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11 January 1944

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard, United States Army Air Corps, with his North American Aviation P-51B-5-NA Mustang, 43-6315, “DING HAO!” (Imperial War Museum)

11 January 1944: Major James Howell Howard, United States Army Air Corps, commander of the 356th Fighter Squadron, 354th Fighter Group, Ninth Air Force, led fifty P-51 Mustangs escorting three divisions of B-17 Flying Fortresses on a raid against Oschersleben, near Berlin, Germany.

As defending Luftwaffe fighters attacked the bomber formation, Major Howard immediately went on the offensive and shot down a twin engine Messerschmitt Bf 110 Zerstörer long range fighter. During this engagement, Howard became separated from his group, but climbed back to rejoin the bombers.

More that thirty German fighters were attacking the bomber formation and Major Howard single-handedly went after them. He shot down two, probably shot down two more and damaged at least another two. He continued to attack even after he had run out of ammunition and was low on fuel. When he returned to his base at RAF Boxted, his Mustang had just a single bullet hole.

For this action, James H. Howard was awarded the Medal of Honor, presented by Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz. He is the only fighter pilot in the European Theater to have received this Medal. Howard was promoted to the rank of colonel.

Before the War, Howard had been a U.S. Navy pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) at Pearl Harbor. In June 1941 he went to join the American Volunteer Group—the “Flying Tigers”—in Burma, fighting for the Chinese against Japan. He is credited with shooting down 6 Japanese fighters.

The Mustang that he flew on the day of the aerial battle near Oschersleben was named DING HAO! and carried the victory marks from those AVG actions. [“Ding Hao” was an American World War II slang term based on the Chinese phrase, 挺好的 (“ting hao de”) meaning “very good” or “number one”.]

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard adds another victory mark to his P-51B-5-NA Mustang, 43-6315, DING HAO! (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard adds another victory mark to his North American Aviation P-51B-5-NA Mustang, 43-6315, DING HAO! (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

HOWARD, JAMES H.

(Air Mission)

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

Place and date: Over Oschersleben, Germany, 11 January 1944.

Entered service at: St. Louis, Missouri. Birth: Canton, China.

G.O. No.: 45, 5 June 1944.

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Oschersleben, Germany on 11 January 1944. On that day Colonel Howard was the leader of a group of P-51 aircraft providing support for a heavy bomber formation on a long range mission deep in enemy territory. As Colonel Howard’s group met the bombers in the target area the bomber force was attacked by numerous enemy fighters. Colonel Howard, with his group, and at once engaged the enemy and himself destroyed a German ME-110. As a result of this attack Colonel Howard lost contact with his group and at once returned to the level of the bomber formation. He then saw that the bombers were being heavily attacked by enemy planes and that no other friendly fighters were at hand. While Colonel Howard could have waited to attempt to assemble his group before engaging the enemy, he chose instead to attack single-handed a formation of more than thirty German airplanes. With utter disregard for his own safety he immediately pressed home determined attacks for some thirty minutes, during which time he destroyed three enemy airplanes and probably destroyed and damaged others. Toward the end of this engagement three of his guns went out of action and his fuel supply was becoming dangerously low. Despite these handicaps and the almost insuperable odds against him, Colonel Howard continued his aggressive action in an attempt to protect the bombers from the numerous fighters. His skill, courage, and intrepidity on this occasion set an example of heroism which will be an inspiration to the Armed Forces of the United States.

Major James H. Howard, center, with a group of pilots of the 354th Fighter Group, with a North American Aviation P-51 Mustang, at RAF Boxted. (Imperial War Museum)

The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang is a single-place, single-engine long range fighter. It is a low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear and is of all-metal construction. The fighter is powered by a liquid-cooled V-12 engine. It was originally produced for the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force as the Mustang Mk.I. Two examples were provided to the U.S. Army Air Corps, designated XP-51. This resulted in orders for the P-51A and A-36 Apache dive bomber variant. These early Mustangs were powered by the Allison V-1750 engine driving a three-bladed propeller, which also powered the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and Curtiss P-40 Warhawk.

