Tag Archives: Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 Model 21

24 August 1942

Captain Marion E. Carl, USMC, with a Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat. (U.S. Navy)

24 August 1942: Flying a Grumman F4F Wildcat, Lieutenant Marion Eugene Carl, United States Marine Corps, a 27-year-old fighter pilot assigned to Marine Fighter Squadron 223 (VMF-223) based at Henderson Field, Guadalcanal Island, shot down four enemy airplanes in one day. They were a Mitsubishi A6M “Zeke” fighter, a Mitsubishi G4M1 “Betty” medium bomber and two Nakajima B5N2 “Kate” torpedo bombers. Carl had previously shot down an A6M during the Battle of Midway, less than three months earlier. He now had five aerial combat victories, making him the Marine Corps’ first ace.

Captain Carl was awarded the Navy Cross (his second) for his actions in the Solomon Islands from 24 August to 9 September 1942.

Marion Carl’s fighter was a Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat, designed by Robert Leicester Hall as a carrier-based fighter for the United States Navy. The F4F-4 was a single-place, single-engine, mid-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear.

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

The F4F-4 was 29 feet, 9-3/8 inches (9.077 meters) long, with a wingspan of 38 feet, 0 inches (11.582 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 1-3/8 inches (3.693 meters). Unlike the preceding F4F-3, the F4F-4 had folding wings for storage aboard aircraft carriers. With the wings folded, the airplane was 14 feet, 4 inches (4.369 meters) wide. Its empty weight was 5,895 pounds (2,674 kilograms), and the gross weight was 7,975 pounds (3,617 kilograms).

The F4F-4 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,829.39-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp SSC7-G (R-1830-86) two-row, 14-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. The R-1830-86 had a normal power rating of 1,100 at 2,550 r.p.m., from Sea Level to 3,300 feet (1,006 meters), and 1,000 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 19,000 feet (5,791 meters). It was rated at 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff. The engine turned a three-bladed Curtiss Electric propeller with a diameter of 9 feet, 9 inches (2.972 meters) through a 3:2 gear reduction. The R-1830-86 was 4 feet, 0.19 inches (1.224 meters) in diameter, 5 feet, 7.44 inches (1.713 meters) long, and weighed 1,560 pounds (708 kilograms).

The F4F-4 had a maximum speed of 284 miles per hour (457 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 320 miles per hour (515 kilometers per hour) at 18,800 feet (5,730 meters). Its service ceiling was 34,000 feet (10,363 meters).

While the F4F-3 Wildcat was armed with four air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, the F4F-4 had six. It carried 1,400 rounds of ammunition.

The prototype XF4F-1 made its first flight in 1935. It was substantially improved as the XF4F-2. The first production F4F-3 Wildcat was built in February 1940. The airplane remained in production through World War II, with 7,860 built by Grumman and General Motors Eastern Aircraft Division (FM-1 Wildcat).

According to the National Naval Aviation Museum, F4F Wildcats held a 9:1 ratio of victories over Japanese aircraft, with 1,006 enemy airplanes destroyed in combat.

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat at Henderson Field
A Grumman F4F Wildcat at Henderson Field, Guadalcanal. There are 19 Japanese flags painted on the fuselage, suggesting that this is Major John L. Smith’s fighter. (U.S. Navy)

Marion Eugene Carl was born at Hubbard, Oregon, 1 November 1915. He was the second of four children of Herman Lee Carl, a dairy farmer, and Ellen Lavine Ellingsen Carl.

Carl graduated from Oregon State College at Corvallis, Oregon, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Army Reserve, 31 May 1938. Lieutenant Carl soon resigned this commission to accept an appointment as an Aviation Cadet, United States Navy. He enlisted as a private, first class, Volunteer Marine Corps Reserve, 17 July 1938, and was designated a student Enlisted Naval Aviation Pilot assigned to the Naval Reserve Aviation Base, Squantum, Massachusetts. He entered flight school as an Aviation Cadet at Naval Air Station Pensacola near Pensacola, Florida, 26 July 1938.

Lieutenant Marion E. Carl, USMC, Naval Aviator. (U.S. Navy)

After completing flight training, Carl was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, United States Marine Corps Reserve, 20 October 1939. He was then assigned to Marine Fighting Squadron One (VMF-1) at Brown Field, Quantico, Virginia.

