Tag Archives: Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 Model 21

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.

Lieutenant Commander John Charles Waldron, United States Navy. (U.S. Naval Institute)

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 (Torpedo Six) 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 sixty-four 7.7 mm machine gun bullets.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

4 June 1942, 0430: Admiral Nagumo Attacks

Midway Atoll, looking from east to west. Eastern Island in foreground, Sand Island in background. (U.S. Navy)

4 June 1942: The Battle of Midway: The Japanese naval task force (First Mobile Force) under Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, consisting of the aircraft carriers IJN Akagi, IJN Kaga, IJN Hiryu and IJN Soryu, along with their escorts of battleships, cruisers, destroyers and supporting tankers, launched the first attack at 0430 against the United States base at Midway Island. The attackers consisted of 36 Aichi D3A dive bombers, 36 Nakajima B5N torpedo bombers and 36 Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters as escort.

The incoming aircraft were detected by radar on the island and defending U.S. Marines fighters—obsolescent Grumman F4F Wildcats and obsolete Brewster F2A Buffalos—were launched to defend the island’s airstrip and facilities. 15 U.S. Army Air Force B-17E Flying Fortress heavy bombers and 4 Martin B-26 Marauder medium bombers took off to attack the Japanese carriers.

The Marine fighters were outnumbered and technologically inferior. 4 of the F4Fs and all 12 F2As were shot down. The Japanese lost 4 torpedo bombers and 3 Zero fighters. Facilities on the island were heavily damaged by the dive bomber attack, but it was not put out of action.

IJN Hiryu evading B-17 bomber attack at Battle of Midway, 4 June 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

1 April 1939

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 at the center. His assistant, Yoshitoshi Sone, is at the left. (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.

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 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 through a 1.71:1 gear reduction.

The Model 21 had a cruise speed of 207 miles per hour (333 kilometers per hour). Its maximum speed was 277 miles per hour (446 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 335 miles per hour (539 kilometers per hour) at 16,000 feet (4,877 meters). The service ceiling was 37,000 feet (11,278 meters) and maximum range, 1,175 miles (1,891 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 on 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.

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.

An A6M2 was captured near Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands in June 1943. Known as the “Akutan Zero,” the fighter was extensively tested by the U.S. Navy and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) at NAS Anacostia. Under extreme secrecy, the airplane was also tested in the Full Scale Wind Tunnel at NACA’s Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory at Hampton, Virginia.

Lieutenant Commander Eddie Sanders, United States Navy, taxis a captured Mitsubishi A6M2 Navy Type 0 Model 21 “Zero” at NAS San Diego, California, circa September 1942. (U.S. Navy)
Mitsubishi A6M2 Navy Type 0 Model 21 fighter at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, 8 March 1943. (NASA)
Mitsubishi A6M2 Navy Type 0 Model 21 fighter at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, 8 March 1943. (NASA)
A captured Mitsubishi A6M2 Navy Type 0 Model 21 fighter during flight testing in the United States, circa 1942–1943. (U.S. Navy)
Mitsubishi A6M2 Navy Type 0 Model 21 (U.S. Navy)

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.”

© 2019 Bryan R. Swopes

3 March 1942

KNILM Douglas DC-3 PK-AFV derelict on a beach north of Broome, Western Australia.
KNILM Douglas DC-3 PK-AFV derelict on a beach north of Broome, Western Australia. (Geoff Goodall’s Aviation History Site)
Captain Ivan Vasilyevich Smirnov
Captain Ivan Vasilyevich Smirnov

3 March 1942: A Koninklijke Nederlandsch-Indische Luchtvaart Maatschappij (KNILM) Douglas DC-3 airliner, registration PK-AFV, named Pelikaan, was flying from Bandoeng, Java, Dutch East Indies, to Broome, Western Australia. The flight was under the command of Captain Ivan Vasilyevich Smirnov, a World War I fighter ace of the Imperial Russian Air Service. There were three other crew members and eight passengers on board.

And A£300,000 in diamonds.¹

At about 10:30 a.m., as the DC-3 approached the shore of Western Australia, it was attacked by three Mitsubishi A6M2 Navy Type 0 Model 21 (“Zero”) fighters of the Third Kokutai, Imperial Japanese Navy, then based at Timor. The flight was lead by Lieutenant Zenjiro Miyano, IJN.

Lieutenant Zenjiro Miyano, Imperial Japanese Navy. (Ciel de Gloire)

Captain Smirnov and several others were wounded and the airliner’s left engine caught fire. Smirnov made a crash landing on a beach at Carnot Bay, approximately 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Broome. The fighters continued to strafe the DC-3 on the beach.

