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.|
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.
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.
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!