April will no doubt go down on record as one of the most productive
months in the history of the 9th Fighter Squadron insofar as sorties flown, bomb tonnage
dropped, and damage to the enemy ground forces is concerned. The Navy occupied the
Japanese Air Force in the Ryukyus and left Formosa and the China coast relatively free of
interception against strategic bombing of these areas by heavies and mediums.
Consequently, the Flying Knights devoted nearly all their efforts to tactical ground
support work on Luzon, dropping, in one month, a tonnage of bombs greater than the total
previous commitments since activation. The actual figures, 293 tons of demolition bombs
and 68 165-gallon bombs of napalm.
Nearly all targets were relatively undefended, except
for small arms ground fire, and no planes were hit by A/A. Consequently, a training school
gunnery pattern could be set up over the targets and accuracy was evolved, each pilot
using his own system more or less, but certain elements were applied. In dive bombing,
steepness of dive, follow through and extreme attention to coordination was observed by
all pilots, the usual approach being initiated at 150 to 180 miles per hour in a turn,
both with and without dive flaps extended, five to eight thousand feet above the target.
Releasing the bomb below 2,500 feet was found to be dangerous with instantaneous fuses,
since running into bomb fragments was likely. With dive flaps and low air speed, pull-outs
from 30 degree dives were safe if initiated at about 2,500 feet, air speed in the pull-out
not exceeding 300 miles per hour. In dropping napalm belly tanks, the best results were
achieved at minimum altitude in a skip bombing approach, releasing the tanks just ahead
of, or right over the target, since they had a tendency to drop straight down with little
April 1st brought a routine mission covering bombers to Giran, Formosa, but the second
day of the month proved to be quite eventful. Captain P. Petrovich and 1st Lt. Ken Clark
flew as observers on a PBM of Navy Squadron VH 4, an air-sea rescue "Playmate"
covering a bomber strike to Hong Kong, in order to learn the Navy's problems of operation
and bring about better coordination between the big flying boats and the squadron fighters
that cover them so often. That same day, the 9th was scheduled to cover the heavies
hitting Hong Kong. Lt. Col. Gerald Johnson, Group Commander, was leading the flight with
Captain James Watkins, former 9th squadron ace returned overseas on his second tour of duty,
flying as "wing man". At 1340, just as the bombers were leaving the target,
three bandits were sighted two to four thousand feet below the fighters. An attack was
immediately initiated, the enemy turning tail and running in separate directions. The lead
flight of P-38s pursued the enemy and shot down three definites, the credits going to Lt.
Col. Johnson - 1 Tojo, Captain Watkins - 1 Tojo, and 2nd Lt. W. Koby - 1 Oscar. On
return to base Lt. C. Peterson lost fuel pressure on both engines and was unable to draw
gasoline. He glided his plane, from an altitude of 10,000 feet, fifteen miles to the coast
of Luzon and bailed out at 3,000 feet, over land, north of Luna. He was uninjured and
returned to the squadron in two days by L-5 from Luna strip.
Captain McElroy and 1st Lt. Holladay returned from ferrying P-38's (J-20s) from Hawaii
on the third, having been gone nearly two months. The following day, Captain Wood and 1st
Lts. Baxter and Datzenko left for the States. Farewell was exchanged in the sand and sun
of Lingayen and the squadron felt it had lost some mighty fine pilots and friends. Captain
Wood joined the squadron in July 1943, at Dobodura, and was one of the few "Old
Guards" remaining prior to his departure.
Flights were preparing to take off on a dive bombing mission to Balete Pass on the
morning of the 6th and were delayed until the afternoon when a P-47 dropped a bomb during
take off which exploded on the strip. Ten of the 9th pilots, riding in a command car on
the taxiway, were only 100 yards from the explosion and luckily none were hit by the
flying debris. S/Sgt. Valenta, standing on the wing of an airplane, was hit in the head
with a piece of steel matting of the strip. 1st Lt. Wallace pulled the injured man from
the wing and administered first-aid until the ambulance arrived. The extent of Sgt.
Valenta's wounds were, fortunately, not serious.
1st Lt. Bryant and F/O Copeland traveled to a forward SAP control point, on the morning
of the 6th, to observe a worm's eye view of ground support work. The 9th had the mission
in their area that day (Balete Pass) so they were able to gain first hand information on
the squadron's work, which was favorable.
