Tag Archives: Medal of Honor

24–25 April 1945

First Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight, United States Army Air Corps, (U.S. Air Force)
Aviation Cadet Raymond L. Knight, United States Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

RAYMOND L. KNIGHT

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps.

Place and date: In Northern Po Valley, Italy, 24-25 April 1945.

Entered service at: Houston, Texas. Born: Texas.

G.O. No.: 81, 24 September 1945.

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

Citation: First Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight on 24 and 25 April 1945 in the northern Po Valley, Italy, piloted a fighter-bomber aircraft in a series of low-level strafing missions, destroying 14 grounded enemy aircraft and leading attacks which wrecked 10 others during a critical period of the Allied drive in northern Italy. On the morning of 24 April, he volunteered to lead two other aircraft against the strongly defended enemy airdrome at Ghedi. Ordering his fellow pilots to remain aloft, he skimmed the ground through a deadly curtain of antiaircraft fire to reconnoiter the field, locating eight German aircraft hidden beneath heavy camouflage. He rejoined his flight, briefed them by radio, and then led them with consummate skill through the hail of enemy fire in a low-level attack, destroying five aircraft, while his flight accounted for two others. Returning to his base, he volunteered to lead three other aircraft in reconnaissance of Bergamo Airfield, an enemy base near Ghedi and one known to be equally well defended. Again ordering his flight to remain out of range of antiaircraft fire, Lieutenant Knight flew through an exceptionally intense barrage, which heavily damaged his Thunderbolt, to observe the field at minimum altitude. He discovered a squadron of enemy aircraft under heavy camouflage and led his flight to the assault. Returning alone after this strafing, he made 10 deliberate passes against the field despite being hit twice more by antiaircraft fire, destroying six fully loaded enemy twin-engine aircraft and two fighters. His skillfully led attack enabled his flight to destroy four other twin-engine aircraft and a fighter airplane. He then returned to his base in his seriously damaged airplane. Early the next morning, when he again attacked Bergamo, he sighted an enemy plane on the runway. Again he led three other American pilots in a blistering low-level sweep through vicious antiaircraft fire that damaged his airplane so severely that it was virtually nonflyable. Three of the few remaining enemy twin-engine aircraft at that base were destroyed. Realizing the critical need for aircraft in his unit, he declined to parachute to safety over friendly territory and unhesitatingly attempted to return his shattered airplane to his home field. With great skill and strength, he flew homeward until caught by treacherous air conditions in the Apennine Mountains, where he crashed and was killed. The gallant action of Lieutenant Knight eliminated the German aircraft which were poised to wreak havoc on Allied forces pressing to establish the first firm bridgehead across the Po River. His fearless daring and voluntary self-sacrifice averted possible heavy casualties among ground forces and the resultant slowing of the drive which culminated in the collapse of German resistance in Italy.

1st Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight with a battle-damaged Republic P-47D Thunderbolt fighter bomber. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight with a battle-damaged Republic P-47D Thunderbolt fighter bomber. (U.S. Air Force)

Raymond Larry Knight was born 15 June 1922 in Houston, Texas. He was the third child of John Franklin Knight, a clerk, and Sarah Francis Kelly Knight. He attended John H. Reagan Senior High School in Houston, graduating in 1940.

Knight married Miss Johnnie Lee Kinchloe, also a 1940 graduate of Reagan High School, 5 June 1942. They had one son, Raymond Jr.

Knight enlisted as an aviation cadet in the United States Army Air Corps, 10 Oct 1942, and trained as a fighter pilot at various airfields in Texas. He graduated from flight school and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, May 1944. After advanced training, Knight was assigned to the 346th Fighter Squadron, 350th Fighter Group, 12th Air Force, at Tarquinia Airfield, Italy, in November 1944. He was promoted to first lieutenant in March 1945.

Lieutenant Knight flew 82 combat missions. He is credited with 14 enemy aircraft destroyed.

The Medal of Honor was presented to Mrs. Knight by Major General James Pratt Hodges at a ceremony at John H. Reagan Senior High School, 23 October 1945.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Lieutenant Knight was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters (six awards).

The remains of 1st Lieutenant Raymond Larry Knight, United States Army Air Corps, are interred at the Houston National Cemetery, Houston, Texas.

1st Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight and crew chief Sergeant Marvin Childers, with Republic P-47D-27-RE Thunderbolt 42-26785. This is the fighter bomber that he flew on the final mission. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight (at right) and crew chief Sergeant Marvin Childers, with Republic P-47D-27-RE Thunderbolt 42-26785, marked 6D5. This is the fighter bomber that he flew on the final mission. It was named “OH JOHNNIE” after his wife. (U.S. Air Force)

The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was the largest single-engine fighter that had yet been built. The first P-47D variant was very similar to the preceding P-47C. The Thunderbolt which Raymond Knight flew on his final mission was a P-47D-27-RE, serial number 42-26785. He had named it OH JOHNNIE after his wife. The Thunderbolt’s bubble canopy had been introduced with the Block 25 series, and Block 27 added a dorsal fillet to improve longitudinal stability which had been diminished with the new aft fuselage configuration.

The P-47D-27-RE was 36 feet, 1¾ inches (11.017 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 9-3/8 inches (12.430 meters) The overall height was 14 feet, 7 inches (4.445 meters). The fighter’s empty weight was 10,700 pounds (4,853 kilograms) and maximum gross weight was 17,500 pounds (7,938 kilograms).

The P-47D-27-RE was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged and turbocharged 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp TSB1-G (R-2800-59) two-row, 18-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The R-2800-59 had a Normal Power rating of 1,625 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. to 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) and a Takeoff/Military Power rating of  2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. to an altitude of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters).¹ A large General Electric turbosupercharger was mounted in the rear of the fuselage. Internal ducts carried exhaust gases from the engine to drive the turbocharger. This supercharged air was then carried forward through an intercooler and then on to the carburetor to supply the engine. The engine’s mechanical supercharger further pressurized the air-fuel charge. The engine drove a 13 foot, 0 inch (3.962 meter) diameter four-bladed Curtiss Electric or Hamilton Standard Hydromatic propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-59 was 6 feet, 3.72 inches (1.923 meters) long, 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.340 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,290 pounds (1,039 kilograms).

A flight of three Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighters. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-47D had a maximum speed in level flight of 444 miles per hour (715 kilometers per hour) at 23,200 feet (7,071 meters) with 70 inches Hg manifold pressure (2.37 Bar), using water injection. The service ceiling was 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). It had a maximum range of 950 miles (1,529 kilometers) with internal fuel, and 1,800 miles (2,897 kilometers) with external tanks.

The Thunderbolt was armed with eight Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, four in each wing, with 3,400 rounds of ammunition. It could also carry external fuel tanks, rockets and bombs. The structure of the P-47 could be described as “robust” and it was heavily armored. The amount of damage that the airplane could absorb and still return was remarkable.

A total of 15,683 Thunderbolts were built; more than any other Allied fighter type. In aerial combat, it had a kill-to-loss ratio of 4.6:1. The P-47, though, really made its name as a ground attack fighter, destroying aircraft, locomotives, rail cars, and tanks by the many thousands. It was one of the most successful aircraft of World War II.

¹  A rebuilt R-2800-63 was run at War Emergency Power (2,600 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m.) for 7½ hours on a test stand, and was in running condition when the test was completed.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 April 1942

(Left to right) Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Admiral Ernest J. King, U.S. Navy, Mrs. O'Hare, Lt. (j.g.) Edward H. O'Hare, 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 William Franklin Knox, Admiral Ernest J. King, U.S. Navy, Chief of Naval Operations, and Mrs. O’Hare. (U.S. Navy)

21 April 1942: Lieutenant (junior grade) Edward Henry (“Butch”) O’Hare, United States Navy, was presented the Medal of Honor by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a ceremony at the White House. Also present were Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Ernest J. King, and Mrs. O’Hare.

LIEUTENANT EDWARD HENRY O’HARE
UNITED STATES NAVY

Medal of Honor – Navy

“The President takes pleasure in presenting the Congressional Medal of Honor to Lieutenant Edward H. O’Hare, U.S. Navy, for services as set forth in the following 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, when on February 20, 1942, having lost the assistance of his teammates, he interposed his plane between his ship and an advancing enemy formation of nine attacking twin-engined heavy bombers. Without hesitation, alone and unaided he repeatedly attacked this enemy formation at close range in the face of their intense combined machine-gun and cannon fire, and despite this concentrated opposition, he, by his gallant and courageous action, his extremely skillful marksmanship, making the most of every shot of his limited amount of ammunition, shot down five 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.’ “

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Thirty-third President of the United States, his remarks on the presentation of the Medal of Honor, 21 April 1942, at the White House, Washington, D.C. The American Presidency Project.

Two Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats of VF-3, assigned to USS Lexington (CV-2), 1942. Lieutenant Commander John Smith Thach, U.S.N., VF-3 squadron commander, is flying the Wildcat marked F-1. The second F4F, marked F-13, is flown by Lieutenant (j.g.) Edward Henry O’Hare, U.S.N. (United States Navy)

Lieutenant O’Hare received the Medal for his actions of 20 February 1942, the single-handed defense of his aircraft carrier, USS Lexington, in shooting down five of nine attacking Japanese G4M “Betty” bombers with his Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, and damaging a sixth. He was the first Naval Aviator to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

Two Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats of VF-3, assigned to USS Saratoga, early 1942. Commander Thatch, squadron commander, is flying the Wildcat marked F-1. The second F4F, F-13, is flown by Lieutenant O.Hare. (U.S. Navy)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 April 1967

Lieutenant Colonel Leo Keith Thorsness, United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

LIEUTENANT COLONEL LEO K. THORSNESS
UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel (then Major), U.S. Air Force, 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron

Place and date: Over North Vietnam, 19 April 1967.

Entered service at: Walnut Grove, Minn.

Born: 14 February 1932, Walnut Grove, Minn.

Medal of HonorCitation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. As pilot of an F- 105 aircraft, Lt. Col. Thorsness was on a surface-to-air missile suppression mission over North Vietnam. Lt. Col. Thorsness and his wingman attacked and silenced a surface-to-air missile site with air-to-ground missiles, and then destroyed a second surface-to-air missile site with bombs. In the attack on the second missile site, Lt. Col. Thorsness’ wingman was shot down by intensive antiaircraft fire, and the 2 crewmembers abandoned their aircraft. Lt. Col. Thorsness circled the descending parachutes to keep the crewmembers in sight and relay their position to the Search and Rescue Center. During this maneuver, a MIG-17 was sighted in the area. Lt. Col. Thorsness immediately initiated an attack and destroyed the MIG. Because his aircraft was low on fuel, he was forced to depart the area in search of a tanker. Upon being advised that 2 helicopters were orbiting over the downed crew’s position and that there were hostile MiGs in the area posing a serious threat to the helicopters, Lt. Col. Thorsness, despite his low fuel condition, decided to return alone through a hostile environment of surface-to-air missile and antiaircraft defenses to the downed crew’s position. As he approached the area, he spotted 4 MIG-17 aircraft and immediately initiated an attack on the MlGs, damaging 1 and driving the others away from the rescue scene. When it became apparent that an aircraft in the area was critically low on fuel and the crew would have to abandon the aircraft unless they could reach a tanker, Lt. Col. Thorsness, although critically short on fuel himself, helped to avert further possible loss of life and a friendly aircraft by recovering at a forward operating base, thus allowing the aircraft in emergency fuel condition to refuel safely. Lt. Col. Thorsness’ extraordinary heroism, self-sacrifice, and personal bravery involving conspicuous risk of life were in the highest traditions of the military service, and have reflected great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.

Major Leo K. Thorsness and Captain Harold E. Johnson with their Republic F-105F Thunderchief, Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, 1967. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Leo K. Thorsness and Captain Harold E. Johnson with their Republic F-105F Thunderchief, Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, 1967. (U.S. Air Force)

AIR FORCE CROSS

CAPTAIN HAROLD EUGENE JOHNSON

Air Force Cross
Air Force Cross

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Captain Harold Eugene Johnson (AFSN: 0-3116556/42372A), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism as Electronics Warfare Officer of an F-105 aircraft of the 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Tuy Hoa Air Base, Vietnam, engaged in a pre-strike, missile suppression mission over North Vietnam on 19 April 1967. On that date, Captain Johnson guided his pilot in attacking and destroying a surface-to-air missile installation with an air-to-ground missile. Through his technical skill, he immediately detected a second missile complex and guided the pilot into visual contact. Diving into a deadly barrage of anti-aircraft fire, his aircraft bombed and successfully destroyed this site. In the attack on this second missile site, a wingman was shot down by the intense anti-aircraft fire, and the crew members were forced to abandon their aircraft. Flying through hostile missile threats, Captain Johnson’s aircraft engaged and destroyed a MiG-17 while attacking a superior MiG force. He aided in the rescue efforts for the downed crew, engaged additional MiGs, and damaged one in the encounter. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness, Captain Johnson has reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

General Orders: Department of the Air Force, Special Order GB-363 (April 19, 1967)

Action Date: 19-Apr-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Captain

Company: 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron

Regiment: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Tuy Hoa Air Base, Vietnam

Major Thorsness and Captain Johnson flew this Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief, 63-8301, on 19 April 1967. It was one of 61 F-105Fs that were upgraded to the F-105G Wild Weasel III configuration beginning in late 1967. It survived the Vietnam War, but was destroyed 20 December 1974 when, assigned to the 35th TFW at George AFB, California, it crashed at the Cuddeback Lake Gunnery Range after an engine failure. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Thorsness and Captain Johnson flew this Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief, 63-8301, on 19 April 1967. It was one of 61 F-105Fs that were upgraded to the F-105G Wild Weasel III configuration beginning in late 1967. It survived the Vietnam War, but was destroyed 20 December 1974 when, assigned to the 35th TFW at George AFB, California, it crashed at the Cuddeback Lake Gunnery Range after an engine failure. (U.S. Air Force)

A description of the air battle follows:

The first MiG kill of the day was recorded by Maj. Leo K. Thorsness, pilot, and Capt. Harold E. Johnson, Electronic Warfare officer (EWO), flying an F-105F. Thorsness’ flight consisted of four F-105F Wild Weasel aircraft, each plane being manned by a pilot and EWO and being specially equipped to locate and attack SAM sites. The flight was ahead of the main strike force and was committed to suppress SAM activity in the target area. About 8 to 10 MiG-17s attacked as the flight prepared to strike a SAM radar site with Shrike air-to-ground missiles. The Thorsness flight split up into three parts: the third and fourth aircraft entered into separate MiG engagements while Thorsness and his wingman continued the attack against the radar. The time was then about 4:55 p.m. Johnson provides an account of the encounter:

“We found and delivered our ordnance on an occupied SAM site. As we pulled off the site heading west, Kingfish 02¹ called that he had an overheat light. He also headed west, and the crew, Majors Thomas M. Madison, pilot, and Thomas J. Sterling, EWO, had to eject from their aircraft. We headed toward them by following the UHF-DF steer we received from their electronic beepers and saw them in the chutes. . .

“As we circled the descending crew, we were on a southerly heading when I spotted a MiG-17 heading east, low at out 9 o’clock position. I called him to the attention of Major Thorsness. . . .”

Thorsness continued the story:

“The MiG was heading east and was approximately 2,500 feet mean sea level. We were heading southeast and at 8,000 feet MSL. I began “S” turning to get behind the MiG. After one and a half “S” turns the MiG had progressed from the foothills over the delta southwest of Hanoi. The MiG turned to a northerly heading, maintaining approximately the same altitude and airspeed. Captain Johnson continued to give me SAM bearings, SAM-PRF [pulse recurrence frequency] status and launch indications as I continued to maneuver to attain a 6 o’clock position on the MiG.

“The first burst of approximately 300 rounds of 20 mm was fired from an estimated 2,000–1,500 feet in a right hand shallow pursuit curve, firing with a cased sight reticle. No impacts were observed on the MiG. Within a few seconds we were in the 6 o’clock position with approximately 75 to 100 knots overtake speed. I fired another burst of approximately 300 rounds of 20 mm. I pulled up to avoid both the debris and the MiG. While pulling up I rolled slightly to the right, then left. The MiG was approximately 100 feet low and to our left, rolling to the right. The two red stars were clearly discernible, one on top of each wing, and several rips were noted on the battered left wing. We continued to turn to the left and after turning approximately 130° again sighted the MiG, still in a right descending spiral. Just prior to the MiG’s impacting the ground, Captain Johnson sighted a MiG-17 at our 6:30 position approximately 2,000 feet back. I pulled into a tighter left turn, selected afterburner, and lowered the nose. I again looked at the crippled MiG, saw it impact the ground in what appeared to be a rice field. After confirming the MiG had in fact impacted the ground I made a hard reversal and descended very near the ground, heading generally westerly into the foothills.”

Thorsness then left the battle area, but returned after refueling to provide rescue combat air patrol during the search for his wingman’s aircrew. Thorsness and Johnson attacked another MiG and scored some damaging hits before they were themselves attacked by other MiG-17s. Although it is highly probable that Thorsness and Johnson destroyed a second MiG, this kill was not confirmed.

— 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 46 and 47.

Eleven days later, 30 April 1967, Major Thorsness and Captain Johnson were shot down by an AA-2A Atoll heat-seeking missile fired by a MiG-21 fighter piloted by Vũ Ngọc Đỉnh, 921st Fighter Regiment, Vietnam People’s Air Force. They ejected but were captured. Both men were held as Prisoners of War until 4 March 1973.

Colonel Leo Keith Thorsness, United States Air Force (Retired) died Tuesday, 2 May 2017, at St. Augustine, Florida. He was 85 years of age.

¹ Radio call sign for aircraft 2.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 April 1942

A North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber revs its engines, awaiting teh signal to launch from the flight deck officer. (U.S. Air Force)
A North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber revs its engines, awaiting the signal to launch from the flight deck officer. (U.S. Navy)
With flight deck personnel dropping to the deck to avoid its turning propellers, A north American B-25B Mitchell medium bomber starts its takeoff roll aboard USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. (U.S. Navy)
With flight deck personnel dropping to the deck to avoid its turning propellers, a North American B-25B Mitchell medium bomber starts its takeoff roll aboard USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. (U.S. Navy) 
Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, United States Navy
Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, United States Navy

18 April 1942: Task Force 16, under the command of Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., U.S. Navy, approached the Japanese islands on a daring top secret joint Army-Navy attack.

Planning for the attack began in January 1942 under orders from Admiral Earnest J. King, Commander-in-Chief United States Fleet. Captain Donald B. Duncan, U.S. Navy, was responsible for the plan.

The operation was carried out by Task Force 16 under the command of Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., United States Navy. Task Force 16 consisted of two aircraft carriers, USS Enterprise (CV-6) and USS Hornet (CV-8), four cruisers, eight destroyers and two oilers. There were two air groups, consisting of eight squadrons of 54 fighters, 72 dive bombers, 36 torpedo bombers, and one squadron of of 16 medium bombers. Lieutenant Colonel James Harold (“Jimmy”) Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps, commanded the Strike Group of North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell bombers aboard Hornet.

With the land-based Army bombers secured to Hornet‘s flight deck, her own fighters had been struck below. The air group from Enterprise provided Combat Air Patrol for the task force. The plan was to bring the B-25s within 400 miles (645 kilometers) of Japan, have them take off and carry out the attack, then fly on to airfields in Chinese territory.

A U.S. Army Air Corps B-25B Mitchell medium bomber is launched from USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. (U.S. Navy)
Lieutenant Colonel James H. ("Jimmy") Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps, flies a North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber off the deck of USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. (U.S. Navy)
Lieutenant Colonel James H. (“Jimmy”) Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps, flies a North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber off the deck of USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. His was the first bomber to takeoff. (U.S. Navy)

At 0500 hours, the task force was sighted by a Japanese picket boat while still over 700 miles (1,127 kilometers) away from Tokyo. At 0644 another vessel was spotted by the task force. Fearing that surprise had been lost, Admiral Halsey ordered the bombers launched while still 623 miles (1,003 kilometers) from land.

Admiral William H. Halsey watches a North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber take off from USS Hornet (CV-8). The airplanes nose wheel has cleared the flight deck while the ship's bow pitches down in heavy seas. (U.S. Navy)
Vice Admiral William H. Halsey, U.S. Navy, watches a North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV-8). The airplane’s nose wheel has lifted clear of the flight deck while the ship’s bow pitches down in heavy seas. (U.S. Navy)
Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, USAAF, aboard USS Hornet, April 1942. (U. S Air Force)
Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, USAAC, aboard USS Hornet, April 1942. (U. S. Air Force)

The sixteen B-25s were successfully launched from Hornet and headed for their assigned targets. The lead airplane, B-25B serial number 40-2344, was flown by Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle.

Single B-25s attacked targets in the cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Kobe.The first bombs were dropped on Tokyo at 1215 local time. This was the first offensive operation carried out by the United States of American against the Empire of Japan during World War II.

The actual destructive effect of the attack was minimal. It had been hoped that there would be psychological effects on the citizenry, however the arrival of the American bombers coincided with an ongoing air raid drill, and many thought it was all part of the drill.

Militarily, however, the attack was a stunning success. Four Japanese fighter groups, needed elsewhere, were pinned down at home, waiting for the next attack.

A B-25 is airborne over the bow of USS Hornet (CV-8). (U.S. Navy)
A B-25 is airborne over the bow of USS Hornet (CV-8). (U.S. Navy)

Not a single B-25 was lost over Japan. One landed in Vladivostok where the crew and airplane were interred by the “neutral” Soviets, but they eventually were able to get home. The rest continued on toward China, though without enough fuel to reach their planned destinations. Four B-25s made crash landings, but the crews of the others bailed out into darkness as their planes ran out of gas.

Routes of ten of the sixteen B-25s. Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle’s airplane, 40-2344, enters the chart at the upper right corner, the exits to upper left. (United States Army)
The wreckage of Jimmy Doolittle’s North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell bomber, 40-2344, China, April 1942. (Smithsonian.com)
Lieutenant Colonel James Harold Doolittle (just right of center) with his crew in China following the 18 April 1942 air raid on Japan. Left to right, Staff Sergeant Fred A. Braemer; Staff Sergeant Paul J. Leonard; Lieutenant Richard E. Cole; Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle; and Lieutenant Henry A. Potter. (United States Navy, Naval History and Heritage Command NH 97502)

Five of the airmen were killed. Eight were captured by the Japanese, two of whom were executed by a military court, and another died in prison.

North American Aviation B-25B interred south of Vladivostok
Captain Edward J. York’s North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell, 40-2242, Aircraft 8, interned about 40 miles (25 miles) west of Vladivostok, Primorsky Krai, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
1st Lieutenant Robert L. Hite, USAAF, co-pilot of Aircraft 16, Bat Out of Hell, was captured by the Japanese after bailing out over China. he was held as a prisoner of war for 3½ years. He is one of just five living members of the Doolittle Raiders, though he was too ill to attend their 2012 Reunion. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Robert L. Hite, USAAC, co-pilot of Aircraft 16, “Bat Out of Hell,” was captured by the Japanese after bailing out over China, and was held as a prisoner of war for 3½ years. (U.S. Air Force)

For his leadership in the air raid, James Harold Doolittle was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, and was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. General Doolittle’s Medal is in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt presents the Medal of Honor to Brigadier General James Harold Doolittle in a ceremony at The White House, 19 May 1942. The President is seated at left. Standing, left to right, are Lieutenant General Henry H. Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces; Mrs. Doolittle; Brigadier General Doolittle; and General George Catlett Marshall, Jr., Chief of Staff, United States Army. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, Photographic Collection, NPx. 65-696)

CITATION:

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Brigadier General [then Lieutenant Colonel] James Harold Doolittle (ASN: 0-271855), United States Army Air Forces, for conspicuous leadership above the call of duty, involving personal valor and intrepidity at an extreme hazard to life while Commanding the First Special Aviation Project in a bombing raid of Tokyo, Japan, on 18 April 1942. With the apparent certainty of being forced to land in enemy territory or to perish at sea, General Doolittle personally led a squadron of Army bombers, manned by volunteer crews, in a highly destructive raid on the Japanese mainland.

War Department, General Orders No. 29 (June 9, 1942), Amended by Department of the Army G.O. No. 22 (1959) & No. 4 (1960)

Teh medal of Honor awarded to Brigadier General James Harold Doolittle, Air Corps, United States Army, in teh collection of teh Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, (NASM A19600049000)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 April 1945

Private First Class Henry Eugene Erwin, Air Corps, United States Army, circa 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

STAFF SERGEANT HENRY EUGENE ERWIN (Air Mission)

  • Rank and organization: Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 52d Bombardment Squadron, 29th Bombardment Group, 20th Air Force
  • Place and date: Koriyama, Japan, 12 April 1945
  • Entered service at: Bessemer, Ala.
  • G.O. No.: 44, 6 June 1945

Citation: He was the radio operator of a B-29 airplane leading a group formation to attack Koriyama, Japan. He was charged with the additional duty of dropping phosphorus smoke bombs to aid in assembling the group when the launching point was reached. Upon entering the assembly area, aircraft fire and enemy fighter opposition was encountered. Among the phosphoresce bombs launched by S/Sgt. Erwin, 1 proved faulty, exploding in the launching chute, and shot back into the interior of the aircraft, striking him in the face. The burning phosphorus obliterated his nose and completely blinded him. Smoke filled the plane, obscuring the vision of the pilot. S/Sgt. Erwin realized that the aircraft and crew would be lost if the burning bomb remained in the plane. Without regard for his own safety, he picked it up and feeling his way, instinctively, crawled around the gun turret and headed for the copilot’s window. He found the navigator’s table obstructing his passage. Grasping the burning bomb between his forearm and body, he unleashed the spring lock and raised the table. Struggling through the narrow passage he stumbled forward into the smoke-filled pilot’s compartment. Groping with his burning hands, he located the window and threw the bomb out. Completely aflame, he fell back upon the floor. The smoke cleared, the pilot, at 300 feet, pulled the plane out of its dive. S/Sgt. Erwin’s gallantry and heroism above and beyond the call of duty saved the lives of his comrades.

Crew of the B-29 Superfortress “City of Los Angeles:” Front row, left to right: Vern W. Schiller, flight engineer; Henry E. Erwin, radio operator; Howard Stubstad, CFC gunner. Standing, Pershing Younkin, navigator; Roy Stables, pilot; William Loesch, bombardier; Leo D. Connors, radar bombardier; George A. Simeral, aircraft commander. (Alabama Department of Archives & History Q8799)

XXI Bomber Command’s Mission #65 for 12 April 1945 was an attack against the Hodogaya Chemical Plant (Target #2025) at Koriyama, a city on the island of Honshu, Japan. The chemical plant produced tetraethyl lead, a critical ingredient in high-octane aviation gasoline. Eighty-five B-29 Superfortress long-range heavy bombers took of from their base at North Field on the island of Guam, the largest and southernmost of the Marianas. Each bomber was loaded with 500-pound (227 kilogram) AN-M64 general purpose demolition bombs. The planned time over the target was 12:35–13:26, with the bombers attacking at altitudes of 7,000 to 9,000 feet (2,134–2,743 meters). The weather report for the target area was clear, with visibility of 15 miles (24 kilometers).

29th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy) B-29 Superfortresses at North Field, Guam, 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

Koriyama was 1,506 miles (2,424 kilometers) from North Field. With a round-trip distance of 3,041 miles (4,894 kilometers), this was the longest bombing mission flown up to that time.

Navigation Track Chart, XXI Bomber Command Missions No. 64 and 65. (U.S. Air Force)

City of Los Angeles, a Martin-Omaha B-29-25-MO Superfortress, 42-65302, was the  lead ship of the 52nd Bombardment Squadron, 29th Bombardment Group. The Superfortress was under the command of Captain George Anthony Simeral. The 52nd squadron’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Eugene O. Strouse, was on board as co-pilot.

B-29 Superfortress very long range heavy bombers of the 29th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy), 314th Bombardment Wing (Very Heavy), XXI Bomber Command. (U.S. Air Force)
Aogashima (Landsat)

The 52nd Squadron’s assembly point was over over Aogashima, a small volcanic island of the Izu archipelago in the Philippine Sea, 222 miles (357 kilometers) south of Tokyo.

It was near this island that City of Los Angeles‘s radio operator, Red Erwin, dropped white phosphorus signal flares to give the squadron a visual reference point.

When the faulty signal flare prematurely ignited, it burned at about 1,300 °F. (704 °C.) and filled the cockpit with dense smoke. The other crew members could not see the difficulty Erwin was having trying to drop the flare overboard.

Erwin was gravely injured. Phosphorus self-ignites in the presence of air. With particles of phosphorus all over, his body was still on fire. The phosphorus could not be extinguished.

A B-29 Superfortress circles Mount Suribachi, a 554-foot (169 meter) volcano at the southwestern end of Iwo Jima, circa 1945.

Captain Simeral aborted the mission and turned City of Los Angeles toward the island of Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands, where an emergency landing field for the B-29s had been built. Iwo was the closest point where Erwin could receive medical treatment.

Erwin’s injuries were so severe that he was not expected to survive. He was evacuated to Fleet Hospital 103 at Guam.

Fleet Hospital 103, Guam, 1945. (U.S. Navy)

Major General Curtis E. LeMay, commanding XXI Bomber Command, and Brigadier General Lauris Norstad, Chief of Staff, Twentieth Air Force, sent a recommendation for the Medal of Honor to Headquarters, U.S. Army Air Forces in Washington, D.C.

The nearest Medal of Honor was in a display case in Hawaii. Because Erwin was not expected to survive, that medal was obtained and flown to Guam so that it could be presented while he was still alive. In a ceremony held in Orthopedic Wards 3 and 4 of Fleet Hospital 103, Major General LeMay and Major General Willis H. Hale, Commanding General, Army Air Forces, Pacific Ocean Areas, and Deputy Commander, Twentieth Air Force, presented the Medal of of Honor to Staff Sergeant Henry Eugene Erwin, United States Army Air Forces.

Flight crew of B-29 City of Los Angeles and Staff Sergeant Henry E Erwin at his Medal of Honor presentation, 19 April 1945. Major General Willis H. Hale, Commanding General, Army Air Forces, Pacific Ocean Areas, is at right. (U.S. Air Force 170331-F-ZZ999-102)

General LeMay told Sergeant Erwin that, “Your effort to save the lives of your fellow airmen is the most extraordinary kind of heroism I know.”

General of the Army Henry H. Arnold, commanding the U.S. Army Air Forces, wrote to him, “I regard your act as one of the bravest in the records of the war.”

Red Erwin was the only crew member of a B-29 Superfortress to be awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II.

Red Erwin underwent 41 surgical procedures. The phosphorus particles in his body continued smoldering for months. Erwin was hospitalized for 2½ years before he was discharged from the U.S. Army Air Forces as a master sergeant, 8 October 1947.

Major General Willis H. Hale bestows the Medal of Honor on Staff Sergeant Henry E. Erwin at Fleet Hospital 103, Guam, 19 April 1945. (U.S. Navy)

Henry Eugene Erwin was born 8 May 1921, at Docena, a small mining village in Jefferson County, Alabama. He was the fourth of nine children of Walter Marshall Erwin, a weighman at a coal mine, and Pearl Landers Ervin.

Gene Erwin spent two years working with the Civilian Conservation Corps, a “New Deal” public work relief program. By 1940, he had found employment as a secretary with the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company (TCI RR).

On 27 January 1942, Erwin enlisted in the Army Reserve Corps. He had red hair, brown eyes and a “ruddy” complexion, was 5 feet, 10 inches (1.75 meters) tall and weighed 165 pounds (75 kilograms). He was appointed an aviation cadet, Air Corps, 3 February 1943. Because of “flight deficiencies,” Cadet Erwin did not complete flight training and in June 1943 was reassigned for training as a radio operator and technician.

In April 1944, Erwin was assigned to the 52nd Bombardment Squadron (Very Heavy), at Dalhart Army Airfield, Texas, for B-29 Superfortress combat crew training.

Sergeant Henry E. Erwin married Miss Martha Elizabeth Starnes, 6 December 1944, at Ensley, Alabama. The ceremony was performed by Rev. Daniel E. Draper. They would have four children, Hank, Bette, Nancy and Karen.

A B-29 Superfortress of the 29th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy), 314th Bombardment Wing, lands at North Field, Guam, in the Marianas. (U.S. Air Force)

The 52nd Squadron deployed to the Pacific in February 1945 as an element of the 29th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy), 314th Bombardment Wing (Very Heavy), XXI Bomber Command, Twentieth Air Force, based at North Field, Guam.

Mission Number 65 was Erwin’s eleventh combat mission.

Henry Eugene Erwin

Gene Erwin never fully recovered. Although he had been blinded by the phosphorus burns, he eventually regained his sight. His right arm was disabled, and his body was covered in scars.

When he was able to return to work, Erwin was employed the Veterans Administration, and remained there for thirty-seven years before retiring.

Master Sergeant Henry Eugene Erwin, United States Army Air Forces (Retired), died 16 January 2002 at Leeds, Alabama. His body was buried at the Elmwood Cemetery, Birmingham, Alabama.

In his honor, the United States Air Force established the Henry E. Erwin Outstanding Enlisted Aircrew Member of the Year Award. The library at the Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, is named the Red Erwin Library.

Mrs. Erwin, with the portrait of her husband, painted by artist John Witt, a long time contributor to the Air Force Art Program.

B-29-25-MO 42-65302 was one of 536 Boeing B-29 Superfortresses built by the Glenn L. Martin–Nebraska Company at Fort Crook, Omaha, Nebraska (now, Offutt Air Force Base). Fifty of those were the Block 25 variant. The new B-29 was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Forces on 11 January 1945.

Once assigned to the 314th Bombardment Wing (Very Heavy), the airplane was named City of Los Angeles, in keeping with the wing’s practice of naming the aircraft after cities in the United States. When it arrived at Guam, 42-65302 was identified with a large yellow letter “O” surrounded by a black square, painted on its vertical fin and rudder. The numeral “37” was painted on each side of the fuselage aft of the wings.

29th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy), 314th Bombardment Wing (very Heavy), B-29 Superfortresses at North Field, Guam. Note the “Black Square O” identification symbols. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-29 was the most technologically advanced airplane built up to that time, and required an immense effort by American industry to produce.

The B-29 Superfortress was designed by the Boeing Airplane Company as its Model 345. Produced in three major versions, the B-29, B-29A and B-29B, it was built by Boeing at Wichita, Kansas, and Redmond, Washington; by the Bell Aircraft Corporation at Marietta, Georgia; and the Glenn L. Martin–Nebraska Company at Fort Crook (now Offutt Air Force Base), Omaha, Nebraska. A total of 3,943 Superfortresses were built.

B-29s were normally operated by an 11-man crew: Pilot, copilot, navigator, bombardier, radar bombardier, radio operator, flight engineer, a central fire control gunner, and right, left, and tail gunners.

The B-29 Superfortress was 99 feet, 0 inches (30.175 meters) long with a wingspan of 141 feet, 3 inches (43.053 meters) and an overall height of 27 feet, 9 inches (8.458 meters). It had a wing area of 1,736 square feet (167.28 square meters); The standard B-29 had an empty weight of 74,500 pounds (33,793 kilograms) and gross weight of 120,000 pounds (54,431 kilograms).

A newly-completed B-29 Superfortress at the Martin Bomber Plant. (Nebraska State Historical Society RG3715-2-11)

City of Los Angeles had four air-cooled, supercharged, 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division R-3350-41 (Cyclone 18 787C18BA3) two-row 18-cylinder radial engines with direct fuel injection. The R-3350-41 had a compression ratio of 6.85:1 and required 100/130 aviation gasoline. It was rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m, for take-off. The engines drove four-bladed Curtiss Electric reversible-pitch propellers with a diameter of 16 feet, 7 inches (5.080 meters), through a 0.35:1 gear reduction. The R-3350-41 was 6 feet, 2.26 inches (1.937 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,725 pounds (1,236 kilograms).

The B-29 had a cruise speed of 220 miles per hour (354 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). Its maximum speed was 306 miles per hour (492 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 357 miles per hour (575 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). The bomber had a service ceiling of 33,600 feet (10,168 meters). The Superfortress had a fuel capacity of 9,438 gallons (35,727 liters), giving it a maximum range of 3,250 miles (5,230 kilometers) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) with 5,000 pound (2,268 kilograms) bomb load.

The B-29 could carry a maximum bomb load of 20,000 pounds (9,072 kilograms). Defensive armament consisted of twelve air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted in four remotely-operated powered turrets, and a tail turret. B-29 variants before Block 25 also had a single M2 20 mm autocannon mounted in the tail.

City of Los Angeles was damaged on a combat mission against Kobe, Japan, in July 1945. Captain Simeral was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

42-65302 survived the war and remained in service with the U.S. Air Force for several more years. It was “reclaimed” at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, 17 November 1943.

This B-29 Superfortress of the 29th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy) on fire over Kobe, Japan, 17 July 1945, MIGHT be City of Los Angeles. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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