various
scattered seaplane bases were inadequate. Aforward base was cho-
sen to be built at an abandoned coconut plantation on the southeast-
ern end of New Georgia at Munda Point, about 180 miles from
Henderson. A Japanese construction convoy was sent out on 24
November and quickly unloaded, and work was begun under strict
camouflage. During early December American patrols flew to Santa
Isabel and New Georgia Islands searching for destroyer/transports,
barges, and landing boats for the Tokyo Express and the troops and
supplies to be loaded on them. Despite these air searches and re-
connaissance of this area it was not until 5 December that the first
aerial reconnaissance photos by VMD-154 discovered the construc-
tion. On the 6
, Lts. Brewster, Kellum, McLanahan, and Patterson
flew a patrol to Munda Point to investigate reports that an airfield
was being constructed. As they dropped down on the area they found
two camouflaged strips under construction and bombed and strafed
the construction workers and their equipment. It was not until the
that nine SBDs of VMSB-142 attacked Munda's AApositions,
runways, and fuel supplies, and from that point Munda airfield came
under almost daily attacks. During December, B-17s of the II th and
5'h Bomb Groups attacked the site 21 times. Despite these constant
attacks the Japanese persevered and completed the fields; by Christ-
mas Zeros were operating there, and bombers flew in by the end of
the year.
On the 7
Marine dive and torpedo bombers led by Maj. Jo-
seph Sailer and escorted by fighters foiled a ten destroyer Express
commanded by Capt. Torajiro Sato. The bombers attacked at 1635,
just after sunset, and holed the Nowake, which had to be towed to
safety by two other destroyers. The remaining seven destroyers were
attacked by torpedoes and automatic gunfire from a resolute PI
boat attack, and Sato withdrew without releasing his supply drums.
The Marines lost "the best dive-bomber pilot in the Pacific," as Joe
Sailer's SBD was hit by AA fire from a destroyer he was bombing,
and then was picked off by a Zero. Sailer had flown 25 missions
and was credited with six hits and three near misses on enemy ship-
ping. Also on the 7
, the remaining detachments of the 68FS ar-
rived by ship from Noumea and became the first complete fighter
squadron to based at Guadalcanal. The squadron was based at Fighter
Part Two, Chapter 6 - December 1942
Two and flew P-39s and PAOs on escort missions to the Northern
Solomons, as well as tactical missions in support of infantry on
Guadalcanal, which was now Army, as the Marines had been with-
On 10 December, 11 B-17s escorted by eight P-38s ofthe 339FS
attacked shipping in Tonolei Harbor, Bougainville. The Japanese
sent up Zeros late to intercept, and the P-38s, having an altitude
advantage, intercepted them on their way up. Five were shot down,
one each by: Lts. Edgar Barr, Edwin Brzuska, Douglas Canning,
Delton Goerke, and Danford Miller, with an additional Zero claimed
by a B-17 gunner and Lt. Grant Reagh claiming a probable. The
Flying Fortresses scored three hits on harbor shipping, and all air-
craft returned safely to base, but one Lightning returned to base on
one engine. On the 16
Capt. John Thompson of the 67FS shot
down a Zero on an escort mission to Munda. That night it started to
rain, which was not unusual, but instead of stopping after a few
minutes the rain continued throughout the night. A bolt oflightning
hit the camp and knocked two enlisted men unconscious for sev-
eral minutes. At dawn there was water everywhere, the tent floors
had three inches of water flowing over them, and bedding and cloth-
ing were damp. Bill Harris (339FS):
Although the pyramidal tents were fairly waterproof, flooding from torren-
tial rains such as shown soaked everything. (USMC)
The searing tropical sun on a metal wing quickly dried laundry. (USAF)
"The pyramidal tents were pretty waterproof and usually did
not leak. But like most canvas during a constant rain, if anything
touched the sides that area would begin to leak. One night I got up
during a rain and accidentally ,touched the side of the tent; it started
to leak on to my cot. Luckily there was room in the tent to move it."
Clothing placed in parachute bags under their cots was sop-
ping wet, and shoes floated away. The next morning the men had to
slog through ankle deep mud to get anywhere. It took longer than
usual for the tropical sun to dry things out, but then the men knew it
would soon rain again.
In the late afternoon of the 11
Tanaka led 11 destroyers to-
ward the Slot. Before dusk the Express was attacked off New Geor-
gia by 14 SBDs led by Sailer's successor, Maj. Ben Robertshaw.
The Marine dive-bombers claimed four destroyers left burning, but
Japanese accounts record no hits. However, the Japanese were sur-
prised by an unexpected PT boat attack, as the quick little boats
raced onto the scene at 0100 and quickly hit Tanaka's new flagship
(Teruzuki) with a torpedo. Tanaka was taken off the stricken vessel,
and the Express again retreated without accomplishing its supply
mission. This was to be the last Tokyo Express excursion down the
Fighter Command in World War II
Above: Rutted wet road leading from FighterTwo Camp to the Airstrip. On the right side of
the road is the shaving and wash station, with the water tank trailer behind it. Left: Shower
time at FighterTwo.The water was brought up to the pilots' bivouac on the ridge by a water
trailer pulled by a Jeep. A wobble pump was used to get water into the overhead can.
Slot for a while, as on the 12
, the Japanese naval command or-
dered a temporary stop because of the coming of the full moon.
During this hiatus the Japanese High Command evaluated the situ-
ation, and at the end of December decided to evacuate Guadalcanal,
which Tanaka had long advocated.
On 19 December the 339FS moved its Tontouta base on New
Caledonia to Oua Tom, where it was to remain throughout 1943.
Oua Tom camp was in a better location than Tontouta, as it was
built at the base of a mountain range about 600 feet from the air-
field. The base had better drainage, providing better living and op-
erating conditions and fewer mosquitoes. While on R&R from Cac-
tus the pilots and enlisted men worked hard on improving their new
base. The pyramidal tents had wooden frames and floors, and the
mess hall had a cement floor and rain-proof thatched roof. Supplies
from America were more frequent and meals improved. Aday room
was built with a PX that stocked beer and candy. Of the creature
comforts available the latrines had sit down seats and flushing toi-
lets, as well as a central wash stand area for shaving. The wash
areas were covered with canvas, corrugated iron, wood, or tarpaper.
The washstand was a SO-gallon drum split lengthways, sometimes
supplied with pumped cold running water. The showers had hot
water supplied from three barrels of water heated by oil and piped
to the shower room plumbing. Since water and pumping equip-
ment were in short supply the wasting of water was not tolerated.
Posters were hung in washrooms giving a tutorial on the con-ect
method of taking a shower, shaving, and brushing teeth. Meanwhile,
back at Fighter Two conditions also improved, as tents had wooden
floors and mess tents became elaborate affairs, with tables, benches,
high pitched roofs, and cement floors. Showers, wash stations, and
latrines were improved. Water was brought up to the pilot's
bivouac on the ridge by a water trailer pulled by a jeep. A wobble
pump was used to get water into the overhead can with holes
punched in the bottom to provide a showerhead.
On 21 December 11 pilots of the 70FS arrived from Fiji. Capt.
Robert Hubbell led seven new P-40F Rolls Royce engined P-40s
into lLt. Martin Ryan had to ditch between Espiritu Santo
and Guadalcanal when his engine overheated, but was rescued. The
now had more pilots than aircraft. Squadron CO Henry Viccellio
asked if anyone wanted to fly the P-38, and three pilots volunteered.
This was to prove an ill-fated decision for ILts. Ronald Hilken,
Raymond Hine, and Emmett Norris, as all three would be MIA!
KIA in the future flying the P-38.
70FS (20 December 1942) First Contingent Fiji. Front (L-R): Daggitt; Dunbar;
Cosart; Lanphier; and Hendrix. Rear (L-R): Moore;Topoll;Vicellio; Buck; Bar-
ber; Rivers; and Petit. (Lansdale)
Part Two, Chapter 6 - December 1942
25,000 starving and malarial Japanese, who had received mini-
mal supplies from the Tokyo Express and were incapable of mount-
ing a sustained offensive, faced Gen. Patch's Army infantry forces.
However, they were determined to fight and die for the Emperor,
and were entrenched along a line extending from Point Cruz to
Mount Austin in a number of strongpoints. The Japanese had made
Mount Austen, which was a series of rocky ridges running west
and surrounded by heavy jungle, into a stronghold. It was also a
valuable observation point of everything happening inside the
Henderson perimeter: the arrival of shipping; the movement of
troops; and the transit of aircraft flying toward Japanese bases to
the west. To the west of Mount Austen was a series of hills or open
crests. The Army gave these hills numbers for reference (e.g. Hill
53), but the most prominent ones were named the Gifu, the Seahorse,
and the Galloping Horse. This defense line blocked an American
advance to the south and west and posed a continual threat to
Henderson. Just as things seemed to settle down a five man Japa-
nese patrol infiltrated Fighter Two on the 12
and set a P-39 and
fuel truck on fire, then returned to their lines safely in the confu-
The Land Offensive
In preparation for the new American offensive against Mt. Austen,
P-39s and SBDs regularly flew sorties against Japanese bivouac
and supply dumps in the Kokumbona area. During the infantry at-
tack on Hill 53 American aircraft stepped up their activity. Previ-
ous to the attack AAF fighters had been able to isolate the battle-
field by cutting off supplies landing on the coast. Army artillery
began a half hour bombardment beginning at 0550 that was fol-
lowed by 12 P-39s and 12 SBDs attacking the hill and its surround-
ing area for 20 minutes. The P-39s were armed with a 500lb. bomb,
and the SBDs carried three depth charges. The initial Army ad-
vance after the attack took Hill 53 without heavy resistance. The P-
39s then attacked Japanese reinforcements moving through the
jungle and blew up several ammunition dumps. As often as targets
were sighted and called in the P-39s were sent out to attack them.
Early in the morning of the 13
\ two P-39s strafed Japanese troops
landed on Kokumbona beach, and five Airacobras hit Vasale later
in the day. On the 14
the P-39s were out all day on sorties, some
using improvised gasoline bombs. On the 15'h the P-39s supple-
mented B-26s that dropped 82 100lb. bombs on Tassafaronga, and
five P-39s dropped depth charges in the Mt. Austen area. The Ameri-
can offensive to take Mount Austen began on the 17
h, but the ad-
vance was slow and costly, as the Japanese strongpoints were well
dug-in, well camouflaged, and mutually supporting. Numerous close
air support missions were called in against the ravines forward of
the advancing troops but had little effect. The Japanese defenses
had to be dislodged one by one using machine guns and mortars to
support infantry using demolition charges, hand grenades, and then
hand-to-hand fighting. On the 17
the Japanese OKA unit was put-
ting up strong resistance in a small pocket in a ravine between Hills
31-27 and 43-44. The area was small and too narrow to safely call
in artillery fire before the advancing American battalions. A P-39
squadron was armed with 500lb. depth charges that they dropped
in the ravines. The large detonations of the depth charges in the
confined area caused heavy enemy casualties, and the infantry was
able to overrun the Japanese positions after two days of battle. Mount
Austen was not taken until 10 January, and the area was not cleared
until the 23'd. The XIV Corps' general offensive to secure the Ameri-
can flank began on 8 January against the Galloping Horse and ended
on the llth, and against the Sea Horse on the 10
\ and it was cap-
tured on the 14
. The Japanese resistance was fanatical, American
casualties were heavy in the savage fighting, and American infan-
try morale was at its lowest ebb since Bloody Ridge. Finally the
flank was secured, and the coastal offensive to the west from Point
Cruz could begin on the 13
. Kokumbona was captured on the 23
and the offensive reached the Poha River on the 25
. The loss of
Kokumbona meant that the Japanese lost their closest good landing
beach west of the American airfields, their artillery positions that
had constantly shelled the American perimeter, and their main sup-
ply routes to the east and south, along with their primary ammuni-
tion and materiel dumps.
Pilots of the 12FS arrived on Guadalcanal from Efate, New
Hebrides, on 20 December, and were to see their first combat after
flying an uneventful B-17 escort mission on the 23
. The Squadron
was led by Maj. Paul Bechtel, who was considered a veteran, hav-
ingjoined the Air Force in 1939 after graduating from the Univer-
sity of Wyoming with an engineering degree and earning his wings
Paul Bechtel (3'd right on wing) poses with his
pilots and crew, (Bechtel)
Fighter Command in World War II
12FS P-39Ds "Innocent Imogene" with 12FS insignia (a fist clutching a lightning bolt) on the door. Note the belly auxiliary fuel tank shackles. (Bechtel)
in late March 1940. On 24 December nine SBDs escorted by eight
P-39s led by Maj. Bechtel and four F4Fs ofVMF-121 led by their
CO, Maj. Donald Yost, attacked Munda airfield. The formation
approached Munda at 0800 in clear weather, with the F4Fs provid-
ing high cover at 16,000 feet and the AAF flight flying intermedi-
ate cover at 12,000 feet for nine Marine SBDs. The dive-bombers
were difficult to escort because of their low speed, and the fighters
had to weave continually to stay with them. Unknown to American
intelligence was that the Japanese had moved 24 Zeros to Munda,
and as the Americans arrived they spotted the dust from Zeros taxi-
ing for take off. The SBDs dove to attack the field from 10,000
feet, with the Wildcats abandoning their high cover assignment and
following them. The SBD attack caused chaos and destroyed ten
Zeros waiting at the end of the runway, while the F4Fs shot up
taxiing Zeros and a few in their take off and climbing patterns.
Bechtel remained at his assigned intermediate cover position, and
once the attack was finished he split his two flights. He sent a flight
down to intercept the Zeros that had managed to take off and were
now pursuing the Wildcats, while Bechtel remained with his flight
at 12,000 feet as top cover. While orbiting, Bechtel spotted about a
half dozen Zeros in echelon formation to the west. These Zeros had
probably taken offjust before the Americans arrived and were wait-
ing to bounce the SBDs when they climbed back to altitude after
their attack. Bechtel's fight was up sun and he turned into them.
The Zeros, thinking that Bechtel's flight was another group of Ze-
ros, casually turned, allowing the P-39s to join the formation from
the rear. ever trusting his 37mm cannon, Bechtel fired his four
wing .30 caliber and two cowl .50 caliber machine guns at a Zero,
but did not get any hits. He doubled his deflection and still didn't
see any hits, but the Zero quickly began to smoke and lost power.
Later Bechtel's wingman reported that he had seen the stricken plane
break into flames. Bechtel climbed and fired at the next Zero in the
formation, getting good hits, but then the Jap formation broke up
and the maneuverable Zeros pulled tight turns inside the P-39s.
During a filing pass Bechtel heard a frantic call from his wingman,
2Lt. Everett Anglin, informing him to go into immediate evasive
maneuvers, as he had a Zero on his tail. The Zeros' tracers followed
Bechtel as he tried a tight right tum to escape. His Airacobra went
into a stall and spun to the right. The Japanese pilot thought he had
hit Bechtel and turned on Anglin, who shot him down. Bechtel re-
covered from his spin and was alone over Rendova Island. He
searched for another plane to follow back to Cactus and saw one
about four or five miles off to his left and about 300 to 400 yards
higher. As he approached he saw that the plane was another Zero.
Again the Zero turned gently and allowed Bechtel to pull up behind
him. Bechtel closed to 300 yards and fired a burst, setting the Zero
on fire (later confirmed by a ground observer). P-39 pilots of the
12FS had good day, making their first combat claims of the war
(four Zeros and two probables). Maj. Bechtel claimed two Zeros
and a probable, 2Lt. Anglin shot down one Zero, and Capt. James
Baird and lLt. James Lamburth shared a Zero. Another probable
was shared by 2Lts. Roger Ames and Joseph Young. ASBD appar-
ently shot down the last Zero. But it was the Marines that took the
day again by scoring ten aerial victories after their strafing run,
with Maj. Donald Yost getting four and lLt. Kenneth Kirk ofVMO-
251 three. Earlier in the day Capt. Thomas Lanphier, flying a P-39,
got a Zero for the 70FS over Cactus. However this victory could be
in error, as there is no mention of it in 70FS records, but the simi-
larly named lLt. James Lamburth shared a victory that day, and
Lanphier may have gotten a victory credit. Lanphier, in his unpub-
Part Two, Chapter 6 - December 1942
ILt Joseph Moore. (Canning)
lished self-aggrandizing biography, seems confused, and com-
mingles his missions of 23,24, and 26 December- he credits him-
self with two Zeros on the 24
! That afternoon nine SBDs escorted
by four Wildcats and four Airacobras attacked 13 Japanese barges
carrying troops and sunk nine, taking a heavy toll on their passen-
A Christmas present for the exhausted pilots of the 67FS and
339FS was R&R. They were flown to Sydney, Australia, in C-47s
and spent the next two weeks there (the next leaves would be spent
in Auckland, New Zealand). Sections relieved one another every
eight weeks, spending nine to 14 days on R&R, and then returned
to New Caledonia for further training before returning to combat.
During their time on the Canal entertainment and relaxation was
provided mainly by motion pictures. At new bases one of the first
duties of the Special Service Officers was to set up a movie or pic-
ture show, as they were called back then. The first theaters were a
simple projection booth, a few logs or bomb fin packing cases to sit
on, and an improvised screen from a white sheet or tent side. After
a while these theaters evolved into elaborate stages with curtains
and wooden seats, and were given names such as the "Tropicana,"
"Coralcobana," or "Jungle Bijou." Every night was movie night, as
one unit showed its movies on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday,
while a nearby unit would show its movies on Sunday, Tuesday,
and Saturday, so there was always a movie to see. Unfortunately,
movies were scarce and units often traded, so the same movies were
often seen many times by the men.
On the 26
the 70FS sent 14 fighters to accompany four SBDs
on a surprise attack on Lambeti Airfield, New Georgia. Most of the
enemy aircraft were caught on the ground by the strafing attack and
13 were destroyed, along with gasoline and supplies. Several Zeros
took off through the pandemonium, and lLt. Joseph Moore shot
one down.
On the 28
lLt. Rex Barber and his wingman, lLt. William
Daggitt (70FS) were flying a two-plane P-39 reconnaissance patrol
over Munda Point at 9,000 feet when nine Japanese fighters were
spotted orbiting at 13,000 feet directly over the airfield. At the same
time a Betty ( ell?) bomber was flying below at 1,000 feet making
a landing approach on the field. Barber and Daggitt dove on the
bomber, with Daggitt feinting toward the fighters while Barber, in
"Diablo," attacked the Betty. As he dove his aircraft seemed slug-
gish and would not come up to speed. He realized that he had not
dropped his belly tank, jettisoned the tank, and continued his dive
on the bomber and set its right engine on fire. It continued to fly on
until it crashed into the ocean for Barber's first victory. As Barber
climbed he saw some aircraft off to his left that he thought were
Marine Corsairs. As he closed he discovered that they were Zeros,
but the two Jap pilots saw him and high-tailed it back to base. When
he returned to Cactus Barber's crew chief told him that it had been
reported that he had "bombed" a Japanese bomber. An Australian
coast watcher had seen him drop his belly tank before he fired on
the enemy aircraft and thought it was a bomb!
The Japanese Washing Machine Charlie attacks continued on
Guadalcanal with one or more attacks sent each night. Materiel
damage was modest and occasionally casualties happened, but the
major casualty was the morale of the personnel, whose sleep was
interrupted as they spent hours in a foxhole or slit trench waiting
out the attacks. On 21 December Maj .Gen. Alexander Patch rec-
ommended to Halsey that six night fighters be sent to Cactus.
Harmon was given permission to request the night fighters and their
GCI (Ground Control Intercept) equipment. The Cactus Director
of Air Defense asked for one fixed SCR-588 unit to be sent, but the
Navy felt that a mobile unit would be better suited and could sup-
ply one within three months from a British unit at New Zealand. So
it would not be until March 1943 that night fighters and associated
radar would arrive at Guadalcanal.
At the end of 1942 Harmon assessed the condition of his air
units at Cactus. The P-38s were performing well in their various
roles with minimal maintenance problems. They were good bomber
escorts when properly utilized (e.g. high cover -author), "excel-
lent" recon aircraft (F-5s), and had "splendid potential" as a "sec-
ond bomber" (fighter-bomber), but there were only 41 operational
in the theater. B-25s were scheduled to operate out of Henderson
permanently at the start of 1943, but only the P-38 could provide
escort to the range limit of the Mitchell. Harmon reported that the
P-38 was at a "terrific disadvantage" in performance when it es-
corted this medium bomber at its effective combat ceiling or lower.
The P-38 did not have sufficient range to escort the B-17s to Rabaul,
and advanced bases would have to be captured or built for this to
happen. The P-39 continued to do stellar work as a fighter-bomber,
but often had to be withheld from that duty over Guadalcanal to
keep them in reserve for SBD/TBF escort missions. Harmon's last
nine P-40s were doing yeoman duty -but were beginning to wear
out. He reported that for the period 1 February 1942 to the end of
the year the Japanese lost 388 aircraft (46 bombers, 304 fighters,
and 38 others), while his air forces lost 160 (20 bombers of all
types, 67 fighters, and 73 others, including those MIA). His report
stated that Henderson (Bomber One) was in "fair condition," Fighter
One was being regraded for the installation of Marston mat, Fighter
Two was almost completely matted, and Bomber Two on Koli Point
was still under construction. Despite the improving conditions, the
uncontrollable weather kept operations below optimal levels. At-
tacks were conducted under low ceilings and through rainstorms
that limited visibility. Long missions necessitated take offs before
Fighter Command in World War II
sunrise and landings after sunset. Bomber escort often required five
to six hours flying time with the possibility of meeting Japanese
interception. Nightly Washing Machine Charlie/Louie the Louse
attacks interrupted sleep and caused morale and physical exhaus-
tion to decline. Harmon also needed replacement crews for Gen.
Saunder's 11
and 5
Bombardment Groups, whose crews were
flying 12 hours daily for days at a time. In response to Harmon's
recommendations Arnold established a replacement schedule for
all personnel who had been in combat for four continuous months.
Harmon wanted the replacement of entire units, but the plan called
for the replacement of- eight crews per month. Fighter squadron
personnel were replaced in partial detachments back to the rear bases
on New Caledonia and usually/hopefully to New Zealand. The shuf-
fling of these detached units to and from areas resulted in the mix-
ing of pilots of different fighter squadrons, so that it was almost
impossible to determine the composition of a fighter squadron in
combat at any time.
A columnist from Collier's Magazine asked Maj.Gen.
Vandegrift what had caused the most Japanese infantry casualties:
"This columnist recently asked Major General A.A. ("Archie")
Vandegrift, who had led the Marines into the Solomons last August
and commanded our forces there during the heavy fighting last fall,
what caused the most casualties among Japanese infantry? Machine
gun and rifle fire, artillery fire, or dive-bombing?
'We haven't any official statistics,' Vandegrift said, and then
turned to his chief of staff, Colonel Gerald Thomas, and asked,
'But how about it, Gerry?'
'I'd say, definitely, Chief, that ground strafing by airplanes
killed the most Japs' Thomas replied. 'American airplanes, firing
both .50 caliber machine guns and 37 millimeter cannon, accounted
for many of the Nipponese killed at Guadalcanal by aircraft fire
while attacking landing barges.'" (Colliers Magazine, March 13,
January 1943
Gen. Hitoshi Imamura diverted the 50,000 troops of his 8
Army on Java from a planned attack on New Guinea in December
to reinforce Hyakutake's 17
Army at Rabaul in preparation to re-
capture Guadalcanal on 1 February 1943. However, on 4 January
the Imperial War Council issued an order to evacuate the troops on
Guadalcanal ("Operation Ke") and use them to establish a new de-
fensive perimeter in the Munda-Kolombangara region, and to rein-
force New Guinea to prevent a defeat there. The evacuation would
have to be conducted under increased air support a ~ d by a reverse
Tokyo Express. The Japanese Navy air arm had suffered heavy
losses, and the Army would be directed to throw their aircraft into
the inferno to aid in the evacuation of their troops. In December
about 100 Imperial Japanese Army Air Force aircraft were trans-
ferred from Malaya to Rabaul, and the first an'ivals were sent up to
intercept B-17s bombing Rabaul.
On 5 January B-17s with a mixed P-38 escort from the 339FS
and 68FS attacked a cruiser in Tonolei Harbor, off Buin, and were
intercepted by 25 Zeros and float planes. Capt. Robert Hubbell, CO
of the 68FS, shot down a Zero, and lLt. Emmett Norris claimed a
Lt. Besby Holmes claimed a floatplane and two probables over Tonolei Har-
bOe (Holmes)
probable. The 339
's Capt. John Mitchell and lLt. Besby Holmes
each shot down a float plane. Holmes also claimed two probables.
Two P-38s were lost, with lLt. Ronald Hilken crashing north of
Vella Lavella and listed MIA/KIA. Hilken was the first ofViccellio's
P-38 volunteers to die. lLt. Walter Dinn was shot down for the
third time and was last seen descending in flames; he was never
The 67FS was assigned to conduct searches over three areas:
Guadalcanal, New Georgia, and Santa Isabel. The aircraft were to
fly low over the coast looking for barges and landing craft, war-
ships, observation and gun positions, enemy bivouacs, and dumps.
Two planes on the New Georgia patrol were to fly over the Munda
area, and two on the Santa Isabel patrol were to fly over Rekata.
Their assignments were to draw anti-aircraft fire from these air-
fields and determine if it was light or heavy! Along with their search
missions the 67
flew their usual escort missions. On the 6
escorted by P-38s and P-40s attacked transports near Shortland,
and the next day P-39s escorted B-26s in an attack of Rakata Bay.
Two B-26s were lost.
Mitsubishi FI MI Pete floatplane ofAir Group 958 was easy prey. (Passingham
via Lansdale)
Fighter Command in World War II
On the 12
the Japanese sent a small force to Henderson and
destroyed a P-39 and a fuel truck on Fighter Two. This was a rare
occurrence, as at this time the Japanese were usually intercepted
before they could close in on Cactus. Only Washing Machine Charlie
continued to fly virtually unmolested at night, causing more an-
noyance than damage.
On the 14
, lLt. George Topoll of the 70FS led a morning two-
plane patrol over the Rekata Bay area at 10,000 feet. He spotted
three Mitsubishi FIMI Pete float planes at 3,000 feet and dove on
them through AA fire. Topoll shot down a Pete float plane, and his
wingman, 2Lt. Harvey Dunbar, damaged another.
Activation of the 13AF and COMAIRSOLS
The Joint Chiefs of Staff had authorized Lt.Gen. Millard Harmon,
COMGENSOPAC, to form the 13AF, and on 13 January 1943 it
was activated at Noumea, New Caledonia, under Maj.Gen. Nathan
Twining, who had been Harmon's Chief of Staff. Also activated
were the XIII Bomber Command under Col. Harlan McCormick
and the XIII Fighter Command under Col. Dean Strother (who would
soon become a Brig. General). The new Chief of Staff was Col.
Glen Jamison. The staffs of these three commands were very small.
On the 21st Twining moved 13
HQ to Espiritu Santo, where it re-
mained for a year. AAF units assigned to the 13AF were the 5
Bomb Groups (H), the 69
and 70
Bomb Squadrons (M), the
Fighter Group, the 12
and 44
Fighter Squadrons, and the
Troop Carrier Squadron. The 13AF was activated without an
air service command, and the administrative and supply of the 13AF
would remain under USAFISP. AAF air service units were directly
under the control of island commanders, and this system continued
until mid-1943, when they were transferred to the XIII Air Service
Command. The establishment of the 13AF did not change air op-
erations in the South Pacific, which remained under the control of
COMAIRSOPAC. All Harmon could do was emphasize that the
Air Force was definitely under his command, and that he was
to have direct control of administration, supply, movement, and
training, along with a firm input on the attention to AAF principles,
doctrine, and techniques in the employment of 13AF units. None-
theless, neither Harmon nor Twining had operational control over
their air units, and were only advisors dependent on a good rela-
tionship with VAdm. Aubrey Fitch, head of COMAIRSOPAC.
Purpose of the 13
Air Force
in relation to proposed objectives:
13 January 1943 to mid-year, 1943:
I) Gain air supremacy over the Central Solomons
2) Aid in the achieving ground and sea objectives in the Central
3) Destroy Japanese supply lines in the Northern Solomons and
to the Central Solomons
From mid-year 1943 to December 1943:
1) Gain air superiority over the Northern Solomons
2) Neutralize Japanese airfields and installations on New
Georgia and Bougainville
3) Support and protect amphibious landings in the Northern
4) Destroy Japanese supply lines to the BougainvillelNorthern
Solomons area
December 1943
I) Maintain air superiority over the Northern Solomons
2) Destroy Japanese airfields and installations on New Britain
3) Support amphibious landings in the invasion of New Britain
or in out-flanking New Britain
The amphibious nature of the war in the Pacific demanded
coordination of sea, land, and air components. Well equipped and
defended bases had to be established on a series of Pacific islands
from which air, land, and naval offensives could be dispatched
against enemy's air, land, and naval forces. The primary prerequi-
site for any offensive was air and naval superiority in the area. The
13AF was to supply land-based air power, in cooperation with
Marine, Navy, and later the 5AF air units. Early in the Pacific war
the AAF units were under the operational control of the Commander
of the South Pacific (COMSOPAC), Adm. Robert Ghormley, a Navy
admiral, and R.Adm. Fitch (COMAIRSOPAC), another Navy ad-
miral, who had control of all air units operating in the South Pa-
cific. After Ghormley was relieved operational control ofAAF units
was passed to the control of the Marine general, A.A. Vandegrift,
commander of Guadalcanal operations. When Brig.Gen. Francis
Mulcahy become the Senior Aviator on Guadalcanal on 26 Decem-
ber 1943 he commanded not only his 2MAW, but also all AAF,
USN, USMC, and RNZAF units on the island. Fitch continued as
COMAIRSOPAC, so there was a need for a centralized, coordi-
nated command. On 16 February 1943 Air Command, Solomons
(COMAIRSOLS) was formed under the command of R.Adm.
Charles Mason and four staff officers, who took over control of all
aircraft on Guadalcanal, with Mulcahy continuing on as its Chief
Part Two, Chapter 7 - January 1943
of Staff using the 2MAW as a framework. The new staff was beset
with administrative, supply, and operational problems of its dispar-
ate force. On 1 February Lt.Col. Luther Moore, the CO of MAG-
12, was named Fighter Commander of all fighter aircraft on
Guadalcanal, and later on the Russell Islands, and would maintain
his control until 25 July. Halsey's rule of "unity of command" gave
tactical control of the area to the major air force there (the USMC),
but left management of administration, training, and discipline to
individual air forces. In each smaller geographic area in the South
Pacific the principle of unity applied through the establishment of
island air commanders. The most important air commander and,
the one most closely connected to the control of the 13AF was
R.Adm. Mason, COMAIRSOLS (Commander of the Solomons),
who was directly responsible to COMAIRSOPAC. Mason was fol-
lowed by: R.Adm. Marc Mitscher USN (4 April 1943), Maj.Gen.
Nathan Twining AAF (25 July 1943), Maj.Gen. Ralph Mitchell
USMC (20 November 1943), and Maj.Gen. Hubert Harmon AAF
(IS March 1944). It would not be until 1944 that the 13AF would
gain operational control of its fighter and bomber units. Then, in
April 1944, its forward units were placed under the Thirteenth Air
Task Force under the 5
Air Force Advanced Echelon. On IS June
1944, the 13AF was assigned to the Far East Air Forces, which
included the S'h Air Force and was under the command of Lt.Gen.
George Kenney, the former Commanding General of the SAP.
COMAIRSOLS was divided into four subcommands:
/' Fighter Command: 347FG composed of the 67FS (P-39s),
68FS (P-39s and P-40s), 70FS (P-39s),
339FS (P-38s) plus theMFS (P-40s) and
12FS (P-39s), which were on temporary
duty. Fighter Command was responsible
for air defense, ground support, and es-
cort for air, naval, and some Strike
Command operations.
Bomber Command: 5
and II th Bomb Groups Heavy (B-17s)
and 69
and 70
Bomb Squadrons Me-
dium (B-26s) carried out attacks on en-
emy air, naval, and ground forces and
Strike Command: Mainly USMC (F4Fs) flying low-level
missions against Japanese surface units
and airfields.
/' Search Command: Reconnaissance
Even though the 13AF had administrative control, the conse-
quence of COMAIRSOLS was to deny 13AF HQ of operational
control of its tactical units as long as it was in the South Pacific.
Throughout the campaign the successive COMAIRSOLS staffs
experienced administration, supply, equipment, and doctrinal prob-
lems because of its diversity. To its credit COMAIRSOLS coped
amazingly well, and overcame these problems thanks to Halsey's
"unity of command" principle. A large number of 13AF missions
were flown with other COMAIRSOLS units, particularly in the in-
stance of 13AF fighters. 13AF fighters could fly escort for Marine
SBD and TBF bombers or AAF heavy and medium bombers, or
both at once, as Marine bombers often flew bombing missions in
coordination with AAF bombers. Almost every Japanese raid on
Guadalcanal was met by a mixed group ofArmy, Marine, and some-
times Navy fighters.
The tactical units of the 13AF were not utilizing the optimal
aircraft for operations in the South Pacific. The 5BG and llBG
were using B-17s that were not as suited to flying over the great
distances of the theater as were the B-24s. The medium B-26 bomb-
ers of the 69BS and 70BS were only beginning to be replaced by
the better B-25. Three fighter squadrons were flying obsolete P-
39s (67
h, 70
, and 12
), two were flying nearly obsolete P-40s (68
and 44
), and only the 339
was equipped with the P-38, which
was considered the superlative AAF fighter in the Pacific. Conse-
quently, 13AFbombers were obliged to depend on Marine and Navy
fighters for escort and cover or fly without escort. The P-38 was the
answer to AAF bomber escort problems, but during two months of
combat ending in mid-January just over half had been lost in com-
bat or operationally. Seven more were being transported on a ship
that left Hawaii on 6 January. Emmons promised Harmon that be-
ginning in March five P-38s per month would be allocated from
production lines to the South Pacific. At a 20% loss rate the 339FS
could be maintained at its full 25 aircraft strength.
The first combat for the 13
Air Force came in the -:arly morn-
ing of 15 January when 12FS P-39s escorted SBDs to search for
Lt. Darrrell Cosart posing with the P-39 "Short Stroke."There are three rising
Sun victory markings, but Cosart had two victory credits. Probably the other
victory credit was by another pilot flying "Short Stroke." (Lansdale)
Fighter Command in World War II
Left Capt. Richard Riv-
ers shot down two
Petes for his only vic-
tories of the war
Right: Lt. Phillip Hendrix
shot down one iloat-
plane, his only aerial
victory (Canning)
the Tokyo Express off New Georgia and claimed two Zero probabIes
(one each by Capt. Cyril Nichols and Lt. Roger Ames). Later that
day, during an afternoon bombing mission, a mixed group of P-38,
P-39, and P-40 fighters of the 68
and 70
Fighter Squadrons es-
corted a formation of SBDs up the Slot to attack five enemy de-
stroyers of the Tokyo Express about 37 miles southeast of Faisi. As
the Americans neared the destroyers the Japanese sent up a large
formation ofl2 float planes, mostly Petes, from Rekata Bay to in-
tercept. A flight of four 68FS P-40s took on nine of the attackers
and decimated them. Lts. Robert Kennedy, Martin Smith, and Allen
Webb each downed two, while Lt. Lloyd Huff became the first AAF
pilot in the South Pacific to down three Japanese aircraft in a day. It
was to be the squadron's second best day of the war. Two four-
plane sections of70FS P-39s led by Capt. Richard Rivers had flown
almost to their maximum range to find the destroyers and encoun-
tered the float planes. Capt. Rivers got two, and ILts. Darrell Cosart
and Phillip Hendrix one each. The B-17s did no damage to the de-
stroyers, but all aircraft returned safely to base. That same day SBDs
Capt. Stan Palmer's P-40 was shot down by a nervous B-1? waist gunner
with F4F and P-39 escort attacked a cargo ship off Munda and were
intercepted by a dozen Zeros, and seven were shot down by the
Wildcats. Elsewhere, VMF-1211ed by Joe Foss and VMO-251 un-
der Lt.Col. John Hart had a good day in two missions, shooting
down 20 Japanese aircraft. The American losses for the day were
one SBD and five Marine F4F escorts.
On the 16
the men of the 17
Photo Reconnaissance Squad-
ron disembarked from the troopship USS McCawley and came on
shore at Lunga Point by barge to set up camp in the coconut grove
on the west end of Fighter Two. The photo lab was set up on the
Lunga River near Henderson Field using old aircraft crates and other
material begged, borrowed, or stolen. The squadron would have to
wait until 2 February for their aircraft to arrive.
On the 18
11 B-17s escorted by two flights of 68FS PAOs on
close cover and P-38s on high cover at 30,000 feet were to bomb a
cargo ship near Shortland, 285 miles away. Capt. Robert Hubbell
led the first 68FS flight and Capt. Stanley Palmer led the other.
Because a P-40 had to maintain airspeed at 185mph the seven P-
40s had to "s" above the B-17s that were flying at 165mph. As they
approached the target the P-40s encountered two oblivious Japa-
nese Rufes, with one towing a gunnery target and the other weav-
ing in and out to practice firing runs. ILts. Joseph Lynch and Allen
Webb broke out of escort and each shot down a Rufe. The P-40s
had been instructed to keep close to the B-17s to provide them for-
ward firepower, as these early B-17s did not have a chin turret. The
bombers had just finished their bombing run and were making their
customary diving right hand turns to "get the hell out of there" and
to elude any lurking Japanese interceptors. The escorts lagged be-
hind after the bombers' quick turn and were to move back to escort
position. Capt. Palmer, thinking his flight was right behind him,
moved back up to his escort position, and a B-17 nervous waist
gunner began to fire on the lone P-40. Palmer's aircraft was hit, his
coolant and hydraulics were shot out, and he was forced to bailout
Part Two, Chapter 7 - January 1943
would establish itself with the 339FS as the premier l3'h Fighter
Command fighter squadron.
On the 20
the 339FS and 68FS escorted dive-bombers that
attacked shipping near the Shortlands. Zeros and float planes at-
tacked the formation between Fauro and Shortland Island at 0815.
Capt. Robert Hubbell and Lts. Frederick Ploetz and Martin Smith
each shot down float planes. lLt. Kennedy claimed two probables
and Hubbell one. Capt. William Shaw became the first 339FS
Sunsetter pilot to claim a double victory. lLts. Besby Holmes and
Fred Purnell claimed a probable each. Lt. Ploetz of the 68
was hit
in the shoulder by shrapnel from a shell that hit his fighter, but was
able to return safely to base. lLt. Emmett Norris became the sec-
ond 68FS pilot who had volunteered to fly the P-38 to be MIA/
KIA, and only Raymond Hine remained alive.
On the nnd, the 44FS flew its first B-17 escort mission when it
accompanied nine bombers to Munda. The P-40s of the 44
low cover, while the 339
P-38s flew high cover during the un-
eventfu13.5-hour round trip mission. After landing the P-40s were
immediately refueled, and the 44
took off for a low cover escort
for SBDs on a bombing mission on transports. During the mission
one of the SBD pilots called out bogies and the P-40s rushed over
to find "enemy" P-38s escorting B-26s to Munda. On 23 January
six 12FS pilots arrived from Fiji.
The American air and naval buildup on Guadalcanal threat-
ened the entire Japanese status in the central and northern Solomons.
To prevent the buildup on Guadalcanal the Japanese increased their
air attacks on the island. On the 25
30 JAAF bombers and fighters
approached Guadalcanal and were met by Marine and Air Force
fighters. Two Oscars were downed by Marine pilots and two more
by 339FS pilots, ILts. Ray Bezner and Besby Holmes. The Japa-
nese formation was turned back, but four defending Marine fight-
ers were lost.
very close to Japanese positions onshore, where he floated in his
raft during that late afternoon and night. The next day a PBY
"Dumbo" piloted by Lt. G.E. Hoffman was sent out on a S&R mis-
sion with P-38 and P-40 escorts to ward off enemy fighters and to
suppress Japanese shore fire. Palmer threw out a dye marker that
was very fortunately spotted by an alert Capt. William Shaw flying
aP-38 for the 339FS. As the PBY was about to set down Hoffman
spotted the wakes of two Japanese destroyers about six miles away
heading toward Palmer. As Hoffman landed the amphibian the de-
stroyers were five miles away and closing at a mile every two min-
utes, which Hoffman figured would give him enough time to pick
up Palmer. But during the rescue Lt. Joseph Lynch's PAO had en-
gine failure, and he ditched between Palmer and the closing de-
stroyers. Hoffman had to make a quick decision; if he went to pick
up the nearby Palmer he could not reach Lynch before the destroy-
ers came into firing range, and if he went for Lynch first he might
not have had time to return to pick up Palmer. Hoffman raced the
engines and put the PBY into step, pounding along the tops of the
waves toward Lynch, who was dragged through the side blister as
the destroyers closed to four miles. Hoffman turned the PBY and
lumbered across the waves towards Palmer as shells from the de-
stroyers splashed to within a 100 yards of the Dumbo. Palmer was
hauled through the blister, and the Dumbo turned and took off with
the destroyers less than three miles away; Hoffman's gamble saved
the lives of both pilots. Palmer suffered from exposure, and Lynch
a black eye and 32 stitches when he hit his gunsight during the
ditching. (Palmer narrative) During their Solomon rescue duties
the Navy Dumbo squadrons were credited with saving 161 pilots
and crews.
On 19 January the 44FS left New Caledonia for Cactus with
an overnight stop at Espiritu Santo. Maj. Tyler, Capts. Forsythe and
Taylor, and Lts. Tarbet, Wheadon, and Westbrook flew their PAOs,
while Lts. Byrnes, Matson, and Morrissey flew on one of the navi-
gation B-25s. The next morning at 0630 the six Warhawks and
Mitchell bombers left
Buttons. Maj. Tyler's PAO's gas cap came off and one of the
B-25s developed engine trouble, and both had to return. The other
five P-40s and the B-25 landed safely at 1030 at Cactus, where it
Capt.William Shaw became the first 339FS Sun Setter pilot to claim a double
victory. (Canning)
Lt. Fred Ploetz of the 68FS
shot down a floatplane be-
tween Fauro and Shortland
Island; he was wounded in
the shoulder during the
mission, but returned safely
to base. (Palmer) (Lansdale/
347FG Assoc.)
Fighter Command in World War II
Fighter Squadron P-39 "Beth" has a 12
FS insignia on the door. The
insignia has the lightning bolt held in the clawed fist extending beyond the
circle. (LansdaleI347FGA)
On the 26
the 70FS was on a search and rescue mission for a
life raft reported in the vicinity of Choiseul when ILt. Lawrence
McKulla's P-39 was shot down just off the coast of Wagina Island.
McCulla swam to the small island and was stranded there for 16
days before being picked up by a submarine. McKulla remained
aboard the sub until it completed its patrol, and he returned to base
several weeks later.
On the 27
the JAAF returned to Cactus with nine Bettys es-
corted by 30 Zeros. The bombers circled the Russell Islands while
the Zeros came in to take on the defending fighters. Eight F4Fs had
been scrambled at 0950, followed immediately by six 339FS P-38s
led by Capt. John Mitchell. The Wildcats climbed to 20,000 and
Lightnings to 30,000 feet to wait to pounce on the incoming Zeros.
The P-38s were the first to see the enemy, flying in undisciplined
formation, and dove, followed by the Wildcats; soon a wild dog-
fight began. A Zero came at Capt. Mitchell from the right, and he
turned into it and fired, hitting the cockpit. The stricken Zero dove,
briefly leveled out, and then crashed into the jungle near Cape
Esperance. 2Lt. Ray Bezner also shot a Zero, and 1Lt. Frank Holmes
claimed a probable. The 44FS had arrived on 20 January, but was to
see its first Jap in combat today. Ten of the squadron's PAOs took
off at 1015 and divided into two flights and an element and began
to climb, but at 6,000 feet a few of the Zeros broke off from the
dogfight above and bounced the first flight. Two PAOs were shot
down, but their pilots parachuted safely, landing near the airfield
below. Another P-40 was badly damaged, and the pilot crash-landed
on Henderson. The P-38s came down after the Zeros and, supported
by the second P-40 flight, broke up their attack. The 44
's 2Lt.
Dale Tarbet hit a Zero that crashed into the Aruligo jungle, and
Capt. Kenneth Taylor and ILt. Elmer Wheadon of the 44FS both
got a Zero. Wheadon was bounced and hit by numerous bullets (69
holes were counted later), but was able to land safely despite hav-
ing the fighter written off. Lt. Robert Westbrook's P-40, "Princess
Pat, " was hit in the tail, but he escaped by diving, and as he climbed
he spotted three Zeros and turned into one. He fired from 10 0' clock,
Fighter Squadron P-39 "Lilly." (LansdaleI347FGA)
hitting it in the belly, and it fell off on a wing and began to flame.
This would be the first of 20 victories for the top-scoring ace of the
13AF. The last P-40 element, led by Capt. Robert Hubbell from the
68FS, had been held back and had only climbed to 3,000 feet when
they were attacked. Hubbell called for his formation to break and
turn into the attackers. ILt. Fred Purnell shot down a lagging Zero
over Kokumbona, and he and his wingman then followed the home-
ward-bound Zeros. Purnell got a second Zero near Cape Esperance,
causing its pilot to bailout. In the dogfight Capt. Hubbell and Lt.
Ralph Moseley were shot down and listed MIA. ILt. Paul Hansen
had his Warhawk shot up, losing his hydraulics, and could not lower
his landing gear and chose the longer Henderson bomber field to
belly-land. As he was coming into Cactus a C-47 was also in its
landing approach. Henderson gave Hansen a "no go," but he came
-J ()lJ1d,
CaQtain, Air Corps.
Capt. Kenneth Taylor had served with the 47PS/ 15FG at Pearl Harbor as a
Lieutenant flying P-40s. He and 2Lt. George Welch were the first Ameri-
cans to intercept the Japanese, and scored America's first aerial victories of
the Second World War. (Taylor)
Part Two, Chapter 7 - January 1943
in anyway and skidded safely off the runway before the C-47 touched
down. The 339
P-38s also chased the Zeros home. The Zeros were
flying low over the water and would turn into the Lightning at-
tacks. Lt. Ray Bezner hit a Zero whose pilot bailed for his second
victory in three days. Capt. William Shaw, the leader of the second
section, despite being unable to release one of his belly tanks, made
a pass at a Zero when another Jap turned into him. The first Zero
also turned and fired, exploding Shaw's belly tank and fighter in a
ball of flame. Flight leader Capt. John Mitchell exacted revenge for
Shaw, as he got on the tail of this Zero and shot it down for his
second Zero of the day. Lt. N. McDaniel was also lost. The Marine
Wildcats scored two victories in the early fighting, but one ran out
offuel and had to ditch. The day's totals were ten Zeros for two P-
40s, two P-38s, a F4F, and two P-4Ds written off after landing. Dur-
ing the dogfight the waiting Japanese bombers flew under Cactus
radar and made one ineffective bombing and strafing pass on Ameri-
can troop positions. Capt. Mitchell's first victory of the day gave
him five and made him the first of 21 aces of the 13AF. Capt. Ken-
neth Taylor had served with the 47PS/lSFG at Pearl Harbor as a 2
Lieutenant flying P-4Ds. He and 2Lt. George Welch were the first
Capt. Robert Hubbell of the 68FS (kneeling) was shot down leading a PAO
element for the 44FS. (Palmer)
Americans to intercept the Japanese and scored America's first aerial
victories of the Second World War. Taylor was credited with two
Kate victories and a probable in his first sortie, and after refueling
and rearming he claimed a Val probable after being wounded in the
left arm and receiving fragments in his leg. After the war the In-
spector General credited Taylor with victories for the two Pearl
Harbor probabIes, but the official USAF Historical Study 85 does
not credit him with these victories that would have made him an
ace. Doug Canning (67FS):
"Early belly tanks were crudely made, and the mounts didn't
always fit. The mechanics would take cold steel chisels and chisel
the mounts to fit. The word we got was if we got into the air and
they started to vibrate we should drop them right away, or they
would shake your wing off. On a B-24 escort mission my tanks
started to vibrate and I pulled away from my formation. First I hit
the electrical release and nothing happened. Then I hit the manual
and they didn't go. I went into a big dive and pulled back real hard
and hit both releases. The tanks released, but one tank hit my right
rudder, and now I had a full jam to the right. I was able to maintain
A released belly tank hit Doug Canning's P-38 rudder and forced him to
ditch. (Canning)
Fighter Command in World War II
Capt. Willie Hull,
68FS. (Lansdale)
Capt. Ray Williams and his Crew Chief, S/Sgt. Williams. (68FS) Canning)
straight and level by using differential power. But the question now
was if I had enough fuel to make it back. Sure enough, when I was
about ten miles from the field it was evident that I wasn't going to
get back. Then the question was; do I bailout or ditch into the
water? I decided to ditch, but I was using differential power and
had quite a bit of speed. Three of the guys had stayed with me and
said that I had made quite a big rooster tail as I skidded across the
water. Finally, the aircraft slowed down and I got the canopy up,
but almost immediately the plane dove toward the bottom. I tried to
get out but something was holding me in. I found it was my headset
cord and ripped it out of the socket. I guess that I must have been
down 80 feet or so because the plane was going down pretty fast. I
popped up to the surface, climbed into my life raft, and thought I
could paddle the ten miles to shore. The paddles were only about
15 inches long, and it didn't take long for me to decide to wait to be
rescued. The boys had radioed my position, and it wasn't too long
before a lOa-foot ship came out to pick me up. The whole crew was
without shirts, and when I got on board the only guy with a uniform
asked me how I was. I said I was a little nervous. He asked if I
would like to have a shot. I thought he was a doctor. He took me
below and gave me dry Navy dungarees and I got my shot; medici-
nal whiskey, and then a steak, a Hershey bar, and a Coca Cola. I got
back to Fighter Two and flew a mission the next day."
On the 28
Lt. Henry Matson of the 44FS shot down a Zero
while on an escort over the Slot. On the 29
the 67FS and 339FS
pilots who had been on R&R were rotated back to Guadalcanal,
along with two 12FS pilots. All squadrons (67
h, 68
, 70
, and 339
were now represented in Cactus Flight.
During the last days of January and into early April the 68FS
had numerous command shuffles. On 27 January ILt. Fred Purnell
assumed command but was relieved by Capt. Karl Conradi on 5
February, then eight days later he was relieved by Capt. Ray Will-
iams, who was transferred from the 347FG HQ Squadron. Then,
two weeks later Williams left for New Caledonia and was replaced
by ILt. Paul Hancock. During this period there were no 68
in combat. Then, on 14 March Capt. William Hull replaced Hancock,
and Capt. Stanley Palmer replaced him, in tum, on 3 April.
Nearly every night Washing Machine Charlie continued his
nightly forays over Henderson, and since there were no night fight
fighters available several day fighter pilots volunteered to attempt
a night intercept but were denied permission. Finally, on the 29th,
Capt. John Mitchell of the 339'h was granted permission to try to
intercept Charlie. He took off to patrol shortly before sunrise and
waited for the final incoming Charlie of the night. The Betty gave
away its position when it dropped its bombs, and Mitchell dove on
it and hit it with a long burst. He continued on its tail, and a short
burst sent it flaming into the Slot. The Americans on Cactus awak-
ened by Charlie cheered Mitchell's seventh victory.
