Tag Archives: Aerial Combat

18 December 1941

First Lieutenant Boyd D. Wagner, USAAC. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant Boyd David Wagner, United States Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)

18 December 1941: First Lieutenant Boyd David (“Buzz”) Wagner, United States Army Air Corps, commanding officer of the 17th Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) at Nichols Field, Pasay City, Commonwealth of the Philippines, shot down his fifth Japanese airplane, a Mitsubishi A6M2 Type Zero fighter, with his Curtiss-Wright P-40B Warhawk, near Vigan, Luzon. He became the first U.S. Army “ace” of World War II.

On 12 December 1941, “Buzz” Wagner was flying a lone reconnaissance mission over the airfield at Aparri, which had been captured by the invading Japanese. He was attacked by several Zero fighters but he evaded them, then returned and shot down two of them.  As he strafed the airfield he was attacked by more Zeros and shot down two more, bringing his score for the mission to four enemy airplanes shot down.

On 18 December, Lieutenant Wagner lead a flight of four P-40s to attack the enemy-held airfield at Vigan. He and Lieutenant Russell M. Church strafed and bombed the field while two other P-40s covered from overhead. Wagner destroyed nine Japanese aircraft on the ground, but as he passed over the field a Zero took off. Wagner rolled inverted to locate the Zero, then after spotting him, chopped his throttle and allowed the Zero to pass him. This left Wagner in a good position and he shot down his fifth enemy fighter. Lieutenant Church was shot down by ground fire and killed.

Mitsubishi A6M3 Model 22 "Zeke" in the Solomon Islands, 1943. (Imperial Japanese Navy)
A Mitsubishi A6M3 Navy Type 0 Model 22, UI 105, (Allied reporting name “Zeke”, but better known simply as “the Zero”) in the Solomon Islands, May 1943. This fighter is flown by Petty Officer 1st Class Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, 251st Kōkūtai, Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service. (Imperial Japanese Navy)

This fifth shoot down made Buzz Wagner the first U.S. Army Air Corps ace of World War II. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in an air battle, 22 December 1941. He was evacuated to Australia in January 1942.

2nd Lieutenant Boyd D. Wagner, Air Corps, United States Army.

Boyd David Wagner was born 26 October 1916 at Emeigh, Pennsylvania. He was the first of two children of Boyd Matthew Wagner, a laborer, and Elizabeth Moody Wagner. After graduating from high school, Wagner enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh, where he majored in aeronautical engineering.

After three years of college, Boyd Wagner enlisted as a flying cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps, at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 26 June 1937. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, Air Corps Reserve, 16 June 1938. Lieutenant Wagner received advanced flight training and pursuit training, and on 1 October 1938 his commission as a reserve officer was changed to Second Lieutenant, Army Air Corps.

Wagner was promoted to First Lieutenant, Army of the United States, on 9 September 1940. Lieutenant Wagner was assigned to the 24th Pursuit Group in the Philippine Islands, 5 December 1940.

1st Lieutenant Boyd David Wagner, United States Army Air Corps, Philippine Islands, 1 December 1941. (Photograph by Carl Mydans/TIME & LIFE Pictures/Getty Images)
Lt. Col. Boyd D. Wagner

Lieutenant Wagner was promoted to the rank of Captain, A.U.S., 30 January 1942. On 11 April 1942, Captain Wagner was again promoted, bypassing the rank of Major, to Lieutenant Colonel, A.U.S. He was assigned to the 8th Fighter Group in New Guinea. On 30 April 1942, while flying a Bell P-39 Airacobra, Wagner shot down another three enemy airplanes. In September 1942, Colonel Wagner was sent back to the United States to train new fighter pilots.

