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15th Fighter Group (USAAF)
History - Books - Aircraft - Time Line - Commanders - Main Bases - Component Units - Assigned To
The 15th Fighter Group (USAAF) spent most of the Second World War as part of the defence forces for Hawaii, before moving forward to Iwo Jima early in 1945 to take part in the battles of Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the attacks on the Japanese Home Islands.
The group was activated on Hawaii on 1 December 1940, and was equipped with a variety of aircraft, including several types of bombers, attack aircraft and observation types.
The group was hit hard during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but did manage to get some pilots into the air and claimed a number of victories. Lt George Welch was credited with four victories and Lt Kenneth M Taylor with two.
The group spent most of the war as part of the Seventh Air Force, and part pf the Hawaiian defence force. A number of squadrons passed through the group on their way to the central or south Pacific.
By 1944 it was clear that Hawaii was no longer under threat and the group began to prepare to fly long range bomber escort missions. It standardized on the P-15 Mustang late in 1944.
In March 1945 the group moved to Iwo Jima, where it took part in later parts of the battle for the island. The first aircraft flew in on 6 March and entered combat on 8 March. They were fully operational by 10 March, allowing the escort carriers to leave for safer waters on the following day. Although they were operational, their base still came under enemy artillery fire early in the campaign,
The group flew a mix of combat air patrols, providing dawn and dusk patrols from 7 March, and ground attack missions, attacking enemy positions whenever requested by the ground commanders. This was a new task for the 15th's pilots, but they performed it well. They were also used to attack the Japanese airfields on Chichi Jima and Haha Jima.
The group also began to range wider afield. In March 1945 it began attacks on the Bonin islands and the first escort mission to Japan came on 7 April 1945. The group won a Distinguished Unit Citation for this mission, which saw it escort B-29s to attack the Nakajima factory near Tokyo.
In April and early May the group carried out a number of direct attacks on Japanese airfields on Kyushu in an attempt to reduce the number of kamikaze attacks hitting the fleet at Okinawa. It spent the rest of the war flying a mix of fighter sweeps over Japan and long range escort missions, forming part of the Twentieth Air Force from the summer.
The group was officially transferred back to Hawaii in November 1945, although without any personnel or equipment. It was effectively reformed on Hawaii, but was then inactivated on 15 October 1946.
1940-1944: Mix of Curtiss A-12 Shrike, Grumman OA-9 Goose , Martin B-12, Curtiss P-36 Hawk, Bell P-39 Airacobra, Curtiss P-40 Warhawk
Late 1944 onwards: North American P-51 Mustang
|20 Nov 1940||Constituted as 15th Pursuit Group (Fighter)|
|1 December 1940||Activated in Hawaii|
|Feb 1942||Redesignated 15th Pursuit Group (Interceptor)|
|May 1942||Redesignated 15th Fighter Group|
Commanders (with date of appointment)
Maj Clyde K Rich: 1 Dec1940
Maj Lorry N Tindal: 6 Dec 1940
Lt Col Paul W Blanchard: 20 Sep 1941
LtCol William S Steele: 12 Feb 1942
Lt ColSherwood E Buckland: 5 Mar 1943
ColJames O Beckwith Jr: 27 Sep 1943
Lt ColDeWitt S Spain: 16 Apr 1945
Lt ColJulian E Thomas: 17 May 1945
Col John W Mitchell: 21 Jul 1945
Col WilliamEades: c. Nov 1945
Col Oswald W Lunde:25 Nov 1945-15 Oct 1946.
Wheeler Field, TH: 1 Dec1940
Bellows Field, TH: 3 Jun 1944-5Feb 1945
South Field, Iwo Jima: 6 Mar1945
Bellows Field, TH: 25 Nov 1945
Wheeler Field, TH: 9 Feb-15 Oct 1946.
6th Fighter Squadron: 1943-1944
12th Fighter Squadron: 1942
18th Fighter Squadron: 1943-1944
45th Fighter Squadron: 1940-1946
46th Fighter Squadron: 1940-1944
47th Fighter Squadron: 1940-1946
78th Fighter Squadron: 1943-1946
1942-1945: VII Fighter Command; Seventh Air Force
1945-1946: 7th Fighter Wing; Seventh Air Force
Fifteenth Air Force
The Fifteenth Air Force (15 AF) is a numbered air force of the United States Air Force's Air Combat Command (ACC). It is headquartered at Shaw Air Force Base. 15 AF was reactivated on 20 August 2020 to consolidate the units of the Ninth Air Force and Twelfth Air Force to form a new numbered air force responsible for generating and presenting Air Combat Command’s conventional forces. 
|15th Air Force|
|Active||30 October 1943 – 15 September 1945|
31 March 1946 – 19 March 2012
Reactivated 20 August 2020
|Branch||United States Air Force|
World War II – EAME Theater
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award (10x)
|Website||www .15af .acc .af .mil|
|Commander||Maj Gen Chad Franks |
|Vice Commander||Brig Gen Richard H. Boutwell|
|Senior Enlisted Leader||CCM Benjamin W. Hedden|
Established on 1 November 1943, Fifteenth AF was a United States Army Air Forces combat air force deployed to the European Theater of World War II, engaging in strategic bombardment operations from bases in southern Italy and engaging in air-to-air fighter combat against enemy aircraft.
During the Cold War, 15 AF was one of three Numbered Air Forces of the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC), commanding USAF strategic bombers and missiles on a global scale. Elements of 15th Air Force engaged in combat operations during the Korean War Vietnam War, as well as Operation Desert Storm.
15 AF was redesignated Fifteenth Expeditionary Mobility Task Force (15 EMTF) on 1 October 2003. 15 EMTF provided support for strategic airlift for all United States Department of Defense agencies as well as air refueling for the Air Force in both peace and wartime for the Pacific region. 15 EMTF inactivated on 20 March 2012.
On August 20 2020, 15 AF was reactivated as a numbered air force under Air Combat Command as part of a reorganization to consolidate ACC's conventional forces.
History [ edit | edit source ]
Activated in early 1941 as part of the Southeast Air District, was equipped with a series of pursuit aircraft with a mission of air defense of Florida. After the Pearl Harbor Attack, was assigned to the Caribbean Air Force in Panama where it operated in defense of the Panama Canal. Returned to the United States in early 1943 where it became a P-47 Thunderbolt, later P-51 Mustang replacement training unit (RTU) for III Fighter Command. Inactivated on 1 May 1944 as part of a reorganization of training units.
North American F-86D-40-NA Sabre 52-3722 34th Air Division, Davis Monthan AFB, Arizona, June 1957
Reactivated in 1953 as part of Air Defense Command as an air defense squadron, initially equipped with F-86A Sabre day fighters, initially being assigned to Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona with a mission for the air defense of the Southwest United States. Re-equipped in 1954 with F-86D Sabre Interceptors. In 1957 began re-equipping with the North American F-86L Sabre, an improved version of the F-86D which incorporated the Semi Automatic Ground Environment, or SAGE computer-controlled direction system for intercepts. The service of the F-86L destined to be quite brief, since by the time the last F-86L conversion was delivered, the type was already being phased out in favor of supersonic interceptors.