February 1943
On 1 February four P-40s of the 44FS and four P-38s of the
339FS escorted B-17s. All bombers made their bomb runs, but four
bombardiers did not jettison and turned to make a second run. Three
Fortresses were shot down, as the escorts were unaware of the sec-
ond run and did not accompany them. At 1630 the Cactus Fighter
Director was alerted of a Japanese air and naval attack approaching
the area and scrambled SBDs, TBFs, and a flight of 44FS PAOs to
escort them. The Japanese vessels were contacted to the north, near
Savo Island, and were protected by Zeros. The 44FS flight, led by
Maj. Kermit Tyler, consisted of Capt. Kenneth Taylor and Lts. Elmer
Wheadon and Robert Westbrook. The PAOs managed to keep the
Zeros at bay, but Wheadon's fighter had its stabilizer shot away,
and he was hit in the calf by shrapnel from a Japanese 20mm can-
non. Wheadon managed to crash-land the fighter at Cactus, total-
ing it. He was hospitalized, but spent the night in a bomb shelter
while the Japanese shelled the base. He was evacuated to New
Caledonia to recuperate, but would return to become an ace in July.
Capt. Jerome Sawyer of the 67FS shot down a Zero for the only
13FC victory for the day.
On 2 February 44FS Lts. Raymond Morrissey, Dale Tarbet,
and John Wood were escorting B-17s over Buin on southern
Bougainville when they were bounced by 20 Zeros as the bombers
were beginning their bombing run. Wood shot down a Zero but was
hit in the arm, side, and leg during the fray; he returned to the bomber
formation and continued flying escort. Tarbet and Morrissey also
shot down a Zero each, and all bombers returned safely to base. All
three pilots were awarded the Silver Star for their action that day.
The 339FS provided four P-38s for high cover for B-17s bombing
shipping in Shortland Harbor. Lt. Besby Holmes got his fourth vic-
tory (a Zero), John Mitchell claimed his eighth and last South Pa-
cific victory (a float plane), and Lt. Murray Shubin claimed a Zero
for his first of 11 victories. Shubin, called Jim by his squadronmates,
named his P-38 Oriole after his fiancE, and gave the name on the
cowling a loving ritual tap before each take off and after landing.
Wood commented on these escort missions:
"It must be remembered that our job was not to shoot down
Zeros. It was to protect the bombers, or whatever it was we were
escorting. On such missions it is a hard rule that we must hold our
formation and not let the enemy suck you out for a fight. Ours was
a defensive job, and what we got we got in holding these tactics-
to get the mission through." Tarbet added: "And it's hell to have to
sit there, holding that formation when surrounded by Zeros peck-
ing away at you. You get scared, scared as hell. Your mouth gets
dry and you suck up your oxygen as if it's the only thing to hold
onto. You want to dive out and get away but you know you can't.
Even after you get safely back home you are still scared from the
reaction. I couldn't sleep well for two nights. Every time I closed
my eyes I saw Zeros flocking around me." (44FS Combat Narra-
On the 2
the 17
Photo Recon Squadron had its F-5 P-38
photo ships fly into Fighter Two and were greeted by their ground
personnel, who had arrived two weeks earlier via transport aircraft.
When they landed the infantry on Henderson hoped these new fight-
ers were the P-38 night fighter versions sent to knock off "Washing
Machine Charlie," but were disappointed when they saw that the
fighters were not even armed. Three days later, the l7PRS flew its
first sortie when CO Capt. John Murray scouted the southern end
of New Georgia. On the 14
the squadron lost its first pilot in com-
bat when 2Lt. Ardell Nord failed to return from a recon sortie. The
unit would lose five more pilots during their tour in 1943: 1Lt. John
Mancini (22 April); 2Lt. Charles Roberts (9 May); 2Lt. Frederick
Baird (2 July); 2Lt. Raymond Petterson (17 August); and 2Lt. James
Reed (6 December). Lt. Allan Wekel was forced down off San Isabel,
but was rescued by coast watchers and returned to base. The squad-
ron would leave Guadalcanal on 5 October 1944 after 21 months
with detachments operating out of Munda (13 October 1943 to 31
January 1944) and Bougainville (11 December 1943 to February
The 17
PRS History contains a narrative of a Photo Recon
pilot's mission from Guadalcanal in 1943:
"It's only 0700, but it seems like hours since I took off. Better
be getting on that oxygen mask and the last minute check of gauges
before I get too high. Down ahead I can see two or three small
Fighter Command in World War 11
The 17PRS flew the unarmed F-5 photo recon version of the P-38.These photos show the two camera ports located in the nose below and behind the
number 676. Also note the top-hatted bee holding a camera insignia. (Canning)
islands, all exactly alike in their tangled mass of tropical jungle.
The furthest island ahead is the one to worry about.
It's 0745, I wonder if! will get there! Gosh, I'm getting cold!.
It's getting below zero, and I've still got to go up and up. Better
check the gauges again-can't be caught asleep if anything goes
wrong. Better start looking around more often, as these Japs don't
play for fun. Well I'm getting pretty close, better develop the old
rubber neck, because I can expect company out of the sun anytime
Doesn't seem to be many new ships in the harbor,just a couple
of transports riding at anchor and one under steam. The airstrip
seems to have been pretty well repaired since last night's working
over. If it weren't so darn cold maybe I could write some of this
dope down so I could read it when I got back. Oh, Oh! There's five,
no, six Zekes at about five thousand feet below me; keep an eye on
them. One last look around, then over the target for those ever lov-
ing pictures. About time for Ack-Ack to kick up. Oh! Oh! I talked
too soon again, here it comes, but a little off to the beam. So far, so
good, its all braking upstairs. On with the cameras, because brother
I don't want to have to do this job over again. Everything's rolling
OK, so just keep her straight down the alley, and we can soon head
for home. Those guys with the Ack-Ack are too darn close for com-
fort now. Cut the cameras and let's be heading for the tall timbers.
Wonder where those Zekes are by now? Gotta keep looking around
because I'm not home yet, and it could be a very long swim before
I'm through.
Ten hundred and halfway home going like the breeze. Gee, it's
great to be alive."
By the end of January U.S. Army troops had captured
Kokumbona and neared Tassafaronga, forcing the Japanese into a
narrow area around Cape Esperance. On the first day of February
20 destroyers of the Tokyo Express covered by 20 to 30 Zeros from
Buin passed down the Slot at 1600; not to bring in reinforcements,
but to evacuate Japanese troops from the island. Five enemy dive-
bombers came along and tried to sneak into the American anchor-
age at Guadalcanal. They sunk the destroyer DeHaven, but the pi-
lots of VMF-1l2 saved the day. All five dive-bombers were shot
down (three by Capt. Robert Fraser) and 17 of the Zeros were shot
down (four by ILl. James Percy). P-40s of the 68FS were scrambled
but did not make contact. SBDs and TBFs attacked the Japanese
convoy at dusk, but were only able to cause heavy damage to one
destroyer that was towed back to Shortland. That night another 19
destroyers came in and took off troops; one destroyer was lost to a
mine, and t,he rest escaped by sunrise after evacuating several thou-
sand troops. The Americans continued to believe that the Express
was on its typical reinforcement and supply mission. The Japanese
had moved a large number of troops and the 4
Air Army to Rabaul,
and reinforced the Munda airstrip to lead the Americans to the con-
70FS flight leader, Capt. James Robinson (center), downed two Zeros. (Can-
Part Two, Chapter 8 - February 1943
ILt.William Fiedler (70FS) shot down a Zero for his second victory toward
his five total. (Canning)
elusion that a new offensive was being prepared for Guadalcanal.
The U.S. Navy Action Report of 17 April 1943 stated:
"Until almost the last moment, it appeared that the Japanese
were attempting a major reinforcement effort. Only skill in keep-
ing their plans disguised and bold celebrity in carrying them out
enabled the Japanese to withdraw the remnants of the Guadalcanal
garrison. Not until organized forces had been evacuated on 8 Feb-
ruary did we realize the purpose of their air and naval dispositions;
otherwise with the strong forces available to us ashore on
Guadalcanal and our powerful fleet in the South Pacific, we might
have converted the withdrawal into a disastrous defeat."
On 4 February the Tokyo Express-22 destroyers covered by
25 Zeros-came down the Slot to attempt a second evacuation. At
two hundred miles out 12 SBDs and 13 TBFs escorted by eight P-
39s, four P-38s, and 16 F4Fs attacked and disabled one destroyer
Lt. Jack "Spyder" Bade (44FS) scored his first victory toward becoming a five
victory ace. (Canning)
and damaged another. Flight leader Capt. James Robinson downed
two Zeros, and Lt. William Fiedler was credited with another fly-
ing their 70FS P-39s. The F4Fs claimed six Zeros, the TBF gun-
ners two, and the SBD gunners one. One F4F, one SBD, and four
TBFs were lost in the action. An hour later 12 SBDS, escorted by
ten F4Fs and four 44FS P-40s, attacked the Express and slightly
damaged two destroyers. Three Warhawk pilots shot down a Zero
each: Lts. Jack "Spyder" Bade (his first victory toward becoming a
five victory ace); Henry Matson; and John Wood. Lt. Michael Carter
was hit and bailed out, and landed near the Japanese ships; he was
listed as the first 44
MIA. The 67FS flew escort for SBDs and got
two probables north of Kolombangara, one each by lLts. ilo
Inciardi and Robert Tullis. ILt. Robert Bauer was MIA. The F4Fs
downed four Zeros and lost two fighters, while the SBDs claimed
two Zeros and had one of their own shot down and another crash
land. That night the Japanese made another successful evacuation
from Guadalcanal.
Fighter Command in World War 1I
On 7 February the Tokyo Express made the third and last evacu-
ation when it came down the Slot covered by a rain storm and em-
barked most of the troops remaining on Guadalcanal. The three
February Express trips evacuated 11,706 troops, and at 1625 on 9
February all organized Japanese resistance on the island ended and
the island was declared secure. Late that afternoon the B-26s of the
69BS became based on the island and were escorted by P-38s and
P-39s to bomb the Japanese on Kolombangara Island. On 5 Febru-
ary the 70FS, under Capt. Waldon Williams and lLts. Koenig and
Kuntz and 2Lts. Burgess, Clark, Decker, and Gorham, flew their P-
39s from Fiji to Guadalcanal on what was the longest hop to date
for the Airacobra. Guadalcanal became the major base for Ameri-
can airpower in the South Pacific.
Lt. Richard Koenig was part of a group that flew their P-39s from Fiji to
Guadalcanal on what was the longest hop to date for the Airacobra. Note
the Hell's Angel. a Devil with a halo. on its tail. (Lansdale)
Summary and Assessment
of the Battle for Guadalcanal
With the successful Japanese evacuation, organized resistance
on Guadalcanal came to an end on 9 February 1943. Of 60,000
American personnel committed, the Marines had lost 1,207 killed,
2,894 wounded, and the Army 562 KIA and 1,289 WIA, and both
forces suffered thousands incapacitated by disease, particularly
malaria. U.S. Navy losses were about 4,770 (plus 130 aviator and
49 shipboard Marines). In comparison, the bloody battle for
Okinawa, often considered as the U.S. Navy's most costly cam-
paign, caused only slightly more casualties at 4,907 killed or miss-
ing. New Zealand and Australia lost 92 naval personnel. The Japa-
nese force of nearly 36,000 men lost 14,800 killed or missing, 9,000
more dead from disease, and 1,000 taken prisoner (almost 12,000
were evacuated). The Imperial Navy lost approximately 3,500 KIA/
MIA. The Allied navies lost two fleet carriers, six heavy and two
light cruisers, and 15 destroyers totaling 126,400 tons. The Japa-
nese Navy lost two battleships, a light carrier, three heavy cruisers,
one light cruiser, 11 destroyers, and six submarines totaling 138,000
tons. The Japanese lost 13 transports and one destroyer conversion,
while the Allies lost one transport and three destroyer conversions.
It was the air war over Guadalcanal that produced the greatest long-
term effect on the Pacific war. The shortage of airfields in the cen-
tral and northern Solomons and the distance to Guadalcanal from
Rabaul and Kavieng restricted Japanese air operations. Japanese
fighter and bomber crews were only able to mount one six to seven-
hour mission per day, and were unable to sustain a daily air offen-
sive in force. Missions were often interrupted or turned back by the
unpredictable tropical weather, but more importantly, the Japanese
air forces were overextended and were unable to conduct opera-
tions in both the Solomons and ew Guinea. When the Japanese
. concentrated their air activities in one theater, it gave respite to the
Allies in the other. The American build up in Australia and the emer-
gence of the 5AF soon placed more aircraft in the air over New
Guinea, further stretching Japanese air capabilities. The IJNAF had
lost many aircraft in the attritional air battles around Guadalcanal,
and while the Japanese aircraft industry was able to replace these
aircraft multiple times during the course of the war, skilled pilots
lost could not be replaced. The United States lost 264 aircraft and
420 aircrew casualties: 150 AAF; 140 USMC; and 130 USN. The
Japanese lost about 620 aircraft; aircrew loss figures are difficult to
quantify, but their losses were between 900 and 1,600. The 620
Japanese aircraft losses included a large number of Zeros (246 from
carriers and the 11th Air Fleet), and also bombers with multiple crew-
men: Vals (91 from carriers and the 11 th Air Fleet); Kates (47 car-
rier); and Bettys (125 11
Air Fleet). An additional 77 float planes
and 19 flying boats were lost, along with 15 Oscars of the IJAAF
(Adiscussion of Japanese and Allied air losses will be further elabo-
rated in the next chapter.). These losses were from Japan's best-
trained and veteran personnel, and so the impact of their loss was
more than what mere numbers indicate. At the beginning of the war
the IJNAF had 600 experienced carrier pilots, and 175 to 200 of
these were lost during the Guadalcanal campaign. The II th Air Fleet
lost 125 Betty bombers, along with most of their experienced crews.
During the period from the initial American invasion to the end of
the Naval Battle for Guadalcanal the Japanese had superiority in
total land and sea-based aircraft. The 565-mile distance from Rabaul
to Cactus was the major disadvantage for the Japanese air units. It
effectively halved the Zero escort force, as the Model 32 did not
have sufficient range, and the under-escorted bombers suffered
losses. The long distances and the excellent coast watcher organi-
zation, complemented by radar, gave the slow climbing Wildcats
time to reach an altitude to intercept the Japanese bomber forma-
tions and confront the Zero escorts. Japanese operations over this
long distance necessarily were predictable and routine, as fuel con-
sumption was a consideration in calculating time over the target
and returning back to base, and was the reason for mid-day Tojo
Time attacks. Once over Guadalcanal the unarmored Japanese
bombers and fighter escorts (without self-sealing fuel tanks) had
half of their fuel remaining for the return home, and would end up
as fiery explosions or flame into the sea when hit. The long dis-
tance caused inordinate wear on the aircraft and eroded the crew's
combat effectiveness, and ordinary battle damage could often be-
come fatal, as slightly damaged aircraft were unable to make the
long return home. Japanese overconfidence in the impending suc-
cess of each month's ground attacks on the island caused them to
postpone building airfields closer to Guadalcanal. But the Japanese
also lacked adequate airfield construction capability. The Marine
Fighter Command in World War II
pilots were at a disadvantage to the Zeros in their inferior Wildcats,
but Maj. John Smith, learning from Gen. Claire Chennault's expe-
rience with the American Volunteer Group earlier in China, devel-
oped the high overhead pass, dive, and climb tactic to maximize
the sturdy little Grumman's qualities. The Air Force learned that
their P-400s and later P-39s were incapable of intercepting the high-
flying Japanese formations, but went on to do yeoman's work as
superlative ground support fighter-bombers that turned the battle at
Bloody Ridge and constantly harassed the beleaguered Japanese
troops on the island. The Marine Wildcats and then Corsairs would
often escort their Marine SBDs and TBFs, but AAF fighters or a
mixed group of AAF, USMC, and RNZAF fighters would also of-
ten escort these bombers. The B-26 and later B-25 low-level mis-
sions were almost always escorted by P-39s, and often later with P-
38 high cover. The aggressive Marine VMFs were frequently criti-
cized for often leaving their escort position in the bomber forma-
tion to run off and shoot down Zeros. The AAF and Navy had few
problems or criticism in their maintenance of bomber escort air
discipline. The RNZAF were always beyond reproach and consis-
tently flew well-coordinated and disciplined missions. While the
Japanese naval and air bases at Rabaul were well-developed and
equipped and relatively untouched to date by bombing, the Ameri-
can ground crews and support personnel on Guadalcanal worked
tirelessly under air and naval bombardment, without adequate tools
and equipment, and under the most primitive conditions. The con-
tribution of the ground crews and construction engineers to the vic-
tory was important but unheralded. The SBD Dauntless dive-bomb-
ers interdicted the Japanese naval movements within 200 miles of
the island, restricting Japanese troop reinforcement a ~ d supply of
the island. 67FS Airacobras and Marine SBDs continually harassed
the starving and dejected Japanese troops, and restricted their day-
light operations on the island. The Battle of Midway was America's
first great victory of the Pacific war, beginning the reversal of Japan's
naval power; but Guadalcanal forever changed the strategic course
of the Pacific war on the land, sea, and in the air, and allowed Al-
lied global strategy to continue as planned at Casablanca.
Assessing the Guadalcanal Air Campaign
*Includes aircraft lost in rear areas (14), observation-type aircraft
(30), and 1 B-26
Credit: Figures compiled by Richard Frank (Guadalcanal: A De-
finitive Account ofthe Landmark Battle) from Japanese Unit Histo-
ries and the research of John Lundstrom (The First Team and the
Guadalcanal Campaign: Naval Fighter Combat from August to
November 1942) and James Sawruk.
Flying Boats
Marine infantry inspect the wreckage of a
Japanese Emily flying boat beached at
Guadalcanal. (USMC)
Aircraft Losses During the Guadalcanal Campaign
1 August to 15 November 1942
Zeros Vals
72 11
7 0
27 4
106 15
Carrier Air Groups 197
Aircraft Type Lost Zeros Vals Kates
Air Combat 43 58 35
Shipboard 5 0 3
Operational 33 11 9
Total 81 69 47
Rear Area Air Force 66
Float planes 66 .. ....-
Other 3
American 480

Aircraft Type Lost F4F SBD TBF P-39* B-17 PBY

Air Combat 70 24 2 13 7 7
On the Ground 12 20 7 2 2 0
Operational 33 22 7 4 9 10
Total 115 66 16 19 18 17
*includes P-400s
11th Air Fleet
Aircraft Type Lost
Air Combat
On the Ground
Carrier Air Groups 184
Aircraft Type Lost F4F
. Air Combat 31
Shipboard 32
Operational 18
Total 81
Fighter Command in World War II
*Added figure as per 11th Air Fleet Chief of Staff, R.Adm. Munetaka
Sakamaki, for period 16 November to 24 December 1942.
Total Losses
1 August 1942 to 9 February 1943
American 480+130=610
Japanese 506+176=682
Initially, American operational (non-combat) losses were much
higher than Japanese operational losses, as the Americans flew from
undeveloped bases, and their pilots had not developed their flying
skills and were inexperienced in utilizing these early bases. The
Japanese pilots were veterans and operated out of developed bases,
either captured and improved Australian bases or newly developed
bases built without interference. American air losses w"ere 420 and
included l50AAF, 140 Marine, and 130 Navy personnel. Japanese
air personnel losses were two to four times higher, as they lost many
multi-crew bombers, and a much higher proportion of their aircrews
did not survive after being hit in their highly flammable aircraft
that did not provide adequate crew protection. The 600 Japanese
carrier pilots who took part in the Guadalcanal air campaign had an
average of 800 hours of flying and combat time. The Japanese car-
rier air groups lost about 175-200 of these experienced pilots, and
the INAF also lost a substantial number of their Betty bomber crews.
The Japanese replacement pilots came into the battle with 250 hours
flying experience. USMC aces such as Marion Carl had over 1400
hours in May 1942, and Joe Foss had over 1000 hours when he
arrived on Guadalcanal in October. They were the exception rather
than the rule. Generally, Marine pilots in John Smith's VMF-223
and Joe Foss' VMF-12l squadrons were commissioned and awarded
their wings in early 1942, and were relatively inexperienced, but
did have flying time in the F4F Wildcat. The AAF pilots came to
the theater with 100-200 hours flying time and little time in combat
types, and then were thrown into combat in the inferior P-39s and
PAOs. The first two flights of the 68FS that arrived at Guadalcanal
on 7 November had a range of 64 to 163 "combat" hours among
eight pilots. "Combat" hours meant flying patrols over Tonga to
ward off potential Japanese attacks. AAF Squadron CO material
was so thin that 1SI Lieutenants were in command of fighter squad-
rons when they reached the South Pacific. Even the top AAF aces
were relatively inexperienced when they arrived. In December 1942
Bob Westbrook came to the theater with 223 hours of training time
and 81 hours of pursuit time, and even by mid-1943, ace Bill Harris
came into the Solomons with 103 hours of pursuit time out of 326
hours of flying time. At the end of 1942 theAAF had received eight
more fighters than the Joint Chiefs of Staff's authorized number of
150. However, there were two-thirds the number of heavy bombers
on hand (47 of 72) and half the medium bombers (26 of 52).
Total 176
Japanese Losses
16 November 1942 to 9 February 1943
Zeros 59
Vals 7
Bettys 25
Oscars 15
Petes 11
117 + 60*
There is a large divergence in the USSBS figures and those of
Frank, Lundstrom, and Sawruk. Richard Frank's 800 page
Guadalcanal (Random House, Y, 1990) is one of two definitive
accounts of the Guadalcanal Campaign. Frank's book covers all
phases of the campaign, while the other, John Lundstrom's
The First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign: Naval Fighter
Combat from August to November 1942
(Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1994), is unbelievably mi-
nutely researched, and without a doubt the definitive work on the
U.S. Navy and Japanese air forces during this time. The USSBS
was compiled immediately after the war and was based on interro-
gations of Japanese officers and incomplete records. The Frankl
Lundstrom Japanese figures are undoubtedly much more accurate,
as they are based on years of research.
American Losses
16 November 1942 to 9 February 191943
F4F 41 P-39 12 7
SBD 31 PAO 10
TBF 10 P-38 6
B-17 9
B-26 4
82 41 7 Total 130
U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey Japanese Aircraft Figures
August to November 1942
(Solomons & New Guinea)
Zeros Vals Bettys Float Flying Totals
Planes Boats
Combat 344 197 125 136 12
Operational 238 44 60 61 8
Totals 582 241 185 197 20
From USSBS No. 62 Japanese Air Power (Exhibit D)
Part Three
Central Solomons
Status of the Air War 1943
Although Guadalcanal was lost, the Japanese Imperial High
Command was not about to lose the rest of the Solomon chain.
Rabaul remained the hub of Japanese strength, and they were rein-
forcing their positions in the central and northern Solomons. The
Allied advance up the Solomon chain and the Japanese defense
was well suited to land-based aviation, as both sides were short on
carrier strength. The Japanese lost four carriers at Midway and were
reluctant to jeopardize their remaining carriers. The Enterprise and
the damaged Saratoga were the only large American carriers op-
erational, and the new Essex class carriers would not see combat
until August 1943. Marine aviation was to be the main fighter air
force in the South Pacific, while the 13
Air Force would furnish
one-quatter of the fighter strength, but most of the heavy and me-
dium bomber strength during the remainder of the South Pacific
campaign. Since the Japanese evacuated Guadalcanal American air
missions encountered increased AA defenses over enemy airfields.
In January and February photo recon showed increased construc-
tion activity on Japanese airfields, primarily taxiways and blast-
proof revetments. In one month (mid-December to mid-February),
the Japanese had doubled dispersal facilities and then increased them
another 50% the next month, so that by mid-February they had 245
revetments on New Britain and the Solomons, as compared to 72 in
mid-December. American intelligence estimated that the Japanese
airfields now were able to shelter more than 450 aircraft. There
were no revetments in the Solomons at the end of November 1942,
but photo recon now counted 72 revetments: 44 at Munda and
Ballale; 18 at Buka; and ten more at Kahili. The Japanese then con-
centrated on the development and expansion of new and established
bases in the central and northern Solomons while continuing to at-
tack Guadalcanal supply areas, installations, and off-shore ship-
ping by air and sea until mid-year. The Japanese held airfields that
were within the reach of Guadalcanal-based bombers, and con-
versely within the reach of the Japanese bombers. About 400 miles
to the northwest of Guadalcanal at the southern end of Bougainville
were the developed airbases in the Buin area. Kahili, completed in
September 1942 and enlarged to handle twin-engined bombers, and
Kara were on the island's mainland and protected Tonolei Harbor.
Shortland and Ballale Island air bases were completed in Decem-
ber 1942 and hard surfaced a year later, were located near Buin,
and had satellite fields, AA emplacements, and seaplane moorings.
Kieta was located on the central east coast, and Buka was a well-
developed base at the north end of Bougainville that had an excel-
lent repair facility. Munda airfield, on the southwest coast of New
Georgia, was newly built in December. There was a base being
slowly constructed at Vila on Kolombangara Island,just to the west
of New Georgia, that would be ready in March. The Rakata sea-
plane base on Santa Isabel was under constant heavy attack from
Guadalcanal, and thus was often inoperable. The thrust of the Ameri-
can bomber attacks was in the Buin-Shortlands-Munda area, as at
this time Rabaul and Kavieng were out of range of the Guadalcanal-
based bombers for any sustained attacks. The obvious eventual
objective of the South Pacific campaign was Rabaul, with the im-
mediate objective being the capture of New Georgia. The Munda
airfield could not be left to develop, as an airfield based there could
cover the movement of Japanese naval forces toward the eastern
Solomons and make Cactus more vulnerable. The Americans at-
tacked Munda night and day with every available aircraft that had
the range to reach it. American air strength was increased, as the
Saratoga's air groups were detached to Henderson for two weeks'
duty. Heavy bombers based at Cactus increased their attacks on
Japanese merchant and naval shipping around Buin, and Cactus
fighters were to provide cover for these bombing operations and
local searches.
February 1943 Continued
On 12 February a Navy F4U came in for a landing at Fighter,
ran out of control, and swerved off the runway, hitting three parked
P-38s and bursting into flame. AAF personnel ran over to the flam-
ing Corsair, and S/Sgt. Edwards of the 68FS pulled the Navy pilot
out, but was hit in the shoulder by exploding ammunition. Two
men were killed and two wounded by ammo that was cooking off
during the rescue and fire fighting attempt.
On 13 February two bomber formations took off on separate
missions to attack shipping in the Shortland-Buin area. ine PB4Ys
(Navy B-24s) of VB-lOi were escorted by four 339FS P-38s and
11 Marine F4Us of the newly arrived VMF-I24 under Maj. Will-
iam Gise. This formation attacked a cargo ship at 1130 without
getting any hits, and the Japanese did not engage them. Six B-24s
of the also newly arrived 424BS led by Col. Frank Everest were
escorted by four P-38s of the 339FS (Lts. Cramer, Lockridge,
Morton, and Rist) and seven P-40s of the 44FS. The B-24s bombed
acargo ship from 14,000 feet, getting one hit with a 1,000lb. bomb.
On the way to the target three of the Liberators' P-40 escorts had to
abort due to engine problems, and two P-38s (Morton and Cramer)
also had to abort later offBuin. This left only four P-40s and two P-
38s to protect the Liberators as 45 Japanese fighters scrambled.
Japanese AAfire from the shipping below was heavy and accurate,
as one B-24 was blown to pieces from a direct hit and another was
hit and crashed into the sea in flames. The four remaining B-24s
turned to bomb the Japanese shipping as another B-24 was hit and
left the formation with its wing and engine on fire. For the next 50
minutes there was a running 150 mile dogfight, and four 44FS pi-
lots claimed a Zero each: Capt. Albert Johnson (and a probable)
and Lts. Jack Bade, Raymond MOlTissey, and Robert Westbrook
(and a probable). The four Lightning pilots on top cover dove into
the fray, and 2Lt. Robert Rist escorted the damaged B-24 that left
the formation as it flew toward Choiseul with ten Zeros trying to
finish it off. Rist shot down one before he succumbed to the over-
whelming odds and was shot down. Rist's efforts had allowed the
B-24 to reach the north coast of Choiseul and to ditch successfully.
In the battle both Johnson and Morrissey were MINKIA. Bade
was awarded the DFC and Westbrook the Silver Star. 2Lt. Lockridge
(from the 339FS) also was credited with a Zero, and 2Lt. Thomas
Johnson (from the 70FS) was credited with an unidentified aircraft.
The remaining three B-24s and two P-40s returned safely to
February 1943 was a slow month for the I3FC, but on the 13
Lts. Jack Bade and Robert Westbrook each shot down a Zero, and Westbrook added a
probable. Bade was awarded the DFC and Westbrook the Silver Star for the mission. (Author)
Fighter Command in World War II
Guadalcanal, but another P-38 and the two that aborted the mission
all ditched on the way home. The tally for the day was seven Japa-
nese aircraft lost and damage to one cargo ship, but the cost was
high for the Americans, as they lost three of six B-24s, all four P-
38s, and two P-40s.
Despite the losses of the previous day, on the 14
nine PB4Ys
escorted by ten P-38s of the 339FS flying high cover, and 12 F4Us
of VMF-124 flying close cover, again attacked the shipping off
Shortlands-Buin. The bombers got several hits on a cargo ship and
several near misses on two others. As they turned home 30 Zeros
from Kahili supported by 15 float planes came up and attacked the
Americans. APB4Y was hit in the cockpit and crashed into the sea
off Shortland. Another bomber was hit by AA fire and struggled as
far as 12 miles off New Georgia before it had to ditch. The top
cover P-38s were divided in two three-plane sections and a four-
plane flight when the Zeros attacked. Capt. James Geyer, leading
the four-plane flight, shot down two Zeros and a probable, and lLt.
William Griffi th of this flight splashed another and claimed a prob-
able. Geyer's flight lost two P-38s, and two more P-38s were lost
from the three plane sections. Four 339FS pilots were lost: Joseph
Frinkenstein; Wellman Huey; John Mulvey; and Donald White.
Mulvey ditched and was rescued near Russell Island the next day.
A post-war Japanese book described that Huey had bailed out of
his P-38 and landed on a Japanese airfield and was severely beaten,
probably to death. The Marine Corsairs claimed three Zeros and a
Pete and lost two of their own, one to a mid-air collision with a
Zero. The PB4Y gunners claimed nine Zeros-a very questionable
number, as the Japanese records for the day show only three Zeros
lost. The totals for the day were a cargo ship sunk, five (or three)
Zeros (plus the nine claimed by the PB4Y gunners!), and a Pete on
the Japanese side. The Americans lost two PB4Ys, four P-38s, and
two F4Us, and the mission was referred to as the "St. Valentine's
Day Massacre." Losses of this magnitude could not be sustained
for small-scale daylight attacks, and all daylight missions on the
Buin area were discontinued until improved fighter escort could be
provided. Daylight raids on major Japanese bases were discontin-
ued and night attacks resumed. That day six 12FS pilots were given
a respite from combat when they rotated to Fiji on R&R.
The heavy bomber offensive over Rabaul and the northern
Solomons would need to establish a routine to be successful, with
the bombers usually flying at 20,000 feet. Marine F4Us and AAF
P-38s and P-40s were finally used to the best advantage of each
aircraft. Escorting the bombers were P-40s flying low cover, F4Us
flying staggered cover in layers of one or two flights at 20,000 to
30,000 weaving over an area of two to four miles, and the P-38s
flying high cover at 30,000 to 34,000 feet. The escorts were to stay
with the bombers unless attacked en mass by Japanese fighters.
The high altitude F4Us and P-38s would soon establish air superi-
ority over Japanese fighters that they would not relinquish through-
out the war.
Russell Islands (Operation Cleanslate)
to March 1943
Both Halsey and Harmon realized that additional airfields would
be essential to initiate operations against New Georgia. The Russell
Islands were their choice for these bases, even though they were
only 60 miles to the northwest of Henderson. The Russells con-
sisted of two main islands: Pavuvu, the larger island; and Banika,
its smaller neighbor to the east. The terrain of Banika was unusual
for the Solomons, as it was low and rolling and suitable for airfield
development. At 0600 on 21 February Operation Cleanslate began
to retake the rest of the Solomons when the 43
Infantry Division
under Maj.Gen. John Hester made a tactical landing on Banika and
Pavuvu Islands. There were no Japanese troops on the Russells,
and by the 26
the 579
Signal Company set up its SCR 270 radar
on Lingata Peninsula on Banika Island and was able to cover nearly
360 degrees, 80 to 90 miles out. The 33
Seabees and the 118
Engineering Battalion began construction at once on Fighter 1 (Sun-
light) on Banika. Progress was slowed because of inadequate equip-
ment and personnel, but by 13 April an emergency landing was
made by a damaged P-38. Banika had abundant high quality coral
to build the 3,100 x ISO-foot strip and associated taxiways and warm-
up areas, which were completed in early June. The rolled coral strip
Banika had abundant high quality coral to build the 3, I00 x I50-foot strip,
associated taxiways, and warm-up areas that were completed in early June.
was ready for 60 aircraft in late April and was occupied by the
13AF and three squadrons of Marine MAG-21 in time for the open-
ing of the air offensive against New Georgia. The first strip was
lengthened to 6,000 feet, and hardstands were constructed to ac-
commodate bombers. In July, at the close of the New Georgia cam-
paign, the Seabees were subjected to Japanese air attacks and helped
to man the AAguns. They suffered four dead and several casualties
in the attacks.
On the 25
, the 339FS escorted SBDs to Vila, on Kokumbangara
Island, and although there was no aerial combat that day, lLt. Grant
Reagh was lost to unknown causes. He was seen to bailout off
Santa Isabel Island and thorough searches did find him. On the 27
Lt. Fred Brown was lost in the same area as Reagh as his fighter
just nosed over, also for unknown reasons, and dove into the sea.
On the 27
, Capt. John Little of the 44FS claimed a Pete float
plane and a probable in a late afternoon engagement close to the
northeast tip of Vella Lavella. Capt. Robert Petit of the 70FS shot
down a Zero float plane. ILt. Jackson Lewis of the 68FS was shot
down during a dogfight over the Shortlands. During the last week
in February, for the first time in the Solomons campaign the Japa-
nese inflicted more air losses than they sustained.
Capt. John Little. (Smith)
Fighter Command in World War 11
On the 28
the Joint Chiefs of Staff presented its plans for the
advance toward Rabaul:
"Airdromes in southeastern Bougainville are required by South
Pacific forces for operations against Rabaul or Kavieng and to sup-
port naval striking forces. Such bases exist in the Buin-Faisi area.
Enemy airdromes in New Georgia are interspersed between the
Guadalcanal bases and the bases in the Buin-Faisi area. Those must
be captured or neutralized prior to the assault on the Bougainville
bases. Airdromes in the Vitiax Strait area are required to effect this
neutralization. Therefore operations against New Georgja are visu-
alized as following the operations to secure airdromes in the Vitiaz
area." (JCS: Plan of Operations in the Pacific)
In mid-February the llBG was relieved, and by the end of the
month relinquished its B-17s to the 5'h Bomb Group's 23'd and 31
Bomb Squadrons. The 31st was the first 5BG squadron to operate
out of Henderson, conducting night attacks on Lahili, Ballale, Vila,
and Munda. The 23BS came to Henderson in April. On 18 March
1943 the B-24 Liberators of370BS and 424BS of the 307BG of the
7AF arrived at Carney Field, the new bomber base on Guadalcanal.
Capt. Robert Petit. (Lansdale)
In mid-February the II BG was relieved,
and by the end of the month relin-
quished its B-17s to the 5'h Bomb
Group's Dcd and 3 l;t Bomb Squadrons.
The 31" was the first 5BG squadron to
operate out of Henderson, conducting
night attacks on Lahili, Ballale, Vila, and
Munda. (National Archives via Lansdale)
March 1943
In March both sides took a time out from large-scale air opera-
tions, as there were only 13 fighter missions consisting of escorts,
patrols, and some strike missions. The Japanese opposed these mis-
sions only twice.
On 3 March the 339FS took part in a search and destroy mis-
sion when a coast watcher about ISO miles northeast of Guadalcanal
reported Japanese naval vessels moving southeast along the north-
ern shore of Santa Isabel Island, near Rekata Bay. The flight was
led by lLt. Robert Petit and his element leader,' lLt. Robert
Kertstetter. As they neared Santa Isabel Petit dropped his flight to
sea level to approach Rekata Bay from the east so they would not
be seen by Japanese troops and shipping located on the north coast
of the island. Petit and his wingman, 2Lt. Bill Harris, turned left to
approach the targets from the south, while Kertstetter and his
wingman turned right to approach from the north; both elements
were to attack simultaneously. As they closed the pilots saw that
the enemy vessels were two destroyers and two corvettes escorting
barges carrying troops and supplies. Petit picked out the nearest
corvette, and he and Harris closed at 300mph at mast top level and
began to fire their machine guns and cannon at 1,000 yards. They
then dropped their delayed-action fused bombs in the water so that
they would ski p off the surface and hit the corvette at its water line.
Once over the vessel they pulled up quickly over the target and
jinked and skidded to evade AA fire. One or more of the bombs hit
the corvette, and it was engulfed in flames and probably sank.
Kertstetter and his wingman attacked a barge loaded with troops
and claimed to have sunk it.
On 6 March the Japanese renewed their air offensive against
the new Russell airfields and Guadalcanal. Four 67FS P-39Ks, flown
by flight leader Capt. Jerome Sawyer and 1Lt. Arnold Patterson
and two newly arrived pilots (ILls. Wallace McClendon and Isaac
Lalonde) were on routine early afternoon patrol over the Russell
Islands. Sawyer flew with McClendon on his wing, and second el-
ement leader Patterson with Lalonde on his wing. The Henderson
fighter director informed Sawyer that fighters there were scram-
bling to meet a large Japanese attack and their flight was to remain
on station. The flight was continuing its patrol when it was advised
that Henderson radar had detected that the enemy formation had
divided into a number of smaller groups, several of which had turned
to attack the new American installations on the Russells. Sawyer's
radio receiver was out and he did not hear this advisory, and did not
see the Japanese bombers until they were headed home after bomb-
ing. The Val dive-bombers had lost their escorts and were heading
toward home full out at 200 feet over the water. Sawyer led the
flight into a left echelon turn and made a high side pass gunnery
run. Lalonde and McClendon shared a victory and Patterson got
another Val and a probable, while Sawyer and Patterson shared an-
other Val. Suddenly about 15 Zeros dove on the P-39s, but the en-
emy attack was too fast and overshot the Americans. The P-39s
turned right into and under the Zeros, and the Japanese never ap-
proached closer than 700-800 yards. The P-39s were flying in from
the sea, east toward the Russells, with the Zeros trailing them and
the Val bombers passing the other way. While they were flying un-
der the Zeros the P-39s had been able to fire on the passing bomb-
ers. Patterson and Sawyer's elements fired on a pair of bombers.
Sawyer hit one in the right wing root for a victory and then chased
the other bomber and got it to smoke. The Val tried a desperate
evasive maneuver, circling Baruka Island three times at low alti-
tude. Sawyer radioed Patterson to go around the opposite way to
meet him on the other side, but he was unable to make contact.
Sawyer followed the bomber at 50 feet, trying to make tight turns
with him as he ducked into coves and then flew back out over the
reefs. The low altitude prevented the P-39 from making any alti-
tude passes, and the Val's sharp turns kept his rear gunner in good
firing position. Finally Sawyer abandoned the chase and returned
to base, but not before receiving friendly AA fire from the Ameri-
can base on the Russells. For the day the Americans claimed four
Val victories (Sawyer 1.5, Patterson 1.5, and LaLonde and
McClendon a half each) and two probables (Sawyer and Patterson),
and did not suffer one bullet hole in the fight. On the lOth another
Japanese air attack of ten Vals and 12 Zeros came down to hit the
Russells in mid-afternoon. The Japanese formation was picked up
by radar, and P-39s of the 70FS were scrambled. 2Lt. Frank Clark
and 1Lts. Calvin Gorham and William Daggitt scored a Zero each,
and Capt. Richard Rivers got a Val.
Fighter Command in World War II
On 11 March the 18FG Headquarters-not its aircraft or per-
sonnel-was transferred from the 7AF to the 13AF and was based
on Espiritu Santo. On 30 March the 12
and 44'h Fighter Squadrons
were assigned to the 18FG, and the 70FS was transferred to it from
the 347FG. The 13AF now had two fighter groups (347
and 18'h)
with three squadrons assigned to each. The 347FG was comprised
of the 67
, 68
, and 339
Fighter Squadrons, and the 18FG of the
12'h, 44'h, and 70
Fighter Squadrons. By mid-April 18FG HQ was
moved to Guadalcanal. On 18 March the 339
was designated a
twin-engine squadron, even though a few of its pilots would con-
tinue to fly P-39s for several weeks. With experience the American
fighter squadron pilots gained confidence that was expressed by
Fighter Squadron Capt. Bill Harris (Story of the 339/
"Up until recently we were fighting against bigger odds and
over enemy territory. We were constantly on the defensive because
we were escorting bombers. In many engagements we were terrifi-
cally outnumbered, sometimes by as much as four enemy planes to
our one.
Being over enemy territory and enemy-held waters, it was of-
ten difficult and even impossible to rescue downed pilots.
But there is no question our pilots are better: I'd say two to one
over the Japs. And I believe we have superior equipment. If we
were flying Zeros we could still lick them."
Washing Machine Charlie wasn't the only menace from the
sky, as during March 1943 the 13AF lost 72 of 100 days per 100
flying officers to malarial mosquitoes, and it would not be until
August that malaria would fall behind combat as the main cause of
lost time. Malaria afflicted 788 of 1,000 men per year in the South
Pacific in mid-1943. Early in the campaign the lack of adequate
housing, anti-malarial drugs, and knowledge of the disease's pre-
vention contributed greatly to malarial infection. Army and Marine
morale continued to be low due to the very real perception that
everywhere-rear areas or forward bases-the Navy had it better,
whether it be food or shelter. The Navy invariably arrived with
screened tents with wooden flooring and was the first to house their
personnel in Quonset huts. Their kitchens and messes had refrig-
eration and fresh meats, vegetables, flour, sugar, and the all-impor-
tant coffee and beer. Their latrines were piped with hot running
water and showers. The AAF had to beg, borrow, and often steal
from the Navy to even bring their living standards to above the
primitive level. Fresh meat was the biggest sore point, which the
avy seemed to have daily, whereas the AAF would receive their
ration irregularly, only then to have it spoil due to the lack of refrig-
eration. Many units reported eating Spamevery night for two, three,
or even four weeks. C-Rations could not maintain the men's health
or morale. It seems that today Guadalcanal veterans either like or
loathe Spam or Vienna sausages, but there are no veteran_s who told
me that they are able to eat the dehydrated vegetables today. Once
food supplies could be shipped it came from Australia and New
Zealand, and usually the choice fresh meats and vegetables went to
the Navy first, as their transports carried it and o f f ~ l o a d e d it. How-
ever, the Navy readily passed on New Zealand mutton that was
detested, and tinned greasy Australian bully beef that was loathed
even more. Bill Harris (339FS):
"One thing you couldn't imagine living in America was the
number of flies there could be in one place. We would try to put
food in our mouths with one hand and swat away the flies with the
other. They would drive you wild."
Everyone on the Canal shared these rations, and all complained
that the Navy had a posh tour of duty. But the Marine and Army
infantry complained that the "fly boys" had it good, as they fought
only several hours a day and then relaxed, eating decent rations at
regular hours and sleeping soundly in comfortable tents. Doug Can-
ning agreed:
"We did have it a lot better than the infantry, who had to fight
and live in the mud and rain in foxholes or shelter halves. They
usually ate cold rations when available and were under constant
threat of Japanese infantry and artillery attack. They had nothing
but our respect."
Within a few months the supply situation would improve dra-
Mission to the Shortlands
by James Lansdale
On 29 March the 70FS carried out an important mission that
was to be a prelude for the Yamamoto interception three weeks
later. James Lansdale extensively researched both missions and in-
terviewed a number of participants, and is an expert on them.
During late March 1943, Imperial Japanese naval float planes at-
tached to the Eleventh Seaplane Tender Division (No.ll Koku
Sentai), consisting of the tenders Kamikawa Maru a';'d Kunikawa
Maru, had been making a thorough nuisance of themselves. Known
locally as "Louie the Louse," the Mitsubishi Type 0 Observation
Seaplanes (FIM), code named Pete, were being used for nocturnal
harassment raids. The engine noise and the explosions of the 60-kg
bombs dropped by "Louie the Louse" made sleep impossible for
the American troops on Guadalcanal and around Henderson Field.
On the night of March 23, the Tulagi and Lunga areas were
attacked by three float planes followed by a pair, which attacked
Tulagi Harbor on the evening of the twenty-fifth. A single raider,
off Cape Esperance, carried out another attack the night of the
twenty-seventh. Photographic missions flown by Lockheed F-5As
of the 17
Reconnaissance Squadron had pinpointed the Faisi-
Poporang area in the Shortland Islands as the principal enemy sea-
plane base in the Solomons.
One photograph, taken March 28, revealed 27 float planes at
their moorings. Consequently an attack order was issued for ajoint
service fighter sweep of the base at daybreak on the twenty-ninth.
The force scheduled for the mission consisted of eight Lockheed P-
38 Lightnings from the 70th Fighter Squadron, USAAF, to be led
by Captain Thomas Lanphier, and eight Chance-Vought F-4U-l
Corsairs attached to VMF-124, USMC. The circuitous route to be
followed by the pilots, the time of take-off, the flight procedures to
be followed en-route, and, even the size of the force, would later
serve as a model for a more important mission which included some
of the same participants. A similar mission was initiated on the
morning of April 18, which ended the life of the Commander-In-
Chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.
The following account of the mission to the Shortlands was
related to me by one of the participating pilots, Major General Robert
L. Petit, USAF (Ret.):
"For the previous several months we pilots of the 70
Squadron had been flying and fighting together in the skies over
the Solomons. On March 29, 1943, we took off in our P-38s from
Fighter Two on Guadalcanal for a fighter sweep of the Japanese
float plane base in the channel between Faisi-Poporang and
Shortland (Alu) islands. The departure from base had been sched-
uled so that a combined force of eight P-38s and eight Marine Cor-
sairs would arrive at the target area at first light, shortly before
After takeoff we promptly formed up in a section of two flights.
The Marines ofVMF-124, including Ken Walsh, had also taken off
from their base, but they had difficulty in making their rendezvous
in the darkness. Captain Tom Lanphier, who was leading our sec-
tion of eight, circled the area waiting for the Marines to show up.
Since they did not appear to be making any progress toward assem-
(L-R) A.J. Buck, HenryViccellio, and Robert Petit, 70
Fighter Squadron circa
March 1943. (Buck via Lansdale)
Fighter Command in World War II
(L-R) AJ. Buck, Robert Petit, Rex Barber, and Philip Hendrix. (Lansdale)
bly, Tom struck out independently. En route, my wingman experi-
enced mechanical trouble and turned back. However, one of the
Marines (l st Lt. Eben Dale) joined up with us near the Russells and
became a part of my flight. Our formation now consisted of Tom's
flight of four, with Lt. Rex Barber on his left wing and Lts. Joe
Moore and George Topoll on his right; and my flight, with Lts. A.J.
Buck and Jim McLanahan to my right and the lone Marine on my
We flew a few hundred feet above the water in complete radio
silence. We did not take a direct course to Faisi-Poporang, but veered
out to sea, about fifty miles west of New Georgia Island, then turned
north. Maintaining formation in the darkness and beyond sight of
land required extreme concentration. Near the Treasury islands we
turned northeast toward our target. On our approach we ran into
low scud and keeping visual contact with each other became more
difficult, even 'though we were coming into a first light or predawn
condition. Because we were in and out of clouds and near ajumble
of islands at low altitude, it became a very dicey run. Finally, we
broke into the clear and, looking around, I realized that Buck and
McLanahan had lost us and must have returned to base. Tom quickly
oriented himself and set course for Faisi. Our attack force had
dwindled from sixteen scheduled to Tom's flight of four and my
inter-service element of one Lightning and one Corsair!
Quickly our target area came into view and Tom put us into
trail formation. I remember looking to my right and seeing a large
harbor with many warships and transports at anchor or alongside
docks. Also, in the harbor, there were ten or twelve large four-en-
gine seaplanes. To my left was an island covered with a thick growth
of trees (Shortland). We paralleled this island for a short time, skim-
mingjust above the water. We popped up to five.or six hundred feet
over land and reversed course. There, in a narrow neck of water,
were the moored float planes. We commenced our attack. I was
fifth in line. By the time I started my run, three float planes along
the left shore were already on fire and others smoking, so I took the
planes moored on the opposite shore.
Numerous anti-aircraft guns were situated on both sides of the
long, narrow channel where the float planes rested. The element of
surprise no longer existed. The enemy guns seemed to be zeroing
on me for my view on either side was filled with tracers. The effect
was somewhat like entering a tunnel with arcing Roman candles
flashing over your head. The thought crossed my mind that, nor-
mally, ammunition in that type of weapon was loaded with four
regular rounds for every tracer and, surely, there were even more
rounds heading my way than I could see! But, my mind and sight
were now focused on the targets in front of me. I do not recall hav-
ing fright or any real concern; that came later! Youth and inexperi-
ence were in control of my emotions and good fortune was at my
side. I walked my rounds into the row of float planes and saw the
flashes of the strikes. Completing my attack, I turned to the right
and, hugging the treetops of the island, started my exit. I looked
back and counted seven burning planes.
As we came off the target area and about nine miles south of
Shortland (Alu), Tom, Rex, and I all spotted what we thought was a
Japanese destroyer. We bore down on the ship, which was broad-
side to us. Tom, to my right, attacked the stern; I attacked amid-
ships; and Rex, bringing up the rear, attacked the bow. The strafing
proceeded in a somewhat uncoordinated manner, but at least we
did not shoot each other down! Moore, Topoll, and the Marine made
their runs as Tom, Rex, and I regrouped for another attack. We kept
in touch by radio and positioned ourselves for each run. After sev-
eral passes the ship was in obvious trouble. It was listing, smoke
was pouring out, and the hatch openings were jammed with sailors.
The men topside waited below to escape our machine gun fire, while
those bela,,;, waited topside away from the flames and smoke. It
does not seem possible that a pilot actively engaged in an attack
could see this detail. Yet, this vignette of the sailors struggling in
the hatchways is very clear in my mind when many details of other
combat missions are fading from memory.
The Japanese "destroyer" being strafed during the Shortlands mission was
reported sunk by reconnaissance the next day Although badly damaged,the
ship was not sunk, and was subsequently identified as Subchaser No.2B. Rex
Barber lost 40 inches of his port wing hitting the radio mast amidships. (USAF
via Lansdale)
Part Three, Chapter 5 - Mission to the Shortlands
Fighter Squadron the day after the mission to the Shortlands, 29 March
1943. Standing: Joseph Moore;Thomas Lanphier; Eben Dale (VMF-124 USMC):
and Robert Petit. Kneeling: HenryViccellio; George Topoll; and Rex Barber.
(347FGA via Lansdale)
It was on the last pass that Rex stayed on his firing run a frac-
tion of a second too long. By the time he pulled up, Rex had lost
over forty inches of his left wing on the radio mast! We returned to
base without further incident. Our last view of the ship was of a
vessel spewing smoke from bow to stem with a substantial list. We
were informed the next morning that a recon plane had flown over
the area and that 'the destroyer had sunk.' After the war, official
Japanese records revealed that we had actually attacked Subchaser
No.28, not a destroyer, and, although it suffered numerous casual-
ties and had been badly damaged, it had not sunk.
On the same day as the mission, ComAirSols Rear Admiral
Mitscher issued the following dispatch
TURNED. (290008):
On April 1, we also received an airmail gram from Admiral
Halsey, Commander, South Pacific Forces:
Postscript: For their roles in their attack on the float plane base at
Faisi-Poporang, 1
Lt. Benjamin E. Dale, USMC, and 1
Lt. Jo-
seph H. Moore, USAAC, received the Award of the Silver Star.
