THE 456th FIGHTER INTERCEPTOR SQUADRON
THE PROTECTORS OF S. A. C.
Some P-38 Pilots Of Note
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Major Richard I. Bong
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Richard I. Bong
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Richard I. Bong
The first of nine children, born in 1920 to a Swedish immigrant father and American-born mother, Dick Bong's upbringing epitomized the values and expectations of that era - loyalty to his family and a deep sense of patriotism. Like all farm children, he had chores to perform and was expected to drive farm machinery at an early age. He hunted and fished in the surrounding woods and streams, played on his school athletic teams and sang in his church choir; as his 4H project he planted the extensive evergreen windbreak on the family farm, still in the family. At that time he modeled the ideal all-American boy. Dick became enamored of flying as a small boy, watching planes fly over the farm carrying mail for President Calvin Coolidge's summer White House in Superior. As a college student he learned to fly in the Civilian Pilot Training program; at the age of 20 he became a flying cadet in the US Army Air Corps, in time for the entry of America into World War II. Dick became America's all-time Ace of Aces, downing 40 enemy planes in the Pacific theater of the war while flying P-38 fighter planes. His many decorations for outstanding skills and extraordinary courage included the Congressional Medal of Honor. Dick was ordered home for his safety and married his sweetheart, Marge, in Superior.
Six months later he was killed test piloting the first Lockheed jet fighter plane. His death at the age of 24 occurred the same day that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, yet he received banner headlines in the national newspapers.
Thousands attended Dick's funeral services in Superior, and many more lined the funeral route to the Poplar cemetery, where he was buried in the family plot. In 1955, ten years after his death, a memorial was dedicated to Dick Bong in his hometown of Poplar, Wisconsin.
For further information, please visit the Richard I. Bong Heritage Center.
Major Thomas B. McGuire, Jr.
475th Fighter Group, Medal of Honor Recipient
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Maj, Thomas A, McGuire
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Richard Bong and Thomas McGuire
A group of twenty P-38's flew in to Tacloban air field on Leyte, which badly need more fighters. Suddenly a Japanese Tojo fighter appeared. One of the P-38's opened up full throttle, hit the gear and flap levers, sounded a warning to other pilots, and swung around to face the Tojo. In full view of the Tacloban airstrip, the P-38 pilot attacked and shot down the intruder with one short burst. The Tojo crashed in flames just outside the field. Finding no other Jap planes, the P-38 pilot circled and landed.
Major Thomas B. McGuire of the 475th Fighter Group climbed down from his beloved Pudgy V and grinned. He had just shot down his twenty-fifth Japanese aircraft. "This is my kind of place. You have to shoot down Japs to land on your own field."
The P-38, nicknamed "Pudgy V" was flown by Maj. Thomas McGuire, the 2nd highest American ace of all time. McGuire racked up 38 kills, just 2 behind Dick Bong, the all-time Ace of Aces. All McGuire's kills were in the Pacific Theater during World War II. In 1944, in combat missions flown on Christmas Day and the day after, McGuire shot down 7 Japanese Zeroes single-handedly flying the Pudgy V. On January 7th, 1945, less than two weeks later, McGuire was leading a group of four P-38s over a Japanese-held airstrip on the Los Negros Islands, in the Philippines. His formation scattered and an enemy aircraft zeroed in on a friend's P-38. The pilot radioed for help and McGuire quickly responded. Flying in a tight situation at low altitude caused McGuire's plane to stall and crash. He died attempting to save a friend's life, and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
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Lt. Shubin flew one of the most impressive single day missions in the war. June 16, 1943, flying with the 37th Fighter Group, Shubin scrambled from Guadalcanal to intercept a force of Japanese heading for the Russell Islands. Shubin led his flight towards the Japanese at 23,000 ft. He used his height advantage to good effect, and shot down one fighter immediately. During the course of the battle, he was separated from his flight, and was soon alone flying against five enemy fighters. Shubin fought and scrapped for over forty minutes. He managed to shoot down all five enemy fighters attacking him. Capt. F. P. Mueller of G Company, 35th Infantry, witnessed the entire fight, and was able to confirm all five of the fighters destroyed. Overall, Shubin was able to shoot down six Japanese fighters in one mission.