In 1960 received the new McDonnell F-101B Voodoo supersonic interceptor, and the F-101F operational and conversion trainer. The two-seat trainer version was equipped with dual controls, but carried the same armament as the F-101B and were fully combat-capable. Inactivated in December 1964 as part of a realignment Davis-Monthan to Tactical Air Command and ADC interceptor bases the aircraft being passed along to other ADC squadrons.
The site of a former military airfield opened in 1943 and closed in 1947. The airfield was mainly used by units of the United States Army 8th Air Force, principally 386th Bomber Group, and 56th Fighter Group, and also by 354th Fighter Group of the 9th Air Force and 65th Air Sea Rescue. Dispersed barrack sites were located to the south of the flying field. After American forces left the base in September 1945 the Royal Air Force flew Mosquitos and then Meteor (early jet) aircraft from the base. The establishment of the base was run down and Boxted closed as an active military airfield in 1947. The airfield was used for crop spraying into the 1960s but the site returned to agricultural use and is now covered by orchards
Alex Parker’s 1/32nd Tamiya North American P-51D Mustang
Alex Parker built Tamiya’s Pacific Theater 1/32 North American P-51D/K Mustang kit into the 15th Fighter Group, 47th Fighter Squadron’s “Lil Butch”.
Alex’s focus for this build was on a plane involved in the first VLR escort mission to Japan on April 7, 1945. Using the narrative of that mission from Carl Molesworth’s book Very Long Range P-51Mustang Units of the Pacific War, Alex decided on the Mustang flown by Captain Robert R. Down, who along with 1st Lt. Dick Hintermeier, shot down a Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu (Nick). This is considered the first aerial victory over the Japanese Home Islands by a 7th Fighter Command Mustang. Captain Down would later shoot down a Nakajima Ki-44 Shoki (Tojo) on the same mission.
Captain Robert R. Down of 47th FS/15th FG with ground crew (Mark Stevens/7th Fighter Command Association)
Alex used Barracuda Studios resin tires to replace those unique rubber wheels that come with the Tamiya kit, RB Productions seat belts, and the brass replacement barrels for the Zoukei Mura P-51D Mustang kit (produced by Aber) to enhance the build.
In addition to adding the wiring harness’ and spark plug wires, Alex incorporated other wires and hoses to detail Tamiya’s excellent rendition of the Mustang’s Packard built Rolls Royce Merlin engine.
Alex added a seat back cushion seen in wartime Mustangs, and seat belts from RB Productions. Extremely nice additions to an already nice cockpit.
The picture below shows just how busy the detailed engine compartment and cockpit look after the fuselage halves have been joined.
Wire was added to the wheel wells to simulate hydraulic and electrical lines.
In addition to the brass barrels, wire was added to the guns bays, and Alex did a great job of painting the 50 caliber ammunition.
Alex used Alclad II lacquers for the natural metal finish. All of the squadron markings, national insignias, fuselage numbers, and the serial numbers were painted on. Since there are no commercially available decals for 150 “Lil Butch” in 1/32nd scale, Alex made masks for the national insignias, fuselage numbers, serial numbers, and the plane name “Lil Butch” using a Silhouette Cameo mask cutter. Mr. Color and MRP lacquer paints were used for the markings.
Having the ability to create your own paint masks opens the door to almost unlimited possibilities as far as markings. The good folks over at Large Scale Planes have created a new website/forum for those interested in creating their own paint masks called Scale Model Paint Masks. Check it out here: https://www.scalemodelpaintmasks.com/
Alex used pastels extensively in the cockpit, engine compartment, wheel wells, and on the exterior to weather the model. I like how the pastels along with clear coats do nice job in knocking down the semi-gloss appearance of markings and shine of the Alclad II natural metal finishes.
Overall, an extremely nice build.
The unit traces its history back to 9 May 1917, the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps, redesignated the unit as the 15th Aero Squadron on 22 Aug 1917. Flying historic aircraft like the Curtis "Jenny" JN-4 biplane, the squadron served as a flying training unit between 1917–1919. After a short stint on the inactive list and a series of organizational changes, the unit emerged as the 15th Observation Squadron on 25 Jan 1923. This began a varied and unending string of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance roles for the unit that stretched over more than eight decades.
On 20 March 1938, the 15th Observation Squadron deployed from Scott Field, Illinois, to Eglin Field, Florida, for two weeks of gunnery training. Thirty-five officers and 108 enlisted men were involved. Ώ]
The unit was reactivated on 1 August 1997, at Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field under command of the 57th Operations Group, 57th Wing.
During the Vietnam era the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron was based at Kadena Air Base, Japan, flying the RF-101. The unit had many deployments to Southeast Asia, flying reconnaissance missions in support of US combat operations in that theatre.
From July 2005 to June 2006, the 15th Reconnaissance Squadron participated in more than 242 separate raids engaged 132 troops in contact-force protection actions fired 59 Hellfire missiles surveyed 18,490 targets escorted four convoys and flew 2,073 sorties for more than 33,833 flying hours. ΐ]
Starting in 2005, the unit trained California Air National Guard's 163d Reconnaissance Wing members to operate the MQ-1.The 163d is being retasked as an MQ-1 unit.