The following day, 4 March, the airliner was bombed by a Kawanishi H6K “Mavis” four-engine flying boat, but there was no further injury or damage.

Over the next several days, four of the passengers died of wounds. The survivors were rescued on 9 March.

The diamonds disappeared.

A beach comber, John (“Diamond Jack”) Palmer, later turned in a parcel of diamonds which he said he had found on the beach. These were valued at A£20,447, but were only about 10% of the original amount. Palmer was charged with stealing the diamonds, and he and two others, John Arthur Mulgrue and Frank Archibald Robinson, were charged with unlawfully receiving the diamonds. They were prosecuted in 1943, but all were acquitted.

Wreck of KNILM Douglas DC-3 PH-AFV, north of Broome, Western Australia, 1942.

PK-AFV was a Douglas DC-3-194B, serial number 1965, built in 1937. It was one of twenty-three DC-3s operated by Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij N.V. (KLM, or Royal Dutch Airlines) and was originally registered PH-ALP. It was transferred to KNILM in the Dutch East Indies in June 1940.

KLM Douglas DC-3-194B PH-ALP (Gavin2806)

The Douglas DC-3 was an all-metal, twin-engine civil transport with retractable landing gear. The airplane was operated by a pilot and co-pilot and could carry up to 21 passengers.

The DC-3-194B was 64 feet, 5 inches (19.634 meters) long with a wingspan of 95 feet (28.956 meters). It was 16 feet, 11 inches (5.156 meters) high. The airplane weighed approximately 18,000 pounds (8,165 kilograms) empty and had a gross weight of 25,200 pounds (11,431 kilograms). The -194Bs were built with the passenger door on the right side of the fuselage.

The DC-3-194B was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,829.39-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp two-row, 14-cylinder radial engines. The specific engine variant is not known. The engines drove three-bladed Curtiss Electric propellers.

[Douglas C-47 Skytrains were equipped with the R-1830-92 (Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1C3-G). These had a maximum continuous rating for normal operation was 1,060 horsepower at 2,550 r.pm., up to 7,500 feet (2,286 meters), and 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., at Sea Level, for takeoff. Each engine drives a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed full-feathering propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters) through a 16:9 gear reduction. The R-1830-92 is 48.19 inches (1.224 meters) long, 61.67 inches (1.566 meters) in diameter, and weighs 1,465 pounds (665 kilograms).]

The DC-3 had a cruise speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 237 miles per hour (381 kilometers per hour) at 8,500 feet (2,591 meters). The airplane had a service ceiling 24,000 feet (7,315 meters), and its range was 1,025 miles (1,650 kilometers).

The Douglas DC-3 was in production for 11 years with 10,655 civil and C-47 military airplanes built, and another 5,000 license-built copies. Over 400 are still in commercial service.

¹ Equivalent to approximately A$21,630,927 in 2017.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

Medal of Honor, 1st Lieutenant Robert Murray Hanson, United States Marine Corps Reserve

1st Lieutenant Robert Murray Hanson, United States Marine Corps
1st Lieutenant Robert Murray Hanson, USMCR. (USMC History Division)

Medal of Honor

The Medal of Honor was presented to Lieutenant Hanson’s mother by Major General Lewis G. Merritt at a ceremony on Boston Common, Boston, Massachusetts, 19 August 1944. (His father, Rev. Dr. Harry A. Hanson, was at the time in India as president of the Lucknow Christian College.)

Robert Murray Hanson was born 4 February 1920 at Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India, the second of four children of Rev. Dr. Harry Albert Hanson and Alice Jean Dorchester Hanson. His parents were Methodist missionaries; his father a teacher at the Lucknow Christian College. He had an older brother, Mark, younger brothers Stanley and Earl Dorchester Hanson, and sister Edith Hazel Hanson.

The family returned to the United States, arriving at New York (via Liverpool and Rotterdam) aboard Cunard passenger liner S.S. Ausonia, 19 February 1924.

RMS Ausonia, photographed in 1947. (Royal Navy)
Robert Murray Hanson, circa 1941. (Hamline University Liner 1942)
Robert Murray Hanson. (Hamline University Liner 1942)

Hanson attended school in the United States, then returned to India. He  again returned to the United States in 1938, having taken time to bicycle through Europe. He attended Hamline University at St. Paul, Minnesota, a member of the Class of 1942. Hanson majored in economics, and was a member of the Kappa Gamma Chi (ΚΓΧ ) fraternity and the H Club. He played on the football, tennis, track and wrestling teams. He was an All State athlete.