On 29 November 1942, Colonel Wagner disappeared while on a routine flight from Eglin Field, Florida, to Maxwell Field, Alabama, in a Curtiss-Wright P-40K Warhawk, 42-10271. Six weeks later, the wreck of his fighter was found, approximately 4 miles north of Freeport, Florida. Lieutenant Colonel Boyd David Wagner, United States Army Air Corps, had been killed in the crash. His remains are buried at Grandview Cemetery, Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

Curtiss P-40B Warhawks at Clark Field, Philippine Islands, early December 1941.
Curtiss-Wright P-40B Warhawks of the 17th Pursuit Squadron, Nichols Field, Luzon, Philippine Islands, early December 1941. This squadron was under the command of 1st Lieutenant Buzz Wagner. (U.S. Air Force)

The Curtiss-Wright Corporation Hawk 81B (P-40B Warhawk) was a single-seat, single-engine pursuit. It was a low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction and used flush riveting to reduce aerodynamic drag. It had an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear. Extensive wind tunnel testing at the NACA Langley laboratories refined the airplane’s design, significantly increasing the top speed.

The P-40B Warhawk was 31 feet, 8¾ inches (9.671 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 4 inches (11.379 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 7 inches (3.226 meters). Its empty weight was 5,590 pounds (2,536 kilograms), and 7,326 pounds (3,323 kilograms) gross. The maximum takeoff weight was 7,600 pounds (3,447 kilograms).

Curtiss-Wright P-40B or C Warhawk, circa 1942. ¹ (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

The P-40B was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.597ubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-C15 (V-1710-33), a single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, which had a Continuous Power Rating of 930 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., from Sea Level to 12,800 feet (3,901 meters), and 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. to 14,300 feet  (4,359 meters) for Take Off and Military Power. The engine drove a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-33 was 8 feet, 2.54 inches (2.503 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.88 inches (1.064 meters) high, and 2 feet, 5.29 inches (0.744 meters) wide. It weighed 1,340 pounds (607.8 kilograms).

Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-33 V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (NASM)
Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-33 V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (NASM)

Heavier than the initial production P-40, the P-40B was slightly slower, with a maximum speed of 352 miles per hour (567 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). It had a service ceiling of 32,400 feet (9,876 meters). Its range was 730 miles (1,175 kilometers).

Armament consisted of two air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted in the cowling and synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc, with 380 rounds of ammunition per gun, and four Browning AN-M2 .30-caliber aircraft machine guns, with two in each wing.

Curtiss-Wright produced 13,738 P-40s between 1939 and 1944. 131 of those were P-40B Warhawks.

These Curtiss P-40B Warhawks of the 44th Pursuit Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group, are the same type aircraft flown by Buzz Wagner. (U.S. Air Force)
These Curtiss P-40B Warhawks of the 44th Pursuit Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group, are the same type aircraft flown by Buzz Wagner in combat over the Philippine Islands. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ The Warhawk in the photograph may be P-40C 41-13471, s/n 16351.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 December 1944

Major Richard Ira Bong, Air Corps, United States Army, Leyte, 12 December 1944. Major Bong is wearing the Medal of Honor. (U.S. Air Force)

17 December 1944: Captain Richard Ira Bong, United States Army Air Corps, flying a Lockheed P-38 Lighting over San José on the Island of Mindoro, Commonwealth of the Philippines, shot down an enemy Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa (Allied reporting name, “Oscar”).

This was Bong’s 40th confirmed aerial victory and made him the leading American fighter ace of World War II. He is officially credited with 40 aircraft destroyed, 8 probably destroyed and 7 damaged.

Five days earlier, 12 December, during a ceremony at an American airfield on the Island of Leyte, Philippine Islands, General Douglas MacArthur, United States Army, had presented Major Bong the Medal of Honor.

An Associated Press reporter quoted the General:

“Of all military attributes, that one which arouses the greatest admiration is courage. It is the basis of all successful military ventures. our forces possess it to a high degree and various awards are provided to show the public’s appreciation. The Congress of the United States has reserved to itself the honor of decorating those amongst all who stand out as the bravest of the brave. It’s this high and noble category, Bong, that you now enter as I pin upon your tunic the Medal of Honor. Wear it as a symbol of the invincible courage you have displayed so often in mortal combat. My dear boy, may a merciful God continue to protect you is the constant prayer of your commander in chief.”