Captains Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr. and Robert L. Petit, and 1
Rex T. Barber, USMC, received the Oak Leaf Cluster to their pre-
vious Award of the Silver Star. 1
Lt. George G. Topoll, USAAC,
received his official recognition posthumously. Topoll was killed
in his Lightning as he attempted an emergency landing shortly af-
ter takeoff for an evening patrol on April 6, 1943.
James F. Lansdale, 2001 LRA
Shortlands Mission Footnote:
lLt. Sam Howie flew with the 70FS, and was Petit's wingman who
turned back with problems with his right engine. Howie:
"I returned to base alone with my engine feathered. Navigat-
ing back to Guadalcanal was easy, as you flew down the Slot, which
was lined with islands on the north and south. I came in too hot, ran
off the runway, and completely wrecked my aircraft ("Old Ironside"
#138-author). One wing was salvageable, and it was used to re-
place the wing tip on Rex Barber's Lightning that he sheared off
during the mission."
The month of March had been relatively quiet for Japanese
attacks, as their activity was confined to reconnaissance in antici-
pation of an air offensive and to build up forces for this offensive.
13FC fighters provided continued CAP over the new American
positions on the Russells and escorted SBDs and TBFs over Munda
Point airfield and the airfield at Vila, Kolombangara; when targets
appeared they were sent out on sweeps. The bag of Japanese planes
reached an all-campaign low of 16 aircraft, and it would not be
until May 1944 that the total would reach that low figure again.
Eight of the 16 victories were by P-39s in a swan song for the fighter
in the theater. The American bombers continued their attacks on
Rex Barber checks out his damaged wingtip that clipped the radio mast of
the "destroyer" he strafed. (L-R) Lt. Eben Dale (USMC), Capt. Robert Petit
Lt.Joseph Moore, Lt. Rex Barber. Lt. GeorgeTopoll, and Capt.Thomas Lanphier.
Fighter Command in World War II
the Buin area in twos or fours at night because of the lack of fighter
escort. Occasionally they saved part of their bomb load to bomb
Munda and Vila airfields on the way home. These missions and the
SBD/TBF missions made Japanese air operations from these air-
fields dangerous, and the American attacks on shipping deprived
the Japanese garrison on New Georgia of supplies. It became evi-
dent that the Japanese would defend the area, and that a major en-
emy offensive was threatening. 17PRS F-5s flew daily recon mis-
sions to keep tabs on Japanese air and shipping movements. They
came back with photos showing the building of shelters and revet-
ments that indicated a major build up of aircraft. Recon missions of
the Munda to Kavieng area showed that new construction had in-
creased shelter for 461 aircraft. Japanese Betty and Sally bombers
could also be based outside Rabaul and Kavieng, as there were 44
blast shelters at Munda and Ballale, 18 at Buka, and ten or more at
In the spring of 1943 the Guadalcanal code name was changed
from "Cactus" to "Mainyard." Conditions there had dramatically
improved since the invasion in August. The area around Lunga Point
and Henderson had streets paved with crushed coral that were lined
with rows of Quonset huts. There was a power plant and a tele-
phone exchange with lines to everywhere in the area. During the
summer the 46
and 61 SL Seabees were scheduled to extend
Henderson's main runway to 6,400 feet and its width to 150 feet
with 75-foot shoulders, and increase the number of hardstands to
250 (54 with revetments). The runway would not be put into opera-
tion until 12 October. The huge Ordnance Department and supply
dumps were supplied by the scores of cargo and transport ships
arriving weekly at the Lunga roadstead. Three hundred aircraft were
stationed on the island's four fields. The Seabees were instrumen-
tal in securing the Guadalcanal victory, as they kept the airfields
there in nearly constant operation from the darkest days in the fall
of 1942 onwards. The Seabees had gone from calling themselves
"Confused Bastards" to "Sons of Beaches," and by the end of the
war they would build 111 bases and house one and a half million
men in the Pacific.
When the War Department named Gen. Harmon to train and
administer all air and ground forces in the South Pacific, it also
created the U.S. Army Forces in the South Pacific Area (USAFISA)
under Brig.Gen. Robert Breene, who was to direct operations and
administration for South Pacific air units. The 13AF and its precur-
sors encountered a massive service and supply problem when it
moved from Espiritu Santo, first to Guadalcanal, then to the Russells,
and on up the Solomon chain. First, supplies had to be transported
from America to the rear areas of the theater (New Caledonia) and
unloaded there. The supplies then had to be transported, usually in
steps, to the combat areas. It was the long distances and isolation of
the theater that caused the unaccustomed logistical problems that
service and supply personnel had to overcome. The theater was one
of tropical islands, both large and small, all rainy, hot, and humid,
covered with jungle and plagued with tropical diseases. Inevitably,
it was at the end of the supply chain, the airdrome squadrons and
then the personnel in combat, that bore the consequences of these
problems. Navy Seabee battalions landed directly after the invad-
ing infantry and gouged airstrips out of lush jungle, then built the
facilities for living, supply, ordnance, and fuel. Nearly everything
needed to be transported by sea except emergency supplies, such as
gasoline and medical supplies, that were flown in. Ocean transport
was out of the control of the AAF and depended on the Navy.
Harmon felt that the insufficiency of airfield facilities on
Guadalcanal was due to the Navy's "lack of vigor" in shipping in
supplies and materiel, but the Navy did not wish to expose their
supply ships to Japanese air and naval attacks. Harmon reminded
the Navy that "The point is that it (e.g. supply) was not the consum-
ing thought in every Naval Commander's mind, and the plan did
not have as its first and immediate objective the seizure and devel-
opment of Cactus as an air base. That was something that could
follow along." A shipping schedule was impossible, as expected
supplies either did not arrive or, once on hand,_ were not unloaded
and sat in the holds of ships for weeks and even months before
being unloaded. Once the Navy delivered and unloaded the sup-
plies they had to be transported over areas that civilization had barely
touched; no railways, no highways, no communications, few roads,
and many trails and footpaths. Everything had to be imported, ex-
cept coral and timber, and even that had to be dragged through dense
jungle. Improvisation and manual labor was the byword for the
Service Command. Spare and replacement parts were chronically
lacking, and parts had to be cannibalized, jury-rigged, or made from
scratch. The forward areas always had combat priorities that often
replaced items of "creature comfort," such as wooden floors for
tents, units, etc. When the 13AF was activated in Janu-
ary 1943 it had no air service command and continued to depend
on USAFISPA until it could become self-sustaining. Supply and
repair problems were solved piecemeal on a local level. The al-
ways better-equipped Navy sometimes helped out in emergencies
or when supplies ran low. On 14 April 1943 the XIII Air Force
Service Command was formed, and slowly from that point mainte-
nance and supply improved for the 13AF.
A noteworthy problem on Guadalcanal was to stock ammuni-
tion and bombs for all four services. Initially only one dump was
built because of the confined area around Henderson. The Marines
controlled the dump, but because of the round-the-clock Japanese
air attacks there could be no organized unloading schedule of the
cargo ships off Lunga Point. There were no docks at Lunga, and all
supplies had to be transferred to small boats for shipment to shore.
Contributing to the chaos was the lack of onshore unloading facili-
ties. Supplies had to be hand-loaded into trucks and moved to in-
land dumps. Soon ammunition and bombs accumulated haphaz-
ardly in the dump, and each service had to send a supply officer to
procure ordnance for its missions. To compound the confusion, each
service was to order its own ordnance through its own supply orga-
nization. The results were redundant or insufficient supplies ofvari-
ous types of bombs and ammunition. In March 1943 Lt.Col. w.F.
Tinsley (USMC) was assigned to coordinate supply orders and the
situation improved.
As the Allies hung on at Guadalcanal and the SWPA, neither
Halsey nor MacArthur considered anything other than that as their
immediate objective. Finally, as they prepared to fight their way up
the Solomon Island chain and along the eastern New Guinea coast,
the reduction of the powerful base at Rabaul needed to be addressed.
In March Rabaul was the axis of Japanese airbases in the South
Pacific and Southwest Pacific areas. To the west on New Guinea
there were major airbases at Wewak, Hollandia, and Mandang, with
advanced airstrips being constructed on the Huon Peninsula and at
Cape Glossier on New Britain, just across the Vitiaz Strait. The
Japanese had airfields in the Admiralty Islands that were used to
stage aircraft from New Guinea to Rabaul. Kavieng was also a stag-
ing point for aircraft from the west and from Truk, which was an-
other powerful base and home of the Japanese Combined Fleet and
its calTiers. Besides the airbases near Rabaul and on the Gazelle
Peninsula, to the southeast of New Britain in the Solomons were
the important fields of Bougainville. There was Buka at the north
end of the Buka Passage, and those at Buin-Kahili and Shortland/
Ballale Island at the other end,just off the south end of Bougainville.
The forward airstrips at Vila and Munda in New Georgia were the
Gen. Douglas MacArthur, C-in-C Southwest Pacific Area, and Adm. Chester
Nimitz, C-in-C ofthe Pacific Ocean Areas map out strategy at Brisbane. (U.s.
extent of Japanese air power. The Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a
general directive on 2 July 1942 that gave MacArthur the responsi-
bility for all operations against Rabaul. It was not until late Febru-
ary 1943 that MacArthur's Chief of Staff, Maj.Gen. Richard
Sutherland, presented the Elkton Plan to the JSc. By this time the
Japanese had strengthened their position in the area, and the plan
called for a more cautious advance using increased naval, ground,
and air forces.
Elkton asked for many more aircraft than the JCS were able
(or unwilling) to commit, especially after their "Europe first" dec-
laration at Casablanca. The requirements for heavy bombers in
Europe meant that bases closer to the central and northern Solomons
for medium bombers would have to be taken. Woodlark and Kiriwina
Islands were chosen, but Sutherland maintained that the Huon Pen-
insula on New Guinea needed to be captured for air operations to
proceed against Rabaul. On 23 March the JCS did relent to a small
extent and increased each of the two heavy bomber squadrons in
the South Pacific from two to four squadrons each; 12 aircraft per
squadron, 96 bombers total. The medium bomber group was to be
assigned 11 more aircraft to bring their total to 57. However, there
would be no increase in fighter aircraft. On 28 March, after a lively
debate, the initial South Pacific strategic directive of 2 July 1942
was cancelled, and Elkton was modified. MacArthur was given
overall control to direct Elkton, and Halsey would have direct con-
trol of the Solomons operations. Airfields at Woodlark and Kiriwina
were to be established, and then those on the Huon Peninsula while
Halsey invaded New Georgia. The capture of a base on Bougainville
and the invasion of western New Britain were to follow.
COMSOPAC would directly control all Solomons operations un-
der MacArthur's general directives. On 26 April, after a conference
at Blisbane with Adm. Halsey, MacArthur deli vered the Elkton plan
for the reduction of the Japanese stronghold at Rabaul, now under
code name Cartwheel. Rabaul was the apex of a triangle, with two
of its legs extending southeast through the Solomons, and the other
westward along New Britain. A major step had been accomplished
with the capture of Santa Cruz, Tulagi, and Guadalcanal. The plan
was to take place in small stages; 13 planned invasions over eight
and a half months in the Southwest and South Pacific. The objec-
Fighter Command in World War II
tive of Cartwheel was to move dive-bomber and fighter bases to-
wards Rabaul by either improving current bases or capturing en-
emy areas without allocating large ground forces. No advance in
the Cartwheel plan was to be made beyond the range ofland-based
fighters. These forward airfields were to be bases for fighter es-
corts and dive-bombers that would join long-range heavy bombers
in attacking enemy air bases and shipping. The invaded territories
were selected for having existing air bases or favorable terrain for
new base construction. The American advance was to be along two
lines of attack: the capture of Lae, Salamau, and the east coast of
New Guinea; and the other up the Solomon chain, with each con-
verging on Rabaul by capturing airfields in steps. For Halsey this
meant that the capture of New Georgia would provide air cover for
the ensuing landings on Bougainville that would put the Japanese
bases at Rabaul and Kavieng in jeopardy. The last major step was
the seizure of Rabaul and adjacent positions in New Britain and
New Ireland. The first phase in this plan was to neutralize the
enemy's air bases and aircraft and naval forces, and to prevent the
reinforcement of the objective. After this air and naval superiority
was achieved, land forces were to be moved in under air and naval
cover. Then the land forces were to consolidate the objective so
that friendly aircraft could utilize the captured airfields there to re-
peat the process up the island chain, and also to bomb Rabaul more
easily. MacArthur's immediate goal was the Central Solomons,
where New Georgia and the enemy air installations there had to be
captured before the drive along the New Guinea coast began. Once
New Georgia was taken both lines of attack would mutually con-
verge on Rabaul from the Solomons and ew Guinea, with the
aviation component being coordinated by the C-in-C, SWPA,
MacArthur, who would manipulate the air forces to areas demand-
ing immediate air support.
Early on Halsey, as part of his "unity of command" precept,
had asserted that each air commander have complete control over
all components of his force, regardless of service or nationality in
all matters of administration, supply, movement, and training, but
Adm. Fitch had insisted that air units were to be under his tactical
control. Despite inevitable narrow mindedness and service fideli-
ties there were ample true leaders in the four air arms (AAF, USMC,
USN, and RNZAF) to eventually make COMAIRSOLS an effec-
tive fighting force. However, Gen. Harmon had just established the
13AF and did not agree with Fitch as to the suitable control of AAF
units. Halsey had Harmon meet with Fitch on 2-3 March to resolve
their differences, and Harmon made recommendations. The primary
recommendations were for each air service to have combat com-
mand of its units, that there should be minimal intrusion of normal
combat channels, and that each air force be utilized in the tasks for
which they had been organized, equipped, and trained. Harmon
particularly wanted his air commanders to be able to advise
COMAIRSOLS as to suitable formations, bomb loading, escort,
and combat techniques. Fitch accepted Harmon's proposals, and
on 11 March COMAIRSOPAC delivered the Air Operation Plan
for the Solomon air forces. The plan concluded that the Japanese
were now in a defensive position in the Solomons-New Britain-
New Guinea area, and that the objective was to inflict maximum
damage. The plan assigned three responsibilities on the air forces.
The first responsibility was that the destruction of enemy shipping
was the most effective use of aircraft, as it would cut enemy bases
off from their supplies. The second was for the air forces to attack
enemy airbases to reduce enemy air strength, and the last was to
support Allied ground operations. The discussion of air control had
continued for eight months since the invasion of Guadalcanal, and
finally, on until 20 April, the JCS issued a directive to settle the
problem of unified command for joint operations. Among the prin-
ciples set were:
(1) A single commander was to be named by the JCS on the basis
of the task to be performed.
(2) Command prerogatives over the joint force to be the same as
if the forces were all Army, Navy or Marine.
(3) The joint force commander should limit his administrative
function to a minimum.
(4) Service commanders should handle discipline.
(5) Major JCS directives concerning a service were to be sent to
the joint force commander.
(6) The joint force commander was to be directly assisted by rep
resentatives of the components of his force.
(7) The joint force commander should function as both as the
force commander and as the commander of a component of
his force.
It was under these guidelines that the l3AF operated in the
Solomons until it left Halsey's command on 15 June 1944 when it
was transferred to the Far East Air Forces.
Every air operation over Guadalcanal and New Georgia, and
later Rabaul and New Britain, involved COMAIRSOLS. Opera-
tions of the 13AF were most often identical to prevailing
COMAIRSOLS operations. l3AF bombers would fly missions to
the same target with Marine and Navy dive-bomber or torpedo
bombers, and all were protected by fighters of the four services.
XIII Fighter Command was the most disparate and had the most
varied duties of the Solomon air commands. It was to intercept Japa-
nese air attacks, fly CAP for naval forces, fly escort for bombers,
provide close support for troops, strafe enemy troop and gun posi-
tions and shore installations, and fly fighter sweeps. In addition to
these duties, Fighter Command was to operate fighter-director units
and air warning service units.
At this time the South Pacific was the meeting point between
MacArthur's Southwest Pacific Area and Nimitz' Pacific Ocean
Area. There was no disagreement that MacArthur was to direct
Cartwheel, but the Navy was careful that Halsey maintain com-
plete control of all naval forces in the South Pacific. Halsey's am-
phibious operations on New Georgia would be directly menaced
by Japanese air bases on Bougainville, New Britain, and Kavieng,
and he planned to have these bases nullified. But MacArthur also
planned his own offensive on the Huon Gulf, New Guinea, and was
concerned that the New Georgia offensive would cause him to dis-
patch his 5
Air Force to support Halsey in the South Pacific at a
time they could not be spared. Halsey did not wish to remain unoc-
cupied, and wanted to continue pressure on the Japanese with his
land-based COMAIRSOLS aircraft and be ready to move on New
Part Three, Chapter 6 - Cartwheel
The defeats in the South Pacific and the South-
west Pacific Area forced the Japanese to transfer
the majority oftheir carrier pilots from the carri-
ers Hiyo, )unyo, Zuiho, and Zuikoku to Rabaul.
Shown are Mitsubishi Model 22 Zero fighters off
the carrier Zuikoku at Buin in early 1943. (Na-
tional Archives)
Georgia and southern Bougainville. Adm. King, the supreme com-
mander of the Pacific, would settle the issue at the end of March. It
was felt that the large Japanese land forces defending the area could
sustain losses in the impending invasions, but the Japanese Navy,
Merchant Marine, and Air Forces could not without weakening the
general Japanese strategic plan for conducting the war. Once the
Japanese had sustained large enough naval and air losses they would
abandon the Solomons and Bismarcks and withdraw to the Japa-
nese mandates as their next line of resistance. To accomplish this
objective with minimal losses the initial phase would be to isolate
and destroy each objective with Kenney's 5AF and the land-based
COMAIRSOLS. In preparation for Halsey's New Georgia offen-
sive there were cargo and transport vessels off Lunga unloading
large quantities of supplies, ammunition, gasoline, and equipment
into onshore dumps. These ships and the warships lying offTulagi,
across Sealark Channel, offered a fat target for Japanese bombers.
The defeats in the South Pacific and the Southwest Pacific Area
(SWPA) forced the Japanese to transfer the majOlity of their carrier
pilots from the carriers Hiyo, Junyo, Zuiho, and Zuikaku to Rabaul,
along with 96 Zeros and 65 Vals under Admiral Yamamoto. At
Rabaul they joined with the 11
Air Fleet, which had 86 Zeros, 72
Bettys, 27 Vals, and a few torpedo bombers. With this.force
Yamamoto hoped to quash Allied naval and air forces and regain
the initiative in the Solomons and New Guinea, as well as avenge
the defeat at Guadalcanal with a two pronged attack under the code
"I-Go Operation. "
April 1943
Japanese I-Go Operation
Desperate to slow the Allied advances, the Imperial Japanese Army
Command and Admiral Yamamoto planned and set into motion two
limited offensive operations in March and April 1943. The first
occurred to the west of Rabaul, as on 2 March the Imperial Japa-
neseArrny conducted an operation intended to strengthen its forces
near Lae, New Guinea, by dispatching reinforcements numbering
7,000 troops. The Japanese Army began to transport the 18
Headquarters and the 51st Army Division by sea from Rabaui. The
eight transports and escorting destroyers were caught in the day-
light by Allied air forces on open water. For three days the troops
suffered thousands of casualties in the resulting attacks, which lit-
erally turned the Bismarck Sea red with the blood of the dead and
wounded. The Bismarck Sea disaster had demonstrated the grow-
ing prowess of Allied air power in New Guinea and the Solomons.
Yamamoto sought to neutralize this air power by initiating a sec-
ond and more intensive offensive aerial operation against
Guadalcanal that Yamamoto had designated as "I-Go Sakusen," an
operation he would personally command.
Martin Caidin made available to James Lansdale a manuscript
by Masatake Okumiya that Caidin utilized in his 1956 book Zero!
The details ofAdmiral Yamamoto's "I-Go Sakusen" are excellently
outlined as written by Commander Okumiya, who served as the air
staff officer for Rear Admiral Kakuta Kakuji, C-in-C of the NO.2
Carrier Division. Okumiya wrote:
"Admiral Yamamoto personally assumed the command of his
air forces in the theater. He established his advanced command head-
quarters [on 3 April 1943] at Rabaul, intending specifically to di-
rect all air activities toward the destruction of enemy air power in
the area. This operation was named "I-Go Sakusen." Admiral
Yamamoto established NO.21 Koku Sentai [Air Flotilla] headquar-
ters at Kavieng [Northern New Ireland] under the command of Rear
Admiral Rinosuke Ichimaru. He also dispatched 0.26 Koku Sentai
to Buin Base [Southern Bougainville] under the command of Rear
Admiral Kanae Kosaka. The air groups of No.1 Koku Sentai [Car-
Adm.lsirokuYamamoto designated the operation he would personally com-
mand as "I-Go Sokusen." (Nakamura via Lansdale)
Part Three, Chapter 7 - April 1943
rier Division], under Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, flew into RabauI.
Also placed at Rabaul was the main body [of aircraft] from No.21
Koku Sentai. The air groups of No.2 Koku Sentai, under the com-
mand of Rear Admiral Kakuji Kakuta, remained at Rabaul only
when not in action. When attacking Guadalcanal, NO.2 Koku Sentai
advanced its headquarters to Ballale Island Base.
Admiral Yamamoto had immediately available a total strength
of approximately 350 aircraft, including some 190 (189) under the
command of Vice Admiral Kusaka (C-in-C of No.Il Air Fleet con-
sisting of Nos.21 and 26 Air Flotillas) as well as, some 160 (150)
carrier-based aircraft under the command of Vice Admiral Ozawa.
The latter had replaced Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo. (Thus, Vice
Admiral Ozawa now was C-in-C of the major aircraft carriers of
No.3 Fleet, organized into Nos.I and 2 Carrier Divisions).
On April 1, 1943, the attack began in full force when our air-
craft, in great strength, raided a concentration of enemy ships an-
chored around GuadalcanaI. On April 11, we attacked enemy ships
in Oro Bay and Harvey Bay on the eastern coast of New Guinea.
On April 12, our aircraft raided Port Moresby air bases and on April
14, we attacked the Milne Bay air base on southeastern coast of
New Guinea as well as enemy ships in the harbor. b Our pilots
overestimated the efficiency of the attacks (as revealed by postwar
investigations, the Americans had actually suffered less damage
than we believed at the time). Our own losses consisted of at least
49 (N.B. actually forty-three confirmed) aircraft shot down or not
returned to base (N.B. actually a further eighteen did not return or
were written-off), as well as those, which were damaged.
Convinced by the reports that the attacks had reduced the ef-
fectiveness of the enemy air power and that his original goal of
wreaking havoc among the Americans had been achieved, Admiral
Yamamoto declared I-Go Sakusen had concluded successfully on
April 16. He then ordered the land-based air forces (No.1 1Air Flo-
tilla) to resume their original operations and he sent the original
carrier-based aircraft back to Truk to rejoin their parent carriers (of
No.3 Fleet)."
Yamamoto began the air offensive in the Solomons on 1 April
when he sent 58 Zeros in two fighter sweeps on the Russell's new
airstrip at Banika and shipping off GuadalcanaI. At 1023 Russell
radar picked up the Japanese formation 125 miles to the west. A
CAP was sent over Tulagi and Guadalcanal airfields. Guadalcanal
scrambled 28 F4Fs ofVF-27 (land-based at Henderson), eight F4Us
ofVMF-124 and VMF-221, and six P-38s of the I2FS to meet the
Japanese. At 1100 the first Zekes were intercepted at altitudes rang-
ing from 12,000 to 22,000 feet. The battle lasted for nearly three
hours, with the second Japanese wave sneaking in to bomb Russell
installations. The F4Fs claimed eight Zeros, and F4Us claimed 11
Zeros for five losses. 2Lt. Kenneth Walsh would claim two Zeros
and a Val for the first three of his 21 victories. The I2FS P-38s led
by Maj. Paul Bechtel were on patrol at 32,000 feet and met the
second Jap wave at 1300. Bechtel saw Zeros dogfighting below,
and he dove on a Zero that rolled over in a split-S to escape. Bechtel
followed him down and got a good shot at the fleeing enemy. Sud-
denly his aircraft went out of control, and nothing Bechtel tried
seemed to help him get the nose up out of the dive. As he descended
P-38H"Pluto" ofthe 12FS being inspected in a posed photo. Note crew chief
(left) sitting in covered sun chair filling out maintenance forms and the stand-
ing water under port engine. (USAF)
68FS Pilots: Standing (L-R) Lts M. Smith, R. Moseley, G. Heckert, H. Hulbert, R.
Shambrook, M. Ryan, F. Ploetz, and L. Huff. Kneeling (L-R) Lts. R. Nash, W
Norris, and Paul Hansen. (Palmer)
Fighter Command in World War II
Capt. Leonard Frame.
into heavier air he managed to slowly bring the nose up and finally
leveled out at 12,000 feet. Bechtel had flown only two hours in the
P-38, and this was his first combat mission since transitioning from
the P-39. He had not been briefed about the P-38's notorious com-
pressibility problem at high altitude at speeds above 200mph. After
he landed Bechtel was informed that the Zero he had hit had burst
into flames for his third victory. Bechtel's wingman, 1Lt. William
Smith, also claimed a Zero. One Lightning was lost. But Radio
Tokyo claimed that 34 F4Fs, ten P-38s, and three F4Us had been
shot down, along with heavy damage to American installations from
the bombing.
Darrell Cosart was greatly affected by the death and funeral of George
Topol!. (Canning)
To meet the new Japanese air offensive, on the 2
the remain-
ing 31 officers and 168 enlisted men of the 12FS were given two
hours notice to embark for Guadakanal on two transports and ar-
rived on the 6
All equipment left behind was to go to the 68FS,
which was scheduled to rotate to that station. On the 6
three con-
tingents of the 68FS left Guadakanal by ship for the Fiji Islands,
where it assumed training duties at Narewa Air Field. On the 7
12FS pilots who had been in combat were returned to Fiji, followed
by 16 more on the nrd. On 10 April Capts. Lanphier and Petit and
Lt. Moore were transferred to the 339FS from the 70FS. Aportion
of the 70FS was attached to the squadron at Fiji. Here the unit was
under the command of Capt. Karl Conradi, who took over from
Capt. Palmer, who had only had command for three days. But in
the 68FS command musical chairs Conradi was soon replaced by
Capt. Ray Williams on 6 May, having held command for a month,
which was considered longevity in the 68

On 3 April 2Lt. Donald McDonald of the l2FS failed to return

while on a routine search mission near Santa Isabel Island. Two
days later he was returned to Guadakanal by Savo Island natives,
who paddled him across a long stretch of open water.
On 6 April, F-5 (P-38) recon aircraft of the 17 PRS discovered
a large build up of 114 Japanese aircraft at Kahili and 95 at Ballale,
as the day before there were 40 aircraft on Kahili and none on Ballale.
Just after noon on the 7
coast watchers reported large formations
of enemy aircraft (67 Vals escorted by 110 Zeros) headed east down
the Slot to attack shipping off Koli Point, a convoy near Rua Sura,
and the task force at Tulagi. Mainyard scrambled all its available
fighters: 36 F4Fs; nine F4Us; a dozen P-38s; 13 P-39s; and six P-
40s. The Japanese split their formation into smaller flights as they
approached. A flight of 70FS P-38s led by Capt. Thomas Lanphier
was assigned to high intercept and climbed to 31,000 feet over Cape
Esperance in 22 minutes. Capt. Lanphier claimed three Zeros, and
Capt. Leonard Frame, 1Lts. Darrell Cosart and Joseph Moore one
Zero each. 1Lt. George Topoll was lost during an early evening
patro!. His engine malfunctioned after take off, and he tried to come
back around to land, but crashed into Tulagi Harbor. Daryl Cosart
describes Topoll's funeral in his diary:
I" Lt. George G.Topoll was killed in his Lightning as he attempted an emer-
gency landing shortly after takeoff for an evening patrol on April 6, 1943.
Part Three, Chapter 7 - April 1943
"George Topoll's funeral left a strange feeling with me. In the
rain. In the open hole of dirt. The burlap sack. And the words from
the priest. Really got to me."
Lanphier describes his three victories:
"I took advantage of our superior altitude to swoop down on a
series of flights of three, two, and then another two Zeros.... I slide
over, above, and behind the tail Zero of the first three. Coming
upon him from almost directly behind, I squeezed off my four .50
caliber machine guns with the forefinger of my right hand and, since
I'd had time to think about it in advance, remembered to reach my
thumb over and press the button that fired the 20mm cannon in
front of me in the nose of my cockpit. The awesome burst of fire-
power thus poured into my unevading enemy and blew him and his
Zero into smithereens.
I flew through the debris I had caused and pulled up to come
around for another go at the enemy. I had barely completed a 18000
turn when I found myself flying head on at another Zero a mile or
so away and closing fast.
Over endless nights of dugout chatter about what we pilots
might do if we came on with an enemy fighter, we generally agreed
it would be best to press resolutely and directly at the enemy, since
only from that position could you be sure of getting your firepower
into him; conversely, if you pulled up and over him, you'd expose
your defenseless belly or head to his gunfire. I don't recall any of
us ever having the guts to conjecture out loud what might happen if
you ran into an enemy pilot who operated on the same non-dodging
At about 35,000 feet over Guadalcanal...I was actually faced
with the yet unspoken answer. My Nipponese opponent and I were
approaching at a combined speed of over 500mph, so I had only a
split second or two to decide what to do, other than instinctively to
fire full bore at him as he came hurtling toward me. I did, while I
otherwise froze with indecision, as I had in the jungle when I met
the Japanese kid with the bayonet (yet another Lanphier macho
exploit from his biography! -author).
This time again the opposition made the move first. The Zero
pilot pulled over my head and, as he did so, he took the full power
of my four machine guns in his belly and blew apart as he passed
over my head. There were several witnesses to this close call, and
they brought to earth with them a tale of my apparently macho ex-
ploit. I did nothing then, nor have done anything since, until now,
to disavow their accolades.
I scored my third killing of an enemy that afternoon down
around 10,000 feet, when I fell behind a Zero that was chasing an
Airacobra. He died without ever suspecting I was behind him, care-
less in his zeal to kill a comrade of mine."
In the initial combat reports American fighter pilots and AA
gunners claimed over 100 Japanese aircraft, but air intelligence
sorted out the battle and 40 Japanese were claimed. The Marines
were credited with 29, and the 13AF claimed 11. 12FS P-38s were
led by Maj. Paul Bechtel, who shot down a Zero over Savo Island
to become the 12FS top scorer with four victories. Bechtel was
flying his second combat mission in the P-38 after the compress-
ibility problem on the 1st. At 1500 he led 12 P-38s over the western
end of Guadalcanal as part of a large scramble. As he reached 14,000
feet a radio transmission informed him that Val dive-bombers were
attacking below the clouds. Bechtel led his flight through the clouds
but did not see any aircraft at all. He radioed Canal fighter control,
which informed him that it had made no radio call about the Vals.
Bechtel climbed back through the clouds and into an air battle now
raging above. His flight was immediately bounced by Zeros diving
from 15,000 feet. Bechtel ushered his outnumbered flight into a
Lufbery circle to defend themselves from the swarming Zeros.
Bechtel's fighter was hit several times, and a hit banged off the
armor plate behind him and slightly wounded his left elbow. As the
P-38s circled they escaped one by one by diving. Lt. Joseph Young
was hit and bailed out of his flaming fighter. His parachute landed
in a tree, and he was rescued by Marine infantry, who cut him down.
Bechtel was rejoined by his wingman, lLt. William Smith, and they
joined into the dogfight but were soon separated again. Bechtel saw
ILt. James McLanahan shot down two Japanese aircraft in P-39s with the
67FS, then claimed a victory and a probable in a 339FS P-38 The popular
pilot came up with several innovative ordnance schemes during his time in
the South Pacific. (Canning)
Fighter Command in World War II
After the 7 April mission Brig.Gen. Dean Strother, 13FC CG, held the first
official 13FC awards ceremony on FighterTwo. Here he awards the Distin-
guished Flying Cross to John Mitchell for scoring eight victories, the tops in
his command. (National Archives via Lansdale)
Rex Barber was awarded an OLC to the Silver Star by Strother for his part
in the Shortlands mission. (National Archives via Lansdale)
Strother awards the Oak Leaf Cluster to a previous Silver Star to Thomas
Lanphier with George McNeese looking on in background for his part in the
Shortlands mission of 29 March. (National Archives via Lansdale)
another Zero flying west at his altitude and tried to sneak up on it
from behind and slightly below. As he closed he saw another Zero
at the same altitude far off to the right. The Zero ahead then did a
180 turn and dove right toward him. Bechtel fired at long range,
but the Japanese never fired back and Bechtel had to pull up at the
last second to avoid a head-on collision. He looked around for the
second Zero but did not find him, but he did see his victim head
into the clouds in a vertical dive. At debriefing Bechtel claimed a
probable. Several days later a report from a USN destroyer cruising
off Savo Island mentioned a Zero crashing into the sea about the
same time as Bechtel's probable claim, which was then changed to
his fourth victory. Other AAF squadrons scoring were the P-38s of
the 339FS. lLt. Rex Barber claimed two Zeros for his second and
third victories, and lLt. James McLanahan one Zero. The 70FS
lost its CO, Maj. Walden Williams, only one day after he arrived at
Guadalcanal. The l2FS lost a P-38, but the pilot was saved.
Strother awards the DFC to Besby Homes with McNeese looking on (cen-
ter). (National Archives via Lansdale)
Part Three, Chapter 7 - April 1943
Fighter Squadron PAOs painted with white
stripes after being attacked by"friendly" U.S. Navy
Fighters (Palmer)
The second phase of "I-Operation" was carried out against U.S. naval and air
bases on New Guinea, but the two massive raids achieved only one trans-
port sunk and five American aircraft shot down for the loss of 18 aircraft on
II April and 28 the following day. Yamamoto terminated "I-Operation" and
returned his remaining pilots and aircraft back to their carriers. The photo
shows Yamamoto watching a Zero of the No.2 Carrier Division take off as
part of the I-GO Sakusan Operation. (Nakamura via Lansdale)
The Marines ofVMF-213 (1 victory), VMF-2l4 (10 victories),
and VMF-221 (18 victories) claimed 29 Japanese aircraft-l 7 Ze-
ros and 12 Vals-for the loss of seven F4Fs, with all the pilots saved.
Fourteen aircraft failed to make enemy contact, and six aborted and
returned to base. The Americans had flown all their bombers off
Henderson to orbit the southeastern end of the island in case the
Japanese attacked the airfields. lLt. James Swett ofVMF-22l dove
on the Vals attacking Tulagi, and ignoring friendly AA fire shot
down three diving Vals, then pursued four more across Florida Strait
and shot each down. Swett's engine was hit and spewing coolant,
but he successfully ditched and was later awarded the Medal of
Honor for his seven-victory mission. Despite Swett's success, the
Japanese dive-bombers had a successful day, as they sank a 14,500-
ton tanker (Kanawha), the HMNZS corvette Maa, and severely
damaged the destroyer Aaron Ward that sank while under tow. Also
that day seven l2FS P-38s and six F4Us flew a sweep over Kokolopi
Bay on Vella Lavella and discovered a well-camouflaged AK. The
Lightnings attacked first at mast-height and jettisoned their par-
tially filled drop tanks on the AK, dousing it with gasoline. Incen-
diary shells then set the ship on fire, and it was later confirmed as
sunk. The second phase of "I-Go" Operation was carried out against
U.S. naval and air bases on New Guinea, but the two massive raids
achieved only one transport sunk and five American aircraft shot
down for the loss of 18 aircraft on 11 April and 28 on the following
day. Yamamoto terminated "I-Operation" and returned his remain-
ing pilots and aircraft back to their carriers.
During April the 68FS repainted its PAOs. During a mission
over New Georgia the P-40 of Lloyd "Cotton" Huff was attacked
by a Navy F4F that continued to pursue him until he neared Fighter
Two. Huff landed and immediately jumped into a jeep and rushed
over to punch out the Navy pilot, who luckily was not identified.
Capt. Stanley Palmer, who had earlier been shot down by a B-17
gunner, asked 68
CO Lt. Col. Henry Viccellio to allow him to lead
a formation of PAOs to buzz the Navy at Fighter Two to show them
what a P-40 looked like! Viccellio readily approved. Palmer also
Fighter Command in World War II
1 fighter squadron
1 fighter squadron
1 bombardment squadron
New Caledonia:
HQ 347FG
1+ fighter squadron
1 bombardment squadron
All these units were rotated through Guadalcanal. Twining be-
lieved that this widespread dispersal of his units over rear areas
was beneficial. The rotated personnel in rear areas could be used
for training and indoctrination of newly arrived personnel from the
U.S., and for reorganizing units returning from combat. The reason
that a large number of aircraft were based away from GuadaIcanal
was that there had been only three bases on the island, each with
one runway. Planning for air base construction was under the aus-
pices of Halsey's Base Planning Board, but was predominately a
Navy board and hence improved Navy facilities.
2 tactical squadrons
2 tactical squadrons
2 tactical squadrons
2 tactical squadrons
2 tactical squadrons
3 tactical squadrons (P-38 squadrons were on
Guadalcanal and New Caledonia for training)
HQ 5BG(H):
HQ 307BG(H):
HQ 42BG(M):
HQ 18FG:
Espiritu Santo:
requested that the Warhawks be painted in new orange recognition
stripes, but only white paint was available. The 68FS PAOs were
painted with two vertical white stripes fore and aft of the cockpit,
another under the fuselage, diagonal stripes running the length of
the wings (top and bottom), and a diagonal stripe on both sides of
the tail.
On 14 April the XIII Air Force Air Service Command was ac-
tivated. 13AF HQ was located on Espiritu Santo, where Twining
could be near COMAIRSOPAC, but the operational sections of XIII
Bomber and XIII Fighter Commands were at Guadalcanal. Bomber
Command was based at the new Carney Field, while Fighter Com-
mand continued to be based at Fighter Two (Kukum), near
Henderson. Kukum had been improved by the 6
Seabees and fin-
ished by the 46
and 61st Seabees by the beginning of 1943. Carney
was built by the 6
and 14
Seabees at Koli Point, just east of the
Nalimbu River. Work started on the 6,500 x l50-foot runway at the
end of December 1942. Heavy rain and Japanese air alerts and at-
tacks slowed the work considerably, and in February the 2
Aviation engineers were brought in to speed up construction. On
21 March the 6NFS began operations there, and on 1 April heavy
bomber units flew in for operations. The field was constructed on a
poor foundation of nine inches of river gravel overlaid with pierced-
steel planking (PSP), and after only two weeks of operations was in
poor condition, as the heavily loaded bombers tore up the steel mat.
Emergency repairs were made so as not to interfere with daily op-
erations. A second 7,000 x 500-foot bomber runway was begun
300 yards to the northwest in May and was not completed until
October. Dispersal of the large numbers of aircraft on these fields
was always a problem, and vulnerable to a determined large-scale
Japanese bombing and strafing attack. Henderson dispersal was
improved, and the early completion of the Russell fields would fur-
ther relieve the overcrowding situation on Guadalcanal.
Twining had two full-strength heavy bomber groups, one me-
dium bomber group, and two reduced strength fighter groups:
Yamamoto Mission
Mission Prologue
The coded message sent on 13 April 1943 by a staff officer for Rear
Admiral Jinichi Kusaka, Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the Im-
perial Japanese Navy's No. 11 Air Fleet (Southeastern Area), sealed
the fate of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. As translated by American
cryptographers, it read:
"C-in-C/ Southeast Area Fleet/Top Secret/13l755
On 18 April, C-in-C Combined Fleet [Admiral Y a ~ a m o t o ] will
visit Ballale Base [RXZ], Shortland Base [RWH], and Buin Base
[RXP], in accordance with the following schedule:
I) Depart Rabaul [RR] at 0600 in medium attack plane escorted by
six fighters. Arrive at Ballale Base at 0800. Proceed [by subchaser]
to Shortland Base arriving at 0840 (No.1 Base Force to ready one
boat). Depart Shortland Base at 0945 in above [subchaser] and ar-
rive Ballale Base at 1030 (For transportation purposes, have ready
an assault boat at Shortland Base and a motor launch at Ballale
Ugaki (left) meets with Yamamoto (left center) aboard the Nagata as two
staff officers (Fujii, liaison officer and Watanabe, administrative officer) look
on, (SYMA via Lansdale)
Base). Depart Ballale Base at 1100 in medium attack plane and
arrive Buin Base at 1110. Lunch at NO.1 Base Force Headquarters
(Senior Staff Officer of No.26 Air Flotilla to be present). Depart
Buin Base at 1400 in medium attack plane and arrive Rabaul at
Official portrait of Adm, Isuroku Yamamoto, (Pineau via Lansdale)
Fighter Command in World War II
Yamamoto seeing fliers of an Imperial Navy unit off at Rabaul as part of
Operation I-Go Sokusen. (Nakamura via Lansdale)
2) At each of the above places the C-in-C will make short tour of
inspection and at 0.1 Base Force hospital he will visit the sick and
wounded, but current operations should continue.
3) Uniforms will be the uniforms for the day except that each force
commander will be in combat attire with decorations.
4) In case of bad weather the trip will be postponed one day."
The background of events leading to the transmission of
Kusaka's coded message unfolded many years before. American
cryptographers had broken the Japanese codes as early as 1920,
and even though the Japanese knew of possible breaks they contin-
ued to overconfidently believe their later machine codes were un-
breakable. Sometime later American cryptographers broke what was
known as the Japanese Admiral's code, which carried delicate po-
litical and military information. The Americans continued to refine
their code breaking capabilities that led to their remarkable victory
at Midway in June 1942. In January 1943 the large Japanese sub-
1-1 was stranded off Guadalcanal by the Royal New Zealand
Navy corvette, Kiwi, and codebooks containing the updated codes
were captured and sent to American intelligence at Pearl Harbor.
By April 1943 this new information was being used to track
Yamamoto and his military intentions in the South Pacific.
On 3 April 1943 Yamamoto left his flagship, the battleship
Musashi, at Truk to fly to Rabaul to personally oversee the execu-
tion of I-Go Sakusen. By 13 April Yamamoto had decided to make
an impromptu visit and inspection tour of the forward bases in the
Shortland Islands and on Southern Bougainville. Following this
decision, the area commanders were informed of Yamamoto's itin-
erary via a coded radio transmission. Japanese radio messages were
being routinely monitored and, having knowledge of the Japanese
code systems, it was not surprising that Kusaka's message had been
intercepted and soon decrypted by American cryptographers. That
the message was authored or ordered by Kusaka has now been es-
tablished. As translated, the coded message stated, "From: C-in-C
Adm. Ugaki (Left, back turned) and Adm.Yamamoto (waving hat) send off a
Zero from the No.204 Air Group taking off from a Rabaul field. (Mikesh via
Southeastern Air Fleet." American intelligence, at that time, was
not aware that the commander of the Southeast Area Fleet and its
attached air fleet, NO.ll Koku Sentai, were one and the same per-
son, Rear Admiral Kusaka. Kusaka's decoded message was passed
to Adm. Chester Nimitz, C-in-C U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.
Nimitz consulted his chief intelligence officer, Cdr. Edward Layton,
as to the possibility of intercepting Yamamoto. Layton thought it
was definitely possible and worth the effort, as he considered
Yamamoto only second to the Emperor in importance to the Japa-
nese people. Nimitz sent the decrypted Japanese message to Adm.
William Halsey for action. Following a flurry of communications
between the crypto analysts and various field commanders and par-
ties in Washington, the decision was reached to attempt to kill
Yamamoto. U.S. Pacific Fleet C-in-C Admiral William F. "Bull"
Halsey's brusque wire message of 14 April said it all, "TALLYHO
Nimitz was concerned that the Japanese might suspect that their
code had been broken if Yamamoto's flight was intercepted. On the
he sent another message to Halsey:
"Believe specific effort worthwhile. Suggest pilots be told coast
watcher Rabaul area signaled our sub to the effect unknown high-
ranking officer making a trip to Ballale of some such source. Sug-
gest every effort be made to make operation appear fortuitous. If
forces your command have capability shoot down Yamamoto and
staff you are hereby authorized to initiate preliminary planning. Our
best wishes and high hopes go with those intercepting hunters."
Halsey turned the mission planning and selection of crews to
Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, Commander Air, Solomons
(COMAIRSOL), whose headquarters was located on Guadalcanal.
As the planning unfolded, it was decided that Navy fighters did not
have adequate range for the proposed mission. The only fighters
available to Mitscher were the Army Air Force Lockheed P-38 Light-
nings shared by the 347
and 18
Fighter Groups flying from Fighter
Part Three, Chapter 8 - Yamamoto Mission
Mission survivors pose on the 19
Back Row (L-R) Ames, Graebner; Lanphier;
Goerke, Jacobson, Stratton Long, and Anglin. Front Row (L-R) Smith, Can-
ning, Holmes, Barber; Mitchell, Kittel, and Whittaker Not pictured is Raymond
Hine, who was MIA on the Mission. Note that Ames is in flight gear; ready to
fly another mission as soon as this picture was taken. (Author)
Two. Special 31O-gallon long-range belly tanks were requisitioned
and flown in to give sufficient range. The crew selections were left
to the 347'h group commander, Lt. Col. Henry Viccellio, and Lt.
Col. Aaron W. Tyer, leader of the 18
Fighter Group. Eighteen P-
38s were to take part in the mission, and every pilot eiigible volun-
teered. Ultimately Mitchell, assisted by Maj. Louis Kittel, chose
the pilots. Mitchell divided them into four flights of four aircraft
each, plus two spare aircraft. Mitchell would stay with 14 Light-
nings at 18,000 to 20,000 feet on high cover to be at altitude to
protect against the 50 or more Japanese fighters he expected to come
up from Kahili. The fourth flight was designated the "attack" flight
and consisted of pilots who, in Mitchell's opinion, were his best
"shooters." The 13
Fighter Command was in the process of reas-
signing some of the squadrons and pilots into a restructured table
of organization. The pilots chosen for the mission had originally
been assigned to different squadrons, and it is not always possible
to define precisely their true squadron affiliation in April. Some,
such as Rex Barber, Raymond Hine, and James McLanahan, had
only recently been officially transferred to the 339
Fighter Squad-
The original eighteen pilots selected for the Yamamoto Mis-
sion were:
From the 347
Fighter Group
First Flight (High Cover)
Major John Mitchell, 339FS CO, Mission Leader
Lt. Julius Jacobson, 339FS, Wingman
Lt. Douglas Canning, 339FS, Element Leader
Lt. Delton Goerke, 339FS, Wingman
Spare Element
15t Lt. Besby Holmes, 339FS, Element Leader
Lt. Raymond Hine, 339FS, Wingman
Second Flight (Attack)
Capt. Thomas Lanphier, Jr., 70
Fighter Squadron, Section Leader
1st Lt. Rex Barber, 339FS, Wingman
1st Lt. Joseph Moore, 70FS, Element Leader
Lt. James McLanahan, 339FS, Wingman
From the 18
Fighter Group
First Flight (High Cover)
Major Louis Kittel, 12FS, Acting CO, Section Leader
Lt. Gordon Whittaker, 12FS, Wingman
1st Lt. Roger Ames,12FS, Element Leader
Lt. Lawrence Graebner, 12FS, Wingman
Second Flight (High Cover)
1st Lt. Everett Anglin, 12FS, Section Leader
1st Lt. William Smith, 12FS, Wingman
1st Lt. Eldon Stratton, 12FS, Element Leader
1st Lt. Albert Long, 12FS, Wingman
The Japanese personnel were:
From the 205
Kokutai IJNAF
G4M Betty Bomber #323
7 Crew: Pilot, co-pilot, observer, 2 radio operators, gunner and
4 Passengers:
Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, C-in-C Combined Fleet
R.Adm. Rokuro Takata, Chief Surgeon Combined Fleet
Cdr. Noburu Fukusaki, Yamamoto aide
Cdr. Kurio Toibana, Staff officer
Betty bomber #326
7 Crew: Pilot, co-pilot, observer, 2 radio operators, gunner and
5 Passengers:
VAdm. Matome Ugaki, Chief of Staff, Combined Fleet
Capt. Motoharu Kitamura, Chief Paymaster Combined Fleet
Cdr. Rinji Tomoro, Meteorology officer, Combined Fleet
Cdr. Kaoru Imananka, Staff officer
Cdr. Suteji Muroi, Staff officer
(L-R) Lanphier; Holmes, and Barber (Lansdale)
Fighter Command in World War II
Barber's P-38 equipped with the special 31 O-gallon belly tank. (Lansdale) "Old Ironsides," Sam Howie's aircraft that was destroyed on landing on the 29
March 1943 Shortlands mission.The only undamaged part was its left wing,
which was salvaged and placed on Barber's P-38. (Lansdale)
John Mitchell's navigation calculations used in the planning of the mission.
Uohn Mitchell)
.'. . ,. I ..
!-:- .. t' . '. t
. ... --------. ..=.. -'.""':-:-
'. ''-''.-J.;.;' .' .\
' '.:, " . I'
'T C'" '," -,:,. .
There were two possible methods of attacking Yamamoto, ei-
ther in the air in the bomber on his way to Ballale, or on the sea on
the sub-chaser on his way to the Shortlands. Mitchell candidly ad-
mitted he could not recognize a "subchaser from a sub" and was
concerned that even if the ship were sunk it did not guarantee that
Yamamoto would not survive, escaping in a life boat or life vest.
Also, there were at least 75 fighters in the Shortlands that could
make things difficult for the low-flying P-38s dive-bombing and
strafing the ship. After lengthy discussion and debate, Mitscher
decided to have Mitchell make the final decision on the method of
the attack, scheduled for the morning of the 18'11. Mitchell chose to
attack Yamamoto from the air rather than on the sea. The final de-
tails of the flight were made or decided upon by Mitchell, whose
only special request was for a "good mariner's compass" from the
Navy, because the compasses usually provided in the Lightnings
were unreliable. A minor setback occurred when it was found that
only half of the 31O-gallon belly tanks needed for the mission would
be supplied. This meant that the Lightnings would each be flying
with a normal I65-gallon external tank and the special 31O-gallon
tank being flown in that night from Port Moresby.
After being briefed on the expected weather and AAand fighter
defenses on Bougainville, Mitchell met with intelligence officers
Lt. Joseph McGuigan of the Navy and Capt. William Morrison of
the Army. Mon'ison had lived in Japan and the Orient for nearly
half his life, and told Mitchell that Yamamoto had a life long habit
of being exactly on schedule, and assured him that he would con-
tinue to do so. Mitchell realized that there always was one of the
From the 204'11 Kokutai 11 AF
A6M 6 Zero pilots
Chief petty officer Yoshimi Hidaka
Lt. Takeshi Morizaki
Petty officer 2cl Yasuji Okazaki
FIt. Petty Officer Shoichi Sugita
FIt. Petty officer Toyomitsu Tsujinoue
FIt. Petty Officer Kenji Yanagiya
Part Three, Chapter 8 - Yamamoto Mission
Course of
Leg No. I - 265 -1&3 mi. =55 min.
No.2 - 29() -&8 mi. =27 min.
Leg No.3 - 305-125 mi. =38 min.
No.4 - 020-16 mi. = mi. + 16 min. for climb
Leg No.5 - 090-69 mi. =21 min.
Point of
53 min.
Above: The routes of Yamamoto and Mitchell.
1101 c, 1:->\ 11.1."
