Digging around the internet, I found this link from the Eagle Flying Museum right down the road in Mineral Wells, Texas (soon to be moving to Bourland Field, Cresson, Texas) . Seems the founders took a liking to our own MF Kirby and cataloged some of his KirbyGrams. I’ve re-posted them with permission from the EFM founders, Jim Wilson and Scott Perdue.
Here’s their website: http://eagleflyingmuseum.org/index-13vetstoryMFKirby.html
Kirby’s “official memoirs” can be found in the History>WWII>Memoirs section of the website.
These presented below are taken from the almost-daily Kirbygrams he sent out (and would clog your Inbox if you didn’t stay ahead of them!) and are the raw data used by Dr. Larry Simpson in writing Kirby’s book, available in the Store: http://80fsheadhunters.org/2011/12/17/kirby/
M.F. Kirby Texas Native, 80 FS Headhunters, 8 FG, P-38 Ace in the Pacific Theater of Operations. These notes are posts Kirby made, mostly on the old Compuserve Forum AVSIG. They are not in chronological order by any means. They are reminisces. I’m proud to say that Kirby was my friend and the picture is one I took during a 80FS reunion at Fort Worth when he and his son came to my house along with another great 80 FS Fighter Pilot, Norb Ruff. As all must Kirby has gone west but he will always be missed!
by M.F. Kirby
“What I have to say may not be entirely accurate for fifty years has a way of dimming the exact truth, but I will try. Another thing that I have noticed, the more of the participants that die off seems to make the survivors more positive in the telling of their tales. By the way, all of the historical information that I have collected is posted with the Aerospace Museum in San Diego.
I read in one book dealing with the early part of the war that the 74th Pursuit Squadron was the very first operational squadron in combat from Port Moresby. Who they were or where they went I have no idea whatsoever. The 35th and 36th squadron relieved them around the first of May 1942. The 80th remained at Petrie and acted as a replacement squadron. Each time either of the two sister squadrons lost personnel, the 80th saw to it that they received a new body. The 35th and 36th only remained in combat for about a month, the survivors were removed to Charters Towers, near Townsville Australia. They were replaced by the 39th and 40th squadrons of the 35th group. These two squadron remained engaged for six weeks, or until mid-July.
These two squadrons were replaced by the 41st of the 35th group, and the 80th. The 41st flew from 7-Mile Strip while the 80th occupied both 12-Mile and 14-Mile Strips. The two strips were separated by the Laloki River. 14-Mile was so dusty that we finally abandoned it and moved everything to 12-Mile. When we took off from 14-Mile you wanted to make certain that you stayed in the dust. If things started to lighten up you knew you were getting off the runway.
When a squadron was relieved the personnel would pack their belongings in a duffel bag and head for 7-Mile Strip to catch a ride to Townsille. They would leave their planes and equipment. You inherited everything.
After we had been there for about a month we started looking for replacements. At the end of six weeks we just knew they had to be there. After two months “Squeeze” Wurtsmith, Commander of Fifth Air Command, drove up one day to inform us that this was a permanent change of station. The 80th was committed to combat from that day until the end of the war, with the slight break to go to Mareeba Australia to pick up the P-38s.
Remember, I mentioned that the 80th was acting as the replacement squadron for the other two squadrons. When the 80th was committed to combat, it went north with only about half strength itself!
This is where I entered the picture. Along with about half of the squadron, I was in the “Panama Bunch.” A large number of us were to have gone to Africa and go to work for Pan American Airways. We were to ferry P-40s from Accra Gold Coast to Khartoum, on the Nile. We were to resign our commissions-civilians had to do it since we were not at war at the time. I checked out in a P-40 on the morning of 7 December, 1941. With war coming on they did not need civilians for anything, so all of that bunch ended up in Panama eventually.
Following the battles of Midway and the Coral Sea they assumed that the Canal would be safe, so orders to get us out of there and into combat were immediate. We arrived in New Castle Australia on 7 July 1942. No one had any idea who we were, where we were from, how we got there, or even whose side we were on! We spent about a week there awaiting orders. Finally, we caught a train to Sydney. Reported in, after much searching for someone to report in to. They immediately us to every organization in the theater. Then some wise one awakened just long enough to realize that they had just committed the 80th to combat and that they were only at half strength. So, more orders had to be issued countermanding the first orders, the about half of us were finally assigned to the 80th, with the remained being scattered. That should give you some idea as to the composition of the early squadron.
“Virgins Lane” was not a ravine, but was built on the side of a small hill. A very steep grade accessed the area. Immediately upon entering was a relatively large area that was relatively flat. This was where the Officers’ Club, Orderly Room, Mess Hall, and Dispensary were located. Each of these buildings were grass hutments constructed by native labor prior to our arrival. This had been the 40th’s quarters before our arrival. Then all over the side of the hill were slit trenches with further small grass shacks for living quarters, about five or six men per hut. They were nothing more than roof, with sides open. We slept under mosquito netting with our personal gear in a foot locker beneath the cots. The 80th had the hospital cots, the only outfit on the island to have such. It was a subject that was never discussed as to where they had come from. They were there, so we didn’t ask any questions. The Mess Hall was a tent. The sides were of canvas but the front and back were of netting for ventilation. Each Friday they served canned Salmon. You could always tell when Friday arrived because the flies gathered at the tent in such numbers that they would almost cause it to collapse. Our showers were of the outdoor variety, that is, until the nurses started arriving, which was about when we left for Milne Bay.