Captain Lewelling returned to the squadron on the 7th to pick up his "going
home" orders and the following day he and Captain McElroy left for the States,
accompanied by Captain Treadway and 1st Lt. C. Gupton. Lt. Gupton is remembered for
shooting down five enemy planes in three non-consecutive missions during the heavy
fighting at Tacloban in the month of November, 1944. Capts. McElroy and Lewelling had
joined the squadron in September, 1943, completed 18 months overseas, and each had four
enemy aircraft to their credit and over 500 combat hours. Since the departure of these
pilots represented the last of the "old guard", with the exception of
Norton and J. Haislip, it is pertinent to note what experience remained in the squadron.
Although the average time overseas for the flight and element leaders, composing half the
total strength of pilots, was eight months, the average combat time for these men was over
270 hours. Ten pilots had over 300 combat hours and nine of the "eight month"
boys had accounted for a total of 18 enemy aircraft. The average time for wingmen at the
time was ninety hours. The operational efficiency of the squadron was at its peak and the
squadron fulfilled its commitments in an exemplary manner in spite of the comparative
inexperience of the nucleus personnel.
Weather hindered many missions from the 8th through the middle of the month. Ground
support work in the Baguio-Balete Pass area was completed in spite of low hanging clouds
obscuring the target, but many afternoons the secondary targets in the Solvec Bay areas
received the bombs intended for Baguio when the build up of weather in the mountains
prohibited any serial activity in that region. Missions to Formosa and the China coast
were turned back several times due to fronts building up between Luzon and those areas.
The weather opened up sufficiently to permit a bomber escort mission to Hainan Strait on
the 9th, but turned back a one bomb, one belly tank mission to Formosa on the 11th and the
bombs were dropped on the town of Santa Fe, Luzon instead.
The second large group Officer's party was held in the club on the evening of the 11th
with a larger attendance of nurses than previously. Music was furnished by the 86th
Fighter Wing Orchestra and Manila-side whiskey was sold at the bar for the sum of sixty
centavos per drink. Guests at the party included seven members of the VH Squadron 4, the
"Playmate" boys of the Naval Air Force. The following night, the Enlisted Men of
the 9th held another party of their own in the spacious EM Club next to the Squadron
Orderly Room. A successful bridge busting mission at Santiago was flown on the 12th. Two
direct hits were scored and completely destroyed the bridge.
Friday, the 13th. The world was shocked by the news of our Commander-in-Chief's sudden
and unexpected death. With the U.S. forces only 57 miles from Berlin and American landing
ever closer to the Japanese homeland, it was evident that the President had died on the
eve of victory for the country he was "First Man" of for over twelve years. The
news was received in t he squadron about 0800 on the morning of the 13th and an immediate
confirmation was requested from the 308th Bomb Wing before any such serious
"Rumor" could travel far. Unfortunately, the "rumor" was fact and all
personnel in the organization were stunned by the news. If the Japs hoped the demise of
the "Chief" would effect the efficiency, they were doomed to bitter
disappointment; all scheduled missions were completed in good order.
The old custom of retaining the squadron call sign for an indefinite period of time was
discontinued. The famous "Captive" call sign which indicated the 9th squadron
Moresby to Biak, and the "Beware" that carried it through the Leyte campaign,
were made property of any outfit designated to use them. The call sign changed every
Sunday and at first it was like speaking a strange language to the pilots, as familiar
with their old call sign as they were with the red spinners on their ships. The call signs
for the month of April were as follows: April 1-7, "Bison"; April 8-14,
"Beaver"; April 15-21, "Anthem"; April 22-28, "Curfew"; and
April 29-6 May, "Shotgun". The tempo of ground support commitments picked up
noticeably toward the middle of the month and continued to increase to the end. Traffic on
Lingayen strip became quite a problem during the middle of the month and on the 15th, it
reached critical proportions comparable to Leyte operations in December, 1944. The morning
bombing mission to Baguio was held up nearly an hour while a bomb disposal crew cleared
the runway of two bombs, unexploded, jettisoned by a P-51 on take-off. Returning to base,
the flights were forced to circle another hour waiting their turn in the heavy traffic
landing and taking off. The afternoon mission was likewise delayed when a P-51 blew a tire
on take-off and the afternoon landing was as difficult as the morning mission. At this
time, there were P-51's, P-47's and B-25's, in addition to our P-38's, all operating out
of one strip which, although 8,000 feet long, left something to be desired in the way of
taxiways and runway accessibility.
The 13th and 14th of the month brought bomber, submarine and PBM cover missions,
relieved by a bombing-strafing mission to the Baguio area on the 15th, as well as another
bridge-busting job in the afternoon which sadly failed to dispose of the bridge. Six
planes dropped twelve bombs at the target but when the smoke had cleared from the final
blast, the impertinent structure remained, dusted over a bit with dirt and debris, but