Right: Yamamoto's route over Bougainville and
crash site to the NNW of his destination at
Ballale. (Canning via Lansdale)
Fighter Command in World War II
Author's autographs of mission survivors on Shigelu Nohara illustration of
Adm.Yamamoto's Betty (#323). (Author/Nohara)
IIIUJ'rOI,on by SI"gelu NoJ,o'Q
"The Yamamoto mission is the best-known and most thoroughly
studied fighter engagement of the Pacific War. It may well be the
most celebrated sortie ever flown by American fighter pilots. The
participants, American and Japanese, have been interviewed repeat-
edly and at length. The action has been dissected from every pos-
sible angle. Futile attempts have been made to reduce the chaotic
movement of the twenty-four ass0l1ed Lightnings, Zeros, and Bettys
to a series of neat lines on paper. Yet, for all that effort we have still
not satisfied our curiosity as to precisely what occurred in the air
over Bougainville on that morning almost half a century ago."
Death of the Admiral: The Definitive Account
of the Yamamoto Mission: 18 April 1943
by James Lansdale
After years ,of research and data collection, including interviews
with the participants, the "Death of an Admiral" is what I am firmly
convinced is an account of precisely what occurred that 18 April
morning. In comparing and analyzing the Barber, Lanphier, and
Ugaki accounts, the Japanese autopsy report and the fighter inter-
ception report, and also the major studies of the mission by Carroll
Glines, John Wible, R. Cargill Hall, Richard Kohn, and Burke Davis,
there can be no doubt that Rex Barber shot down Yamamoto. Sub-
sequent evidence, testimony, and examination of collaborative
records have resulted in the discovery of some errors in detail and/
or conclusions made at the time. The sequence of events, as well as
the flight to fly in loose formation until they turned for the coast of
Bougainville. As they were going to fly at 30-50 feet, he cautioned
the pilots about the danger of going in due to the loss of depth
perception if they stared at the water. There was to be complete
radio silence until the target was spotted. Mitchell would signal
course changes with hand signals that would be passed on by ele-
ment leaders.
When Admiral Yamamoto departed from the East Airfield
(Lakunai) at Rabaul at 0610 18 April 1943 (Tokyo D/T), he became
the target in one of the most controversial missions of World War
II. In the Foreword of the book by R. Cargill Hall, "Lightning Over
Bougainville" (Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington: and
London: 1991), Tom D. Crouch wrote:
innumerable glitches, such as weather, mechanical problems, and
the like that could postpone or delay Yamamoto's aircraft. Marine
Maj. John Condon supplied Mitchell with a strip map with the
mission's course and the airspeed, distance, and time computed.
Mitchell discounted Condon's figures, as the Marine was not fa-
miliar with the characteristics of the P-38, much less the altitude
and throttle settings Mitchell needed to use for such a long-range
mission. Accuracy and navigation were critical in making such a
precise interception. First he estimated Yamamoto's bomber's speed
to be 180mph (he wasn't sure if the bomber was to be aNavy G4M
Betty or the older Army K-21 Sally, but assumed it would be a
Navy Betty since Yamamoto was a Navy Admiral). He computed
the P-38's zero wind ground speed under long-range cruise control
settings to be 200 mph. He then recalculated the average speed to
target as 197mph, taking into consideration the forecast 5-knot wind
on the first leg. Also, a direct flight to southern Bougainville meant
crossing or flying close to Japanese-held islands and enemy ob-
servers on islands along the way up the Slot from Fighter Two. To
avoid detection Mitchell replotted the mission's course by flying at
least 50 miles offshore of these islands, which meant dead-reckon-
ing over 400 miles over water at 50 feet or less, a prodigious feat of
navigation. Mitchell knew Yamamoto's arrival time at Ballale but
did not know over which side of Bougainville Yamamoto's bomber
would fly. He predicted Yamamoto would fly the direct route from
Rabaul down the western coast. The P-38s would make the inter-
cept 40 miles from Kahili Airfield as Yamamoto's bomber was in
its let down approach to Ballale. To make the precise intercept at
0930 he divided the route into five sections with takeoff at 0720,
allowing IS minutes for form up, after which Mitchell would begin
the mission toward Ballale at 0735. It took the ground crews all
night to attach and fill the 165-gallon and 31O-gallon fuel tanks.
Ammunition was taken from sealed crates; and the 20mm cannon
were loaded with HE incendiary shells, and the four .50 caliber
machine guns were loaded with a mixture of tracer, API, and ball
ammunition. Unfortunately, the P-38s were not equipped with gun
cameras at the time. At the pre-takeoff briefing Mitchell instructed
Looking northwest over Ballale Island, with Molla Point at the upper left of
the photo. (USAF via Lansdale)
Part Three, Chapter 8 - Yamamoto Mission
Wayne Shipp drawing ofYamamoto shoot down as described by Capt.Tho-
mas Lanphier.
primary evidence of what occurred to the Yamamoto and Ugaki
Bettys, has been taken directly from these contemporary records!
Incidentally, I completed this commentary on the sixtieth anniver-
sary of the Yamamoto Mission, 18 April 2003.
It was 0710 (local Dff) Easter Sunday 1943 when John Mitchell
released the brakes of his P-38 on Fighter 2 to lead seventeen other
pilots on the longest aerial interception mission of World War II.
Mitchell, in P-38 No.lIO, along with Jacobson in No.144, taxied
into position and took off. Trailing Mitchell were Doug Canning,
Del Goerke, Besby Holmes in No. 100, and Ray Hine in No.102.
Tom Lanphier, in NO.122
"Phoebe," was next with Rex Barber, in 0.147 "Miss Vir-
ginia," that had been Bob Petit's Lightning before Petit rotated back
to the States after having served two combat tours on Guadalcanal.
Renown aviation artist Roy Grinnell's rendering of Rex Barber shooting down
theYamamoto bomber. Historian James Lansdale had studied theYamamoto
Mission for years and had interviewed Barber, and was instrumental in aiding
the artist in making the painting accurate in aircraft markings and combat
attitude. ( Roy Grinnell by permission via Lansdale)
Wayne Shipp drawing of mission shoot down as described by Lt. Rex Barber.
(Glines/Shipp via Lansdale)
Joe Moore taxied forward to the take-off position. Unfortunately
Moore's wingman, Jim McLanahan, in No.116 "Lady Luck," was
not "lucky!" As McLanahan taxied onto the Marston matting a tire
caught a sharp edge of the steel mat and blew out, leaving him
stranded off the runway. Lou Kittel's 12
Fighter Squadron's rep-
resentatives were the last to depart for their four-hundred-mile,
minimum altitude mission. Kittel was flying Barber's old No.125
with "Daisy 2
" chalked on the nose. Barber had damaged the port
wing ofNo.125 during an attack on a Japanese subchaser on March
h, but it had been repaired in time for this mission with a wing
from the wreckage of Howie's No.138, "Old Ironsides."
While forming up, Moore could not get the specially fitted 310-
gallon external tank to feed. Informing Mitchell of the problem by
the use of hand-signals, the disappointed and frustrated Moore turned
The Betty bomber carryingAdm. Ugaki was caught off Moila Point by Holmes
and Hine. Barber finished the shoot down and the bomber crashed; Ugaki,
his paymaster, and the pilot survived the crash, and Ugaki recorded the inci-
dent in his diary. (National Archives via Lansdale)
Fighter Command in World War II
Within seconds after being shot down by Rex Barber, Yamamoto's Betty
crashed and burned near the village of Aku on southern Bougainville. (Na-
tional Archives via Lansdale)
around and headed back to Fighter 2. With McLanahan and Moore
gone the attack section now only consisted of two pilots, Lanphier
and Barber! Mitchell signaled the two spare pilots, Holmes and
Hine, to fill in Lanphier's attack section. Flying at only thirty or
forty feet over the water in order to avoid Japanese detection, the
sixteen remaining Lightnings followed Mitchell's course,t"265
for 55 minutes; 290 for 27 minutes; 305 for 38 minutes; 20 for 5
minutes." As the Americans passed over the Russell Islands on their
first leg, the two Betty bombers were taking off from Vunakanau
Airfield on Rabaul and flew seven miles to Lakunai, on New
Britain's east coast, to pick up their passengers. Yamamoto's bomber
(#323), followed by Ugaki's bomber (#326), took off and was joined
by the Zero escort in two elements of three. The bombers would
cruise at 7,500 feet and were to be covered by the Zeros flying at
9,000 feet a mile behind in flights of three on either side of the
bombers. Mitchell had planned an additional sixteen minutes for
climbing to station at the intercept altitude. This was to be followed
by a fifth leg of "90
for 21 minutes" if additional search time had
been needed. The pilots, still low over the water, were straining to
catch a glimpse of Bougainville and turned on their fourth leg. As
they approached the ETA the bombers were not seen, and there was
a haze and the sun was glaring into their eyes. Mitchell had the
formation close up, and his number three, Doug Canning, whose
keen vision was legendary, broke the radio silence with a low, al-
most too calm, message, "Bogeys. Eleven o'clock high." The two
Japanese bombers were three miles away, crossing the western tip
of Bougainville in close formation at 4,500 feet in a shallow de-
scent toward Ballale. Mitchell was initially concerned when he saw
two bombers, as the intercepted message mentioned only one. When
he saw the six Zeros in flights ofthree on eitherside ofthe bombers
he knew he had Yamamoto. The Zeros dropped their external tanks
and headed toward the two P-38s, which were only seconds away
from making history.
Lanphier's attack section, climbing with the cover sections,
fire-walled their engines. Mitchell ordered the dropping of the ex-
ternal fuel tanks as the Lightnings rocketed for altitude. As Lanphier
and Barber adjusted their course for the interception of the two
Betty bombers, Holmes announced he could not drop his tanks.
With Hine covering his wing, Holmes turned southeast along the
Bougainville coast, repeatedly hitting the drop switch and horsing
his Lightning in an attempt to jerk the belly tanks loose. The attack
section was, for the second time during the mission, down to only
Lanphier and Barber!
What happened in the next few minutes to Lanphier and Bar-
ber has subsequently led to much debate, controversy, and acri-
mony. The attack on and victory claim for the Betty bomber carry-
ing Yamamoto is the most contentious aspect of this famous mis-
sion. Lanphier and Barber both have claimed this distinction. Con-
temporary documentation is sparse, but does exist. In the years fol-
lowing the death of Yamamoto, dozens of interviews of the partici-
pants, magazine articles, books, and symposia, as well as legal fo-
rums, have failed to satisfy the opinions of all parties. What is clear
is that the official U.S. Air Force position on this issue has been to
rely on their contemporary records. Lanphier's position also was to
legitimize and substantiate his claim by relying on the same offi-
cial records. There are three pel1inent and contemporary documents
available for examination that do focus very precise light on the
events that transpired at that time. These three essential documents
regarding the Yamamoto interception are:
A) 13
Fighter Command's official "Fighter Interception Report"
for April 18, 1943.
An original typed copy of the four-page "Fighter Interception Re-
port: April 18, 1943," was to have been given to each of the partici-
pants. Douglas S. Canning provided the authors with the copies
given to him and to wingman Delton C. Goerke. The Goerke copy
is one quoted below as "FIR" It is ironic that this report on which
Lanphier based his claim throughout the years would be used to
establish Barber as the Yamamoto victor.
B) The Admiral Ugaki Diary.
Admiral Ugaki served as Yamamoto's chief of staff, and Ugaki was
on board the second Betty bomber shot down during the Yamamoto
Mission. He was severely injured but, after hospitalization, he re-
covered his health and returned to active duty. Ugaki maintained a
personal and detailed diary of his service career. On the first anni-
versary of the Yamamoto Mission, Ugaki detailed and recorded from
memory the events of 18 April 1943. After the war, the Ugaki diary
was translated by Chihaya, Masataka, edited by Donald M. Goldstein
and Katherine V. Dillon, and published as "Fading Victory: The
Diary of Admiral Matome Ugaki 1941-1945" (University of Pitts-
burgh Press, London: 1991). However, for this work, the services
of Dr. Kawamoto, Minoru, humanitarian, historian, and linguist,
were commissioned in order to provide a more literal, and, hope-
fully, more precise translation of the Ugaki Diary entries. Dr.
Kawamoto, in providing his translation and working from an origi-
nal copy of the Ugaki Diary, wrote:
"There is general criticism (in Japan) that the Ugaki Diary en-
try for April 18, 1944, is not entirely correct. Memories being frail
Part Three, Chapter 8 - Yamamoto Mission
are apt to be fraught with mistakes. However, who else was there to
give a first hand account of what happened that morning within
one of the two targeted planes and so close to the facts?" (N.B.
Italics added). The Dr. Kawamoto translation is quoted herein be-
low as "Ugaki."
C) The Official Autopsy Report and Autopsy Record of Admiral
After the recovery of Yamamoto's remains from the crash site an
official autopsy was conducted, and a record of findings reported
by Lt. Commander Jisaburo Tabuchi, chief medical officer on No. I
Base Unit. After the war Dr. 'Tabuchi operated a clinic in Saidaiji,
Okayama Prefecture. Dr. Tabuchi retained copies of the official
autopsy report and autopsy record, and provided these copies to
Hiroyuki Agawa. Agawa became the noted Yamamoto biographer
and published Dr. Tabuchi's report of the Yamamoto autopsy in the
"The Reluctant Admiral: Yamamoto and the Imperial Navy"
(Kodansha International Ltd., New York: 1979). The findings of
the Yamamoto autopsy, which was conducted on 20 April 1943 at
Buin Base, are quoted in a following account from "Agawa."
The Yamamoto Mission: Based on Contemporary Records
Yamamoto's staff boarded the two standard Betty bombers, Nos.
323 and 326, attached to No.705 Kaigun Kokutai (Naval Air Group)
at Rabaul's East Airfield, and departed at 0610 (Tokyo D/T).
Yamamoto sat in the navigator's seat, immediately behind the pilot
on the starboard side of the Betty, call number 323, Mitsubishi se-
rial number 2656. The itinerary had called for Ballale Island Base
to be the first landing of Yamamoto's inspection tour. However, the
pilot's log for Betty, call number 326, in which Ugaki was riding,
records that the scheduled flight was to be from "RRF" (Rabaul
Airfield) to "RWP" (Buin Anchorage). The code for Buin Base was
"RXP," and the Ballale Base code was "RXZ." It is possible that
the use of the letters "RWP" in the pilot's log were used to indicate
either or both airfields in the Buin Anchorage area. In any event,
both bombers and the six escorting Zero fighters from No.204
Kaigun Kokutai flew a southeasterly course from Rabaul toward
the southwestern coast of Bougainville and the Buin base area.
Ugaki: "No.2 plane [326] (was) diagonally behind (and) left of
No.1 plane [323]. Formation beautiful. At times (I) worried wingtips
would touch. (I) could plainly make out the side view of C-in-C
sitting in the plane commander's seat [behind the pilot, starboard
side]. Also those moving about in the cabin. As the landscape and
objects below were being explained, based on aerial map, (I) was
able to enjoy a feeling of a good flight.
When approaching the west side of Bougainville Island, flying
in a straight line at an altitude of seven-eight hundred meters over
flat jungle, the plane's captain handed me a piece of paper. It said,
'Scheduled to arrive Ballale at 0745.' Looking at my wristwatch (I
noted) it was exactly 0730. 'Another fifteen minutes to go', I re-
minded myself. Just then, all of a sudden, our plane started to dive,
following o. I plane, and dropped down to fifty meters."
FIR: "Radio silence was absolute until Canning's quiet 'Eleven
O'clock' announced contact with the enemy. The timing, resulting
from Major Mitchell's close control of the flight's speed and unwa-
vering formation maintained, was so exact that the enemy was met
on the minute, where a few minutes' delay would have meant com-
plete failure.
The Lightnings were at 30 feet, heading in toward the
(Bougainville) coast, and (were) just about to begin to get their
altitude for the presumed attack. The enemy was sighted in a 'V'
about 3 miles distant, proceeding down the Southern coast toward
Kihili (sic). The Two (sic) bombers were together, flying at 4500
feet, with two sections-3 Zeros each-1500 feet above them and
slightly to the rear. As the enemy force, apparently unaware of en-
emy opposition, pursued his course, Mitchell led the covering group
(twelve Lightnings) in their climb for altitude, ultimately reaching
15-18,000 feet, from which point they stood their protecting vigil.
Lanphier led his force parallel to the course of the enemy, flying
into them a bit, and indicating 200 MPH in his 35 climb. The P-
38s actually climbed at 2200 feet per minute. When level with the
bombers, and about 2 miles away, Lanphier and Barber dropped
their belly tanks and swung in to the attack at 280 MPH indicated.
Holmes had difficulty in releasing his tank(s), and Hine remained
with him until he could do so.
When Lanphier and Barber were within one mile of contact
their attack was observed by the enemy. The bombers nosed down,
one started a 36000 turn dive, the other going out and away toward
the shoreline (south-southwest of the original course). The Zeros
dropped their belly tanks and three peeled down in a string to inter-
cept Lanphier."
Ugaki: '''What happened?' we all thought. (I) called out, 'What
happened?' to the plane's captain, an Air Chief Warrant Officer who
was in the aisle. He replied 'It must have been some mistake.' Such
a remark proved (our actions to have been) a big mistake, (an) ex-
treme stupidity. Because by this time, the fighter planes covering
us, having already detected a group of twenty-four (sic) enemy
fighter planes flying southward and then reversing course, made a
warning dive toward our medium attack planes. At the same time,
No. I plane [323] (had) also detected the enemy planes, and it dived
without any time to spare and skimmed over the jungle treetops. So
it was learned later.
At this time the crew took up battle stations for the first time,
cleared their guns, and prepared for firing. For a moment, the wind
blowing in and the handling of machine guns and all caused one
mixed, disturbing noise. When (our) plane began to drop altitude,
an air battle had already developed with our escort fighter planes.
The enemy, outnumbering us by four times, closed in mercilessly
on the big target, our medium (sized) attack plane."
Ugaki explains the actions as described in the Fighter Inter-
ception Report as "one (bomber) started a 36000 turn dive," while
"the other (bomber was) going out and away toward the shoreline"
in the following diary entry.
Fighter Command in World War II
Ugaki: "To counter this enemy move, (our) plane [326] made a
sudden evasive turn of more than 90 degrees. The plane's captain,
his eyes glued to the sky and seeing an enemy plane about to make
a dive at us, tapped the shoulder of the chief pilot, directing him to
turn left or right. No. I [323] and No.2 planes [326] (had) then
separated, No. I plane [323] going toward the right (FIR): "toward
the shoreline" or south-southwest) and No 2 [326] toward the left
(easterly); the distance between them increased."
FIR: "Barber had gone in with Lanphier on the initial attack. He
went for one of the bombers, but its maneuvers caused him to over-
shoot a little. He whipped back (banking and side slipped), how-
ever, and although pursued by Zeros, caught the bomber and de-
stroyed it. When he fired, the tail section flew off, and the bomber
(then) turned over on its back and plummeted to the earth."
All subsequent accounts agree that Lanphier (on the left side
of the attacking element) had made a climbing turn to the left (north
by northwest). In so doing, he had gone nose to nose with the three
escort Zeros on the seaward side of the formation. Barber, again by
all subsequent accounts, had banked hard right, attacking one of
the Bettys from the rear. The Betty [323], carrying Yamamoto, was
elToneously reported in the Fighter Interception Report as having
lost its tail and turning "over on its back" from the Barber attack.
Nevertheless, the autopsy report on Yamamoto's body reveals that
Barber's bullets, or shrapnel from Barber's fusillade, fired from the
Betty's six o'clock position, had struck home. Yamamoto, seated
on the starboard side of the Betty's cabin, behind the pilot, and
facing forward, was mortally wounded.
Agawa: "Yamamoto's body (suffered) wounds about the size of the
tip of one's little finger where a machine-gun bullet had entered at
the angle of the left lower jaw and emerged at the right, and an
entry wound the size of the tip of one's index finger in the center of
the left shoulder blade. The latter hole went upward and to the right,
but there was no exit wound."
Ugak.i: "After making about two evasion moves, (I) worried about
No. I [323] plane, looked toward the right. ;Oh God!' Saw No. I
plane, at a distance of about 4,000 meters, belching smoke, skim-
ming the jungle top, speed dropping, heading south. 'All's lost' was
about all one could think of. (I) pulled toward me the shoulder of
Air Staff Officer Muroi, who was standing in the aisle diagonally
behind me, and ordered to him 'Look at C-in-C's plane.' It was the
last farewell between them and us. All of this 'took only about 20
seconds to happen. (Italics added)
At the point Barber had banked right to approach the enemy
bomber formation from the rear, Lanphier had turned left into the
attacking Zero escort element.
FIR: "When he (Lanphier) saw he could not reach the bomber he
turned up into the Zeros, exploding the first, and firing into the
others as they passed. By this time he (Lanphier) had reached 6,000
feet, so he nosed over and went down to the tree tops after his es-
caping objective."
Ugaki: "With the enemy upon us (our) plane [326] again made a
sharp turn and lost sight of C-in-C's plane."
FIR: "He (Lanphier) came into it broadside-fired his bursts-a
wing flew off (sic), and the plane went flaming to the earth."
This one sentence in the official Fighter Interception Report
has proven to be the most contentious. Lanphier later el.aborated on
this portion of the official report and, in the future, always main-
tained that he had used a 9000 deflection to bring down this bomber.
It is very possible that Lanphier had made an attempt on the Ugaki
bomber as it turned back to the south-southwest toward the shore-
line. Pursued by Zeros, Barber had previously also turned on the
same tract toward the shoreline and the open water. It is pure specu-
lation, but very likely, that it was at this point in the engagement
that Lanphier witnessed the crash of the Betty calTying Yamamoto.
Lanphier would always maintain that he and he alone deserved credit
for this bomber crash in the jungles of Bougainville. According to
the official record, written after the testimony of Lanphier and Bar-
ber, not one, but two Bettys had apparently crashed and burned
near the village ofAku on Bougainville. Today, based on the physi-
cal evidence of the wreckage found in the jungle, as well as the
verified testimony of the surviving Japanese witnesses, we know
beyond any doubt that only one of the two bombers crashed and
burned on land that day.
Ugak.i: "It was irritating to wait for (our) plane to level off; (my)
mind filled with anxiety over what (had) happened. Although the
natural outcome could be imagined, the next look found no sight of
No. I plane [323]; all that met the eye was black smoke rising high
in the sky from inside the jungle below. Ah! It is all over!"
After Lanphier witnessed the crash of the bomber in the jungle
he made a low-level escape toward the south-southeast with Zeros
in hot pursuit, eventually escaping to return alone to Fighter 2. Af-
ter Barber's attack on the Betty inland, as previously recounted, he
made a wide swing toward the south-southeast, across the shore-
line and over the water along the southern Bougainville coast.
Holmes had succeeded in shaking the troublesome belly tank and,
along with Hine, turned back toward the north-northeast. Holmes
spied the Ugaki bomber, coming their way over the shoreline in a
southerly direction. Holmes and Hine began a rear attack on this
bomber. Barber, observing this action, swung in behind Holmes
and Hine. The combined attacks of Holmes, Hine, and Barber re-
sulted in the crash and destruction of the Ugaki bomber just south
of Moila Point. The Zeros hotly contested these attacks. In the pro-
cess, Barber and Holmes made claims for victories over three Ze-
ros. Unfortunately Ray Hine took hits from a Zero and was last
observed low over the water southwest of the Shortland Islands.
When Lanphier landed, by all accounts he began to proudly
proclaim his victory over Admiral Yamamoto in spite of the fact
Part Three, Chapter 8 - Yamamoto Mission
that no one on the mission had any definite knowledge, or confir-
mation, of the Japanese Admiral's death. Neither did anyone know
at the time, with any degree of certainty, which of the bombers had
been transporting Yamamoto! When the Fighter Interception Re-
port was written, both Barber's and Lanphier's claims for two bomb-
ers over the jungle were confirmed! All had agreed that another
Betty [326] had been brought down over the water south of Moila
Point. In order to account for the discrepancy within the report be-
tween the interception of two Betty bombers and the confirmation
of three bomber victories, the Betty carrying Ugaki was described
as a "stray bomber" that just happened to be in the area. The seeds
for the future controversy had been planted!
Mission Epilogue
The Americans
Barber's P-38, Miss Virginia, had over 100 holes suffering damage
from pieces of Yamamoto's stricken bomber, and had its intercooler
shot out by the pursuing Zeros. Lanphier's fighter had two bullet
holes in its horizontal stabilizer. After attacking the Zeros Holmes,
alone and low on fuel, radioed for help. He managed to team up
Raymond Hine. (Canning)
Crew of Patrol Bomber 6 ofVP-44, who spotted what is thought to be
Hine's damaged P-38 after the Yamamoto mission. Charles Marsh is sitting
on the hull with his foot on the star. (Edward McKissick via Lansdale)
with Doug Canning, the last man to leave the area, and Canning led
the pair back toward Fighter 2. Holmes was short on fuel, so Can-
ning went ahead and buzzed the uncompleted airfield in the Russells.
The field had construction equipment and crews working on it, and
Canning hoped that they would get off so Holmes could land, but
instead they waved at him as he flew over. Canning then came around
with his gear and flaps down and buzzed even lower. The Seabees
got his point and cleared the runway. Holmes dropped down in front
of Canning to make an emergency landing while Canning flew
home. When Holmes landed he found that he had less than five
gallons of fuel remaining. There was no fuel on the new base, so
five-gallon Jerry cans had to be filled from the Allison engines of
nearby PT boats. Holmes' fighter was refueled, and late that after-
noon he arrived at Fighter 2. Canning, ironically, had been the first
to spot Admiral Yamamoto's flight, and he was the last to leave the
combat area. In his own words, he "was the quintessential tourist
and had maximized this trip!"
Holmes reported seeing Ray Hine's aircraft trailing smoke or
vapor from the left engine and heading in the general direction of
Wilson Strait, southwest of Shortland Island. Hine was the only
loss to mar the nearly perfectly executed mission. After intercept-
ing and shooting down the stray (Ugaki) Japanese bomber off Moila
Point, Holmes, Barber, and Hine turned for home, but were attacked
by Zeros. Holmes shot one down, as did Hine. Maj. John Mitchell
reported that Hine's left engine was hit and began to smoke, and he
was last seen at 0940, losing altitude four miles north of Shortland
Island with three Zeros on his tail (as per Missing Aircrew Report
No. 599 of 17 September 1943). On 28 May 1943 COMAIRSOLS
called off the search for Hine. A COMAIRSOLS report to the Ad-
jutant General on 9 February 1944 stated, "He (Hine) was not seen
to crash. No wreckage of the plane was found."
On 18 April a PBY Catalina of Navy Patrol Squadron 44 (VP-
44) piloted by LtUg) Harry Metke took off from Segond Channel,
Espiritu Santo. It was assigned to fly a rescue patrol for an Army
Air Force mission of "unknown purpose and destination." VP-44
took off four and a half hours before the P-38s, and on their way
Fighter Command in World War II
RAdm. Kanae Kosaka (right), CO of the No.26 Air Flotilla, waited in vain for
Yamamoto on Kahili. (Nakamura via Lansdale)
they were to land off the coast of New Georgia to deliver supplies
to coast watchers and pick up a downed airman. As they neared the
New Georgia coast at 500 feet they spotted over a dozen P-38s
flying below them at wave top level, heading toward the WNW
(toward Bougainville). The PBY delivered the supplies and took
off to continue its patrol. The Dumbo crew heard radio chatter over
the intercom from the P-38 pilots, who were in a furious air battle,
and then the Lightning reported that their mission was accomplished
and were heading back to base. Metke also set a course back to
Espiritu Santo, knowing that the faster P-38s would easily overtake
him. AMMlc Charles Marsh was on watch in the waist hatch and
saw a damaged P-38 to the starboard, making a wide, sweeping
turn about a half-mile away. Marsh reported that at the end of its
turn the badly damaged fighter pulled abeam of the PBY, both at
about 700 feet altitude. Marsh reported the left engine was stopped
and the propeller feathered, and he could see bullet holes in the
engine cowling. Metke contacted the P-38 pilot on the radio and
asked if he was OK. After a pause the pilot said he thought so.
Metke then asked about the other engine, and the pilot replied that
it appeared to be OK, and that he had enough fuel to get back to
base. Metke told him that if he wanted to ditch the PBY could eas-
ily pick him up. The Lightning pilot hesitated and made another
sweeping turn about a mile out. He then asked for a compass head-
ing for Guadalcanal and said he thought he could make it back, and
then flew off and out of sight.
In January 1994, after reading Attack on Yamamoto, Marsh
contacted the author, Carroll Glines, describing his memory of the
18 April 1943 VP-44 mission. In July 1994, only a month before
his death, Metke stated:
"I had no knowledge of the plans to attack Yamamoto, nor of
the P-38 squadron that was in the area while we were there. When
the news came out about the Yamamoto ambush, I realized it was
an amazing coincidence that we were in the area at the time." ("Tales
ofthe Solomon Islands Intercept," VP-44 Chronicles, James Mills).
The wreckage ofYamamoto's Betty was made into a shrine by the Japanese
during the war and remains in the Bougainville jungle to this day: (SYMA via
Two Yamamoto mission top cover pilots were KIA within four
and a half months. Gordon Whittaker was killed less than two weeks
later on a mission over Bougainville, while Eldon Stratton was killed
over Vella Lavella on the last day of August. But the enduring
American epilogue to the Yamamoto Mission has been the pro-
longed and often rancorous controversy over who shot down
The Japanese Epilogue
At 1430 a Japanese official secret cable reached Rabaul from the
C-in-C, Southeast Area Fleet at Buin. The message stated that
Yamamoto's aircraft had "encountered and engaged in combat more
than a dozen enemy fighters" and had been seen by the Zero escort
pilots "to dive at a shallow angle into the jungle eleven nautical
miles to the west ofBuin emitting flames." The message went on to
inform Rabaul that a rescue party had been sent out to the crash
site. A construction crew had also seen an aircraft crash into the
jungle and was ordered to proceed toward the crash site. Neither
group was able to find the crash by sunset. The search was resumed
at dawn and continued without success until dusk, when a con-
struction worker came upon a wreck with "323" on its vertical fin.
The Betty's fuselage had broken on impact just forward of the tail
assembly, and everything forward of the wings was crushed and
burned. Bodies were found lying in the vicinity of the wreck.
Yamamoto was found to the left in a stand of trees strapped to his
seat, with R.Adm. Takata nearby. On the right side of the wreckage
the bodies of Cdr. Toibana and the pilot were found. The next day
the bodies were taken to Buin, where Cdr. Gisaburo Tabuchi, Chief
Medical Officer of the First Base Unit, performed the autopsy on
Yamamoto that was discussed earlier. Afterward the Admiral's body
and the others were cremated and the ashes put into boxes. His
cremation pit was filled, and two papaya trees, his favorite fruit,
were planted on the mound. A shrine was erected, and Japanese
naval personnel cared for the graves until the end of the war.
Yamamoto's remains were secretly taken back to Rabaul and then
Part Three, Chapter 8 - Yamamoto Mission
on to Truk and Yamamoto's flagship, the Musashi. The news of
Yamamoto's death was kept from the Japanese public until 21 May,
when the Musashi steamed into Tokyo Bay. On 5 June a state fu-
neral was held, with a million people lining the streets as his ashes
passed. Yamamoto's ashes were buried next to Adm. Togo, the vic-
tor of the great naval Battle of Tsushima against the Russians on 5
June 1905, in which Yamamoto took part a year after graduating
from the Japanese Naval Academy and was wounded in action, los-
ing two fingers. A second urn of ashes was given to Yamamoto's
wife and was buried alongside his father in a small Buddhist temple.
The immediate effect of Yamamoto's death was its impact on
Japanese military and civilian morale. It had no effect on the final
outcome of the war, which had already turned in the Allies' favor.
The talented admiral had already gone down in naval history for
his brilliant execution of naval warfare in the first months of the
war, and surely if he had lived he would have made better use of his
forces than those commanders who followed him, and would have
made the victory more costly for the Americans. There were no
more Japanese victories after Yamamoto's death. His successor,
Adm. Kogo, died in a plane crash off the Philippine coast in March
1944. Adm. Ugaki, who survived the attack, lived until the last day
of the war, when he led and died in a fruitless Kamikaze attack on
American naval units off Okinawa.
Controversy over the Yamamoto Mission
It was all over in less than five minutes. One Betty, carrying Admi-
ral Yamamoto, had crashed and burned in the jungles of Bougainville
near the village of Aku. Another Betty, with Admiral Ugaki aboard,
had crashed in the sea off Moila Point, and several of the escorting
Zeros were believed to have been shot down. Major Mitchell radi-
oed "Mission accomplished!" and ordered everyone home. Lanphier
and Barber, separated during the melee, individually made their
way back.
Lanphier was the first of the attack section to return to Fighter
2 and excitedly announced his victories. Roger Ames recalled:
"I can still remember how upset I was when Tom Lanphier
made his statement over the open mike."
According to the Guadakanal approach control director on duty
the day of the mission, Lt. Ug) Edward C. Hutcheson, USNR,
Lanphier announced over the radio:
"I got Yamamoto! I got the son of a bitch! He won't dictate
peace terms in the White House now!"
Just after Lanphier landed he was met by Lt. Joseph Young,
who reported:
"From the aircraft he claimed victory over Admiral Yamamoto
in no uncertain terms. His reaction was astounding to me and ap-
peared to be iuational. He was visibly shaken, but very adamant
about his victory." (via George Chandler)
Bill Harris, who had not been on the mission, recalled that
Lanphier was riding up and down the flight line in ajeep, bragging,
"I got him! I got the son of a bitch!" When Holmes returned to
Fighter 2 from his fuel stop in the Russells, he discovered that the
credit for the destruction of both Betty bombers had been given to
Barber and Lanphier. Holmes was furious, as he had also shot down
a Betty. Confusion reigned, as none of the pilots were able to con-
firm each other's victories. The top cover pilots only saw a single
column of black smoke rising from the jungle. About the emerging
controversy Mitchell said:
"I didn't give a damn, we did what we were supposed to do. It
didn't make any difference to me who shot the admiral down."
Unfortunately, Mitchell didn't conduct a formal debriefing,
especially of Barber, Lanphier, and Holmes, which he forever re-
gretted. However, formal debriefings were not SOP until later in
the war. Meanwhile, no one questioned the dynamic Lanphier's
claim, and he repeated his story to anyone who would listen. Bar-
ber, returning to base after Lanphier, also overheard Lanphier's vic-
tory statements and, with some initation, asked, "How in the hell
do you know you got Yamamoto?" Then, according to Barber,
Lanphier called him a "damn liar!" Lanphier's intense response
surprised Barber. Said Barber; "I hadn't made a statement. I just
asked a question, but he was calling me a 'damn liar' for asking a
After the mission Mitscher sent a top-secret message to Halsey
"Pop goes the weasel. P-38s led by Major J. William Mitchell
USAAF visited Kahili area. About 0930 shot down two bombers
escorted by 6 Zeros flying close formation. I other bomber shot
down believed on test flight. 3 Zeros added to the score sum total 6.
1 P-38 failed return. April 18 seems to be our day."
It appears as though the Holmes claim was now somehow cred-
ited as a bomber on a "test flight." The destruction of three bomb-
ers was reconfirmed in a later message. April 18 referred to the date
of the Doolittle "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" mission on the same
date a year earlier in 1942.
Halsey replied to Mitscher:
"Congratulations to you and Major Mitchell. Sounds as though
one of the ducks in their bag was a peacock."
A secret "official" Fighter Interception Report (FIR) was pre-
pared and signed by the intelligence officers who had helped
Mitchell prepare the mission, Capt. William Morrison and Lt. Jo-
seph McGuigan. Neither Mitchell, Barber, nor Holmes were con-
sulted. The report was filed on 21 June and forwarded to Halsey.
The complete combat portion of the mission was:
Fighter Command in World War II
"When Lanphier and Barber were within one mile of contact
their attack was observed by the enemy. The bombers nosed down,
one started a 360-degree tum dive, the other going out and away
toward the shoreline; the Zeros dropped their belly tanks and three
peeled down, in a string, to intercept Lanphier. When he saw that
he could not reach the bomber he turned up and into the enemy,
exploding the first Zero, and firing into the others as they passed.
By this time he had reached 6,000 feet, so he nosed over and went
down to the treetops after his escaping objective. He came into the
bomber broadside and fired his bursts-a wing fell off and the plane
went flaming to earth.
The Zeros were now pursuing him and had the benefit of alti-
tude. His mission accomplished, he hedgehopped the trees and made
desperate maneuvers to escape. He kicked rudder, slipped and skid-
ded, tracers were flying his plane, but finally he outran them. In all
the action he had received two 7.7s in his horizontal stabilizer.
Barber had gone in with Lanphier on the initial attack. He went
for one of the bombers but its maneuvers caused him to overshoot
a little. He whipped back, however, and although pursued by Ze-
ros, caught the bomber and destroyed it. When he fired, the tail
section flew off, and the bomber turned over on its back and plum-
meted to earth.
By this time, Holmes had been able to drop his tank and with'
Hine, who stayed in formation with him, came in to ward off the
Zeros who were pursuing Barber. A dogfight ensued, but results
were not observed. The flight was on its way outside of the combat
area (in the neighborhood of the enemy airbases at Kahili, Ballale,
and Shortland-Faisi) when Holmes noticed a stray bomber near
Moila Point flying low over the water. He dove on it, his bursts
setting it smoking in the left engine; Hine also shot at it, and Barber
polished it off with a burst to the fuselage. The bomber exploded; a
piece of the plane flew off, cut through his left wing, and knocked
out his left inner cooler, and other chunks left paint streaks on his
wing, so close was his attack driven home.
The pilots gathered on the 19
for PR photos and honors for their success-
ful mission. (L-R) Lt. Col. Aaron Tyler (CO 18FG). Lt. Everett Anglin (12FS).
Capt. Thomas Lanphier (70FS), Lt. Eldon Stratton (12FS). Maj.Gen. Nathan
Twining (CO 13AF), Maj.John Mitchell (CO 339FS) and Lt. Rex Barber (339FS).
Holmes, Hine, and Barber returned home, however, Zeros were
coming in on Barber's tail and Holmes whipped up and around and
shot one down in flames. Another attempt to draw away ended in
another dogfight, during which Barber shot down a Zero. During
this time Hine's left engine started to smoke, and he was last seen
losing altitude south of Shortland Island. It is believed that Hine
also accounted for a Zero, as a total of three enemy fighters were
seen to fall into the sea during this part of the combat. Holmes
eventually ran out of gas and made a successful landing at the Russell
Islands, from which he later brought his plane safely back. The
damage to the cooling system of Barber's left motor prevented him
from pulling more than 30 inches of mercury at low levels and 25
inches at 4/5,000 feet, but despite this limitation to his speed and
rate of climb he brought his plane safely home.
The success of this extraordinary mission-a 435-mile over
water interception by land planes largely over water-was due to
in large measure to Major Mitchell.... "
Halsey forwarded the secret FIR in letter form to Nimitz in
Hawaii, who in turn endorsed it and forwarded it to Adm. Ernest
King in Washington. Nimitz instructed King not to publicize the
top-secret mission, and that Mitchell and his participating pilots
would be awarded the "appropriate" awards. Mitscher requested
that Mitchell, Lanphier, Barber, Holmes, and Hine be granted the
Navy Medal of Honor, and the other participants the Navy Cross.
On I May Lt.Gen. Millard Harmon, 13AF CG, sent a letter with
the FIR to Gen. Arnold. Thus, the Fighter Interception Report and
these follow up messages were to become accepted by Army and
Navy as the legitimate official version of the Yamamoto Mission.
All three surviving pilots, Barber, Lanphier, and Holmes, were
credited with equal victories. Each had received credit for one Betty
and one Zero. In addition, Ray Hine was also credited with a Zero
kill. From all the documentary evidence now available from both
Japanese and American sources, the only Japanese losses for the
day in the Buin-Ballale area were the two Betty bombers transport-
ing the Combined Fleet staff. No Zeros had been destroyed. The
official kill credits contained in the Fighter Interception Report ap-
peared to placate the pilots in the attack section and, at that time,
any ill will over the kill awards appears to have abated.
.Afew days after the mission, Barber, Lanphier, and Brig.Gen.
Dean "Doc" Strother (13AF FC Ops Officer) were given ten days
R & R, and they flew to Auckland, New Zealand. During this time,
the men played many rounds of golf. During one round Barber asked,
"I wonder how they ever got a mission report together to send to
higher headquarters?" Barber said Lanphier replied, "Don't worry
about it, Rex. I went over to the Ops tent that evening and helped to
draft the report and filled in the important details. I also helped
write our citations for the Medal of Honor." (via Barber, who also
said Strother verified this conversation) It is no wonder that Lanphier
persistently referred to the Fighter Interception Report that was
declassified in the late 1950s as the official version of the mission
in defending his position as the Yamamoto victor throughout the
Senior AP war correspondent J. Norman Lodge joined the golf-
ing threesome one day. Lodge was able to use this time on the course
Part Three, Chapter 8 - Yamamoto Mission
to question the men regarding details of the Yamamoto Mission.
Barber and Strother were under the impression that Lodge knew
most of what had happened from other sources, and they did not
regard his questions as being more than a need to elaborate on some
of the details. Lodge wrote his story, in which he stated, "We have
every reason to believe it was Yamamoto in one of the bombers."
Lodge ended his story with, "Have every reason to believe one of
your quail was a peacock and it was Yamamoto who was indeed
that peacock." When Lodge submitted his story of the Yamamoto
Mission to the U.S. Navy censors for clearance the original made
its way to Admiral Halsey. Halsey was enraged at the obvious break-
down of the secrecy with which the Navy had regarded this mis-
There was great fear that the Japanese would discover that Naval
Intelligence was reading the most secret and sensitive Japanese ci-
phers. There were probably hundreds of Army, Navy, and Marine
personnel in the South Pacific who had heard something about the
Yamamoto mission, mostly through ubiquitous military scuttlebutt.
The high command had issued orders that the mission was not to be
discussed, but many of the men in the area had been transferred and
many were returning to the States. The FBI and military investiga-
tors watched newspapers and magazines for any disclosure of the
mission. Naval intelligence evaluated all intercepted Japanese mes-
sages to determine if they suspected that their codes had been deci-
phered and/or had changed their codes. After Yamamoto had been
shot down the Southeast Area Fleet at Rabaul and the Combined
Fleet Command were on the line to take the blame. Their first reac-
tion and explanation was that their code had been broken, but the
Japanese High Command and their code division thought this was
not possible, and that Yamamoto's death was an unfortunate coin-
After Strother, Barber, and Lanphier returned to Noumea, Ad-
miral Halsey called the three to a conference in which he profanely
dressed them down for having revealed such top-secret informa-
tion to a correspondent (via Barber). Furthermore, Halsey with-
drew the Navy's recommendation for the Medal of Honor for the
mission participants and downgraded the award to the Navy Cross,
and the other participant's Navy Crosses were downgraded to Dis-
tinguished Flying Crosses. He also ordered Rear Admiral Mitscher
(COMAIRSOL) to conduct a complete investigation of the affair.
Admiral Mitscher's report stated that, according to Capt. William
Morrison, AAF, only one reference had been made in public re-
garding the identity of Admiral Yamamoto as the target of the mis-
sion. Morrison testified that "a remark, believed to have come from
Capt. Lanphier" had been made, and it was: "That son of a bitch
won't dictate any peace terms in the White House." Mitscher, in his
conclusion to Halsey, wrote, "No evidence has been unearthed which
would indicate that any information concerning this strike was
passed to newspapermen directly or indirectly." By this time, how-
ever, scores of individuals had learned of the "top-secret" mission
and, most regretfully, Barber and Lanphier had indeed confirmed
to Lodge the details of his story. Lodge's account was also stamped
as "top secret," but it became one of the major components in the
grist of future controversy.
On 26 May 1943 Mitchell, Barber, Lanphier, Canning, Goerke,
Holmes, and Jacobson were ordered to the States. Mitchell and
Lanphier were sent to Washington to be interrogated by intelligence
units. Both pilots were interviewed by War Department Public Re-
lations, which issued the following release on 17 June:
"Captain Lanphier brought down two Japanese bombers on
April 18 while participating in a sweep led by Major Mitchell. While
the Major climbed with 12 Lightnings to furnish high cover, Capt.
Lanphier's flight offour started the attack and brought down a total
of six enemy planes."
No mention was made of Yamamoto. The release went on to
credit Lanphier with seven victories when he had five.
On 31 Maya Time magazine article had preceded this press
release. There had been a Time correspondent on Guadalcanal, and
he obviously had heard the Yamamoto story. Lanphier claims in his
biography that the correspondent had interviewed the Yamamoto
An obvious post-mission PR photo of Capt. John Mitchell (right) and Capt.
Thomas Lanphier discussing the Yamamoto mission. As the years passed ac-
rimony took the place of the smiles in this picture. (Author)
Fighter Command in World War II
pilots, but none, other than Lanphier, remember this interview, so
perhaps Lanphier, alone, gave the interview to the Time correspon-
dent? The correspondent passed the story on to the Time Washing-
ton bureau, which was able to follow up on the rumors of the mis-
sion and piece together the story and the identity of the "hero" who
shot down Yamamoto. This issue featured a caricature of Yamamoto
on its cover, and an article on page 28 reported his death. The ar-
ticle ended with, "When the name of the man who killed Admiral
Yamamoto is released, the U.S. will have a new hero. Said one
veteran of the Pacific service: 'The only better news would be a
bullet through Hitler.''' Then on page 66 there was a not too subtle
article entitled "Heroes, The Younger Generation." The first part of
the article described a mission of 16 P-38 fighters flying near Kahili
where 12 fighters had climbed for top cover and:
"The four near the water bored on, found unexpected game;
three Jap bombers waddling home with a heavy cover of Zeros.
The bombers lurched frantically for the cover of their own anti-
aircraft. The Zeros piled into the Lightnings and both top covers
swirled in a thundering dogfight. Down below, Lt. Rex T. Barber
whipped into a bomber, sawed off its tail with a burst of fire, and
knocked off a second as he pulled out of the attack.
The squadron commander, lean, black-eyed Capt. Thomas G.
Lanphier, tangled with a low-flying Zero, shot it down. He swung
away, picked a bomber, shot it down, too. Up above the top cover
fight had broken off. A mission had been completed. The squadron
whisked back to the Solomons base, wondered if it nailed some Jap
bigwig in the bombers."
Accompanying the article was a photo of a shirtless macho
Lanphier, who was now the squadron commander! No mention was
made of Mitchell.
Mitchell, Lanphier, Barber, and Holmes received their Navy
Crosses later at the bases to which they were assigned. Mitchell
and Lanphier then were sent on a tour of AAF basic flying schools
to talk with student pilots. Lanphier was not sent back to the Pa-
cific, but was assigned to the Pentagon, where his father had been
Mitchell and Lanphier were sent back to the States on a tour of AAF basic
flying schools to talk with student pilots. (Author)
assigned as a Lt. Colonel after he had been recalled to active duty.
The senior Lanphier was a graduate of West Point who had won his
wings in World War I and had known AAF generals, including "Hap"
Arnold and Jimmie Doolittle, since his WW-I days. Lanphier's fa-
ther gave his son an entrEe to old friends and public relations people.
He made PR flights around the country and was sent to Europe to
survey fighter operations there. He was promoted to Major and then
to Lt. Colonel at the end of the war.
Lanphier was eager to write his account of his part in the mis-
sion and his career as a combat pilot. Twice in 1944 he submitted
narratives for security review, but it was not until after th.e war that
his story was cleared and appeared, along with the War Department's
"official" release that credited him with the shoot down. In his bi-
ography Lanphier claims that the Air Force had asked him to write
his account of the mission for the New York Times. On II Septem-
ber 1945 his three part bylined story appeared in the Times, and a
slightly different three part story was picked up by the North Ameri-
can ewspaper Alliance and syndicated to newspapers across the
country. Of course, Lanphier's articles portrayed Lanphier as the
mission's hero, its leader and planner, and the man who shot down
Yamamoto. In the article Lanphier stated that after he shot down
the attacking Zero:
"I kicked my ship over on its back and looked down for the
lead Japanese bomber. It had dived inland. As I hung in the sky I
got an impression, off to the east, of a swirl of aircraft against the
blue-a single Lightning silhouetted against the light in a swarm of
Zeros. That was Barber, having himself a time.
The two Zeros that had overshot me showed up again, diving
toward Yamamoto's bomber from an angle slightly off to my right.
They meant to get me before I got the bomber. It looked from where
I sat as if the bomber, the Zeros, and I might all get to the same
place at the same time.
We very nearly did. The next three or four seconds spelled life
or death. I remember getting suddenly very stubborn about making
the most of one good shot I had coming up. I fired a long steady
burst across the bomber's course of flight, from approximately right
angles (italics added).
The bomber's right engine, then its right wing (italics added)
burst into flame. The two oillushing Zeros saw it, too. They screamed
past overhead, unwilling to chance ajungle crash to get me. In that
second I realized my impetus would carry me directly behind the
Mitsubishi's tail cannon.
Just as I moved into range of Yamamoto's bomber and its can-
non the bomber's wing tore off. The bomber plunged into the jungle.
It exploded. That was the end of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.
Everyone in top cover had seen the two bombers crash in the
jungle in flames. There was no doubt of their complete destruc-
Already there were discrepancies in Lanphier's story, some of
which would not show up until the bomber's wreckage was exam-
ined in 1972 (Darby), 1978 (Kauslick), 1981 (Gwynn-Jones), 1985
(Channon), and 1988 (by Darby again). All these visits to the wreck-
age confirmed that it had both wings, no tail guns were ever found,
Part Three, Chapter 8 - Yamamoto Mission
and the bullets had entered into the rear of the bomber. But on read-
ing Lanphier's article the top cover pilots confirmed that they did
not see any aircraft, much less two, crash into the jungle, and only
one has ever been found.
Maj. Barber was CO of the 27FS in California at the time and
was surprised by Lanphier's storie's inaccuracies. Barber asked his
CO, ex-Flying Tiger Col. David "Tex" Hill, to call Lanphier at the
Pentagon. With Hill listening, Barber told Lanphier that his story
and the interception report were inaccurate, and that he better do
something about it, fast. Lanphier apologized and told Barber he
would set the record straight ASAP. Barber received a letter from
Lanphier a few days later saying he was at the Pentagon and was in
a position to do something about the Fighter Interception Report,
and would have the Navy Cross citations rewritten to clarify the
facts of the mission and to give credit to everyone on the mission.
Lanphier did nothing, and Barber and Mitchell did not see the in-
terception report until 1950 when it was declassified.
Afew months later the Army Times published a similar article
to the New York Times article, and by the end of July 1946, Col.
Mitchell had read enough of the Lanphier versions and wrote to
Gen. Spaatz, who was theAAF CG, asking him to clarify the record.
Mitchell related his version of the story and asked that Barber also
be given credit for shooting down Yamamoto. He emphasized that
Barber could just as well have shot down Yamamoto as Lanphier.
Mitchell asked Spaatz to set the record straight with some sort of
public announcement, but received an equivocal repiy, and there
was no review of the mission. Mitchell's position was that no one
knew for certain (at that time) which plane Yamamoto was aboard,
and thus no one knew who shot him down.
Meanwhile Lanphier used every opportunity to relate "his"
Yamamoto story, making public appearances introduced as the "man
who shot down Yamamoto." He wrote several articles on the sub-
ject; including a widely read 1966 article for Reader's Digest en-
titled "I Shot Down Yamamoto" that was basically a synopsis of
the New York Times articles. Lanphier states in his biography that
the Air Force asked him to write the Reader's Digest article 21
years after the fact!.
In a videotaped interview in the mid-1970s Lanphier related
still another version of his story:
"I was coming at him from a right angle, which is an impos-
sible angle to shoot at another airplane, it can't be done and let
alone with another airplane going a couple of hundred miles an
hour and you're going another couple hundred miles per hour. And
just to be sure everything was working right I cleared my guns long
before I figured 1would have to shoot, and his right engine started
to burn. I hit him. If I would have waited until I was ready I would
have been behind him and he would have gotten away Scot-free.