[On 18 December 1944, Douglas MacArthur was promoted to General of the Army, a five-star rank held by only nine other U.S. military officers. General MacArthur was the son of a Medal of Honor recipient, and had himself been twice nominated for the Medal for his actions during the occupation of Vera Cruz (1914) and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (1918). He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his defense of the Philippines, 1941–42.]

General Douglas MacArthur talks with Major Richard I. Bong, 12 December 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
General Douglas MacArthur talks with Major Richard I. Bong, Leyte, Philippine Islands, 12 December 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

Richard Bong’s citation reads:

MEDAL OF HONOR

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Major (Air Corps) Richard Ira Bong, United States Army Air Forces, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 49th Fighter Group, V Fighter Command, Fifth Air Force, in action in the Southwest Pacific area from 10 October to 15 November 1944.

Though assigned to duty as gunnery instructor and neither required nor expected to perform combat duty, Major Bong voluntarily and at his own urgent request engaged in repeated combat missions, including unusually hazardous sorties over Balikpapan, Borneo, and in the Leyte area of the Philippines. His aggressiveness and daring resulted in his shooting down eight enemy airplanes during this period.

General Orders: War Department, General Orders No. 90, December 8, 1944
Action Date: October 10 – November 15, 1944
Service: Army Air Forces
Rank: Major
Regiment: 49th Fighter Group, V Fighter Command
Division: 5th Air Force.

Dick Bong poses with "Marge," his Lockheed P-38J Lightning. A large photograph of his fiancee, Miss Marjorie Vattendahl, is glued to the fighter's nose.
Dick Bong poses with “Marge,” his Lockheed P-38J-15-LO Lightning, 42-103993, Lockheed serial number 2827. A large photograph of his fiancée, Miss Marjorie Ann Vattendahl, is affixed to the fighter’s nose.

Major Bong flew a number of different Lockheed P-38s in combat. He is most associated, though, with P-38J-15-LO 42-103993, which he named Marge after his fiancée, Miss Marjorie Ann Vattendahl, a school teacher from Poplar, Wisconsin.

Richard Bong had flown 146 combat missions. General George C. Kenney, commanding the Far East Air Forces, relieved him from combat and ordered that he return to the United States. He was assigned to test new production P-80 Shooting Stars jet fighters being built at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s Burbank, California plant.

On 6 August 1945, the fuel pump of the new P-80 Bong was flying failed just after takeoff. The engine failed from fuel starvation and the airplane crashed into a residential area of North Hollywood, California. Major Richard Ira Bong was killed.

Nakajima Ki-43 Type 1 Army Fighter (AvionsLegendaires.net)

The Nakajima Ki-43 Type 1 Hayabusa was a single-place, single-engine fighter manufactured by Nakajima Hikoki K.K. for the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service. The light weight fighter was very maneuverable and was a deadly opponent. It was identified as “Oscar” by Allied forces. The Ki-43 shot down more Allied airplanes during World War II than any other Japanese fighter.

The Ki-43 was 29.2 feet (8.90 meters) long, with a wingspan of 35.6 feet (10.85 meters) and height of 9 feet (2.74 meters). Its empty weight was 4,170 pounds (1,878 kilograms) and gross weight  was 5,500 pounds (2,495 kilograms).

The Ki-43 Type 1 Army Fighter was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged Nakajima Ha-115 Toku two-row, 14-cylinder radial engine which produced 925 horsepower at 9,350 feet (2,850 meters), 800 horsepower  at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters), and 1,105 horsepower at Sea Level for takeoff. The engine drove a three-bladed constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 9.2 feet (2.80 meters).