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Captain Jay Robbins was a pilot with the 80th Fighter Squad, 8th Fighter Group, Fifth Air Force. July 1943, southwest of Bogadjum, Robbins shot down three Japanese in only his second engagement. In September, Robbins led a flight against thirty Zeros and five dive-bombers. Robbins went after the fighters, thus allowing the others to focus on eliminating the dive-bombers, which were heading towards Allied ships. The Zeros had the height advantage, but their formation was not tight, a sign of undisciplined or inexperienced pilots. At this height, the turning advantages of the Zeros were diminished somewhat, and Robbins was able to stay with the circling Japanese. Robbins took out three Japanese before taking on damage. His left engine seized up, and Robbins was still able to notch one further kill before diving out of the engagement. Several Zeros followed him to lower altitudes and resumed attacking. Robbins was out of ammunition and was forced to meet every pass by turning inside the Japanese attacks to minimize the exposure to gunfire. Robbins desperately headed towards Allied warships, where he immediately received cover fire, which drove off the Zeros. Robbins nursed the damaged P-38 home and was awarded with a short leave for his efforts. He would finish the war with 22 kills.
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Daniel Roberts had two previous kills flying a P-400 Airacobra. He was transferred to the 432nd Squadron of the 475th Fighter Group. Flying with the 475th, Roberts' career took off. His skills as a pilot quickly enabled him to achieve ace status. He was given command for the 433rd Squadron and his first day was met with a lot of excitement. Roberts describes the day as, "After chasing the enemy for about ten minutes, we initiated attack from dead astern. My first burst brought smoke and a small plume of flame from the Zeke, and as Lt. John Smith, my wingman, and I passed over it, the enemy plane crashed into the sea, one wing first. The pilot tried to jump, but I think he was killed as he was thrown from the plane." Later in the mission, "This Zeke turned violently to the right and to the left as we reached a minimum altitude of 150 ft. and it immediately burst into flames beneath the fuselage." Roberts had two confirmed kills on that day.
In a later mission in October, 1943, Roberts described the mission as, "One flight from the 431st delivered an attack on approximately eight Zeros and when several of the enemy pursued them, I flew directly behind a Zeke, giving him three short bursts. As the Zeke turned right, I gave him another burst which left his wing very ragged and the plane burning furiously. I then made an attack on another Zeke head-on, firing a long burst. The Zeke immediately burned, rolled over, and some large object appeared to drop from the cockpit; However, I saw no parachute open." This mission brought his total up to eleven kills total.
Roberts brought his kill total to 14 on November 2. On November 9, 1943, Roberts notched his 15th while on an escort mission over Alexishafen. This would be his last kill. After flaming his 15th victim, Roberts was pursuing another Zero. The Zero cut hard to the right, with Roberts cutting hard to follow. Roberts then collided with his wingman, Lt. Daniel Meyers, who did not react in time to his sudden movement. Both P-38s exploded and both men were killed. Roberts left a rich legacy during his time as commander of the 433rd Squadron. While commander, the 433rd destroyed fifty-five enemy aircraft, with the losses of only three pilots.
An Interview 28 March 1996
Interviewer: Randal Johnson
Randall Johnson: This is an interview with Bob Carey, Colonel, United States Air Force Retired. We are making this recording for the records and files of the Eastern Washington State Historical Society and will start right in having a conversation with Bob Carey
RC: I was assigned to go overseas in the E.T.O. (European Theater of Operations) to a place in
called Goxhill. It was a P-38 Replacement Training Base. It was staffed with P-38 combat veterans as instructors. We did our first-high altitude formation flying. We flew out over the England English Channel, but not quite to the combat zone. I forget how many hours we got, but I had the experience of my life while I was there just before I was re-assigned from Goxhill to the 474th Fighter Group. Tony LaVier, the famous Lockheed test pilot came over to Goxhill to demonstrate what a P-38 could do. His demonstration made my career as a fighter pilot. I already had tremendous faith in the Lockheed P-38, but after Tony put on his exhibition, I had full faith and confidence in that airplane. He put on something I’ll never again witness by any pilot. I close my eyes right now and see the whole routine. What was so spectacular about it was that I had heard along the way that the P-38 was a killer. I remember when I was working at McCord Field before we went to , a couple of P-38’s had smashed into the ground. Goxhill was a British base; and typical of British bases, it had tremendously large hangers. I don’t know whether you saw any of them, Randy, when you were in Alaska Europeor not, but they were really tremendous. They must be three hundred feet wide, and four or maybe five hundred feet long. Goxhill had two of them face to face, and a big ramp between them. Tony Lavier took off in his P-38 and started doing figure eights around those two hangers, right within the confines of those two hangers. While he was doing it, he was flying right at stall speed. He would pull the stick back and forth, and the airplane looked like it was “ducking”. He’d feather an engine and turn right into it. It was really something. It was just beautiful! That was telling me as a pilot that the airplane will do what the pilot wants it to do. You’ve got to be unafraid to do it. When he came in to do his final landing, an overcast had developed. Of course he hadn’t been flying over 1,000 feet all the time he was putting on that show, sometimes down to two or three hundred feet. He came in right between those hangers, pulling G’s all the way.
RJ: What a sight to watch!
RC: It was fabulous. When he came in to land, he approached at considerable speed, put his gear “up” at the top of the loop, and landed like it was an everyday event.
RJ: A tactical approach?
RC: Wow! A real tactical approach! Anyway, as a result of that demonstration; talk about falling in love with an airplane. I was a goner right there. After that, within the week, all the pilots who were at Goxhill were re-assigned to the 474th Fighter Group, or other P-38 or P47 groups. A bunch of us were sent to the 474th Fighter Group, which was down in
West Englandat Warmwell. We departed Goxhill by train, and on arrival were assigned to one of three squadrons of the 474th.
… RJ: Tell us about the mission when you happened on a mess of locomotives.
RC: Let’s see. We flew that one from Warmwell early on. We would hit anything that moved, or blow up bridges and cut railroad tracks. Railroad crossings and marshaling yards were a prime target, a good show at the time. Other times, there would be targets up on the front line that controllers would tell us to look for, and we’d go down and bomb and strafe. On this particular mission, we went down to
. Dijon, France
RJ: Where the mustard comes from?
RC: Yes, where the
mustard comes from. We took a group down there. Lt. Colonel Henry Darling, Vice Commander, was leading the mission. We called him “Chop Chop”. When we got there, we immediately attacked. I don’t remember early on if we were assigned specific targets, but my squadron attacked the east end of the airport. Henry and the squadron that he was flying with had the fuel dumps, and the other squadron had the airplanes on the parking ramps and runway. They were JU-88’s, night fighters, and some passenger tri-motor JU-87’s. When we got down there, we all went on attack. I just happened to spot on the northeast corner of the airport a big marshaling yard. It was among the trees. From the way I attacked it, it was clear; but if you were on top of it, or anywhere else, it wasn’t prominent. It was loaded with locomotives. When I think of it, I suppose that’s the kind of place where they would probably congregate, because we’d knocked all the railroad tracks out above it, and they were trying to get in anywhere they could to support the Seventh Army. So, I just set up a traffic pattern. There must have been some flak there somewhere, but I didn’t see any, and I never did get hit. I made twelve attacking passes. Each time I took a different locomotive to strafe, and most of them were diesel electrics, so I didn’t get a three-finger whiskey plume from the exploding locomotives. I flew right up to them. I could see my bullets hitting them and ripping them apart like mad. When we were nearly back to Dijon Paris, heading back to , I turned around and looked back. I could see the fires from the attack at England . I don’t know how many miles south of Paris Dijon is. I’ve ridden a bus between the two, but I don’t remember. Anyway, that was a beautiful mission. We didn’t lose anybody, and we must have done maximum damage. Dijon
… RJ: Didn’t you tell me one time that you knocked out a big shore battery gun on the East Coast of the
during the D Day battle. Cherbourg Peninsula
RC: That attack was on 8 June 1944, two days after the D Day invasion began. It turned out several days later that a General, commanding a large military force, making land fall on the beaches just below the big gun reported that a P-38 dive bombed that big gun and silenced it. Thus curtailing its fire power affect on the allied landing troops. Checking my combat flight record with the time frame, and remembering clearly attacking the gun after I had seen a muzzle flash while circling overhead, I realized it was my bombs that did the gun in! I had reported the attack in post combat briefing, but no one ever credited the destruction of that big gun to me. I often wondered why, not that it made any big deal. Actually it was all in a days work. (I have a picture of the bunker that he destroyed if you would like a copy of that.)
… RJ: Tell me about the big aerial dog fight you were involved in that turned out to be a real donny brook.