Shortly after we arrived the above setup played a very important part in one of our biggest battles. The Kunai grass growing on our hill had become ignited one day. By nightfall the blaze was out but there were still several twigs and limbs glowing after dark. We got our usual bombing raid that night. After the lights in the camp area were extinguished a rumor started that the Japs were landing paratroopers. How it was able to spread throughout the camp so fast will never be known. Someone hollered to put out the cigarettes (the twigs glowing). Since that got no response, someone decided to shoot them out. They were glowing just above a slit trench located in my area. That slit trench fired back. Before long we had a real war going on within the camp area. Fortunately, everyone was such a marksman as I, and no one was hurt.
While the 80th was in New Guinea, the 35th and 36th, along with Group Headquarters, were in Australia. Group Headquarters was like a millstone around your neck, but they were always associated with the two older squadrons. They never flew with us, we never saw them. In fact, I might have known who the Group Commander was, but probably did not. We were a bastard organization. We became very independent and isolated. We could operate much more efficiently. Consequential, this independence carries through to this very day. They have constantly sought to be invited to our reunions, to no avail!
Here is something few people realize, our entire duty and responsibility was to hold and contain the Japanese until the war in Europe was completed. They gave us only that equipment that Europe did not want; the B-24, B-25, and the P-38. Instead of holding, we almost had Japan whipped by the time that the European Theater was finished. The world has yet to realize what an outstanding task that General George C. Kenney performed. Kenney was head and shoulders above any other officer in the Air Corps. Let me suggest, if you are interested in WWII history, read “General Kenney Report.” It is by far the best book on the Southwest Pacific, in spite of being among the few in which I am not mentioned…
Incidentally, notice that the 80th had letters instead of numbers designating their planes. This happens to be happenstance. We ended up with the 40th squadron planes when we relieved them in July 1942. They were marked with letters. We merely kept the tradition. Our nose cone and markings were originally a baby crap yellow. This changed, I do not know why, to green shortly after receiving the P-38s.
Also, it was Robbins’ son Robert that was responsible for the squadron returning to the original patch. He wrote home asking for one of the originals. They immediately returned to its use. It was during Duthie’s command that the insignia received official recognition.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for all that you are doing to try and get the history straight. It is a history worth preserving.”
- M. F. Kirby
Kirby on “Women in combat”
Don’t shoot the messenger–me.
I was once a customer of Compuserve…AVSIG…and Hangar Flying…occupied my time…that is where I met so many good friends and others…I remember that Clay was telling about his victory. It came during the Battle of the Bismark Sea… (off the north shore of New Guinea, The Huon Gulf Area…between New Guinea and New Britain)…What brought the whole battle on was the enemy tried to reinforce their troops at Lae and Salamoa, New Guinea…they sent from Rabaul about 10-12 transports loaded with troops, escorted by at least an equal number of destroyers…I think a few more destroyers than transports…Well, the Fifth Air Force intercepted the convoy… The Fifth committed everything…except me, I was on leave…and they sank ALL of the transports and mostof the destroyers…the survivors(destroyers) ran under cloud cover and escaped back to Rabaul…After sinking the ships they proceeded to strafe the men in the water…I do not think that a single troop survived…
OK, some female, a damned Do-Gooder, wrote that was unfair and ate my urrah out good. The idea of strafing those helpless men in the water…Right then I was thoroughly convinced that women did not belong in combat…I am still convinced, women do not belong in combat, interns, yes…but soldiers no…Now I will admit that some would be a hellova lot better than I, but they would be few and far between…Bombers, maybe…Transports, Yes…but Fighters, not NO but Hell No! There will always be the exception, but to find that one exception you would have to put up with a dozen…It has been 60 years since I have flown a combat mission…the planes have changed…Lordie, how they have changed…but the rules are the same…Fighter Squadrons are based on Team Work…No one man is going to win a war but “Together we can whip ’em”…
We had several men that grounded themselves during the conflict but all in all we were a hellova team…Kirby
Colton holds a very warm spot in my heart…that was the end of the train ride (from Dallas)…They “swore us in” in Dallas, carried us to the train station, loaded us on the train, and headed us west. Arrived in Colton on a Sunday Morn, we were met by several buses and a whole gob of upper classmen…one minute you could look the entire world directly in the eye…the next minute you were the lowest form of scum…we were transported to Hemit, our destination, and which was to be our home for the next three months…at this time, there was no basic training, as such…there was primary flying school(Hemet)(PT-13 Stearman)), basic flying school(Moffit Field, near San Jose)(BT-13 Vultee Vibrator), and then into advanced (Mather Field, Sacramento)(AT-6).
In my case, and about 100 others, we were selected to go to work for Pan-Am ferrying P-40s across Africa. They selected about 10-15 men at each advanced training base, go to Mitchel Field, Long Island, check out in P-40s, resign our commissions, become civilians, then go to work for Pan-Am. 7 December put a kink in that plan…we ended up in Panama…the middle of June they found us additional transportation to the SWPA…
I can still remember this group of young innocent boys, stepping off that train in Colton, California on a bright Sunday morning, and having the whole world of reality dumped upon us…I learned real quick the meaning of Pop Two, Suck in that gut, yes sir and no sir, no excuse,sir…we had, lets say 120 in that class, we had 119 from Texas, and the furriner lived 5 blocks over in Arkansas…he washed out, along with about 40% of the rest of the class, so we graduated “Pure”…Kirby
Subj: My aviation history
Date: 3/20/2001 5:14:10 AM Central Standard Time
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (M.F. Kirby)
Each person can look back to moments in his life that have been mile posts.
