Tag Archives: Ace in One Day

12 October 1944

Second Lieutenant Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Army Air Forces, standing on the wing of his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13897, Glamorous Glenn II, at Air Station 373, 12 October 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Army Air Corps, standing on the wing of his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13897, Glamorous Glenn II, at Air Station 373, 12 October 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

12 October 1944: During World War II, First Lieutenant Charles Elwood Yeager, Air Corps, United States Army, was a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot assigned to the 363d Fighter Squadron, 357th Fighter Group, stationed at RAF Leiston (USAAF Station 373), near the village of Theberton, Suffolk, England.

Recently promoted from the warrant rank of Flight Officer, Lieutenant Yeager—as one of the most experienced pilots in the group— was leading the 357th on a bomber escort mission against Bremen, Germany. While the Group’s 362nd and 364th Fighter Squadrons remained with the B-24 bombers, Yeager and the 363d patrolled 50 to 100 miles (80 to 160 kilometers) ahead.

At 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) over Steinhuder Meer, northwest of Hanover, Yeager sighted a group of Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters (also called the Me 109). He was soon able to count 22. Yeager and his squadron of 16 Mustangs circled and attacked out of the sun.

A flight of three Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Me 109 fighters, 20 July 1944. (Bundsarchive Bild 101l-676-7975-36)
A flight of three Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Me 109 fighters, 20 July 1944. (Bundsarchive Bild 101l-676-7975-36)

As Chuck Yeager maneuvered his P-51D Mustang, named Glamorous Glenn II, to fire at a trailing Bf 109, the German fighter suddenly turned left and collided with his wingman. Both pilots bailed out of their fighters and the two Bf 109s went down.

It was almost comic, scoring two quick victories without firing a shot. . . By now, all the airplanes in the sky had dropped their wing tanks and were spinning and diving in a wild, wide-open dogfight. I blew up a 109 from six hundred yards—my third victory—when I turned to see another angling in behind me. Man I pulled back the throttle so damned hard I nearly stalled, rolled up and over, came in behind and under him, kicking right rudder and simultaneously firing. I was directly underneath the guy, less than fifty feet, and I opened up that 109 as if it were a can of Spam. That made four. A moment later, I waxed a guy’s fanny in a steep dive; I pulled up at about 1,000 feet; he went straight into the ground.

Yeager, An Autobiography, by Chuck Yeager and Leo Janos, Bantam Books, New York, 1985, at Page 57.

Lieutenant Yeager’s official report of the air battle reads (in part):

“H. Five Me. 109s destroyed

“I. I was leading the Group with Cement Squadron and was roving out to the right of the first box of bombers. I was over STEINHUDER LAKE when 22 Me. 109s crossed in front of my Squadron from 11:00 O’Clock to 1:00 O’Clock. I was coming out of the sun and they were about 1½ miles away at the same level of 25,000 feet. I fell in behind the enemy formation and followed them for about 3 minutes, climbing to 30,000 feet. I still had my wing tanks and had close up to around 1,000 yards, coming within firing range and positioning the Squadron behind the entire enemy formation. Two of the Me. 109s were dodging over to the right. One slowed up and before I could start firing, rolled over and bailed out. The other Me. 109, flying his wing, bailed out immediately after as I was ready to line him in my sights. I was the closest to the tail-end of the enemy formation and no one, but myself was in shooting range and no one was firing. I dropped my tanks and then closed up to the last Jerry and opened fire from 600 yards, using the K-14 sight. I observed strikes all over the ship, particularly heavy in the cockpit. He skidded off to the left. I was closing up on another Me. 109 so I did not follow him down. Lt. STERN, flying in Blue Flight reports this E/A on fire as it passed him and went into a spin. I closed up on the next Me. 109 to 100 yards, skidded to the right and took a deflection shot of about 10°. I gave about a 2 second burst and the whole fuselage split open and blew up after we passed. Another Me. 109 to the right had cut his throttle and was trying to get behind. I broke to the right and quickly rolled to the left on his tail. He started pulling it in and I was pulling 6″G”. I got a lead from around 300 yards and gave him a short burst. There were hits on wings and tail section He snapped to the right 3 times and bailed out when he quit snapping at around 18,000 feet. I did not blackout during this engagement due to the efficiency of the “G” suit. Even though I was skidding I hit the second Me. 109 by keeping the bead and range on the E/A. To my estimation the K-14 sight is the biggest improvement to combat equipment for Fighters up to this date. The Me. 109s appeared to have a type of bubble canopy and had purple noses and were a mousey brown all over. I claim five Me 109s destroyed.

