Tag Archives: Air Combat

20 April 1941

Squadron Leader Marmaduke Thomas St. John “Pat” Pattle, Officer Commanding No. 33 Squadron, Royal Air Force, and the Squadron Adjutant, Flight Lieutenant George Rumsey, standing by a Hawker Hurricane at Larissa, Thessaly, Greece, March–April 1941. (IWM)

20 April 1941: Squadron Leader Marmaduke Thomas St. John Pattle, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force, commanding No. 33 Squadron, was killed in action during the Battle of Athens, when his Hawker Hurricane fighter was shot down by two or more Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters. Pattle’s airplane crashed into the sea near the Port of Piraeus, southwest of Athens.

Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engine heavy fighter, circa 1942. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)

Squadron Leader Pattle may have been the highest-scoring Allied fighter ace of World War II. The exact number of enemy aircraft destroyed cannot be determined precisely because records were lost or destroyed during the Battle of Greece. The last officially acknowleded score was 23 airplanes shot down, mentioned in The London Gazette with the notice of the award of a Bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross. It is widely acknowledged that he shot down many more, and on at least two occasions, shot down five enemy airplanes in one day. Authors who have researched Pattle’s combat record believe that he shot down at least 50, and possibly as many as 60 aircraft.

For comparison, Air Vice Marshal James Edgar (“Johnnie”) Johnson, CB, CBE, DSO and Two Bars, DFC and Bar, is officially credited by the Royal Air Force with shooting down 34 enemy airplanes. Colonel Francis Stanley (“Gabby”) Gabreski, United States Air Force, was credited with 28 kills during World War II. In the Pacific Theater of Operations, Major Richard Ira Bong is officially credited with 40 enemy airplanes shot down.

Marmaduke Thomas St. John Pattle was born at Butterworth, Cape Province, South Africa, 23 July 1914. He was the son of Sergeant-Major William John Pattle, British Army, and Edith Brailsford Pattle. After failing to be accepted by the South African Air Force, at the age of 21 years, he traveled to Britain to apply to the Royal Air Force. He was offered a short-service commission and sent to flight school.

Pattle was commissioned as an Acting Pilot Officer on probation, effective 24 August 1936. He trained as a fighter pilot in the Gloster Gauntlet, and was rated exceptional. He was then assigned to No. 80 Squadron, which was equipped with the newer Gloster Gladiator. He was confirmed in the rank of Pilot Officer 29 June 1937.

Prototype Gloster Gladiator in flight, now marked K5200.

No. 80 Squadron was sent to Egypt to protect the Suez Canal. With the United Kingdom’s declaration of war on the Axis powers, Pattle and his unit were soon in combat with the Regia Aeronautica (the Italian Royal Air Force) across North Africa. He shot down his first enemy airplanes, a Breda Ba.65 and a Fiat CR.42, on 4 August 1940. Unfortunaely, Pattle was also shot down and he had to walk across the Libyan desert to friendly lines.

Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar

Pattle was promoted to Flight Lieutenant, 3 September 1940. He is credited with having shot down at least 15 Italian airplanes with the Gladiator.

In February 1941, No. 80 Squadron began flying the Hawker Hurricane. This was a huge technological advance over the Gladiator, and the Hurricane’s eight .303-caliber machine guns doubled the firepower of the biplane.  The squadron was sent to Greece, where it would engage the Luftwaffe.

Flight Lieutenant Pattle was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, 11 February 1941. The following month, 12 March 1941, Pat Pattle was promoted to Acting Squadron Leader, and given command of No. 33 Squadron at Larissa, Thessaly, Greece. Squadron Leader Pattle was awarded a Bar to his DFC (a second award), 18 March 1941.

Pilots of No. 33 Squadron, Royal Air Force, with a Hawker Hurricane Mk.I fighter, V7419. Pattle is in the first row, seated, fifth from left. (Imperial War Museum)

The Hawker Hurricane Mk. I was 31 feet, 5 inches (9.576 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 0 inches (12.192 meters), and overall height of 10 feet, 6 inches (3.200 meters). Its empty weight was 5,234 pounds (2,374 kilograms) and maximum gross weight was 6,793 pounds (3,081 kilograms).

