What about the 'phantom P-40' shot down in China?This hoary old tale was told by Robert Lee Scott Jr. in Damned to Glory, a collection of patriotic yarns published by Scribner's in 1944. It was reprinted in The Reader's Digest in January 1945 as "Ghost Ship." Here's the story as then-colonel Scott told it at the time:
In May 1941, a U.S. Army pilot named Corn Sherrill found himself on the Philippine island of Mindanao in May 1942 "with 11 mechanics who had escaped to the southern island by devious routes and one cracked-up P-40." The Warhawk was an E-model with sound wings and six working .50-cal machineguns.
Four miles away, the Americans located a fuselage, which a gang of Moro tribesmen helped them carry to the wings. (Quite a gang! The P-40E weighed over three tons empty, with most of that the engine and fuselage.) By December they'd cut a 5,000-ft runway and equipped their P-40 with bamboo skis for takeoff and an extra 50-gallon gas tank in the baggage compartment.
On Dec. 8, 1942--the anniversary of the Japanese attack--Sherrill took off with four 300-lb bombs under his wings. He dropped the bamboo skis and flew 1,000 miles to Taiwan--an extraordinary feat for a P-40, even with 50 extra gallons of gas.
Lieutenant Sherrill attacked the Japanese airfield "with its neat rows of parked fighters and bombers," as Scott told the story. "He strafed them row on row, and he cut the Jap flag from the headquarters building with his wingtip. He laid his first wingbomb right in the enemy offices." Though intercepted by Zeros, he finished the job and made his escape, flying 250 miles to a Chinese airfield, where he was intercepted and shot down by P-40s of the China Air Task Force.
Years later, General Scott re-told the story in Yankee magazine. Here he admitted that his wartime account had been embellished for content, since so much of the story was a mystery; the lieutenant's name was one of the fictions. Perhaps because Yankee is a regional magazine, the general now claimed that the pilot was a native of Boston, and he hoped that someone would recognize the pilot--thus its retelling.
More recently, the yarn was published in Aviation History, with the pilot this time being on a courier mission.
Of course it was all a hoax--one of those eyepopping yarns that get published in wartime. General Scott evidently once said as much, according to Dave Kight on an online discussion board. Dave told about a meeting featuring the general as a speaker: "during the question and answer part someone asked him about this very story of the Mindanao P-40. He laughed and said he and another Flying Tiger pilot made it up as a lark during the war. They later admitted it was a joke but the thing refused to die. He said they were stunned to see the thing in print in an issue of Air Classics and if they had any idea that it would be still around 40 some odd yrs. later (at the time) they wouldn't have done it. I kid you not."
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Posted January 2017. Websites © 1997-2017 Daniel Ford; all rights reserved.