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AIR BATTLE NOTES
- No. 14 -
April 15, 1943
(Re-issued by Air Information Branch, Bureau of Aeronautics)
UNITED STATES PACIFIC FLEET
SOUTH PACIFIC FORCE
FIGHTER SWEEP TO SHORTLAND
1. Date: March 29, 1943.
2. Weather: 800 foot ceiling.
3. Our Forces: Five P-38's, one F4U.
4. Target: 27 float Zeros (Rufes).
5. Enemy Losses: Eight Float Zeros destroyed - three damaged.
6. Our Losses: None.
7. Information Data:
Daily photos of the 17th Reconnaissance Squadron had pinpointed the Shortland-Poporang area as the principle enemy seaplane base in the Solomons. On March 28, photos showed 27 float planes in the area, and the command decision was made, ordering the attack at dawn from the twenty-ninth.
FIGHTER PILOTS COMPLETING MISSIONS
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Due to operational difficulties the flight leader (Corsair pilot) was forced to return to base immediately upon being airborne. The flight was commandeered by Capt, Lanphier, and was on course slightly after the scheduled time of departure.
Three Corsairs developed motor trouble and were forced to return to base before the halfway point was reached. When the flight approached Treasury Island (25 miles from the target) it ran into severe weather, an area of thunder-heads, and a ceiling of absolute zero. Three additional Corsairs were forced to return. One Lightning developed operational trouble, one accompanied him on his-return to base, and another unable to make contact with the main flight, returned. Thus five Lightnings and one Corsair were successful in making their way, through and around the weather, to the target.
The visibility was good at this point and the target was easily recognizable. Capt. Lanphier, still leading the flight, skimmed over the tree tops and swooped to the attack. He led three others over the enemy planes at rest on the Shortland side, they destroyed six planes, and caused one to smoke. The remaining P-38 and the Corsair took the Poporang side, set two afire and caused one to smoke. The attack consisted of the single run, made at a speed of 250 mph, and at an altitude of 50 feet with the planes strung in a line and about 100 yards apart.
The flight had been forewarned, of the known AA positions in the target area, but both its quality and its intensity far exceeded the estimate. The first plane had just completed its run when the barrage began. The AA can best be described, perhaps, in, the words of the pilots, "Looked like a solid wall of the stuff," "More than I ever thought I'd see and get through," etc. Still there was not a single bullet hole in any of the planes.
No enemy airborne aircraft were encountered.
As the pilots headed for home, their mission successfully accomplished, they spotted a Jap destroyer (Actually, Subchaser No. 28) cruising along about six miles east of the Shortlands. Although this was to be an "extra-curricular" activity,. there was no indecision whatsoever. They went in again, 50 feet over the destroyer (which was now firing its guns and making desperate evasive maneuvers). The first two P-38's silenced most of the AA fire, getting either the gunners or the guns themselves. The rest of the flight followed on through, until each man had made four passes at the vessel. When the pilots finally left, the ship had no way under, had a 15 degree list, the bridge was in ruins, and it was burning fiercely. One incident typifies the determination with which the attack was pressed. Lt. Barber came in across the target at so low an altitude that he lost a three-foot chunk of his wing tip as it clipped off the top of the foremast.
The loss of the wing tip, incidentally, had no adverse effect on either the flying attitude or the landing performance of the plane.
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The home leg was uneventful; the thoughts of the boys were most concerned with, the prospects of the hot breakfast awaiting them.
The flight landed safely after being airborne for four hours and 25 minutes. About 45 seconds of this was over the initial target, and about ten minutes over the destroyer.
Daily coverage by the 17th photo Reconnaissance Squadron established the location and disposition of the target. Photographic P-38's (F5A's) had been providing mid-morning stereo-pairs which at 30/35,000 feet gave a clear view of the run into the target, surrounding anti-aircraft and the turn home. An annotated overlay further pinpointed AA and ground installations. Strip maps were given all members of the flight detaining the course, flying time at fixed speed and mileage of each leg.