The Mk.I’s engine was a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 27.01 liter (1,648.96 cubic inches) Rolls-Royce R.M.1.S. Merlin Mk.III single-overhead-cam 60° V-12, rated at 990 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 12,250 feet (3,734 meters), and 1,030 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., at 10,250 feet (3,124 meters), using 87 octane aviation gasoline. The Merlin III drove the propeller through a 0.477:1 gear reduction ratio. It weighed 1,375 pounds (624 kilograms).

The fixed-pitch propeller was soon replaced with a three-bladed, two-pitch propeller, and then a three-bladed constant-speed propeller. Speed trials of a Mk.I equipped with a 10 foot, 9 inch (3.277 meters) diameter Rotol constant-speed propeller achieved a maximum True Air Speed in level flight of 316 miles per hour (509 kilometers per hour) at 17,500 feet (5,334 meters). The service ceiling was 32,250 feet (9,830 meters). The Mk.I’s range was 600 miles (966 kilometers) at 175 miles per hour (282 kilometers per hour).

The Hurricane Mk.I could climb to 20,000 feet in 9.7 minutes.

The fighter was armed with eight Browning .303 Mark II machine guns mounted in the wings, with 334 rounds of ammunition per gun.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 March 1967

Republic F-105D-6-RE Thunderchief 59-1772, parked in a revetment. Colonel Scott flew this airplane 26 March 1967 when he shot down a MiG-17. (U.S. Air Force)
Republic F-105D-6-RE Thunderchief 59-1772, parked in a revetment. Colonel Scott flew this airplane 26 March 1967 when he shot down a MiG 17. (U.S. Air Force)

26 March 1967: Colonel Robert Ray Scott, United States Air Force, commanding the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, was leading 20 Republic F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers from Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, on an attack against an enemy military barracks near Hanoi, North Vietnam. Colonel Scott’s airplane was Republic F-105D-6-RE, serial number 59-1772, and his call sign was “Leech 01.” As he came off the target, he shot down an enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 17 fighter with the 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan cannon of his fighter bomber.

Colonel Robert R. Scott, U.S. Air Force
Colonel Robert R. Scott, U.S. Air Force

The third MiG-17 destroyed during the month was credited to the 355th TFW, Colonel Scott, who was leading an F-105 flight on a strike mission not far from Hoa Lac airfield on 26 March. His account follows:

“I had acquired the target and executed a dive-bomb run, while heading approximately 250°, altitude approximately 4,000 feet, I observed a MiG taking off from Hoa Loc airfield. I began a left turn to approximately 150° to follow the MiG for possible engagement. At this time I observed three more MiG-17s orbiting the airfield at approximately 3,000 feet, in single ship trail with 3,000 to 5,000 feet spacing. MiGs were silver with red star. I then concentrated my attention on the nearest MiG-17 and pressed the attack. As I closed in on the MiG it began turning to the right. I followed the MiG, turning inside, and began firing. I observed ordnance impacting on the left wing and pieces of material tearing off. At this time the MiG began a hard left-descending turn. I began to overshoot and pulled off high and to the right. The last time I saw the MiG it was extremely low, approximately 500 feet, and rolling nose down.”

Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter II at Page 45.

This former Egyptian Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevivch MiG-17F in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force is painted in the colors of the Vietnam Peoples' Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
This former Egyptian Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevivch MiG 17F in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force is painted in the colors of the Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

The pilot of the MiG 17, Second Lieutenant Vũ Huy Lượng, 923rd Fighter Regiment, Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force, was killed.

As a Northrop P-61 Black Widow pilot with the 426th Night Fighter Squadron during World War II, Colonel Scott had shot down two enemy airplanes. By destroying the MiG-17, he became only the second U.S. Air Force pilot, after Colonel Robin Olds, to achieve aerial victories during World War II and the Vietnam War.

Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-17F in Vietnam Peoples' Air Force markings at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force).
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 17F in Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force markings at NMUSAF, Wright-Patterson AFB. (U.S. Air Force).