But he caught fire and just about the time I got behind him as I was
about to pass behind him with his guns still going which was both-
ering me, he just nosed into the treetops and blew up" (Dead Men's
Secret's: The Yamamoto Mission, The History Channel)
The pompous Lanphier had problems not only with his
Yamamoto story, but also with his victory totals. On 24 December
1942, while flying a P-39 Lanphier claimed a Zero for the 70FS
over Guadalcanal. However, this victory seems to be in error, as
diligent air combat researcher Dr. Frank Olynyk found no mention
of it in 70FS records. As mentioned earlier Lanphier, in his unpub-
lished, self-aggrandizing biography, seems confused and com-
mingles his missions of 23, 24, and 26 December, and he credits
himself with two Zeros on the 24
! Lanphier also claimed an un-
documented victory over Truk while flying on an "intelligence mis-
sion" aboard a B-17 out of Fiji in the summer of 1942. The War
Department PRrelease (as briefed by Lanphier!) after the Yamamoto
Mission described the B-17 intelligence mission:
"Twelve Zeros attacked the bomber and three other B-17s in
the flight. Capt. Lanphier seized a waist gun and knocked down
one of the attackers. All of the Japanese planes were destroyed."
The bomber's crew refused to confirm the victory, but Lanphier
claimed it anyway on his aerial resume. Hearing the story Barber
asked Lanphier why he went on the B-17 mission, and Lanphier
replied that he was patriotic like Barber, but also had another agenda.
Barber reported that Lanphier told him that someday he wanted to
become the President of the United States and would use his war
record to do so, even if it cost his life (via Barber). The obituary for
his burial in Arlington National Cemetery, November 1987, stated:
"Mr. Lanphier shot down the plane carrying Admiral Isoroku
Yamamoto... was credited with downing nine Japanese planes, dam-
aging eight on the ground, and sinking a destroyer."
It appears he took credit for four more victories and the unas-
sisted sinking of the Shortland's "destroyer." Lanphier wrote an
unpublished biography that provides an insight into his self-pro-
moting, arrogant personality. The chapters are filled with his aca-
demic, social, and military achievements, and the dropped names
oftop political, entertainment, and sports figures. In the manuscript
he maintained that ground victories in the Pacific should be cred-
ited toward total victories similar to the ETO procedure, and he
often credited himself with these victories. His P-38 Association
biography states that he had 17 victories, as he included nine (!) in
the air and eight on the ground as total victories.
By the mid-1980s Lanphier became more adamant about his
Yamamoto victory. During a Smithsonian ational Air and Space
Museum speech on 11 April 1985 he called Rex Barber:
"... one of the most decorated, one of the most aggressive, ef-
fective fighter pilots in the Solomon Islands. He got the staff bomber
on the Yamamoto Mission. I got the lead bomber."
Lanphier then credited Maj.Gen. John Condon (USMC), who
was in the audience, with formulating the mission plan, and did not
mention Mitchell! He then repeated his clearing his guns version of
his attack and shoot down of the Yamamoto bomber.
In the 1980s, as his detractors increased, Lanphier disdained
anyone who questioned his version of the Mission, saying:
Fighter Command in World War II
"I have always felt the simple facts and records of them were
enough for me. I have not-nor intend-to get into a pointless con-
troversy with people trying to rewrite history from the sidelines
decades after the fact. For my part, I do not consider as 'official,'
historical studies written years after the action by men who were
not at the scene of the action. I prefer to base the validity of my
account of an operational mission on the official debriefing (the
FIR -author) by combat-experienced pilots who were there that day.
I'm simply going to cite official record and let it go at that."
(Yamamoto Mission, John Wible, Nimitz Foundation, TX, 1988)
Lanphier died in a San Diego Veteran's Hospital on Thanks-
giving Day 1987. After the war "the man who shot down Yamamoto"
had a distinguished career, becoming the Editor of the Idaho States-
man newspaper, VP of Convair Aircraft Co., President of Fairbanks-
Morse, a VP of Raytheon Corp., and was a special assistant to Air
Force Secretary Stuart Symington. Lanphier never became Presi-
dent of the United States as he had hoped. He believed he had a
chance to become Symington's Vice Presidential running mate in
the 1960 Democratic Convention, where the two thought they could
become dark horse Democratic Party candidates in the event of a
vote split between John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. The con-
troversy did not die with Lanphier.
The Second Yamamoto Mission Association (SYMA)
In the mid-1950s Japanese records established that two bombers,
not three, were lost over Bougainville on 18 April 1943; one was
shot down over the jungle and one over the sea. It appeared one of
the pilots had fabricated his story. With each telling of the story the
antagonism between the participants grew. During the succeeding
years many articles, most by Lanphier, and one major book, Burke
Davis' Get Yamamoto, were written regarding the Yamamoto Mis-
sion. In 1984, an organization was formed to study and document
the details, as well as the controversial issues surrounding the
Yamamoto Mission. The "Second Yamamoto Mission Association"
(SYMA) was founded and led by George T. Chandler, a 339
Squadron veteran and ace. Chandler believed that a great historical
injustice had been perpetrated against a fellow pilot and friend, Rex
Barber. SYMA gathered a group of veterans, forensic experts, and
historians, whose task became focused on every detail of what fac-
tually occurred on 18 April 1943 over Bougainville, and on the
innumerable aspects of the victory award controversy.
In its effort to get the records in the Office of Air Force History
(OAFH) corrected to accurately reflect how and who shot down
Yamamoto, SYMAfound numerous inconsistencies in the way that
the history of the Yamamoto mission had been developed. The fol-
lowing SYMA material recounts the major events surrounding the
controversy, provides the basis for a correction of the record, and
provides Rex Barber the credit that he is due. It is presented in
abstracted form by permission of SYMA and its president.
The Yamamoto Interception Report
When the pilots returned to Guadalcanal from the fight over
Bougainville there was a lot of talk, particularly by Lanphier, and
some argument over what had happened, but there was no careful
debriefing with individual pilots separated and debriefed by intelli-
gence officers or mission leader John Mitchell.
The Yamamoto Mission Report has the handwritten signatures
"Morrison & McGuigan" as the authors of the report. Early in
SYMA's investigation, Rex Barber told George Chandler that the
morning after the Yamamoto mission was flown, Tom Lanphier sat
down beside Barber and told him that he, Tom Lanphier, had gone
to the Navy intelligence office and had written the entire mission
report for the intelligence officers. Of all of the combat reports of
actions by USAAF fighters in air battles in the Solomons for a few
months prior to the Yamamoto mission, none has anything like the
explanation in detail that is written up in the combat report about
the Yamamoto mission. At the time of the mission report writing,
no one had any way of knowing which bomber Admiral Yamamoto
was a passenger.
Rex Barber said that he attacked a bomber, shot pieces off of
the tail, shot into the right engine and then through the fuselage,
and into the left engine and back into the right engine, following it
down to the treetops. The bomber slowed abruptly and Barber
swerved to miss it and, looking back, saw a pillar of smoke from
the jungle and the escorting Zeros attacking him. With good luck
and very skillful flying he got away from the Zeros and out over the
water, and saw a Betty bomber under attack by two P-38s (Besby
Holmes and Ray Hine). Barber joined in the attack, the bomber
exploded from his gunfire, and he flew through the pieces of the
bomber, resulting in substantial damage to his airplane from hitting
different pieces.
At the Nimitz Yamamoto Retrospective in April 1988, surviv-
ing Zero pilot Kenji Yanagiya stated emphatically that all six of the
Zeros escorting the bombers returned to Rabaul, and he knew each
one of the pilots and not one of them was shot down. Japanese
records confirmed that not one of the six escorting Zeros was lost.
Yanagiya also stated that the Admiral's aircraft never made a turn,
but flew straight towards Buin until it went down in the jungle.
The squadron records showed one full credit for a bomber shot
down by Rex Barber; one full credit for a bomber shot down by
Lanphier; and a half credit each to Barber and Holmes for the one
bomber shot down over the water. Because the interception had
been made on the basis of intelligence information of Yamamoto's
plans that came from our intelligence people having broken the
Japanese naval code, it was of utmost importance that the Japanese
not discover that their code had been broken. So this mission was
not publicized, and it appears that references in the official records
were minimized.
Post War Aerial Victory Credits
After the war Tom Lanphier wrote numerous articles about the mis-
sion and claimed that he had shot down the bomber carrying
Yamamoto. These articles, written in the same flowery manner as
the "mission report," have been provided repeatedly to OAFH, and
make clear Lanphier's claim to have shot down Yamamoto, alone
and unassisted.
In 1969, the original recount on World War II aerial victory
credits was begun under the supervision of Dr. Maurer, then Chief
of the Historical Studies Branch. The branch was examining Japa-
Part Three, Chapter 8 - Yamamoto Mission
nese records as well as American records. Notes from 1969 by Dr.
Maurer explain that the credit for the Yamamoto bomber was split
between Barber and Lanphier after he and his staff discovered that
only one bomber went down in the Bougainville jungle. Subse-
quent evidence confirmed that there were only two Betty bombers
in the Yamamoto flight. Cards prepared for USAF Historical Study
#85, "USAF Credits for the Destruction of Enemy Aircraft, World
War II," seem to be all that is left of the "working papers." Two
cards for Lanphier and Barber dated 18 April 1943 suggest that a
1.00 on each card was changed to .50. Apparently, Lanphier and
Barber were each given credit for shooting down a bomber over
Bougainville, but the credit was split. USAF Historical Study #85
actually appeared in 1978, although the cards for Lanphier and
Barber were changed in 1969 when the study was still being com-
piled. Lanphier objected to the change giving him only half credit
for the shoot down of the Yamamoto bomber. He persuaded Briga-
dier General Michael J. Jackson, USAF, Ret, to petition Dr. Rich-
ard H. Kohn, Chief, Office of Air Force History, to have a determi-
nation made by the Office ofAir Force History that Lanphier should
have 100% of the credit for the shoot down of Yamamoto.
Dr. Kohn created a Victory Credit Board (VCB) of Review at
the USAF Historical Research Center, Maxwell AFB, AL, to re-
consider the awarding of victory credits for the destruction of Ad-
miral Yamamoto's airplane on 18 April 1943. This Victory Credit
Board of Review met on 22 March 1985, with Mr. R. Cargill Hall,
Chief, Research Division, Office of Air Force History, as the Re-
corder. There were three different versions of the Record of Pro-
ceedings as furnished by R. Cargill Hall that are referenced. While
all of the Records of Proceedings are similar in their description of
the engagement, the reader should pay attention to how the Bibli-
ography of Reference, considered by the VCB, increased as suc-
cessive Records of Proceedings were written by R. Cargill Hall.
The conclusion reached by the VCB of Review includes these
significant paragraphs:
"The evidence points to 1st Lt. Barber as the first to fire on
Admiral Yamamoto's lead bomber, setting it afire and causing a
portion of the tail empennage to fly off. But the burning bomber, in
the words ofAdmiral Ugaki, continued to fly under power just above
the jungle, losing altitude. Barber's wingman, Captain Lanphier,
once disengaged from the Zeros, next struck Yamamoto's bomber
broadside, severing a wing. The bomber turned over on its back
and plummeted to earth. Barber, on looking back after his pass,
saw the airplane fall and understandably presumed it to be the re-
sult of his attack.
During the heat of ensuing dogfights, 1st Lt. Holmes observed
Admiral Ugaki's Betty proceeding southeasterly near Moila Point.
Holmes attacked the second bomber, 'setting it smoking in the left
engine.' Barber 'polished it off,' pieces of the bomber exploding
outward from the impact of the 20mm cannon shells, and some of
them striking his fighter. Admiral Ugaki's bomber, however, did
not explode in the air as Barber supposed, but rather dove out of
control into the sea.
Based on the guidelines established by XIII Fighter Command
for the awarding of victory credits, credit for the destruction of both
bombers is properly shared; the findings of the original USAF His-
torical Division victory credit team are judged to be accurate and
confirmed; the official USAF shared credits will remain unaltered
for this engagement. Neither pilot had either a gun camera or inde-
pendent observer confirmation of what they said they did that day,
as was required under 13
Air Force regulations for aerial victory
credits, although Lanphier's statements repeatedly confirm that he
observed Barber shoot a bomber down over the jungle."
Thus, the Air Force disposed of the matter in a mere one hour
and forty minutes by again sanctioning the conclusions of the Maurer
study and USAF Historical Study #85. Ironically, their conclusions
were unsatisfactory to Mitchell, Barber, and Lanphier.
At the 1988 Yamamoto Retrospective in Fredericksburg, TX,
George Chandler asked Cargill Hall if the Office of Air Force His-
Yamamoto Mission survivors at the Nimitz Symposium (L-R) Roger Ames,
Douglas Canning, KenjiYanagiya, Delton Goerke,JackJacobson, Besby Holmes,
and John Mitchell (mission CO) (Canning)
Rex Barber (right) and Kenji Yanagiya at the first Adm. Nimitz Symposium in
1988. Yanagiya was the sole surviving Yamamoto Mission Zero escort pilot.
The "Zero" in the photo is an AT-6 Texan configured as a Zero by the Con-
federate Air Force. (Canning)
Fighter Command in World War II
tory had made any efforts to examine the wreckage of the Yamamoto
bomber? It seemed that physical evidence would prove or disprove
the inconsistent statements made by the two pilots, i.e., Barber and
Lanphier. If the right wing had not been shot off in flight, it would
conclusively prove that Lanphier did not attack the Yamamoto air-
plane. Cargill Hall responded, saying that there had been no effort
by the Office of Air Force History to examine the wreckage, and it
would be too expensive to do so. George Chandler told him that it
would look like a very easy mission for a crash investigating team
to fly from Clark Field in the Philippines to the commercial airport
in Bougainville, and there. take a helicopter from the mining com-
pany and go in to the wreckage. They could then prove what hap-
pened or did not happen. Chandler then asked Cargill Hall the di-
rect question:
"If I take a team, including a qualified crash investigating en-
gineer, to the wreckage site in Bougainville, will you convene a
new Victory Credit Board to review the evidence that we bring?"
Cargill Hall declined to respond to that question. At that mo-
ment, Hall knew that both wings were still attached to the Yamamoto
bomber as it entered the jungle, and that the left wing was torn off
by impact with a tree, and the right wing was immediately adjacent
to the fuselage and right engine. Cargill Hall, as Chief of Research
for the Office of Air Force History, was professionally dishonest
when he did not share with Chandler that he and Dr. Kohn already
knew that neither wing of the Yamamoto bomber had been shot off
in flight. Of course, it would have been unfair to let SYMA make
an expensive trip to the Bougainville jungle to find information
that he already knew. But even more damning is the fact that he
knew the Yamamoto bomber did not have a wing shot off, and thus
he knew that Lanphier could not have attacked the Yamamoto
bomber. His only possible motive was that he and Dr. Kohn were
determined to preserve the half credit to each pilot, no matter what
the physical evidence proved.
Was there pressure being brought to bear on Dr. Kohn, Chief,
Office of Air Force History, and Cargill Hall, Chief, Research Di-
vision, Office of Air Force History, that they should not do any-
thing to change the half credit to each pilot? Or, did they make that
decision themselves and stonewall all of the efforts and display of
facts by SYMAto prove that Lanphier did not attack the Yamamoto
A group of pilots from the 339th Fighter Squadron, together
with a number of interested colleagues like Joe Pruett and his friends
in the VFW in Kansas City, decided to form a SOI(C)(3) corpora-
tion to accept contributions, make a trip to the jungle, examine the
wreckage, and bring detailed information back to the Office of Air
Force History. The charter for the Second Yamamoto Mission As-
sociation (SYMA) was recorded 29 December 1988. Al Kauslick
was an engineer with the copper mine on Bougainville, and inter-
estingly, he was a personal friend of Tom Lanphier. Kauslick told
SYMA that he could use the company helicopter to take a party
into the jungle and save a full day of walking along a jungle trail.
The team was formed and was ready to go when a civil war in
Bougainville broke out and the team could not get visas.
SYMA then started exchanging correspondence with Dr. Ri-
chard Kohn, Chief, OAFH, and Cargill Hall. Eugene Monihan and
George Chandler made a trip to Washington and met with Dr. Kahn
and Hall. They were assured verbally and in Dr. Kohn's letter of?
December 1988 and his letter of 17 January 1989 that if credible
new evidence were provided, he would convene a newVictory Credit
Board of Review. In his letter of 22 March 1989, Dr. Kohn men-
tioned that in late 1987, after Cargill Hall received an invitation to
chair the Survivor's Panel at the Yamamoto Retrospective, and when
he discerned that the victory credit issue remained one of keen in-
terest, he endeavored to gather all current information, including
pictures of the aircraft wreckage. In early 1988 he showed pictures
of the aircraft wreckage to an aeronautical engineer, who advised
that the wing that fell ISO feet behind the aircraft was the outer left
wing, damaged on the leading edge on impact with the trees, show-
ing its spars bent backwards. (Had the wing separated in flight, the
spars would have been bent upwards.) The right wing outer panel
lay where that wing burned with the wreckage; apparently it did
not detach in flight. Why did this information not cause Dr. Kahn
to re-examine the report of the Victory Credit Board of Review?
SYMA went to great effort to develop evidence from records
other than what was in the Bougainville jungle. At SYMA's re-
quest, the famed P-38 pilot, Lefty Gardner, flew his P-38 and du-
plicated the maneuvers that Lanphier said he had performed. Lefty
FPO Kenji Yanagiya tried vainly to protect his C-in-C and was the only Zero
pilot ofYamamoto's escort to survive the war. (Canning via Lansdale)
Part Three, Chapter 8 - Yamamoto Mission
Gardner concluded that it was impossible for Lanphier to have done
what he said he did-zooming up into the attacking Zeros, then
rolling over on his back, dive down, and attack a bomber in the
time between his left upward turn and when the Yamamoto plane
was down in the jungle.
In both a sworn affidavit and a 1975 videotaped interview of
Kenji Yanagiya, the only surviving Yamamoto Zero escort pilot, he
stated that there were only two Betty bombers, and that:
"I saw one P-38 firing into the tail of Admiral Yamamoto's
bomber and I saw the Admiral's airplane emitting smoke and flames
while one P-38 was directly behind it. I saw the Admiral's airplane
descend toward the jungle in an attitude of forced landing within
20 to 30 seconds from when I first saw one P-38 behind the Admiral's
airplane firing into it. From the time that I first sighted any of the P-
38s until the Admiral's airplane was down in the jungle was two
minutes or less."
Yanagiya said that the Yamamoto bomber proceeded on a
straight course towards Buin, so a calculation of Lanphier's over-
taking speed showed conclusively that he had not overtaken the
Yamamoto airplane in the 20-30 seconds before it was in the jungle
as set forth by Yanagiya. It is interesting that Yanagiya also said
that it was only approximately two minutes from the time they first
saw the P-38s until the Admiral was down in the jungle. Dr. Rich-
ard Kohn later manipulated Yanagiya's statements w h ~ r e Yanagiya
said that from the time he first saw an attack on the Admiral's air-
plane until it was down in the jungle was about 20 seconds; he
further stated that from the time they first saw the P-38s until the
Admiral's plane was down in the jungle was about two minutes.
Dr. Kohn, in his attempt to show that there was time for Lanphier to
overtake Yamamoto's bomber after Lanphier zoomed up into the
Zeros, manipulates the two minutes from first sighting to indicate
that there were two minutes for pursuit by Lanphier. This was one
of the reasons given by Dr. Kohn for refusing to convene a new
Victory Credit Board of Review and let SYMA present the new
evidence that it had accumulated.
Barber's Petition for Correction of Records
SYMA, representing Rex Barber, next petitioned the Air Force
Board for Correction of Military Records (AFBCMR) for a formal
hearing, and an opportunity to present all of the evidence that SYMA
had put together. The hearing was held 17-18 October 1991 in Wash-
ington, DC. C. Bruce Braswell, Executive Director, AFBCMR, later
said that the presentation made by attorney Darrell Kellogg was the
best presentation to a Board that he had ever seen.
The Air Force Board consisted of Leroy T. Baseman, Chair-
man, John W. Beach, Herbert H. Kaiser, Ira Kemp, and Dr. Sydell
P. Gold. No member of the Board was a pilot or had aviation train-
ing or expert knowledge. Chairman Leroy T. Baseman explained to
all of those in attendance (i.e., John Mitchell, Rex Barber, Bob
Radcliff, George Chandler, and Bill Wisecarver) that the Board
would consider every piece of evidence and make a determination
of how the Board regarded that evidence (i.e., unanimous, accepted,
or rejected; if not unanimous, who voted yeah or nay, the reasons
for their vote, and that everyone would have to vote). TheAFBCMR
would make a recommendation to the Secretary of the Air Force.
The Secretary of the Air Force was not bound by the recommenda-
tion and could make any decision that he felt was warranted. This
was set forth under the law that created the Boards for Correction
of Military Records of the different services.
Apparent!y Dr. Kohn was concerned the AFBCMR would make
a finding different from what had been the position of the OAFH
under his administration. He wrote an article that was published in
the spring 1992 issue of Air Power History that restated his previ-
ous position. Was he making an effort to influence the Board? SYMA
thought so and objected, and asked Senator Bob Dole to call it to
the attention of the Secretary of the Air Force, Donald B. Rice. The
following is the exchange of correspondence between Senator Dole
and Secretary Rice:
"March 24, 1992
Dear Mr. Secretary:
I am writing to express my concern about a recent article that
the former Chief of Air Force History, Dr. Richard Kohn, published
in the Spring, 1992, issue of Air Power History.
Dr. Kohn's article gives his personal views of the shoot down
of Japanese Admiral Yamamoto in April 1943. Although not present
at the Air Force Board of the Correction of Military Records hear-
ing in October 1991, Dr. Kohn dismisses the substantial evidence
presented to the Board and disregards the testimony of two eye
witnesses and over 200 pages of documents.
As the Board is still in deliberation on this matter, I believe Dr.
Kohn's timing of this article is extremely unfortunate and may ap-
pear as an attempt to influence the Board. I hope that you will en-
sure that the Board's decision rests on the preponderance of evi-
dence and not external personal views that are contrary to the testi-
mony, documentation and exhaustive investigation that was given
in regard to this controversy.
Bob Dole
United States Senate"
Rice's reply to Dole:
"March 31, 1992
Dear Senator Dole:
Thank you for your letter concerning Dr. Richard Kohn's ar-
ticle in Air Power History.
I agree that the timing of this article is unfortunate but can
assure you the article will not be considered in the deliberations of
the Correction Board. The Executive Director of the Board has been
in touch with Mr. Bill Wisecarver of your staff and Mr. George
Chandler to confirm that Dr. Kohn is no longer the Air Force Histo-
rian and is not privy to the Board deliberations. There has been
absolutely no ex parte contact between Board members, or Board
staff, and Dr. Kohn, nor will there be. Only the evidence of record
Fighter Command in World War 1I
will be considered by the Board in their deliberations.(emphasis
I appreciate your patience with this case and will inform you
as soon as a decision is reached.
With regards,
Donald B. Rice"
It is most interesting that Secretary Rice says, "There has been
absolutely no ex parte contact between Board members, or Board
staff, and Dr. Kohn, nor will there be. Only the evidence of record
will be considered by the Board in their deliberations." And yet
SYMA learned in 1998 that board member Herbert H. Kaiser made
his own independent investigation, outside of the hearing, and the
record of the hearing. He based his negative vote and his scathing
criticism of Rex Barber for asking for the hearing on anecdotal
evidence that Kaiser gained outside of the hearing, and which Rex
Barber and his attorney had no opportunity to examine or refute. It
was Kaiser's minority report that was withheld from Barber until
long after Secretary Rice had acted to deny Barber's petition. It
was discovered by SYMA as a result of an FOIA request in 1999.
Secretary Rice delayed his opinion and conclusion until he was
leaving office at the end of 1992. Secretary Rice made the decision
that the award of half credit to Lanphier and Barber should not be
changed. Secretary Rice's decision was dated January 11, 1993.
General McPeak, who was the Air Force Chief of Staff at that time,
has said that the decision in 1992/1993 was reached by Secretary
Rice, not on the merits of the case, but because the Air Staff de-
cided that "too much time had passed, and there was no use trying
to change history."
The Air Force Board did not perform as Chairman Baseman
had said that it would, under his administration as Chairman. He
said that there would not be a tie vote because he would cast his
vote to break any tie vote. Two members of the Board voted to
make the change to award 100% of the credit to Rex Barber; two
members, Mr. Kaiser and Dr. Gold, recommended leaving the find-
ings as half credit for each pilot; Chairman Baseman declined to
cast the deciding vote. He later said that he thought that he had cast
a vote by his characterization of the proceedings. Mr. Kaiser made
a long, scathing review of the entire process based on information,
as mentioned above, that he gained outside the hearing, and that
was not subject to examination by the full Board, or by Rex Barber
and his attorney.
SYMA, through attorney Dan Hyatt on behalf of Rex Barber,
filed in the U.S. District Court in Oregon before Judge Jelderks a
petition asking that the Board's decision be set aside because of
improper procedures. Judge Je1derks made the decision that Secre-
tary Rice had the absolute authority under the law to make what-
ever decision he wanted, and Judge Jelderks would not rule on which
pilot shot down Yamamoto, but rather ruled that Secretary Rice had
the authority to make whatever decision he wished. SYMA, through
attorney Dan Hyatt, next appealed Judge Je1derks' decision to the
9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the court upheld Judge Jelderks.
Lanphier's "Smoking Gun" Letter to Doolittle
In August 1995, George Chandler received a most interesting letter
from author Carroll V. Glines. Glines had moved from Washington
to the University of Texas at Dallas to be curator of all of the Jimmy
Doolittle papers that had been left to the Doolittle Library at the
University. Glines, in examining the Doolittle files, found a copy
of a letter that Lanphier had sent to General John P. Condon dated
December 15,1984. The key part of the letter to Condon that Glines
called to Chandler's attention is the sentence that Lanphier writes
about the Yamamoto shoot down, "Rex now opines that he shared
in the destruction of Yamamoto's bomber by implying, I gather,
that he hit it while it was elsewhere in the air before I shot it into the
treetops. The bomber I shot the wing off of was intact from nose to
the tip of its tail when I first fired at it, far inland from where Barber
had to be at the time, chasing a bomber over the sea." This letter is
the "smoking gun" that, in Lanphier's own words, proves that he
did not attack the Yamamoto airplane that had already been dam-
aged and set afire by Rex Barber, as set forth in the Victory Credit
Board of Review commissioned by Dr. Kohn.
The American Fighter Aces Association and
Confederate Air Forces Back Barber
The American Fighter Aces Association (AFAA) membership is
made up of fighter pilots who, in air-to-air combat, shot down five
or more enemy airplanes. The Association has a Victory Confirma-
tion Board (VCB) that examines and confirms or rejects claims for
aircraft shot down by pilots asking to be a member of the Associa-
tion, and whose formal military record does not credit them with
five or m o r ~ aerial victories. On 27 March 1997 SYMA, on behalf
of Rex Barber, presented all of its evidence and studies regarding
the Yamamoto shoot down to theAFAAVCB. The five members of
the VCB carefully examined all of the written evidence and ques-
tioned Rex Barber very closely. The VCB then made their finding
that, without question, Lanphier did not attack the Yamamoto air-
plane, and that insofar as the AFAArecords the VCB recommended
that Rex Barber be credited with 100% of the credit for the
Yamamoto shoot down. This recommendation of the VCB to the
AFAA Board of Directors was duly considered at the next board of
directors meeting, and was confirmed as the official position of the
In the summer 1998 the General Staff of the Confederate Air
Force selected Rex Barber and others to be inducted into the Con-
federate Air Force Combat Airman Hall of Fame. The General Staff
of the CAF carefully examined all of the evidence that SYMA had
presented to the AFAA and made the determination that, insofar as
the CAF was concerned, Lanphier did not attack the Yamamoto
airplane, and Rex Barber was accorded 100% of the credit for the
shoot down of Yamamoto for CAF records, and was inducted into
the Confederate Air Force Combat Airman Hall of Fame on 1 Oc-
tober 1998 at Midland, TX.
Further SYMAAttempts for Barber's Recognition
SYMA, in October 1999, petitioned the Air Force Board for Cor-
rection of Military Records for a new hearing on the basis of the
Part Three, Chapter 8 - Yamamoto Mission
new evidence that was not available to the hearing in 1991 and had
not been previously considered. At first, the AFBCMR seemed re-
ceptive to considering this new evidence. However, a 1 February
2000 letter from Harlan G. Wilder, Chief, General Law Division,
JAG, dissuaded them. Largely on the basis of Mr. Wilder's decep-
tive analysis of Rex Barber's petition, the members of the Board,
through their chairman, Rose M. Kirkpatrick, Chief Examiner,
AFBCMR, have rejected Rex Barber's petition again. Mr. Wilder
deliberately ignored the real issue and he misled the board. Lanphier
had acknowledged that he shot at a fully intact airplane. Wilder
ignored this and intentionally misled the Board members by argu-
ing that it has always been contended that a wing was not shot off
the Yamamoto aircraft (and so there was no new evidence suffi-
cient to wanant a new hearing for Rex Barber). The SYMA rebut-
tal of Wilder's views seems to have not been considered.
On 21 February 2001 George Chandler wrote Mr. Mack Bur-
ton, Executive Director, Air Force Board for Correction of Military
Records, asking him to review the decision made by the Board and
Chairman Rose M. Kirkpatrick, because they did not address the
issue of the new evidence that SYMA wanted to present that
Lanphier says he attacked an airplane that "... was intact from nose
to the tip of its tail when I first fired at it," and thus he cannot have
attacked the Yamamoto airplane that Rex Barber had set afire. He
further pointed out to Mr. Burton that both Harlan G. Wilder and
Rose M. Kirkpatrick had glossed over and not considered the new
evidence that SYMAwanted to bring to the Board. In Mack Burton's
response of 2 March 2001 he refuses to consider the points in George
T. Chandler's letter of 21 February 2001. On 14 March 2001 George
Chandler advised Mr. Burton that SYMA would seek an investiga-
tion of his office and the misfeasance with which he had adminis-
tered this petition for a new hearing to examine new evidence. The
above caused SYMA to conclude that the Office of Air Force His-
tory, for whatever reasons, had felt that it was best public relations
for the Air Force to have the credit divided between Lanphier and
Barber. The following suggest some critical questions that an im-
partial investigator should consider when reviewing the entire case:
1) Why were theAVC cards changed in 1969 and no one involved
advised until 1978?
2) Why were there three different records of proceedings for the
original Victory Credit Board of Review?
3) Dr. Kohn and Cargill Hall knew at the time that SYMA was
formally started that it was planning the trip to the Bougainville
jungle to examine the wreckage and bring back factual data on
which to make an accurate determination of which pilot shot
down the airplane. Cargill Hall and Dr. Kohn knew at that time
that photographs in their possession showed the left wing was
still attached when the Yamamoto airplane entered the jungle,
and the right wing is adjacent to the wreckage. They already
knew that Lanphier had not attacked the Yamamoto airplane
because he said he shot the wing off of the bomber that he
attacked. Why did they not come forward with this informa-
tion? Why were they determined to continue to split the credit?
4) Based on the opinion that nothing SYMA or anyone else could
do would change the detennination of Dr. Kohn at the Office
of Air Force History, i.e. that he was not going to change his
position that the credit should be divided between Lanphier
and Barber, SYMA went to the Air Force Board for Correction
of Military Records. It was and is SYMA's position that a deci-
sion by the AFBCMR and the Secretary of the Air Force could
compel the OAFH to change its position. Mr. Baseman, Chair-
man, AFBCMR, writes that he recommended a new Victory
Credit Board of Review and at least two of the members of the
panel supported that. So, there was a majority of the Board
recommending to Secretary Rice that there be a new Victory
Credit Board of Review. Who drafted Secretary Rice's deci-
sion to keep the credit award equally divided? Did the OAFH
or a lawyer named Wilder draft it?
5) Why did Chairman Baseman of the AFBCMR say that every
point raised in the hearing, if it was not unanimously accepted
by all of the members of the panel, it would have to be voted
on and the reasons for their vote recorded? Only evidence pre-
sented and questioned at the hearing was to be considered. And
yet, when the Board made its decision, Chairman Baseman did
not vote, and there were two members in favor of changing the
split credit and two members voted to keep it as a split credit.
Why did Mr. Baseman not enforce the rules that he set down?
6) Mr. Herbert Kaiser turned in a scathing criticism of Rex Bar-
ber for having brought the action to the Board. Most of his
criticism was based on information that he gathered outside of
the hearing and was not subject to examination by other mem-
bers of the Board, or by Rex Barber or his attorney. Why did
Chairman Baseman not disqualify Mr. Kaiser for violating the
rules of procedure for the Board? Why did he allow such a
document to be circulated? Why was it part of the package that
went to Secretary Rice without any knowledge by Barber?
7) It seems that when a government office, such as the Office of
Air Force History, takes a certain position it never wants to
admit that it was wrong and change the position in light of
irrefutable contrary evidence subsequently discovered. Is this
a true description of the Air Force culture? This view is further
substantiated by General McPeak's statement that the decision
to not change the history was based on the elapsed time since
the shoot-down occurred, not the merits of the case. Does the
Air Force support the view that historical accuracy should be
sacrificed for convenience? Are the review procedures based
on new evidence only window dressing? Was the elapsed time
argument used to justify the Air Force not admitting that its
original position was wrong?
8) Dr. Richard Kohn, Chief, Office of Air Force History prom-
ised SYMA that he would convene a new VCBR if it could
present credible new evidence that the previous finding was
incorrect. Dr. Kohn made very sure that he could consider the
evidence presented was not credible. It is interesting that the
American Fighter Aces Victory Confirmation Board and the
General Staff of the Confederate Air Force found the evidence
to be compelling. Why this dramatically different result from
the same facts?
Fighter Command in World War Il
9) Mr. R. Cargill Hall, Chief, Research Division, knew early on
that both wings were still attached to the Yamamoto airplane
when it entered the jungle. Therefore, he had to know that the
division of credit on the basis of Lanphier shooting off the wing
of the airplane that he attacked made it impossible for attribut-
ing half credit for the shoot down to Lanphier. Why did he not
act accordingly?
10) Mr. Mack M. Burton, who is currently the Executive Director
of the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records is
most culpable for the actions of the present board in not con-
sidering the new evidence of Lanphier's 1984 letter, that the
airplane he attacked was undamaged in any way. Mr. Burton is
responsible for the way in which the board members he selects
carefully consider the evidence. They have not done so with
regard to Rex Barber's petition based on the Lanphier/Condon
letter. Why has he acted so irresponsibly?
11) Mr. Harlan G. Wilder, Chief, General Law Division, JAG, in
his letter of 1 February 2000, paragraph 2, deliberately omits
the compelling part of the new evidence submitted by Rex
Barber and instead focuses on a part of the Lanphier/Condon
letter of the wing being shot off which had earlier been consid-
ered. The key point of the new evidence is Lanphier's admis-
sion that the airplane Lanphier attacked was fully intact from
nose to tail. Why does Wilder deliberately leave this out of his
recommendation? In paragraph 3 of his 1February 2000 letter,
Wilder provides great detail focusing the attention on the wing
being shot off instead of considering the new evidence of Lan-
phier's statement that the airplane he shot at was intact from
nose to tail. Why did Wilder make such a deliberate attempt to
obfuscate the substance and quality of Barber's new evidence?
12) Why did Mack Burton not counsel Rose M. Kirkpatrick, Chief
Examiner, AFBCMR, and panel members, Mr. Benedict A.
Kausa1 IV, Panel Chair, Mrs. Barbara A. Westgate, Panel Mem-
ber, and Mr. Gregory H. Petkoff, Panel Member, for their care-
less lack of action to notice how Harlan G. Wilder had disre-
garded the main point of Barber's petition submitting new evi-
dence? Why did he allow them to focus on the previously con-
sidered subject of a wing being shot off? The board members
should have been directed to more carefully read the petition
and they would have recognized Wilder's deceitful conclusion.
Why was the SYMA rebuttal of Wilder apparently ignored?
In conclusion, SYMA contends that a careful, independent, re-
view will determine:
1) OAFH intentionally misled the Secretary of the Air Force.
2) Forces within the Air Force have conducted an intentional ef-
fort to deny Rex Barber his due credit or have repeatedly justi-
fied the award to Lanphier for something that he did not do, by
stonewalling and misstating the basic and incontrovertible facts
of this matter.
3) Rex Barber should be granted 100% credit for the shooting
down of the Betty Bomber carrying Admiral Yamamoto.
Dr. Charles Darby conducted a forensic analysis oftheYamamoto Bettywreck-
age in 1972 and 1988, Darby found only evidence of bullet strikes from an
attack from the rear.The wing is now on display in Japan, (Darby via Lansdale)
Part Three, Chapter 8 - Yamamoto Mission
Dr. Charles Darby's Forensic Examination
of the Yamamoto Bomber Wreckage
Both Jim Lansdale and I have met with Dr. Charles Darby, a New
Zealand resident and geothermal engineer who had traveled through-
out the Pacific, searching for aircraft wrecks. Darby stayed with
Lansdale on a visit to America, and the two spent considerable time
discussing the mission and the wreckage of the bomber. Darby pre-
sented Jim with a piece of the bomber that he has kindly shared
with me.
The official "Transcript of Proceedings" by the Air Force Board
for Correction of Military Records (AFBCMR Docket: 91-02347,
October 17-18, 1991) contains the testimony of Dr. Charles Darby
regarding his forensic investigations of the wreckage of Admiral
Yamamoto's Betty bomber in 1972 and in 1988. Darby's August
1988 expedition to the wreck was a thorough investigation, where
he surveyed all parts of the wreckage and the bullet damage. Darby
testified that the Betty had landed more or less intact, and that "by
no stretch of the imagination, could any large piece of the right
wing have disappeared in flight." Furthermore, Darby testified all
evidence of shrapnel and bullet holes found on the remaining wreck-
On his fatal flight, Adm. Yamamoto occupied the Betty commander's seat
(shown here to the right of the observer's seat). (Nakamura via Lansdale)
age were from the Barber attack position (i.e., from the rear of the
Betty bomber).
"There were scores of holes. If you want me to guess, 1'd say
150, a couple of hundred, from a few bullet holes. But mainly just
shrapnel that has broken off the aircraft; that is molten bullets (and)
bits of molten airframe where it's been melted by impact from a
shell and has gone through the flak curtain. All of it is from rear to
There is nothing from any other direction. (Italics added)"
Darby concluded:
"All visible gunfire and shrapnel damage was caused by bul-
lets entering from immediately behind the bomber through the tail
gunner's position and traveling forwards through the fuselage. Only
Yamamoto's seat recovered from his crashed Betty. The fatal wound in
Yamamoto's back matched the hole in the back of the seat.The seat is now
on display in Japan. (SYMA via Lansdale)
Fighter Command in World War II
one possible bullet entry point was seen in the skin, and that was
caused by a bullet traveling forwards."
The actual seat occupied by Admiral Yamamoto at the time of
the attack and in which his dead body was found near the wreckage
after the crash is preserved and on display in Japan today. The shrap-
nel damage to the rear of the seat matches the fatal back-wound
reported in the Yamamoto autopsy report. Dr. Darby's physical evi-
dence, provided by his investigation of the wreckage of the Betty
bomber that carried Yamamoto, clearly demonstrates a rear attack.
Dr. Darby had no agenda but to impartially investigate the
Yamamoto wreck, and his conclusion was:
"There was no evidence on any remaining wreckage of an at-
tack from the bomber's starboard beam as related in all of Lanphier's
Author's "Miss Virginia" replica nose cowling panel that was hand-painted by
Gary Velasco. This panel and many others may be purchased from Velasco
Enterprises ( (Author)
Author's piece ofthe Yamamoto Betty bomber that was taken by OR. Darby
during his 1988 examination of the wreckage. (Author)
A Final Word
Official reports, as well as the forensic evidence, all agree on the
following points. Admiral Yamamoto was killed in a Betty bomber,
which suffered an attack from the rear. Admiral Yamamoto died of
wounds produced by projectiles that had entered his body from the
rear. Tom Lanphier, himself, confirmed Rex Barber's claim of a
rear attack and the subsequent destruction of a Betty bomber over
the jungles of Bougainville. Only one Betty bomber, carrying Ad-
miral Yamamoto, crashed in the jungle near the village of Aku,
Bougainville, on Sunday, 18 April 1943. The conclusion as to the
identity of the true victor over Admiral Yamamoto should be and is
evident-Rex Barber! Lanphier (1987), Mitchell (1995), and Bar-
ber (2001) all have passed on. But lost in all the turmoil over the
years in determining the true Yamamoto victor is John Mitchell's
pivotal role in planning and leading the mission. Mitchell did not
place himself in the attack flight, even after several members
dropped out, and he selflessly stayed on top cover. If it were not for
Mitchell there would not have been a Yamamoto shoot down.
Mitchell deserved and was unfairly denied the Medal of Honor.
April 1943 Continued
The 18
Fighter Group Arrives on Guadalcanal
On 17 April the 18
Fighter Group arrived at Guadalcanal to join
the 347FG as the second fighter group in the l3AP. The 18
organized on 11 January 1927 at Wheeler Field, Oahu, Hawaii, and
was composed of the 6
and 19
Pursuit Squadrons, whose origins
dated back to early World War I Signal Corps Aero Squadrons. The
group's history from 1927 to 1941 paralleled that ofWheeler Field,
as the Field Commander was also the 18FGCommander. The group
departed Wheeler on 6 March on a voyage that stopped at Canton
and the Fiji Islands, and arrived at Espiritu Santo on 11 March. The
group trained there until 17 April when it was flown to Guadalcanal
and became part ofthe new l3AF, along with the 347FG. The 44FS
I 8
Fighter Group insignia. (USAF)
was stationed at Fighter Two with the 12
and 70
fighter Squad-
rons. On 14 April the 44
, 12
, and 70
Fighter Squadrons were
transferred on paper from the 347FG to the 18FG. Again, although
the 44
was headquartered at Efate, the 70
at Fiji, and the 12
Guadalcanal, all three squadrons were pooled with the three 347FG
squadrons (67
h, 68
h, and 339
), and individual pilots, elements,
flights, and squadrons flew combat missions together. Although the
AAF had been in the Solomons for nearly seven months, it never
had control of its units, as the South Pacific Theater was under
Navy control. COMAIRSOLS had the difficult task of melding
Army Air Force P-39, P-38, and PAD fighters flying combat with
Army heavy B-17s and B-24s and B-26 medium bombers, as well
as Marine and Navy SBD and TBF bombers, along with Navy F4Fs,
Marine F4Us, and New Zealand PADs.
Night Fighter Squadron insignia. (USAF)
Fighter Command in World War II
Detachment "B" arrives at Guadalcanal
From August 1942 the problem of recurring Japanese night harass-
ment continued to be a part of Guadalcanallife. Small numbers of
seaplanes from Rekata Bay and Betty bombers from Bougainville-
the "Louie the Louses" and "Washing Machine Charlies"-flew
down singly or in pairs nightly at 20,000 to 28,000 feet, making
two or three runs over the target every quarter hour. Their raids
caused little actual physical damage, but did disrupt the sleep of
Mainyard personnel, and caused a loss of efficiency and dimin-
ished morale. The men were also exposed to malarial mosquitoes
when they left their tents to take cover in foxholes and shelters. The
Director ofAir Defense on Guadalcanal authorized the use of search-
lights, AA guns, and fighter-searchlight teams to counter the Japa-
nese. Several unsuccessful attempts at intercepting Charlie were
made, and on 29 January Capt. John Mitchell did shoot down a
Charlie, but there were no dedicated night fighters at Guadalcanal.
Not having to worry about night fighters, Charlie could fly in the
searchlight beam out of AA range. In June 1942 the 6FS of the
18FG was volunteered to become a night fighter squadron by its
CO, Maj. James Watt. The squadron was originally trained to de-
fend the Hawaiian night skies flying the P-40B in fighter-search-
light collaboration. Later SCR-270 early warning radar was used to
vector the fighter to a position behind the bogie. In December 1942
Maj.Gen. Alexander Patch, who took over for Vandegrift, recom-
mended to Halsey that six night fighters with Ground Control In-
terception (GCI) equipment be sent to the South Pacific. Maj.Gen.
Millard Harmon also sent this request on to Washington. Mean-
while, 25 P-70 "Nighthawk" night fighters that had been converted
from the A-20 had arrived in Hawaii in September 1942 to equip
the 6NFS, now under CO Capt. Sidney Wharton. The bombers were
heavily armed, carrying four 20mm cannons, two .50 cal. forward-
firing machine guns, two .30 cal. machine guns above and aft, and
a .50 cal. below and aft. The original British Mark IV AI radar had
a horizontal range exactly equal to the absolute altitude of the air-
craft and a vertical range of 3,000 feet above. The P-70 had a speed
of 300 mph at 20,000 feet and a combat ceiling of 22,000 feet. The
experienced pilots quickly adapted to the new aircraft, but there
were no trained radar operators (RIO) or radar mechanics. Enlisted
men from the 18
Fighter Control Squadron at Hickham Field in
Hawaii were sent to Radar School at Morrison Field, Florida, and
after training were assigned to the 6NFS for further training as a
squadron. To meet Harmon's request for night fighters, Lt.Gen.
Delos Emmons, Commander of Army Aircraft in the Pacific, di-
vided the 6NFS into two detachments, "A" and "B". Detachment.
"B" was assigned six P-70s from the 6NFS, but due to training it
was not until 18 February 1943 that the six P-70s and two LB-30s
(carrying maintenance personnel and spare parts) left Hawaii bound
for Guadalcanal. They arrived on 28 February, losing one aircraft
along the way in a rainsquall between Ellis and Suva. While at
Espiritu Santo the bomb bay fuel tanks that were needed for the
long flight from Hawaii were removed, and the new SCR-540 AI
radar equipment was installed. The P-70s sat at Henderson for ten
days while waiting for the longer runway at Carney Field to be
completed. During the second week in March the Detachment
moved to Carney Field. But that was not the major problem facing
Detachment "B," as there was no GCI, and the ground radar station
had to be constructed. By 25 March GCI "Kiwi" had been com-
pleted, and the unit began operations on the 25'h and was on nightly
alert. Two crews were on alert every night, one from 1800 to mid-
night, and the other from midnight to 0600. The Detachment found
that the field defense units acted independently, as there was no
defense commander to coordinate their efforts. The AA units fired
at anything in their range, friend and foe alike, and a no-fly gun-
defended zone was set up circling ten miles around the field. The
P-70s were to orbit and wait to intercept Charlie from 50 miles out
and pursue him until they reached the gun-defended zone. At ten
miles the night fighters were to break off interception and allow the
AA guns to take over, at which time they were to return to their
orbiting position and continue patrolling.
Defense Battalion SCR-268 radar on New
Georgia. This radar was used for target acquisi-
tion, surveillance, and ground-controlled inter-
cepts. (U.S. Army)
Part Three, Chapter 9 - April 1943 Continued
Nighthawks were unable to make contact the first several nights,
but on the night of 18/19 April Detachment "B" would score its
first victory. A Condition Red was issued at 2000, and after nearly
five and half hours in effect Capt. Earl Bennett and his RIO Corp.
Edwin Tomlinson took off from Carey Airfield at 0321 for their
second sortie of the night. Bennett orbited at 22,000 feet over Savo
Island for nearly an hour when searchlights framed a Betty at 0418
as it flew over Henderson. Bennett quickly headed toward the field,
but by the time he arrived the Betty had evaded the searchlights.
Within half a minute the P-70's A-I radar picked up the Betty on its
screen and Bennett followed the beam, soon spotting the Jap's en-
gine exhaust flare. He closed and opened up with his four 20mm
cannons and exploded a Washing Machine Charlie while thousands
of cheering troops watched the flaming wreckage fall to the ground
for the first P-70 kill. Since the Navy controlled Guadalcanal it
wanted to award Bennett its Silver Cross for his victory, but so did
the Air Force. The two services argued for several weeks, and
Bennett never received any Silver Cross decoration.
Soon the P-70's faults became apparent. It had a service ceil-
ing of 22,000 feet that was too low, as Japanese bombers flew at
higher altitudes, and its low rate of climb required 30-40 minutes to
reach that altitude. It had insufficient maximum speed at altitude to
catch a Betty bomber! Besides these performance deficiencies the
electrical system frequently failed due to overloading, and the AI
radar failed to function at high altitudes. The ground radar station
personnel were not experienced, and ordered the P ~ 7 0 s out during
periods of poor weather on false alarms that were caused by the
weather. By the end of April three more P-70s and their crews ar-
rived at Carney, but the detachment's night fighter record was dis-
The 75
and 390
Bomb Squadrons of the 42BG, equipped
with B-25s, moved to Noumea on 15 April and were assigned to
the 13AF. The 69
and 70
Bomb Squadrons were assigned to the
, as its other two squadrons were left behind in the U.S. and
transitioned to the Mitchell bomber. In June the 42
moved up to
Carney Field on Guadalcanal. The 307
and 5
Bomb Groups as-
sumed the burden of bomber operations in April and May.
After Yamamoto's death the Japanese air attacks on the Russells
and Guadalcanal subsided markedly. 13
Fighter Command fight-
ers provided bomber escort and attacked Munda, Kolombangara,
and Rakata Bay. In the last half of April, COMAIRSOLS Fighter
Command conducted 14 strafing missions, hitting barges, anti-air-
craft positions, and Japanese troop concentrations at Munda, Vila,
and Rekata Bay. On 20 April Capts. Dewey and Sharpsteen and
Lts. Fincher, McLanahan, Miller, and Norton were the first 339
pilots returned back to the States. The names of Capts. Mitchell
and Lanphier and Lts. Barber, Canning, Goerke, Holmes, and
Jacobson were also on the rotation list, but were withdrawn, as they
were still in combat at Guadalcanal, and they remained behind de-
spite all being exhausted and ill, suffering with severe dysentery.
On 24 April the 44FS began its second tour, leaving Espiritu at
0600 escorted by two B-17s, and arrived at 1010.
May 1943
The Japanese air units were inactive during the first week and,
a half of May, and the AAF squadrons flew strafing and patrol mis-
sions. At the start of May 49 pilots of the 70FS were ready to leave
Ondonga, New Georgia, as their tour was nearly completed. On the
their last two days (1-2 May) the squadron flew 29 small missions
over Bougainville, dive-bombing and strafing airfields, supply and
personnel areas, and roads and bridges. On the 3
the 68FS arrived
to take over from the 70
When they arrived at Ondonga the ru-
mors that they had heard for months were true, as four P-38s were
sitting on the squadron apron. The pilots, who had grown to love
their Airacobras, were less than enthusiastic over what the squadron's
historical record, dated 3 June 1943, described as "these twin-en-
gine abortions." But by the end of the month the pilots became
convinced that "maybe this is a good ship after all."
On 10 May Adm. Mineichi Koga, Yamamoto's successor, trans-
ferred 58 Zeros and 49 Bettys from Truk to Rabaul. Three days
later, at 1100, a coast watcher on Choiseul alerted Fighter Com-
mand of a large Japanese formation flying in toward Cape Esperance.
Koga had sent 25 Zeros to escort a reconnaissance bomber down to
check out the four airfields on Guadalcanal. Fighter Command
scrambled 101 fighters from Guadalcanal and the Russells, the larg-
68FS armorers cleaning the guns and maintaining aP-39 at Bougainville. (USAF)
est scramble ever in the campaign. The Marine Corsairs of VMF-
124 and VMF-112 shot down 15 Zeros, three by 2Lt. Kenneth Walsh
and four by Capt. Archie Donahue, both of whom became aces that
day. A70FS P-38 equipped as a night-fighter piloted by Maj. Louis
Kittel was scrambled and shot down a Zero and damaged another.
