"Aces of The Eighth" by Jack Fellows

World War II Memoir by Matt Notz

Pearl Harbor was under attack. World War II reached the shores of the United States. The 8th Pursuit Group was on alert and ready. It consisted of the 33rd, 35th and 36th Pursuit Squadrons.

The 8th Pursuit Group was activated at Langley Field, VA in 1931. Headquarters issued orders and the Group made its first move in 1940. At this time the Group was flying P-40 and B-10 airplanes. Movement of all people and airplanes to Mitchel Field, Long Island, NY was complete by 4 November 1940. The Squadrons, after setting up operations and maintenance sections, were ready for all missions. A month later they were participating in the Louisiana Maneuvers.

The Army Air Corps was in the middle of an expansion program. New Groups and new aircraft began appearing on the Base. Receiving new P-39 airplanes, the Group started familiarization training and flying submarine patrol. On 20 June 1941, the Army Air Corps became the Army Air Forces. The 35th Pursuit Squadron began using the airport at Providence, RI as a temporary base for patrol missions. On 7 December 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Adding to all of this, orders reached the Group to form a new squadron. Transferring pilots and mechanics from all three squadrons, the 80th Pursuit Squadron was born. The Squadron got its start on or about 6 January 1942. Its first Commanding Officer was Philip Greasley of the 33rd Pursuit Squadron. In the meantime, the 33rd Pursuit Squadron shipped to Iceland aboard an aircraft carrier for patrol duty.

The 8th Pursuit Group, now made up of the 35th, 36th and 80th Pursuit Squadrons, received orders to move to the West Coast. We said our good-byes and boarded a special train for San Francisco. The Group departed Mitchel Field, NY on 26 January 1942. They arrived at the docks in San Francisco 4 days later. An old Matson liner, named Maui, was waiting at the docks for the Group to board. Everything went fine until the engines refused to perform satisfactorily. The Group then debarked and moved to Angel Island for a short stay. On the 12 February 1942, the group again boarded the Maui. While passing under The Golden Gate Bridge, voices broke out chanting, “Golden Gate in 48.”

The Maui docked in Brisbane, Australia, 5 March 1942. A fleet of trucks transported the Group to Ascot Racetrack. After stuffing sacks with straw, we went to sleep on the ground, but sand fleas kept us awake most of the night.

Crews unloaded and transported P-39 planes to Amberley Field where assembly took place. A P-39 had the pilot riding astride the propeller shaft. The plane would shimmy and shake creating a fuss, what a racket in this grand old bus. Moving to Archerfield Field, the 80th Pursuit Squadron received the assembled planes and began training.

The 35th and 36th Pursuit Squadrons, receiving equipment, packed and moved to Lowood, Queensland for training. Shortly thereafter the two Squadrons moved to Northern Australia. On the 20th April 1942 the Squadrons moved to 7 Mile Strip, Port Moresby. Japanese planes controlled the area and it took the Squadrons a very short time time to become veterens.

The 80th Pursuit Squadron then began its endless wanderings. The ground eschelon moved to Lowood on 28 March 1942. Within six weeks the Squadron moved again. Our next base was Petrie Airdrome, an airstrip 15 miles east of Brisbane, Australia. New planes began arriving and the Squadron received P-400 Cobras, the English version of the P-39. We continued familiarization and training on the new planes for the next 8 weeks.

Training pilots for duty in New Guinea and enjoying Australia soon came to an end. The 80th Fighter Squadron received orders to move to New Guinea. An advanced detail, later known as, The Dirty Thirteen, became the Squadron’s first members to experience combat. The detail consisted of thirteen pilots, ten crew chiefs, twelve P-400 Cobras, armament and radio people. Our transportation consisted of one C-47. The plane with its load of maintenance crews, toolboxes and aircraft parts made use of every inch of runway. During take off the plane reached the end of the runway with the wheels still on the ground. We sighed with relief as the plane staggered into the air. The Advanced Detail was on its way to Port Moresby, New Guinea on 17 July 1942.

The C-47 flying up the East Coast of Australia left behind old buddies, the purloined train and the Ipswitch Barracuda. We landed at Cairns, Australia, prepared the P-400 Cobras and turned in for the night. The detail then flew on to Port Moresby, New Guinea. We landed at 7-Mile Strip on 18 July 1942, and prepared the planes for the next day. Suddenly three shots rang out. Not knowing where to go, we dropped to the ground. Japanese bombs hit the 36th Fighter Squadron area of the Strip. One person died in the raid and two wounded by shrapnel.  About 20 July 1942, the squadron lost Pinkie Hunter, shot down by a Japanese gunboat.

The Japanese bombed regularly. Raids became known as, “Dr Pepper Raids,” dropping bombs at, “10, 2 and 4.” During the night they sent, “Wash Machine Charley,” over to harass us, dropping a bomb here and there. The raids kept us in the slit trenches for hours.