Nakajima Ki-43 Type 1 Army Fighter, called “Oscar” by the Allied forces. (The Java Gold’s Blog)

Compared to American fighters, the Oscar was lightly armed with just two synchronized 7.7 mm × 58 mm Type 89 or 12.7 mm × 81 mm Type 1 machine guns, or a combination of one 7.7 mm and one 12.7 mm gun. The 12.7 machine gun could fire explosive ammunition. (The Type 89 was a licensed version of the Vickers .303-caliber machine gun, while the design of the Type 1 was based on the Browning M1921 .50-caliber machine gun.)

The Oscar’s maximum speed was 295 miles per hour (475 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 347 miles per hour (558 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). Its service ceiling was 37,100 feet (11,308 meters). The maximum range with a normal fuel load of 149 U.S. gallons (564 liters) was 1,180 miles (1,899 kilometers) at 1,500 feet (457 meters).

Lockheed P-38J-10-LO Lightning 42-68008, Lockheed serial number 2519. (Lockheed Martin)

The Lockheed P-38 lightning is a single-place, mid-wing, twin-engine fighter. It is an unusual configuration, with the cockpit, weapons and nose landing gear in a central nacelle, and engines, turbochargers, cooling system and main landing gear in outer “booms.” The airplane was originally designed by Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson.

The P-38J is 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long, with a wingspan of 52 feet, 0 inches (15.850 meters) and overall height of 9 feet, 9-11/16 inches (2.989 meters). The fighter has an empty weight of 12,700 pounds (5,761 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 21,600 pounds (9,798 kilograms).

The P-38J was powered by two liquid-cooled, turbosupercharged 1,710.597-cubic-inch displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710-F-17R and -F17L (V-1710-89 and -91, respectively) single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines with a continuous power rating of 1,100 horsepower at 2,600 r,p.m., to 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), and a takeoff/military power rating of 1,425 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. The counter-rotating engines drove 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters) diameter, three-bladed Curtiss Electric full-feathering constant-speed propellers through a 2.00:1 gear reduction. The engines were 7 feet, 1.34 inches (2.168 meters) long, 3 feet, 0.75 inches (0.933 meters) high, 2 feet, 5.28 inches (0.744 meters) wide, and weighed 1,350 pounds (612 kilograms).

A flight of two camouflaged Lockheed P-38J Lightnings, circa 1943. Dick Bong is flying the closer airplane, P-38J-5-LO 42-67183. (Lockheed Martin)

The P-38J had a maximum speed of 420 miles per hour (676 kilometers per hour) at 26,500 feet (8,077 meters). The service ceiling was 44,000 feet (13,411 meters). Carrying external fuel tanks, the Lightning had a maximum range of 2,260 miles (3,637 kilometers).

P-38s were armed with one 20 mm Hispano M2 aircraft autocannon with 150 rounds of ammunition, and four air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns with 500 rounds per gun. All guns are grouped close together in the nose and aimed straight ahead.

A Lockheed P-38 Lighning test fires its guns. (Lockheed Martin)

Between 1939 and 1945, Lockheed Aircraft Corporation built 10,037 P-38 Lightnings at Burbank, California. 2,970 of these were P-38Js.

Major Richard Ira Bong, Air Corps, United States Army. (Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center/National Endowment for the Humanities)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 December 1951

Major George Andrew Davis, Jr., United states Air Force, 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, Korea, 1951. (U.S. Air Force)
Major George Andrew Davis, Jr., United States Air Force, Commanding Officer, 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, Korea, 1951. (U.S. Air Force)

13 December 1951: Major George Andrew Davis, Jr., United States Air Force, commanding officer of the 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, flying a North American F-86E-10-NA Sabre, serial number 51-2752, led his unit on two “MiG Sweeps.”