Robert Ray Scott was born at Des Moines, Iowa, 1 November 1920. He was the first of two children of Ray Scott, a railroad worker, and Elva M. Scott. He graduated from North High School in Des Moines, January 1939. He studied aeronautical engineering at the University of Iowa for two years before he enlisted as an Aviation Cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 15 August 1941. Scott was 5 feet, 7 inches (1.70 meters) tall and weighed 144 pounds (65.3 kilograms). He was trained as a pilot and and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, 16 March 1942. He was assigned as an instructor pilot in California, and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant 15 December 1942.

Scott was transferred to the 426th Night Fighter Squadron, 14th Air Force, flying the Northrop P-61 Black Widow in India and China. He was promoted to captain, 3 May 1944, and to major, 16 August 1945. Major Scott was credited with shooting down two enemy aircraft. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.

Captain Robert Ray Scott (back row, second from left) with the 426th Night Fighter Squadron, 1944. The airplane is a Northrop P-61 Black Widow. (U.S. Air Force)

Following World War II, Major Scott returned to the University of Iowa to complete his bachelor’s degree. He also earned two master’s degrees.

In 1952 he graduated from the Air Force test pilot school at Edwards Air Force Base, then served as a project pilot on the North American F-86D all-weather interceptor. Later he was a project officer at Edwards AFB on the Republic F-105 Thunderchief Mach 2 fighter-bomber.

Scott flew the North American Aviation F-86F Sabre during the Korean War. From January to July 1953, he flew 117 combat missions. From 1953 to 1956, Lieutenant Colonel Scott commanded the 405th Fighter Bomber Wing, Tactical Air Command, at Langley Air Force base, Virginia.

Lieutenant Richard Hill and Lieutenant Colonel Robert R. Scott (in cockpit) after their record-breaking transcontinental flight. (Unattributed)

On 9 October 1955, Scott set a transcontinental speed record by flying a Republic F-84F Thunderstreak fighter bomber from Los Angeles International Airport, California, to Floyd Bennett Field, New York, in 3 hours, 46 minutes, 33.6 seconds. Later he was a project officer at Edwards AFB on the Republic F-105 Thunderchief Mach 2 fighter-bomber.

Scott was promoted the rank of Colonel in 1960.

During the Vietnam War, Colonel Scott commanded the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, flying 134 combat missions in the Republic F-105 Thunderchief.

Colonel Scott’s final commanding was the 832nd Air Division, 12th Air Force, at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico. He retired 1 September 1970 after 29 years of military service.

Colonel Robert Ray Scott flew 305 combat missions in three wars. During his Air Force career, Colonel Scott was awarded four Silver Star medals, three Legion of Merit medals, six Distinguished Flying Crosses and 16 Air Medals. He died at Tehachapi, California, 3 October 2006 at the age of 86 years. He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Republic F-105D 59-1772 is credited with another air-to-air victory. Just over a month after Colonel Scott’s Mig-17 shoot-down, on 28 April 1967 Major Harry E. Higgins, 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron, shot down another MiG-17 with the fighter bomber’s cannon, for which Major Higgins was awarded the Silver Star.

The Thunderchief, though, met its own end when it was shot down by 37 mm anti-aircraft gunfire 10 miles (16 kilometers) west of Ko Hinh, Laos, 27 January 1970. The pilot was rescued.

Colonel Robert R. Scott, commander, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, checks the bombs loaded on a multiple ejector rack while preflighting his Republic F-105 Thunderchief. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Robert R. Scott, commander, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, checks the bombs loaded on a multiple ejector rack while preflighting his Republic F-105 Thunderchief. (U.S. Air Force)

Republic Aviation Corporation built 833 F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers at its Farmingdale, New York factory. 610 of those were single-seat F-105Ds. The F-105D Thunderchief is 64 feet, 3 inches (19.583 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 11 inches (10.643 meters) and overall height of 19 feet, 8 inches (5.994 meters). It has an empty weight of 27,500 pounds (12,473.79 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 52,546 pounds (23,834.47 kilograms).