Jackson Airdrome  (7-Mile Airstrip) was our first combat base. About the 25 July 42 our next base of operations was 14 Mile Airstrip. The 39th Fighter Squadron provided us with food and housing. On 4 August 1942 General Kenney replaced General Brett as Commanding General of Air. On 7 August 1942 the US Marines made a landing on Guadalcanal.

One can never forget our bases hacked out of the jungle with such names as Three Mile, Four Mile, Seven Mile, Twelve Mile, Fourteen Mile and Seventeen Mile Airstrips. Naming the airdromes with mileage names corresponded to their distances from Port Moresby.

The 80th Fighter Squadron air echelon then moved to 12 Mile Airstrip on 10 August 42, where the ground echelon joined us. Japanese planes greeted them as they got off  the ship on 12 August 1942. First victories for the 80th Fighter Squadron came on 26 August 1942, when a flight of P-400 Cobras shot down six Japanese planes over Buna.

Japanese Marines then landed at Milne Bay, New Guinea on 27 August 1942. The 35th and 36th Fighter Squadrons helped to repel their advance. The Japanese Marines and ships withdrew on 29 August 1942, leaving hundreds of dead behind.

The 5th Air Force formed on 3 September 1942  with General Kenney as Commanding General.

After the losses during the Coral Sea Battle, Japanese Forces decided to take Port Moresby, New Guinea by  land. Crossing the Owen Stanley Mountains, Japanese Forces broke through and forced the Aussies Forces back. U.S. pilots were on alert to fly the planes back to Australia. An Australian friend watching the activity just smiled. The thought of being stranded in the jungle did not seem right. I asked the Aussie what he would do. He said, “I’ll tell you  what Yank, just bugger up the gear and piss off in the bush.”

The US Army 32nd Division arrived at Port Moresby on 15 September 1942. American and Australian Infantry stopped the Japanese advance 22 miles from Port Moresby on 26 September 1942.

During October 1942, the 80th FS flew escort and strafing missions, softening up the Buna area for invasion.

The 80th Fighter Squadron received orders to move to Milne Bay, New Guinea. We then  boarded a ship and arrived at Milne Bay 8 November 1942. The Squadron loaded onto trucks just as the air raid gun sounded. The raid was soon over and we continued on to our campsite. On this date, the three 8th Fighter Group Squadrons were in the same vicinity for the first time since leaving the States. The Pilots flew escort and strafing missions for the next few months. Ingram (Coon Dog) Conner replaced Phil Greasley as Commanding Officer, 20 December 1942.

Japanese planes attack the 80th Fighter Airstrip (Turnbull) with 25 Betty Bombers on 17 Jan 43. The bombs destroyed almost everything. Luckily there were no causalities. We found out how a grasshopper feels with a lawn mower coming directly at it.

In January 1943, most of the 80th Fighter Squadron was in the hospital with malaria. Partial crews kept the Squadron operating at 100%. On 3 February 1943, the Squadron moved to Mareeba, Australia for rest, recreation and to receive new planes. To everyone’s satisfaction, the Squadron received the P-38 Lightning. Experience we had gathered helped us to maintain and fly the new planes. After tasting milk, beer and seeing new movies, we got ourselves ready for another move.

A small advanced detail of pilots, maintainers and airplanes returned to Port Moresby, New Guinea on 31 March 1943. On 4 April and again on 8 April 1943, command of the 80th Fighter Squadron changed. On 11 April 1943 the Squadron scored their first victories in the P-38. They intercepted the enemy over Oro Bay and destroyed 4 Japanese planes.

After a short training period at Mareeba, Australia, the 80th Fighter Squadron flew back to Port Moresby, New Guinea on 12 April 1943. As we approached Port Moresby, a Japanese bomb raid was is progress. Landing at Four Mile Strip (Wards Drome), the Squadron later moved to Three Mile Strip (Kila Drome), our home base for the next eight months.

The new Commanding Officer of the 80th Fighter Squadron was now Edward Cragg. On 21 May 1943 the Squadron on an escort mission destroyed 6 Japanese planes. One month later on 21 June 1943 the Squadron escorting B-25 Bombers destroyed 13 Japanese planes over Lae, New Guinea. General MacArthur wired his congratulations to the entire Squadron. Great feelings prevailed in the Squadron to know the air above us was secure. The 80th Fighter Squadron would go on to become known as, “The Headhunters.”

Supplies and equipment began arriving in the Southwest Pacific Area. Squadrons shuffled rosters and divided to form a new all P-38 Fighter Group. A cadre of the 475th Fighter Group was waiting at Amberely Field, Australia. Those picked for the new Group began arriving Amberley Field about 26 June 1943. People from the 49th Fighter Group reported to the 431st Fighter Squadron. People from the 8th Fighter Group reported to the 432nd Fighter Squadron. (50% of the key personnel in the 432nd came from the 80th Headhunters.) People from the 35th Fighter Group reported to the 433rd Fighter Squadron.