Four F4Us, including VMF-124 CO Capt. William Gise, and the P-
38 were lost. That night, at 1945, the Japanese sent four Bettys to
Guadalcana1, and 1Lt. William Smith (l2FS) destroyed a Betty and
damaged another that were framed in searchlight beams.
On the night of 18/19 May six Japanese Betty bombers attacked
the Russell Islands and Fighter One for three hours, doing little
damage. The next night eight or nine were back in four raids and
killed 14 and wounded 20, but the P-38s were ready for them. Seven
were sent up in four relays so that one was always in position to
intercept. Maj. Louis Kittel, of the 70FS and one of the pioneers of
visual night interception, took off for a night alert. Kittel orbited at
high altitude in a P-38 and, aided by searchlights and undamped
enemy exhaust flames, shot down two Japanese bombers. Kittel
was awarded the DFC for these voluntary night missions. From 13
May to 23 May he had flown eight missions totaling ten hours,
intercepting three enemy bombers and shooting down two. For the
68FS Fighter Two April 1943 (L-R) Lt. Fred Ploetz, Capt. Stan Palmer, Lt.
Rollins Snelling, and Capt.Wayne Smith (347FG Intelligence Officer). (Palmer)
Part Three, Chapter 10 - May 1943
Adm. Mineichi Koga,Yamamoto's s u c c e s s o ~ (USN)
remainder of the month the Japanese focused their Rabaul-
Bougainville based aircraft on New Guinea.
In mid-month Lt.Col. Milton Adams was transferred to the
18FG HQ, and Maj. Thomas Crandall, Squadron Operations Of-
ficer, became 70FS CO. On the 5
, the first contingent of 14 pilots
left for Auckland, New Zealand, for leave, and a second group of
eight lett on the 15
. However, orders came down that there would
be no further Auckland leaves, and the last group of 14 disappointed
pilots stayed at Ondonga. The squadron departed Ondonga on the
h, and the AAF terminated its use of the field and moved to Munda,
where they would begin operations on 5 June. However, dissension
had built up in COMAIRSOPAC between the Army, Navy, and
Marine factions as to who was in command and who was to give or
take orders. Gen. Harmon (13AF CO) met with Admirals Halsey
and Fitch for two days to resolve the situation.
On 20 May American fighters attacked camouflaged Japanese
barges carrying troops and supplies hidden in the coves on the south-
ern shore of Choiseul Island. The fighters staggered their attacks
From 13 May to 23 May, Maj. Louis Kittel had flown eight missions, totaling
ten hours, intercepting three enemy bombers and shooting down two. Kittel
was awarded the DFC for these voluntary night missions. (Canning)
from different directions to keep the AAfire to a minimum. Aflight
of eight P-38s of the 339FS was flying top cover for the mission
and was the last to strafe the boats. ILt. Bill Harris approached at
10 degrees to the bow of the first boat, just above the water at
300mph. He was firing all his guns, and as he passed over it his P-
38 was hit by AA or small arms fire. The temperature gauge on his
left engine was rising, and he immediately cut the engine and feath-
ered the prop. Harris spent several anxious hours nursing his "one-
legged" fighter back to Fighter Two before he dropped it down for
a safe landing.
In late May command changes took place. On 21 May Maj.
John Evans relieved Maj. John Mitchell as CO of the 339FS. Fi-
nally, a month late after being listed to leave with the first returnees
on 20 April, Capts. Mitchell and Lanphier and Lts. Barber, Can-
ning, Goerke, Holmes, and Jacobson left for the States. After scor-
ing eight victories Mitchell remained in the States, being promoted
to Lt. Colonel on I August 1944, and returned to combat with the
15FG in May 1945, where he scored two more victories flying a P-
Fighter Command in World War II
51 over Japan. He was then transferred briefly to the 21FG in early
July 1945 and got another victory, but returned to the 15FG as its
CO. He was promoted to a full Colonel in August 1945. He shot
down four MiG-1 5s and damaged two more with the 39FIS, flying
the F-86 over Korea to end his combat career with 15 victories.
Holmes was promoted to Captain on 27 May and returned to the
States. Lanphier went on leave to Australia after the Yamamoto
mission and then returned to the States. He flew several missions in
Europe in May 1944 to test tactics, was promoted to Major in No-
vember 1944, and to Lt. Colonel in February 1945. On 24 May
Maj. Kermit Tyler, who had commanded the 44FS since 9 Septem-
ber 1942, was replaced by Maj. John Little.
During this period B-25 medium bomber squadrons of the
42BG were assigned to the 13AP. The new 75
and 390
Squadrons joined the 69
and 70
Bomb Squadrons that were al-
ready in the South Pacific and had converted to B-25s from their B-
26s. The B-25s were put into operation, as they would be more
adaptable to the shorter existing runways on the Japanese islands
that were scheduled to be captured in the near future. The Mitchells
would prove a valuable addition to the 13BC arsenal, as the first B-
17s and then B-24 heavy bombers required much longer and more
heavily constructed runways back at Guadalcanal. The tactical plan
was to keep the Japanese aircraft on Kahili, Ballale, Kieta, Munda,
Vila, Shortland, Poporang, and Rekata Bay under constant attack
so that they could not interfere with the naval buildup for the forth-
coming invasions in the Central Solomons. The heavy bombers at-
tacked by night, and the mediums with fighter escort attacked in
the day. USN bombers also laid mines in the heavily traveled ship-
ping lanes off Buin, Bougainville.
On 22 May the 339FS was flying its first mission of the day, a
12-plane fighter sweep on Kahili airfield. As the P-38s were ap-
proaching the target at 23,000 feet, newly arrived pilot Lt. Albert
Henke's P-38 inexplicably left the formation and dove vertically
into the ocean near Fauro Island. The Japanese sent up no fighters,
and the airfield was strafed and bombed. Capt. Leonard Frame (of
the 68FS) and Lt. Fred Horne happened upon a Betty and shared a
victory flying their P-39s for the 339
. The next day six Bettys
attacked a convoy about 200 miles southeast of Henderson and hit
the Niagara with a bomb. The airstrip on the Russells was ready,
and was first used on the night of 25/26 May when eight F4Us and
eight PAOs remained overnight so they could take part in a sumise
strafing attack on the Shortland-Buin seaplane base. On 27 May
the pilots of the 68FS that had been on detached service with the
44FS at Efate were transferred to the 70FS. On 4 June the pilots of
the 70FS were transferred to the 68FS as the 13FC pilots continued
to play "the squadron shuffle."
During the third week in May the Japanese were withdrawing
their fighters from the Solomons and sending them to Wewak on
New Guinea; however, they were maintaining a strong fighter force
at Rabaul. Intelligence evidence showed the Japanese to be hard-
ILt.William Smith (12FS) destroyed a Betty and damaged another that were
framed in a searchlight beams. (Canning)
pressed to maintain simultaneous combat and supply commitments
to both the Solomons and New Guinea. To exacerbate the Japanese
supply situation, mine-laying missions by TBFs aided by diver-
sionary bombing missions by heavy bombers were carried out. Af-
ter the mine-laying missions were complete the bombing pressure
was increased on Bougainville and the Central Solomons by AAF
and USN bombers. These missions met little or no enemy air oppo-
sition, and 17PRS recon photos showed the lowest enemy fighter
count since the start of the Solomons campaign. May operations
reports show only 21 enemy aircraft were shot down: 15 by the
Marines (on the 13
); four by P-38s (three by Kittel); and the shared
P-39 victory.
June 1943
P39G Night-Fighters arrive at Guadalcanal
Over the three months since their arrival, the P-70s of the 6NFS
had scored only one night victory and were found woefully inad-
equate for the task. On 6 June the squadron began to receive the P-
38G to be used in close searchlight cooperation interception to aug-
ment P-70 night operations. The P-38G was far superior to the P-
70: it was 30mph faster at altitude; could reach 25,000 feet in 11
minutes as compared to the P-70's 35 minutes; and ~ t s operational
ceiling was 10,000 feet higher. When an incoming raid was im-
pending with its usual 45-minute warning, Fighter Control was to
scramble two P-70s and two P-38s. One P-70 was to climb at maxi-
mum speed to 22,000 feet off the eastern end of Santa Isabel Island,
and the other to also climb as quickly as possible to maximum ceil-
ing ten miles south of Russell Island and orbit. The two P-38s were
to climb at maximum speed to 17,000 and 20,000 feet and orbit
around a filtered low-intensity red searchlight one mile from the
outer edge of the defended area, about a mile southwest of Fighter
Two. When the Japanese reached 60 miles out, Fighter Control was
to relinquish control of the orbiting P-70s to GCI Control that was
Lt Magnus Francis (44FS). (Smith)
to vector the nearest P-70 on an interception course toward the bo-
gies. If the P-70 AI picked up the enemy it would be allowed to
pursue it across the defended zone without the AA firing. If the P-
70 did not contact the enemy within ten miles of Lunga Point GCI
Control was to direct the P-70 back to its original orbit position. At
this point Fighter Control directed the searchlights to illuminate
the area, and when a target was illuminated by the radar-controlled
searchlights all but three searchlights were turned off, and the P-
38s were alerted that a target had been lit. The P-38 at 20,000 feet
was to fire on any target above 20,000 feet, and the one at 17,000
was to fire on targets below 20,000 feet. The P-38 pilots had no
formal night fighter training, and their only specialized piece of
equipment was the installation of a red cellophane filter cut from
photographic film and placed over the gunsight to cut the glare
from the gunsight light, which diminished night vision. The ammu-
nition loading was one armor-piercing, one incendiary, and one
tracer. The ideal interception was to pull up behind the target at his
speed and watch the distances, as they were difficult to judge at
night. All "friendly" AA was to have been alerted not to fire, but
Lt Robert Byrnes (44FS). (National Archives via Lansdale)
Fighter Command in World War II
this seldom happened, as the AA gunners continued to fire enthusi-
astically. If the target was not shot down an interception was at-
tempted by the P-70s directed by GCI on its outgoing course. The
P-70s, in addition to their performance difficulties, had arrived with
limited spare parts and only a few replacement engines. Engines
wore out quickly, as the P-70 needed to climb at full power from
take off to orbit point, causing heavy wear and frequent engine
changes and overhauls. Its radar was useless above 15,000 feet, as
it arced and emitted corona discharges. The aircraft's generators
were overloaded, its air-ground radio equipment was easily jammed
and intercepted, and the Nighthawk could not carry a full stock of
ammunition. The last P-70 night interceptor mission was flown on
20 May. They did continue flying night intruder missions and cov-
ering PT Boat missions, but had their secret SCR-540 radar sets
removed and more guns, and six bomb racks were added.
On 5 June Strike Command put together its first strong day-
light attack since the B-24s suffered their heavy mid-February losses.
Twelve TBFs fitted with range-extending 50-gallon fuel tanks, and
18 SBDs escorted by 21 Russell-based F4Us ofVMF-1l2 and VMF-
124 attacked shipping in Buin Harbor at Kahili. Apenetration mis-
sion of 26 P-40s and six P-38s flew to the target first to clear out
any enemy fighters. About 25 Zeros, Rufes, and Daves rose to in-
tercept, but only a few peeled off to meet the Army planes. The P-
40s of the 44FS shot down two Zeros, one each by Lts. Robert
Byrnes and Magnus Francis. lLt. Ralph Sooter was MIA. The Cor-
sairs shot down 12 Japanese; four by VMF-124 and the rest by
VMF-1l2. Bomber gunners claimed three. The bombers were suc-
cessful that day, as they scored bomb hits on two corvettes and a
cargo ship; all were burning as they left the scene. Two SBDs and
two TBFs were lost, but Lt. Jack Bade of the 44FS prevented fur-
ther bomber losses. As he was leaving to return home, Bade saw
ten Japanese aircraft attacking four friendly unescorted bombers
near Shortland Island. Bade's P-40 had been shot up, its guns
jammed, and he had sustained a head wound. Nonetheless, Bade
Lt. Jack Bade was returning home when he saw ten japanese aircraft attack-
ing four friendly unescorted bombers near Shortland Island. Bade's PAO,
"Destitute Prostitute," had been shot up, its guns jammed, and he had sus-
tained a head wound. Nonetheless, Bade flew weaving scissors maneuvers
and repeatedly turned into any attacker, and was able to bluff long enough to
have the japanese run low on fuel and turn back to base near Vella Lavella.
Bade was only awarded the Air Medal for his heroic action. (USAF)
Capt. Bob Westbrook (44FS) had movie star good looks. Here he poses with
his crew chief after his two Zero victories on 7 june 1943. (Author)
flew weaving scissors maneuvers and repeatedly turned into any
attacker, and was able to bluff long enough to have the Japanese
run low on fuel and have to turn back to base near Vella LaveJla.
Bade was only awarded the Air Medal for his heroic action.
On 6 June P-38s and PAOs strafed gun emplacements on
Choiseul. The 70FS had to abort their first combat mission flying
their new P-38s on 5 June, but two days later 16 took off from
Munda at 1030, each carrying twelve 20lb. fragmentation bombs.
The aircraft rendezvoused over Barakoma at 1100 at 14,000 feet
with a flight, of four planes to act as spares. One aircraft developed
ignition problems and was replaced by a spare, and it returned to
Munda accompanied by the other three spares. The three flights
continued to the primary target, but it was closed in by weather, so
they continued to the southwest and dropped their bombs on Kokona
Plantation from an altitude of 7,000 to 9,000 feet at 1132 with un-
observed results. The flights rejoined and flew back to Munda, land-
ing at 1218. Training and transition in the P-38 continued over the
next several days, and by the 14
the last of the P-39s that had
served the 70
so well were gone-but the 68FS still flew the
After their loss of 18 aircraft on 13 May the Japanese left the
American airfields in the southern Solomons alone, even though
they had 279 aircraft available: 98 fighters and 32 bombers on Kahili;
96 fighters and one bomber on Ballale; 36 and six on Buka; plus
ten float planes at their Shortland anchorages. However, on 7 June
the Japanese began a week of large aerial assaults from Rabaul with
40 to 50 Zeros flying down the Slot, where they were met near the
Russell Islands by Allied fighters. Fighter Command sent over 100
fighters up to intercept, including 12 PAOs of the 44FS and nine P-
38s of the 339FS. Thefighters orbited over the Russells at 25-27,000
feet waiting in ambush. A flight of three P-38s of 2Lts. Murray
Shubin, Bill Harris, and Robert Tucker (of the 339FS) orbited twice
not seeing the enemy, and flew off to the west towards Buraku Is-
land, where they ran into an ongoing dogfight at 18,000 feet. A
group of RNZAF P-40s had formed a defensive Lufbery circle, and
soon six New Zealanders were shot down. The three Sunsetters
Part Three, Chapter 11 - June 1943
dove into the attack, and Shubin put two long bursts into a Zero on
the tail of a RNZAF P-40. Tucker made a head on attack and shot
some pieces off a Zero for a probable. Harris, flying "Hattie," drew
a bead on a Jap who pulled his fighter up violently to the left and
out of his line of fire. Harris thought the Jap was going to continue
to pull away so he turned as sharply as possible. But as he did the
Zero turned back sharply to the right, and Harris was about to col-
lide with him. Harris made an instinctive snap full deflection shot
into the Zero's right side, sending it down in flames. Harris had
yanked his fighter up to avoid a collision and immediately saw a
Zero on the tail of another RNZAF P-40. Harris snapped off an-
other deflection shot, and the Zero exploded into a ball of flames.
During the battle Harris' engine was hit and the supercharger was
destroyed, and he had to return to base with his first two victories
after being shut out during his first tour. After his first tour Harris
had been sent back to New Caledonia at the end of March and was
hospitalized for fungus in both ears and a cyst in his eye. The Japa-
nese lost 23 Zeros shot down: eight by VMF-1l2 (six by F4Us and
two by F4Fs); four by New Zealand's 15
Squadron; and 11 by the
AAF. The 44FS had scored eight victories (and five probables):
two victories each by ILts. Henry Matson and James Parker; one
each by lLts. Carl Newlander and Jack Bade; and two by Maj.
Robert Westbrook. Westbrook picked his second victim off the tail
of a P-39 and expended all his ammunition. He was returning to
base when he saw a Zero on the tail of a P-38, and Westbrook made
a run on the Zero, which took the bluff and turned home. Parker
lost his flight and mingled with the other aircraft in the combat. At
the top of a chandelle at 17,000 feet he saw a Zero climb from
below and pass in front of him. Parker hit the Zero, and it began to
smoke and lose altitude. He followed the heavily smoking Jap down
through a thin layer of overcast and pulled up at 2,000 feet. lLt.
Jack Bade destroyed a Zero that was on the tail of a P-38 and took
a snap shot at another Zero trailing a P-38, getting a few hits for a
probable. Newlander spotted a parachute with Zeros closing in on
it. He flew to the rescue; his .50s started a fire on one and he fol-
lowed it down, firing on it until the Jap was completely ablaze.
ILts. Douglas Curry, Robert Holman, and William Cargill, and 2Lt.
Charles Sackett claimed probables. The Americans lost four F4Us
and ILt. Henry Matson's P-40. In a dogfight Matson had made two
firing passes on a Zero without a hit, but on a third pass he ex-
ploded it but was attacked by another Zero. He turned into him and
scored on a deadly single burst of machine gun fire at close range.
Matson was so close that when he pulled up his prop shredded the
flaming ;'ing of the Zero. His P-40 caught fire, and despite burns
to his head and hands Matson was able to release his seat belt and
bailout of his burning Warhawk at 18,000 feet. As he drifted down
in his parachute he was attacked by three Zeros. Matson tried to
bluff the Japanese into thinking he, too, was Japanese by bowing,
saluting, and waving, and was successful, as the Zero pilots waved
and left. Matson landed in the water, inflated his rubber dinghy,
and injected himself with morphine. Fortunately he was found by a
crash boat two hours later and returned to the Russells.
On the 10
h, four Betty bombers were reported by a coast
watcher on Choiseul flying down the Slot to attack five transports
escorted by six destroyers heading from Espiritu Santo to
Guadalcanal. With the advanced warning Fighter Command laid a
trap and sent four F4Us (VMF-124) to orbit between Malaita and
Santa Isabel and four P-38s (339FS) to orbit Ndai Island. The Ma-
rines spotted the Bettys flying off the northeast coast of Malaita.
The Japanese broke off, and the Corsairs chased the swift bombers
and shot down three. 2Lt. Floyd White of the 12FS, flying a P-38
for the 339FS, dispatched the remaining bomber over Ndai Island.
An early morning bombing raid on Vila was scheduled for the B-
24s. An approaching storm front over Vangunu Island turned back
the bombers and their mixed Marine F4U and 339
P-38 escorts.
The bombers turned toward Munda, which was their secondary tar-
get, and were able to avoid the storm and bombed the target with-
out Japanese air opposition, but encountered heavy AA fire. The
P-38s had been in the air for 3:20, and after returning to base
were refueled and spent another 2: 15 patrolling over the Russells.
As soon as they landed at dusk the fighter director sent them back
up, as there was a warning of a possible Japanese attack in the early
evening. The patrol was recalled after half an hour as it encoun-
tered the leading edge of the storm front and had to land in heavy
wind and rain. It had been another long day for the long-legged P-
In the late morning of the 12
approximately 40-50 Zeros came
down to the Russells on a fighter sweep toward Vella Lavella and
91 Allied fighters were sent up to intercept them. First to make
contact were seven 14FS RNZAF P-40s, four P-40s of the 44FS,
and one P-39 of the 68FS at 1048. The Kiwi pilots downed six
Zeros and the AAF three. Capt. Robert Westbrook of the 44FS be-
came an ace with his fifth victory as he put a long burst into a Zero
that crashed into the sea. His wingman, lLt. Robert Byrnes, did his
wingman duty by shooting a Zero off Westbrook's tail. lLt. Henry
Matson recovered from his wounds in the air battle five days ear-
lier and shot down a Zero for his third victory. 68FS P-39 pilots
lLt. Robert Fetch and ILt. WilliamFiedler got single victory claims,
as did lLts. Samuel Barnes and Charles Harris. The 339FS was led
by Maj. Louis Kittel and Capt. Cyril Nichols, followed by Lts.
Harris, Pedro, Honaker, and Webber. Lt. Henry Pedro aborted early
with engine trouble and was followed by Maj. Kittel, whose super-
charger malfunctioned and was escorted back to base by his
wingman, Bill Harris. The remaining P-38s flew to 26,000 feet and
intercepted the Zeros. lLt. William Honaker had to put 400 rounds
into a stubborn Zero for a victory. The Allied total was 34 victories:
six for the RNZAF; eight for theAAF; six Zeros for VMF-121; and
14 Zekes for the Navy's land-based VF-ll (that including five Zekes
for LtUg) Vernon Graham, the Navy's first land-based ace). VF-ll,
the Sundowners, under CO Lt.Cdr. Charles White, were intended
to fly their F4Fs off the
Hornet, but the carrier's loss at Santa Cruz caused the squad-
ron to be land-based on Guadalcanal from May to July 1943, where
they would score 56 victories and have two new aces (Graham and
LtUg) Charles Stimpson with six victories). The losses for the day
were five F4Fs (but only one pilot) and a RNZAF pilot.
Despite the loss of more than 50 aircraft in a week the Japa-
nese air strength was at its highest levels since March. 17PRS pho-
tos showed 49 fighters and five dive-bombers on Kahili, 254 on
Rabaul's airfields, and that Buka was "loaded with aircraft." Just
Fighter Command in World War 11
I7PRS photos showed 49 fighters and five dive-
bombers on Kahili. (USAF via Lansdale)
after noon on 16 June, a coast watcher on Vella Lavella reported 38
Zeros flying to the southwest. Another report followed from a coast
watcher on Kolombangara that 50 Vals and 30 more Zero escorts
were on their way to attack U.S. cargo ships and destroyers off
Guadalcanal and Tulagi. The usual route the Japanese flew took
them north of the Russells, but this time their route was to the south,
and Marine F4Us were scrambled from the Russells but failed to
make any contact. At 1310 Fighter Command scrambled 16 air-
craft to fly CAP over shipping, and by 1345 they declared a Condi-
tion Red and finally scrambled a total of 104 fighters between 1310
and 1400. Thirty more Japanese dive-bombers escorted by Zeros
came in at 15,000 feet over Beaufort Bay toward the shipping off
Guadalcanal. The defending force included 12 P-38s, 21 P-40s, and
eight P-39Ds. The 12 339FS P-38s were piloted by: first flight lLt.
William Griffith, mission leader, followed by Pedro, Bezner, and
Webber; second flight lLt. Murray Shubin (flight leader), followed
by Rake, Harris, and Van Bibber; and third flight Capt. John McGinn
(flight leader), followed by Hoyle, Sylvester, and Lawrence. These
Lightnings were the first to scramble and climbed to 27,000 feet.
The first Japanese Zero formation came in over Beaufort Bay and
Despite the loss of more than 50 aircraft in a week, Japanese air strength was
at its highest levels since MarchThere were 254 aircraft-mostly Zeros-on
Rabaul. (Nakamura via Lansdale)
was met at 1347 by the three P-38 flights. lLt. Griffin's engine
malfunctioned and he aborted and was escorted back to base by Lt.
Webber, while the other element dropped back. 2Lt. Munay Shubin
and his wingman, 2Lt. Erwin Rake, spotted about 50 Zeros 15 miles
from the west end of Guadalcanal at about 23,000 feet. Shubin,
who had a 4,000-foot altitude advantage, stated in his debriefing
"We made an initial attack-the four of us-breaking into the
rear cover of 10 to 15 Zeros. We opened fire, pulled up, and began
a period of combat. Following my initial burst and a long burst into
a Zero peeling up, and knocking down the surprised Zero, which
tried to half roll at the last minute. I moved my fire quickly ahead
and downed a second Zero. I saw 5 or 6 planes going down, 4 of
which were flamers, of which two were mine."
Element leader 2Lt. Bill Harris and his wingman, 2Lt. Charles
Van Bibber, followed and were to the rear and right of Shubin and
Rake as two Zeros got on Shubin's and Rake's tails. Harris banked
to his left and pulled up and fired on the Zero on Lt. Rake's tail and
set it on fire. Van Bibber flew past Harris and knocked down the
second Zero and cleared Shubin and Rake, who headed toward Savo
Again Hanis and Van Bibber followed and scared off an ap-
proaching Zero that banked away. Harris swept back to his right
and saw that the Zero that had just banked away had rolled over on
his back and was about to make another pass on Shubin. Harris
pulled up and fired his .50s but they jammed, and he quickly hit his
20mm cannon button and blasted the Zero, which began to burn,
then turned over and dove vertically into the sea. Rake's Lightning
had been hit, Van Bibber was running low on fuel, and Harris' guns
were malfunctioning, so the three returned to base together.
Shubin was alone in "Oriole II" and followed the dogfight as
it passed over the Guadalcanal toward Savo and Cape Esperence.
Shubin reported:
"I continued combat with four or five of them, gradually work-
ing over toward the Esperance-Savo area about 40 miles away. In
the ensuing 40 minutes I was in constant contact with five Zeros
Part Three, Chapter 11 - June 1943
Lt. Murray Shubin became the I3AF's first "Ace-in-a-Day." Adm. Halsey was
so impressed by Shubin's feat that he had the pilot brought aboard his com-
mand ship and personally congratulated him with the Distinguished Service
Cross (Author)
Shubin and his crew celebrate his great day by stenciling his five Rising Suns
on "Oriole" (Author)
who seemed determined as hell to get me. Taking advantage of the
speed and climb of the P-38, I made a pass at their tail end Charlie,
getting a good burst into the area behind the cockpit. The Zero turned
on its back, hung for a moment, and did the first half of a split-ess.
That was the last of him. Number one probable.
Following the long burst into this number one aircraft I contin-
ued a steep spiral dive to the right, getting a full-deflection shot at
the last Zero in a string of four that were making a tight climbing
chandelle to maneuver behind and under me. Eventually the air-
plane slowed up remarkably. Evidently my lead was too great. He
started to climb with his buddies, but evidently had no power, and
changing his mind, he slipped into a vertical turn and peeled off
going down-apparently under control except for his engine. That
was number two probable.
By that time the other three were well on my tail and firing like
hell. My speed was about 350 miles per hour from the spiral dive. I
pulled out and up to the left into the sun in a fast, gentle climbing
turn. With a l,OOO-foot advantage now in altitude a Zero turned
into me. I dove slightly, trying to turn him enough to get a head-on
burst. I fired but missed, going over him. I tried getting a burst at
the last in the string as I went by, but the last one saw me firing at
his leader and I peeled off out of my sights. I fired but couldn't
even get a lead on him.
I climbed again toward the sun; the three of them had gotten
together and were maneuvering for altitude, as I was. This occurred
three times. Each time when I got above and to the rear I made a
pass to the most rearward Zero. Twice I did this, and each time
when I got within good range the last Zero saw me in time and
split-essed before I could get a lead on him. More misses. In the
meantime, number one and number two Zeros naturally turned into
me, took a blast and dove.
Again I climbed and maneuvered into position. This time I
resolved not to get too much altitude and made a rear quarter pass
with reduced speed and shallow dive, so I could really nose over
and get lead on the bastard as he split-essed. I did this, and he took
too long staying on his back, because I really shoved my nose down
and got a good lead and reduced it, slashing back toward him, right
across his belly and fuselage angularly with the tracers. My cannon
was gone at this time. He was smoking and still on his back when I
passed over him. I never saw him again. That was probable number
The other two had advantageously worked to my tail, with al-
titude, too. And they were really firing-seemed like tracers were
all around me. Uncomfortable as hell, -I dove until I outran them. I
pulled out and climbed in the direction of Savo Island. The two had
climbed, after I had gotten away, in the direction of Tulagi, where
they orbited. I climbed some more and then started to pass toward
their orbit. I fired at long distance and with lots of lead at the
rearmost, which was about 100 yards from the first. The tracers
went over and he saw me in plenty of time to split-ess safely and go
down, evidently home.
The number one man was left, and he was on the diametric
opposite of the orbit in a right hand turn. He was turning into me,
and I fired a continued long burst, gradually bringing it back into
him in a frontal attack. My tracers raked across his engine, but no
Fighter Command in World War II
damage was apparent. I immediately pulled up and racked around,
almost blacking out. The Zero pilot continued on a straight line and
I went into pursuit, finally getting into gun range a few miles east
of Savo. P-40s and P-38s were milling around below. I joined on
the Zero and started firing from the rear above. My tracers were
behind, but as I got closer I led him more, and there were hits just
back of the pilot on top of the fuselage and in front of the tail.
Strangely enough, the Zero continued straight for a while and then
started a steep forward dive instead of a split-ess. I watched and
shoved my nose as far forward as possible. He was diving straight
as I passed over. I pulled out, leveled up, and turned to catch sight,
but I could see nothing. My altitude was 11,000 feet. That was prob-
able number four.
When Col. Aaron Tyler, my group CO, told me that Capt. F.P.
Mueller, G Company, 35
Infantry, witnessed, through binoculars,
the Esperance-Savo part of the long battle and definitely established
that I had shot down three of the five Zeros, it made me feel damn
good to know that I has sent five Tojos to the showers and given the
sixth joker an afternoon he probably won't tell his grandchildren
Shubin became the 13AF's first "Ace-in-a-Day" and definitely
had something to tell his grandchildren. Adm. Halsey was so im-
pressed by Shubin's feat that he had the pilot brought aboard his
command ship and personally congratulated him with the Distin-
guished Service Cross.
1Lt. William Griffith, with 2Lt. Donald Webber on his wing,
was forced to abort because oil pressure on one engine dropped.
Webber climbed to 25,000 feet, had difficulty dropping his belly
tank, and became separated from the rest of his flight. As he turned
toward Cape Esperance he came upon six to eight Vals below him.
As he was diving on the Vals he saw a Zero on the tail of a P-40 and
shot it down with a high frontal pass. Capt. John McGinn and 2Lt.
Robert Sylvester of the third flight each shot down a Zero to give
the 339
11 victories for the day without a loss. As Harris was in his
landing approach a Zero strafed his beloved "Hattie." Harris landed
safely, but was so angry that he jumped out of his damaged P-38
and commandeered another Lightning and started down the run-
way to get revenge, but blew a tire. "Hattie" was a prolific and
lucky fighter aircraft, as it accounted for 15 victories and four
probables while being flown by Harris. After Harris rotated out the
repaired Hattie was assigned to lLt. Truman Barnes, who became
an ace with five victories while flying her, and she was credited
with one final victory when lLt. Donald Stewart downed a Zero
flying her on 2 February. Much of the credit for her success should
be given to her Crew Chief, S/Sgt. Charles Chapman. (via Harris)
The PAOs of the 44FS were on CAP at 23,000 feet over the
shipping when 30 Vals and 30 Zeros came in to attack. Henderson
reported bogies coming in at 15,000 feet from the south. lLt. Rob-
ert Byrnes led his flight, followed by wingman 2Lt. Cy Gladen,
element leader 1Lt. Dale Tarbet, and 2Lt. Mack Bunderson. The
Lightnings executed turning dives looking for the Zeros, and at
15,000 feet they first saw bombs exploding on the water below and
then spotted aircraft. Byrnes and his wingman, Gladen, started af-
ter the bombers but met several Zeros first. They chased after a
Zero flying north and continued after it for a few minutes. Byrnes
finally caught it and hit it with a long burst, then followed it through
a sharp turn and hit it with another burst, neither of which seemed
to do any damage. Gladen then got into the fray:
"As I let the nose forward, I saw that a Zero had rolled out of
his left turn, and I immediately hopped on him, giving him a long
burst. He started to smoke and go down in a left-hand diving turn.
This cinched the meat for my P-40, and I poured another long
burst into him. He started burning and I pulled out. The Zero went
down between Savo and Lunga Point."
Byrnes saw another Zero, and he put a long, close-range burst
into it and it exploded. He maneuvered to clear his tail when he saw
a Zero making a hard left turn in front of him. Byrnes fired an in-
stantaneous burst and smoked the Jap, who crashed into the sea.
Gladen was climbing for altitude and came across a Zero flying off
to the right:
lit. Cy Gladen describes his first two victories on 16 June. (Author)
Part Three, Chapter 11 - June 1943
"I pulled up into a turn and another Zero was off to my right. I
got in a good shot and undoubtedly hit him; he was going much
faster than I was, and he rolled out and flew straight away from me.
By this time he was about 400 yards away. Most of my guns had
stopped firing, and I shot at him with my two remaining guns. My
tracers seemed to be hitting him. He was smoking and I continued
I exhausted all my ammunition and continued on the Zero's
tail until I began gaining speed on him. I saw that his left wing was
burning and puffs of white smoke were coming out. His right wing
was badly shot up.
I flew up beside the plane and saw the pilot. I couldn't tell
whether he was alive or not, but he seemed to be slumped over. He
was going down rapidly and he passed into a cloud. I turned back
and landed to get more ammunition, but by that time there was no
longer a fight close by."
lLt. Dale Tarbet encountered a Zero in a vertical bank coming
toward him and fired a deflection shot at 350 yards. As he pulled up
in an abrupt left chandelle he saw the Zero spiraling down in flames.
He then dove on another Zero that was turning into him and fired a
short burst without observable results. Tarbet's wingman, 2Lt. Mack
Bunderson, was climbing in a left turn and had a Zero make a head
on pass at him. He fired a long burst and the Zero started to smoke;
it kept closing and exploded as it passed by. A second Zero flew in
front of Bunderson, passing to the right in a shallow dive. He fol-
lowed, slowly closed, and got good 30-degree deflection shot from
the rear. The cockpit flashed and the Jap fighter, along with its dead
pilot, snapped over on its back, smoked, and crashed into the sea.
The second flight had been orbiting between Savo and Henderson
at 23,000 feet. 2Lt. Robert Holman had mechanical problems and
was unable to maintain altitude; he was trailed down and covered
by his wingman, lLt. Jack Bade. The two pilots saw a Zero and
both got a short burst at it when they spotted about 20 Zeros and
about the same number offriendly fighters tangling in the distance.
As Bade was climbing he got a short deflection shot that smoked a
Zero. Holman got solid belly hits on a Zero that was rolling away
Lt. Cotesworth Head (center) with his CO, Capt John Little (left). and ILt
Dale Tarbet (right). (Author)
from him, which caught fire and went down. Holman began to climb
and a Zero came in for a beam attack to his left. He turned quickly
but could not get the shot. The Bade/Holman element, led by Capt.
John Voss and his wingman, 2Lt. William Cargill, dove but lost
sight of the bombers below and made no contact. The third 44
flight was orbiting at 10,000 feet east of Fighter One when Flight
Leader, lLt. Cotesworth Head, spotted the Val dive-bombers in a
shallow glide from the southwest and moving towards the Ameri-
can shipping. He dove on them and quickly shot one down from
1,000 feet. He then chandelled to the right to 6,000 feet and met
more Vals and Zeros. He chased a dive-bomber and fired at 600
yards as tracers stllited to fly past his cockpit and then hit his fighter.
He broke off his attack as fire erupted from the enemy bomber's
wing root. The Zero was still on his tail, and Head chopped the
throttle and skidded, hoping the Zero would over run. When it flew
past he pulled up and chased after it, firing his 50 caliber machine
guns until they were out of ammunition and forcing the Zero to
crash into the ocean. Head returned to base with 12 holes in his P-
40 and the first three of his 14 victories. The second element leader,
lLt. John Wood, attacked a Val from behind and killed the rear
gunner, then literally shot the tail off the dive-bomber. Wood's
wingman, lLt. Joseph "Jumpin" Joe" Lesicka, destroyed another
Val with several short bursts for his first victory toward becoming
an ace. Lt. John Tedder closed in on a Zero from the side, and a F4F
closed from the other side. Neither saw the other, and they col-
lided; both crashed and were KIA. Capt. WilliamNorris ofthe 70FS
led the fourth 44FS flight of P-40s consisting of lLt. Frank Gaunt,
2Lt. Wallace Jennings, and 2Lt. Harold Dreckman, at 9,000 feet
over Henderson, where they intercepted Vals. Norris' combat re-
port was blunt and brief:
"Contact at 9,000 feet over Henderson. Dive-bombers started
to dive. Shot at them all the way, got a smoker (black). Shortly after
Lt. Jennings got a dive-bomber I got another good shot into another
dive-bomber that went into the water. Rolled over and shot him in.
Was shot at when he broke off, 150 feet off the water. Hit with
20mm shell. Shot off part of left aileron and elevator. Shot in both
legs, left arm, and hand. Landing gear wouldn't work, made a belly
landing on Fighter Strip No.2."
Nonis' wingman, Wallace Jennings, finished off the Val Norris
had hit. Jennings was hit in the right arm by 7.7mm bullets but was
able to land his fighter safely. lLt. Frank Gaunt lived up to his
nickname, "Wildman," as he went after three flights of Vals es-
corted by three flights of Zeros-60 planes total. He followed a Val
down in its attack dive and exploded it, then over took another Val
and set it on fire and into the water for his first two of eight victo-
ries. The last two P-40s to take off were flown by lLts. Lucien
"Bob" Shuler and Douglas Curry, who were able to get into the
fray. The two pilots climbed to 9,000 feet over Henderson Field
and saw two Vals release their bombs. Shuler fired at one but was
out of range; he continued to follow it, getting hits that caused it to
crash into the water for his first of seven victories. Shuler had a
Zero on his tail but was able to shake it and continue to make two
more ineffective passes on the Vals. Curry had dived with his leader
and also claimed a Val before his guns jammed. The 44
had its
Fighter Command in World War II
I Lt. joseph "jumpin" joe" Lesicka destroyed another Val with several short
bursts for his first victory toward becoming an ace. (Smith)
best day of the war, claiming 19 victories plus one by Norris for
one loss (lLt. John Tedder).
P-39s of the 68FS were hovering over shipping and intercepted
the Japanese attack. The first flight, led by 1Lt. Charles Harris,
knocked down four Zekes: two by Harris, and one each by Lts.
Thomas Clark and Robert Fetch. The second flight, led by Capt.
Leonard Frame of the 70FS, got two Japs: a Zero for Frame, and a
Val (and a damaged Val) for 1Lt. Richard Kent. The last six P-39s
of the 68FS took off at 1400. One Airacobra returned early when it
was damaged by a Zero, but the others became engaged in a run-
ning dogfight ranging from Fighter One to Koli Point. 1Lt. William
Fiedler became the only P-39 ace in World War II when he downed
two Va1s with only his .30 caliber wing guns operating. 2Lt. Frank
Clark splashed a Zero, and 1Lt. William Wells set a Val on fire-it
finally crashed in flames into the ocean with its rear gunner firing
on the pursuing Wells all the way down. Wells downed another Val
soon afterward. The 68
had its best day of the war, as it claimed
six Zeros (one by Frame (70FS) flying with the squadron) and five
I Lt. Robert Shuler fired at one, but was out of range; he continued to follow
it, getting hits that sent it into the water for his first of seven victories. (Au-
The hour and a half air battle was the largest and most success-
ful in the South Pacific to that time, with 74 of the 104 fighters
getting into combat. At 1430 what was left of the Japanese force
was heading back home. The Japanese lost so many aircraft that
Adm. Mitscher declared it was "... hard to believe, but this was a
Roman holiday on Jap airplanes." (Fighter Command War Diary,
19 June 1943). The 13FC had claimed a record 42 aircraft for the
day. The RNZAF F4Us claimed five Zeros, USN VF-11 F4Fs
claimed 15 Zeros and 16 Vals (four by Lt.Ug) Charles Stimpson),
and the USMCVMF-121 and VMF-124 destroyed three Zeros. U.S.
Navy AAgunners below claimed 16 enemy aircraft and shore-based
AA one, but this seems to be an inflated claim, as it probably in-
cluded Japanese aircraft shot down by fighters. the day's total was
81 Japanese aircraft destroyed by fighters for the loss of a P-40,
three Navy VF-11 F4Fs, and a VMF-122 F4U. Although American
shipping had been warned and was underway and maneuvering
when the Japanese attacked, three ships were damaged and one
merchant ship and a barge were finally forced to beach off Lunga
to save them before they could sink. Navy shipboard losses were
25 killed, 29 wounded, and 22 missing.
Part Three, Chapter 11 - June 1943
Unlike the pilots, the "ground pounders"-ground crews, me-
chanics, armorers, ordnance men, cooks, et aI-worked steadily
month after month, seven days a week, and often for long hours
without going on leave. They endured the same heat, humidity,
nightly visits from Washing Machine Charlie, bad food, boredom,
and tropical diseases as the flying personnel. Flying officers could
look forward to more or less regular rotation to New Zealand or
back to the relatively more comfortable rear areas at New Caledonia
or both. To the enlisted man it appeared that it would be years be-
fore he would go on leave. From spring 1943 the l3AF had a defi-
nite morale problem that got chronically worse. The number of man-
days lost finally reached a high of 24,232 man-days lost, and only
219 were combat related. Efficiency declined, and the accident rate
rose for pilots who spent more than six weeks in combat. The result
of fatigue in enlisted men was not as easy to demonstrate. Operat-
ing a combat aircraft was not only stressful, but also was mentally
and physically demanding. The efficiency of air officers was se-
verely diminished by stress and fatigue, and it was imperative that
the pilot could look forward to and was granted regular leaves. The
ideal situation was to give entire squadrons leave, but in practice,
when a squadron was based in a forward area, its replacements were
two or three flights that were detached from its own squadron, or
detachments of another in a rear area. The relieved pilots were then
sent on leave, hopefully first to New Zealand, and from there sent
to the rear-usually New Caledonia-for further rest and training.
At the end of June lLts. Bill Harris and William Griffith and 2Lts.
Murray Shubin, Erwin Rake, Donald Webber, and Henry Pedro
ended their second tour of combat and were sent to Auckland, New
Zealand, for R&R.
21t. Frank Clark (l), Ilt.William Fiedler (top/cap), IltTruman Barnes (middle)
and Ilt.WilliamWells (R) (Author)
New Georgia Campaign
.21 June-26 August, Operation Toenails
The Combined Chiefs of Staff had determined that the capture
of northwestern New Guinea and the occupation of the Solomons,
New Georgia, and then southern Bougainville were the immediate
objectives of Cartwheel. The final objectives were to be the cap-
ture of Kavieng, the cutting of seaborn communications to Rabaul,
the destruction of its airpower, and then the two-pronged invasion
of New Britain. After Cartwheel was concluded the Admiralties
could then be put under intensive air attack in preparation for their
invasion. The Casablanca Conference of January 1943 set the grand
strategy of World War II, continuing with the "Europe first" edict
requiring the unconditional surrender of Germany and Italy. But
concurrent with the major European undertaking the JCS directed
that there was to be continuous pressure put on the Japanese. Each
Pacific operation was to threaten or cut their lines of communica-
tions and capture positions from which successive operations could
be launched on the way towards Japan. The Guadalcanal campaign,
while proclaimed in the Press as the frrstAmerican offensive, quickly
became a defensive battle because of the lack of support from Wash-
ington. Only after the island was nearly lost did the JCS commit
sufficient men and supplies to make the battle the major turning
point of the war in the Pacific. New Georgia and then Bougainville
were slated to be the next large-scale land, sea, and air offensives in
the South Pacific to be reduced on the way to Japan. The Japanese
strategy for ew Georgia had changed it from a base for the recap-
ture of Guadalcanal to a major strongpoint in the delaying defense
of the Solomons while their Lae-Salamaua-New Britain-
Bougainville defense line was being reinforced.
The successful invasion of Bougainville, which was to be the
final phase of the Solomons' campaign, was dependent on adequate
air cover. But since the nearest major base was on Guadalcanal,
this air cover could not be provided, as the COMSOPAC did not
have air superiority. The air distances were too long to the Central
Solomons to furnish adequate cover, and the Navy did not wish to
expose its valuable carriers in securing air superiority. The obvious
answer was the invasion of New Georgia and the capture of the
airfield at Munda. Initially the Japanese used the area as a staging
point to supply their troops on Guadalcanal. After their defeat in
November 1942 the Japanese began to build their airbase near
Munda Point, on the southwest coast of New Georgia Island, in an
area that was impossible to invade from the sea. The Japanese oc-
cupied Munda on 13 November and moved a construction battal-
ion there on the 21
. On 3 December air recon photos showed the
possibility of two short parallel strips under construction under natu-
raljungle camouflage. The Japanese cut no trees, but photos found
piles of loose dirt and coral under the tree canopy. Two days later
the Japanese had extended their field to 2,000 feet, and on the 9
uprooted the trees and removed them to complete it. Munda air-
field then became the most attacked target in the Solomons, but
despite these attacks it became operational on the 17
with a 4,500-
foot runway. The Japanese sent an advanced echelon of24 aircraft
to the new strip, but all were destroyed or badly damaged within a
week. The airfield had been easily constructed, and it was also eas-
ily repaired. The American air attacks could not disable the field
for more than two days at a time, but were sufficient to prevent the
Japanese from using it for major operations. After completing Munda
in December the Japanese began construction on another airstrip at
Vila Plantation, on the southern shore of adjacent Kolombangara
Vila Air Field on Kolombangara Island. just to the west of New Georgia,
would be ready for operations in March. However, poor Japanese planning
built the strip on ground so swampy that land-based aircraft could not oper-
ate on it, although a seaplane base operated in the waters nearby. (MF)
Part Three, Chapter 12 - New Georgia Campaign, 21 June-26 August, Operation Toenails
Fighter Two in June 1943, revetment area. The
Skylark channel, or"lron Bottom Sound," lies just
through the trees. (USAF)
Island. The Japanese did not try to conceal the construction and
were bombed daily, but the strip was completed. The appearance of
this second strip made the capture of the Kolombangara of vital
concern. However, poor Japanese planning built Vila on ground so
swampy that land-based aircraft could not operate on it, although a
seaplane base operated in the waters nearby.
The New Georgia campaign was to take place in two phases:
the first phase was the landings on the islands of Rendova, New
Georgia, Vangunu, and Arundel, while the second phase was the
invasion of Vella Lavella six weeks later. The New Georgia opera-
tion (21 June to 26August) was code-named Operation "Toenails."
The New Georgia Group is made up of 12 major islands and many
smaller islands separated by shallow coral-surrounded lagoons and
narrow stretches of open water measuring 40 miles wide by 150
miles long. New Georgia is the major island (45 miles long by 20
miles wide), and is covered by dense, ominous jungle covering rug-
ged terrain that leads to the steep conical volcanic mountains in the
interior. Blanche Channel separates New Georgia from Rendova
and Tetipari on the south, and Vanagunu and Gutukai Islands lay at
the eastern end. Kolombangara is a circular island that is basically
a 5,450-foot mountain that protrudes from the ocean and is sepa-
rated by Kula Gulf from the west coast of New Georgia. Just south
of Kolombangara and west of Munda Point, separated by a very
narrow channel, are the smaller islands ofArundel, Wanawana, and
Baaga. Vella Lavella and Ganongga Islands lay to the far west of
Kolombangara, with Gizo Island laying between in the Giza Strait.
By July there were two fighter and two bomber airfields on
Guadalcanal. Henderson was the base for all light and some heavy
bombers, and most of the short-range search planes. Carney was
the base for heavy and medium bombers and long-range search
planes. Fighter One was the main fighter base for Navy and Marine
fighters, while Fighter Two based the Army Air Force and New
Zealand fighter units. Bulk gasoline storage had been improved
with the addition of an underwater pipeline from tankers moored
off Koli Point to a tank farm at Koli and a smaller one at Lunga.
Two fields on the Russell Islands augmented the four Guadalcanal
fields. The Russell's orth Field was a 4,200-foot strip supporting
light bombers and fighters-operational on 30 June-and South
Field was a 3,100 foot fighter base.
From his headquarters in Noumea Halsey had overall com-
mand of the invasion of New Georgia. He designated three task
forces. R.Adm. Aaron Merrill was to command the covering task
force (TU 36.2.1) of four cruisers and four destroyers to provide
surface protection and fire support. R.Adm. Kelly Turner was to
command the amphibious task force (TF-31), with Maj.Gen. John
Hester, CG of the 43
Infantry Division, who was in command of
the ground forces (New Georgia Occupation Force). VAdm. Aubrey
Fitch of COMAIRSOPAC commanded Task Force 33, and his
deputy, R.Adm. Marc Mitscher, had tactical command of the land-
based aircraft based on Guadalcanal and the Russell Islands.
Mitscher had 455 aircraft available on 30 June, L-Day: 213 fight-
ers; 170 medium bombers; and 72 heavy bombers and search air-
On 18 June COMAIRSOPAC Fitch ordered all his air units to
commence operations for the New Georgia landings. Air searches
from Guadalcanal were to cover a radius from 270 to 310 degrees
to prevent the approach of Japanese naval forces, and bombers were
to intensify their attacks on enemy bases on New Georgia and
Bougainville. The 17PRS was to closely monitor enemy aircraft
and shipping concentrations at Buka and near the southern end of
Bougainville. Adm. Turner requested attacks on airfields at Munda,
Ballale, Kahili, Kieta, and Vila, as well as attacks on Japanese ship-
ping around Munda and Bougainville beginning on L-Day minus
S. All air units were ordered to attack enemy shipping at every op-
portunity. The fighters were given the Herculean task of providing
air cover for all the forces in the Guadalcanal and New Georgia
areas and all the shipping, particularly the transports sailing to and
from these two regions. Once the invasion task force was moving
and then after the troops were landed the fighters were to maintain
air cover over them. To directly control the strategic air operations
for the invasion of New Georgia, Adm. Fitch had moved from
Espiritu Santo to Guadalcanal five days before the invasion. Anew
command was established, Headquarters, New Georgia Air Force
(COMAIR New Georgia). It was made up of personnel of the For-
ward Echelon, 2MAW under Brig.Gen. Francis Mulcahy (USMC),
and was attached to the New Georgia Occupation Force. After take
off all aircraft flying to the New Georgia area were to come under
the control of COMAIR New Georgia, which would control all di-
rect air support of ground operations in the Central Solomons. Four
air liaison parties were assigned to link ground and air forces. There
were two parties on Rendova and one each on Segi and Wickham.
Each party was made up of an air liaison officer and two radio men,
Fighter Command in World War II
whose responsibility it was to recommend to the local ground unit
commander the suitability of the target and what amount of air power
would be required for an air attack. COMAIR New Georgia would
approve, disapprove, or modify the plan. Forward area fighter con-
trol was under the control of two COMAIR New Georgia fighter
director groups. At the start of New Georgia operations Group 2
from the Navy's Argus 11 was to be stationed on a destroyer until it
was relieved by Group 1, after which it would move onto Rendova
to become a back-up fighter director group.
Operation "Chronicle" 30 June 1942, the Seizure
of Woodlark and Kiriwina Islands
The New Georgia operation was to be coordinated with MacArthur's
seizure of the Woodlark and Kiriwina Islands in the Coral Sea off
the southeastern end of New Guinea on 30 June, which was also D-
Day for the landings on Rendova. TF 7 under R.Adm. Daniel Barbey
was to land mixed American and Australian troops, and Kenney's
5AF was to attack targets in the Northern Solomons, ew Ireland,
and eastern New Britain areas to support the invasion. The land-
ings were unopposed, and airstrip construction was begun immedi-
ately. Woodlark construction progressed quickly, and on 14 July it
was operational with a 150 x 3,000-foot runway, and by 23 July the
first fighters arri ved. Kiriwina construction was slowed by rain and
the poor condition of the previously used construction equipment.
