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January 1944


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9FS Unit History

1943 - Part 2



The 9th was re-equipped with Republic P-47D Thunderbolt single engine fighters early December 1943, and on the 10th began moving north to Gusap, an airstrip located in the Ramu valley inland from Saidor and South of Madang. The ground echelon set up the basic equipment to begin operations while the pilots checked out in the new planes - the first single engine plane many of them had flown since flying school. After about one hour of practice, a flight of 4 planes led by Capt. Gerald Johnson took off for Gusap. Ralph Wandrey, R. Swift and J. Harris were the other pilots. All planes had ball-type practice ammunition in the guns and the pilots stowed all their personal belongings in the plane with them, as they did not plan to return to Dobo. In addition to his personal gear, Wandrey was persuaded to take the 9th squadron mascot (a Muscovy duck named Huckleberry) wrapped in a sheet on the floor of the cockpit. About six minutes out of Gusap the flight was told by ground control there that the flight should stay away because the airstrip was under attack by 30 or 40 Jap fighters. Johnson replied, "We're dropping belly tanks and will be in to help you in a couple of minutes!", whereupon Gusap control replied, "OK, but I'm heading for my trench right now 'cause they're starting to strafe us!"

When the flight reached Gusap they immediately engaged 16 Zeros which were flying back and forth across the airstrip and shooting it up. Twenty or twenty-five other Jap fighters circled high above to protect their comrades below. Johnson sent one Jap crashing into the ground on the first pass, and Wandrey pulled up behind another only to find the none of his guns would fire. He dove at the Zero in an attempt to ram it, missing by only a few inches according to some of the ground crew who watched from their trenches. Swift's guns also failed to fire, but both pilots kept in formation and bluffed their way until their planes were badly shot up. By this time the Jap formation began leaving, and all 4 of our planes landed safely. Four enemy planes were destroyed by Johnson and Harris, while Wandrey complained because he not only missed getting a couple of planes, but Huckleberry Duck had messed up a clean sheet!

The next day saw the 9th patrolling the Ramu valley, guarding the new airstrip. The squadron settled down in time to celebrate Christmas with a rousing party held in the mess hall with drinks for all personnel.




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