Trying to innumerate the occasions that effected my early days and headed me toward aviation are relatively few but significant. I guess everyone remembers his first airplane ride. Mine was in a Ford Trimotor.
A barnstormer came through Southern Oklahoma, landed, was taking passengers up. If a father purchased a ticket, the son come join him free. Two gentlemen, Mr Jim Gaylor and J Frank Jones, each childless, adopted(?) Julius Askew (another red head and freckled faced imp) and I right there on the spot. We were their sons for the duration of the flight. When we became airborne I remember that you could see all the way across Red River into Texas. What a sight…I have passed the pasture where the Trimotor landed and have since wondered how on earth they could squeeze that plane into to restricted confines of such a small pasture. They also had a parachute jump that afternoon but that was very anti-climatic.
Then that summer I gathered up everything that I could sell, saved up my pittance of an allowance and cashed in. The whole sum came to $1.50, I think…but no more than that…headed for the Fairgrounds to the Love County Fair. Ray Kelly, a local and son of the local druggist, brought his plane from the nearby hanger, parked it across the road from the Fairgrounds, and was giving flights to those that could hustle up $1.50…I paid the price. The flight amounted to taking off to the south, a left turn, downwind leg, another left turn and we were lined up with the field (runway) and landed…I could have thrown a rock any time during the flight and hit the take-off spot. But I had been airborne, an the “bug” had infected me…
Back then, the mid-twenties and early thirties, everyone was very aviation conscious. You would read in the paper every day about endurance records being broken, altitude records shattered…all that could fly were trying to push the ceilings to new heights…I can remember my father taking us to Ft Worth, Tx. Someone had just established a new record there. I do not remember which one but a record none the less. As a small tad I worked my way up to the hanger doors, put my fingers in the doors to separate them so that I could get a glimpse of the plane.
Whammo, a big bruiser at the next joining of the doors wanted to see more than I…and he was a hellova lot stronger…my fingers ached all of the way home (100 miles) and after soaking them all night I could gain use of them the next day.
We moved to Oklahoma City in the early thirties after the depression hit. I walked all of the way out May Avenue to an airfield which was located near the northern extremity of the avenue to view the “Winnie Mae”. The Winnie Mae was the plane that Wiley Post and Harold Gaddy flew around the world in. I think that it took them something like 7-8 days. Wow, all the way around the world…unheard of…in fact, unthinkable…
I can very plainly remember my old maid aunt showing me the paper and trying to explain to my simple mind what Lindbergh had accomplished. It was too much for me to comprehend, so I passed it off with not too much thought. That has been one of the disappointments in my life. I wanted to meet and talk with “Lindy”. He attended one of the 475th Group (Satan’s Angels) reunions in Colorado Springs. I did not attend, regretfully. My other person that I wanted to meet was Gen George Kenney. This I accomplished. I was invited down to Miami to help him celebrate his 85th birthday.
All of this is probably very boring…but I am wanting to get as much of this written down for my grandson’s sake. I was very hesitant to ask so many questions of my grandfather. I can not put all on paper but I hope that can answer a few of his future questions…Kirby
I was in NYC, Mitchell Field, preparing to graduate from flying
school…We were a group that had been chosen to resign our commissions, go to work for Pan-Am…to be checked out in the P-40…go to Accra, Gold Coast, Africa…and ferry P-40s across to Khartoum, on the Nile…we had to be civilians since we were not at war…I checked out in the P-40 that morning (7 December), remember flying over and around the Statue of Liberty, my sister had come up from Washington, DC…I met her downtown, we attended the stage show “Hellzapoppin”.
While I was waiting for my sister to get dressed I entertained myself listening to the radio. Every station in NYC would interrupt their programming to tell about the bombing of Pearl Harbor…my big question was:”What and Where is Pearl Harbor?” To be truthful, this was the first that I had ever heard of it…We had dinner and then attended the show…and between each scene they would announce “All military personnel, report to your base immediately.” We saw the entire production, I put my sister on the train back to DC…caught a train to Mitchell Field…Next day we all had to report to the theatre on the base, they gave each of us a bucket of sand and stationed us on every corner of each building on the base…remember, this was in the days of infancy of radar…each and every plane flying up or down the coast would cause all of the sirens to serenade us…we put in three days of this foolishness…in my brief career in the Air Corps this still has to be the stupidest order that I ever received…I wish that I had saved my sand bucket…Thursday, the 12th of December, we reported back to the Base Theatre and received our commissions…We were not given the chance of resigning this time, since we were at war…but the project was called off…Sunday Morning our chauffeur arrived at the front of the building driving bright new 10 wheelers and carried what was left of our cadre[…we lost 10 men killed, (and several injured) checking out in P-40s…we were the first class to check out in combat type planes prior to graduation] to Grand Central Station where a chartered train was awaiting our arrival…We boarded and with FBI and CIA accompany we left for Tallahassee, Fla…
The morning of 8th December every plane had been removed from Mitchel. I think they were removed to a Field in Connecticut…we went from Tallahassee to Panama…after the Battles of Midway and Coral Sea they sent word down our way “Get them in Combat”…so, they packed us up once again and shipped us to Australia…arriving there on 7th July 1942…what brought this story on was the fact that many of the older men that checked us out in P-40s at Mitchel Field were in the Squadron, they formed the nucleous of the 80th Fighter Squadron.