Preliminary briefing of flight leaders by the Fighter Command covered course and assignment of the target to the two groups. This was later amplified by Col. Viscellio for the benefit of all P-38 pilots by a review of the course, instructions regarding return in the event of bad weather or other emergency, and tactics of attack, and breakaway. Intelligence Officers went over friendly positions in the event of forced landings, gave each pilot his "mad-money" of a bag of shillings, and briefly reviewed island escape procedure.To minimize the possibility of a last minute change in the location of the target, photos were taken at 1445 hours on the afternoon before the raid and a flash report from the negatives, which showed a shift in disposition from the previous morning, was made available for the briefing. Throughout the preparation of the mission, all intelligence facilities were closely coordinated with the result that each of the pilots was thoroughly familiar with all aspects of the raid and, most important, their information was "hot".
Analyzing this mission, it can be reasoned that the success of such fighter sweeps is always dependent on these factors:
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INTERCEPTION OF ENEMY FIGHTERS
At 0930 a flight of four Grumman Wildcats led by Lt. (jg) C.E. Harris left Guadalcanal on the regular air combat patrol over the Russells.
The patrol was circling the Russells at 10,000 feet wheji the Fighter Director reported an enemy flight and directed the patrol up to 21,000 feet.
About 1100 the enemy came in without contacting the patrol, although it was over the south end of Sunlight Channel. The patrol dropped down to 18,000 or 19,000 when one formation of about 15 planes was observed in two V formations towards Cape Esperance. They turned toward the enemy and just before getting down to them (about 17,000 feet), a lone Ø pulled up and came straight towards the leader, Harris, pulling up to the right just out of range. Harris pulled up to the right and the Ø, turning left, made a pass at him. Harris turned left, did a cartwheel and, as the Ø straightened out, got it in his sights and poured about half his ammunition into it with all guns firing. The Ø started to smoke, turned on its back and started straight down, bursting into flames at about 5,000 feet and giving off a large cloud of black smoke as it hit the water.
After this action Harris found himself alone and only three guns firing. He kept ducking in and out of clouds until all his guns went out. Then he climbed to 17,000 feet and returned to base over the fight.
Harris was unable to drop his wing tank and found it quite a hindrance. In spite of numerous passes at him, his plane was not hit.
The other section of the patrol, Frazier and Lebow, dove on two Ø's below them at 7,000 feet but without effect and climbed back to 10,000 feet. Two loose formations of about eight planes each were seen coming towards them, at 6,000 feet. The section dove at them, choosing the last man in the first division on the near side. The cockpit burst into flames and the pilot bailed out.
Frazier climbed back and made a similar run on the corresponding plane of the second formation. The Ø started to smoke and was last seen going straight down at about 1,500 feet. Then Frazier was attacked from all directions and headed for a cloud. His right wing was hit by a 20mm explosive which knocked out the aileron control and sent him spinning to 1500 feet. The Ø's made many passes at him - at least nine-- before he escaped in a cloud. On return to base it was found that the plane could not be repaired.
Prazier did not see his wingman, Lebow, after he signalled for the first attack and he was missing after the action.
- 4 -
The Ø Frazier knocked down was a "Hap" but he saw both "Zeke" and "Hap" types.
When the enemy was reported, two additional flights of four Wildcats each were sent to reinforce the Russell patrol. They were air borne at 1030. As they approached the Russells at 10,000 feet, the FD directed them up to 15,000 feet but two pilots did not-have oxygen so they split, with one section, led by Palmer, going up to 15,000 feet while the other, led by Kirchberg, stayed at 10,000. They sighted a formation of Ø's, estimated variously at 12 to 20 planes, at about 15,000', south of the Russell strip.
Palmer's flight was seen in action first, with 4 or 5 Ø's, and then with a large group estimated to be about 20 Ø's. Before contact the flight was separated when the leader of the second section, Winstead, developed engine trouble at 15,000 and with his wingman, Waring dropped behind. Palmer and his winginan, Jernegan, were at about 18,000 feet, 15 miles SSW of Russells when contact was made. Palmer and Jernegan scissored violently four times while the Ø's attacked, but Palmer went down in a spin, and burning, landed in the water about one mile off the Russells. He was rescued by a Higgins boat and returned to Guadalcanal. Jernegan was jumped by three Ø's at different times and returned to base with two shots in each wing, rudder hit and flaps shot up.