Lineage [ edit | edit source ]
- Organized as 2d Aviation School Squadron on 9 May 1917
- Reconstituted, and consolidated (1924) with 15th Squadron (Observation)
- Activated on 15 May 1928
- Activated on 3 Dec 1947
- Redesignated 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, Photo-Jet on 5 Feb 1951
- Redesignated 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron on 8 Oct 1966
- Redesignated 15th Tactical Intelligence Squadron on 20 Feb 1991
- Redesignated 15th Reconnaissance Squadron on 31 Jul 1997
Assignments [ edit | edit source ]
- Unknown, 1917–1919 (but possibly Aeronautical [later, Air] Division, Signal Corps, 9 May 1917
- Training Section, Department of Military Aeronautics, Signal Corps, 24 Apr 1918
- Operations Section, Department of Military Aeronautics, Signal Corps, 9 Jul 1918
- Training and Operations Group, Air Service, 29 Jan-18 Sep 1919
- Sixth Corps Area, 21 Sep 1921
- 6th Division, Air Service, 24 Mar 1923
- Sixth Corps Area, Jun-1 Aug 1927
- 6th Division, Air Service (later, 6 Division, Aviation), 15 May 1928
- 14th Observation Group, 8 May 1929
- 12th Observation Group, 1937 – Jul 1938
- Unknown, Jul 1938
- Field Artillery School, c. 9 Jan 1941
- III Air Support Command, 1 Sep 1941
- , 12 Mar 1942
- , 22 Dec 1943
- , 30 Dec 1943
- , 4 Jan 1944
- , 13 Jun 1944
- , 24 Jun 1945 , 3 Aug 1945 , 3 Feb 1946 , 21–31 Mar 1946 , 3 Dec 1947 – 1 Apr 1949
- , 25 Feb 1951
- , 1 Oct 1957
- , 25 Apr 1960
- , 1 May 1978 , 11 Feb 1981 , 1 Oct 1989 – 1 Oct 1990
- 548th Reconnaissance Technical Group, 15 Mar 1991 , 3 Jul 1991 , 13 Apr 1992 – 1 Jun 1994 , 1 Aug 1997 – present
Stations [ edit | edit source ]
- , New York, 9 May 1917 – 18 September 1919. (Unit demobilized) , Illinois, 21 September 1921. , Texas, (day unknown) – 1 June August 1927. (Unit inactivated) , Michigan, 15 May 1928. (Deployed to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, 24 September – 28 October 1928 , Michigan, 28–31 October 1928 , Illinois, 8–11 June 1930 , Kentucky, 14–27 June 1930.) , Illinois, circa 28 June 1930. (Detachment at Post Field, Oklahoma, circa 1 December 1940 – 9 January 1941.) , Oklahoma 9 January 1941. , Texas, 16 December 1941. (Flight at Post Field, Oklahoma, December 1941 – April 1942) , Kentucky, 23 April 1942. Army Airfield. Kentucky, 26 June 1942. , Mississippi, 6 November – 4 December 1943. (AAF-467), England, 22 December 1943. (AAF-404), England, 1 March 1944. (AAF-449), England, 16 March 1944. (AAF-465), England, 27 June 1944. (A-27), France, 10 August 1944. (A-39), France, 26 August 1944. (A-64), France, 9 September 1944. (Y-94), France, 1 December 1944. (Y-57), Germany, 14 March 1945
- (Y-64), Germany, 3 April 1945.
- Erfurt/Bindersleben Airfield (R-9), Germany, 16 April 1945. (R-28), Germany, 24 April 1945.
- Reims, France, 23 June – 13 July 1945. , Florida, 3 August 1945. , Florida, 21 December 1945. , South Carolina, 3 February – 31 March 1946. (Unit inactivated) (later, Pope AFB), North Carolina, 3 December 1947 – 1 April 1949. (Unit activated) (Deployed to Lawson AFB, Georgia, 22 August – (day unknown) September 1948 Turner AFB, Georgia, September 1948 and Eglin Air Force Auxiliary Field No. 3, Florida, (day unknown) – 3 October November 1948.) , Japan, 25 February 1951. (operated from Taegu AB, Republic of Korea) , Republic of Korea, 16 March 1951. , Republic of Korea, 23 August 1951. , Japan, 2 March 1954. , Japan, 25 August 1955. , Okinawa (later, Japan), 18 August 1956. (deployed to Osan AB, Republic of Korea, 26 January – 12 February 1968 and Itazuki AB, Japan, 13 February – circa 25 July 1968.) , Republic of Korea, 1 October 1989 – 1 October 1990. (Unit inactivated) , Hawaii, 15 March 1991 – 1 June 1994. (Unit inactivated) , Nevada, 1 Aug 1997 – present
Aircraft [ edit | edit source ]
Emblem [ edit | edit source ]
A carrier pigeon in natural colors with wings extended perched on a telescope white outlined in black upon a shield of blue and yellow parted diagonally from "northwest" to "southeast", the blue above, the yellow below. Approved 2 April 1924
15th Fighter Group (USAAF) - History
Assigned to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF), 13th Air Force (13th AF), 347th Fighter Group (347th FG) in the South Pacific (SOPA). This squadron operated the P-38 Lightning during the Pacific War and is most famous for their role participating in the "Yamamoto Mission".
On September 29, 1942 the 339th Fighter Squadron (339th FS) was established and activated two days later on New Caledonia. On October 5, 1942 eight pilots from the 70th Fighter Squadron (70th FS) including Captain John W. Mitchell were detached for service with the 339th FS on Guadalcanal.
During November 1942 Major John W. Mitchell became the Commanding Officer (C. O.) and the squadron equipped with the P-38G Lightning, the first squadron in the South Pacific (SOPA) to operate the twin engine fighter. The first unofficial nickname was the "Sunsetters" (also spelled "Sun Setters") because of their success in destroying Japanese aircraft. The unofficial nickname was "Gremlins" with the motif of a Gremlin creature holding a mace standing atop two eagles in flight.
On December 15, 1942 five P-38G Lightnings led by Captain William C. Sharpsteen to escort SBD Dauntless dive bombers over Munda. Returning from the mission, P-38G pilot Woods ditched and 2nd Lt. Eugene D. Woods was observed in his life vest but was not located again and declared Missing In Action (MIA).
On January 5, 1943 six P-38G Lightnings led by Major John W. Mitchell took off from Fighter 2 (Kukum) on Guadalcanal flying in two elements of three P-38s each on an escort mission above and behind B-17 Flying Fortresses from the 11th Bombardment Group on a bombing mission against a Japanese "cruiser" off Buin and Tonolei Harbor on the southern coast of Bougainville and off Shortland Island. Over the target, they are intercepted by what the U.S. side claimed were twenty-five A6M Zeros and float biplanes and claimed three shot down. In fact, the Japanese force included two A6M2-N Rufes from the 802 Kokutai, six A6M Zeros from the 204 Kokutai plus F1M2 Petes from the 11th Seaplane Tender Division. The U.S. claimed three Japanese aircraft shot down and lost two Lightnings: P-38G pilot Hilken (MIA) and P-38G pilot Dinn (MIA).
On February 13, 1943 six P-38G Lightnings took off from Fighter 2 (Kukum) on Guadalcanal on an escort mission for six B-24 Liberators flying in two waves for a bombing missions against Japanese ships in the Shortland to Buin area. The escort also included seven P-40F Warhawks from the 44th Fighter Squadron. The weather was good with clear visibility. Inbound to the target, two P-38s and three P-40s aborted the mission and returned to Guadalcanal, leaving four P-38s and seven P-40s to escort the bombers. Over the target area, the B-24s were attacked by 30 A6M Zeros and 15 float-equipped fighters (A6M2-N Rufes), with heavy flak fired by naval vessels below. Lost is P-38G pilot Rist (MIA), P-38G pilot Morton (rescued), P-38G pilot Lockridge (rescued) and P-38G pilot Cramer (rescued).
"Saint Valentines Day Massacre"
On February 14, 1943 ten P-38G Lightnings took off from Fighter 2 (Kukum) on Guadalcanal on an escort mission for nine PB4Y-1 Liberators. Lost is P-38G pilot White (MIA), P-38G pilot Finkenstein (MIA), P-38G pilot Huey (POW/MIA) and P-38G pilot Mulvey (rescued). Due to the severe American losses, this mission became known as the "Saint Valentines Day Massacre".