We hit the island on April 1, ’43 with our new P-38s. About the first or second day the Japs hit Moresby…they lost 100 planes (+ or -)…It took them completely by surprise, the fact that we were able to get up there to them (25,000′). They were used to flying over, dropping their bombs, returning home unmolested…FROM NOW ON IT WOULD BE A DIFFERENT STORY…
With the new P-38s we inherited a Lockheed Representative…I have forgotten his name but he was a very unenergetic person. Lets just say that that he was super conservative with his energy. His routine was: arise, dress, slowly meander down to the mess hall (he could make it down because it was all down hill…the problem was returning). He would wait until someone came along driving a Jeep..
After his return to the club he would police the club for reading material, when he had enough to last him until lunch he would retire to the latrine. We had an exceptionally nice latrine…screened in…lids that were hinged (raise or lower)…no music, though!
The enlisted personnel kept it polished…burning out the residue each morning…
WELL, this particular morning they poured the 100 octane into the pit…low and behold…NO MATCHES! While the orderly returned to the mess hall for matches fate had it all planned…
Mr Energetic enters the scene for his morning’s morning…He placed all of the reading material neatly on the bench next to him, downed his rompers, and prepared leisurely for his morning’s morning. He lighted a cigarette, and disposed of the match in the chamber below. Every lid stood vertically…it was quite an explosion…Mr Energetic did not stop to hoist his khakis, he left the latrine with them at half-mass, took off down across the Eucalyptus flat…once the headed him off he had to be taken to Dr Patrick’s for examination. (Dock prescribed the usual: “Two Aspirin”).
Mr Energetic slept on his stomach they remainder of the time that he was with the squadron…
The early days in the South Pacific bordered on rough. The living conditions were less than adequate,
although we had native boys to clean our quarters and wash our clothes. Ours was named “Karu” (Coconut). They wore a wrap around, barefooted. They made our cots and pounded our clothes with a rock. We were the only outfit that had hospital cots (metal). I asked how we obtained them and received nothing but stares. Interpretation of the stares answered my question.
We were assigned 4 to the hut. They were open sided, thatch roof (coconut fronds), semi-dirt floor, (each hut had some type of partial covering on the floor where you could stand while getting dressed, ours was pieces of crating). All of the boys lived in a village bordering the Port Moresby Harbor built on stilts over the water. A truck would go in and pick them up and return them that evening. Kuni grass grew in the close proximity of the hut (Kuni resembled Johnson grass). Wallabies would hop through the grass. When the japs were so close many a shot was fired in the direction of the intruders.
We seldom visited our huts except to sleep. Time was killed in the O’Club until time to retire. We had a generator that furnished lights to the camp. Music (the old phonograph mentioned earlier), radio (the best program on the air was “Tokio Rose”, she played music that you enjoyed hearing. The Armed Forces played junk primarily to keep you from getting homesick). One day in the Fall of ’43 we had a freak occurance…We received the world series DIRECT at the time it was played. When the men returned from the Flight Line that evening they were real mullets. We would place our bets knowing full well what was going to happen…
Another entertainment was the nightly bombing raid…1…2…I never saw over 3 planes…would come over, circle over head. maybe drop a bomb or two, but primarily circle…I never heard of them hitting anything and I for damn sure never heard (or saw) of our Ack-ack hitting any of their planes. When we first arrived we used the slit trenches…shortly we would retire out front of the O’Club to see the spectacle. If they were not headed directly toward you there was no danger (except from falling AA).
At Milne Bay (The extreme southeast end of the island) we had no searchlights so you had to go on sound. We would hunker down in the slit trenches and become excellent prey for the mosquitoes. That is probably the reason that our malaria cases ran so high (We were 30% operational at the time we left the island to go pick up our P-38s)…
We left Milne Bay on the 7th Feb ’43… checked out…and returned to the island on or about the First of April ’43… We were the third squadron to get P-38s. The 39th Sqn of the 35th Gp was the first, the 9th Sqn of the 49th Grp (Bong’s old outfit) and the 80th Sqn of the 8th Gp (Kirby’s old outfit)… In May of ’43 men were taken out of the three squadrons and sent to Brisbane. They were the nucleus of the 475th Group (they were brought up to strength by men fresh from the States.). The 475th arrived on the island 1 August ’43. With their arrival we went from the defensive and to the offensive immediately. First we hit Wewak on the 17th Aug. Destroyed 185 planes either in the air or on the ground. They never seemed to get over that blow. We continued to pound Wewak until the 12th of October then we started our efforts against Rabaul. Rabaul was kinda like the sheep and the butcher. For awhile it seemed like the sheep was winning…This was by-far our roughest target…But once we had it semi-neutralized, we could break out of our confinement and start back to the Phillipines and japan…This was when I came home…We had come all of the way from the P-400 days to Air Superiority. It was a wonderful feeling to leave under those circumstances…Why am I writing all of this? My grandson…I have thought of a thousand questions that I would like to ask my Grandfather…
I want to answer several of his while I am able to do so…Kirby
Kirby on his beloved P-38, Maiden Headhunter.
When I checked out in the P-38…
We had gone to Mareeba, inland from Cairns, Australia, from Milne Bay, New Guinea to pick up and check out in our new P-38s, we had been flying the P-400s(English version of P-39) up to this time. Half of us were sent on leave, the other half stayed and checked out…When we returned, they went on leave and we checked out…Well, the first thing I did was to report into the hospital with malaria…I was out of it for a week with temperatures around 107…When getting out of the hospital we returned to the island before I was back on flying status, so I checked out on the island.