Winstead and his wingman, Waring, were jumped by two Ø's, one of which got on Winstead's tail and Waring shot him off, the Ø exploding in flames. Waring didn't see Winstead after that and he is missing. After shooting down his first Ø, Waring came out at lower altitude and saw a Ø on the tail of McCutcheon (Kirchberg's flight). He shot him off, burning, and into the water. Waring and McCutcheon joined up and returned to base together. Waring's plane was hit eleven times, one 20mm hit the flipper and a 7.7 put out the governor. One 7.7 creased the cockpit cover and splattered his shoulders with plexiglass.
Kirchberg's flight down at 10,000 to 12,000 feet, was broken up by an attack from above by 12 Ø's, apparently the same formation that attacked Palmer's flight above. The second section of Calhoun and McCutcheon was attacked from left rear four times by Øs, who concentrated on Calhoun each time except the third. After the last run his wingman, McCutcheon, saw Calhoun go down spinning and he, is missing. McCutcheon was joined by Waring and had trouble with his guns so he missed several good shots at Ø's. His plane received a number of hits but was not permanently damaged.
Kirchberg's wingman, Gibson, fought from a cloud. Every time he stuck his nose out he saw a group of Ø's - always "Zekes" - and he would fire and duck back. He saw two start to smoke. He kept this up until his ammunition ran low, when he returned to base. As he left he saw about 15 Ø's rendezvous north of the Russells and head for home. Gibson's plane was not hit.
Kirchberg's plane took 20 mm hits in the engine and right aileron, and a 7.7 in the oil tank which covered him with oil.
Sweetman flying wing on Harris, drove a Ø off his leader's tail, During the fight three 20mm shells exploded in his cockpit.
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wounding him in both legs, left arm and in the head. A fire started in the cockpit, and his helmet caught fire. He threw back the cover to bail out, and throw out his helmet, but the rush of air put out the fire and he stuck with the plane bringing it hone. The right aileron control and throttle control were out but he landed the plane smoothly without further damage. Before reaching the end of the run he slumped down and was removed from the plane in semi-conscious state.
When the enemy flight appeared, seven Corsairs under Lt. Walsh were on air combat patrol over the Russells.
Eight Wildcats on patrol over Tulagi were directed over to the Russells and 6 P-38's and eight additional Wildcats were sent from Guadalcanal to reinforce the Russells patrol. The P-38's were air borne at 1205, and the last eight Wildcats airborne at 1220.
First contact with the enemy was made by P-38's when flying over the Russells at 11,000 feet. Lt, Young, flying tail-end was shot down but parachuted safely to the ground. Three other pilots, unable to drop their belly tanks, returned to base without contacting the enemy. The remaining two P-38 pilots, Major P.S. Bechtel and Lt. W.E. Smith, remained and engaged in combat at three different levels; 11,000 feet, 15,000 feet, and 23,000 feet. Many bursts were fired into enemy planes but results could not be observed. Major Bechtel's plane was shot up considerably. He was unable to drop his belly tank but persevered with his attack.
This action was the first in which Corsairs had participated against Ø's without being hampered by the restrictions of escorting and protecting bombers. Therefore, their part of the action is of particular interest and related in detail.
At 1110, seven F4U's, (Lt. Walsh leading) took off to reinforce fighters then engaging the enemy over the Russells. Without waiting for flight to form, Lt. Walsh flew to Buraku Island, eighty-four nautical miles from Henderson in twenty-two minutes at the same time climbing from ground to 20,000 feet.
The first raid being over upon arrival, the F4U's stayed on patrol. First sight of enemy was while the P-38's were mixing it up with Ø's. The Corsairs climbed up into the scrap and before contact, Walsh saw three planes fall in flames - two of which he was sure were Ø's.
First contact was when two Ø's dove on Walsh and his wingman Raymond, but missed. Walsh and Raymond chased a Ø which turned sharply and Walsh overshot, but Raymond, turning inside of Walsh shot it down in flames. They later saw two Ø's diving at 45° and Walsh fired on the second and saw it go into the water. Later coming out of a cloud, Walsh got on a Ø's tail, fired at 300 yards and the Ø dove straight into the bay.
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Walsh climbed up to 18,000 feet where he got on another Øs tail. The Ø made a short loop which Walsh followed with a larger loop, coming out above and behind. The Ø turned sharply to the left which Walsh anticipated with a 180º turn and caught the enemy in his sights and gave him a burst which shredded his left wing and sent him down in flames.
