Cowboy: interpreter, warlord, one more casualty

'Not a combat airplane'

Here are the combat reports of the VMF-221 Buffalo and Wildcat pilots during the Battle of Midway, kindness of Mark E. Horan

Statement of Capt. Kirk Armistead, USMC

My airplane was [a Brewster] F2A-3, Bureau number 01562. My guns were loaded with 2 tracers, 2 armor piercing, 1 ball and 1 incendiary every six rounds.

While on standby on the morning of June 4, 1942, the air raid alarm was sounded at 0555. As our engines were turning up, we did not hear the alarm: but inquired, and found that it had been sounded. At approximately 0602 we took off. My division consisted of six F2A-3 airplanes, piloted by myself, Lt. Sandoval, Capt. Humberd, Lt. Brooks, Lt. Kunz, and Lt. Mahannah. Capt. Humberd was leading the second section, and Lt. Kunz was leading the third section. I climbed the division to 5,000 feet at which time the base station instructed me to climb to 12,000 feet and vector 310o. I then received instructions to vector 320o. at about 0620 I heard Capt. Carey transmit "Tally-ho' followed by hawks at angels 14, supported by fighters. I then started climbing, and sighted the enemy at approximately 14,000 feet at a distance of 5 to 7 miles out, and approximately 2 miles to my right. I immediately turned to a heading of about 70o and continued to climb. I was endeavoring to get a position above and ahead of the enemy and come down out of the sun. however, I was unable to reach this point in time. I was at 17,000 feet when I started my attack. The target consisted of five divisions of from 5 to 9 planes each, flying in division Vees. I figured this group to consist of from 30 to 40 dive bombers of the Aichi Type 99 SE DB. I was followed in column by five F2A-3 fighters and one F4F-3 fighter, pilot unknown. I made a head on approach from above at a steep angle and at very high speed on the fourth enemy division which consisted of five planes. I saw my incendiary bullets travel from a point in front of the leader, up thru his plane and back through the planes on the left wing of the Vee. I continued in my dive, and looking back, saw two or three of those planes falling in flames. Some of the planes in my division centered their attack on the fifth enemy division. After my pullout, I zoomed back to an altitude of 14,000 feet, at this time I noticed another group of the same type bombers following along in their path. I looked back over my shoulder and about 2,00 feet below and behind me I saw three fighters in column, climbing up towards me, which I assumed to be planes of my division. However, they climbed at a very high rate, and a very steep path. When the nearest plane was about 500 feet below and behind me I realized that it was a Japanese Zero Fighter. I kicked over in a violent split S and received 3-20 MM shells, one in the right wing gun, one in the right wing root tank, and one in the top left side of the engine cowling. I also received about 20-7.7 off a portion of the aileron, which mangled the tab on the aileron, and sawed off a portion of the aileron. I continued in a vertical dive at full throttle, corkscrewing to the left, due to the effect of the damaged aileron. At about 3,000 feet, I started to pull out, and managed to hold the plane level at an altitude of 500 feet. As the speed decreased, the stick pressure became more manageable, and by giving it full left tab, at a low speed, the pressure was negligible.

I headed back towards the area, and called the base radio, asking them if I could land because of a damage aileron. I received their "Roger, wait". I circled the area at a distance of about 15 miles, and saw that the area was under heavy attack, so I proceeded to a spot up-sun from the area; and circled.

At approximately 0740 I heard the base radio call the fifth division and advise them to land, refuel, and re-arm. I could hear no reply, so asked for permission to land. I received an affirmative reply, so headed towards the area. I gave two recognition signals, circled the field, and was not fired at by anti-aircraft batteries. My hydraulic system had been damaged, but the landing gear and flaps operated normally. The right brake was inoperative. A successful landing was effected at approximately 0800.

The Zero fighter is exceptionally maneuverable, with an astounding rate of climb. It is capable of closing the range on an F2A-3 in a climb to such an extent that it seems useless to even try to make more than one pass at any target. It is my belief that they can climb at least 5,000 feet a minute, as these fighters climbing up at me were pointed at an angle of 50o in their climb.

I do not believe that they were zooming after a dive, because I am normally certain that at the time I attacked the bombers there were no enemy fighters above 14,000 feet. In fact, I believe that they were below the bombers at that time.

The Zero Fighter is faster in level flight than the F2A-3. It is much more maneuverable that the F2A-3. It can out climb the F2A-3. It has more fire power than the F2A-3.

In general, the Japanese airplanes appear to be very vulnerable to .50 cal. Gun fire. They burst into flame in nearly all cases upon receiving any bullets.