My check-out went thusly: Cragg flew one of the airplanes over to 7 mile, the big airdrome and presently the International Airport for Port Moresby. John Rundell (he had missed checking out, also) and I drove over in a Jeep. Cragg landed, taxied back to the inland end of the runway…(inland end, we nearly always took off toward the water, it was easier to stack the crashes up in the water). Rundle and I both climbed up on the wing…Cragg pointed out the throttles, prop pitches, trim tabs, flaps, wheels…(the P-38 had an area on the right engine nacelle that was polished and would reflect. You could see if your front wheel was extended. Best durn wheel check there was..visual) The front wheel was the last to lock into place, so if it were down, you were safe for bouncing, some people called it landing.
After about 15 minutes, at the most, Cragg and Rundle crawled down, and it was mine…I pulled out into take-off position, the tower (a tall coconut tree) gave me the green light. I was airborne about 5 minutes, came in and landed…Rundell was next…say procedure… The next day we flew our first combat mission in the plane. I aborted and he followed me home…The reason for the abortion was: A Lt Bills (39th Sqn, 35th Gp., they were the first to get P-38s in the theater) came over to the squadron one night and told us “Keep an eye on this gauge down here near the steering column. If it ever gets to a certain point YOU HAVE HAD IT!” Well, mine got to that certain point, engine and everything running smoothly, but I returned to base expecting every minute to be blown to smithereens. All of the way home I pondered…if this gauge is so damned important, why did they not put it in a more prominent position?
Well, I survived that near fatal situation (Man, that was close)(Best running plane that I ever landed)…never did find out what the gauge was for…only aborted mission I had in the P-38…
Later that month we ran into the enemy, my first combat…thank goodness, I was able to avoid the enemy as long as I flew the P-400. We were over Wau patrolling the area while DC-3s loaded and unloaded supplies for the many ground troops in the area. Wau had been an old mining village prior to the war. All of the mining gear, machinery, had been flown into the area by Junker Transports.
We were patrolling at about 20,000 feet when we established contact with the enemy. The first thing, naturally, was to push everything to the firewall…I did…with all of the additional thrust I could not hold the nose down…right then, it became a marriage made in heaven…I fell in love with the airplane…we had been flying the P-400 which had an absolute maximum altitude of 23,000…and here this rascal was straining on the bit to go higher…It was one of the most wonderful feelings that I have
experienced…During the entire melee, I do not ever think that I touched the trim tabs…I was saving ’em.
That is a fer piece from ‘checking out’…old, and mind wandering…you will get there someday, I hope…Old, that is…Kirby
Kirby on the B-25
Here it is–These rascals won the war in the SWPA…All that we received down there was material that the European Theater did not want. Since they were Medium Bombers the brains that were directing Europe thought they meant Medium Altitude…They would sent them out at 8-10000 ft, and the German AA would cut them to pieces…Kenney talked Washington out of several of them and turned them over to “Pappy” Gunn…He did away with the bombardier, mounted 10 machine guns (50 cal) in the nose section, loaded the bomb bay with parafrag bombs and sent them in at tree level. They did a multitude of good.
I rode on one once. When Fighter Pilots were granted Leave (R&R) we had to bum rides down and back from Port Moresby to Sydney. I bummed a ride in Townsville on a B-25. He took off, turned left and headed to Moresby. I had to go to the Cockpit and tell him that I was on the wrong plane. He did a 180, landed, let me out, and I had to get on my thumb again. That was the noisiest rascal I ever was on. The exhaust stacks were not over a couple of inches long.
There was an old German Freighter just off the mouth of Port Moresby Harbor. It had run areef. (there was no ground there so it could not run aground). All of it is gone now, above the water…but in the early days the B-25s would set up a traffic pattern, circle and drop practice bombs on the hull. This was where “Skip Bombing” was perfected…
Pappy Gunn was not satisfied with 10 50 Caliber Machine guns. He took all of those out of one of the planes and mounted a 75mm cannon in the nose. When it was ready they warned us that a single B-25 would be in the area today (Cape Gloucester, New Britain)…One showed up, every body became observers. We did not know what to expect…curiosity…It started in on it’s run…fired one shot…the plane almost stood still, it jarred every rivet loose, and it limped back home with its tail between its leg…
Kirby on the P-400
When we first arrived in Australia this is what we had to fly…only they were the English version, The P-400. The only difference was that they had a 20mm cannon in the nose instead of the 37mm, with some radio alterations, also…We were trying to use them for something that they were not designed for…They were designed for ground support…we were trying to use them as interceptors…They had a ceiling of 23,000 feet while the japs would come over at 25,000. You could see the Zeroes going into string and having the durndest rat race in among the bombers…the bombers (Bettys) would fly perfect, I mean perfect, formation. It was almost a pleasure to get bombed just to watch them fly formation…We could not get up to them…they would not come down (thank goodness). They would all drop their bombs following the guidance of the lead bomber. If that rascal guessed correctly they would literally wipe the target off the map…if wrong, they would make a huge mess, tear up lots of jungle.