The Thunderchief  was powered by one Pratt & Whitney J75-P-19W engine. The J75 is a two-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet with water injection. It has a 15-stage compressor section (8 low- and and 7 high-pressure stages) and 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages.) The J75-P-19W is rated at 17,200 pounds of thrust (76.51 kilonewtons), and 26,500 pounds (117.88 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 20 feet (6.1 meters) long, 3 feet, 7.0 inches (1.092 meters) in diameter, and weighs 5,960 pounds (2,703 kilograms).

The maximum speed of the F-105D is 836 miles per hour (1,345 kilometers per hour) at Sea level and 1,420 miles per hour (2,285 kilometers per hour) at 38,000 feet (11,582 meters). The combat ceiling is 48,500 feet (14,783 meters) and combat range is 778 miles (1,252 kilometers).

The F-105D is armed with one 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan rotary cannon and 1,028 rounds of ammunition. It has an internal bomb bay and can carry bombs, missiles or fuel tanks on under wing and centerline hardpoints. The maximum bomb load consisted of 16 750-pound (340 kilogram) bombs.

The F-105 Thunderchief was a supersonic tactical fighter bomber rather than an air superiority fighter. Still, during the Vietnam War, F-105s shot down 27 enemy MiG fighters. 24 of those were shot down with the Thunderchief’s Vulcan cannon.

Of the 833 F-105s, 395 were lost during the Vietnam War. 334 were shot down, mostly by antiaircraft guns or missiles, and 17 by enemy fighters. Another 61 were lost due to accidents. The 40% combat loss is indicative of the extreme danger of the missions these airplanes were engaged in.

This Republic F-105D-10-RE Thunderchief, 60-0504, served with the 355th TFW at Takhli AB, Thailand. It shot down two enemy fighters. Similar the the F-105D flown by Colonel Scott, 26 March 1967, it is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
This Republic F-105D-10-RE Thunderchief, 60-0504, served with the 355th TFW at Takhli AB, Thailand. It shot down two enemy fighters. Similar the the F-105D flown by Colonel Scott, 26 March 1967, it is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 March 1967

Republic F-105D-31-RE Thunderchief 62-4284 was a triple MiG killer. Captain Max C. Brestel shot down two MiG-17 fighters with this airplane, 10 March 1967. Captain Gene I. Basel also shot down a MiG-17 while flying this fighter bomber, 27 October 1967.
Republic F-105D-31-RE Thunderchief 62-4284 was a triple MiG killer. Captain Max C. Brestel shot down two MiG-17 fighters with this airplane, 10 March 1967. Captain Gene I. Basel also shot down a MiG-17 while flying this fighter bomber, 27 October 1967.

10 March 1967: Captain Max C. Brestel, United States Air Force, a pilot assigned to the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, was flying a Republic F-105D-31-RE Thunderchief fighter-bomber, serial number 62-4284. His call sign was “Kangaroo 03.” During an attack on the Thai Nguyen Steel Mill, the single most heavily-defended target in North Vietnam, Captain Brestel engaged and shot down two enemy MiG-17 fighters.

This was the first time during the Vietnam War that an American pilot shot down two enemy airplanes during the same mission. The following description is from an official U.S. Air Force history:

Brestel’s aerial victories became the first USAF double kill of the conflict. At the time, he was flying the third Thunderchief in a flight of four and was tasked with suppressing flak in and around the Thai Nguyen steel mill and supporting other F-105 strike forces. Brestel relates how his two victories came about:

“We proceeded to the target via the Red River to a point north of the target, where we turned south. Numerous SAM and MiG warnings had been transmitted. Also, the 388th Wing, which had preceded us on the target, had encountered MiGs.

“As the flight pulled up to gain altitude for delivering our ordnance, I sighted two MiG-21s making a pass at Col. Gast [Lt. Col. Philip C. Gast, the flight leader] from his 4 o’clock position. I was in lead’s 8:30 o’clock position. I broke toward the MiGs and passed across his tail. They broke off the attack and I continued on my dive delivery. Flak was normal for the area. We delivered our ordnance as planned.”