On February 23, 1943 officially redesignated the 339th Fighter Squadron (Twin Engine).
On April 1, 1943 P-38G Lightnings took off from Fighter 2 (Kukum) on Guadalcanal on an intercept mission. Lost is P-38G pilot Young (rescued).
On April 18, 1943 P-38G Lightnings took off from Fighter 2 (Kukum) on Guadalcanal on the "Yamamoto Mission" led by Major John W. Mitchell flying with drop tanks over the open ocean at low altitude to minimize the chance of being spotted and made three course changes at specific times to reach the interception point over southern Bougainville. The formation was divided into two groups: one to provide cover and the killer group to attack the bombers. The P-38s intercepted and shot down G4M1 Betty 2656 Tail 323 with passenger Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and G4M1 Betty Tail 326 with passenger Vice-Admiral Matome Ugaki. The U.S. pilots incorrectly claimed three bombers and escorting Zeros shot down. In fact, only the two bombers were shot down and no escorting Zeros were lost. Lost is P-38G pilot Hine (MIA).
On July 3, 1943 took off on an escort mission over Rendova Island. Lost was P-38G 42-13500 pilot 2nd Robert N. Sylvester (MIA).
On July 14, 1943 lost is P-39N Airacobra 42-18258 pilot Morris B. Pace (MACR 79) and P-39N 42-18260 pilot Daniel R Wolterding (MACR 80).
On July 17, 1943 P-38 Lightnings took off from Fighter 2 (Kukum) on Guadalcanal on a mission to escort B-24 Liberators over Kahili Airfield on southern Bougainville. Over the target at 20,000', the formation was intercepted by Japanese fighters. Lost is P-38G 42-13361 pilot 1st James W. Hoyle (MIA) and P-38G "Matilda" 43-2206 pilot 2nd Lt. Benjamin H. King (rescued)
On August 20, 1943 officially redesignated 339th Fighter Squadron, Two Engine.
On September 23, 1943 P-38 Lightnings took off on a mission to escort bombers on a mission over Kahili Airfield on southern Bougainville.
23 B-24's, 16 P-38's, and 60+ USN dive bombers, covered by AAF including P-38s from the 339th Fighter Squadron, USMC, USN, and Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) fighters, attack Kahili Allied aircraft claim at least 9 fighters shot down
On October 19, 1943 thirteen P-38 Lightning escorted twenty-four B-24 Liberators on a bombing mission against Kara Airfield on Bougainville. Returning, P-38H 42-66626 pilot 1st Lt. James L. Eubanks (MIA) and P-38H 42-66888 pilot 2nd Lt George D. Richards (MIA) suffered an aerial collision with both lost.
On January 17, 1944 the squadron took off on a bomber escort mission over Rabaul. Lost is P-38J 42-67179 pilot 2nd Lt. Charles E. Black (MIA), P-38H 42-66680 pilot 1st Lt. Gifford G. Brown (MIA), P-38H 42-66897 pilot 1st Lt. Glen E. Hart (survived), P-38J 42-67171 pilot 2nd Lt. John E. Langen (MIA).
On June 15, 1944 became part of the Far East Air Force (FEAF) when the 5th Air Force (5th AF) and 13th Air Force (13th AF) were combined until the end of the Pacific War.
On February 13, 1945 the squadron moves to Wama Airfield on Morotai Island. On February 22, 1945 the ground echelon of the squadron moves to San Jose Airfield (McGuire Drome) on Mindoro Island.
On March 6, 1945 the squadron moves to Puerto Princesa Airfield on Palawan Island. By March 25, 1945 the entire squadron is operating from Puerto Princesa Airfield until the end of the Pacific War.
339th Fighter Squadron Known Aircraft
P-38F 43-2178 #143 pilot Chandler ultimate fate unknown likely scrapped
P-38G 42-12690 #100 ultimate fate unknown likely scrapped
P-38G 42-13361 pilot Hoyle MIA July 17, 1943, 1 missing
P-38G "Matilda" 43-2206 pilot King ditched July 17, 1943 rescued
P-38G 43-2238 #122 pilot Thomas Lanphier ultimate fate unknown likely scrapped
P-38G "Old Ironsides" 43-2239 #138 written off March 29, 1943
P-38G "Oriloe" 43-2242 #129 pilot Murray Shubin ultimate fate unknown likely scrapped
P-38G "Miss Virginia" 43-2264 #147 ultimate fate unknown likely scrapped
P-38G "Daisy 2nd" #125 ultimate fate unknown likely scrapped
P-38G pilot Dinn MIA January 5, 1943, 1 missing
P-38G pilot Hilken MIA January 5, 1943, 1 missing
P-38G piloted by Young crashed April 1, 1943 rescued
P-38G pilot Hine MIA April 18, 1943, 1 missing
P-38H 42-66626 pilot Eubanks MIA October 19, 1943, 1 missing
P-38H 42-66671 pilot Kincaid crashed January 7, 1944
P-38H 42-66680 pilot Brown MIA January 17, 1944, 1 missing
P-38H 42-66864 pilot Whistler MIA September 30, 1943, 1 missing
P-38H 42-66888 pilot Richards MIA October 19, 1943, 1 missing
P-38H 42-66897 pilot Hart crashed January 17, 1944 rescued
P-38J 42-67171 pilot Langen MIA January 17, 1944, 1 missing
P-38J 42-67179 pilot Black January 17, 1944, 1 missing
P-38J 42-67618 pilot Kelly crashed January 20, 1944, 1 missing
P-38J 42-67783 pilot McCloud ditched January 28, 1944 rescued
P-38 pilot Studley crashed January 20, 1944 rescued
P-38 pilot Woods MIA December 15, 1942, 1 missing
339th Fighter Squadron Commanding Officers (C. O.)
Major John W. Mitchell November 1942
347th Fighter Group Advanced Echelon APO 709 "Preliminary Intelligence Summary of Operations of Army Fighter Planes at Cactus - December 1, 1942 to February 17, 1943" February 21, 1943 pages 1-3
Guadalcanal and the Origins of the 13th Air Force page 182, 240 [PDF] via Wayback Machine May 20, 2006
History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II (1952) by Robert Sherrod page 135 (February 14, 1943)
13th Fighter Command In World War II (2004) by William Wolf
Operation KE (2012) by Roger & Dennis Letourneau pages 32-33 (P-38G Lightning, 339th arrives Guadalcanal), 86 (January 5, 1943)
Thanks to James Lansdale, Edward Rogers and Justin Taylan for additional research and analysis
15th Fighter Group (USAAF) - History
Harvey J. Scandrett
USAAF Fighter Pilot in New Guinea and over Japan
Harvey J. Scandrett was born in Liberal, Kansas and later moved to Los Angeles with his family. He attended UCLA and resided in North Hollywood, CA. In 1940, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) and was trained as a fighter pilot at Randolph Field and commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant serial number O-399564.