At 23,000 feet the plane was literally hanging on its prop. Formation was almost impossible to maintain…you roll your eyes to the right and the right wing would dip. Well, almost that bad…
The squadron received the planes while at Petrie, just out of Brisbane, Australia. I hear that the old runway is now the main street of a sub-division and is named Spitfire Ave. The 80th remained behind while the 35th-36th squadrons went north to New Guinea and acted as a replacement squadron…The loses were very high because when it was time for the 80th to go north it was operating at 50% strength…McIsaac, your father was one of those, a replacement pilot…The casualties were almost equally as great at Petrie as they were in Port Moresby.
Our scrambles were quite different…This was in the infancy of radar and with the Owen Stanley Range protruding to 13,000 feet the bombers would be upon us before we could get airborne. Once we were in the air they would send us about 50 miles east, I have forgotten the name of the point where we would climb to gain our altitude. Once we had reached our 23,000 feet we would head back toward Moresby…still lacking several thousand feet to get up to them…”If” we had encountered them, thank goodness we were spared, all that we could have done was make one pass through them and run like a spotted-assed ape…That was no fun.
Then we got P-38s in April ’43…the first time I ran into combat in the “Gutless Wonder” I was at 20,000 feet, pushed the throttles forward and it had so much power that I could not hold the nose down with the additional thrust…I FELL IN LOVE!…You know, I do not think the Japs ever did find out what our weakness was in the P-38…We could not follow them in a dive…You could not loop (G&H Models). Once you went over the top the plane picked up speed so rapidly that it would put the tail in a vacuum and you had no horizontal control. The later models had dive flaps and you could control the rascal.
Primary Flying School…Hemet California…April, 1941.
We were assigned four to a room and two rooms per cottage. Munday (Longview), Broadaway (Lubbock), Carter (Dallas) and myself (Downtown Lometa). (That has been 60 years ago, and remembered everyone…can not remember what I did yesterday morning, though).
With four to a room, we divided the chores. As soon as our feet hit the floor, sweeping, dusting, (spic and span…white gloves inspection)…my task was the bathroom…spotless, not a drop of water, hair, track of any sort…and when I was finished I would open the window and store all of my rags on the hot water heater shed that was attached to the back of the shack. Everything went fine…until one day they opened the window…Gig Alley…I walked the rest of the time that I was there.
Our next assignment was Moffett Field near San Jose, and I damned near had to walk there. Well, Munday and Broadaway washed out so that left more chores for Carter and myself…
Stopped by to see Stuka Joe Munday…Cecil Broadaway was in the Mississippi Delta country…and I do not know what ever happened to Carter. I heard that he was stationed in Alaska in the early part of the war. After that, I do not know.
Our class was 100% Texans…we started out with one ole boy that lived 5 blocks over in Arkansas in Texarkana…he washed out, so we graduated “PURE”. We were sworn in in the Federal Building in Dallas, loaded into 10 wheelers and escorted to the train station…everything went without incident until we reached El Paso. There were a couple of brand new Marine recruits from Mississippi on the train with us. Reaching El Paso everyone “had” to cross the border. Crossing the border meant “Demon Rum”, in a gallon jug draped in straw, the best that I remember it was about $2.50 per jug…Police met our train at every station across New Mexico and Arizona…I think the Marine Recruits were removed from the train some where in the Phoenix vicinity.
Is not this strange? A Janitor…cleaning the toilets for a bunch of lazy Cadets…brought all of this on you…goes to show ya what our Air Corps has come to…Next thing you know, they will have auto-pilots in the planes…but sorry will be the day when they cease to put propellers on the planes…Kirby
What I remember most about Primary Flying School…We had a “Second John” that was commandant, or something…he was non-flying. When we hit the school it was March…march…march!!! I wore out a brand new pair of “Friendly Fives” in a week. We had upper class drill instructors But the Second John insisted that he show us how to march. He had feet that would protrude from a size 15 shoe…he would get before the entire contingency and demonstrate an “About Face”…He would put one foot behind the other, whirl…no, I should say ‘attempt to whirl’…feet would become entangled and he would fall flat of his arse every cotton pickin’ time…no exceptions…get up…throw one foot behind the other, ATTEMPT to whirl…fall flat of his arse again…and we were suppose to keep a straight face…impossible…
Wewak & Rabaul (Bloody Tuesday)
7 November 1943…We escorted Heavies (B-24s) again…We followed the same general pattern once more, take-off about an hour after the bombers, rendezvous along the south coast of New Britain in the vicinity of Gasmata, follow the southern coast up past Rabaul, then turn and fly over Rabaul while heading in the direction of home. We would fly at 25,000+ feet…the weather was relatively clear over the target area…We encountered moderate opposition, But I came closest to being shot down this day, more so than any other time…My wing-man was Charles Samms, later a Colonel in the Air Force, but a Second Lt. in the Army Air Corps…Samms was flying my right wing…I spotted a Zero at about 2 O’clock…I did my usual thing, started firing way to hell and gone out of range…and I was turning into Samms at the same time…He did exactly what he was supposed to do when a person turns into you…drop down slightly…go under the lead plane and shift wings if the lead plane continues turning…This he did except I continued to fire…the empty hulls were extracted…they hit his canopy and Plexiglas flew all over his cockpit, blinding him by hitting him in the eyes…he panicked and started firing…he was so close under my plane that I could feel the concussions from his guns…and he was screaming at the top of his voice…I finally got him quite, or quieter…talked to him and got his plane level, got him out of the combat area and we found a bomber to take us back to Kiriwina…It took me a while to piece the whole picture together, but when I did…I became UNconstipated…
Our two toughest nuts to crack were Wewak, on the North Coast of New Guinea and Rabaul, New Britain…You asked me to compare the two…Well, for me there was no comparison…I went to Wewak on 17 August,24 August, 30 August, 2 September, 16 September, 26 September and 27 November 1943…On the seven missions to Wewak I never fired my guns a single time. On the 3 missions to Rabaul I never stopped firing them…so that is an easy question to answer…Others, it is just the opposite.