When Hanson registered for the draft (conscription), 1 July 1941, he was described as having a light complexion, blonde hair and blue eyes. He was 5’10¾” tall (182.3 centimeters) and weighed 195 pounds (88.5 kilograms).

Kappa House, circa 1942. (Hamline University Liner)

Bob Hanson left the university and enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve as Seaman 2nd Class (V-5 Aviation Cadet Training Program), at the Naval Aviation Base, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 26 February 1942.  (Service Number 411 88 11)

Lieutenant Robert M. Hanson, USMCR (U.S. Navy)

Hanson completed flight training and was commissioned a second lieutenant, United States Marine Corps Reserve (Service Number O-019154), at Corpus Christi, Texas, 19 February 1943. Assigned to the Marine Corps Air Station at Kearney Mesa, San Diego, California, he was then transferred to the First Marine Aircraft Wing for deployment to the South Pacific.

When he arrived in the Solomon Islands, Lieutenant Hanson served with Marine Fighting Squadron 214 (VMF-214), known as the “Swashbucklers” (previously known as “The Black Sheep” under the command of Major “Pappy” Boyington). He was transferred to VMF-215, “The Fighting Corsairs,” at Vella Lavella Island, under the command of Major (later, Major General) Robert Gordon Owens, Jr., in October 1943.

On 1 November 1943, while flying F4U-1 Corsair Bu. No. 17472, Hanson was shot down near Bouganville by  the rear gunner of a Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 (“Kate”). After six hours in a raft, he was rescued by the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Sigourney (DD-643).

1st Lieutenant Hanson was awarded the Air Medal at Vella Lavella, 20 November 1943.

Lieutenant Hanson is pictured at Vella Lavella, fifth from right. Original caption: “Decoration of Marine Flyers in South Pacific is often as informal as pictured here. These fighter pilots, at the end of a day’s flights against the enemy, line up by a revetment to be decorated by their skipper. In the background is a Corsair fighter plane.
“Photo shows, left to right: 1st Lt. Robert E. Clark reading citations, Major Robert G. Owens Jr., Major James L. Neefus, Lt Col. Herbert H. Williamson, 1st Lt. Lincoln F. Deetz, (Gold Star), 1st Lt. Bennie P. O’Dell (Air Medal), 1st Lt. David R. Moak (Air Medal), Capt. Don Aldrich (Purple Heart), 1st Lt. Drury E. McCall (Air Medal), 1st Lt. Robert M. Hanson (Air Medal), 1st Lt. Thomas M. Tomlinson (Air Medal), 1st Lt. Otto K. Williams (Air Medal), and 1st Lt. Grafton S. Stidger (Purple Heart).
“Date 20 November 1943.” (Source USMC Military History Division: Defense Department Photo (Marines): 68310)

Between 4 August 1943 and 30 January 1944, Hanson shot down 25 enemy aircraft:

4 August 1943: 1 Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien Type 3 (“Tony”)
26 August 1943:  1 Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 (“Zero”)
1 November 1943: 2 Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0, 1 Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 (“Kate)
14 January 1944: 5 Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0
20 January 1944: 1 Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0
22 January 1944: 2 Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0, 1 Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien Type 3
24 January 1944: 4  Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0, (1 Ki-61 probable)
26 January 1944: 3 Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0, (1 A6M2 probable)
30 January 1944: 2 Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0, 2 Nakajima Ki-44 Shoki (“Tojo”)

On 3 February 1944, the day before his 24th birthday, while flying a Chance Vought F4U-1 Corsair, Bu. No. 56039, 1st Lieutenant Hanson was part of an 8 Corsair escort for 18 Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bombers in an attack on the Tobera Airfield (Rabaul No. 4) near Keravat, New Britain. While returning, Hanson descended to attack a light house at Cape St. George. His fighter was hit by anti-aircraft gunfire. His commanding officer, Major Owens, reported,

“Bob was coming back from a flight covering bombers to Rabaul on February 3rd when he apparently decided to strafe a lighthouse at Cape St. George, at the southern tip of New Ireland. He made a strafing run, and then his right wing was seen to hit the water twice. The plane pulled up and the wing either exploded or caught fire. After a moment when it seemed he would make a normal landing, the plane twisted and rolled  over and disappeared.”

His wingman, Lieutenant Harold Leman Spears, searched and found only floating debris.

