Tag Archives: World War II

11 December 1941

Captain Henry Talmage Elrod, USMC. (1905–1941). Awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously, for his actions in the defense of Wake Island.
Captain Henry Talmage Elrod, United States Marine Corps, was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously, for his actions in the defense of Wake Island. (U.S. Navy)

11 December 1941: The last four aircraft of Marine Fighter Squadron 211 (VMF 211), led by Captain Henry Talmage Elrod, U.S. Marine Corps, attacked the invading Imperial Japanese Navy South Seas Force, consisting of four light cruisers, six destroyers, two patrol boats and two amphibious support ships with 450 Special Navy Landing Force soldiers, as they approached to invade the United States outpost at Wake Island. The Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats bombed the destroyer IJN Kisaragi.

A U.S. Navy Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat in non-specular blue-gray over light-gray scheme in early 1942. (U.S. Navy)
A U.S. Navy Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat in non-specular blue-gray over light-gray scheme in early 1942. (U.S. Navy)

VMF 211 had lost two-thirds of its aircraft on Monday, 8 December:

“. . . 36 twin-engine bombers based on Roi and Namur Islands in the Kwajalein Atoll, 620 miles to the southward, executed the day-bombing missions.  The first strike, three 12-plane vees dove out of a rain squall at noon 8 December. The surf was roaring so furiously that nobody ashore heard or saw the enemy until fifteen seconds before the first bombs hit. The planes leveled out at 2000 feet altitude and made for the airfield, where 8 Wildcats were being serviced and fueled. Here 4 grounded planes disintegrated under direct hits; fire spread and destroyed 3; the eighth was hit but later salvaged; 23 Marine officers and men were left dead or dying. . . Four Wildcats now got into the battle, strafing the retreating ships and dropping their little 100-pound bombs from an extemporized release, returning to rearm, take off and bomb again. They put the torpedo battery of Tenryu out of action, hit the radio shack of Tatsuta, and started gasoline fires on a transport. One plane was badly shot up; the pilot, Captain Elrod, just managed to ground it on the beach, burning and broken, but he had already made a lethal pass at the retreating destroyer Kisaragi, which carried an extra load of depth charges. A second Wildcat was just pushing over to press home an attack on this destroyer at 0731 when she blew up and sank. There were no survivors.

History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume III: The Rising Sun in the Pacific 1931–April 1942, by Samuel Eliot Morison, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1988. Chapter XII at Pages 230 and 234.

IJN Kisaragi was sunk off Wake Island by four F4F-3 Wildcats of VMF 211, 11 December 1941. (Kure Maritime Museum)
The Mitsuki-class destroyer IJN Kisaragi was sunk off Wake Island by four F4F-3 Wildcats of VMF 211, 11 December 1941. (Kure Maritime Museum)

A few minutes earlier another destroyer, IJN Hayate, had received two direct hits in its magazines from the 5-inch/51-caliber guns of Battery L, a coast defense artillery battery of the U.S. Marines. It was hit at a range of 4,000 yards (3,658 meters), exploded and sank with all hands. The invasion force flag ship, light cruiser IJN Yubari, received 11 direct hits from the Marine gunners. Under the combined air and artillery attacks, the invasion force withdrew.

The island finally fell to the unrelenting Japanese attacks, 23 December 1941.

Captain Henry T. Elrod's Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, 211-F-11, Bu. No. 4019, shown here damaged beyond repair and salvaged for parts, took part in the attack on IJN Kisaragi. (Imperial Japanese Navy)
Captain Henry T. Elrod’s Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, 211-F-11, Bu. No. 4019 (second number series), shown here damaged beyond repair and salvaged for parts, took part in the attack on IJN Kisaragi. (Imperial Japanese Navy)

Captain Elrod’s fighter was a Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, designed by Robert Leicester Hall as a carrier-based fighter for the United States Navy. The F4F was a single-place, single-engine, mid-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear, designed to operate from land bases or U.S. Navy aircraft carriers.

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat

The F4F-3 was 28 feet, 10½ inches (8.801 meters) long, with a wingspan of 38 feet, 0 inches (11.582 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 9 inches (3.581 meters). Unlike the subsequent F4F-4, which had folding wings for storage aboard aircraft carriers, the F4F-3 had fixed wings. The wings had an angle of incidence of 0°, and 5° dihedral. The horizontal stabilizer span was 13 feet, 8 inches (4.166 meters) with 1½° incidence. The empty weight of the basic F4F-3 was 5,238 pounds (2,376 kilograms), and the gross weight was 7,065 pounds (3,205 kilograms).

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat

The F4F-3 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,829.39-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp SSC5-G (R-1830-76) two-row, 14-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. The R-1830-76 had a normal power rating of 1,100 at 2,550 r.p.m., from Sea Level to 3,500 feet (1,067 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-1830-76 was 4 feet, 0.6 inches (1.221 meters) in diameter, 5 feet, 11.31 inches (1.811 meters) long, and weighed 1,550 pounds (703 kilograms).

The F4F-3 had a maximum speed of 278 miles per hour (447 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 331 miles per hour (533 kilometers per hour) at 21,300 feet (6,492 meters). Its service ceiling was 37,000 feet (11,228 meters). Its maximum range was 880 miles (1,416 kilometers)

The F4F-3 Wildcat was armed with four air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns with 450 rounds of ammunition per gun.

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat. (U.S. Navy)

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, circa 1942. (U.S. Navy)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 December 1941

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., Royal Canadian Air Force.

11 December 1941: Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., Royal Canadian Air Force, an American serving in England before the United States entered World War II, was killed when his Supermarine Spitfire collided with another airplane in clouds over the village of Roxholm, Lincolnshire, England. He was only 19 years old.

Magee was born in China, the son of Anglican missionaries. His father was an American, giving him American citizenship, and his mother was from England. He was educated in the missionary schools until 1931 when his mother took him to England to continue his education at the Rugby School in Wawickshire.

In 1939, Magee traveled to the United States to visit his father’s family in Pittsburgh, but because of the outbreak of World War II, he was unable to return to England. While in America, he continued his schooling at the Old Avon Farms School in Connecticut and won a scholarship to Yale University.

Group Captain Wilfred A. Curtiss presents pilot’s wings to Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., at Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 14 April 1941. (Royal Canadian Air Force)

Instead of studying at Yale, in 1941, John Magee enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. After completing flight training, he was sent to England. Once there he went through operational training in the Supermarine Spitfire and was assigned to No. 412 (Fighter) Squadron at RAF Digby, Scopwick Heath, and then at RAF Wellingore, Navenby, both in Lincolnshire.

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., in the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire, No. 412 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force.
Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., in the cockpit of a Supermarine Spitfire, No. 412 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force.

At approximately 11:30 a.m., 11 December 1941, Pilot Officer Magee was flying his Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vb, AD291, squadron markings VZ-H. He and three other pilots from No. 412 Squadron descended through a hole in the clouds. At 1,400 feet (427 meters), Magee’s Spitfire collided with an Airspeed A.S. 10 Oxford twin-engine trainer, T1052.

A witness said that he saw the Spitfire pilot struggle to open the airplane’s canopy, then stand up in the cockpit and jump from the doomed fighter. The pilot was too close to the ground for his parachute to open.

Both airplanes crashed. Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr. was killed, as was the pilot of the other airplane, Leading Aircraftman Ernest Aubrey Griffin.

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., No. 412 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force

Pilot Officer Magee is best known for his poem, High Flight:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth 
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; 
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth 
of sun-split clouds,—and done a hundred things 
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung 
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there, 
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung 
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . . 

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue 
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace 
Where never lark nor ever eagle flew— 
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod 
The high untrespassed sanctity of space, 
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God

"On Laughter-Silvered Wings", by Keith Ferris, 1995. © by the artist. The original of this painting, depicting John Gillespie Magee’s Supermarine Spitfire, is on loan to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, College Station, Texas.
“On Laughter-Silvered Wings”, by Keith Ferris, 1995. © by the artist. The original of this painting, depicting John Gillespie Magee’s Supermarine Spitfire, is on loan to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, College Station, Texas.

A less well-know poem by Magee is Per Ardua, written after his first combat mission, 8 November 1941.

(To those who gave their lives to England during the Battle of Britain and
left such a shining example for us to follow, these lines are dedicated.)

They must have climbed the white mists of the morning;
They that have soared, before the world’s awake,
To herald up their foemen to them, scorning
The thin dawn’s rest their weary folk might take;

Some that left other mouths to tell the story
Of high blue battle,—quite young limbs that bled;
How they had thundered up the clouds to glory
Or fallen to an English field stained red;

Because my faltering feet would fail I find them
Laughing beside me, steadying the hand
That seeks their deadly courage—yet behind them
The cold light dies in that once brilliant land …

Do these, who help the quickened pulse run slowly,
Whose stern remembered image cools the brow—
To the far dawn of Victory know only
Night’s darkness, and Valhalla’s silence now?