17 August 1943…This was our first mission to Wewak…and among the first missions that we escorted the newly converted B-25s. They took the bombardier out of the nose section and replaced him with ten forward firing 50 calibers, and counting the top turret when you swung it around, that gave you 12 fifty calibers firing down the runway in front of you…devastating…This was the first big raid for us since we had so many P-38s in the area. The night before, they loaded the Heavies (B-24s) with 1000 pound bombs with delayed action fuses. They were to go down the runways and drop the delayed action bombs. The fuses were set to go off at certain intervals…with the delayed action it kept the japs grounded (SUPPOSEDLY)…well, it helped…The next morning we were there bright and early…the B-25s went down the runways strafing as they went…they also had their bomb bays loaded with 20# parafrag bombs (Incidentally, these were a Gen Kenney invention). When one would explode it turned its medal container white hot and acted as an incendiary bomb…Anything that the metal touch would be ablaze immediately…We destroyed 187 planes that day, either on the ground or from the air…They never recovered from that blow…Wewak was a staging area for the Pacific. They would fly the planes down from Japan, and then dole them out to the different bases scattered throughout the area. From the 26 September until the 27 November, we were hitting Rabaul…Then after we quit hitting Rabaul, the Navy took over to keep it neutralized…My log book closes out on the 8 December 1943…I was grounded…BUT…Rabaul had left us pretty well spent so they started giving us leave.
We were operating very short handed…One day I was needed to fly. We had more planes in commission than we had pilots. So, I came out of retirement…flew one more mission after I had been grounded…It was a very simple mission, fly patrol up in the Finchhaven area…every air pocket had no bottom, the engines ran rough, and there were about a 100 planes behind each cloud. Never flew such a long mission, before or since. It lasted for 3 hours and 50 minutes, that is equivelant to an eternity.
12-14 mile strips…
I was originally in the 80th Ftr Sqn, 8th Ftr Gp., prior to the origination of the 431st Sqn; 475th Group. We arrived at Port Moresby almost identically to the japs landing at Buna…located on north shore directly over the Owen Stanley Range from Port Moresby. After the jap landings, they started over the mountains…From Moresby to Buna is approximately 85 miles…in that interval you have the Owen Stanley Range which reaches heights of 13,000 ft plus…They got within 20-25 miles of our camp. I stated in the original manuscript “The only way that we turned them around was pure and simple…they over extended their supply lines”…
I was as wrong as I could be…The Aussies, with the Wisconsin National Guard fought one of the bloodiest battles of the war near Kakoda Lake, easily visible from our camp, but high in the Owen Stanley Range…I am almost certain that Australia comemorates that date each year…That marked the furtherest the japs penetrated…The Marines stopped them at Guadalcanal…We were beginning to win the war…At that time we were flying P-400s from 12 and 14 Fields. 12 mile had a cemetary at the end of the runway…14 mile was so dusty that you had no idea what was at the end of the runway…We would take off in pairs…the first two were fine, but all after that was taking life in your own hands…if the dust started to become lighter, you knew that you were approaching the edge of the runway…We finally abandoned that strip and all flew from 12 miles…the strips were offset slightly…
and the Laloki River separated them.
This happened before we arrived…12 mile had a small hill in the traffic pattern…A member of the 40th Sqn, 35th Gp was in a heep of trouble, plane was missing something awful…He came down the runway, pealed off…and started in for his landing. When he got behind the little hill, the engine quit entirely…a dark plume of smoke arose behind the hill…with the missing engine everyone was outside of the alert shack…and with the smoke arising they all jumped in the command car and took off for the crash. They had to follow the roads around to the site…to make a long story longer…the old boy that had been in the plane bailed out. He was so low to the ground that there was no chance that the chute could open…except…when the plane crashed the explosion was enough to billow his parachute and he floated safely down (well, almost safely, except for a few cuts and bruises). He walked across the hill, and returned to the strip…while the other men were driving to the crash. I think that this made Ripley’s Believe it or not…Our main duty while at 12 mile was to strafe the jungle trails that the enemy was using to supply their forward soldiers…We would find out the routes that they were carrying supplies…then fire along those routes trying to get the natives to desert. They had commandeered the natives to do all of the packing (porters)…You would fly along a valley or the side of one of the mountains, fire your guns at the jungles. Nothing to it…I was good enough to hit the jungle nearly every time…The effectiveness of this is very doubtful, but it gave us something to do…kept us occupied…Later we started escorting the DC-3s to Wau…about 3/4 of the way between Moresby and Lae. It was an old mining village high in the mountains. They were carrying supplies and personnel. The Australian were scattered everywhere on the ground, primarily as observers…Radar was almost useless due to the high mountains between us and the enemy. The enemy would become a blip on the radar screen only after they had crossed the mountains…at that time you could look up and see them. The Australians would establish themselves over looking their airstrips.