In 1942, soon after the first  production Mustang Mk.I arrived in England, Rolls-Royce began experimenting with a borrowed airplane, AM121, in which they installed the Supermarine Spitfire’s Merlin 61 engine. This resulted in an airplane of superior performance.

In the United States, the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan, had begun building Merlin engines under license from Rolls-Royce. These American engines were designated V-1650. North American modified two P-51s from the production line to install the Packard V-1650-3. These were designated XP-51B. Testing revealed that the new variant was so good that the Army Air Corps limited its order for P-51As to 310 airplanes and production was changed to the P-51B.

North American Aviation P-51B Mustang with identification stripes. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-51B and P-51C are virtually Identical. The P-51Bs were built by North American Aviation, Inc., at Inglewood, California. P-51Cs were built at North American’s Dallas, Texas plant. They were 32 feet, 2.97 inches (9.829 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 0.31-inch (11.282 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 8 inches (4.167 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 6,985 pounds (3,168 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight of 11,800 pounds (5,352 kilograms).

P-51Bs and Cs were powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m at 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. at 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). (Military Power rating, 15 minute limit.) These were license-built versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.

The P-51B/C had a cruise speed of 362 miles per hour (583 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 41,900 feet (12,771 meters). With internal fuel, the combat range was 755 miles (1,215 kilometers).

In military service, armament consisted of four Browning AN/M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted two in each wing, with 350 rounds per gun for the inboard guns and 280 rounds per gun for the outboard.

1,988 P-51B Mustangs were built at North American’s Inglewood, California plant and another 1,750 P-51Cs were produced at Dallas, Texas. This was nearly 23% of the total P-51 production.

DING HAO!, James H. Howard’s P-51B Mustang, was lost in combat 23 July 1944.

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard, U.S. Army Air Corps, with DING HAO!, his P-51B Mustang, at RAF Boxted, 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard, U.S. Army Air Corps, with DING HAO!, his P-51B Mustang, at RAF Boxted, 1944. At the time of this photo, the Mustang had been modified with a sliding “Malcom hood” canopy. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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8–23 December 1941

Captain Henry Talmadge Elrod, United States Marine Corps
Captain Henry Talmadge Elrod, United States Marine Corps

Wake Island is a coral atoll in the Pacific Ocean, located 2,298 miles (3,698 kilometers) west of Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, and 1,991 miles (3,204 kilometers) east of Tokyo, Japan. The atoll consists of three small islands with a lagoon, surrounded by a coral reef. As part of the American expansion in the Pacific, in 1899, unoccupied Wake Island was claimed by the United States under orders of President William McKinley.

In 1935, Pan American Airways constructed a fuel and maintenance station for its transpacific flying boats, with a 48-room hotel for passengers and employees of the airline. In 1941, the U.S. Navy established a base at the atoll, and constructed an airfield and port facilities. A battalion of U.S. Marines garrisoned the base. Approximately 1,100 civilian construction workers were also at Wake. A detachment of twelve Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters of VMF-211 were delivered by an aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise (CV-6), 4 December 1941.

Aerial reconnaissance photographic mosaic of Wake Island, 3 December 1941. (U.S. Navy)

On December 8, 1941 (Wake is west of the International Date Line; this was December 7 in Hawaii), the island was attacked by 36 Mitsubishi G3M Type 96 twin-engine bombers from the Marshall Islands. Eight of VMF-211’s Wildcats were destroyed. Nearly half of the detachment’s personnel were killed or wounded. Several air attacks followed.

On 11 December the Japanese invasion force arrived. Defense artillery sank a Japanese destroyer, Hayate, while VMF-211’s four remaining Wildcats sank another destroyer, Kisaragi. The invasion force flagship, light cruiser Yubari, was bracketed by the Marine’s shore-based guns, and the Japanese force withdrew.