The Boston Daily Globe reported:

The Story of Newton’s Heroic Ace


Off to Pacific and a Brilliant Record

By Frances Burns

“LT ROBERT MURRAY HANSON inspects the wing of his plane damaged by Jap 20-mm. shells during a fight with a Zero which he downed. The was the last photo received here of the ace who was reported missing in action Feb. 3.” (USMC from Acme via The Boston Globe)

     2d Lt Robert Murray Hanson was almost ready for his meteoric career as a fighting pilot in the South Pacific when he rang the doorbell at 31 Brooks av., last Good Friday morning.

     Bob Hanson had seen his parents, Rev. and Mrs. Harry Hanson, six hours in the five years since he left Lohdipur. He had won his wings two months before in Miami the month before he had his first challenge as a flyer, when to avoid a collision he flipped his plane, somersaulted and crawled out intact.

*     *     *

       Now he was like other boys who came home for the last time before going out SOMEWHERE to fight in this war. He didn’t want to do much visiting. He didn’t want to be entertained. He wanted to play with his young counterpart, flaxen haired, blue eyed bouncing sister Edith; talk about their hikes in the fields of India with his father; discuss birds with his youngest brother Earl; and open his heart over the dishpan to his mother. He wanted to be left alone to go off in a corner to read when he felt like it.

     He spent most of three days of his six at home making himself a knife like a Roman sword, a knife that he was probably to use in the incredible months ahead.

     “We thought, his father and I, that if Bob ever had a chance when he cracked the other day he would have been able to cut his way out of the wreckage with that knife,” his mother said last week. “It helps us keep hoping.”

     Hanson went on to see his brothers Mark and Stanley in Chicago at the end of his leave, to San Diego for a brief commando training and then overseas.

     The flyer’s first two letters home never were received and except for a government card announcing his safe arrival in July his family had no word from May to September, except indirectly.

*     *     *

     There have been a few brief letters since but most of their son’s breathtaking saga Mr. and Mrs. Hanson have read in dispatches from the South Seas. . . .

. . . . Lt Robert M. Hanson in his first encounter early in August against the enemy shot down a Zero with the guns on his left wing after Japanese cannon had ripped through his right wing. . . .

. . . . Second Zero in September on a bomber escort mission. . . .

. . . . reported missing in action Nov. 1 after he had shot down three more planes to become an ace, 2d Lt Robert Hanson was picked up by a destroyer after his engine conked out and he had to take to a rubber boat. (He wrote his parents Nov. 5 of his rescue and not to give up hope if he were reported lost—”there were so many islands out there.”). . . .

. . . . 1st Lt Robert M. Hanson, ace, today (Jan. 5 delayed) was decorated with the Air Medal and cited by Adm Halsey, South Pacific commander. . . .

. . . . Big blond Bob Hanson, currently the hottest fighter pilot in the Allied South Pacific front, today (Jan. 22 delayed) shot three more Japanese fighting planes out of the sky over New Britain to run his score to 14, with an average of one a day this week. . . .

. . . . Lt Hanson became the ace of Marine Corps flyers Jan 24 when he ran the total of Japanese planes to his credit to 18. . . picked off four Zeros today. . . .

. . . . Feb. 2 Lt Robert M. Hanson shot down four Japanese planes, including two new models to boost is total to 25 and made him the leading South Pacific ace in action. . . .

     And Feb. 3, a fellow pilot saw a Corsair make a strafing run at St. George Cape, New Ireland, but it pulled out too late. A wing caught the water and she somersaulted. “I went down low but saw only wreckage.” . . . Marine Lt Robert M. Hanson with 20 planes in 17 days was within one short of the record held by Capt Eddie Rickenbacker of World War I, Maj Joe Foss and Gregory Boyington. . . on the day before his 24th birthday Lt Robert M.Hanson is missing in action.

The Boston Daily Globe, Vol. CXLV, No. 50, 19 February 1944, Page 4, Columns 3–5

In addition to the Medal of Honor, 1st Lieutenant Robert Murray Hanson, USMCR, was awarded the Navy Cross,² the Purple Heart with gold star, the Air Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two bronze stars, and the World War II Victory Medal.

The Gearing-class destroyer USS Hanson (DD-832) was named in his honor. Built at the Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine, the 3,460 long ton ship was commissioned 11 May 1945, under the command of Commander John C. Parham, USN. Hanson served during the Korean War. She was re-classified as to a radar picket destroyer (DDR) in 1949. In 1973, Hanson was transferred to the Republic of China Navy and renamed Liao Chiang (DDG-932). The ship was sunk as a target in July 2006.

Gearing-class destroyer USS Hanson (DD-832) underway in San Francisco Bay, circa 1957. (Nav Source)

Hanson’s name appears on a Trani limestone pier at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial at Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City, Phillipines. There is also a cenotaph at the  Newton Cemetery, Newton, Massachusetts.