First Tour of Duty in New Guinea
In January 1942 sent overseas to Australia. Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 35th Fighter Group, 40th Fighter Squadron "Red Devils" as an Airacobra pilot based at Antil Plains Airfield in Queensland.
In the middle of May 1942 he flew an Airacobra northward to 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby for a temporary duty assignment with the 36th Fighter Squadron. Arriving on May 16, 1942, he was immediately flying scramble missions against Japanese air raids and fighter sweeps by A6M2 Zeros attacking Port Moresby.
On May 17, 1942 Scandrett took off piloting a Airacobra on a mission to intercepted A6M2 Zeros over Port Moresby. During the air combat, he claimed a Zero shot down and was officially credited with an aerial victory credit. This was his first and only aerial victory of World War II and the first victory claimed by the 40th FS. Although two Zeros were lost that mission, both were damaged by AA fire, not the intercepting Airacobras.
On May 18, 1942 took off piloting an Airacobra on a mission to intercept Japanese bomber escorted by A6M2 Zeros over Port Moresby.
On June 16, 1942 took off piloting an Airacobra as part of "purple flight" on a mission to intercept A6M2 Zeros on a fighter sweep that resulted in the loss of four Airacobra and the C. O. Lt. Stephen Smith injured.
On March 20, 1943 he was decorated by Lt. General George C. Kenney and Brig General Ennis Whitehead and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Silver Star and Air Medal.
In May 1943, he returned to the United States for a new assignment and was promoted to the rank of Major. By late 1943 he was stationed at Page Field at Fort Myers, Florida as the Commanding Officer (C. O.) of the 15th Fighter Squadron. By the middle of September 1943 assigned to the 53rd Fighter Group (53rd FG) group operations. On October 14, 1944 at age 26, he married Retha Steelman of St. Petersburg, Florida at the chapel no. 4 at Drew Field.
Promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, he was assigned to the 506th Fighter Group, Headquarters Squadron attached to 7th Fighter Command, 301st Fighter Wing.
Second Tour of Duty Iwo Jima
During 1945, Scandrett was the deputy Commanding Officer (C. O.) 506th Fighter Group operating the P-51D Mustang for Very Long Range (VLR) missions from North Field (APO 86) on Iwo Jima over Japan.
On June 1, 1945 took off piloting P-51D "Madam Wham-Dam" 44-72607 on an escort mission bound for Osaka in Japan. Inbound, the weather was a severe front with showers and squalls from 30,000' or more with a base at sea level to 200'. The front had a solid overcast with a base at 200' to 6,000' top.
This P-51 was last contacted by radio at 10:55am and at approximately Lat 31° N Long 137° E over the North Pacific Ocean. When it failed to return it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA) and attributed to weather conditions. In total, 27 P-51s were lost with 24 pilots due to the bad weather.
Scandrett was officially declared dead the day of the mission. He previously earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Silver Star, Air Medal. When he went Missing In Action (MIA) he also earned the Purple Heart, posthumously.
History [ edit | edit source ]
World War II [ edit | edit source ]
P-39Qs of the 46th FS at Makin Island in December 1943.
North American P-51D-20-NA Mustangs from the 45th Fighter Squadron, flying an escort mission from Central Field, Iwo Jima, June 1945. Serials 44-63325 44-63314 44-63474 44-63428
The unit was originally constituted as the 15th Pursuit Group (Fighter) and was activated at Wheeler Field, Hawaii, on 1 December 1940 as part of the defense force for the Hawaiian Islands. Γ] The original squadrons of the group were:
A little more than a year later, on 7 December 1941, it engaged in combat action during the Japanese attack on military installations in Hawaii. Bombing and strafing attacks that morning by carrier-based planes of the Japanese strike force destroyed many assigned aircraft and caused heavy casualties Γ] however, 12 of the group's pilots succeeded in launching their Curtiss P-36 Hawk and Curtiss P-40 aircraft from Wheeler and Haleiwa Fields, flew a total of 16 sorties, and destroyed 10 enemy planes. Second Lieutenants George S. Welch and Kenneth M. Taylor, P-40 pilots assigned to the 47th Pursuit Squadron, shot down four and two, respectively, Γ] and were later cited for extraordinary heroism during the attack. Both received the Distinguished Service Cross.
With the outbreak of war, the group's primary mission remained the air defense of the Hawaiian Islands but training pilots for combat became its secondary task. Aircraft flown for training during the war included the Curtiss A-12 Shrike, Grumman OA-9 amphibious observation plane, Martin B-12, Boeing P-26 Peashooter, Curtiss P-36 Hawk, Bell P-39 Airacobra, Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, and the Republic P-47D Thunderbolt.
On 12 February 1942, the unit was redesignated the 15th Pursuit Group (Interceptor). Γ] Several months later, the unit was redesignated the 15th Fighter Group. Γ] That summer, the group's mission changed. Although defense of the islands continued to be an important responsibility, continuing to provide combat training for pilots became the primary mission for the next two years.
Additional squadrons, including the 6th Night Fighter Squadron, Η] the 12th Fighter Squadron, ⎖] and the 78th Fighter Squadron, ⎗] were added to the group. The group deployed squadrons to the Central and South Pacific for operations against Japanese forces. Γ] Then, in April 1944, the remaining elements of the 15th Fighter Group returned to Hawaii and began training for very-long-range (VLR) bomber escort missions, obtaining North American P-51 Mustangs later in the year. Γ]
In January 1945, ordered into combat, the group left Hawaii for Saipan in the Marianas Islands, remaining there until a landing strip could be secured by the Marines on Iwo Jima. The first fighter aircraft to arrive at Iwo Jima were P-51s of the 15th's 47th Fighter Squadron the morning of 6 March, with the 45th and 78th Squadrons following the next day. They supported Marine ground units by bombing and strafing cave entrances, trenches, troop concentrations, and storage areas. Γ] By the middle of March, the group also began strikes against enemy airfields, shipping, and military installations in the Bonin Islands. Γ]
On 7 April 1945, the 15th flew its first Very Long Range (VLR) mission to Japan, providing fighter escort for the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers that attacked the Nakajima aircraft plant near Tokyo, and was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation. Γ] In late April and early May that year, the 15th struck Japanese airfields on Kyūshū to curtail the enemy's suicide attacks against the invasion force on Okinawa and also hit enemy troop trains, small factories, gun positions, and hangars in the Bonins and Japan. Γ]
During the summer of 1945, the 15th Fighter Group (along with the 21st Fighter Group and the VII Fighter Command) were reassigned to Twentieth Air Force. Γ] The group continued its fighter sweeps against Japanese airfields and other targets, in addition to flying long-range B-29 Superfortress escort missions to Japanese cities, until the end of the war. Γ] After the war, the group remained on lwo Jima until 25 November 1945, when it transferred (without personnel and equipment) to Bellows Field, Hawaii. Γ] There it absorbed the personnel and equipment of the 508th Fighter Group. ⎘] On 8 February 1946, the unit moved to Wheeler Field, where it remained until inactivated on 15 October 1946. Γ] Its personnel and equipment were transferred to the 81st Fighter Group, which assumed its mission, personnel land equipment. ⎙]
|6th Night Fighter Squadron||20||⎛] ⎜]|
|12th Fighter Squadron||5||⎜] ⎝]|
|45th Fighter Squadron||33.5||⎞]|
|46th Fighter Squadron||7||⎜] ⎞]|
|47th Fighter Squadron||43||⎟]|
|78th Fighter Squadron||39||⎠]|
Air Defense Command [ edit | edit source ]
47th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron Convair F-102A-55-CO Delta Dagger 56-1021, 15th Fighter Group, Niagara Falls Municipal Airport, New York 1959
The 15th was again activated on 18 August 1955 as the 15th Fighter Group (Air Defense) at Niagara Falls Municipal Airport, NY, where it replaced the 518th Air Defense Group as a result of Air Defense Command (ADC)'s Project Arrow, which was designed to bring back on the active list fighter units which had compiled memorable records during the two World Wars. ⎡] There it was responsible for the air defense of an area that included Western and Northern New York and parts of Ontario, Canada. It was reunited with one of its former units, now designated the 47th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron (FIS), Γ] ⎢] which was already at Niagara Falls, where it had been assigned to the 518th. ⎢] The 47th FIS was equipped with radar equipped and rocket armed F-86D Sabres. ⎣] In the fall of 1957, the squadron upgraded to data link equipped F-86Ls ⎣] and later, by the summer of 1958 to Convair F-102 Delta Dagger aircraft ⎣] The group performed air defense operations for the 4707th Air Defense Wing and Syracuse Air Defense Sector until July 1960, when it was discontinued. The group was also assigned several support squadrons to perform its mission as USAF host unit for the active duty portions of Niagara Falls Airport.
Viet Nam War Era [ edit | edit source ]
On 1 July 1962, the 15th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) was organized by Tactical Air Command at MacDill AFB, Florida ⎨] and assigned to the 836th Air Division. Operational squadrons of the wing and squadron tail codes were:
- 45th Tactical Fighter Squadron Δ] (FC)
- 46th Tactical Fighter Squadron Ε] (FD)
- 47th Tactical Fighter Squadron Ζ] (FE) ⎩] (FB)(Activated on 8 January 1964 as part of a wing transition from three squadrons of 25 aircraft each to four squadrons of 18 aircraft each.)
Emblem of the 15th Tactical Fighter Wing
The wing was initially equipped with the obsolescent Republic F-84F Thunderjet which was obtained from Air National Guard units, in 1964 the wing upgraded to the tail-coded McDonnell-Douglas F-4C Phantom II. The 15 TFW was the second wing to be equipped with the F-4.
The mission of the 15 TFW was to conduct tactical fighter combat crew training. The wing participated in a variety of exercises, operations and readiness tests of Tactical Air Command. ⎨] The wing trained pilots and provided logistical support for the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing. ⎨] It was reorganized as a mission-capable unit at the time of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, returning afterwards to a training mission. ⎨]
With the departure of the 12 TFW in 1965, the 15 TFW's mission became acting as a replacement training unit for F-4 aircrews prior to their deployment to Southeast Asia. ⎨] The wing deployed 16 F-4s at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, during the Pueblo crisis in 1968. ⎨]
In 1965, the wing deployed its 43d, 45th, 46th and 47th Tactical Fighter Squadrons to SEA, ⎨] where they participated in the air defense commitment for the Philippines from Clark AB and flew combat missions from Cam Rahn Bay Air Base in South Vietnam and Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand. Members of the 45 TFS achieved the first U.S. Air Force aerial victories of the Vietnam War when they destroyed two MIGs on 10 July 1965. Captains Thomas S. Roberts, Ronald C. Anderson, Kenneth E. Holcombe, and Arthur C. Clark received credit for these kills. The 43d TFS was reassigned to Elmendorf AFB, Alaska on 4 January 1970.
Beginning in October 1968, when the 4424th Combat Crew Training Squadron (CCTS) was organized, the wing began began Martin B-57G Canberra night intruder tactical bomber aircrew training. ⎨] On 8 February 1969, the 13th Bombardment Squadron, was organized as a tactical B-57 squadron (Tail Code: FK) Night Intruder tactical bomber aircrew training. ⎪] The squadron and eleven aircraft deployed to Ubon RTAFB, Thailand on 1 October 1970. Three B-57Gs were left behind at MacDill with the 4424th CCTS as trainers. In 1969, the wing assumed host USAF responsibility for MacDill from the 836th AD and was assigned the 15th Combat Support Group to carry out this mission. ⎫] The 15th was inactivated on 1 October 1970, ⎨] and was replaced by the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing when the 1st TFW was reassigned from ADC to Tactical Air Command and moved from Hamilton AFB, CA to MacDill. ⎬] The 4424th CCTS remained at MacDill, coming under the 1st TFW and finally disontinuing on 30 June 1972 ⎬] with the return of the B-57Gs to the United States (to Kansas ANG).
Pacific Air Forces [ edit | edit source ]
One year later, on 20 October 1971, the 15th Tactical Fighter Wing was redesignated the 15th Air Base Wing and activated at Hickam AFB, Hawaii on 1 November 1971. Assigned to Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), the 15th assumed the personnel, equipment, mission, and duties previously performed by the 6486th Air Base Wing, which was simultaneously discontinued. ⎭] This reactivation reestablished the organization in Hawaii, where the 15th Pursuit Group was formed in 1940, and the lineage, history and honors of the 15th Fighter Group were bestowed on the Wing. ⎮] The 15th ABW managed Hickam, Wheeler, Dillingham, and Johnston Island Air Force Bases, Bellows Air Force Station, and several smaller subsidiary bases. ⎨] It provided base level support for headquarters PACAF and more than 100 tenant organizations. ⎨] Its 15th Operations Squadron provided special airlift for the Commander in Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC), and the USAF and US Army components of Pacific Command, initially with VC-118 aircraft ⎨] until inactivating in 1975, when the wing absorbed its assets. ⎯] Its 9th Airborne Command and Control Squadron provided airborne Command and control support for CINCPAC. ⎨] Responsibility for Johnston Island subsequently transferred to the Defense Nuclear Agency on 1 July 1973 but on that same date, the 15th ABW assumed operational responsibility for Wake Island. Dillingham later transferred to Army control on 27 February 1975, as did Wheeler AFB on 1 November 1991. In 1999, the 15th ABW once again assumed responsibility for Johnston Island . Operational control of Wake Island transferred to the 36th Air Base Wing (13th Air Force), Andersen AFB, Guam, on 1 October 2000.