On 23 December, a second invasion force, supported by two aircraft carriers, arrived and Japanese marines came ashore. The outnumbered defenders surrendered the island late in the day.

In January 1942, surviving American military personnel and most of the civilian workers were removed from the island aboard a Japanese passenger ship, Nitta Maru. They were taken to prison camps in China and Japan. On the night of 7 October 1943, 98 of the American civilians still on Wake Island were lined up on the beach and killed by machine gun fire.

Captain Henry T. Elrod's Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, Bu. No. 4019, with squadron markings 211-F-11, damaged beyond repair on Wake Island. This photograph was taken by the landing force of the Imperial Japanese Navy, sometime on or after 23 December 1941. (IJN)
Captain Henry T. Elrod’s Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, Bu. No. 4019, with squadron markings 211-F-11, damaged beyond repair on Wake Island. This photograph was taken by the landing force of the Imperial Japanese Navy, sometime on or after 23 December 1941. (IJN)

Henry Talmadge Elrod was born Rebecca, Georgia, 27 September 1905, the son of Robert Harrison Elrod, a farmer, and Margaret Isabelle Rainey Elrod. After high school, Elrod studied at the University of Georgia and Yale University.

After three years of college, Henry T. Elrod enlisted as Private, United States Marine Corps, 1 December 1927, at San Diego, California. After recruit training, Private Elrod remained at San Diego for several years. Promoted to Corporal, he was assigned to Marine Observation Squadron 8 (VO-8M), in March 1930. This was a unit of the West Coast Expeditionary Force based at NAS San Diego.

In July 1930, Corporal Elrod was transferred to the Marine Barracks at the Navy Yard, Washington, D.C., where he was “under instruction,” training as an officer candidate. One 10 February 1931, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps.

2nd Lieutenant Henry Talmadge Elrod, United States Marine Corps. (U.S. Navy)

From 21 April 1933, Lieutenant Elrod was assigned to NAS Pensacola, Florida, undergoing flight training.

Lieutenant Elrod married Miss Elizabeth Hogun Jackson¹ at St. John’s Church, Mobile, Alabama, 10 May 1933.

Elrod graduated from flight training and received his wings as a Naval Aviator in February 1935. He was promoted to First Lieutenant. On 1 September 1937 he was promoted to the rank of Captain.

Captain Elrod was again stationed at San Diego, from 5 July 1938. He and Mrs. Elrod resided at 432 E Avenue, Coronado, just south of the Naval Air Station.

In 1940, Captain Elrod was sent to to Hawaii, attached to Marine Fighter Squadron 211 (VMF-211). Up to this time, he was credited with 3 years, 5 months of sea service.

After his death in combat, Captain Elrod was buried on Wake Island. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of Major, 8 November 1946. His remains were exhumed and reinterred at Arlington National Cemetery in November 1947.

On 6 July 1985, the United States Navy Oliver Hazard Perry-class Guided Missile Frigate USS Elrod (FFG-55) was placed in commission, named in honor of Major Henry Talmadge Elrod.

USS Elrod (FFG-55). (U.S. Navy)

¹ Mrs. Elrod served as a Major, U.S. Marine Corps. She enlisted as a private, U.S.M.C.R.-W. in 1943, and was commisioned as a second lieutenant, October 1943. While at MCAS Miramer, July 1945, she was promoted to first lieutenant, and to captain, October 1946. By June 1947, Captain Elrod was one of only ten women Marine Corps officers still on active duty. She commanded Company E, Headquarters Battalion, Headquarters Marine Corps, 31 December 1946–19 December 1948. In 1950, Captain Elizabeth Elrod married Colonel Roger Carleson, U.S.M.C., who, like her first husband, was also a Naval Aviator. Her uncle was an Admiral, U.S. Navy. She died 7 May 1985 at Culpeper, Virginia, at the age of 79 years, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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