Cenotaph (Polar Bear Mom via Find-a-Grave)

VMF-214 and VMF-215 flew the Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft Division F4U-1 Corsair.¹ The Corsair was designed by Rex Buren Beisel, and is best known for its distinctive inverted “gull wing,” which allowed sufficient ground clearance for its 13 foot, 4 inch (4.064 meter) diameter propeller, without using excessively long landing gear struts. The prototype XF4U-1, Bu. No. 1443, had first flown 29 May 1940, with test pilot Lyman A. Bullard in the cockpit.

Vought F4U-1 Corsair of VMF-214, Torokina, 1942. (U.S. Navy)

The F4U-1 was 33 feet, 4.125 inches (10.163 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 11.726 inches (12.490 meters) and overall height (to top of propeller arc) of 15 feet, 0.21 inches (4.577 meters). The wings’ angle of incidence was 2°. The outer wing had 8.5° dihedral and the leading edges were swept back 4°10′. With its wings folded, the width of the F4U-1 was reduced to 17 feet, 0.61 inches (5.197 meters), and increased the overall height to 16 feet, 2.3 inches (4.935 meters). When parked, the Corsair’s 13 foot, 4 inch (4.064 meter) propeller had 2 feet, 1.93 inches (65.862 centimeters) ground clearance, but with the fighter’s thrust line level, this decreased to just 9.1 inches (23.1 centimeters). The F4U-1 had an empty weight of 8,982 pounds (4,074.2 kilograms) and gross weight of 12,162 pounds (5,516.6 kilograms).

A Vought-Sikorsky F4U-1 Corsair at the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, circa 1942. (NASA)

The F4U-1 variant of the Corsair was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp SSB2-G (R-2800-8) two-row, 18-cylinder radial engine, with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The R-2800-8 had a normal power rating of 1,675 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. and 44.0 inches of manifold pressure (1.490 bar) at 5,500 feet (1,676 meters); 1,550 horsepower at 21,500 feet (6,553 meters); and 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. with 54.0 inches of manifold pressure (1.829 bar) for takeoff. The engine turned a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 13 feet, 4 inches (4.064 meters) through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-8 was 7 feet, 4.47 inches (2.247 meters) long, 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms).

The F4U-1 had a cruise speed of 186 miles per hour (299 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. Its maximum speed at Sea Level was 365 miles per hour (587 kilometers per hour). During flight testing, an F4U-1 reached 431 miles per hour (694 kilometers per hour) at 20,300 feet (6,187 meters) with War Emergency Power. The service ceiling was 38,200 feet (11,643 meters) and its maximum range was 1,510 miles (2,430 kilometers) with full main and outer wing tanks.

Three Browning .50-caliber machine guns and belted ammunition installed in the left wing of a Vought-Sikorsky F4U-1 Corsair, 11 August 1942.

The Corsair was armed with six air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, three in each wing, with 400 rounds of ammunition per gun.

A total of 12,571 Corsairs were manufactured by the Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft Division (F4U-1), Goodyear Aircraft Corporation (FG-1D) and Brewster Aeronautical Corporation (F3A-1). The Corsair served the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps in World War II and the Korean War. Corsairs also served in other countries’ armed forces. Its last known use in combat was in Central America in 1969.

¹ Hanson’s Corsair is usually identified as a “F4U-1A.” F4U-1A is not an official U.S. Navy designation, but is commonly used to distinguish late production F4U-1 Corsairs with their blown plexiglas canopies and other improvements from the earlier “bird cage” Corsairs.

² Citation for the Navy Cross:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to First Lieutenant Robert Murray Hanson (MCSN: 0-19154), United States Marine Corps Reserve, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Pilot of a Fighter Plane attached to Marine Fighting Squadron TWO HUNDRED FIFTEEN (VMF-215), Marine Air Group FOURTEEN (MAG-14), FIRST Marine Aircraft Wing, in aerial combat against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands Area from 5 January 1944 to 3 February 1944. Intercepted by a superior number of Japanese fighters while covering a flight of our bombers in a strike against enemy shipping in Simpson harbor on 14 January, First Lieutenant Hanson boldly engaged the hostile planes in fierce combat, pressing home repeated attacks with devastating force. Separated from his squadron during the intense action, he valiantly continued the engagement alone, successfully destroying five enemy Zeros before being forced by lack of ammunition and gasoline to return to his base. First Lieutenant Hanson’s superb airmanship, brilliant initiative and dauntless fighting spirit enabled our bombers to deliver a crushing blow to the Japanese in that sector and return safe to their base and his conduct throughout was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes