Monday, August 15, 2016

"With audacity one can undertake anything, but not do everything"*

Today's post is a two-fer.  A little bit of Air Force Museum and some related Medal of Honor info.  OldNFO had a post this week about FDR's plane and I commented that there was an airplane in the museum that was at least "dressed up" to be FDR's plane.  There were a lot of airplanes that weren't the "actual", the actual having been destroyed either in combat or lost to time.  There were also a lot of the "actual" aircraft and that was very cool.

One of the very cool aircraft in the museum was this one.
 Fiery Ginger IV was a P-47 flown by Col Neel Kearby in the South Pacific.  It was named for his wife Virginia who, evidently, was a redhead.
This site was the source for this photo as well as most of the details of Col Kearby's story

Regrettably, this was not the actual aircraft flown by Col Kearby as it, and he, were lost over New Guinea.
To the left is the P-47 painted in the colors of Col Kearby's aircraft.  In the center is the actual tail recovered from the crash site.
One of the .50 cal machine guns recovered.



Even though this is a replica, you can see that the Colonel was highly successful in his job as a Fighter Pilot with 22 confirmed kills.  In the course of researching this post, I came across some interesting pieces of information about the war in General MacArthur's AOR.  At the time of Col Kearby's involvement, Coral Sea, Midway and Guadalcanal campaigns had been fought and the Japanese had taken some severe losses.  However, the Allies were still suffering from what USCINCPAC would call, during my tenure there,  the "tyranny of distance".  It takes for-EVER to get things from here to there, even today.  In WWII, it was even worse.

So, General MacArthur and his Air Force Chief, General Kenney, were fighting a third priority campaign.  Europe first, Central Pacific next and anything left over would go to the South Pacific.  Kenney had been the 5th AF commander for about a year when he came back home to beg (literally) for more assets.  He finally convinced General Arnold to give him a Group of B-24s, 2 and a Half B-25 groups (what did the other half do?  Attach itself to someone else?  Hmmmm) and 3 Fighter groups, one of which was a P-47 group, the 348th.


Source


This event occurred in March of 1943.  The drop tank had not reached operational status yet, and if range was a factor in Europe,  think what it was like in the Pacific.  Additionally, the P-47 was built by Republic, which would eventually build the F-105.  I'd always thought the saying "if Engineers built a runway all the way around the planet, Republic would build an airplane that needed every foot of it to get airborne" was directed at the Thud.  Evidently, it originated with the P-47.

The aircraft would go on to be much admired by its pilots for its ability to sustain damage and return their little pink behinds home.  It also developed a good reputation as a high altitude escort for the bombers and its ability to perform ground support with its 8 50cal machine guns and large weapons load. That reputation would be gained in the future by extreme effort from Pilots and Maintenance. It was not the common perception in 1943.

Another little historical tidbit was that the P-47 would be operating in an AOR where the P-38 was pretty much ruling the skies.  The P-38 had inherently long legs and could turn well, which was an advantage against the Japanese.  The fact that it also had 2 engines was another advantage (when do you need two engines?  when one quits.)

So, there was some skepticism on the part of the receiving command on whether the P-47 could "cut the mustard".  General Kenney arranged an impromptu test.  He informed the Commander of the 348th Fighter Group, Lt Col Kearby, that the commander of one of the P-38 Groups would be arriving at Kenney's headquarters the following day, perhaps Col Kearby would like to greet him?

Suffice it to say, Col Kearby who, from all tales was a masterful tactician with the P-47, turned his adversary into a movie star.

At some point, Col Kearby mentions to General Kenney that his goal is 50 confirmed kills.  While he IS from Texas, apparently this was not a boast and was his actual intent.

I remember reading about the "competition" between Bong and McQuire for the most kills and did remember that there were two others in contention and that Col Kearby was one of those.  For some reason,(a couple of thousand hours in a fighter, the son of a fighter pilot and membership in 5 fighter squadrons perhaps?), I have an understanding of that mentality, so I'm ok with his goal.

In any case, it's now October and Col Kearby decides he wants to take some aircraft that are not currently scheduled for other missions and fly an offensive sortie against a Japanese airfield airfield.  They're 50 miles away when the Japanese scramble to intercept them.  The Japanese Air Commander for the region was already airborne and had directed the scrambling fighters to join him.  Before that happens, Col Kearby spots the commander's aircraft below him and dives into the attack.

As I read about this engagement, I recognized the tactics immediately.  You're flying in a fighter that is rugged, fast, and carries a lot of armament, but can't turn for squat.  How do you fight a nimble tight turning aircraft?

Simple, dive from well above, get going as fast as possible, close to minimum range (about 300 yards) before opening fire, then success or not, run away.  In other words, just like you'd fight with an F-4.


Why 300 yards?  Bullet Density.  The guns were harmonized for that range and you would have the maximum bullets on your aim point.  Each bullet hitting the target expends its energy on the target.  The more bullets, the more energy the target must absorb.


So, down he dives, spouting his flames from under (Sorry!), and shoots down the Enemy commander.  The remainder of the Japanese force, not knowing their leader no longer exists, wastes precious time trying to find him.

Col Kearby's formation regains altitude and is heading home when they spot, not only about 12 enemy fighters 10,000' below them, but a dozen bombers 10,000' below the Japanese fighters.  His wingmen call the tally and want to engage. Col Kearby tells them to be patient and maneuvers his flight into a perfect attack position at the fighters 6 o'clock very high.

From there, they attack and in the ensuing engagement, Col Kearby shoots down 6 more aircraft for a total of 7 for the day.  On landing, he is only credited for 6 confirmed kills as the ground personnel had not loaded enough film to record all 7.

His flight had 9 confirmed kills (and 1 probable), had fought for over an hour and flown for 3.5 and returned all 4 P-47s unscratched.

That's fairly impressive! Medal of Honor material?  At that point in the war? Yes.

On March 5, 1944, Col Kearby has 21 confirmed kills, 3 behind Bong.  But, the Japanese are running out of airplanes and finding targets is getting more and more difficult.   He's leading a flight and sees a flight of 3 Japanese fighters well below them apparently preparing to land.  He noses over his flight to begin the attack.  Again, I remember this maneuver and I also remember another fighter pilot-ism (actually it comes from Romancing the Stone) "Bastards have brothers").  Their initial attack is successful as he and his wingman shoot down two of the Japanese fighters, but the unseen 3 fighters in trail saddle up and ride.

Col Kearby is MIA for the remainder of the war, and  there was some hope as he was last seen attempting to bail out.  Unfortunately, it was not meant to be, his body was recovered by Native Tribesman still in the chute.  Apparently he'd broken his neck on landing.  His remains were repatriated in 1949 and buried in Dallas.
From his memorial in Arlington (Texas)

From his Citation:


For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy, Col. Kearby volunteered to lead a flight of 4 fighters to reconnoiter the strongly defended enemy base at Wewak. Having observed enemy installations and reinforcements at 4 airfields, and secured important tactical information, he saw an enemy fighter below him, made a diving attack and shot it down in flames. The small formation then sighted approximately 12 enemy bombers accompanied by 36 fighters. Although his mission had been completed, his fuel was running low, and the numerical odds were 12 to 1, he gave the signal to attack. Diving into the midst of the enemy airplanes he shot down 3 in quick succession. Observing 1 of his comrades with 2 enemy fighters in pursuit, he destroyed both enemy aircraft. The enemy broke off in large numbers to make a multiple attack on his airplane but despite his peril he made one more pass before seeking cloud protection. Coming into the clear, he called his flight together and led them to a friendly base. Col. Kearby brought down 6 enemy aircraft in this action, undertaken with superb daring after his mission was completed.

Rest in Peace, Warrior!



*Napoleon

35 comments:

  1. I am stunned that I did not know of Col Kearby. Lately I've been trying to read up more on the Pacific War to remedy that sort of deficiency in my knowledge.

    I mean heck, I was in PACAF for almost 6 years. I should know more about that theater.

    Great post Juvat.

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    1. Thanks. Opening convocation today for the District. Apparently a 1 hour powerpoint talk about slips and falls,(with each slide being translated verbally into Spanish for the 4 custodians that are not bilingual and signed for the one deaf food service worker) were more important than working computers and student accounts. Bah!

