THE 456th FIGHTER INTERCEPTOR SQUADRON

THE PROTECTORS OF  S. A. C.

 

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P-38 STORIES

 

Faurot's Bomb Kill

Perhaps one of the most unusual kills of an enemy aircraft by performed by Lt. Robert Faurot. Faurot was participating in a mission at the Lae Airdrome in New Guinea on November 26, 1942. Faurot was attempting to drop a 500 lb. bomb on a Japanese airfield, but misjudged his attack and missed the airfield completely. The bomb landed in the water, which in turn created a geyser. At that point in time, a Japanese fighter just took off, made contact with the water geyser, and was destroyed. Faurot was credited with an aerial kill as a result.

 

Charles Lindbergh

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Maj. Thomas McGuire & Charles Lindbergh

One of the most interesting stories of the war was the contribution of one of the most recognized aviators of all time. Charles Lindbergh first made headlines when he was able to fly over the Atlantic Ocean without stopping. A skilled flier, he was an expert in fuel management. The American fighter groups were always trying to find new ways to increase their operating range, especially in the Pacific. Navigating over water is difficult, and saving every drop of precious fuel could save pilots. Not to mention, larger ranges would result in more available targets.

Lindbergh received permission for the Navy to tour their installations in the south Pacific. He spent time flying the Corsair, and finished his tour in June 1944. Lindbergh went to New Guinea to meet with General Ennis Whitehead, and was invited to instruct P-38 pilots better fuel management.

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Maj. Thomas McGuire & Charles Lindbergh

Lindbergh was given permission by Colonel Robert Morrissey to travel to Nadzah, New Guinea, and become familiar with the P-38. On June 15, 1944, Lindbergh arrived, and was soon spending time behind a P-38. His first flight was rather interesting because once he landed, a brake malfunction resulted in a blown tire, but there was no damage. Soon Lindbergh felt comfortable with the aircraft, and on June 26, he took off to join up with the 475th Fighter Group. He flew along combat missions as an observer, and quickly calculated that the combat radius could be extended by 30%. A standard technique at the time was cruising at 2200 - 2400 rpm's in auto-rich at low manifold pressure. Lindbergh called for only 1600 rpm in an auto-lean mixture with a high manifold pressure. This reduced fuel consumption to 70 gallons per hour, and resulted in a cruising speed of 185 mph. By comparison, in July 1944, P-38s would fly a five-hour mission and come back on fumes, but after taking Lindbergh's advice, Colonel Jack Jenkins landed with over 160 gallons of fuel.

Lindbergh's impact was tremendous, and he also made another type of impact. On July 15, 1944, while on a combat mission, Lindbergh was suddenly faced with a Japanese aircraft heading straight for him. Lindbergh fired his guns, and then pulled up, missing the Japanese aircraft by five feet. He scored a confirmed kill, but was never officially recorded in the records of the 433rd Flight Squadron. Lindbergh's impact on the aerial war in the Pacific was very significant.

 

The Phantom P-38

One of the more interesting stories in the MTO was of the phantom P-38, which was causing trouble for many crippled bombers. Beginning on June 4, 1943, a crippled bomber was coming back from a mission against the island of Pantelleria. The crew was considering bailing out of their bomber when they spotted a P-38 coming closer. They immediately relaxed knowing it was coming to their aid. The crew continued to dump extra weight from the aircraft, including the guns and ammunition. Before the crew realized what happened, the P-38 erupted in gunfire and destroyed the B-17. The only survivor was the pilot, Lt. Harold Fisher. Fisher was rescued and was the target of fury from the fighter pilots by suggesting it was a friendly P-38 that shot them down.

Several weeks before Lt. Fisher's ordeal, a P-38 pilot was low on fuel and was lost. He actually made an emergency landing just outside of Sardinia. The pilot was captured before he was able to destroy his aircraft. Italian pilot, Lt. Guido Rossi came up with the idea of using this P-38 against the American bombers. Rossi's strategy was to wait until the bombers made their attacks. Rossi would then take off and scout around for stragglers. He actually used this technique to shoot down several bombers. Until Lt. Fisher, no other crews survived to tell of the P-38 shooting them down. The American commanders were under the assumption that these missing bombers just did not make it back just as many before them. Nobody thought a friendly aircraft was the cause.