From April to September 1975, the wing sheltered over 93,000 orphans, evacuees, and refugees from Southeast Asia as part of Operation Babylift and Operation New Life. ⎰] In 1980 the wing participated in Project Lagoon, a program to remove radioactive waste from Enewetak Atoll. ⎰]
On 13 April 1992 the 15th Operations Group (OG) was activated as the wing implemented the USAF objective wing organization. Upon activation, the 15th OG assumed was reassigned the wing's operational squadr0ns and responsibility from the 15 Air Base Wing for managing operational matters at Hickam AFB and Bellows AFS, Hawaii and Wake Island Airfield. It also provided command and control for the defense of the Hawaiian Islands and directed tactical control of Hawaii Air National Guard alert F-15 aircraft.
On 28 April 2003, the wing was redesignated the 15th Airlift Wing and begun preparation to stand up a first-of-its-kind active duty/associate Air National Guard C-17 organization. Almost three years later, on 8 February 2006 the wing welcomed in the first of eight C-17 Globemaster III cargo jets changing Hickam's identity and mission from strictly en route support to include performing local and worldwide airlift operations in support of combat and humanitarian missions.
On 18 May 2010, the wing was redesignated the 15th Wing in anticipation of the addition of air refueling to its airlift mission. ⎱] Four days earlier, its 15th Mission Support Group was inactivated as Hickam AFB became part of JBPHH and the US Navy assumed most support responsibility for the installation. In October, the wing added F-22 Raptors to the aircraft it flies when the 19th Fighter Squadron moved from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska to become an active duty associate unit of the Hawaiian Air National Guard's 199th Fighter Squadron. ⎲]
Major John W. Mitchell
By Stephen Sherman, Oct. 1999. Updated June 29, 2011.
J ohn Mitchell was swatting flies in his tent at Fighter Two when the phone rang, "Get over to the Navy briefing bunker. There's a mission for you and your guys. You'll like it."
Major Mitchell, the CO of the 339th Fighter Squadron, based at Guadalcanal, headed over to the bunker with Tom Lanphier, one of his top pilots, where they met Admiral Marc Mitscher and "every brass hat on the island." It was April 17, 1943.
In the crowded room they looked over a document marked "TOP SECRET", which outlined Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's schedule for an inspection trip from Rabaul to Bougainville, along with an order signed by United States Navy Secretary Frank Knox:
"SQUADRON 339 P-38 MUST AT ALL COSTS REACH AND DESTROY. PRESIDENT ATTACHES EXTREME IMPORTANCE TO MISSION." The senior Navy and Marine Corps officers took over the discussion, and Mitchell and Lanphier were gradually pushed out to the edge of the group. When the planning bogged down, they were re-invited. All agreed that only U.S. Army Air Force P-38 Lightnings, equipped with drop tanks had the range for the job. Mitchell ruled out any attempt to get Yamamoto during a shipboard leg of his trip, "My men wouldn't know a sub-chaser from a sub. It'll have to be in the air." After more discussion, Admiral Mitscher cut it off, noting that Mitchell and Lanphier would have to work out the details. Extra-large drop tanks had already been ordered Mitchell wanted a top-quality Navy compass.
That evening Mitchell pored over maps of the Solomons with Lanphier and Joe McGuigan, the intelligence officer. They laid out a course that after leaving Guadalcanal, would keep them 50 miles away from the Japanese-held islands of New Georgia, Vella Lavella, and the Treasuries. The planned route from Guadalcanal to the interception point at Bougainville was 400 miles, two hours flight time. Based on their estimates of Yamamoto's air speed (180 MPH) and scheduled arrival at Kahili, they estimated that he would be at the interception point at 9:35AM. The brass had called for "maximum effort" to get Yamamoto that meant Mitchell would lead 18 P-38 Lightnings on the mission.
Mitchell assembled his men just before midnight to brief them on the raid. All 40 of his pilots had volunteered for the mission. He promptly informed them of the eighteen pilots on the flight teams:
- the shooters or killer group (4) - Tom Lanphier , Rex Barber , McLanahan, and Moore
- the cover group (6) - Mitchell leading, Doug Canning , Jack Jacobson , Frank Holmes , Hine, and Goerke. Holmes and Hine were the alternates for the killer group.
- the second cover group (8) - eight pilots of the 12th Sqn, led by Louis Kittel
As the rain came down on the black hilltop, he explained the risks and uncertainties: missing Yamamoto altogether, new drop tanks being installed that night, running out of fuel, getting jumped by Zeros. They guessed that he would be flying at about 5,000 feet. After the wave top flight, the Lightnings of the killer group would climb to that altitude the cover group to 20,000. Mitchell emphasized the importance of low level flying and radio silence he didn't want the Japs to pick up on this mission.
When the meeting broke up, Mitchell walked back to his tent, and lay down. He could hear Glenn Miller's "Serenade in Blue" from Canning's tent.
Maybe he thought about Yamamoto, about Pearl Harbor, about December 7, 1941, when he was with the 70th Pursuit Squadron, stranded near Charlotte, North Carolina, due to a malfunctioning P-40. At that time, John Mitchell was a twenty-six year old from Mississippi , born 14-Jul-1915 . He had been valedictorian of his high school class, a student at Columbia University , and was a three year Army veteran. He managed to get married in the confused weeks just after Pearl Harbor, and then shipped out to San Francisco. On his arrival at the 70th FS base at Hamilton Field, he learned that most of the experienced men of the squadron had been sent to Java, to try to stem the Japanese onslaught. (They failed, and most of them died.)
After re-organizing, and training new recruits as well as possible, the 70th FS embarked for Fiji on Jan. 20, 1942. The scuttlebutt was that they wouldn't be there long the Japs would kick them out soon enough. Keenly aware of their dim prospects, the young pilots lived it up on the ship as Doug Canning recalled, "We left a trail of hooch bottles all the way from the Golden Gate to Fiji." Landing at the harbor of Suva, the men of the 70th began to struggle with their P-39s in the tropical downpours and mud of Fiji. With the aid of the Bell Aircraft rep, they got the Airacobras into the air and began training in them. They trained intensively with the P-39s for six months, their only diversions being volleyball and high-stakes poker. They thought they were hot pilots and were ready to take on all comers. Then some Navy pilots from Saratoga visited and gave them some insight into real combat, showing them the greater maneuverability of the Wildcat and the technique of the Thach weave. They continued training on Fiji through autumn of 1942, entertaining several dignitaries in these months, notably WWI ace Eddie Rickenbacker - who had survived 24 days at sea on a raft, AAF chief General Hap Arnold, and a young Texas Congressman named Lyndon B. Johnson.
On October 5, Mitchell and eight of his pilots were detached from the 70th for duty on Guadalcanal with the 339th Fighter Squadron. They arrived just in time for the darkest days at Guadalcanal. At one point the Japanese were only 600 feet from their airstrip. The crew chiefs removed the .30 caliber machine guns from some planes, to use in a last-ditch stand. When landing at Henderson Field, the fliers dodged bushes in the runway, held there by brave crewman, to mark the location of shell holes. Several pilots were lost in night landings, due to the dim lights, the frequent storms, and the rough conditions of the strip. Despite flying the inadequate P-39, Mitchell had shot down three Jap planes by early November, and later that month was promoted to Major and CO of the 339th FS.