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    2. Your Pentagon experience must have served you well.

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    3. It was painful. About 10 minutes worth of good info spread over 5 hours. There was a five minute discussion between the translator and bilingual speakers in the room over what the correct translation was for "kitty litter", as in, "If you spill oil on the floor, spread kitty litter on it to absorb it and reduce slipping." I sh!t you not! This was a OSHA required presentation by two people from Texas Education Agency whose whole job was giving this briefing, and the TEA professional translator, a) didn't know the spanish words for a term used in the briefing and b) didn't know that she didn't know the words until the middle of the presentation. Our tax dollars at work!

      But yes, my Pentagon "OMG Incoming Powerpoint!" warning bell was going off as soon as they took the stage.

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  2. Some time ago, before I could even grow whiskers, I read and wrote a book report about WWII flying aces (as if there were any other kind).
    I may have even read it a second time.
    I wiesh I still had that book

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    1. I read a lot of those type books, guess it must have rubbed off.

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  3. Great post!

    It's really hard to wrap your mind around that air war. The risks those folks took are reflected in the losses. No navaids, hundreds of miles of open ocean both ways, no ejection seats, low level attacks into the teeth of really good air defense.

    This is ETO, but a great little film. Everybody remembers the Mighty Eighth and England. Who remembers the Twelfth and...Corsica?

    https://youtu.be/4-aFc7DAJBE?list=PLMZJbpYtQsUaVHNxPJLazkKGPkV4XYzM9

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    1. I don't have 55 minutes available today. I'll watch it this evening. Looks interesting.

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    2. Hadn't seen that one, thanks. Liked the "old men" at 26 or so. Col Kearby made Major in 4, LC in 5 and O6 in 6. Competence was rewarded in that Air Force.

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    3. A little more primitive on Corsica than the Eighth had it in GB. Warfighting is very different than peacefighting.

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  4. http://lestweforgetsculpture.org/

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    1. Wow! Wish I could have been there, that would have been ....dusty! And endorsed by the only three CJCS that I've met in person (and have quite a bit of respect for).

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  5. Would you mind if I posted a link to this in a FB P-47 group?

    Great story.

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    1. Go for it Joe. The more the merrier!

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    2. Thanks, and no, I don't mind at all.

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    3. I knew that.

      (Should I put an "oops" here?)

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    4. Naw! I just thought I'd confirm.

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  6. Col. Kearby's achievements are mention in Air War by Edward Jablonski, a two-volume set now sadly out of print. I have those, and continue to marvel at the tenacity & ingenuity of those who fought in the Pacific. Vol. 1 covers the European Theater, & Vol. 2 the Pacific.

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    1. I think I may have read that series. They've got used copies for sale on Amazon.

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  7. Am not an airman, but a soldier. I served overseas in both the Pacific (Vietnam, Japan) and European theaters (Berlin). In my personal experience . . . it was like being in two completely different armies. The Pacific group was so much more relaxed about everything non-mission related. What was that Jimmy Buffett song lyric . . . "Changes in latitude, changes in attitude . . ." In Berlin there was a brigadier general who found cause to dislike our (ASA 33 techs) wear of safety boots off site. (One couldn't blouse their trousers while wearing them.) No matter that they were always (?) shined, just like the standard combat boot. He attempted to have us paint the toes of the boots yellow. Our Maintenance Officer, CW4, somehow managed to have his order countermanded by higher HQ (Warrant Officer Magic). Everything in USAREUR was STRAC. Often wished that I had stayed in the Pacific. Funnily enough . . . I ended up spending 14 years in Berlin. At the time, it was the longest I'd ever been in one place in my entire life.

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    1. My USAF experience with the two theaters, PACAF and USAFE (though once removed from the latter) -
      - PACAF is about fighting wars
      - USAFE is about administrivia

      PACAF was way more laid back than either Europe or CONUS, it was almost like being in a different (better) Air Force. But maybe that's just me.

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    2. PACAF was laid back only in the sense of bureaucratic nonsense. As far as realistic training and a serious attitude towards combat readiness, I thought they were the best I'd seen.