In 1940, Lieutenant Carl returned to NAS Pensacola as a flight instructor. On 25 February 1941, Second Lieutenant Carl, U.S.M.C.R., was appointed a Second Lieutenant, United States Marine Corps.

Lieutenant Carl was transferred to VMF-221 at San Diego, California, as a fighter pilot. The unit was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3) for transportation to Marine Corps Air Station Ewa, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii. On 25 December 1941, VMF-221 was deployed to Midway Atoll.

Marion Carl and his squadron fought during the Battle of Midway. Flying a Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, Bu. No. 1864,¹ on 4 June 1942, he shot down his first enemy airplane, a Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter, and damaged two others. Lieutenant Carl was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions in that decisive battle.

Marion Carl was next assigned to VMF-223 under the command of Captain John L. Smith. The Marine fighter squadron was the first air unit to arrive at Henderson Field on the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomons, 20 August 1942. This was a critical airfield, originally built by the Japanese military but occupied by Allied forces. On 24 August, Lieutenant Carl became the Marine Corps’ first “ace.”

Carl was shot down in 9 September 1942 and was missing for five days. He was helped by islanders who eventually returned him to his base.

The squadron departed Guadalcanal 16 October 1942, and sailed to San Francisco, California. VMF-223 was credited with destroying 110½ enemy aircraft. Carl was credited with 16.

Lieutenant Carl married Miss Edna T. Kirvin at New York City, New York, 7 January 1943.

On 26 January, he took command of VMF-223. On 8 May 1943, Lieutenant Carl was promoted to the temporary rank of captain. The squadron was re-equipped with the new Vought-Sikorsky F4U-1 Corsair. Training in the new fighter took place at MCAS El Toro, in southern California.

In August, the squadron returned to combat in the Solomons. By the end of 1943, Major Carl’s total of enemy aircraft destroyed was 18½ with 3 damaged, making him the seventh highest-scoring Marine fighter pilot of World War II.

Major Marion E. Carl, USMC, commanding VMF-223 in 1943. The aircraft is a Vought F4U Corsair in which Carl shot down two enemy aircraft in December 1943. (U.S. Navy)

After the War Marion Carl was assigned as a test pilot at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, testing jet aircraft on aircraft carriers. He was also the first Marine Corps pilot to fly a helicopter. Carl commanded the Marine’s first jet squadron, VMF-122, which flew the McDonnell FH-1 Phantom. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel 7 August 1947.

In May 1955, Colonel Carl commanded Marine Photo Reconnaissance Squadron One (VMJ-1). The squadron flew the McDonnell FH-2 Banshee from air bases on the island of Formosa (Taiwan) on secret missions over the People’s Republic of China.

At Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base) Marion Carl tested the Douglas D-558-I Skystreak and D-558-II Skyrocket, setting world records for speed and altitude. He was promoted to colonel, 1 October 1956.

Major Marion E. Carl, USMC, and Commander Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., USN, stand with the record-setting Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, on Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Navy)

By 1962 Colonel Carl was Director of Marine Corps Aviation. He was promoted to brigadier general, 1 June 1964. He commanded the First Marine Brigade during the Vietnam War and flew combat missions in jet fighters and helicopter gun ships.

Major General Marion E. Carl, United States Marine Corps.

Carl was promoted to major general in August 1967, with his date of rank retroactive to 1 June 1964. Carl commanded the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, then served as Inspector General of the Marine Corps from 1970 until 1973. When he retired in 1973, General Carl had accumulated more that 13,000 flight hours.

During his military career, Major General Carl was awarded the Navy Cross with two gold stars (three awards); The Legion of Merit with valor device and three gold stars (four awards); The Distinguished Flying Cross with four gold stars (five awards); and the Air Medal with two gold and two silver stars (twelve awards).

Tragically, General Carl was murdered in Roseburg, Oregon, 28 June 1998, as he defended his wife, Edna, during a home-invasion robbery. Mrs. Carl was wounded, but survived.

Major General Marion E. Carl, United States Marine Corps, is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

A Mitsubishi A6M2 Model 21 "Zero" fighter takes off from an aircraft carrier of teh Imperial Japanese Navy.
A Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 Model 21 “Zero” fighter takes off from an aircraft carrier of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Marion Carl shot down one of these and damaged two others during the Battle of Midway, 4 June 1942. (Imperial Japanese Navy)
Mitsubisshi A6M3 Model 22 "Zeke" in the Solomon Islands, 1943. (Imperial Japanese Navy)
Mitsubishi A6M3 Type 0 Model 22 “Zeke” in the Solomon Islands, 1943. (This fighter is flown by Petty Officer 1st Class Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, one of the most successful fighter pilots of World War II.)  (Imperial Japanese Navy) 
A Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" takes off from Rabaul, 1942.
A Mitsubishi G4M1 Type 1 Model 11 “Betty” takes off from Rabaul, 1942.
Nakajima B5N Kate. Marion Carl shot down two of these light bombers, 24 August 1942.
Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 “Kate”. Marion Carl shot down two of these torpedo bombers, 24 August 1942.

¹ The fighter flown by Marion Carl to shoot down his first enemy airplane is often cited as Grumman F4F-3 Bu. No. 4000 (second bureau number series, 1935–1940). However, the entry in Carl’s certified pilot logbook for 4 June 1942 states the airplane he flew was F4F-3 Bu. No. 1864.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 June 1942, 0702: Torpedo Eight

The pilots of Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) aboard USS Hornet (CV-8) shortly before the Battle of Midway. Only Ensign George H. Gay, front row, center, would survive. (U.S. Navy photograph published in LIFE Magazine)

4 June 1942: At the Battle of Midway, beginning at 0702 hours, fifteen Douglas TBD-1 Devastator torpedo bombers were launched from the United States Navy aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) along with squadrons of Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers and Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters.

Led by Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron, Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) flew at low altitude toward the expected position of the attacking Japanese fleet, while the fighters escorted the dive bombers at high altitude. Waldron sighted the enemy fleet at a distance of 30 miles and ordered his squadron to attack. Without any fighter escort, the slow flying torpedo bombers were attacked by Japanese Navy A6M2 Type 0 fighters and defensive anti-aircraft fire from the warships. All fifteen TBDs were shot down.

A detachment of VT-8, flying Grumman TBF-1 Avengers, had been sent ahead to Midway from Pearl Harbor. These six torpedo bombers, led by Lieutenant Langdon K. Fieberling, also attacked the Japanese fleet. Five were shot down by intercepting Zero fighters. The sixth, flown by Ensign Albert Kyle Earnest, was badly damaged and its gunner killed. The torpedo bomber was able to return to Midway but crash-landed. It was the only aircraft of Torpedo Eight to survive the Battle of Midway.¹

Only one man, Ensign George H. Gay, of the thirty pilots and gunners of Torpedo Eight who had launched from USS Hornet, survived. Ensign Earnest and Radioman Harry Hackett Ferrier, were the only survivors of the 18 men from the Midway detachment of VT-8. The torpedo bombers failed to score any hits on the Japanese ships, and their machine guns did not bring down any of the Zeros.

Ensign George Gay, United States Navy, with his Douglas TBD Devastator, 4 June 1942. (U.S. Navy)
Ensign George H. Gay, Jr., United States Navy, and radio operator/gunner ARM3c George Arthur Field, with their Douglas TBD-1 Devastator, Bu. No. 1518, May 1942. (U.S. Navy)
The crew of Grumman TBF-1 Avenger 8-T-1 (Bu. No. 00380), left to right, Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Basil Rick, Ensign Albert K. Ernest, and Aviation Radioman 3/c Harry H. Ferrier. On 4 June, Rick’s gun turret was operated Seaman 2/c Jay D. Manning, who was killed in action. (U.S. Navy via Things With Wings)

In the enigmatic ways of warfare, the attack by Torpedo Eight caused all of the Japanese fighters defending their aircraft carriers to descend to low altitude in their efforts to shoot down the American torpedo bombers. When the SBD Dauntless dive bombers from USS Enterprise and USS Yorktown arrived a few minutes later there were no Japanese fighters at high altitude to interfere with their attack. The dive bomber attack was devastating. The aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga and Hiryu were bombed and sunk. Soryu received major damage, and was sunk by its escorting destroyers later in the day.