After getting his Ø, Raymond saw another firing on a Corsair and drove it off with a long deflection shot. Raymond chased this Ø and followed it through its violent evasive action, drew closer even though the Ø was climbing,, and was able to get in a good burst. The Jap rolled on his back and fell off under Raymond.
A Ø got on T/Sgt. Shelter's tail, but he shook it off by diving at a speed of about 300 knots, making a right turn which the Ø did not follow. At one time Shelton got on a Ø's tail and put in a burst which sent pieces of the plane flying from cockpit and trailing edge of wings. The Ø did not explode which might indicate self-sealing tanks.
Shelton's plane was hit and a cowl flap knocked off, top of rocker box shot off as well as the fins on one side of a cylinder. The temperature fluctuated violently but oil pressure dropped only three pounds. Lt. Spencer followed a Ø in a climbing turn and got in a burst almost from the perpendicular before he fell off on his back into a spin. In falling his hood opened about three inches and his oxygen mask was dislodged. Coming out of the spin at 8,000 feet he joined up with another Corsair.
Lt. Cannon had gun trouble and had to recharge them constantly. Twice he successfully dove away from Ø's.
Lt. Johnston was running low on gas as the fight started but being over friendly territory he made no attempt to return to base. He also found the Corsair can successfully dive away from a Ø with a right turn. When almost out of gas a group of Ø's attacked and his engine was hit. The motor continued to run but very roughly and he feared it would tear loose. The engine began to smoke. When he was at 8,000 feet, he pulled up and slow rolled to get on his back but started to spin. He jammed the stick forward which catapulted him out of the plane. He landed in the water five miles off Russells and swam to shore.
At the time it was determined that the enemy was planning to attack the Russells, two of the flights of Wildcats on air combat patrol over Tualgi (most likely Tulagi) were directed to the Russells. One flight was from VGF 27, Lt. S.L. Silber, flight leader and the other from VMF 221, lead by Captain Robert Burns. On the way to the Russells, they climbed to 24,000 and 25,000 feet respectively so they had altitude advantage over the enemy at initial contact.
Arriving over the Russells, Silber saw Ø's and P-38's fighting slightly below, Silber made a pass on a Ø coming up from below and at the same tine others in the flight saw about six "Zekes" scattered around below and behind them, and Silber's formation broke up. Silber got on the tail of one Ø which pulled up sharply to the right. Silber followed so violently he nearly blacked out
- 7 -
but poured fire into it until it exploded in flame. Two of his guns jammed and his other guns were empty so he dove for the clouds and returned to base with his wingraan who joined up on his coming out of the cloud.
Ensign C.J. Seel, wingman in second section of Silber's flight shot down two Ø's. The first one came after he had fired on two without effect. He was coming out of a dive which shook off a Ø trying to make a run on him, when he saw a Ø almost head on. He fired into it and as he passed by, the Ø burst completely into flames. His second Ø he caught in a turn, got on its tall and poured shot into it as it dove down and into the water. Being out of ammunition he returned to base.
Captain Burns' flight followed Silber's into action. Lt. W.N. Snider, flying wing on Burns, caught two Ø's in a column below him and to the right. He dove on them firing first on the rear one and then the forward one and sent them both down in flames. Continuing his dive he saw another Ø below and to his left at about 16,000 feet. He fired on it giving it lead so it flew into the stream of shot and it burst into flames from cockpit and both wing roots. Snider started his dive from 23,000 and pulled out at 12,000 and expended 150 rounds per gun.
Lts. Eugene Dillow and W.C. Duncan in the second section dove together on a Ø below and ahead. Dillow fired into it and the plane exploded, going down in flames. Duncan drove a Ø off of Billows tall, then Dillow made a run on another Ø from the starboard quarter which spun down, smoking and went into the water.
The last two flights of wildcats lead by Lts. W.J. Shocker and G.W. Roberts were scrambled from Guadalcanal at 1220 direct to the Russells. Coming out over the north end of Bariika at 13,000 feet, they observed a fight overhead with wildcats and Ø's engaged, and climbed up into the fight. One Ø dove from overhead and want into a loop which would put it on Shocker's tail. At the top of the loop, Chapman, Shocker's wingman, fired a long burst into it and it went down through a cloud at 8,000 feet and was observed to hit the water.