Supermarine Spitfire F. Mk.Vb R6923 (QJ-S) of No. 92 Squadron, 19 May 1941. © IWM (CH 2929)

John Magee’s fighter was a Supermarine Spitfire F. Mk Vb, built at the Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory, at Warwickshire, West Midlands, and delivered to the 45th Maintenance Unit at RAF Kinloss, Scotland, on 27 September 1941. The new airplane was assigned to No. 412 Squadron on 14 October.

The Supermarine Spitfire was a single-place, single-engine low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction with retractable landing gear. The fighter had been designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell CBE. The prototype first flew 5 March 1936.

The Spitfire F. Mk Vb was 29 feet, 11 inches (9.119 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 10 inches (11.227 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 5 inches (3.480 meters). It had an empty weight of 4,963 pounds (2,129 kilograms) and gross weight of 6,525 pounds (2,960 kilograms).

The Spitfire Vb was powered a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,648.959-cubic-inch-displacement (27.022 liters) Rolls-Royce Merlin 45 single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with a single-speed, single-stage supercharger. It was rated at 1,185 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., at 11,500 feet (3,505 meters). The Merlin 45 drove a three-bladed Rotol constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 10 feet, 9 inches (3.277 meters).

The Spitfire Vb had a maximum speed of 371 miles per hour (597 kilometers per hour) at  20,100 feet (6,126 meters). It could reach 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 6 minutes, 24 seconds, and 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) in 12 minutes, 12 seconds. The Vb’s service ceiling 37,500 feet (11,430 meters), and its range was 470 miles (756 kilometers).

The Spitfire F. Mk Vb was armed with two 20-milimeter Hispano Mk.II autocannon, with 60 rounds of ammunition per gun, and four Browning .303-caliber Mark II machine guns, with 350 rounds per gun.

Supermarine Spitfire F.Mk Vb,, similar to Magee’s fighter, photographed 19 October 1941. (Royal Canadian 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 Purdie Kelly, Jr., Air Corps, United States Army, by Deane Keller, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

10 December 1941:¹ 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 northern end of the island. The aircraft was under the command of Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr., Air Corps, United States Army, of the 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 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

A Natori-class light cruiser, IJN Yura, photographed circa 1937. (U.S. 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.

坂井 三郎 PO1 Saburō Sakai, Imperial Japanese Navy

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 approximately three miles (4.8 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., Air Corps, United States Army. (The New York Times)

Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr., was born in Madison County, Florida, 11 July 1915. He was the first of two children of Colin Purdie Kelly, a fresco artist, and Mary Eliza Mays (“Mamie”) Kelly. He had a younger sister, Emmala Mays Kelly. Kelly attended Madison High School, graduating in 1932.

Kelly was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. His stated intention was to become a bomber pilot.

Cadet Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr., United States Military Academy, circa 1937. (The Howitzer)

According to his West Point yearbook, “C.P.” Kelly,

“. . . has not devoted all his effort to study and consequently not achieved high academic rank, but he has participated in sports and other activities and has found additional time to enjoy thoroughly West Point. He’s positive in his opinions; vigorous in his actions. All-around ability and a knack for making friends bespeak a bright future for him. . . .”

The Howitzer of 1937, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, 1937, at Page 218.

Cadet Kelly participated in football, boxing, cross country and track, and sang with the Cadet Chapel choir. Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr., graduated from West Point and was commissioned a second lieutenant, Infantry, United States Army, on 12 June 1937.

On 1 August 1937, Lieutenant Kelly married Miss Marion Estelle Wick. The ceremony was held in the Cadet Chapel at West Point. They would have a son, Colin Purdie Kelly III, born at Riverside, California, 6 May 1940. In 1963, “Corky” Kelly would also graduate from the United States Military Academy.

2nd Lieutenant Kelly was assigned to flight training at Randolph Field, Texas. He graduated 13 January 1939, was awarded his pilot’s wings and was transferred from Infantry to the Air Corps. Kelly was then ordered to join the 19th Bombardment Group (Heavy) at March Field, near Riverside, California. He was promoted to first lieutenant 4 June 1940.