The Imperial Japanese Navy, up to this time on the offense all over the Pacific and Indian Oceans, never recovered from the loss of the experienced pilots that died when those carriers went down.

One of Torpedo Eight's Douglas TBD-1 Devastator torpedo bombers, 8-T-5, aboard USS Hornet, mid-May 1942. (U.S. Navy)
One of Torpedo Eight’s Douglas TBD-1 Devastator torpedo bombers, Bu. No. 0308, marked 8-T-5, aboard USS Hornet (CV-8), mid-May 1942. (U.S. Navy)

In his After Action Report, Hornet‘s commanding officer, Captain Marc A. Mitscher (later, Admiral) wrote:

Beset on all sides by the deadly Zero fighters, which were doggedly attacking them in force, and faced with a seemingly impenetrable screen of cruisers and destroyers, the squadron drove in valiantly at short range. Plane after plane was shot down by fighters, anti-aircraft bursts were searing faces and tearing out chunks of fuselage, and still the squadron bored in. Those who were left dropped their torpedoes at short range.”

A Douglas TBD-1 Devastator, Bu. No. 0308, of VT-6 (USS Enterprise, CV-6) drops a Mark XIII aerial torpedo during practice, 20 October 1941. (U.S. Navy)
Grumman TBF-1 Avenger Bu. No. 00380 (8-T-1), the only aircraft of Torpedo Eight to survive the Battle of Midway. (U.S. Navy via Things With Wings)

¹ In  a 2008 U.S. Naval Institute article, survivor Commander Harry H. Ferrier (then Aviation Radioman 3/c) wrote that following the Battle of Midway, TBF-1 Bu. No. 00380 was returned to Pearl Harbor for inspection. It had been hit by at least nine 20 mm cannon shells and 64 7.7 mm machine gun bullets.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 April 1939

The first prototype Mitsubishi A6M1 Type 0, c/n 201. (Mitsubishi)
The first prototype Mitsubishi A6M1 Type 0, c/n 201. (Mitsubishi Kokuki K.K.)

1 April 1939: Mitsubishi Kokuki K.K. (Mitsubishi Aircraft Company) Chief Test Pilot Katsuzo Shima made the first flight of the prototype Mitsubishi A6M1 Navy Type 0¹ fighter at the Kagamigahara air field (now, Gifu Airbase).

Completed about ten days earlier, at the Mitsubishi Aircraft Company factory at Nagoya on the island of Honshu, the prototype fighter had been disassembled so that it could be transported by road approximately 22 miles (36 kilometers) to the airfield.

Beginning late in the afternoon with taxi tests and a brief “hop” to check control response, at 5:30 p.m., Shima took off on what would be a successful test flight.

The prototype S12, serial number 201, had been designed in response to an Imperial Japanese Navy requirement for a new, light-weight fighter for operation from aircraft carriers. The design team was led by Dr. Jiro Horikoshi, an engineering graduate from the Aviation Laboratory at the University of Tokyo.

The design team for the Mitsubishi A6M1 Type Zero. Dr. Jiro Horikoshi is second from left. His assistant, Yohtoshi Sone is in the center. (Mitsubishi)
The design team for the Mitsubishi A6M1 Type Zero. Dr. Jiro Horikoshi is second from left. His assistant, Yohtoshi Sone, is in the center. (Mitsubishi Kokuki K.K.)

The Type 0 (best known as the “Zero”) was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. It was of very light construction, being primarily built of a special aluminum alloy, although its control surfaces were fabric covered. The empty weight of the first prototype was just 1,565.9 kilograms (3,452.2 pounds). Its test weight on 1 April was 1,928 kilograms (4,251 pounds).

The two prototype A6M1s were powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 28.017 liter (1,709.7 cubic inch displacement) Mitsubishi MK2C Zuisen 13, a two-row, fourteen cylinder radial engine, rated at 780 horsepower for takeoff. The engine initially drove a two-bladed variable pitch propeller, but during testing this was replaced by a three-bladed Sumitomo constant-speed propeller, which was manufactured under license from Hamilton-Standard.

The combination of very light weight and relatively low power made the Zero very maneuverable and capable of long distance flights.