“J. Ammunition Expended: 587 rounds .50 cal MG.

“Charles E. Yeager, 1st Lt, AC.”

Lieutenant Yeager had destroyed five enemy fighters during a single battle. He became “an Ace in one day” and was awarded the Silver Star. Of the twenty-two Me 109s, the 363rd had destroyed eight without losing a single Mustang.

Yeager’s Glamorous Glenn II, flown by another pilot, was destroyed six days later when it crashed in bad weather.

North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA 44-13366 on a test flight near the North American plant at Inglewood, California. This is from the same production block as Yeager's Glamorous Glenn II.
North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA 44-13366 on a test flight near the North American plant at Inglewood, California. This is from the same production block as Yeager’s Glamorous Glenn II.

The P-51D was the predominant version of the North American Aviation World War II fighter. It was a single-seat, single-engine fighter, initially designed for the Royal Air Force. The P-51D was 32 feet, 3.5 inches (9.843 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet (11.278 meters). It was 13 feet, 4.5 inches (4.077 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 7,635 pounds (3,463 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 12,100 pounds (5,489 kilograms).

The P-51D was powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with Military Power ratings of 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m with 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3), or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). These engines were versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66, built under license by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.

A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,715 pounds (778 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. Packard built 55,873 of the V-1650 series engines. Continental built another 897. The cost per engine ranged from $12,548 to $17,185. (NASM)
A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,715 pounds (778 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. Packard built 55,873 of the V-1650 series engines. Continental built another 897. The cost per engine ranged from $12,548 to $17,185. (NASM)

The P-51D with a V-1650-7 Merlin had maximum speed at Sea Level of 323 miles per hour (520 kilometers per hour) at the Normal Power setting of 2,700 r.p.m. and 46 inches of manifold pressure, and 375 miles per hour (604 kilometers per hour) at War Emergency Power, 3,000 r.p.m with 67 inches of manifold pressure (5 minute limit). At altitude, using the Military Power setting of 3,000 r.p.m. and 61 inches of manifold pressure (15 minute limit), it had a maximum speed of 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 28,000 feet (8,534 meters). With War Emergency Power the P-51D could reach 442 miles per hour (711 kilometers per hour) at 26,000 feet (7,925 meters).

The P-51D could climb to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 6.4 minutes, and to its service ceiling, 41,600 feet (12,680 meters), in 28 minutes. The airplane’s absolute ceiling was 42,400 feet (12,924 meters).

With 180 gallons (681 liters) internal fuel, the maximum range of the P-51D was 1,108 miles (1,783 kilometers).

Armorers carry AN/M2 Browning .50-caliber machine guns and belts of linked ammunition to a P-51 Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)
Armorers carry Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns and belts of linked .50-caliber ammunition to a P-51 Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-51D was armed with six electrically-heated Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with three mounted in each wing. 400 rounds of ammunition were provided for the inner pair of guns, and 270 rounds for each of the other four guns, for a total of 1,880 rounds of ammunition. This was armor piercing, incendiary, and tracer ammunition. The fighter could also carry a 1,000 pound (453.6 kilogram) bomb under each wing in place of drop tanks, or up to ten rockets.

A total of 8,156 P-51Ds were produced by North American at Inglewood, California, and Dallas, Texas, and another 200 by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, Melbourne, Australia.

The North American Aviation P-51D Mustang remained in service with the United States Air Force until 27 January 1957, when the last aircraft were retired from the 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia National Guard.

North American Aviation P-51D Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation P-51D Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 April 1943

First Lieutenant James Elms Swett, United States Marine Corps Reserve. (U.S. Naval Institute)

The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to

FIRST LIEUTENANT JAMES E. SWETT
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS RESERVE
 

for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, as a division leader in Marine Fighting Squadron TWO TWENTY-ONE in action against enemy Japanese aerial forces in the Solomon Islands Area, April 7, 1943. In a daring flight to intercept a wave of 150 Japanese planes, First Lieutenant Swett unhesitatingly hurled his four-plane division into action against a formation of fifteen enemy bombers and during his dive personally exploded three hostile planes in mid-air with accurate and deadly fire. Although separated from his division while clearing the heavy concentration of anti-aircraft fire, he boldly attacked six enemy bombers, engaged the first four in turn, and unaided, shot them down in flames. Exhausting his ammunition as he closed the fifth Japanese bomber, he relentlessly drove his attack against terrific opposition which partially disabled his engine, shattered the windscreen and slashed his face. In spite of this, he brought his battered plane down with skillful precision in the water off Tulagi without further injury. The superb airmanship and tenacious fighting spirit which enabled First Lieutenant Swett to destroy eight enemy bombers in a single flight were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