The strip was operational in late July, and on 18 August the first
5FC units arrived. In late May the 67FS had been sent on detached
duty to the 5FC and had flown from New Caledonia to Espiritu, to
Guadalcanal, and then to Milne Bay, New Guinea, arriving there
with 25 P-39 Ds and Ks. During its time at Milne Bay it had a large
number of operational accidents, as the 24 original aircraft were
reduced to 14 during 30 May to 24 June. On 23 July, 26 P-39s of
the 67
moved to muddy Woodlark Island after it had participated
in the unopposed landings there in late June. Their stay saw little
combat, but here, too, the 67
suffered above average operational
losses. On 17 August a P-38 temporarily based at Woodlark crashed
into parked P-39s and destroyed five and damaged two more. Two
days later 67
CO Maj. Hecht was killed while leading a simulated
strafing attack on a PT boat. Capt. Collins temporarily took over
the squadron, but was relieved by Lt.Col. John Wilson of the 5FC
on the 24
On 28 August Capt. Joseph Berkow shot down a twin-
engine Dinah east of Woodlark Island for the squadron's only vic-
tory during the Woodlark stay. Berkow won the $250 pot that was
The 17PRS continued to supply intelligence on Japanese air strength on their
air fields. (USAF via Lansdale)
put up for the first victory. By the end of August the squadron had
lost nine more aircraft, but had gained invaluable training and ex-
perience in scrambles and interceptions. The Japanese sent over
"Boresight Boris" on nighttime raids, but the bogey flew too high
and was never intercepted. From 13 May to 25 October the squad-
ron lost 21 of 40 aircraft and five men. No offensive air operations
were flown from Woodlark, as AIRSOLS commanders seemed to
lose interest in it as soon as it was completed.
The Japanese had 40,000 troops in the Solomons, of which
8,000 to 10,000 were on New Georgia, with about 3,000 of these in
the Munda area. The Japanese had the advantage of shorter supply
lines from their Bougainville bases and had had time to construct
strong defensive positions. On 26 June COMSOPAC intelligence,
aided by the 17PRS, estimated that there were 380 enemy aircraft
in New Britain and the Solomons: 190 fighters; 121 Betty bomb-
ers; 23 Val dive-bombers; 41 seaplanes; and five float biplanes.
The bulk of these aircraft were based at Rabaul (190 fighters and
Betty bombers), with Ballale basing 50 fighters and Bettys. There
were another 98 aircraft on New Guinea that could be flown in if
needed. The Japanese New Georgia/Bougainville area airfields were
located at Munda, Vila, Buka, Kahili, Ballale, and Kieta, along with
seaplane bases at Shortland-Faisi, Rekata Bay, and Soraken. New
Britain Island had fields at Lakunai (Rabaul), Keravat, Vanakanau,
The Japanese did not have many Aichi D3A2Vai
dive bombers in the Solomons. (Lambert via
Part Three, Chapter 12 - New Georgia Campaign, 21 June-26 August, Operation Toenails
Segi Point Airstrip.The Seabees began construction on the airstrip immedi-
ately after the Marines captured the area. It was completed in a record I I
days, despite I4 inches of rain falling during the time (USMC)
Rapopo, and Tobera. There was a large base at Kavieng on the north-
west end of New Ireland, plus the seaplane base at Rabaul.
COMAIRSOPAC had 455 combat aircraft available. In prepara-
tion for the invasion AAF heavy bombers attacked Buin, Kahili,
Ballale, and Poporang, USMC SBDs and TBFs hit Munda, Vila,
and Rekata Bay, andAAF medium bombers and Marine TBFs flew
low-altitude anti-shipping searches and attacks in the Slot.
Rendova landings: 30 June 1943
Halsey planned to land on Rendova and New Georgia simulta-
neously, but intelligence indicated that the Japanese might land on
Segi Point beforehand. On the night of 21/22 June Marine Raiders
and Army troops landed unopposed on Segi Point on the southeast-
ern tip of New Georgia. The next day a survey team of the 47
Seabees came ashore, followed by Acorn 7 (a well-trained and highly
qualified Seabee unit) and two 103
Infantry Companies that im-
mediately began the construction of an airstrip. Arecord 11 days of
rain totaling 14 inches slowed airstrip and road construction. The
soil in the area was clay, and the rains made it very difficult to work
A44FS P-40 aids the Rendova landings. (USAF)
in the resulting sticky quagmire, but the strip was cleared and graded,
two taxiways and several dispersal areas were built, AA defenses
established, and limited operations were able to commence. By
working day and night through the rain and almost continuous Japa-
nese air attacks the 3,300 x 150-foot runway was completed by 18
Early on 30 June the South Pacific Amphibious Force landed
Army troops and the 24
Seabee battalion on the north side of
Rendova Island, just across the narrow Blanche Channel from
Munda. Fighters had provided close cover for the Amphibious Force
when it leftKoli Point at 1630 on the 29
The invasion was shrouded
by darkness and heavy rain clouds that precluded Japanese or Ameri-
can air activity. Rendova landings were unopposed, and the Seabees
built roads and artillery positions to bombard Munda Point on
Bougainville Island, across the Blanche Channel. Landings were
also made that day at WickhamAnchorage on Vangunu Island, just
east of the southern end of New Georgia. The next night the Ma-
rines landed at Viru Harbor. The landings at Viru and Wickham
would protect Allied supply lines and provide staging areas for the
New Georgia operations.
Once the troops had landed the AAF was assigned to fly task
force directed CAP as part of a constant 32-plane patrol to protect
invasion shipping in Rendova Harbor and the troops and supplies
as they were moved onshore on 30 June. The routine of the "Rendova
Patrol" was to send 32 fighters over the landing area at 0700 and
maintain this number in relays until 1630, when 16 fighters remained
for the final half-hour of patrol. Each new patrol would relieve the
one on station by visual contact. Once on station the fighters or-
bited "Vega," the Rendova radar station, in a ten-mile circle stacked
at various altitudes, with flights exchanging positions to conserve
oxygen. To maintain this 32-plane patrol 96 fighters were required,
which left 80 to 100 aircraft available for other duties. The Rendova
Patrol alleviated the situation somewhat by providing air cover for
SBD and TBF attacks on Munda and nearby Vila. The long dis-
tance from Rendova to the airstrips on the Russells (120 miles) and
to Guadalcanal (180 miles) made escort relays more difficult, espe-
cially in periods of bad weather. During the period there was chronic
bad weather, and Harmon's heavy bombers had to postpone their
bombing to neutralize the airstrips on Bougainville. The weather
over the Rabaul airstrips was also poor, and there was no photo
recon during the first week of the invasion. Kenney was only able
to send a few 5AF bombing missions up from New Guinea, and
there was not one 13AF heavy bomber over the area until 4 July.
When the weather cleared there were not enough Allied fighters
available for bomber escort due to maintaining the Rendova Patrol.
If the weather had been better the Bougainville airstrips could have
been neutralized. Despite the poor weather, at D+9 the score would
be 190 Japanese lost for the cost of 32 Allied aircraft.
As expected, the Japanese responded to the American offen-
sive at Redova with a huge air offensive. At 064816 fighters of the
first Rendova Patrol were overhead, under the control of Argus 11,
which was located on a destroyer. This was the first fighter director
operation of its kind and needed to be improvised, as conditions
demanded. The Navy controllers wanted to relocate Argus and make
their radar interceptions at least five miles out from the destroyer
Fighter Command in World War II
screen so that the incoming Japanese aircraft could not sneak in
behind the nearby mountains out of radar detection. That morning
there was three to five cloud layers limiting visibility, and so the 32
plane CAP was stacked 16 at 10,000 feet, eight at 15,000 to 20,000
feet, and the remaining eight at 5,000 feet.
The first wave of Zeros came down from Rabaul at 0925 and
was met by the Marine CAP flown by 16 F4Us and 16 F4Fs of
VMF-121. The Marines shot down 16 Zeros with four probables.
Things were quiet for the next four hours as the transports finished
unloading and were about to return to Guadalcanal. The next wave
of attackers (torpedo-can'ying Bettys escorted by Zeros) came down
at 1435 and attacked the amphibious force shipping. The Bettys
circled, trying to hide against the landmass, and then dove in at
high speed and low altitude to drop their torpedoes at 1,500-foot
range. VMF-221 was on CAP and decimated the formation, with
14 Bettys destroyed, six probables, and one damaged, and four Zeros
destroyed, four probables, and one damaged. The Japanese did suc-
ceed in torpedoing and damaging the transport McCawley, the in-
vasion flagship that was later mistakenly sunk by U.S. Navy PT
boats, which put nine torpedoes in her. A torpedo hit the destroyer
Farenholt but it was a dud. VMF-122 came onto the scene near the
end of the combat and claimed three Zeros destroyed and two
probables, along with three Bettys downed. VMF-213 also joined
in the fray and added II Zeros and one probable, with ILt. Wilbur
Thomas getting his first four victories ofthe 18 1/2 he would score
during the war. The next wave of Bettys escorted by Zeros arrived
over the MundalLambeti Plantation area at 1600 and was met by
Navy F4Fs ofVF-21 that had been land-based on Guadalcanal since
May. Lt.Cdr. Charles "Whitey" Ostrum's F4Fs butchered 12 Bettys
(two probables) and 17 Zeros (one probable), losing four Wildcats.
At 1715 over 30 Rufes, Daves, and Vals attacked and were con-
tested by 16 44FS PAOs (some flown by 70FS pilots). Eleven float
planes were downed that day for the loss of one PAO (lLt. Lucien
Shuler ran out of fuel and ditched off southern New Georgia and
was picked up by destroyer and returned to Guadalcanal). ILt. Jack
Bade destroyed a float plane to become an ace, and Capt. Harry
Walters OOFS) downed three more. Other victorious pilots were
Lt. Cotesworth Head with 1.5 (lLt. Robert Krohn shared Head's
other half victory), 2Lt. Carl Hay, ILts. Joseph Lesicka and Bruce
Macklin with one each, and Captains John Voss and Wade Harper
OOFS) with one each. After a half hour the 44
was joined by VMF-
213, which added nine more float planes. Total air victories for the
day were a record 101: the 11 by the 44FS PAOs; 58 by F4Us; 30
by F4Fs; and two by TBFs for a loss of 14 aircraft and seven pilots.
339FS pilot Lt. William Rankin was killed when his P-38 crashed
on take offfrom Fighter Two. To avoid taxiing, the 68FS decided to
wait on the opposite end of the runway until four flights of P-38s
took off. This was made necessary, because the P-39 had a bad
reputation for overheating during even short taxi times. The pilots
got out of their hot cockpits and sat on the wings of their aircraft,
watching the P-38s. Rankin's P-38 had some kind of problem on
takeoff and rolled over at liftoff, crashing into the P-39s and killing
William Fiedler, America's only P-39 ace.
COMAIR New Georgia air controllers newly landed on
Rendova had problems establishing themselves on the island, as
the heavy rains that had made the area a sea of mud. A radio truck
equipped with a SCR-299 set made its first contact with Guadalcanal
at 1500. Group I fighter director station had put its SCR-602 25-
mile range radar set in place in anticipation of taking over for the
Argus II fighter director aboard a destroyer that was scheduled to
On I July at 102012 Vals and 18 Zeros returned to attack ship-
ping. They were met by eight P-40s of the 44FS, eight No.14 Squad-
ron New Zealand P-40s, and a mixed bag of eight Navy F4Fs from
VF-21, VF-27, and VF-28 land-based on Guadalcanal. VF-28 served
off the Chenago in June and July and claimed 10 vict9ries under
Lt.Cdr. J.1. Bandy. VF-21 came to Guadalcanal in May and contin-
ued to fly there into July under Lt.Cdr. Charles "Whitey" Ostrum,
claiming 27 more victories (one ace, Lt. Ross Torkelson, KIA7/22/
43, with six victories) after their 30-victory day on 30 June. VF-27
operated from Guadalcanal from March to July, except for a short
stint aboard the
Suwannee in June. They would score six victories in their April
deployment and six more in July under CO Lt.Cdr. J.T. Fitzpatrick.
Capt. Robert Westbrook led the 44
's first flight of IUs.
Magnus Francis, James Parker, and Carl Newlander, and the sec-
ond flight consisted of ILts. Elmer Wheadon (flight leader), Charles
Sacket, Douglas Currey, and Robert Holman. The second flight was
on patrol at 5,000 feet covering the shipping in Rendova Harbor,
while Westbrook's flight was at 16,500 feet. Westbrook tally-hoed
10 to 12 Val dive-bombers and about IS Zero escorts coming in at
21,000 feet off the west coast of Rendova Island. The flight dropped
its belly tanks and quickly climbed, and as it closed, the Vals dove
and Westbrook warned Wheadon's flight below. As they approached
the bombers Westbrook's cockpit fogged over and he overshot the
I Lt. Elmer "Doc" Wheadon points out his five, ace-in-a-day victories as his
contribution to the 44FS scoreboard. (Wheadon)
Part Three, Chapter 12 - New Georgia Campaign, 21 June-26 August, Operation Toenails
enemy formation. He then pulled up in a wing over and tried to
wipe off the windscreen and canopy. Once he cleared away the
mist he saw the bombers below, but all were either in flames or
engaged by a PAO. Westbrook's wingman, James Parker, had his
Allison engine fail, and he was forced to bailout.
As Westbrook called his tally-ho Wheadon saw a formation of
about ten dive-bombers at 12 o'clock and 7,000 feet peeling off to
attack shipping. After they had dropped their bombs at low altitude
the P-40s caught the Vals from behind. lLt. Wheadon's flight got
behind a string of nine Vals. Wheadon sighted the No.3 Val and
fired for victory No.1. He turned continuously to the right and blew
up his second victim just above the water. He climbed slightly to
the left and joined a PAO and F4F that were chasing the scattered
Vals. A Val pulled up directly in front of Wheadon at 45-degrees,
and he downed it with a long burst for victory No.3. He then turned
right and saw another Val turning away from a F4F, firing at it from
very long range. As the Val passed by Wheadon hit the length of its
fuselage with his .50 calibers for another shoot down. Wheadon
heard calls from the Westbrook flight on his radio that there were
Zeros above, and he joined the fight and expended his ammunition,
getting one for his fifth victory of the day. Two weeks after Murray
Shubin had accomplished the feat Wheadon had become the sec-
ond ace-in-a-day for the 13FC. Wheadon left the fight but was fired
on from long range and quickly headed for a nearby rain squall
behind three fleeing Wildcats and another P-40. Wheadon hastily
I Lt. Magnus Francis scored 3.5 victories in the battle, but ended the day by
bailing out and being picked up by a PBY (Smith)
maneuvered by rotating the stick with both hands and kicking the
rudders from side to side. He almost stalled and fell off on a wing
as he entered into the protection of the clouds. After the Vals dropped
their bombs, Sacket closed from behind and burned one Val and
was closing on a second when Currey closed in front of him and
exploded it. Sacket saw another Val heading off toward Munda and
chased after him. He had a 1,000 foot altitude advantage and easily
closed and fired 200 rounds in two bursts into the Val, causing fires
in both wing roots, and the stricken bomber glided into the ocean.
Sacket was only 180 feet off the water and began to climb when he
was attacked by a Zero at about 1,500 feet. Sacket managed to slip
and skid away, but at 4,000 feet he pushed over and a Zero ap-
peared directly in front of him. Sacket fired at only 50 yards and
couldn't miss hitting the Jap's wings and fuselage. The enemy fighter
fell off into a 45-degree dive into the ocean for his third victory of
the day. Sacket joined Wheadon, and the two PAOs scissored to
discouraged several Zero attacks before they started their return to
While Westbrook was clearing his windshield, lLt. Magnus
Francis rolled over and dove to attack; he got on the tail of a Val
and fired at 20 degrees and 150 yards, causing it to catch fire and
explode. Rolling out of this attack, Francis got on the tail of a Hap
fighter and exploded it for his second quick victory of the day.
Francis rejoined with Lt. Newlander, and they turned back into the
dive-bomber attack. Francis attacked a dive-bomber, making a 180,
and got a long burst from about 200 yards and 25 degrees deflec-
tion. A F4F was making a firing run at the same Val from the oppo-
site side, and Francis split the victory with the Navy pilot. Francis
rejoined Newlander, who was on the tail of a Zero, and Newlander
flamed it. Soon Newlander was attacked from above and had his
left elevator shot up. A Zero appeared in front of Francis, and he
took a snap shot, causing some damage, and then continued to fol-
low Newlander down, both being chased by Zeros from behind and
above. They evaded the Zeros, but Newlander was unable to climb
in his damaged fighter and Francis stayed with him, chasing Zeros
away for the next five to ten minutes. A Zero got on Francis' tail,
but he was too low to do anything to evade. The too eager enemy
pilot overshot and turned back into Francis, and the two fighters
closed head-on. Francis got in two bursts at 250 yards and the Zero
began to smoke and then rolled over on his back and crashed into
the water. Francis returned to protect Newlander, and five minutes
later was hit by a cannon shell that exploded against his cockpit
armor plate. His rudder cables were destroyed, and shrapnel cut his
left eye and bruised his j aw and face, and the concussion caused his
nose to bleed. The Zero continued his attack and got small caliber
machine bullet hits that blew up the PAO's ammunition box. Francis
was only 500 feet off the water and flying at 180mph and thought
he had enough speed to pull up to 800 feet to bailout, but was
unable to do so. He then rolled the fatally damaged aircraft over to
one side and rolled out of the cockpit and bounced out off the wing
and immediately pulled the ripcord. The Zero that had been attack-
ing Newlander came in and strafed Francis, putting holes in his
chute. As the Zero was coming around to strafe him again a Navy
F4F appeared and shot it down. When Francis was floating down,
only 100 feet above the water a second Zero tried to strafe him but
Fighter Command in World War Il
was chased off. He released his chute when he was about 20 feet
off the water, and it landed about 75-100 feet away. Since it con-
tained his raft and survival gear he swam toward it. As he swam he
was strafed from behind by a Zero and ducked under the water to
escape. When he surfaced the Wildcats again had chased away his
tormentors. The three and a half victories that day would be his last
and leave Francis one half victory short of becoming an ace.
Once he had cleared his windshield Westbrook began looking
for his wingman, James Parker, but came upon a Zero and shot it
down. He joined a F4F and dove to attack another Zero without
getting any hits. After he pulled up and leveled off he attacked an-
other Zero head-on, taking it away from a F4F that was making an
attack on it. Gaining his seventh victory, Westbrook joined Sacket
and Wheadon and returned to base, despairing that he had lost all
three pilots of his flight.
Francis had landed about four miles off shore and started swim-
ming, but when he got to within two miles of shore strong winds
and heavy rain fell for an hour, pushing him to six miles off shore.
He continued a futile swim for about an hour and half when his
Mae West life vest began to lose pressure. After all his exertion
Francis was too weak to even reinflate it, but fortunately at the
same time a PBY Dumbo found him. It landed and taxied in the
rough seas and returned him to Florida Island. When he returned
Francis reported that just before he was shot down he had seen
Newlander's crippled fighter losing altitude with its rudders and
elevators shot away. Newlander was listed as MIA. Parker returned
to base after being picked up by a destroyer. The 44
claimed 11.5
Zeros and four Vals for the loss of three P-40s (Parker, Francis, and
Newlander) and one pilot (Newlander). The RNZAF P-40s claimed
seven Zeros, and the USN four Vals, a Zero, and three probables.
The Japanese dive-bombers scored no hits on Rendova shipping.
On the 2
the Japanese finally had some success against the
Rendova landings. Allied CAP had been directed by to re-
turn to Guadalcanal due to worsening weather that was closing the
airstrips there. At the same time Rendova SCR-602 radar went down
for ten minutes for generator maintenance. Five minutes later, at
1330, 18-25 Bettys with a Zero escort sneaked in, hidden by a cloud
bank and a hill, and dropped 50 bombs on the LSTs that were un-
loading on the beaches. The raid caused the heaviest casualties of
anyone raid in the South Pacific, killing 59 and wounding 77 with-
out any loss to the attackers. That afternoon, at 1420 the Japanese
tried to repeat the attack with 50 Zeros, but they were intercepted
by two flights of Marine VMF-12l F4Us. The Corsairs shot down
six of the escorting Zeros, losing three of their own, but two pilots
were rescued.
21 June - 5 July 1943

[L[VAnOIl$ IN '[[T
o 1000 ZOOO sooo .toNOA'OYE

Map 7 New Georgia Landings.
Part Three, Chapter 12 - New Georgia Campaign, 21 June-26 August, Operation Toenails
New Georgia Landings, 3 July 1943
On 3 July 43
Division Army troops from Rendova crossed over
the narrow channel to Zarana Beach on New Georgia, six miles
east of Munda. On 4/5 July Marine and Army troops landed at Rice
Anchorage on the opposite side of New Georgia, across from Vila,
to begin an advance across the island toward Munda. All ground
forces were in position to converge on Munda airfield, but it would
not be captured until 4 August. The Japanese reacted quickly to the
invasion, as they sent 40 Zeros over Rendova on a fighter sweep.
They were intercepted by 16 339FS P-38s that were patrolling over
Rendova in two flights of eight led by 2Lt. George Chandler and
ILl. James Hoyle. Chandler's flight was orbiting on station at 15,000
feet and was ordered to climb to 25,000 feet. As they climbed they
spotted 30 fighters diving out of the clouds. The Lightnings dropped
their belly tanks and attacked. Chandler and 2Lt. Thomas Walker,
both of whom would become future aces (five and six victories,
respectively), got their first victories of the war. Meanwhile, Hoyle's
flight was climbing for altitude and scissoring for mutual protec-
tion when they were bounced by about 40 Zeros. In the hit-and-run
dogfight Hoyle and lLt. Ray Bezner destroyed a Zero each, while
2Ll. Harry Andrews and ILl. Earl Conrad shared a victory credit.
Three pilots (Us. Richard Baker, Robert Sylvester, and Howard
Silvers) failed to return in weather that turned bad. Speculation was
2Lt. George Chandler got his first victory ofthe war on his way to becoming
a five victory ace. (Chandler)
that they probably became lost and ran out of gas, then crashed into
the sea.
On the 4
, at 1410 18 Betty (Sally?) bombers flew past Rendova
and then turned back to attack from the east, while their 20 Zero
escort turned south to attack the 24 Navy VF-2l and VF-28 fight-
ers on patrol ten miles south ofthe island. The American AAbatter-
ies were particularly effective, as they claimed 12 (overstated?) Japs
for the day. VF-2l claimed five Zeros and VF-28 two Zeros-an-
other bad day for the Japs.
On 5 July lLt. John Wood, lLt. Cotesworth Head, ILl. Theo
Jennings, and lLt. Douglas Currey each led a 44FS P-40 flight on a
patrol over Rendova. Wood's flight (IUs. Robert Krohn, Harold
Dreckman, and 2Lt. Ehrmann) was instructed to climb to 20,000
feet to investigate a reported bogie. As they got to 18,000 feet they
sighted 16 Zeros a few thousand feet below. The Zeros crossed
over and climbed for a head-on pass, and Wood ordered his flight
to go into a Lufbery defensive circle that temporarily confused the
Japanese, who circled above them. The short-turning Zeros always
had the advantage in attacking a Lufbery, and the P-40s had no
choice but to break away and stay in elements to keep the Japanese
from getting on anyone's tail for long. Wood's wingman, Ehrmann,
was on his first combat mission and lost Wood, and Dreckman's
wingman, Krohn, had his engine holed by a Zero and bailed out.
Lt. Earl Conrad ofthe 339FS poses with his P-38 "Sweet Lips." (Chandler)
Fighter Command in World War II
Wood took Dreckman as his new wingman and they played hide
and seek in the clouds, trying to sneak up on the Zeros. The two
caught up with the Zeros, but one turned into the two Americans
and made a head-on pass. The 12.50 calibers of the two Warhawks
shredded the Zero and the two shared the victory. A Zero came in
from below to get on Wood's tail. The Zero fired at very close range,
but Wood managed to skid away without damage. Theo Jennings
and Wallace Jennings climbed to intercept reported Bettys, but Ze-
ros made overhead passes on them and then flew into the sun.
Wallace Jennings caught one with a short burst as it was pulling up
and his lucky shot scored; the Zero flaming immediately. Mean-
while, in Currey's flight, IUs. Grant Smith and Charles Sacket were
climbing to 14,000 feet at 150mph with their belly tanks attached.
Sacket sighted four Zeros making a high speed attack below and
they dropped their tanks, half-rolled, and dove, pulling out at 10,000
feet. The Zeros turned into their attack, and a 20mm shell hit Smith's
rudder; he retreated back to base. Sacket pulled out of his dive and
had a Zero pull up from under and pass to his right. The surprised
Sacket forced a snap shot but missed, and followed Smith home.
Head's flight climbed, and at 10,000 feet saw Japs above that were
A Zero's 20mm shell hit I Lt. Grant Smith's rudder, and he retreated safely
back to base. (Smith)
diving on them to attack. Head's PAO was hit by a 20mm in the
wing root, and his flight joined Wood's flight in their Lutbery and
broke away from the confused Japs.
The weather cleared over southern New Britain on 5 July, and
nine B-24s finally flew up to Buin, but found no shipping and di-
verted to Ballale and Munda. This attacked marked the beginning
of day and night raids by B-17s and B-24s flying to Bougainville to
destroy installations and airfields there. B-25s of the 42BG also
initiated their low-level harassment of Japanese shipping and bomb-
ing and strafing on ground targets on Bougainville and
On the night of 5/6 July the New Georgia run of the Tokyo
Express, consisting of seven troop-carrying destroyers and three
regular destroyers under R.Adm. Teruo Akiyama, was intercepted
by four cruisers and four destroyers ofR.Adm. Walden Ainsworth's
Task Force 36.1 in Kula Gulf, between New Georgia and
Kolombangara. In the battle of Kula Gulf the Japanese lost Adm.
Akiyama, two destroyers definitely sunk, and one damaged for the
loss of the cruiser Helena. It was during this battle that future Presi-
dentJohn Kennedy's PT-109 was cut in two by a Japanese destroyer.
Looking north from Ballale Island Airfield toward Kahili Airfield (upper right).
Ballale was the major Japanese bomber base in the Bougainville area. (USAF
via Lansdale)
Part Three, Chapter 12 - New Georgia Campaign, 21 June-26 August, Operation Toenails
The next day the 339FS was assigned to fly high cover for B-
25s that were to find and sink the destroyer damaged the night be-
fore, and then to search for Helena
survivors and to provide air cover for any rescue operations. In
the pre-dawn four P-38s led by lLt. George Chandler and followed
by his wingman, 2Lt. Earl Conrad, took off, circled the field once,
and formed up to fly to a rendezvous with the Mitchells. As they
closed on the rendezvous point the weather was clear with unlim-
ited visibility, and the flight could see the B-25s bombing and then
strafing a grounded destroyer (Nagatsuki) at mast top level. The
Jap destroyer had been finished off by the time the P-38s arrived,
and the bombers headed for Vella Lavella to hunt for any enemy
shipping that might be foolhardy enough to be caught in the day-
light. As the B-25s neared Vella Lavella and turned toward Ameri-
can shipping and troops landing at Munda they saw three patrol
boats followed by Zeros headed toward the landing area. Intelli-
gence had briefed the pilots that any ships moving into this area
would be Japanese, and the Lightnings dove on the Zeros to protect
the B-25s that were diving on the patrol boats. Just as the B-25s
began their attack, Chandler identified the "Zeros" as Navy F4F
Wildcats and the patrol boats as USN PT Boats! At that time the
only communication was between similar service aircraft, so there
wasn't any way for the P-38s to contact the Navy F4Fs or PT Boats,
and the Mitchells sank one of the PT Boats and the PTs shot down
a bomber. The unfortunate episode was another occasional break-
down in intelligence and communications that led to friendly fire
By 7 July there were SCR-270 radar sets in operation on
Rendova, Segi Point, and Viru Harbor. These sets increased the
early warning range, but surrounding mountainous islands created
voids in the radar net. To compensate for these gaps fighter aircraft
were orbited over them for visual surveillance. The Japs continued
their long-termpractice of sending down single-plane or small flights
of aircraft at night. These aircraft would usually be sent more for
psychological harassment and stay out ofAArange, but often would
"Whislin' Britches" was probably the only P-400 to survive the Guadalcanal
Campaign. The name for the fighter came from an impeller blowout. It was
soon to be sent to the States for display, as its access panels are taped to
protect it from the elements. Pictured are 67FS officers (L-R): Maj. G. Phillips,
Maj. Allard, and Maj. A Price (USAF)
swoop in for one quick bomb run. By the 7
the Japanese had sent
down 11 raids in force, plus a few small attacks, and with the ex-
ception of 2 July the Rendova Patrol response had been extremely
successful, with 169 victories coupled with an additional 22 over
Japanese bases. On the morning of the 7
,\ 17 PRS photos showed
Buna and Kahili to base 71 Zeros, 16 Vals, and five Betty bombers,
and Ballale based 21 more'Bettys. COMAIRSOLS had problems
committing enough fighters to patrol the area, in addition to patrol-
ling Guadalcanal and the Russells, and the shipping running be-
tween New Georgia and Guadalcanal. To mount fighter sweeps on
Japanese airbases air protection over shipping was sacrificed, and
the Rendova Patrol was reduced from 32 to 24 aircraft.
On 9 July Harmon only had 29 P-38s in operation, and he and
Twining desperately wanted a P-38 group of 75 aircraft and a 35-
plane reserve by I September. Their argument to Gen. Arnold was
that to support amphibious landings in the Solomons and to neu-
tralize Japanese bases heavy bombers needed adequate fighter es-
cort to prevent exorbitant bomber losses. To accomplish this it was
necessary to provide air cover to as much as 210 miles ahead of the
existing airfields, and only the long-range Lightnings could pro-
vide this. From 1 to 28 June an average of 58 AAF fighters based
on Guadalcanal had flown nearly 3,000 hours with a loss (combat
and operational) of nine aircraft, during which time they had de-
stroyed 60 Japanese aircraft. In the eight days of the New Georgia
operation (29 June to 6 July), an average of 76 fighters had flown
just over 2,500 hours and lost 15 aircraft for the destruction of 27.5
Japanese aircraft. The 27.5 total, while low in contrast to the 169
total Japanese losses (to all services) for the period, were attribut-
able to P-38s flying high cover and bomber escort missions that
generally kept them out of combat. Also, the AAF P-38s flew local
defense over Guadalcanal and the Russells, which were now sel-
dom attacked. Arnold had allocated most of his P-38s and F-5s to
the North African Theater, but informed Harmon that 17 were be-
ing prepared for immediate shipment, along with 30 more prom-
ised for the July shipment.
P-39Q of the 67FS at Segi Point in mid-December 1943. P-39s had a high
accident rate on Segi and were replaced by Marine and Navy carrier-type
aircraft that were more capable of short landings and take offs. The P-39
name appears to be "Vivionny." (USAF)
Fighter Command in World War II
On 9 July the 43
Division began its advance on Munda when
it opened its attack along the Barike River against 4,000 Japanese
troops. The Japanese had short supply lines and strong, well-con-
cealed, mutually supporting defensive positions that were manned
by well-equipped, well-fed troops who were willing to die for their
Emperor. During the Guadalcanal ground campaign the jungles were
divided by high ridges separated by ravines, rivers, and streams,
and grassy open areas that allowed the PAOO/39s an opportunity to
identify a target through landmarks and allowed some safety bound-
aries from friendly troops. The New Georgian terrain was the Japa-
nese' greatest ally, as the very dense jungle covered the low inter-
secting ridges, leaving no landmarks. Maneuver and mutual sup-
port on land was impossible and equalized the battle for the Japa-
nese, who were inferior in number and equipment. Artillery and air
support were handicapped by the impenetrable jungle in any bid to
cooperate with the slow and cautiously advancing troops. Direct
air support was under the operational control of COMAIR New
Georgia, which established air liaison parties with the infantry.
Because neither air liaison units on the ground nor observers in
spotter planes were able to locate enemy positions it soon was de-
termined that dependable close air support was impracticable, as
the dense jungle made the location of an enemy target impossible.
Friendly advancing troops only located a target when they were too
close to it for safe air support to come down. When the daily ad-
vance was measured at 500 to 1,000 feet it was not feasible to fall
back to allow air support to do its job safely. The lack of reliable
maps was another problem. Smoke shells for target marking were
used with some success, but undependable ground to air radio com-
munication often interfered. The two-prong advance toward the
Munda airfield was slow, and Japanese resistance was heavier than
predicted. On the 13
the impatient Halsey put Harmon in charge
of ground operations. Harmon went to New Georgia, and on the
relieved Maj.Gen. John Hester from command of the ground
forces and appointed Maj.Gen. Oscar Griswold.
The Segi Airfield was only 40 miles from Munda and was in-
tended to relieve fighters from flying the long distance from
Guadalcanal and the Russells. Unfortunately, the length of the pen-
insula it was built on limited the length of the runway and was too
short for the P-39s intended to land there. It also was slippery when
it was wet, which was often, and its approaches were obstructed by
wooded hills. The accident rate at Segi was high, and the P-39s had
to be replaced by Marine and Navy carrier-type aircraft that were
more capable of short landings and take offs. Segi did offer dam-
aged and fuel-starved AAF aircraft a place to land, rather than try-
ing to fly another 80 miles east to the Russells. The fighters flying
from Segi escorted American bombers and scrambled to intercept
the Japanese bombers on their way to attack American infantry and
the anchorage at Rendova.
From 7 to 11 July the weather interfered with operations on
both sides, but the Japanese continued to fly, and the American
CAPs intercepted daily raids of Betty bombers escorted by Zeros.
On the 7
the Marine VMFs knocked down ten Zeros and six Bettys
in three raids: three Zeros by VMF-121 at noon; three Zeros by
VMF-221 at 1350; and six Bettys and four Zeros by VMF-122 at
1430. On 9 July Lt. Robert Butler of the 68FS shot down a Zero on
Rendova Patrol. On 11 July the Marines shot down 12 Japanese
(VMF-221 four Zeros and three Bettys, and five Zeros by VMF-
213) in an afternoon raid. 339FS pilots were flying eight P-39s of
the 68FS on a scheduled patrol over Rendova Harbor when they
were directed by the fighter controller to fly north over Rice An-
chorage and Kula Gulf. At 1450 at 13,000 feet they were bounced
by 20 Zeros. The timid Zeros made only one pass and high-tailed it
home. lLt. Edward Whitman shot down a Zero, but was hit and
forced to bailout. Whitman's parachute hung up in ajungle tree on
New Georgia, and while climbing down he fell and broke his arm.
Using his compass he began to trek toward Kula Gulf, evading Japa-
nese patrols by ducking into the heavy jungle. Two days later he
joined with two survivors of a Navy destroyer that had been sunk
during the Battle of Kula Gulf on the night of 5/6 July. The three
evaders found a life raft and paddled out on Kula Gulf, where a
Marine F4U sighted them and pointed them toward U.S. lines. A
few hours later they beached and were rescued by members of the
1st Marine Raider Battalion who were fighting nearby.
The initial landings on New Georgia were helped immeasur-
ably by close air support. Soon the infantry's push inland through
the thick jungles of northern New Georgia to take Munda Airfield
became a wearing and costly process. The dense jungle cover made
it impossible for fighters to find enemy targets for close air support
and interdiction missions. Bombers were called in to carpet bomb
large areas to take out any possible targets in the path of the ad-
vancing infantry. The Japanese continued to send down bombers
and fighters to interdict the American Navy and Army from mak-
ing more inroads in the north and central Solomons. Many 13FC
fighter missjons in July were bomber escort, close support, and
Guadalcanal CAP, and the fighter pilots did not have an opportu-
nity to run up their victory totals.
On 12 July the 44FS flew Rendova Patrol and engaged ten
Zeros at 10,000 feet. The Japanese came in at 7,000 feet and climbed
to meet the eight P-40s. Three pilots of the 44FS claimed a Zero
each: Capt. Frank Gaunt; lLt. Joseph Lesicka; and FlO Andrew
Murray. Over New Georgia, 2Lt. William Ehrenmann had a 20mm
shell explode in his cockpit, wounding him in the leg. Ehrenmann
crash-landed and spent two days and a night on a log floating down
a stream that flowed through Japanese occupied territory. Despite
Combat photo taken from Kokorana Island of Japanese bombers attacking
Munda Airfield in the early morning of I 2 July 1943. (US Army)
Part Three, Chapter 12 - New Georgia Campaign, 21 June-26 August, Operation Toenails
his serious wounds he made it to the American-held beachhead and
was returned by air to Tulagi for medical care, then evacuated to
the States.
The Rendova patrol played an important part in the successful
unloading of almost 29,000 troops and personnel, along with over
30,000 tons of food, fuel, ammunition, and other supplies. USN
Combat Narratives X: Southeast Area Naval Operations, Part 2
"The success of the Rendova Patrol in warding off Japanese
attacks is attested by the fact that during the entire operation (July-
author) only three hits were registered on our ships by bombing
and torpedo plane attacks and only one horizontal bombing attack
reached the objective during daylight hours."
During the night of 12/13 July, continuing to anticipate that
Kolombangara was to be invaded, the Japanese tried to run the To-
kyo Express from Rabaul to supply their besieged troops in the
ILt. Harold Dreckman. (Smith)
Vila-Stanmore area. The Japanese sent five destroyers and four
destroyer transports under R.Adm. Shunji Izaki in his flagship, the
old light cruiser Jintsu, which VAdm. Tanaka had used in the first
Express runs. R.Adm. Walden Ainsworth led Task Force 36.1, made
up of four cruisers and ten destroyers, up from Tulagi to meet Izaki.
Again the Navy took heavy losses, as a destroyer was sunk and the
cruisers St. Louis, Honolulu, and HMNZS Leander were heavily
damaged. The Japanese lost the Jintsu, and their destroyers were
prevented from supplying Kolombangara. The Japanese sent down
Zeros that were intercepted by a US patrol from VF-2I and VF-
28, which shot down eight enemy fighters. The Tokyo Express re-
inforcement attempts of 5/6, and now on 12/13 July, were costly to
Halsey, but both attempts were prevented from landing supplies.
The Japanese could no longer use Kula Gulf to reinforce Munda
and Vila, and now they would have to send ships and barges all the
way around Vella Lavella to the west side of Kolombangara.
The P-39s of the 68FS were particularly adept at barge hunt-
ing. ILl. Richard Kent described barge hunting tactics:
I Lt. joseph Lesicka was the third I 3FC ace-in-a-day after Murray Shubin (16
june) and ElmerWheadon (I july). Many reports credit a Marine F4U with
sharing Lesicka's Betty victory, but later he was awarded full credit. (USAF)
Fighter Command in World War II
"In aerial combat I never used the cannon because its trajec-
tory was much different from that of the six machine guns. I used
the cannon while strafing ships or enemy land positions. It was
highly effective against Japanese landing craft. One well-aimed
cannon shot would not sink the landing craft, but would clear the
craft of soldiers because of the landing craft construction-a welded,
round-bottom job similar to a bathtub. The ricochet effect of the
cannon was devastating." ("Flying the P-39 Airacobra, " What Were
They Like to Fly? Vol. 1)
On 14 July seven 390BS B-25Cs escorted by 18 PAOs sank
one ship and set fire to a cargo ship off Kolombangara. Two 339FS
pilots (Us. Morris Pace and Daniel Wolterding) flying P-39s were
MIA when they became separated from their flight while on CAP
over Rendova. On 15 July the Japanese sent down their largest air
attack since 16 June, as 27 Bettys escorted by 40-50 Zeros attacked
shipping and troops on western New Georgia. The 44FS sent up
two flights led by 1Lt. Frank Gaunt, but only seven P-40 pilots
entered the battle, as one pilot turned back with engine trouble. VF-
21 reported the Japanese formation over Kolombangara Island and
the 44FS climbed toward the area, and at 16,000 feet sighted the
bombers and Zeros at 1430 over Vella LaVella. Gaunt met two Ze-
ros and fired with no effect. 1Lt. Harold Dreckman moved in on
one Zero as it was at the top of a loop and cut it down. 2Lt. Richard
Wheeler was following Dreckman and flamed a Zero as it chan-
delled to the left. Another Zero was then attacked by 1Lt. Joseph
Lesicka, who describes his combat on this day:
"Took off with seven P-40s on Rendova Patrol from
Guadalcanal at approx. 1245. Arriving on station Vega base reported
a large number of enemy aircraft approaching. We were ordered to
20,000 feet, but at about 16,000 feet we saw the first enemy planes.
Made our contact. On my first pass I shot down a Zero, and it blew
up. Picked up a torpedo bomber (Kate -author), over ran on my
first pass, but had smoked it. I turned and picked him up again and
blew him up on my second run. Then I made a pass on a Betty
bomber and set his right engine on fire. A F4U also made a pass on
the bomber. I turned and made a second pass-blew his right wing
off and he went down. Then attacked two Zeros on the tail of a P-
40, setting both on fire, and they went into the drink. On the second
Zero I had only one gun firing, and he burned just as I was out of
Then stayed in combat, making passes at Zeros who would
turn and run, as they were scared of our six .50 cals. We finally flew
out of danger. Being short of fuel we had to land at the Russell
Islands to refuel and then back to the Canal. My plane received six
bullet holes." (Correspondence: Lesicka, 1986) The victory made
Lesicka the third 13FC ace-in-a-day after Murray Shubin (16 June)
and Elmer Wheadon (1 July). Many reports credit the Marine F4U
with sharing Lesicka's Betty victory, but later he was awarded full
ILt. Frank Gaunt looked over toward his wingman, FlO An-
drew Murray, and saw a Zero on his tail. Gaunt quickly turned and
shot it down, but too late to save Murray, who went down on fire.
The battle turned into a 20 minute running dogfight Iowan the
water along the Giso coast, involving six P-40s and a lone Marine
F4U, all mutually protecting one another. 2Lt. Robert Robb closed
ana Zero and shot it down. Two Zeros came out of the clouds, and
2Lt. Richard Wheeler pulled up and hit one in the belly for his
second victory. In a head-on pass Gaunt shot a Zero off the tail of a
squadron PAO, but almost collided with the Jap as he fired. An-
other Zero then dove and flew in front of Gaunt, who fired and sent
it into the sea for victory number three for the day to make him an
ace with six victories. 1Lt.Carl Hay shot down a Zero but wasted
most of his ammunition, as his gun camera switch malfunctioned
and fired his guns instead. Hay's P-40 was hit, but he continued
flying toward home. Gaunt and the other PAOs were eitper low or
out of ammunition and flying at full throttle on the water, chased by
two Zeros making high side rear passes. The P-40s under attack
would go into a skid, while the others would sweep back and forth
to chase off the Zeros. Wheeler was out of ammunition and only SO
feet above the water after his second victory, and was desperately
looking for PAOs to join and saw three about two or three miles
away as three Zeros were closing on him. Despite being out of
ammunition, 2Lt. Robb flew to Wheeler's aid and dove on the Ze-
ros, and his bluff drove them away. The PAOs continued this mu-
tual protection on the way home until the Japanese ran Iowan fuel
and turned back to base. The PAOs landed either at Segi Point, the
Russells, or Fighter Two as their fuel ran out. The Allies sent up 44
fighters that shot down 48 Japanese aircraft for the loss of three of
their own. Besides the 13 44FS victories, VMF-I22 shot down IS
(ten Zeros and five Bettys) and VMF-213 claimed 16 (ten Bettys
and six Zeros), while VF-21 shot down four Zeros.
The Japanese again used the Americans' lack of night fighter
capability to send aircraft, mostly float planes, over Rendova sev-
eral times a night. The Japanese planes would stay out of AArange
for several hours and then make a bombing run on the beachhead
ILt. Frank Gaunt shot down three Zeros for the day to make him an ace
with six total victories. (Gaunt)
Part Three, Chapter 12 - New Georgia Campaign, 21 June-26 August, Operation Toenails
6NFS scoreboard with a dangerous lady ofthe night gives the totals for both
P-70 and P-38 victories. (USAF)
before leaving. The troops below, already miserable in the humid
jungle and mud, lost hours of sleep waiting in their trenches. After
the withdrawal of their P-70s the 6NFS had no P-38s of their own
and had to rei y on other uni ts for the loan of the aircraft. The 6NFS
pilots had no P-38 time, and were checked out in the fighter after
only four hours. The first 6NFS kill occurred on 12 July when lLt.
Ralph Tuttle shot down a Betty over the Russell Islands. On the 15
the Japanese began nightly air patrols of three to five aircraft be-
tween eastern Choiseul and Visu Visu Point, and as far east as
Guadalcanal. The flights flew over Rendova and ew Georgia and
continued for the next several days to keep the troops there under
almost constant nightly Red Alerts. Japanese flights would show
up on radar, but they would flyaway without attacking. On the 17
the 6NFS sent up a P-38 from Fighter Two, and lLt. James Harrell
downed a Betty. Despite these occasional victories the Red Alerts
continued, as on the night of 19/20 July seven were sounded on
New Georgia.
AAF B-24s and the newly arrived B-25s, along with Marine
SBDs and TBFs, were increasing the tempo of their attacks after
the poor weather of the previous days had given the Japanese ship-
ping and bases to the northwest (Buin, Kahili, Ballale, and Buka) a
brief respite. On 17 July, at 0925, 71 SBDs and TBFs and seven B-
24s escorted by 114 fighters were to attack shipping in Kahili Har-
bor, on southern Bougainville, which was heavily defended by fight-
ers and AA. Ten P-38s of the 339FS, led by Maj. John Evans, pro-
vided high cover for the B-24s at 22,000 feet, while the P-40s flew
low cover. The Japanese sent up 40 fighters from Kahili and had
the altitude advantage when they dove to break up the bomber for-
mation. The 339
scored six Zeros, with 2Lt. Ben King getting two
and 2Lt. Glen Hart, Capt. Harry Jordon, lLt. Webster Kincaid, and
Capt. John McGinn one each. The Marines had a big day, with 41
victories in the morning missions over Kahili. VMF-213 got 12
Zeros and two float planes over Tonolei Harbor, VMF-121 got six
Zeros over Kahili Airfield, VMF-221 got five Zeros over Moila
Point, and VMF-122 and VMFcl12 each got 6.5 Zeros. USN VB-
11 claimed three Zeros over Kahili. The Japs lost 50 aircraft: 47
Zeros and three float planes. Five aircraft did not return, including
the P-38s of 2Lt. Benjamin King and ILt. James. King had shot a
Zero off the tail of Capt. Jordon, his element leader, and was then
shot down by two Zeros and was listed MIA for two months before
being rescued. King's cockpit had been hit, destroying the instru-
ment panel, armored glass windshield, and side windows. Hits were
scored on the wing roots, and two and a half feet of the left wing
was shot off. Both engines were hit, with a radiator cover and hous-
ing shot away. King dove away to momentary safety and was again
bounced by two Zeros that caused more damage before King found
refuge in a cloud. King's engines expired, and he opted to make a
water landing between the Shortlands and Treasury Island. After
pancaking in he scrambled out of his sinking Lightning, and as he
held onto the wing a Zero came in to strafe him, grazing his head
just above his right ear and cutting offhis helmet. With bullets spurt-
ing through the water around him, he hung on as the fighter sunk
25 feet. Finally, with his lungs bursting for air, he let go, and as he
surfaced he saw his inflated raft and the Zeros flying away. He
swam to the raft, and as he got in he was strafed again. He over-
turned the raft and swam away under water, holding his breath as
long as he could. When he surfaced he saw the Jap fighter flying
off and climbed back into his raft. After paddling for several days
he beached on Mono Island, in the Treasury Group. Here he met a
mission-educated native named John Heaven who spoke English.
The native took King to a nearby cave, where he was already hid-
ing three TBF crew of from the Japs. After waiting for six weeks,
King learned that the Allies had captured Vella Lavella, and he and
the TDF crew were given a boat and began paddling 50 miles to-
ward Vella Lavella. After six days in the boat a PBY Dumbo on
patrol picked them up.
The target for the day on 18 July was Kahili Airfield and Buin
Harbor, about 340 miles northwest of Guadalcanal. The largest es-
cort so far in the war (134 fighters) rendezvoused with 35 SBDs
and TBFs and 21 B-24s. Some of the fighters of the Rendova Patrol
had to be withdrawn to reach this escort figure. Three P-40 flights
from the 44FS led by Capt. Harry Walters (of the 70FS) and 1Lts.
(,Ij7lIUlOI:- ..l" : .':' 'L:... 'i"i"
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Fighter Command in World War II
Bruce Macklin and Lucien Shuler escorted the 21 B-24s. At 0930
15 Liberators bombed Kahili Airfield through limited visibility,
getting hits on the runway and revetments, and the other six set fire
to a large cargo ship at Buin. The SBDs and TBFs attacked ship-
ping in the harbor, sinking a cargo ship and damaging two destroy-
ers and a transport. About 30 Zeros in two groups made quick, un-
successful long-range passes on the bombers and disappeared be-
fore any P-40s could get in good shooting position. The Zeros
climbed away and were attacked by top cover Marine F4Us ofVMF-
213, who got eight, while Navy VF-27 got five and VF-26 got eight.
VF-26 had alternately flown off the Sangamon and Guadalcanal
during June and July, and was credited with 11 victories under
Lt.Cdr. John Curtis. The American losses that day were heavy: six
F4Fs; three F4Us; and a TBF (only one pilot was rescued).
Despite the heavy Japanese aircraft losses of the 17
and 18
reconnaissance by the 17PRS showed 70 Japanese planes on Kahili
the next day, and then 163 (109 on Kahili) on all Solomon airfields
on July 24
The photos also showed the possible construction of
an airstrip at Bonis Plantation, on the south side of Buka Passage,
and another at Tenekow Plantation, south of Numa Numa, on
Bougainville's east coast. On the 21st, 40-50 Zeros covered 15 dive-
bombers on an attack on shipping in Rendova. The Japanese timed
the attack to come at 1710, to take advantage of the departure of the
Rendova Patrol at 1700. The Japanese hit a LST but lost three es-
corts to VF-21, that had been moved to Segi Point airstrip in antici-
pation of a twilight attack.
AAF heavy bombers continued to have difficulty in hitting
enemy shipping, scoring only occasional lucky hits, but that was to
change. On 22 July reconnaissance discovered shipping off the south
end of Bougainville, and Strike Command sent out 18 TBFs, 16
SBDs, and seven B-24s covered by 120 fighters. The B-24s hit a
destroyer with a 500lb. bomb, and the SBDs and TBFs sank a sea-
plane tender. VF-21 F4Fs shot five Zeros but lost three Wildcats.
The raid marked the end of Buin as a safe haven for Japanese ship-
On 25 July the 44FS had two flights on patrol over Munda-
Rendova. The Japanese sent down 30-40 Val dive-bombers escorted
by about 30 Zeros at 0930. Capt. John Voss was leading a flight,
and as his patrol was near its end, he was notified that bogies were
approaching about 65 miles out. Voss remained on station, gained
altitude, and dove out of the sun on 12-15 Zeros east of Lambetti
Plantation. He and FlO John Cosgrove attacked a Zero and shared
a victory. Voss then flew off to attack two more Zeros and hit an-
other, but did not see it go down and was credited with a damaged.
He joined another P-40 at 5,000 feet near Munda and flew toward
Rendova. There they saw several Zeros flying in close formation,
except for one straggler, who Voss attacked from behind and emp-
tied his guns on for the victory. The 68FS P-39s flew a patrol in the
Munda-Rendova area and came upon some Zeros, and 1Lt. Ed-
ward Kobbeman and 2Lt. Howard Cleveland (of the 70FS) each
got a Zero. 2Lt. Bernard Fleming of the 339FS was flying for the
68FS as tail-end Charlie in a formation of eight P-38s that were
diving into an attack on Zeros over New Georgia. A Zero passed in
front of him and he fired at point blank range without apparent
effect. He followed the diving Zero and fired as it was about two
Kahili was a major Japanese base located on the southern end ofBougainvilie
Island and the object of constantAmerican air attacks. (Nakamura via Lansdale)
hundred yards above the ocean. His bullets hit the Zero's wing tanks
and it exploded as it hit the ocean. Suddenly one of Fleming's en-
gines cut out and caught fire. He was too low to bailout and tried to
use his diving speed to gain some altitude. As he tried to climb out
of the cockpit he was strafed by a Zero and was hit in the left leg.