Film from the gun camera of Major Davis’ F-86E Sabre 51-2752 shows a MiG 15 smoking after being hit, 13 December 1951. (U.S. Air Force)
Film from the gun camera of Major Davis’ F-86E Sabre 51-2752 shows a MiG 15 smoking after being hit, 13 December 1951. (U.S. Air Force)

During the mid-day fighter sweep, the 334th encountered Mikoyan Gurevich MiG 15 fighters of the 18th GIAP, 303rd IAD,  Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily (the Soviet Air Force), and an air battle ensued. Major Davis was credited with shooting down two of the Russian fighters. The pilot of one of the MiGs, I.A. Gorsky, was killed. The identity and fate of the second Soviet pilot is not known.

During a second sweep in mid-afternoon, George Davis and the 334th again encountered enemy MiG 15s of the 40th Regiment, 14th Division, of the Peoples Liberation Army Air Force (Chinese Air Force). At 3:52 p.m. (1352) Davis shot down one of the Chinese MiG 15s. One minute later, he shot down another, his fourth aerial victory for the day.

These frames of film from the gun camera of Davis’ F-86 Sabre show a MiG 15 trailing smoke after being hit by the Sabre’s six .50-caliber machine guns. Chinese sources confirmed the loss of two MiG 15s, but again, the identities of the pilots and whether or not they survived is not known.

This North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre, 51-2849, seen here in flight over Edwards Air Force base, california, is the same type fighter that was flown by Major George Davis, 13 December 1951. (U.S. Air Force)
This North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre, 51-2849, seen here in flight near Edwards Air Force Base, California, is the same type fighter that was flown by Major George A. Davis, Jr., 13 December 1951. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 December 1941

Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps, by Deane Keller, 1942.
Captain Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr., Air Corps, United States Army, by Deane Keller, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

10 December 1941:¹ A single B-17C Flying Fortress heavy bomber, 40-2045, departed from Clark Field, on the island of Luzon, Commonwealth of the Philippines, alone and without escort, to search for an enemy aircraft carrier which had been reported near the coastal city of Aparri, at the northern end of the island. The aircraft was under the command of Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr., Air Corps, United States Army, of the 14th Bombardment Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group.

Kelly’s Flying Fortress had not been fully fueled or armed because of an impending Japanese air raid. It carried only three 600-pound (272 kilogram) demolition bombs in its bomb bay.

While enroute to their assigned target area, Captain Kelly and his crew sighted a Japanese amphibious assault task force north of Aparri, including what they believed was a Fusō-class battleship. The crew was unable to locate the reported aircraft carrier and Kelly decided to return to attack the ships that they had seen earlier.

A 19th Bombardment Group Boeing B-17C at Iba Airfield, Philipiine Islands, September 1941.
A Boeing B-17C assigned to the 19th Bombardment Group at Iba Airfield, approximately 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Manila on the island of Luzon, Commonwealth of the Philippine Islands, October 1941. (U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency)

Kelly made two passes at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) while the bombardier, Sergeant Meyer Levin, set up for a precise drop. On the third run, Sergeant Meyer released the three bombs in trail and bracketed the light cruiser IJN Natori. It and an escorting destroyer, IJN Harukaze, were damaged by near misses.

“. . . The battleship [actually, the light cruiser IJN Natori] was seen about 4 miles offshore and moving slowly parallel with the coastline. . . A quartering approach to the longitudinal axis of the ship was being flown. The three bombs were released in train as rapidly as the bombardier could get them away. The first bomb struck about 50 yards short, the next alongside, and the third squarely amidship. . . A great cloud of smoke arose from the point of impact. The forward length of the ship was about 10 degrees off center to portside. The battleship began weaving from side to side and headed toward shore. Large trails of oil followed in its wake. . . .”

Narrative Report of Flight of Captain Colin P. Kelly, Air Corps, O-20811 (deceased) on Dec 10, 1947, by Eugene L. Eubank, Colonel, Air Corps, Commanding, Headquarters, 5th Bomber Command, Malang, Java, Feb 19, 1942

A Natori-class light cruiser, IJN Yura, photographed circa 1937. (U.S. Navy)

A group of Japanese Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 (“Zero”) fighters of the Tainan Kokutai, including the famed fighter ace Petty Officer First Class Saburō Sakai, attacked Kelly’s bomber as it returned to Clark Field, with the first pass killing Technical Sergeant William J. Delehanty and wounding Private First Class Robert E. Altman. The instrument panel was destroyed and oxygen tanks exploded. A second pass by the fighters set the bomber’s left wing on fire. This quickly spread to the fuselage. The two engines on the right wing failed.

坂井 三郎 PO1 Saburō Sakai, Imperial Japanese Navy

Captain Kelly ordered his crew to bail out and though the fire had spread to the flight deck, Kelly remained at the bomber’s controls. Staff Sergeant James E. Halkyard, Private First Class Willard L. Money, and Private Altman were able to escape from the rear of the B-17. The navigator, Second Lieutenant Joe M. Bean, and the bombardier, Sergeant Levin, went out through the nose escape hatch. As co-pilot Lieutenant Donald Robins tried to open the cockpit’s upper escape hatch, the Flying Fortress exploded. Robins was thrown clear and was able to open his parachute.

Boeing B-17C 40-2045 crashed approximately three miles (4.8 kilometers) east of Clark Field. The bodies of Captain Kelly and Sergeant Delehanty were found at the crash site.

“The wreckage was found along a rural road 2 miles west of Mount Aryat (Mount Aryat is about 5 miles east of Clark Field). The tail assembly was missing. Parts . . . were scattered over an area of 500 yards. The right wing with two engines still in place remained almost intact although it was burning when the search party arrived. The fuselage and left side of the plane were badly wrecked and burned. T/Sgt Delehanty’s body was lying about 50 yards north of the wreckage. Capt Kelly’s body . . . was found very near the wreckage with his parachute unopened. . . .”

Narrative Report of Flight of Captain Colin P. Kelly, Air Corps, O-20811 (deceased) on Dec 10, 1947, by Eugene L. Eubank, Colonel, Air Corps, Commanding, Headquarters, 5th Bomber Command, Malang, Java, Feb 19, 1942

Captain Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr., Air Corps, United States Army. (The New York Times)

Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr., was born in Madison County, Florida, 11 July 1915. He was the first of two children of Colin Purdie Kelly, a fresco artist, and Mary Eliza Mays (“Mamie”) Kelly. He had a younger sister, Emmala Mays Kelly. Kelly attended Madison High School, graduating in 1932.

Kelly was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. His stated intention was to become a bomber pilot.

Cadet Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr., United States Military Academy, circa 1937. (The Howitzer)

According to his West Point yearbook, “C.P.” Kelly,

“. . . has not devoted all his effort to study and consequently not achieved high academic rank, but he has participated in sports and other activities and has found additional time to enjoy thoroughly West Point. He’s positive in his opinions; vigorous in his actions. All-around ability and a knack for making friends bespeak a bright future for him. . . .”

The Howitzer of 1937, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, 1937, at Page 218.

Cadet Kelly participated in football, boxing, cross country and track, and sang with the Cadet Chapel choir. Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr., graduated from West Point and was commissioned a second lieutenant, Infantry, United States Army, on 12 June 1937.

On 1 August 1937, Lieutenant Kelly married Miss Marion Estelle Wick. The ceremony was held in the Cadet Chapel at West Point. They would have a son, Colin Purdie Kelly III, born at Riverside, California, 6 May 1940. In 1963, “Corky” Kelly would also graduate from the United States Military Academy.

2nd Lieutenant Kelly was assigned to flight training at Randolph Field, Texas. He graduated 13 January 1939, was awarded his pilot’s wings and was transferred from Infantry to the Air Corps. Kelly was then ordered to join the 19th Bombardment Group (Heavy) at March Field, near Riverside, California. He was promoted to first lieutenant 4 June 1940.