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    3. There was little in the way of bureaucratic nonsense in Korea.

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    4. Not much to add. Circa 1964-1966 Hanau, Germany. In our Combat Engineers it was get the job done in the field. Back in garrison it was break starch every day and spit shined boots as we pulled maintenance on greasy equipment at our muddy motor pool. Don't know what it was like for the officers. My only taste was four months in the Orderly Room when the Company Clerk messed up. Seems I was one of the few with a Secret Clearance and could type. So long as DD Form 1 (Morning Report) was perfect, the First Sergeant shoved the work off on the Operations Clerk and the Supply Clerk. By the by, never saw anything classified higher than Confidential.

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    5. I mentioned that to the guy reading me into a program I was going to own. Told him "I know all this already." He replied, "Yeah, but now you can't tell anybody'"

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  8. 11 years LANT, 11 years PAC, and even in the Navy is was 'different' attitudes. PAC was get it done and worry about the paperwork later, LANT was no permission UNTIL the paperwork was done... The P-38 in Udvar-Hazy IS the actual combat aircraft flown by , I believe, a Col Hill, who was there for the military opening and in uniform.

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    1. That is an interesting phenomenon, the difference in theaters. I've had a Marine friend relate a similar comparison for his service. Not sure if it's the case for our friends in green however. Anyone?

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  9. I suspect Kearby probably did get his fifty, or came close. McCampbell is regarded to have made at least twice as many kills as he was given credit for, but it's hard to prove if the Japanese plane did not go down on your gun camera film, or in front of witnesses who were not busy with fighting their own fights.

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    1. An interesting hypothesis. And since the smart thing to do after saddling up and taking the shot, was to break away to ruin the shot of the guy saddling up on you, entirely feasible. Your target was not in the field of view. Shooting the Dart in the Eagle required holding the piper on the target for ToF of the bullet to evaluate whether it hit. In combat, it either hit or didn't. Time to leave Dodge in either case. You may very well be right.

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  10. Two of my Department of Army Civilian flight instructors in the fixed wing transition in 1975 were former AAC fighter pilots. One a P-51 pilot, the other a P-47 guy. "O" dark hundred briefings were constant good natured arguments between the two over the merits/short comings of their respective fighters. They were "old guys" back then, probably 55 years old or so but come time to put on the parachutes and head out to the flight line, it was like watching them become teenagers again. My third DAC IP was a lower Alabama peanut farmer who had been a WWII Navy fighter pilot. He didn't take much guff from the Air Corp guys. I am still in awe of flying with them. regards, Alemaster

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    1. That would've been very cool to listen in on they're discussions ( all 3). My combat experienced mentors were Vietnam era. I had some great ones, for which I'm grateful.

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  11. Thank you for this (and all of your) post(s). The Syracuse NY Post Standard (PS) had an article about a some ww2 pilots that received Congressional Gold Medals. One of them, Henry Miklajcyk, ace, who was killed in combat over Germany. 7.5 kills. Some of his story is here: http://acesofww2.com/USA/aces/miklajcyk/ The PS story is here: http://www.syracuse.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/05/6_fighter_aces_from_central_new_york_receive_congressional_gold_medal_today_watc.html

    I have a question, however. The PS print version had the photo you can see in the acesofww2 site of the dashing young fighter ace (I wish I had that hair) standing in front of what they labeled as a P47. Only that is not a P47. I think it's a glider. Note the small prop to his left. Is that a "windmill" type appliance? The fuselage is too small. (I remember reading when I was a kid that some pilot said that if he got in trouble he could dodge bullets by running around in the fuselage.) Anyway, can you shed light on the aircraft? Thanks again.

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    1. Good question, we'll start digging.

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    2. Assuming this is the photo you're referring to, I agree that's not a P-47. I'm not sure what that is by his left elbow, but I think you're right about it being a generator of some kind. Not sure if it's a glider, but based on the window to his left, I'd say it's a transport of some kind. Wouldn't know why a fighter pilot would have his picture taken by a glider, but I could see him having his picture taken as he's about to leave home or on arrival.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)