The arrival of the first P-38 Lightnings overshadowed his promotion. The twin-engined fighters had a top speed of 395 MPH at 25,000 feet and devastating firepower - four .50 caliber machine guns and a 20mm cannon mounted in the nose. Because they could fire straight ahead, rather than in the common converging patterns of wing-mounted guns, they could fire a constant stream of lead that was effective at all ranges up to 1000 yards. The P-38s had some drawbacks: feeble heaters, exhorbitant fuel consumption, and high maintenance (long before Meg Ryan). But the pilots loved the new planes, which inflicted even higher losses on the Japanese.
In December, Tom Lanphier, Rex Barber, Doug Canning, and other pilots of the 70th Squadron came to Guadalcanal, alternating duty with the 339th. Once Canning spotted a Jap freighter in The Slot and arranged a betting pool on which pilot could get the best hit on the ship. He put a 500 lb. bomb through her deck, sank her, and won the pool. In the early part of 1943, the pace of war slackened a little, although Barber and some other 70th pilots sank a destroyer in March.
Back in Hawaii, on April 14, the American code-breakers intercepted the message detailing Yamamoto's itinerary. The decoded and translated message made its way to Washington DC, back to Admiral Nimitz in Hawaii, then Halsey on New Caledonia, and to Mitscher on Guadalcanal. All levels approved the shoot-down mission, and Mitscher assigned it to John Mitchell of the 339th.
The Mission - April 18, 1943
Throughout the wee hours of the morning at Henderson Field, welding torches flamed brilliantly under protective tarpaulins, as the ground crews fitted the large new tanks under the wings of the P-38s. By dawn 18 planes were ready. The pilots ate their usual unsatisfactory breakfast of Spam, dried eggs, and coffee. Mitchell, inwardly doubtful of the mission's chances for success, exuded quiet confidence as he chatted with the fliers and ground crew. His last instructions before the 0700 take-off were to maintain radio silence. The Lightnings roared into life and, before getting airborne, trundled to the end of the runway, being so heavily laden. At take-off McLanahan blew a tire and shortly afterwards Moore's new tanks wouldn't feed. These two 'shooters' dropped out of the mission Hine and Holmes replaced them.
Mitchell's remaining 16 planes thundered along at wavetop level to avoid Japanese spotters. They sped northwest, sweeping widely away from Jap-occupied New Georgia. Mitchell tried to hold the planes at the dangerously low level of thirty feet with only the smooth ocean below, depth perception was almost non-existent. Horrified, Mitchell watched helplessly as one plane dipped low enough to kick up spray onto his windows. But the pilot kept control and eased the big fighter back up out of the waves. By 0800, the American raiders were 285 miles from the planned interception at that minute, Admiral Yamamoto's Betty bomber took off from Rabaul, precisely on time for his scheduled 1000 arrival on Bougainville. His entourage included one other Betty bomber and six Zeros. Yamamoto's chief of staff, Admiral Ugaki, flew in the second bomber.
The sun beat down on the large windows of the Lightnings. Designed for high altitude work, Lockheed had elected not to provide the cockpits with coolers. The pilots sweated profusely in their flying greenhouses and at 0820 changed their heading for the first time, swinging slightly to the north. Half an hour later, when abreast of Vella Lavella, they made their second planned course change, again shifting a little more to the north.
At 0900, Mitchell made their last change, heading northeast, directly toward the coast of Bougainville, only 40 miles away. He also began the slow climb for altitude at this point. The pilots test fired their guns. The minutes ticked away and the Lightnings droned on, climbing as the mountains of Bougainville came into view. 0934 when sharp-eyed Doug Canning called out "Bogeys, eleven o'clock. High." Mitchell couldn't believe it there they were, right on schedule, exactly as planned. The Japanese planes appeared bright and new-looking to the pilots of the 339th. They jettisoned their drop tanks and bored in for the attack. Holmes and Hine had trouble with their tanks, only Barber and Lanphier of the killer group went after the Japanese bombers. All the other P-38s followed their instructions to fly cover.
The attack itself has been shrouded in uncertainty and, unfortunately, in controversy. Both Lanphier and Barber claimed one bomber shot down over the jungles of Bougainville. Frank Holmes claimed another shot down over the water a few minutes later. From Japanese records and survivors, among them Admiral Ugaki, the following facts are certain. Only two Betty bombers were involved Yamamoto's was shot down over Bougainville with no survivors the second went into the ocean and Ugaki lived to tell about it. Shortly after the attack, a Japanese search party located the wreckage, including the Admiral's body, which they ceremonially cremated.
The Lightnings had waded into the Japanese flight, pouring forth their deadly streams of lead. In the manner of all aerial combat, the fight was brief, high-speed, and confused. The individual pilots recorded their impressions for the Air Combat Intelligence officers it wasn't until long after the war that anyone realized their claims for three bombers had been overstated.
The pilots uneventfully flew back to Guadalcanal, where upon landing, the ground personnel greeted them gleefully, like a winning football team. While Lanphier and Barber briefly disagreed about the air battle, all was subsumed in the generally celebratory atmosphere. Lanphier later recalled enjoying his best meal of the war that night. The controversy has continued down to the present day. Read more about the "Who Shot Yamamoto?" on the Tom Lanphier page.
For Mitchell and the other participants, the war was over. They knew far too much to risk them in front line action. All were promptly sent stateside for training and other assignments. There were among a handful of army fliers to receive the Navy Cross for their achievement. (Although Mitchell later shot down three more planes over Japan, while flying P-51s for the 15th and 21st Fighter Groups.)
Mitchell flew again in the Korean War, taking over the 51st FIW for Gabby Gabreski in June, 1952. He shot down 4 MiGs in Korea. Among his other challenges as CO was controlling the "flight suit" mentality of his fliers, who bent all the rules in their desire to "kill MiGs." Things came to a head when Lt. Col. Edwn Heller of the 16th FIS was shot down on the wrong side of the Yalu. As Robert Dorr describes it in Korean War Aces, "Mitchell was madder than any colonel the pilot had ever seen." Mitchell and General Barcus made a lot of personnel changes and even attempted to strip on pilot, Capt. Dolph Overton, of his ace status.
He was awarded the Navy Cross, the Army Distinguished Service Cross and many other awards. He retired as a Colonel after 23 years of all fighter unit service. He died on November 15, 1995 .
An account of the longest fighter intercept mission in history, the American mission to shoot down the aircraft carrying Japan's greatest admiral. Presents evidence on the controversy over which pilot actually shot down the plane, and includes interviews with members of the P-38 Lightning squadron. Includes b&w photos.