A Boeing B-17B Flying Fortress at March Field, Riverside, California, 1940. (LIFE Magazine)

Lieutenant Kelly was assigned to the 11th Bombardment Group (Heavy) at Hickam Field, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, in April 1941. At about this time, he was promoted to the temporary rank of captain. Kelly served as a squadron operations officer and B-17 check pilot. Nine B-17s of the 14th Bombardment Squadron of the 11th Group were sent to Clark Field in the Philippine Islands, to join the 19th Bombardment Group. Flying to Midway Island, Wake Island, Port Moresby, New Guina, and Darwin, Australia, they traveled approximately 10,000 miles (16,093 kilometers), 5–12 September 1941. For his actions during this transoceanic flight, Captain Kelly was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

During a reconnaissance mission to Formosa (Taiwan) on 5 December 1941, Captain Kelly observed a large number of Japanese ships steaming toward Luzon. His squadron was then relocated to Del Monte Field on the island of Mindanao.

The Distinguished Service Cross

General Douglas MacArthur later said, “It is my profound sorrow that Colin Kelly is not here. I do not know the dignity of Captain Kelly’s birth, but I do know the glory of his death. He died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with a faith in his heart and victory his end. God has taken him unto Himself, a gallant soldier who did his duty.”

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.

Following the war, Captain Kelly’s remains were returned to the United States, and interred at the Oak Ridge Cemetery, Madison, Florida.

Kelly’s B-17 was the first Flying Fortress in U.S. service 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.²

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 air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) 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 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-65 was 3 feet, 11.59 inches (1.209 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.12 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)

¹ 10 December in the Commonwealth of the Philippines, which is west of the International Date Line. This would have been 9 December in the United States of America.

² 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.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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John Herschel Glenn, Jr., Astronaut (18 July 1921–8 December 2016)

John Herschel Glenn, Jr., NASA Project Mercury Astronaut. (Ralph Morse/LIFE Magazine)

John Glenn, one of the original seven astronauts selected by NASA for Project Mercury, was a personal hero of mine. As a young boy growing up in Southern California, less than three miles from Rocketdyne’s engine test stands in Santa Susana, I followed the progress of all the astronauts. I recall having a map pinned to my wall, showing the orbital path of Friendship 7 as Glenn made his historic three orbits of the Earth. All of the astronauts, and the X-15 test pilots at Edwards, were heroes to me, but for some reason, John Glenn was special.

John H. Glenn, Jr., Pilot. (John Glenn Archives, Ohio State University)

John Herschel Glenn, Jr., was born at Cambridge, Ohio, 18 July 1921, the first of four children of John Herschel Glenn, a plumber, and Clara Teresa Sproat Glenn. The Glenn family resided in New Concorde, Ohio. Glenn attended New Concord High School, graduating in 1939, and then enrolled at Muskingum College, also in New Concord, where he majored in engineering. While in college, he learned to fly.

Soon after the United States entered World War II, John Glenn enlisted in the United States Navy as a Naval Aviation Cadet, 28 March 1942. He transferred to the Marine Corps while still in flight training, and after qualifying as a Naval Aviator, was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, 16 March 1943.

On 6 April 1943, Lieutenant Glenn married Miss Anna Margaret Castor, also from New Concorde. They would have two children, Carolyn Ann Glenn and John David Glenn.

In October 1943, Glenn was promoted to First Lieutenant. Initially assigned as a transport pilot flying the Douglas R4D-1 Skytrain with Marine Utility Squadron 315 (VMJ-315) in the Pacific, he was transferred to Marine Fighter Squadron 155 (VMF-155). He flew 59 combat missions with the Chance Vought F4U Corsair in the Marshall Islands.

Lieutenant John H. Glenn, Jr., USMCR, flying a Chance Vought F4U-1 Corsair with VMF-155, 1943. (Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum/John Glenn Archives, The Ohio State University)

In 1945, Glenn was assigned to Marine Fighter Squadron 218 (VMF-218), again flying an F4U-4 Corsair, patrolling China with the 1st Marine Division. Lieutenant Glenn was promoted to the rank of Captain in July 1945.

In 1946, Captain Glenn, was transferred from the USMCR to the regular Marine Corps, retaining his temporary rank. On 7 August 1947, the rank of Captain was made permanent.

Captain Glenn served as an advanced flight instructor at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, from June 1948 to December 1950. With the Korean War, Glenn was assigned to Marine Fighter Squadron 311 (VMF-311), which flew the Grumman F9F-2 Panther.