A Boeing B-17B Flying Fortress at March Field, Riverside, California, 1940. (LIFE Magazine)

Lieutenant Kelly was assigned to the 11th Bombardment Group (Heavy) at Hickam Field, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, in April 1941. At about this time, he was promoted to the temporary rank of captain. Kelly served as a squadron operations officer and B-17 check pilot. Nine B-17s of the 14th Bombardment Squadron of the 11th Group were sent to Clark Field in the Philippine Islands, to join the 19th Bombardment Group. Flying to Midway Island, Wake Island, Port Moresby, New Guinea, and Darwin, Australia, they traveled approximately 10,000 miles (16,093 kilometers), 5–12 September 1941. For his actions during this transoceanic flight, Captain Kelly was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

During a reconnaissance mission to Formosa (Taiwan) on 5 December 1941, Captain Kelly observed a large number of Japanese ships steaming toward Luzon. His squadron was then relocated to Del Monte Field on the island of Mindanao.

The Distinguished Service Cross

General Douglas MacArthur later said, “It is my profound sorrow that Colin Kelly is not here. I do not know the dignity of Captain Kelly’s birth, but I do know the glory of his death. He died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with a faith in his heart and victory his end. God has taken him unto Himself, a gallant soldier who did his duty.”

Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr. was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, posthumously. The medal was presented to Mrs. Colin P. Kelly, Jr., by Major General Barney McKinney Giles, U.S. Army Air Corps.

Following the war, Captain Kelly’s remains were returned to the United States, and interred at the Oak Ridge Cemetery, Madison, Florida.

Kelly’s B-17 was the first Flying Fortress in U.S. service to be lost in air combat in World War II.

Boeing B-17C 40-2049, similar to Colin Kelly's 40-2045. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-17C 40-2049, similar to Colin Kelly’s 40-2045. (U.S. Air Force)

The Boeing Model 299H, designated B-17C, was the second production variant ordered by the U.S. Army Air Corps. 38 were built by Boeing, however 20 of these were transferred to Great Britain’s Royal Air Force, designated Fortress B.I. They were initially assigned to No. 90 Squadron.²

The B-17C was 67 feet, 10.6 inches (20.691 meters long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9 inches (31.633 meters) and the overall height was 15 feet, 5 inches (4.699 meters). The B-17C had an empty weight of 29,021 pounds (13,164 kilograms), gross weight of 39,320 pounds (17,835 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 49,650 pounds (22,521 kilograms).

A Boeing B-17C assigned to Wright Field in pre-war natural metal finish. (LIFE Magazine)
A Boeing B-17C assigned to Wright Field in natural metal finish, circa 1940. (Rudy Arnold Photographic Collection, National Air and Space Museum Archives, NASM-XRA-0119)

It was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 9 C666A (R-1820-65) nine-cylinder radial engines. These engines were rated at 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., and 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m., for takeoff. They drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propellers through a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-65 was 3 feet, 11.59 inches (1.209 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.12 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms).

The maximum speed of the B-17C was 323 miles per hour (520 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). Its service ceiling was 37,000 feet (11,278 meters) and the maximum range was 3,400 miles (5,472 kilometers).

The B-17C could carry 4,800 pounds (2,177 kilograms) of bombs. Defensive armament consisted of one .30-caliber air-cooled machine gun and four .50-caliber machine guns.

According to one source, all eighteen B-17Cs in service with the Army Air Corps were returned to Boeing in January 1941 to be upgraded to the B-17D configuration.

A Boeing B-17C Flying Fortress, similar to 40-2045. (U.S. Air Force)
A Boeing B-17C Flying Fortress, similar to Colin Kelly’s 40-2045. The Air Corps began camouflaging its B-17s in olive drab and neutral gray during Spring 1941. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ 10 December in the Commonwealth of the Philippines, which is west of the International Date Line. This would have been 9 December in the United States of America.