When he bailed out he struck the tailboom of his fighter and broke
both legs. He was able to open his chute and was picked up by
natives, who took him to their village. The next day they carried
him on a litter to the American lines. On this day VF-21 claimed
eight Zeros for 57 victories over the Solomons.
On the 25
an AAF general took command of COMAIRSOLS
for the first time, as Gen. Twining took over from Adm. Mitscher.
Since its inception the 13AF was a training and administrative air
force that had to relinquish operational control over its aircraft in
the combat areas. The 13AF supplied men and aircraft to
COMAIRSOL, which had more than doubled its air strength from
the beginning of April from 235 to 539 aircraft, and the daily aver-
age of fighter strength increased from 108 in February to 281 in
July. Since the Rendova landings on 30 June, COMAIRSOLS' com-
bat totals were impressi ve, claiming 316 Japanese aircraft (63.5 for
the 13FC: 44FS: 41.5; 339FS 11; 70FS 5; 68FS 4; and two by the
6NFS) for the loss of 71 aircraft and 40 pilots (11 AAF)). As the
first AAF commander of Solomons air units, Twining's own staff
of 70 officers and 200 men accompanied him to COMAIRSOLS.
His Chief of Staff was Capt. Charles Cox (USN), his Strike Com-
mander was Col. David 0' eill (USMC), Bomber Command went
to Col. William Metheny (AAF), and Fighter Command to Brig.Gen.
Dean Strother (AAF). Brig.Gen. Ray Owens was left at Espiritu
Santo, as Deputy Air Force Commander of the 13AF. Both Metheny
(13BC) and Strother (13FC) retained their respective commands in
the 13AF. Maj. Paul Bechtel was transferred from fighter pilot du-
ties to Fighter Command of Operations (COMAIRSOLS) in July
and was in charge of intelligence, particularly from coast watchers.
Twining found his new command to be on the verge of exhaustion,
and the fighter force was the worst off. Twining's first step was to
withdraw the P-38s back to a training area and kept only a few as F-
5 photo recon aircraft. His plan was to build a new P-38 unit and
train pilots to handle the fighter properly, and to commit the unit to
combat by 1 September.
August 1943
During the final week of the ew Georgia campaign, the Japa-
nese sent small formations against shipping at Rendova that were
largely unproductive, except on I August, when a Val dive-bomber
hit a flotilla of moored PT boats. On 1 August 10 44FS P-40s es-
corted avy SBDs and TBFs on an afternoon raid to Kahili AF. On
the way back five of the P-40s ran low on gas and had to leave the
Navy bombers early. On their return the Warhawks were attacked
from behind by 25 to 30 Zeros at 1,500 feet over Giso Island. The
Zeros dove in three groups and shot up the P-40s. lLt. Lucien Shuler
described the mission:
"Being low on gas on the return trip from a strike on Kahili
airdrome with TBFs and SBDs, my flight and two more P-40s left
the formation south of Vella Lavella Island and headed for Segi
landing strip. We were attacked from the rear and above by 25-30
Zeros. Our altitude was about 1,500 feet, which was the bottom of
the clouds, and our airspeed was about 170mph. The Zeros shot
down Lt. (Ralph) Imberg on the first pass and crippled three other
planes. I scissored with Lt. (Harold) Dreckman and met a Zeke in a
head-on pass. Lt. (John) Price said he saw the Zero hit the water.
Lt. Ralph Imberg was shot down by Zeros. (Smith)
Lt. Kaspar Njus' plane was shot up badly, as he counted 27 holes in his aircraft
when he landed, but he escaped with minor injuries. (Smith)
Fighter Command in World War II
We continued scissoring to protect each other's tails and made
a running fight out of it. The Zeros continued to follow us a few
miles farther but soon left us. Lt. (Martell) Glommen had to make a
crash landing at Segi but was not hurt. Lt. Price was slightly in-
jured in the eye from a 20mm explosion. Lt. (Kaspar) Njus' plane
was shot up badly; he counted 27 holes in his aircraft when he landed,
and he had minor injuries. Lt. Price and myself landed safely at the
Russells." (Correspondence: Lucien and Barbara Shuler, April 1991)
During August the 339FS was nearly out of action, with only a
few P-38s serviceable, and the night fighters were flying these. On
1 August all 339
enlisted men were returned to New Caledonia,
and by 14 August all but six of the pilots were back there (those
pilots who remained flew P-39s with the 68FS). This was the first
time since its inception that the squadron's pilots and enlisted men
were together in one place. New pilots and enlisted men were ar-
riving from the States to bring the squadron up to the Table of Or-
ganizational strength. Experienced combat pilots were training the
new pilots, so when the squadron went back into combat its flight
and element leaders would be experienced pilots leading the newly
trained pilots. New Caledonia was not a safe haven, as on 6 July Lt.
Earl Wagoner was killed in a flying accident, and in mid-August
Lt. William Honaker was also killed in a flying accident. Bill Har-
ris again used his leave to recuperate. He was in Auckland during
July recovering from malaria and having 15 cysts removed from
his head. On 30 August Maj. Henry Lawrence became 339FS CO,
succeeding Maj. John Evans, who was assigned to the 347FG as its
XO. Lawrence brought with him a new batch of P-38 pilots trained
in Hawaii. The newly arrived pilots included: Anderson; Andrews;
Barker; Chapman; Fincher; Hart; Hoffman; Kincaid; King; Restifo;
Rutledge; Ryan; Seaman; Shank; Smith; Starmer; Studley; and
Walker. Lawrence lacked combat experience and instituted the two-
section system to take advantage of the experienced pilots in his
new command. He named Capt. Bill Harris to lead Section 1, and
on alternate days he or Capt. George Chandler was to be Section 2
leader. On 14 September, 347FG HQ ordered 35 pilots and 58 en-
listed men of the 339
to be attached to the 70FS of the 18FG for
bivouac and supplies when they returned to Guadalcanal. Lawrence,
like the previous 339
COs, Dale Brannon, John Mitchell, and John
Evans, proved to be a very able combat leader. Capt. George Chan-
dler gives credit to the capable Sunsetter COs:
ILt. Lucien Shulec (Author)
"Our commanding officers deserve the real credit for our record.
They trained us so that teamwork became instinctive and automatic.
Major Lawrence may not have any planes to his credit, but that
doesn't mean he couldn't have as many or more than any of us.
Instead, he relinquished a record of planes shot down to direct our
aerial movements. He was like a quarterback in football who never
carries the ball, but knows better than any other player what plays
to call to bring home the bacon. Major Lawrence was on practi-
cally every mission, flying right into combat with us, and he was
ILt., George Chandler (339FS) standing in the
cockpit of P-38G "Velma G," summer 1943.
Part Three, Chapter 13 - August 1943
always the center of the teamwork. We operated out from him like
the spokes around a hub, and we saved our bombers and shot down
a lot of the enemy." (Story of the 339
Fighter Squadron)
During this time 347'h Fighter Group Intelligence Officer Maj.
Coleman Wortham was the subject of 339FS pilots' radio conver-
sations. Wortham was fondly nicknamed "Belly Tank" due to his
rotund shape, and the pilot's conversations mentioned his nickname
and his intelligence duties. Several days later Radio Tokyo an-
nounced another exaggerated great Japanese aerial victory over the
Americans in the South Pacific with the ending comment: "Won-
der what 'Old Bell Tank' thinks of that?"
On 4 August the last fighter combat occurred over Munda. The
44FS scrambled nine PAOs to intercept two dozen Zeros over
Redova. ILt. Lucien Shuler was leading a flight at 12,000 feet and
met the Zeros, which dispersed as the Americans approached.
Shuler's flight peeled off behind the Zeros below them. Shuler de-
scribed the combat:
"I picked out one that had passed under us in a dive. I thought
at first he might be a dive-bomber, but later saw he was a Zero.
Firing a few bursts in the dive, I really got him as he pulled out. I let
him have another burst, and as I pulled out I saw him hit the beach
and explode.
Using my speed, I gained back my altitude and was back in the
fight. I leveled off and found a Zero in my sights. Along burst from
my guns caused him to flame and explode in mid-air.
Turning to the left, I found myself in a similar position as be-
fore; another Zero appeared at close range. I opened fire and saw
my tracers converging into the Nip.
His wings began to rock and he fell off into a vertical roll. I
followed him down, firing all the way. The plane, blazing from the
cockpit, came out of the roll and went into a slight dive. The canopy
came off and the pilot stood up with one leg on the wing and the
other inside the plane. Pulling the parachute ripcord before he left
the plane, both plane and chute went down in flames.
As I turned into the fourth Zero that passed about 500 feet
above me; I closed in and opened fire. Although I seemed to have
been getting hits, the Zero didn't seem to want to burn, but I contin-
ued firing until his left wing and cockpit flamed."
Shuler rejoined other P-40s and saw a Marine F4U rocket past,
followed by three other aircraft. He thought they were all Corsairs,
but focusing he saw the others were Zeros and got on the tail of the
last Zero and fired, but only two of his guns had ammunition, and
they stopped in the middle of the burst. The lucky Zero broke off,
as did the other Jap chasing the Marine fighter. Shuler joined the
Marine flight to return to Segi as an ace with six total victories. In
his post mission debriefing Shuler commented:
"The quality of the Jap pilots was the poorest of any I had
encountered. In many instances they took no evasive action under
fire, and they flew as though completely bewildered. All their passes
were made singly with no semblance of any formation. Their groups
scattered in all directions when the PAOs attacked." (Correspon-
dence: Lucien and Barbara Shuler, April 1991)
Some readers may be offended that Shuler would fire on the
helpless Japanese pilot who was trying to escape his doomed fighter,
but it was routine for the Japanese to fire on American airman float-
ing helplessly in parachutes. After the war the Japanese attributed
this practice to their Bushido warrior code that revered the cult of
death. The code did not allow the wan-ior to give clemency to an
enemy who decided to save his own life and forsake an honorable
and sacred death. However, it is difficult to determine the extent of
the influence of this wan-ior code on a Japanese pilot's actions as
opposed to the circumstance and frustration of the battle when he
had seen the hon-ific losses suffered by his squadron at the hands of
the Americans. Sam Howie (339FS):
"There was a Jap pilot who crash-landed near Guadalcanal and
was taken prisoner. We treated him well and even let him sit in a P-
38. But he was closely guarded by MPs, not because he would do
anything, but because a paddlefoot (ground crew -author) who hadn't
seen much combat might try to kill him."
That day lLt. Cotesworth Head led a flight, but as they climbed
to 25,000 feet his wingman and his element leader's wingman had
to return to base. As Head and element leader, ILt. Robert Robb,
joined and climbed they saw five Zeros at 2,000 feet above. AZero
attacked first and holed Robb's fighter, and he reacted by evading
with a controlled spin. Head followed Robb down to 4,000 feet and
was joined by ILt. Grant Smith's third flight. The formation climbed
and immediately came upon 20 Zeros flying aimlessly between
6,000 and 12,000 feet. One Zero carelessly flew in front of Head,
and he had an easy shot and flamed it to become an ace with his
fifth victory. Head continued to attack the unorganized Japanese
but without result, as they ran from the combat. The PAOs reformed
over Rendova and came upon 20 more Zeros milling around below
at 6-7,000 feet, evidently strafing American troops on Munda. The
PAOs dove, and Lt. Robb put two bursts into a hardy Zero that
finally broke into flames with his third burst. Head fired on several
Munda Field, New Georgia, shortly after its capture in August 1943. In the
foreground is a Zeke 32 off the carrier Hiya. (USN)
Fighter Command in World War II
Setting up on Munda Air Field.There is a sick bay
on the left protected by sand bag{ a tent used
as on office in the center, and in the right fore-
ground and to the rear of the tent the frame of
a Quonset hut is being put together (USMC)
more Zeros but could not get any to smoke, but a F4U came in and
flamed one of his quarry. A Zero chased by two Corsairs came di-
rectly toward Head and he gave it a long burst, and was again frus-
trated when he saw no results. The Corsairs from VMF-214 were
credited with three victories and two probables in the combat.
Harmon had relieved Brig.Gen. John Hester from ground com-
mand and named Maj.Gen. Griswold to replace him on 15 July.
From that point on the ground advance moved somewhat more rap-
idly with the help of reinforcements from Guadalcanal. Daily mis-
sions flown by Marine SBDs and AAF B-25s greatly aided the ad-
vance by saturating the immediate area with bombs before the ad-
vance. Munda airfield was finally captured on 4 August, and on 5
August all resistance in the area ceased. As soon as MundaAirfield
was secured the immediate responsibility was to defend and restore
it. The damage to taxiways and runways from air and naval bom-
bardment had been less than expected, and thus it could be made
operational earlier than expected. The 73
Navy Seabees and the
Engineer Battalion began work on the 6
and were joined on
the 9
by Acorn 8, which controlled field operations. The engineers
regraded and resurfaced the 3,000 x ISO-foot Japanese runway, built
taxiways and hardstands, and had it open for operations for 48 air-
craft by the 13
The coral around Munda was abundant and of
..... ,.:
.. ... ' ~ ~ . _ .... . ~ ~ .
44FS PAO landing at Munda Field, New Georgia, on 14 August, just after its
capture and repair (USAF)
excellent quality, and unlike Carney Field on Guadalcanal was able
to bear very heavy operational use. Night work was attempted un-
der lights, but nightly rains, Japanese harassing air and sniper at-
tacks, and inoperable early warning radar limited and finally closed
down nighttime construction. Fighter cover was immediately pro-
vided, but despite Kahili being only a short distance away and the
basing of hundreds of aircraft in the Rabaul-Kavieng-Bougainville
area, the Japanese did not make one effective attack against the
airfield. Attacks on the 10
and 13
were turned back before reach-
ing the airfield. On the afternoon of the 13
, two P-40s of the 44FS
landed at Munda and remained overnight to become the first opera-
tional aircraft to use the field. Munda gave the Allies a base to pro-
vide air cover for the next invasions and was within 400 miles of
Rabaul-180 miles closer than Fighter Two on Guadalcanal-and
was just about half way between Guadalcanal and the primary tar-
gets at Kahili. Communications and transportation were lacking,
the maintenance crews were inexperienced, and spare parts and tools
were limited. Brig.Gen. Mulcahy flew into Munda from Rendova
on the 14
and officially opened the COMAIR New Georgia com-
mand post with Fighter Control, Operations, Intelligence, and Com-
munications sections. The responsibilities of COMAIR New Geor-
gia were:
Munda in late 1943 looking toward the Pacific. There are three RNZAF
Venturas in the foreground, with a B-25 flanked by two P-70s to their right
and a P-39 Just beyond them. Across the runway three Marine F4Us are
parked by a service tent, and a PBY is parked across from them. (USAF)
Part Three, Chapter 13 - August 1943
(I) provide escorts for COMAIRSOLS bomber missions
(2) provide CAP for shipping
(3) locate and destroy enemy barges
(4) strafe Bougainville airfields
(5) provide recon and artillery spotting missions
(6) defend forward bases.
Enemy artillery shelled the area intermittently and was not si-
lenced until the 19'h, when Baanga Island across the way was sub-
dued. Within several weeks the air traffic at Munda surpassed that
of any other Allied field in the entire South Pacific. The Engineers
and Seabees quickly improved the field, widening taxiways and
building aprons. In October the average daily arrival/departure rate
was about 400. By mid-October the runways were ready for bomber
operations, and by December the runway was lengthened to 8,000
feet. The main disadvantage of the field was a 200-300 foot hill
that prevented take off to the ENE. Despite the adverse prevailing
winds, heavy bombers, even with maximum loads, would often
prefer to take off over the water to avoid the hill.
On Ondonga Island, near Munda Point, the 82
and 37'h Seabees
constructed an air and naval base. The island was covered by dense
jungle and mud bogs that had to be excavated down to solid coral
and then refilled with crushed coral. Construction of the 4,500 x
200-foot strip was completed in 25 days despite the terrain, air at-
tacks, and Japanese shelling from nearby Kolombangara Island. The
Navy's prolific VF-17 Corsair squadron, under Lt.Cdr. Tom
Blackburn, used the base in time for the Bougainville campaign, as
did RNZAF 15 Squadron PAOs.
After establishing its headquarters at Munda and then after
opening Barakoma on Vella Lavella, COMAIR New Georgia had
problems in coordinating and operating fighter direction centers
due to unreliable communications. The reasons were inadequately
trained personnel, inadequate equipment, and inadequate radar.
Radar in the South Pacific had always experienced problems, mainly
due to: inexperienced and poorly trained operators and fighter di-
rectors, but lack of spare parts that often made many of the sets
On Ondonga Island, near Munda Point, the 82
and 37'h Seabees constructed
an air and naval base. (USAF)
inoperative, terrain factors causing radar shadows, communication,
and poor coverage by some sets handicapped the entire radar net
operation. On 17 August the Japanese hit one of the main radar sets
with a direct bomb hit to further complicate matters.
On the night of the 6'h the Japanese Navy sent four destroyers
with troops aboard and two destroyer escorts to reinforce New Geor-
gia. Two USN destroyer divisions intercepted the Japanese and sank
three of the enemy and damaged a fourth without a loss. These
losses during the Battle of Vella Gulf would cause the Japanese to
consider withdrawal from Kolombangara and Vila.
During the last half of 1943 and into 1944 l3BC bomb groups
(the 307'h and 5'h) would station two of their squadrons in forward
areas on operations and two on reserve in the rear, with these avail-
able for major missions calling for all available aircrew and air-
craft. The 371" and 3n
BS of the 307BG moved from Hawaii to
Espiritu Santo in June and moved to Guadalcanal in August, while
the other two BS, the 3n
and 424
, went off ops and would re-
turn in October. The 5BG's 23
and nnd FS left operations, and the
31 Sl and 394'h moved up to Guadalcanal. The 42BG's B-25s with
I Lt. Joseph Lesicka got his ninth and last victory of the war on 7 August
during a routine patrol. (Smith)
Fighter Command in World War II
the 70
and 75
BSs moved forward, and its 100th and 390
into reserve. During this period 13FC fighters escorted the 13
Bomber Command's BGs to attack airfields in the Bougainville
On 7 August the 44FS sent out two flights on a routine patrol
over the Rendova-Munda area. As the patrol orbited at 20,000 feet
the weather closed in and they descended to 14,000 feet, when they
were informed that bogies were closing from the south. They circled
and soon spotted IS Zeros coming in at 18,000 feet. The P-40s
dropped their belly tanks and hid in nearby clouds to wait for the
Zeros. The scattered enemy fighters approached haphazardly and
circled down, and were soon below the Americans, who then
pounced. lLt. Bruce Macklin attacked the leading Zero head-on,
but the Jap escaped with a quick roll. Macklin moved on the next
Zero, again head-on, at point blank range. His .50 caliber bullets
tore pieces out of the canopy and he continued to fire, joined by
lLt. Frank Radzuikinas, who shared the victory. Also scoring vic-
tories were ILt. Joseph Lesicka, who got his ninth and last victory
of the war, and lLt. Herbert Shafer of the 70FS, who was flying
ILt. Lucien Shuler of the 44FS downed a Zero for his seventh and last vic-
tory during a scramble over the Munda/Rendova area. (Shuler)
with the 44
that day.
On 10 August, after his big day the previous week, 1Lt. Lucien
Shuler of the 44FS downed a Zero for his seventh and last victory.
Shuler described the mission:
"My flight was operating out of Segi Airdrome on New Geor-
gia Island. In the mid-afternoon we were scrambled to cover the
Rendova Island and Munda area. Bogies were coming in. My flight
was the first to become airborne and the first on station. We were
flying stripped P-40Ms. After calling in 'on station,' I tried to pick
up another flight to operate with, but was unable to find one at the
altitude at which I was stationed, which was about 10,000 feet. I
started climbing in the direction of someplace I presumed to be
friendly, but when I got closer I saw that they were Zeros. There
were about 20 in a group. We immediately did a 180-degree turn to
get out from under them. They began coming down on us in strings,
but all pulled back up except one. He pressed the attack from the
rear on my second element. I turned into him, met him head-on,
and he turned to the right and pulled straight up. I followed him,
ILt. Grant Smith was listed MIA Smith had bailed out and after walking four
days and then being transported by canoe was picked up by a PBY and
returned to Guadalcanal. (Smith)
Part Three, Chapter 13 - August 1943
firing all the way up. I burned him when he tried to pull over in a
loop. That was the only contact we made, as they pulled out and
went home." (Correspondence: Lucien and Barbara Shuler, April
On 12 August 16 307BG B-24s and nine Liberators of the 3IBS
of the 5BG escorted by eight 44FS P-40s and 22 F4Us ofVMF-124
bombed Kahili. The bombers cratered the runways with 520 1000b.
bombs and destroyed 20 aircraft on the ground. Turning back to
base, the bombers were attacked by about 30 Zeros over Ballale,
and FlO John Cosgrove (70FS) downed a Zero. The Marine F4Us
claimed six Zeros, including two by ILt. Kenneth Walsh, who be-
came a double ace. A Corsair pilot reported that he saw a P-40
being chased by four Zeros at 1 5 ~ 0 0 0 feet over Choiseul Island.
When noses were counted back at base ILt. Grant Smith was listed
MIA. Smith had bailed out and landed in the trees in the middle of
the island. Using his chute pack compass he walked north for four
days to avoid the Japanese, who were based and supplied by barges
on the south coast. He walked along ridges, and on the third day
came upon a large river that led to the sea. He followed the beach
east and met some nati ves who transported him by canoe 30 miles
to the east, where he was picked up by a PBY and returned to
On the 13
ILt. Cotesworth Head was leading two flights on
an early morning patrol over Munda. Their relief was late and the
PAOs were running low on fuel, so Head decided to land on the
new Munda strip to refuel at 0900. The 13
was to be the official
opening of the field, with a fly-in of Marine Corsairs scheduled at
1000. As the Marine Brass was preparing for the opening ceremony
Head's PAOs circled and were the first aircraft to land there. The P-
40s were quickly refueled and were ordered to conduct a sweep
over Kolombangara for the first mission off the new strip. The liv-
ing conditions on Munda were primitive, especially for the ground
crews who were based there. The crews often had to work on the
aircraft after dark, as the fighters would not land until dusk and stay
the night.
Capt. Bill Harris gave credit to the ground crews of the 339
Fighter Squadron:
"Another chap who is often overlooked is the groundman. We're
plenty proud of ours in our squadron-ground officers and enlisted
men alike. They have done an excellent job of housing and feeding
us to keep us in tip-top aerial combat shape, of briefing us and
giving us the latest operations, and were necessary for the success
of our missions and for keeping our planes in commission. If the
planes aren't in commission, they aren't any good to the pilots. The
pilots are grounded!
For months our groundmen faced the most trying conditions.
We had few planes and practically no replacements. Old planes had
to be kept in operation. Despite the fact they were in the air at all
hours, despite the fact some were shot up almost beyond repair,
despite the fact they had to work day and night, and despite the fact
that when they had a chance to sleep enemy bombing kept them
awake, our groundmen came through. With a shortage of parts, they
made their own. They stripped wrecked planes-even used lots of
Jap parts.
On one of my last trips I was pretty badly shot up, had more
than 30 holes in my ship. But within 24 hours my crew chief, SISgt.
'Chappie' Chapman, had her ready for take off, and I flew on an-
other mission confident my plane was ready for anything." (Story
of the 339'" Fighter Squadron)
On the 13
the Japanese sent two Bettys down to Guadalcanal
at dusk. They turned on their running lights and managed to enter
the returning B-24s' landing pattern. One broke off and dove to
torpedo and sink the transport John Penn. The second Betty fol-
lowed, but American AA gunners sent up a furious barrage that
downed both Bettys. Unfortunately, they also hit the B-24 of 5BG
CO Lt.Coi. Marion Unruh, whose Liberator lost its hydraulics and
an engine, but the CO managed to land it on one wheel. The Japa-
nese sent down another Betty intruder, and the 6NFS "Black Spi-
ders" sent up a P-38 piloted by Capt. Emerson Baker aided by ra-
dar-directed searchlights to intercept. The searchlight teams envel-
oped the Betty, but Baker could only damage it before it escaped
the light cone. The next night two more Bettys were back. At 2040
Lt. James Harrell was scrambled from the Russells and climbed to
orbit at 22,000 feet for a half-hour. Searchlights caught a Betty in
their beam at 20,000 feet and Harrell dove, and three minutes later
closed from behind and below and fired rounds from his P-38's
nose guns into the Jap's wing root. The bomber caught fire and
dove into the ocean for Harrell's second night victory. Later that
night, at 0110 2Lt. Henry Meigs shot down a Betty southwest of
Fighter Two for his first victory towards becoming an ace. After the
mission Meigs stated:
"The attack proved to be just as simple as it appeared from the
ground. As soon as the radar-directed searchlight picked out a tar-
get, the rest of them focused on it and illuminated it clearly." (Meigs:
The Invasion of Vella Lavella 15 August 1943
The Allied High Command needed to reconsider their South Pa-
cific strategy. The Japanese tactic of using only a few thousand
troops sited in a defense depth to cause unacceptable casualties could
undermine the will to fight. Adm. Theodore Wilkinson, a keen na-
val strategist, had advocated bypassing the strongest Japanese held
islands and then isolating them by land, air, and sea, leaving them
to "wither on the vine." Kolombangara, with a garrison of 10,000
well dug-in troops, had been the next target of Cartwheel. Photo
recon and intelligence verified that the Vila area on Kolombangara
could not be developed into an adequate airbase, as the Japanese
airfield there was built on a poor site and poorly drained. Therefore
Halsey and Harmon decided to bypass this strong Japanese base. In
July a reconnaissance team was put on Vella Lavella and reported
that the island had adequate landing beaches, there were only about
250 enemy troops, and the southern end had sufficient drainage
and bivouac areas to build an airfield. On 15 August troops of the
Northern Landing Force (NLF) made an amphibious landing at
Fighter Command in World War II
Barakoma, on the southeast coast of Vella Lavella. The Japanese
sent down four determined air attacks, but all were driven off by
COMAIRSOLS, as aircraft from Munda were able to provide con-
tinuous daylight air cover of the beaches, which would have been
more difficult from Guadalcanal and Segi. The NLF met minor
opposition on the island, and soon the 58
Seabees built an airstrip
at Barakoma. Roads had to be cut and facilities constructed before
the airstrip could be started. The 4,000 x 200-foot strip was ready
for its first aircraft on 24 September and was used thereafter for
shuttle and staging flights. The new strip on Vella Lavella forced
the Japanese to abandon all its airfields in the central Solomons,
with the exception of the seaplane base at Rekata Bay. Also, the
invasion of Vella Lavella forced the Japanese to evacuate or lose its
troops on Kolombangara. Their evacuation met with heavy losses
when PT boats attacked their barges. This was the first bypass op-
eration of the Pacific war, except for Kiska, when Attu was invaded.
The Japanese airfield at Kahili was only 90 miles away from Vella
Lavella, and during D-Day the Japanese sent down Vals and Zeros
on 121 sorties on Barakoma Beach. They did only minor damage
and lost 17 aircraft to Allied CAP (the 44FS, Marine VMFs-123, -
124, and -214, and the RNZAF) based at Segi and Munda. The
44FS had two flights on CAP at 10,000 feet over the landings when
bogies were called in. The first flight of P-40s saw six dive-bomb-
ers in the distance, but the New Zealanders shot down all but one as
they approached. The surviving Jap was pounced on by the entire
P-40 flight and was shot down. After the flight landed the pilots cut
cards for the victory, and 1Lt. William Kester drew the high card.
The second 44FS flight was led by ILt. Frank Gaunt, joined by
ILls. John Cox and Robert Robb and 2Lt. Robert McGown. A lone
F4U came in from somewhere and flew on Cox's wing, and soon a
lone Zero was seen flying in across the island. The flight attacked,
but the Zero momentarily evaded by making "S" turns. Cox found
himself on the tail of the Zero and fired. Only his right outboard
gun fired bullets, but effectively, as they hit the cockpit. The Zero
pulled up, rolled over, and crashed into the beach on Boga Island.
More Zeros joined the battle, and ILt. Gaunt shot one down (his
ILt. Frank Gaunt is shown with "The Twerp" after he made a successful belly
landing when his hydraulics were shot out and his gear would not extend.
seventh victory) and got hits on another for a probable. McGown
claimed another probable. The action was expensive for the squad-
ron, as Robb was MIA (his wrecked plane was later found by coast
watchers), and Gaunt made a belly landing when his hydraulics
were shot out and his gear would not extend. Gaunt was not in-
jured, and his fighter could be repaired. Four l2FS P-39s on CAP
over Vella Lavella in the late afternoon got one Zero claimed by
Capt. Cyril Nichols. Nichols lost two feet of the wingtip of his P-39
when he rammed the Zero he had just blown up. The Marine VMFs
had another big day, shooting down 24 aircraft (16 Zeros and nine
Vals): seven by VMF-123; 13 by VMF-124 (including three by ace
Ken Walsh); three by VMF-214; and one by VMF-215. The three
VMF-214 victories were scored at the end of the day when 20 Japa-
nese aircraft were returning to Kahili and were ambushed and at-
tacked in their landing patterns. An additional seven aircraft were
destroyed on the ground.
Initially COMAIR New Georgia had planned to base 24 fight-
ers on both Munda and Segi, but this figure was doubled for the
large missions of the 15
This increase was repeated when neces-
sary, but the additional aircraft were always returned to the Russells
or Guadalcanal before dark. The landings at Barakoma, on Vella
Lavell a, called for a continuous 32-plane CAP over the landing
force, but by the second day it was possible to only maintain a 12-
plane CAP over the beachhead from dawn to dusk. At night the
Japanese hit Barakoma regularly with float planes and dive-bomb-
ers. During the next two weeks the Marine VMFs continued scor-
ing air victories as the AAF squadrons flew bomber escort, inter-
diction, and close missions without much opposition, and only
claimed one aerial victory. On the 28
Capt. Joseph Berkow of the
67FS shot down a Dinah at 0838 east of Woodlark Island. On the
the 70FS flew a B-24 escort mission to Kahili, and 2Lt. Joseph
Hill was listed as MIA.
After the 15
poor weather forced Twining to curtail his air
offensive, but the Japanese continued to fly down to Barakoma to
hit the choice LST targets lined up along the beach unloading sup-
plies for the new air base being constructed. From the 19
to the
there were 11 raids, and there were six more on the 24
By the
end of the month there were 101 Condition Reds and 62 enemy
attacks, but "friendly" missions were responsible for several false
alarms. The defense of Barakoma was the responsibility of Marine
Corsairs. On the 21Sl the firstJapanese attack of the day on Barakoma
came at 0945 and was intercepted by VMF-124 F4Us that shot down
three Vals and a Zero. The second attack followed almost immedi-
ately (15 minutes later), and was met by VMF-2l5 and VMF-123,
which shot down five Zeros, and at 1515 their final attack cost the
Japs four more Zeros for 13 losses for the day. The Japanese con-
tinued their attacks on the 23
without doing serious damage, but
lost five Zeros and four Tonys. The Tonys were new to the cam-
paign, as the Japanese Army Air Force entered the air battle with
this fast, inline-engined fighter. On the 24
VMF-123 scored seven
Zero and two Val victories, and VMF-124 two Zero victories over
Kolombangara. On the 25
VMF-215 got four Zekes over Vella
Lavella. On the 26
nine Zeros and three Tonys were shot down by
VMF-215 (7) and VMF-214 (5). There was a four-day lull until the
, when the Japanese sent a force down in the late afternoon to
Part Three, Chapter 13 - August 1943
A 17 PRS F-5 photo of Japanese barges camouflaged by foliage hidden along
the shore of Bogen Bay, New Britain, in July 1943. The Japanese used these
barges to move troops and supplies at night, moving from one island to the
next before daylight. when they would be vulnerable to marauding Ameri-
can fighters (USAF)
strafe and bomb the area. The Japanese lost 14 more Zeros, eight to
VMF-124. On take off lLt. Ken Walsh had engine trouble and re-
turned to Munda to pick up another fighter. He rejoined his squad-
ron in a dogfight against 50 or more Zeros and shot down four for
his 17-20
and last victories in the Solomons. His aircraft was so
badly shot up he had to make a dead stick landing in the water off
Vella Lavella and would be awarded the Medal of Honor for the
day's battle. As the air battles raged over Barakoma the construc-
tion of its airfield continued, and even before the strip was finished
fighter pilots in damaged aircraft made landings on the field. Some
22 pilots and aircrew were saved in emergency landings before the
strip was officially declared operational.
While the Marines were defending Barakoma and Vella Lavella,
AAF medium and light bombers and their escorts were searching
for barges that were critical to supplying enemy outposts east of
Buin, as the Japanese had lost 50 destroyers and had 10-12 more in
repair, The Japanese used local labor and the abundant wood avail-
able in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indochina to build barges
known as "Daihatsus." The Japanese were able to move heavier
shipping from Rabaul to Buka and then down the east or west coast
of Bougainville to Buin, or directly from Rabaul to Buin, but this
route was mainly used by warships. But movement east of Buin
and into the Slot was a dangerous undertaking, as the debacle in
Kula Gulf on 5/6 July had shown. The Japanese used groups of
various shallow draft barges to move reinforcements and supplies
down from Buin southeast to Timbala Bay, on the north coast of
Vella Lavella. The barges would unload their cargo at the various
plantations on Vella Lavella, or continue along its west coast and
through the Gizo and Wilson Straits to Kolombangara. Choiseul,
Kakasa, and Sagigai were busy barge staging areas. A barge con-
voy would hug the coast, and when attacked it would quickly scat-
ter and take shelter in small bays, or head up small creeks or rivers
and camouflage themselves with foliage. PT boats hunted the barges
at night, and Marine SBDs and TBFs and AAF B-25s and fighters
harassed them during the day. The Mitchells usually roamed in pairs,
or sometimes in larger formations escorted by fighters, looking for
targets to strafe and bomb in the barge lanes or hidden in bays or
creeks. In August 42BG B-25s flew nine anti-barge missions and
sunk 17. Fighters were encouraged to strafe barges after leaving
their CAP patrols, and P-39s with their heavy nose cannon and
machine guns were particularly effecti ve against the barges. On 18
August the pressure from the American air attacks caused the Japa-
nese to evacuate their troops on Kolombaranga to Bougainville.
They sent about 25 barges carrying 400 men and escorted by four
destroyers from Buin to Vella Lavella to establish a barge base for
the evacuation. A trap was set by Adm. Theodore Wilkinson's four
destroyers of TG 31.2 to attack the barge base and the evacuation,
but his plan was poorly executed, and R.Adm. Matsuji Ijuin es-
caped, losing only six barges in the night battle off Horaniu on Vella
InAugust Kahili was within easy reach ofthe fighters on Munda
and COMAIR New Georgia sent F4Us and P-39s out as often as
possible to attack the base at treetop level. On 30 August 27 B-24s
escorted by 12 12FS P-39s (flown by 12
and 68
FS pilots), eight
FlO Cecil Moore. (Canning)
Fighter Command in World War II
Capt. Robert Byrnes (left) and ILt. Cy Gladen sit in front of the 44FS
scoreboard in mid-June I943.Justto Gladen's left is a"In Memoriam"to nine
lost 44
squadron members. (Gladen)
The Japanese used bad weather during the month to their ad-
vantage to sneak in from their nearby Kahili base 108 times with
319 aircraft during the first month. These raids on Barakoma did
little damage and cost the Japanese heavily. During the week 19-26
August they lost 43 fighters, five dive-bombers, and a float plane
for the Allied loss of a lone F4U.
.- .
. .
, ~
~ ~
"After downing my last Val I was low, slow, and out of ammu-
nition, and couldn't see because my P-40 was covered with oil from
a damaged Val. Before I knew it I had a Zero on my tail shooting
darts through my Warhawk. Good ole 'Red' Fox flamed him and
saved my day." (Note: Fox was killed on 23 December 1943 when
his engine exploded on take off from Treasury Island)
kept on flying. On his second pass Gladen finally flamed one that
exploded when it hit the water. He closed on another that smoked
heavily after several bursts and exploded as it hit the water. He then
went after one of the Vals that turned inland and hit it, killing the
pilot, and it crashed into the jungle for his third victory of the day
(and last victory of the war) to become an ace. As he was pulling
away a Zero made a diving pass but overshot, and pulled up in a
chandelle, turned over on his back, and began a high-side pass on
Gladen and peppered his PAD. Wingman Fox had remained on post
throughout ~ h e combat and climbed up and over his leader; he got a
belly shot on the Zero to claim a damaged Zero to go with his Val
probable. When Gladen landed his Warhawk was covered with oil,
filled with bullet holes, and had only six rounds of ammunition
remaining. Gladen credits his wingman, lLt. Bob Fox, with saving
his life that day:
44FS PADs, four RNZAF PADs, and 12 F4Us attacked Kahili. Only
nine of the P-39s, two 44FS PADs, the four New Zealanders, and a
dozen Corsairs reached the target. The Japanese had 40 Zeros wait-
ing for the Allied strike. The Corsairs hit the Zeros first and broke
up their coordinated attack. Two 68FS pilots flying P-39s with the
12FS each downed a Zero (I Lt. Andrew Capa and 2Lt. Roy Fowler).
Fowler's fighter was hit during his head-on firing pass at the Zero
and began to smoke and burn. Fowler bailed out over Vella Lavella,
but fractured his leg as he hit the tail plane of the Airacobra on the
way out. He was rescued by natives and survived. The P-39 of Capt.
Eldon Stratton of the 12FS was hit by AAfire at Kahili, and then he
and his wingman, FlO Cecil Moore, were attacked by Zeros as they
turned for home. Stratton exploded one of his attackers but was hit
from behind by another Zero, sustaining more damage to his air-
craft. Moore shot this Zero off Stratton's tail, but both were bounced
by more Zeros. Moore tried to drive the Zeros away from the crippled
Stratton and shot one down. But the Zeros continued swarming
around Stratton's crippled P-39, and soon it was on fire and dove
into the ocean.
On the 31st four 44FS PADs led by Capt. Robert Byrnes (with
lLt. Cy Gladen, lLt. Robert Fox, and FlO Rex Byers) took off
from Segi at 0740 and were on CAP over Barakoma Harbor, on
Vella Lavella. After nearly an hour on patrol at 7,000 feet the flight
was informed of bogies coming in from the northeast. lLt. Gladen
saw two Vals coming in down sun from the east to make an attack
on three ships in the harbor. The PADs peeled off and caught the
seven dive-bombers after they finished their bombing run. Byrnes
chased after two Vals along Vella Lavella's east coast and made
two passes, but over ran his target each time due to excessive speed.
One Val turned inland and Byrnes followed it and hit it with a good
deflection shot that killed the rear gunner. Not wanting to over run
his target again, Byrnes scissored behind the Val and fired on each
pass on the rear. The Val slowly lost altitude, and as Byrnes pulled
alongside he saw that the rear gunner was dead and the pilot was
slumped over the controls. As he was watching the Val die, a Zero,
all guns firing, attacked from above. Byrnes turned into the attacker
and its bullets just missed his tail, and he dove to escape. Byrnes
headed back to the sea and came upon another Val and hit it with a
good deflection shot from the left. Byrnes cut his throttle and con-
tinued to fire from behind to silence the rear gunner and knock off
the Val. He fired until he was out of ammo and pulled away before
he saw the result of his attack; he was credited with a probable. The
victory made Byrnes an ace. Meanwhile, lLt. Gladen attacked the
leading Val and it smoked but did not burn. Two Vals turned toward
Kolombangara, and Gladen and his wingman, lLt. Fox, chased af-
ter the other five that were flying in line abreast. The two AAF
pilots closed on the Vals, which took no evasive maneuvers, and
fired on one after another; soon all were damaged but somehow
September 1943
In September 1943 Maj. Paul Bechtel, who had four victories
with the l2FS, was serving as Operations Officer for the
COMAIRSOL staff at Guadalcanal. As a staff officer he had a prob-
lem fulfilling his monthly flying time, as did fellow staff member
and good friend, Marine ace Maj. Donald Yost. To get enough hours
he and Yost flew F4U Corsairs ofVMF-124 on a B-24 escort mis-
sion to Kahili on 2 September. The mission was uneventful except
for AA fire. Bechtel described the action:
"Don and I, in the rear and off to the side of the bomber forma-
tion, had pulled well apart and were flying essentially abreast so as
to cover each other's tail. Don was on the outside ofthe formation,
and we had just flown through a bunch of flak bursts when I saw a
Zero coming up fast, low, and behind. He was all alone, and appar-
ently was intent on knocking off Don. I called Don as I was begin-
ning to turn to the right, but apparently he didn't hear me or notice
me trying to scissor, as he just kept flying straight ahead. I had no
choice but to flip over to the left and take a long lead on the Jap and
fire a long burst at him, hoping that my tracers would scare him
away. I didn't accomplish my goal, but somehow I was even more
successful in shooting off two large pieces of his tail. He lost con-
trol and rolled over and went down. When we landed Don was
unaware of the Zero, but several of the mission B-24 crews saw the
Zero crash into the sea at the end of the mission. After checking
times and the debriefs I was given credit for the victory. It was my
fifth confirmed Japanese aircraft destroyed, and I think that I am
the only"Air Force pilot to shoot down a Jap plane while flying a
Marine fighter." (Bechtel correspondence)
On the 3
the 44FS put up 11 P-39s for an escort of27 B-24s to
Vila, and lLt. Mack Bunderson was awarded the Silver Star for his
heroism. During the mission the bomber formation was attacked
by Zeros, and Bunderson and his squadronmates made several passes
at the attackers; soon Bunderson was the only American fighter
around. On his way back from the target he received a call from a
crippled bomber for help. Bunderson turned back alone and was
attacked by the fi ve Zeros that were attacking the bomber. Bunderson
turned into them but suffered for it: damage to his controls; a bullet
through his left wrist, paralyzing his arm; and a piece of shrapnel in
his left eye, which he later lost. Fortunately, the Zeros left the area
and Bunderson, his plane and person badly injured, flew toward
Munda without a compass, semi-conscious and fainting several
times on the way. He was unable to bailout due to his paralyzed
arm and had difficulty seeing, but he was able to make an incred-
ible crash landing at Segi.
On the 6
, seven P-39s of the 12
and 68
Fighter Squadrons
strafed a radar station on Morgusiai Island and were attacked by 25
Zeros. FlO John Workman claimed a Zero, and FlO Buell Payne
and Lt. Andrew Capa shared another one, but neither pilot returned
to base and were MIA/KIA.
On 14 September, at 0950 24 P-40s left Fighter Two-two
flights from the 44FS and four New Zealand flights-to escort nine
B-24s. After rendezvousing near Choisul Island the American flights
flew high cover, and the New Zealanders flew intermediate and
close cover as the formation headed for Kahili Airfield. Capt. Rob-
ert Byrnes' P-40 developed engine trouble and his radio call for
support for his return to base was misinterpreted; his entire flight
left the formation to return to base instead of only his wingman and
himself. This mistake left only Capt. Elmer Wheadon's flight for
high cover. Wheadon was unaware of the return of Byrnes' flight
until the bombers made their sharp right turn for a direct west to
east bomb run on Kahili. As Wheadon led his flight above the near-
est bombers to the right he expected to see Byrnes' flight scissor
over to the left. Before Wheadon could adjust his flight a Zero dove
from above and got under the bombers; Wheadon and his wingman,
lLt. Andrew Borders, peeled off and dove after the Zero, but lost
him and immediately climbed in a chandelle just under the bomb-
ers at 20,000 feet. Wheadon's P-40 could climb no higher, as it
probably had been hit by AAfire, and the two pilots remained with
the B-24s. A Zero attacked from 8 o'clock, and the two turned to
the left into the attacker head-on. Wheadon hit the Zero but stalled
his fighter, went into a spin, and could not see the results. While in
his spin, Wheadon lost Borders and tried to climb back up to the
bombers, but was bounced by individual Zeros in uncoordinated
attacks from all sectors. He turned into each attack, nearly stalling
out several times, but managed to survive. Two Zeros attacked from
Fighter Command in World War II
the front on each side above, and Wheadon chose the one on the
left and hit it hard; it flamed and hit the water just off the Kahili
airstrip for his seventh and last victory. The other Zero escaped,
and Wheadon was alone with another Zero closing in the distance
from the left rear. Wheadon tried to escape and climb to catch up
with the bombers. The Jap fired as he chased Wheadon past the
Fauro Islands, but was still too far out of range to do any damage.
The Jap was closing the distance, and Wheadon could only reopen
the gap by diving slightly. The Japanese was not tricked into diving
with the P-40, as he knew the American would have to pull up soon
and then would come into firing range. Every time Wheadon pulled
up the Zero fired, but was just out of range each time. Eventually
Wheadon got close enough to the bombers that their gunners could
protect him and the Jap turned home. When Wheadon landed he
found that both wings and his left horizontal stabilizer had holes in
them, and two guns were not operating. 1Lt. Charles Sacket did not
return and was listed as MIA. New Zealand pilots reported a bail
out between Fauro and Bougainville, and that the parachuting pilot
had been strafed by the Japanese. 2Lt. Darrell Jordon was KIA when
his plane crashed into the water as he came in for a landing at Segi.
ILt. Perry Wells was credited with a Zero and a shared Zero for his only
claims ofthe war and the last victories for the 12FS for six months. (Canning)
On the 15
\ just before noon over Ballale Island 12FS pilot
1Lt. Perry Wells downed a Zero and shared another with 1Lt. Rob-
ert Mein for their only victories of the war. These would be the last
victories for the 12FS for six months, and the squadron's last major
aerial combat of the war (on 16 March 1944 1Lt. Francis Cheney
shared a 0.5 Dinah over Vunakanau AID for the last l2FS score of
the war). Navy squadron VF-40, the "Wild Boars," was new to the
area, and scored two victories on this day and one on the previous
day. VF-40 was deployed to Guadalcanal in September and scored
six victories while there, two on the 15
, and four on the 16
the 16
the 44FS was searching for a downed pilot northwest of
Vella Lavella, and the flight of P-40s came upon a single float plane.
2Lt. Cecil Taylor of the 70FS downed the Rufe at 1600. During the
month pilots of the 70FS were attached to the 44
On the 18
44FS was flying cover for USN barges sailing from Segi to Vella
Lavella. Two Zeros attacked and were intercepted by lLt.
Cotesworth Head (44FS), who downed one, and 2Lt. David Works
of the 70FS (attached to the 44
) got the second.
In mid-September 13AF heavy and medium bombers hit the
Kara-Kahili-Ballale airbases. On the 14
six B-24 and B-25 mis-
sions were sent, and the Japanese airbases sustained their heaviest
bombing attacks of the war. For the next three days the bombers
dropped 122.5 tons on Balla1e, 97 tons on Kahili, and 18 tons on
Buka, and destroyed over 50 aircraft on these fields.
Detachment "B"/6NFS
Officially the 6NFS had been returned to the 7AF on 15 Septem-
ber, but the personnel and aircraft continued to operate as Detach-
ment "B" ight Fighter Squadron as an independent unit under the
13AF at Guadalcanal until November. On 21 September Maj. Gen.
Nathan Twining, 13AF eG, personally awarded 2Lt. Henry Meigs
the Silver Star for an impressive sortie over Guadalcanal. On the
night of 20121 September the Japanese sent six Betty bombers of
the 702 Kokutai from Rabaul to attack Guadalcanal. His citation
"... during the early morning hours of 21 September 19430when
the first of a force of enemy attacking a Solomons Island base came
within range, 2Lt. Meigs proceeded to the attack. Despite the fact
that intense heavy anti-aircraft fire was bei ng accurately directed at
the enemy by our batteries, 2Lt. Meigs pressed his attack home in
the face of this anti-aircraft fire and return fire from the enemy
aircraft. In the initial phase of his attack he silenced the fire of the
enemy tail gunner. His second assault on this plane resulted in its
destruction. However, the enemy gunner scored a hit on the eleva-
tor of his airplane and, although 2Lt. Meigs knew he had been hit,
he did not know the extent of the damage. During the final stages of
his encounter with the first enemy bomber a second came within
range. 2Lt. Meigs' gallant disregard of the combined dangers from
the fire of enemy planes, friendly anti-aircraft fire, high-speed ma-
neuvers at night, and possible structural failure of his damaged air-
plane, was in keeping with the highest traditions of the military
Part Three, Chapter 14 - September 1943
Meigs' personal account (Correspondence for American Fighter
Aces Association Album, 1991) differs from the hurriedly written
"I was scrambled (in a P-38 -author) when ground radar picked
up two bogies at about 25,000 feet heading south. I climbed off
shore to altitude and turned inland to see a Betty framed by the
searchlights. All our 90mm AA guns were filling the sky but ex-
ploding nowhere close to them or, fortunately, me. I closed and
tried to fly directly astern, but tried to keep far enough back to stay
out of the searchlight cone. I closed to 200 feet and opened fire
with the four .50s and hit the Jap in the right wing root. I was about
to fire the 20mm, but the Jap burst into flame and dove toward the
ground. The other Bettys were warned and took evasive action.
Our ground radar controller called another Betty nearby, and I
stayed at altitude and turned toward the searchlights. The largest
light, known as 'Senior Everyready,' caught another Betty that was
behind me. I turned a 180 and firewalled the fighter to close the gap
before the bomber escaped the lights. I closed too fast and had to
cut the throttle and bank to keep from overrunning. Slowing down,
I was able to get on the Jap's tail, but I was in the searchlight's
beam myself. The bomber tail gunner opened fire and I felt my ship
taking some pretty good hits. I pulled both triggers, and the 20mm
and .50 calibers exploded the bomber in a flash. Ground radar re-
ported an all clear, and I came in for a landing.
After I came to a stop I was told that both Japanese bombers
were on fire in the air before the first hit the ground, and that the
whole battle took around a minute-it seemed much longer. The
next day my crew chief and I found a hole in my horizontal stabi-
lizer that was big enough to put my head through, which I did, and
had my photo taken."
ATime magazine article (7 February 1944 issue) entitled "Bull S
Eye in the South Pacific" quoted Meigs as saying why he flew
through his own AA fire against orders: "I figured if they couldn't
hit the Japs, they couldn't hit me." The article stated that Meigs had
shot down a Betty, and a minute later shot down its companion to a
cheering audience below.
Detachment "B's" remaining P-70s were useless for high alti-
tude night interception sorties and were assigned to daylight in-
truder missions. Captains Ralph Tuttle and Earl Bennett were fly-
ing their P-70s on an intruder mission under Japanese radar look-
ing for targets of opportunity off Buin. They came upon a Japanese
airfield with five torpedo bombers lined up, and Tuttle made a fir-
ing pass and destroyed all five. As he passed over the field he spot-
ted a number of barges being unloaded at a nearby dock. Continu-
ing on his firing run he exploded the fuel-carrying barges. Ameri-
can PT boats had been hunted by Japanese float planes at night, and
the P-70s were to rendezvous and fly cover for the PT boats that
were to be bait to draw out the float planes. The P-70s would fire
their guns at the Kolombangara coast in an effort to get the float
planes to take off. The plan was tried on the 13
h, and a Japanese
float plane fell into the trap and was ambushed as he flew into at-
tack position. The P-70 closed to 150 feet, but only one of its guns
fired and the Jap escaped.
The Japanese lack of success in daylight forced them to in-
crease the nighttime air activity, at which they excelled. On the
night of 14 September the Japanese made repeated raids on
Guadalcanal, Munda, and Barakoma. COMAIR New Georgia re-
ported 79 bogies in flights of two or three. They were not bothered
by American night fighters and search lights, and AA guns firing
2,900 rounds di