After Fisher told his story, bombers crews were alerted to look for a lone P-38, which was posing as a friendly. Fisher came up with the idea of using a decoy B-17 to attract Rossi. Fisher's idea was approved and he took off in the experimental YB-40 gunship. This was simply a modified B-17, which had more armor and guns. He flew several missions lagging behind the rest of the formations, but never encountered Rossi. Intelligence was being gathered and the Allies finally learned the identity of the pilot. They also learned that his wife was living in Allied occupied Constantine. An artist actually used a picture of his wife to paint a nose art picture on Fisher's bomber, and included her name, Gina. On August 31, a B-17 raid struck Pisa. Fisher was flying among the bombers, and was actually damaged by enemy fighters. He recovered at a low altitude and had to feather two engines. Before lone, a lone P-38 was approaching and the crew was on high alert. Rossi, using very good English, contacted Fisher, just as he did on previous occasions. Rossi immediately noticed the nose art on the aircraft and spoke with Fisher. Fisher was still uncertain the pilot was Rossi and was chatting with Rossi normally. Fisher decided to bait this pilot to see if it was Rossi or not, and began talking about Gine and her location in Constantine. When Fisher was describing intimate details of their "relationship", Rossi lost his cool. He peeled off and began his attack. Fisher ordered all guns to open up on this P-38, and Rossi had to peel off trailing smoke. Rossi intended to ram the bomber, but began breaking up and could not maintain flight. He was able to ditch in the water and survived. Rossi was later picked up and taken prisoner. Fisher was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross medal for his efforts. Fisher would survive the war, but was killed in a transport accident during the Berlin Airlift. Incidentally, Rossi was one of the mourners at his funeral.

 

The Yamamoto Mission

The Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor brought the stunned United States into the war. Behind the strategic masterpiece was Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. Yamamoto studied in the United States before the war and understood the implications of initiating a conflict. In the early stages of the war, Japanese forces were pushing the Americans back, and did not show any signs of slowing down. However, Yamamoto feared that once the United States flexed it’s industrial muscle, things would start to change. Japan could not compete with the United States in a war of attrition, it was only a matter of time. Yamamoto felt that the Japanese would only win by delivering an early knock out blow.

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The Yamamoto Mission

Prior to the Battle of Midway, American code breakers were able to crack the Japanese code, and knew about the plans to attack Midway Island. After a heroic struggle against numerical superior forces, the United States was able to deliver a convincing defeat to Japan. This was the climax of the Pacific Theater, and sent the Japanese forces reeling. In the aftermath, the morale of the Japanese forces was low, which caused Yamamoto to plan visits to the front line bases. On April 14, 1943, American code breakers received a message which included a timetable for Yamamoto’s schedule. The decision to intercept was devised, but eventually President Roosevelt had to give the orders himself. If the American forces intercepted Yamamoto, the Japanese may know their code was broken, however, Roosevelt decided that Yamamoto was too important to pass up. The plan of attack called for American fighters to fly over four-hundred miles at extreme low altitude, locate Yamamoto’s flight, and destroy Yamamoto’s aircraft without being detected. The only aircraft that could meet these requirements was the P-38.

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Tom Lanphier Receiving The DFC And Silver Star Medels After The Yamamoto Mission

Major John Mitchell of the 339th Flight Squadron (already an ace at this stage of the war) was chosen to lead the eighteen P-38s for this mission. After two P-38s had to abort, Mitchell lead the remaining sixteen aircraft on a course south-west of the ‘Slot’ and out over sea to avoid detection. Mitchell arrived at their rendezvous point precisely at 9:30 A.M. Yamamoto’s flight was soon spotted, and the four plane ‘killer flight’ (Lanphier, Barber, Holmes, and Lt. Ray Hine), being covered by the remaining P-38s lead by Mitchell, sprang into motion. Barber hit both ‘Betty’ bombers and claimed a Zero, while Lanphier also claimed to score hits on a ‘Betty’ and also one Zero. In the struggle, Yamamoto’s aircraft plunged into the jungle below and Japan lost it’s it famous military leader.

The attack on Yamamoto was extremely successful, with only one P-38 being lost in the action (Lt. Ray Hine). However, the debate as to who actually brought Yamamoto’s aircraft down was just beginning. At first, Lanphier was officially credited with the kill, but Rex Barber also claimed to score many hits on the aircraft. The only surviving Zero escort pilot testified that the ‘Betty’ was only attacked from the rear, thus supporting Barber’s claims. Also, Lanphier claimed the ‘Betty’ had lost a wing prior to crashing, but post war investigation showed that the bomber's wings were actually intact. Other Japanese witness testimonies allow for a possibility for an attack on the side, supporting Lanphier’s claim. Eventually both pilots shared part credit for the destruction of the ‘Betty’. Neither pilot was wrong in their testimonies, because conflict was common for pilots’ claims. These men were in life and death struggles at high speeds! No pilot could remember every exact detail as to what happened all throughout the struggle. Perhaps Rex Barber put it best by saying that there was enough glory to spread around everybody who flew the mission.

Thanks to Michael Terry who contributed some information about the story and recommends Carrol Glines’ book Attack on Yamamoto.

Source: Stanaway, John. P-38 Lightning Aces of the Pacific and CBI: Osprey Aircraft of the Aces 14. Reed International Books, Great Britain, 1997.

 

The Yamamoto Mission

 

 

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02/10/2014

 

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