On 28 June and 6 July 1943, the 80th Fighter Squadron flew to Goodenough Island to cover a Task Force. Returning to Three-Mile Airstrip the Squadron flew escort missions through 29 July 1943, resulting in 31 Japanese planes destroyed. The Headhunters destroyed 28 Japanese planes during escort missions through 2 September 1943. During the landing at Lae on 4 September 1943, the Squadron accounted for 11 more of the enemy. From 13 September to 26 September 1943, the Squadron shot down 14 Japanese planes.

In New Guinea, our Ground Forces were consolidating positions along the north coast. To our east, Allied Ground Forces were island

hopping through the Solomon Islands. The stronghold on northern New Britain was directly in their path and would soon feel the fury of a 5th Air Force attack.

On 11 October 1943, there was a briefing at Headquarters. The next target was northwest New Britain, RABAUL. More than 300 bombers and fighters left their New Guinea bases and headed for northern New Britain. Japanese airfields and planes on the ground took severe damage. The 5th Air Force carried out a series of these raids until 7 November 1943. One purpose of these raids was to neutralize this Japanese stronghold. They also gave support to our forces in the Solomon Islands.

From 12 October until moving day, the 80th Fighter Squadron shot down 35 Japanese planes. On 24 October 1943, Jay Robbins destroyed 4 enemy planes giving him a total of 11 Japanese planes shot down in 3 separate engagements. The Squadron moved to Dobodura, New Guinea on 11 December 1943, where they became temporarily attached to the 475th Fighter Group.

The invasion of southeast New Britain started 15 December 1943.

Daniel T. Roberts was lost on the 9 November 1943. He flew for the 80th and 432nd Fighter Squadrons.

The 80th Fighter Squadron went through some trying times starting 24 February 1944. The Squadron moved to Cape Gloucester, New Britain with new planes. It took them from 12 March to 25 March 1944 to move to Nadzab, New Guinea. On 30 and 31 March 1944, the Squadron escorted bombers to Hollandia, New Guinea. They destroyed 14 enemy planes, bringing the Squadron total to 185 confirmed victories. Escorting bombers on 3 and 12 April 1944, the Headhunters destroyed 18 more Japanese planes. On the 12 April 1944 mission, Richard  Bong shot down 2 enemy planes. His total planes destroyed were now 27. This brought the Squadron total to 203 enemy planes shot down in combat.

Because of unavoidable delays, it took the 80th Fighter Squadron from 14 May 1944 until the middle of June to move to the island of Owi. The first mission from Owi was an escort mission to Jefman Airdrome resulting in 3 victories. July 1944 brought on a new phase of operations, air support for ground troops that pleased the ground commanders. During July 1944 the medics reported 18 cases of typhus. Escort missions to Halmehara Islands on 27 July 1944 and 17 August 1944 resulted in seven more victories.

It took the 80th Fighter Squadron from 16 September to 6 October 1944 to move to Morotai Island. On 4 October 1944 the Squadron changed command. During October 1944 they flew escort missions. On 10 November the Squadron flew top cover and destroyed 2 enemy planes. The Squadron then gave up most of their planes and waited for a new type of P-38.

The 80th Fighter Squadron Aviators and Maintainers went separate ways in November 1944. The next 4 weeks were very frustrating and memorable. Most of the Squadron’s planes went to the 49th Fighter Group in Leyte, Philippines. In December 1944 most of the Squadron boarded an LST (Landing Ship) and headed for Mindoro Island in the Philippines. The LST came under attack by a kamikaze bomber on 12 December 1944 and sunk as it approached Mindoro Island. On 19 December 1944, the complete 80th Fighter Squadron was together again at Hill Field, Mindoro Island.

The Squadron flying P-38L’s on patrol engaged the enemy and destroyed 6 planes. On the next day, 21 December 1944, the Japanese lost 3 more planes. The day after Christmas a Japanese Task Force approached Mindoro Island. In the battle the Japanese lost three ships. They also shelled both airstrips making them unserviceable. On 29 December 1944, the Squadron flying cover for a convoy shot down 2 Japanese planes. A mission on 30

December 1944, accounted for another Japanese plane destroyed. This brought the 80th Fighter Squadron total to 224 Japanese planes destroyed in combat.

The Army and Navy Air Forces attacked Japan from all directions. Japan was taking a tremendous pounding. On the 6 and 9 August, B-29’s dropped Atom Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The 80th Fighter Squadron flew fighter sweeps and patrol missions from January 1945 through July 1945. On 29 May 1945 the Headhunters flew mission number 1000. The Squadron completed the move to Ie Shima in the Ryukyu Islands on 9 August 1945. On 10 August 1945 they bombed targets on the Japanese Homeland. The Headhunters on their last mission bombed a bridge at Kadagowa, Japan. It was on this mission that the Squadron lost its third Commanding Officer to enemy action. On 15 August 1945, the Japanese surrendered.

 Matt F Notz M/Sgt, 80th FS Flight Chief and Squadron Inspector


Leave a Reply