² A 1941 book, War Wings: Fighting Airplanes of the American and British Air Forces, by David C. Cooke, published by Robert M. McBride & Company, New York, refers to the B-17C in British service as the “Seattle,” which is in keeping with the R.A.F.’s system of naming bombers after cities.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 December 1941

Lieutenants Ken Taylor and George Welch, U.S. Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenants Kenneth Marlar Taylor and George Schwartz Welch, Air Corps, United States Army. (U.S. Air Force)

On the morning of December 7, 1941, very few American fighter pilots were able to get airborne to fight the Japanese attackers. Ken Taylor and George Schwartz were two of them.

Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Cross

Second Lieutenants Kenneth Marlar Taylor and George S. Welch took two Curtiss-Wright P-40B Warhawk fighters from a remote airfield at Haleiwa, on the northwestern side of the island of Oahu, and against overwhelming odds, each shot down four enemy airplanes: Welch shot down three Aichi D3A Type 99 “Val” dive bombers and one Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 (“Zero”) fighter. Taylor also shot down four Japanese airplanes.

Although both officers were nominated for the Medal of Honor by General Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold, they were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

During the War, Welch flew the Bell P-39 Airacobra and Lockheed P-38 Lightning on 348 combat missions. He had 16 confirmed aerial victories over Japanese airplanes and rose to the rank of Major.

Suffering from malaria, George Welch was out of combat and recuperating in Australia. When North American Aviation approached General Arnold to recommend a highly experienced fighter pilot as a test pilot for the P-51H Mustang, Arnold suggested Welch and authorized his resignation from the Air Corps.

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

George Welch tested the P-51H, XP-86 Sabre and YF-100A Super Sabre for North American Aviation. Reportedly, while demonstrating the F-86 Sabre’s capabilities to Air Force pilots during the Korean War, he shot down as many as six MiG 15s.

George Welch was killed while testing a F-100A Super Sabre, 12 October 1954.

A Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 Model 21, A1-108, flown by PO2c Sakae Mori, takes of from IJN Akagi, an aircraft carrier of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 7 December 1941. (U.S. Navy)

Ken Taylor scored two more victories at Guadalcanal before wounds received in an air raid sent him back to the United States. He remained in the Air Force until he retired in 1971 with the rank of Brigadier General. He died in 2006.

Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk, circa 1940. (Rudy Arnold Collection/NASM)

The Curtiss-Wright Corporation Hawk 81B (P-40B Warhawk) was a single-seat, single-engine pursuit. It was a low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction, and used flush riveting to reduce aerodynamic drag. It had an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear. Extensive wind tunnel testing at the NACA Langley laboratories refined the airplane’s design, significantly increasing the top speed.

The P-40B Warhawk was 31 feet, 8¾ inches (9.671 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 4 inches (11.379 meters). Its empty weight was 5,590 pounds (2,536 kilograms), and 7,326 pounds (3,323 kilograms) gross. The maximum takeoff weight was 7,600 pounds (3,447 kilograms).

The P-40B was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.60-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-C15 (V-1710-33), a single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, which produced 1,040 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m., and turned a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-33 was 8 feet, 2.54 inches (2.503 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.88 inches (1.064 meters) high, and 2 feet, 5.29 inches (0.744 meters) wide. It weighed 1,340 pounds (607.8 kilograms).

Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-33 V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (NASM)
Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-33 V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (NASM)

Heavier than the initial production P-40, the P-40B was slightly slower, with a maximum speed of 352 miles per hour (567 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). It had a service ceiling of 32,400 feet (9,876 meters) and range of 730 miles (1,175 kilometers).

Armament consisted of two air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted in the cowlingabove the engine and synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc, with 380 rounds per gun, and four Browning M2 .30-caliber aircraft machine guns, with two in each wing.

Curtiss-Wright produced 13,738 P-40s between 1939 and 1944. 131 of those were P-40B Warhawks.

A flight of six Curtiss P-40B Warhawks of the 44th Pursuit Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group, over the Territory of Hawaii, August 1941. (U.S. Air Force)
A flight of six Curtiss-Wright P-40B Warhawks of the 44th Pursuit Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group, over the island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, 9:00 a.m., 1 August 1941. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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