As the flight pulled out at an altitude of approximately 3,000 to 4,000 feet, Gast called MiGs at 2 o’clock low. ‘Let’s go get them,’ he urged. ‘I’m with you,’ Brestel acknowledged as he spotted the flight of four MiG-17s in staggered trail heading north at approximately 1,500 feet. Behind them was another flight of four. Brestel’s narrative continues:

“I observed all MiGs light their afterburners. Colonel Gast began firing at one of the first two MiGs. I observed the second two begin to fire at Colonel Gast. I called a break and closed within 300–500 feet of the number four MiG. I fired an approximate 2½ second burst at him as he was in a right turn. I observed hits in the wing and fuselage. The MiG reversed into a left turn. I fired another 2½ second burst into him, observing hits in the left wing, fuselage and canopy, and a fire in the left wing root. The aircraft rolled over and hit the ground under my left wing. I then closed 300 feet on the number three MiG, which was firing at Colonel Gast. He was in a right turn and again I fired a 2½ second burst, observing hits in wing, fuselage, etc. He also reversed to the left and I fired another 2½ second burst, observing more hits and pieces flying off the aircraft. The aircraft appeared to flip back up over my canopy and disappeared behind me. we broke off the engagement at this time after approximately 1½ to 2 minutes of combat. A SAM was fired at us and more flak as we exited the area.

“I know I destroyed the first MiG, as I saw him crash. I did not see the pilot bail out and doubt if he was alive, since hits were observed in the cockpit and the canopy broke up. My wingman, Lt. Weskamp [1st Lt. Robert L. Weskamp] also observed the MiG hit the ground.

“I feel I also destroyed the second MiG, as the range was the same and hits were observed in the same areas, i.e., fuselage, wings, etc. Also, his last maneuver could not be considered normal. The aircraft appeared to be in a violent pitch-up or tumble and out of control… However, because he pitched up over and behind me, I did not see him strike the ground.”

“Brestel was given credit for destroying both MiGs.”

— Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter II at Pages 44 and 45.

This former Egyptian Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevivch MiG-17F in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force is painted in the colors of the Vietnam Peoples' Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
This former Egyptian Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevivch MiG-17F in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force is painted in the colors of the Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Vietnamese sources identified one of the downed MiG-17 fighters as being of Z Group, Korean People’s Air Force, flown by Kim Quang Wook, who was killed.

Republic Aviation Corporation built 833 F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers at its Farmingdale, New York factory. 610 of those were single-seat F-105Ds. The F-105D Thunderchief is 64 feet, 3 inches (19.583 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 11 inches (10.643 meters) and overall height of 19 feet, 8 inches (5.994 meters). It has an empty weight of 27,500 pounds (12,473.79 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 52,546 pounds (23,834.47 kilograms).

The Thunderchief  was powered by one Pratt & Whitney J75-P-19W engine. The J75 is a two-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet with water injection. It has a 15-stage compressor section (8 low- and and 7 high-pressure stages) and 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages.) The J75-P-19W is rated at 17,200 pounds of thrust (76.51 kilonewtons), and 26,500 pounds (117.88 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 20 feet (6.1 meters) long, 3 feet, 7.0 inches (1.092 meters) in diameter, and weighs 5,960 pounds (2,703 kilograms).

The maximum speed of the F-105D is 836 miles per hour (1,345 kilometers per hour) at Sea level and 1,420 miles per hour (2,285 kilometers per hour) at 38,000 feet (11,582 meters). The combat ceiling is 48,500 feet (14,783 meters) and combat range is 778 miles (1,252 kilometers).

The F-105D is armed with one 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan rotary cannon and 1,028 rounds of ammunition. It has an internal bomb bay and can carry bombs, missiles or fuel tanks on under wing and centerline hardpoints. The maximum bomb load consisted of 16 750-pound (340 kilogram) bombs.

The F-105 Thunderchief was a supersonic tactical fighter bomber rather than an air superiority fighter. Still, during the Vietnam War, F-105s shot down 27 enemy MiG fighters. 24 of those were shot down with the Thunderchief’s Vulcan cannon.