/S/ FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT

James Elms Swett was born at Seattle, Washington, 15 June 1920, the first of three children of George Elms Swett, an electrical engineer and U.S. Marine Corps reservist, and Nellie Emily Burns Swett. He gew up in San Mateo, California, where he attended San Mateo High School and the College of San Mateo. While in college, Swett learned to fly through the Civilian Pilot Training Program.

Swett enlisted in the United States Navy as a Seaman 2nd Class, 26 August 1941. He was assigned to flight training as an Aviation Cadet at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas. While in training, Sweet elected to serve as a U.S. Marine Corps officer. On completion of flight training, he was awarded the gold wings of a Naval Aviator and commissioned a Second Lieutenant, United States Marine Corps Reserve, 1 April 1942. He was then sent to MCAS Quantico for advanced training.

In July 1942, 2nd Lieutenant Swett was placed under arrest for a period of ten days for “diving and zooming over traffic” below 500 feet (152 meters), along U.S. Route 1. He was then transferred to an air station in Florida. Swett was next assigned to Marine Fighting Squadron 221 (VMF-221), Marine Air Group 21 (MAG-21), 1st Marine Air Wing, Fleet Marine Force. In March 1943, the squadron deployed from Hawaii to the South Pacific aboard the Bogue-class escort carrier USS Nassau (CVE-16), arriving at Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, in late March. VMF-221 then flew on to Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands.

Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters at Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, 1943.

On the morning of 7 April 1943, Lieutenant Swett led a four-plane flight of Wildcats on a patrol, then returned to refuel at Henderson Field. While his fighter, Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat, Bu. No. 12084, was being serviced, word came of a large group of enemy aircraft approaching from the north. Swett and his flight joined a number of other fighters to intercept the attacking enemy aircraft.

Near the Russell Islands, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of Guadalcanal, the American fighters came in contact with an estimated 150 enemy aircraft. Swett, in combat for the first time, quickly engaged three Aichi D3A Type 99 (American reporting name, “Val”) dive bombers. He shot them down. Becoming separated from his flight, he continued to engage the enemy, shooting down several more. His right wing was damaged by American anti-aircraft guns, but he continued. Having shot down seven Vals, he engaged an eighth. The Val’s gunner fired his two 7.7 mm machine guns in defense. By this time, Swett was running out of ammunition, but his final bullets killed the enemy gunner and set the Aichi on fire. But machine gun bullets from the Val damaged his windshield, punctured an engine oil cooler and set the Wildcat on fire.

Aichi D3A Type 99 dive bomber, Allied reporting name, “Val”. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Photo Archives)

Unable to make it back to Henderson, Swett ditched in the ocean near Tulagi. The airplane quickly sank. It was about 25 feet (7 meters) down before Swett was able to escape from the Wildcat’s cockpit. He was picked up by a U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat.  He had been slightly injured.

During only fifteen minutes, 2nd Lieutenant Swett destroyed seven enemy aircraft and damaged an eighth.¹ He had become an “Ace in One Day.”

This Grumman F4F Wildcat on the sea floor near Tulagi may be Lieutenant Swett’s F4F-4, Bu. No. 12084. (Dive PlanIt)

Swett was promoted to 1st Lieutenant and transitioned to the Chance Vought F4U-1 Corsair. He shot down four Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” twin-engine medium bombers and an A6M Zero, before being shot down again near New Georgia, 10 July 1943. He returned to combat in October, shot down two more Val dive bombers and a Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien Type 3 fighter, known to Allied forces as “Tony.”

During a ceremony held at Espiritu Santo, 10 October 1943, Major General Ralph Johnson Mitchell, commanding the 1st Marine Air Wing, presented First Lieutenant James Elms Swett, United States Marine Corps Reserve, the Medal of Honor.

In 1944, Captain Swett was returned to the United States, and was training with VMF-221 at MCAS Santa Barbara, California. He would meet President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House during the Spring.

While at Santa Barbara, Captain Swett met Miss Lois Aileen Anderson and they soon married. They would later have two sons, both of whom would go on to become Marine Corps officers.