The second section of Robert's flight, Walker and Pittman climbed up into the fight at about 13,000 feet. A Ø got on Walker's tail but Pittman fired a two-second burst into it that caused it to explode so violently it rocked Walker's plane badly and knocked out his fuel pressure gauge. Walker didn't see the explosion and thought his tanks were hit and returned to base. He took another plane and returned to the Russells but the fight was over.
Shocker, Chapman, Walker and Walsh, of Robert's flight remained over the Russells on the regular air combat patrol.
These two raids comprised almost a continuous action lasting about three hours from the time the first enemy flight appeared until the last tailed it out. There were more than forty enemy planes involved, including both "Zeke" and "Hap" type Ø's
- 8 -
and possibly some bombers. Our forces were 28 wildcats, eight Corsairs, and six P-38's, The final score was eighteen Ø's definitely down and five probables. (Natives that afternoon picked up one Ø pilot who got back off the New Georgia coast before his plane hit the drink. The natives killed him. This is not included in the above count.) Our losses were six planes shot down and three which were damaged so badly they crashed on the field on return to base and were total loss. Three of the pilots shot down were rescued, leaving just three missing. One other pilot was wounded, but not critically.
Probably the two raids followed each other so closely in attempt to exhaust our fighter strength by the first and enable the second to drive home a strafing or bombing attack on the Russels. However, skillful handling of the fighter force enabled a successful interception to be made and no attack was delivered to the Russells. At the same time air combat patrols were maintained over Tulagi, where there was a task force at the time, and over home base, and reserve fighters were ready at base for any further threat.
For almost every fighter involved it was the first combat and although tactical errors were made by some, as a whole they proved themselves, more than equal to the enemy as the results testify.This action report would not be complete without the other side of the story, so Radio Tokio is quoted: "Our fighter planes made an assault on the enemy territory in the Russell Islands. On the first wave it encountered forty Grummans, twenty-four of which were shot down. On the approach of the second wave, the enemy in desperation threw up its first line fighters, P-38's and Corsairs with a handful of Grummans. In this combat ten p-38's sure, ten Grunmans and three Corsairs were shot dorm by our pilots. The score therefore of our April first engagement with the enemy was forty-seven enemy planes shot down as against our losses of nine. "U. S. mass production has turned into mass destruction. Some day the U. S. public will learn the truth."
Performance of the Corsairs
This action, was the first in which Corsairs fought without being handicapped by the restrictions of escorting bombers. The pilots were all enthusiastic about the performance of their planes in combat. The record of climbing to 20,000 feet and traversing 84 nautical miles (97 statute miles) in twenty-two minutes speaks for itself. Full military power was used and three "S" turns were made en route. Up to 7,000 feet 41 inches of manifold pressure and 2550 R.P.M. were-used, and above 7,000 feet 47 inches and 2550 were used. Low blower was cut in at between 7,000 and 8,000 feet and high blower between 16,000 and 17,000 feet.
The consensus of opinion of the pilots was as follows:
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The advantage of altitude at contact was clearly shown in this action. In the first raid, only four of the twelve Wildcats involved had the advantage of altitude over the enemy initially. Of the four Ø's shot down, two were downed by these four high Wildcats while two were downed by the other eight. Our own losses in this raid were four and three of these were out of the lower two flights while only one was from the upper flight. The story of the fight as far as the lower eight Wildcats was concerned was one of constantly fighting off enemy attacks.
In the second raid the results were even more striking. The total score in this raid was 14 Ø's down at a cost of 1 P-38 and 1 Corsair, both pilots being rescued. Of the 26 U.S. fighters who made contact with the enemy, eight Wildcats had initial altitude advantage and these planes shot down eight of the fourteen Ø's downed without the loss of a single Wildcat. The other 18 fighters shot down five 0's at a cost of two of our planes. These results once again prove the importance of having altitude advantage over the enemy at initial contact.
The lack of oxygen on the part of two members of one flight made it necessary for that flight to split off from the accompanying flight when the FD ordered them up to 15,000 feet. This put both flights at a disadvantage by splitting their combined strength and in addition it put the flight that had to stay low at the further disadvantage of being under the enemy. It might have been better to send the pilots lacking oxygon back to base as soon as the deficiency was noted and have the remaining two join up with the other flight. This would have resulted in one strong fighting unit rather than two weakened units.
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AIR BATTLE NOTES No. 13
Transcribed by RESEARCHER @ LARGE. Formatting & Comments Copyright R@L.
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