Two Air Force sergeants load belts of linked 20-millimeter cannon shells for the F-105's M61 six-barreled Gatling gun. (U.S. Air Force)
Two Air Force sergeants load belts of linked 20-millimeter cannon shells for the F-105’s M61 six-barreled Gatling gun. (U.S. Air Force)

Of the 833 F-105s, 395 were lost during the Vietnam War. 334 were shot down, mostly by antiaircraft guns or missiles, and 17 by enemy fighters. Another 61 were lost due to accidents. The 40% combat loss is indicative of the extreme danger of the missions these airplanes were engaged in.

62-4284 is the only F-105 Thunderchief officially credited with shooting down three enemy fighters during the Vietnam War. Flown by Captain Gene I. Basel, also of the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 62-4284 was “Bison 02” on an attack against the Canal de Rapides Bridge, 27 October 1967. Captain Basel shot down a MiG-17 with the Thunderchief’s 20 mm cannon. The VPAF pilot ejected.

Having survived the Vietnam War, 62-4284 crashed during a peacetime training mission, 4 miles south west of Clayton, Oklahoma, 12 March 1976. The pilot, Captain Larry L. Kline, 465th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, was killed.

Republic F-105D-31-RE Thunderchief 62-4284. Captain Max C. Brestel shot down two VPAF MiG-17 fighters with this airplane, 10 March 1967.
Republic F-105D-10-RE Thunderchief 60-5384 is similar in appearance to the F-105D flown by Captain Max C. Brestel  when he shot down two VPAF MiG-17 fighters, 10 March 1967. This airplane was shot down by an AA-2 Atoll missile fired from a MiG-21 over North Vietnam, 4 February 1968. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 March 1918

Captain James Ely Miller, 95th Aero Squadron, AEF. (Smithsonian Institution)
Captain James Ely Miller, 95th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, American Expeditionary Force. (Smithsonian Institution)

9 March 1918: Captain James Ely Miller, commanding officer, 95th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, American Expeditionary Force, accepted the invitation of Major Davenport Johnson to join him and Major Harmon for a short patrol over the lines in three SPAD S.VII C.1 fighters borrowed from a French squadron.

Major Harmon’s SPAD had engine trouble and he turned back. Major Johnson and Captain Miller continued and encountered four German fighters near Juvincourt-et-Damary in northern France. Shortly after the air battle began, Major Johnson abandoned the fight, leaving Captain Miller on his own. Captain Miller was shot down near Corbény, France.

The German pilot who downed Miller and a German intelligence officer who had rushed to the crash scene witnessed Captain Miller’s dying words in which he cursed Major Davenport Johnson for leaving him during the air battle.

On 12 March, Major Johnson assumed command of the 95th.

Captain Miller was the first United States airman to be killed in combat. In 1919, Miller Field, Staten Island, New York, was named in his honor. His remains were buried at the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, Fère-en-Terdenois, France.

The Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.VII C.1 was a single-place, single-engine, two-bay biplane chasseur (fighter). The airplane was 19 feet, 11 inches (5.842 meters) long, with a wingspan of 25 feet, 7¾ inches (7.817 meters) and overall height of 7 feet, 2 inches (2.184 meters). It had a maximum gross weight of 1,632 pounds (740 kilograms).

The SPAD VII was initially powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 11.762 liter (717.769 cubic inches) Société Française Hispano-Suiza 8Aa, a single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 90° V-8 engine with a compression ratio of 4.7:1. The 8Aa produced 150 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. By early 1918, the S.VII’s engine was upgraded to the higher-compression 8Ab (5.3:1), rated at 180 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m. These were right-hand tractor, direct-drive engines which turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The SPAD VII had a maximum speed of 119 miles per hour (192 kilometers per hour). The 8Ab engine increased the top speed to 129 miles per hour (208 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 17,500 feet (5,334 meters).

Armament consisted of a single air-cooled Vickers .303-caliber (7.7 × 56 millimeter) machine gun, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc.

The SPAD S.VII was produced by nine manufacturers in France and England. The exact number of airplanes built is unknown. Estimates range from 5,600 to 6,500.