After retraining in Southern California, VMF-221 returned to the War, assigned to the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) in the western Pacific.

Chance Vought F4U-1D Corsair aboard USS Bunker Hill (CV-17), 6 May 1945. (U.S. Navy)

On the morning of 11 May 1945, Captain Swett was flying a combat air patrol in an F4U-1D Corsair, when the fleet was attacked by kamikaze suicide aircraft. Swett shot down a Yokosuka D4Y Suisei (“Judy”) dive bomber.

During this attack, Bunker Hill was hit by two successive kamikazes and suffered catastrophic damage. 346 men were killed in action, 43 missing in action and 264 wounded. The carrier would survive, but was out of action for the remainder of the war.

Unable to land aboard their carrier, Captain Swett organized the airplanes still airborne and led them to USS Enterprise (CV-6).

30 seconds after the first, a second Mitsubishi A6M Zero crashes into USS Bunker Hill (CV-17), 1005 hours, 11 May 1945. (U.S. Navy)

During World War II, Major Swett flew 103 combat missions. He is officially credited with 15.5 aerial victories.

Following World War II, Major Swett remained in the Marine Corps Reserve. In 1949, he took command of Marine Fighting Squadron 141 (VMF-141) at NAS Oakland. He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War, but was not sent to the war zone.

James Swett rose to the rank of Colonel. He retired from the Marine Corps in 1970.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, during his career in the Marine Corps, Colonel Swett was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with gold star (2 awards); Purple Heart with gold star (2 awards); Air Medal with 4 gold stars (5 awards); Navy Combat Action Ribbon; Presidential Unit Citation with 2 bronze stars (3 awards); Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with 1 gold star and 1 silver star (6 campaigns); World War II Victory medal; and the Armed Forces Reserve Medal with silver hourglass device (20 years of service).

Colonel James Elms Swett, United States Marine Corps Reserve (Retired) died at Redding California, 18 January 2009, at the age of 88 years. He was buried at the Northern California Veterans Cemetery, Igo, California.

Major James E. Swett, United States Marine Corps Reserve

The Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat was a single-engine, single place mid-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear, designed for operations from United States Navy aircraft carriers. The wings could be fold alongside the fuselage for storage.

The F4F-4 was 28 feet, 10-5/8 inches (8.804 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 0 inches (11.582 meters) and height of 12 feet, 1-3/8 inches (3.693 meters). The Wildcat’s wing had 0° angle of incidence. The fixed, inner wing has 0° dihedral, while the outer wing panels have 5° dihedral. There is no sweep. The width of the airplane with its wings folded was 14 feet, 6 inches (4.420 meters). The fighter’s empty weight was 5,895 pounds (2,674 kilograms), and the gross weight, 7,975 pounds (3,618 kilograms).

Grumman F4F Wildcat, circa 1942-1943. (U.S. Navy)

The F4F-4 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,829.39-cubic-inch-displacement (29.98 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-86 (Twin Wasp SSC7-G) two-row, fourteen cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. The R-1830-86 was rated at 1,100 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 3,500 feet (1,067 meters), 1,000 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 19,000 feet (5,791 meters), and 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff, burning 100-octane gasoline. The engine drove a three-bladed Curtiss Electric propeller with a diameter of 9 feet, 9 inches (2.972 meters) through a 3:2 gear reduction. The R-1830-86 was 5 feet, 7.44 inches (1.713 meters) long, 44 feet, 0.19 inches (1.224 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,560 pounds (708 kilograms).

Maximum speed 275.0 at SL,  318.0 @ 19,400′ Service ceiling 34,800 feet ( meters). Maximum range 765 miles ( kilometers)

The F4F-4 was armed with six air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted in the wings with 1,440 rounds of ammunition.

Between February 1940 and August 1945, 7,898 Wildcats were produced by the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, Bethpage, New York, and General Motors Eastern Aircraft Division at Linden, New Jersey.

Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat. (U.S. Navy)

¹ Various reliable sources give different values for the number of enemy aircraft shot down by 2nd Lieutenant Swett on 7 May 1943, with the most common being five. Swett claimed eight destroyed, and this is reflected in his Medal of Honor citation. The intelligence officer who investigated determined that his claims were valid. The USMC History Division credits seven enemy aircraft destroyed: “Colonel James Elms Swett, of San Mateo, California, earned the Medal of Honor in World War II for shooting down seven Japanese bombers within 15 minutes.”

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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