When they would take off, they would report the number and the direction they flew. primitive but effective…I flew untold missions to Wau…it was located in a valley…a very short strip and you landed up hill…load or unload…when you would take off you would fly down hill, at the end of the strip was about a 2500 foot cliff…one minute you were on the ground, the next minute you were flying at 2500 feet…As many times as I was there, I never saw the strip. Each time it was covered by clouds…The planes would go in under the clouds…Wau (Pronounced WOW) was an old gold mining village. Some of the rumors concerning the men stationed there, they would come out wealthy…panning gold…All of the equipment for the mining operation was flown in.
Old Junker planes flew everything in and out of there, prewar…
When the enemy was on our side of the mountains, food became very sparse…Quartermaster knew how many troops we had, consequently they knew how much food to dole out. They would plan our menu, put it in a Gunny sack…deliver it to our mess hall…back the truck up…kick the sack out…and that was what we were served…Friday was always fish day (canned salmon).
We ate in a tent beside the kitchen…if you had forgotten the date, you were always reminded when it was Friday…The flies would land on the mess tent almost to the point of collapse…We had two or three flaps on the tent so that we could work our way into the dining area flyless…Bully beef, I think was a misnomer. It was mutton canned for the Australian troops during WWI. Powdered eggs were a standby…coffee, which they brought to us on the flight line on the days we stood alert, I think was some sort of tree bark…I can not swear to that because I believe tree bark would have been more palatable…The Aussies occupied an old building
in Port Moresby and converted it to a bakery. All of our bread was baked there and delivered with our food. The bakery had no screens…consequently we received Raisin Bread…so many flies were baked into the bread that it had the appearance of raisin bread…you had to cultivate a taste for it…but it did have a high protein content…sitting on the line was a can of cookies…it was a large can, in excess of 5 gallons. You would take a bayonet, pry the lid off, remove one cookie, put it in your canteen cup of coffee…and let it start to soak…if you had an early mission possibly the cookie would be out of the tooth breaker mode by the time the mission was completed…The cookies were also WWI vintage…but good…That is where Jaw Breakers got its name…
When the enemy was so near at Kakoda Lake, up in the mountains…Fifth Fighter Command became extremely worried about communications…whether contact was established…all of the wires were stretched along the roads, lying on the ground. We had a direct line to Command for scrambling purposes…They were so concerned that they would call us every fifteen minutes for a Line Check…when the phone would ring, you did not know if it was a scramble or a line check…We stayed on the Corporal constantly to signify one or the other…he never did catch on…so, every time the phone would ring, every soul in the alert shack would automatically walk out side and urinate…the nervous tension was terrific…flying an inferior plane…little or no warning…
Well, when we left 12 mile and moved to Milne Bay there was not a living tree within 15 paces of the alert shack…we had kill them all…When we returned in 198? the growth in the vicinity of the old shack was still a shade of yellow. The Papuans have converted the old strip into the Police training school. The road runs right down the old strip. They were training dogs the day we were there.
We were flying P-400s at this time…The P-400 is nothing more than a P-39 which the English purchased before the war, and as hard up as they were they still realized that they had made a mistake and backed out of the deal…When war came along that was all that we had…it was designed for close support ground operations, for which it was real good (the Russians loved them).
But we were using it, or trying to use it, as an interceptor…it never was designed for that and no stretch of the imagination could you make it fit that mold. The English altered the radio, changed the 37mm cannon firing through the nose to a 20mm…and something else that escapes me at the present…As an interceptor, the absolute maximum ceiling was 23,000 feet, the enemy would come over at 25,000 feet…the bombers flying perfect formation (it was almost a pleasure to get bombed so you could watch them fly formation) and the fighters in trail having a big rat race. They would not come down…and we could not get up. If we had been able to reach their altitude all that we could do ismake one pass then run like a spotted assed ape.
We had two fighter Squadrons at Port Moresby…The 41st Squadron of the 35th Group, and the 80th Fighter Squadron of the 8th Group. Australia had two Fighter Squadrons flying P-40s at Milne Bay which is located at the extreme East end of New Guinea. Four Squadrons between the enemy and Australia…There are 25 planes assigned to each squadron…on a good day we might have 12 planes in commission, usually 8…lets take an average of 10…4 Squadrons…10 planes in commission…40 planes between the japs and Sydney…Our orders were to “Hold” until Europe was finished and they would come win our war…Hold, we did…and we, and those following us, were knocking at the door of japan by the time the war in Europe was finished…Engine changes were most common…35 hours on an engine before it was jerked…The poor enlisted personnel were working night and day…they deserve a private room upstairs, with hot and cold running maids…each engine change was made in the shade of a tree…for them to get back to camp before midnight was a rarity…
Move to Milne Bay…
The first leave we had was the first of November 1942…naturally, we bee lined for Sydney…When we returned, the squadron had moved to Milne Bay…We were assigned the new strip, medal planking…and the 35th and 36th were on the old strip. I can not remember the names of any…but this was another fine example of the 35th and 36th being housed with Group Headquarters while the 80th continued on as a bastard outfit…All the time I was in the 80th I do not think that I could have told you who the Group Commander was over once…We all knew about Col Wise…The Colonel came over to our strip at Milne Bay and wanted to borrow a plane so he could get his four hours in so as to receive his flight pay…He was given the plane…got in it…was taxiing down the taxi strip and low and behold…fell out of the plane…a fete that I would put in the impossible…but he did it…That was one of the major differences that I saw between the 8th Group and the 475th…rarely could you fly a mission that Col MacDonald (475th CO) was not along… I do not think that I ever flew with anyone from Group Headquarters of the 8th…I am not being tacky or nasty but just stating facts…they operated differently…