The airplane in this photograph is a SPAD S.VII C.1, serial number A.S. 94099, built by Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés, and restored by the 1st Fighter Wing, Selfridge Air Force Base, Michigan. It is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

SPAD VII C.1, serial number A.S. 94099, on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
SPAD S. VII C.1, serial number A.S. 94099, on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 February 1942

Lieutenant Edward H. O'Hare, United States Navy. A Grumman F4F Wildcat is in the background. (LIFE Magazine)
Lieutenant Edward H. O’Hare, United States Navy. A Grumman F4F Wildcat is in the background. (LIFE Magazine)

20 February 1942: During the early months of World War II, a task force centered around the United States aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) was intruding Japanese-held waters north of New Ireland in the Bismarck Archipelago. In the afternoon, she came under attack by several flights of enemy Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers.

USS Lexington (CV-2) October 1941

Her fighters, Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats, were launched in defense and an air battle ensued. Another flight of nine Bettys approached from the undefended side, and Lieutenant (junior grade) Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare, U.S.N. and his wingman were the only fighter pilots available to intercept.

At 1700 hours, O’Hare arrived over the nine incoming bombers and attacked. His wingman’s guns failed, so O’Hare fought on alone. In the air battle, he is credited with having shot down five of the Japanese bombers and damaging a sixth.

A Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” medium bomber photographed from the flight deck of USS Lexington, 20 February 1942. (U.S. Navy)

For his bravery, Butch O’Hare was promoted to lieutenant commander and awarded the Medal of Honor.

An airport in Chicago, O’Hare International Airport (ORD), the busiest airport in the world, is named in his honor. A Gearing-class destroyer, USS O’Hare (DD-889), was also named after the fighter pilot.

Lieutenant "Butch" O'Hare in teh cockpit of his Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighter. The "Felix the Cat" insignia represents the Fighter Squadron. The five flags signify the enemy airplanes destroyed in combat 20 February 1942. (LIFE Magazine)
Lieutenant “Butch” O’Hare in the cockpit of his Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighter. The “Felix the Cat” insignia represents Fighter Squadron 3 (VF-3). The five flags, the ensign of the Imperial Japanese Navy, signify the enemy airplanes destroyed in the action of 20 February 1942. (LIFE Magazine)

LIEUTENANT EDWARD HENRY O’HARE
UNITED STATES NAVY

Medal of Honor – Navy

Rank and organization: Lieutenant, U.S. Navy
Born: 13 March 1914, St. Louis, Mo.
Entered service at: St. Louis, Mo.
Other Navy awards: Navy Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross with 1 gold star.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in aerial combat, at grave risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, as section leader and pilot of Fighting Squadron 3 on 20 February 1942. Having lost the assistance of his teammates, Lt. O’Hare interposed his plane between his ship and an advancing enemy formation of 9 attacking twin-engine heavy bombers. Without hesitation, alone and unaided, he repeatedly attacked this enemy formation, at close range in the face of intense combined machinegun and cannon fire. Despite this concentrated opposition, Lt. O’Hare, by his gallant and courageous action, his extremely skillful marksmanship in making the most of every shot of his limited amount of ammunition, shot down 5 enemy bombers and severely damaged a sixth before they reached the bomb release point. As a result of his gallant action–one of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation–he undoubtedly saved his carrier from serious damage.

A U.S. Navy Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat in non-specular blue-gray over light-gray scheme in early 1942. (U.S. Navy)
A U.S. Navy Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat in non-specular blue-gray over light-gray scheme in early 1942. (U.S. Navy)
President Franklin D. Roosevelt presents the Medal of Honor to Lieutenant (j.g.) Edward H. O'Hare, United States Navy, at teh White House, Washington, D.C., 21 April 1942. (U.S. Navy)
President Franklin D. Roosevelt congratulates Lieutenant (j.g.) Edward H. O’Hare, United States Navy, on being presented the Medal of Honor at the White House, Washington, D.C., 21 April 1942. Also present are Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Admiral Ernest J. King, U.S. Navy, and Mrs. O’Hare. (U.S. Navy)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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