BC: That battle was on the 17th of July 1944 between Dreaux and
Evreuxin northwest France, just west of the . It was an armed recon mission to knock out any bridges on the Seine River Seinethat were in the area. The French underground advised our controller that the Luftwaffe had scrambled 77 ME 109’s and FW 190’s to intercept us. Flying the “Tail End Charlie” position in the trailing squadron in the group formation I was fortunate to spot the German fighters first as they dove out of the sun in attack. I called the “Break!” and a mighty aerial battle began. It lasted 30 minutes. In the melee the 474th destroyed 27 enemy fighters, 19 probable, and 9 damaged. The group lost 3 P-38’s. In the fight I spotted a single P-38 on single engine heading out of the fight only to recognize the pilot was about to be bounced by a gaggle of 5 109’s. Flying above at the moment I immediately turned into the attacking Germans. I poured bullets into the leader and some slugs into the number 2 fighter. Apparently the attack drove off the Germans, as they got out of the immediate area in a hurry. The crippled P-38 left the fight and headed home. I received the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) for that mission, as did many of the other 474th pilots that were in that great air battle.
RJ: Your missions then were mostly ground attacks?
RC: Mostly ground support, they were roughly two-hour missions. I think I got two hundred and fifty hours in combat all told.
RJ: One of your most significant ground attacks was hitting the German Headquarters in that big chateau near La Roche,
Belgiumduring the of the Bulge. Could you tell us about that? Battle
RC: Yes. I lead the 430th Squadron on that mission. It was on 1 January 1945, shortly after the fog lifted that had grounded the 9th Air Force for so many days after the
of the Bulge began. The German Headquarters was in a very large chateau, complete with separate servant’s quarters. The squadron fighters were armed with two 165 gallon fuel tanks filled with napalm. The approach to the chateau was a perfect setting. Leading, I dove to the deck and came right up to the massive double front doors and slammed my two tanks crashing through those doors. As I pulled up I noticed no fire, but my element leader, Johnny Ackley slammed his two tanks of napalm right in the same door way, and his exploded. The chateau about “went in orbit” The rest of the squadron held their tanks as we sought other targets of opportunity. Several days later I flew a test hop to examine the carnage. It was complete. Even burned out servant quarters behind the chateau, along with several military vehicles parked near by. The vehicles by the chateau proved the German command was in the chateau when we took it out. (Though we were never able to get an exact headcount of the individuals in the chateau it was estimated that this strike killed 1/3 to 2/3 of the German Army commanders involved in the Battle of the Bulge) Battle
RJ: This ground support had an especially nasty quality to it called “flak”.
RC: I’ll tell you, that’s where we lost so many of our guys. It’s just tragic the number of pilots who got shot down. You know, we never backed off. I mean, once you commit yourself to the attack, you don’t turn back. The good Lord was certainly with me the whole time, because I never saw so much flak in my whole life. You could actually see it going past you. You could see the shells going by!
RJ: Then you counted the holes in your airplane when you got home?
RC: I counted the holes in my parachute that I bit with my “seater”.
RJ: Then you moved to various fields?
RC: Yes. We moved from A-11 to a base called A-43 which was down above
. It was south and a little bit east. It was another grass field. Warmwell was a grass field, as was A-11. A-11 was in an orchard. The runway was covered by a paper like material known as Hessian material. None were paved with macadam or concrete at this point. Le Mans
RJ: Tell us about the awesome fire power the P-38 had.
BC: Well, that was the beauty of that combat airplane. It had four fifties, and a twenty millimeter cannon. The P-38 carried around four hundred rounds each for the fifties, and about hundred and fifty rounds for the twenty millimeter cannon. When you attacked anything, it was just like a garden hose out in front of you when you’d pull the trigger. Every fourth round of ammunition was a tracer, so you could see what you were hitting. When you hit anything, it just exploded. Those locomotives I hit didn’t explode, but it just tore the guts out of them.
RJ: All those guns together meant that the shocking power was not dispersed?
RC: No. All right in front; our armament boys were real good. They zeroed the guns in so there was no dispersion. In some cases, it might have been better if they’d spread out a little bit; but most of the missions I flew, they were perfect.
RJ: When you let go with all five guns at once, did you feel the airplane slow down?
RC: I’m sure we slowed down some, but I never noticed it. I don’t think I ever felt a thing, not a thing. Although I never had the experience of knocking over a tank with my airplane, some of the guys in the outfit did. I did witness one time a P-47 with its eight caliber fifty guns in the wings hit a German tank and turned it over, so I knew it could. One mission I was flying on the wing of my flight-mate, Lynwood Cumbie from
. We were coming back up into Florida Central Franceand came across a locomotive pulling a long train. Cumbie says, “OK, let’s get him.” I joined him on the wing and we dove on it. I didn’t fire, but Cumbie did, and he blew that locomotive all to pieces. It flew up in the air when it exploded as he hit it. It just tore the engine into tiny pieces. That’s how potent and powerful the guns on the P-38 were. They were awesome. The Luftwaffe never enjoyed a head-on attack with a P-38. They’d lose every time. In fact, they avoided head on attacks as best they could.