Captain John H. Glenn, Jr., USMCR, a fighter pilot of VMF-311, examines some of the 714 holes in his Grumman F9F-2 Panther. (U.S. Air Force)

Captain Glenn few 63 combat missions with VMF-311. He was promoted to the rank of Major, 28 June 1952. He served as an exchange officer with the U.S. Air Force, flying a North American Aviation F-86F Sabre with the 25th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing at K-13, an air base at Suwon, Republic of Korea. In July 1953, Glenn shot down three enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15 jet fighters.

Major John H. Glenn, Jr., United States Marine Corps, standing with his North American Aviation F-86-30-NA Sabre, 52-4584, “MiG Mad Marine,” at Suwon, Korea, July 1953. (John Glenn Archives, The Ohio State University)

Major Glenn trained at the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School at NATC Patuxent River, Maryland, in 1954, and from 1956 to 1959, was assigned to the Bureau of Aeronautics, Fighter Design Branch.

On 16 July 1957, Major Glenn flew a Chance Vought F8U-1P Crusader from NAS Los Alamitos, on the coast of southern California, to Floyd Bennet Field, Brooklyn, New York, in 3 hours, 23 minutes, 8.4 seconds, averaging 725.25 miles per hour (1,167.18 kilometers per hour). Thomas S. Gates, Jr., Secretary of the Navy, presented Major Glenn the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Major John H. Glenn, Jr., United States Marine Corps, with his Vought F8U-1P Crusader, Bu. No. 144608, after his record-setting flight, 16 July 1957. (U. S. Navy)

Major Glenn was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, 1 April 1959. He was selected as an Astronaut with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Project Mercury and joined the NASA Space Task group at the Langley Research Center. Lieutenant Colonel Glenn was the senior officer and the oldest member of “The Mercury 7.”

The Mercury 7. Front row, left to right, Walter H. Schirra, Donald K. Slayton, John H. Glen, Jr., and Scott Carpenter. Back row: Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Virgil I. Grissom, and L. Gordon Cooper. (NASA)

At 9:47:39 a.m., Eastern Standard Time (14:47:39 UTC), 20 February 1961, Mercury Atlas 6 lifted off from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. This was the third launch of a manned Mercury spacecraft, and the first time that an Atlas rocket had been used.

Aboard the Mercury was John Glenn, making his first space flight. He had named the capsule Friendship 7. Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom had each made a suborbital flight, but Glenn was going into Earth orbit.

Each orbit took 88 minutes, 19 seconds. The spacecraft’s altitude ranged from 100 miles (161 kilometers) to 162.2 miles (261 kilometers).

During the 4 hour, 55 minute, 23 second flight, Friendship 7 orbited the Earth three times, and traveled 75,679 miles (121,794 kilometers). John Glenn was the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. (Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had orbited the Earth 12 April 1961.)

After re-entry, the capsule parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean, splashing down only six miles from the recovery ship, USS Noa (DD-841).

Launch of Mercury-Atlas 6 from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, 14:47:39 UTC, 20 February 1962. (NASA)

When the Space Task Group was moved to the Manned Spacecraft Center at Houston, Texas, in 1962, John Glenn was involved in the layout and design of spacecraft cockpits and function of controls. On 16 January 1964, John Glenn resigned from NASA. He was promoted to the rank of Colonel in October 1964, then he retired from the Marine Corps 1 January 1965, after 23 years of military service.

Glenn worked in private industry for several years before beginning a career in politics. In 1974, he was elected to the United States Senate, representing his home State of Ohio. He served in the United States Congress from 24 December 1974 to 3 January 1999.

John Glenn wasn’t finished with spaceflight, though. From 29 October to 7 November 1998, Senator Glenn served as a NASA Payload Specialist aboard Space Shuttle Discovery (OV-103) during Mission STS-95. At the age of 77 years, John Glenn was the oldest person to fly in space.

During his two space flights, John Glenn orbited the Earth 137 times. His total time in space is 10 days, 49 minutes, 25 seconds (240:49:25).

In late November 2016, Glenn was admitted to Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center at Columbus, Ohio. He died there, 8 December 2016, at the age of 95 years.

John Herschel Glenn, Jr., Naval Aviator, Fighter Pilot, Test Pilot, Record-setter, Astronaut. Colonel, United States Marine Corps. United States Senator. American Hero.

Godspeed, John Glenn.

Senator John H. Glenn, Jr., NASA Payload Specialist, 1998. (NASA)

© 2016 Bryan R. Swopes

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