After the success of the A6M1’s initial flight tests, a second prototype, c/n 202, was built and testing continued. In September 1939 the Japanese Navy accepted the new fighter, the Rei Shiki Sento Ki, or “Rei-Sen,” and it was ordered into production with few changes.

A Mitsubishi A6M2 Model 21 "Zero" fighter takes off from an aircraft carrier of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
A Mitsubishi A6M2 Model 21 “Zero” fighter takes off from an aircraft carrier of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The first production model was the A6M2 Type 0 Model 21. The Mitsubishi engine was replaced by a more powerful Nakajima NK1C Sakae 12. The fighter’s wing tips could be folded upward for a slight improvement in storage aboard aircraft carriers.

Sources vary on the exact dimensions of the Zero fighters. The National Naval Aviation Museum at NAS Pensacola, Florida, which has an A6M2 in its collection, gives the airplane’s length as 29 feet, 8.6 inches (9.058 meters). The wingspan is 39 feet, 4.5 inches (12.002 meters), and the height is 10 feet, 0 inches (3.048 meters). It has an empty weight of 1,680 kilograms (3,704 pounds), and loaded weight of 2,796 kilograms (6,164 pounds), about half the weight of its rivals, the Chance Vought F4U Corsair and Grumman F6F Hellcat.

The A6M2 Type 0 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 27.874 liter (1,700.962 cubic inch) Nakajima Hikoki K.K. NK1C Sakae 12, a two-row, fourteen-cylinder radial engine which was rated at 925 horsepower, and drove a three-bladed Sumitomo constant-speed propeller. This gave the Model 21 a cruise speed of 207 miles per hour (333 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 331 miles per hour (533 kilometers per hour) at 14,900 feet (4,542 meters). The service ceiling was 32,810 feet (10,000 meters) and maximum range, 1,160 miles (1,867 kilometers).

The A6M2’s armament was manufactured by Dai Nihon Heiki K.K. Two Type 97 7.7 mm (.303-caliber) machine guns were mounted of the forward upper fuselage, synchronized and firing through the propeller arc. These were licensed versions of the Vickers Type E .303 machine gun. There were 600 rounds of ammunition per gun. A Type 99 20 mm autocannon was mounted in each wing with 100 shells per gun. The Type 99 was a licensed version of the Oerlikon FF autocannon.

The Mitsubishi A6M Zero was one of the most successful fighters of World War II. Although its light construction made it vulnerable to the heavy machine guns of American fighters, in skilled hands, the highly maneuverable Zero was a deadly opponent.

Mitsubisshi A6M3 Model 22 "Zeke" in the Solomon Islands, 1943. (Imperial Japanese Navy)
Petty Officer 1st Class Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, a leading fighter ace of the Imperial Japanese Navy, flying a Mitsubishi A6M3 Type 0 Model 22 in the Solomon Islands, May 1943. (Imperial Japanese Navy)

The Mitsubishi A6M Type 0 was produced from 1940 through 1945. 10,939 Zeros were built. At the end of World War II, almost all of the surviving fighters were destroyed and only a very few remain.

¹ The 0 (the numeral zero) in the fighter’s type designation refers to the the final digit of the year 2600 of the Imperial Japanese Calendar, which was 1940 AD by the Gregorian calendar. This gave the A6M2 its most common identification, simply, “the Zero.”

© 2017 Bryan R. Swopes

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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.

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 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. (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), an 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). 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 .50-caliber Browning AN/M2 machine guns mounted in the cowling and synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc, with 380 rounds per gun, and four Browning AN/M2 .30-caliber 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)

© 2016, 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 P. Kelly, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps, by Deane Keller, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

10 December 1941: 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 northen end of the island. The aircraft was under the command of Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps, 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 Nagara-class 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

IJN Natori
IJN Natori (Mikasa Memorial Museum)
SAKAI, Saburo
PO1 Saburō Sakai, Imperial Japanese 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.

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 five miles (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., United States Army Air Corps. (The New York Times)

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.

Kelly’s B-17 was the first Flying Fortress 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. (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.)

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).

It was powered by four 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) air-cooled, supercharged 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 gear reduction. The R-1820-65 was 47.59 inches (1.209 meters) long, 55.12 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,315 pounds (596 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. (Hans Groenhoff Photographic Collection, National Air and Space Museum Archives)

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)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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