RJ: About how many seconds of fire duration did you have with the ammunition on board?
BC: As I recall, it was about two minutes in short bursts. You couldn’t fire it all at once or you’d burn the barrels out, but I think it was two minutes.
RJ: In a hundred twenty seconds you can do a lot of damage.
RC: Oh yes. You pull the darned trigger, just pull it and let up, but I don’t know how many rounds would go off from the four guns and the twenty millimeter. They all went on at the same time, because they were all wired together. It would be a r-r-s-s-t, just like that. We had plenty of ammo. You hardly ever ran out of ammunition on a mission.
RJ: Very few people who have looked at airplanes don’t get a thrill out of a P-38. They’re an especially graceful airplane, and you remember them. Even the enemy had special names for them. The Germans called them the Forked-Tail Devil; and the Japanese called them Whistling Death.
RC: Yes, Der Gabelschwanz Teuful and Whistling Death.
RJ: They were comparatively quiet, because of the way the engine exhaust was arranged.
RC: Yes, they sure were. You could hardly hear them approaching. When I was in the Engineering Battalion near McCord Field,
, we went on a protracted hike, the whole outfit did. It turned out that the P-38’s that were stationed at McCord were going to have a field exercise at the same time. They were going to attack us. We didn’t know it, but we found out and, by golly, those guys came down on us at terrific speed. They were almost on top of us before we heard them. I never will forget that either. Camp Murray
RJ: Talking about airplanes, tell us a little about the enemy’s aircraft. The bombers and the various fighters you’re talking about, and the jet fighter they put in the air. Tell the story about that.
RC: I never worried the whole time I was over there after the Tony LaVier demonstration, about a 109 or a 190 out-turning us, and I certainly wasn’t worried about him out-gunning us, although I had very few occasions to ever tangle with them. Still, I had this profound confidence in the airplane. It got so that even at terrific altitudes, thirty-five thousand feet, even at that altitude, they were very, very maneuverable. In fact, I did acrobatics at thirty-five thousand, loops, rolls, and Immelmanns; just like when I was flying at low altitudes.
RJ: How much altitude would you lose in a loop?
RC: You wouldn’t lose any in a loop. You wouldn’t lose any in an Immelmann. You’d actually gain in an Immelmann, as you should. Oh, it was a remarkable airplane, it really was! I think we’ve pretty well covered the fire power of this airplane. We did mention its high altitude maneuverability; and I might comment that I never worried for one minute that if I had to tangle with the Luftwaffe, I was going to be at any disadvantage, because the airplane could just out perform them. It was totally the function of the pilot. Not putting any accolades on my piloting ability, after watching that demonstration by Tony LaVier, I knew I could make the airplane do it. When the Sergeant fixed that problem with the center wing stalling out because of that filler around the cockpit lifting up under “G’s”; boy, you could darn near break your neck before the airplane would stall. It was really something!
The 474th Fighter Group In WWII
Activated 1 August 1943 at
Glendale, California, shipped out to the European Theater, 28 February 1944, the 474th arrived at Warmwell on the southern coast of . It was assigned to the 9th Air Force, and flew the first combat mission on 25 April 1944. The 474th participated in heavy and medium bomber escort, fighter sweeps, direct support of ground troops, dive bombing, strafing, radar bombing, and night intrusion. Shortly after D-Day the 474th moved to A-11, England , one of the airfields constructed by the invading troops. The 474th moved with the invading troops through Neuilly, France Franceand Belgiuminto . The last World War II mission of the 474th was flown from Germany Langensalza, Germanyon 7 May, 1945 when the war in Europewas won. The group flew 12,954 sorties, dropping 3,920 tons of bombs, and expending 241,897 rounds of 50-caliber, and 36,656 rounds of 20mm ammunition while destroying 113 enemy aircraft in the air and another 90 on the ground. The 474th also destroyed 4,681 pieces of enemy equipment such as armored vehicles, truck, tanks, railroad cars, and gun emplacements, and damaged another 5,681 pieces.
Distinguished Unit Citation
, 23 August 1944 France
Cited in the Order of the Day,
6 June - 30 September 1944, and
16 December 1944 - 25 January 1945
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