It is my belief that the use of incendiary bullets greatly increases the effectiveness of attack against Japanese air craft.

Flying Tigers
revised and updated

Statement of Second Lieutenant William. V. Brooks USMCR:

I was pilot of [Brewster] F2A-3, Bureau number 01523, Our division under Capt. Armistead was on standby duty at he end of the runway on the morning of June 4, 1942, from 0415 until 0615. At about 0600, the alarm sounded and we took off. My division climbed rapidly, and I was having a hard time keeping up. I discovered afterwards that although my wheels indicator and hydraulic pressure indicator both registered "wheels up", they were in reality about 1/3 of the way down. We sighted the enemy at about 14,000 feet, I would say that there were 40 to 50 planes. At this time Lt. Sandoval was also dropping back. My radio was at this time putting out no volume, so I could not get the message from Zed. At 17,000 feet, Capt. Armistead led the attack followed closely by Capt. Humberd. They went down the left of the Vee , leaving two planes burning. Lt. Sandoval went down the right side of the formation and I followed. One of us got a plane from the right side of the Vee. At this time, I had completely lost sight if my division. As I started to pull up for another run on the bombers, I was attacked by two fighters. Because my wheels being jammed 1/3 way down, I could not out dive these planes, but managed to dodge them and fire a burst or so into them as they went past me and as I headed for the water. As I circled the island, the anti-aircraft fire drove them away. My tabs, instruments and cockpit were shot up to quite an extent at this time and I was intending to come in for a landing.

It was at this time that I noticed that a important feature in their fighting. I saw two planes dog-fighting over in the east, and decoded to go help my friend if at all possible. My plane was working very poorly, and my climb was slow. As I neared the fight both planes turned on me. It was then that I realized I had been tricked in a sham battle put on by two Japs and I failed to recognize this because of the sun in my eyes. Then I say I was out-numbered, I turned and made a fast retreat for the island, collecting a goodly number of bullets on the way. After one of these planes had been shaken, I managed to get a good burst into another as we passed head-on when I turned into him. I don't believe this ship could have gotten back to his carrier, because he immediately turned away and started north and down. I again decided to land, but as I circled the island I saw two Japs in a Brewster. Three of my guns were jammed, but I cut across the island, firing as I went with one gun. But I could Not get there in time to help the American flier and as soon as the Brewster had gone into the water I came in for a landing at approximately 0715 (estimated).

It is my belief that the Japs have a very maneuverable and very fast ship in their 00 fighters, plenty of fire-power . They can turn inside the Brewster, but of course on the speed I would be unable to say as my wheels were jammed about 1/3 way down all during the fight, causing considerable drag.

My plane was damaged somewhat, having 72 bullet and cannon holes in it, and I had a very slight flash wound on my left leg.

It is my express desire that Lt. Sandoval, deceased be logged up with the bomber which one of us got in out first run.

Statement of Second Lieutenant Clayton Melbourne Canfield, USMCR:

I took off as wingman on Captain Carl at approximately 0557, June 4, 1942, we joined on Captain Carey and were vectored out three hundred-ten degrees. The three of us climbed to fourteen thousand feet on the vector, during which I was motioned to fly number three on Captain Carey. About nine minutes out, Captain Carl began to drop back. At 0612, Captain Carey made a wide two hundred-seventy degree turn; then a ninety degree diving turn while reporting to Zed, "Tally ho, large formation of bombers," a slight pause, then, "Accompanied by fighters." The bombers were at approximately twelve thousand feet. I slid into a column on Captain Carey during the run, where I stayed until the engagement was over. The run was high side from the right. I fired at the number three plane in the number three section until it exploded and went down in flames. In the middle of the run I saw a column of fighters diving on us from the left. There was no return fire from the bombers that I could see. Captain Carey pulled out of the dive and made a high wing over for another attack when we were attacked by their fighters. He the dived at about a forty degree angle and headed for a large cloud about five miles away. I momentarily lagged looking for planes following us and went around the cloud the opposite direction from Captain Carey to have a better look behind. I saw a large trail of smoke and the bomber burning on the ocean, but no fighters, and then joined upon him again. He headed in the general direction of the islands on an unsteady course. Finally I observed that he was badly wounded and he turned the lead over to me. He kept dropping and falling behind and I kept throttling back so he could keep up. When I had lead us to a two hundred-seventy degree bearing from the island, he called me and instructed me to join on him again. We had about forty gallons of gasoline left, including seventeen gallons of reserve. We rolled the wheels down outside of the reef and made our approach to the field from the two hundred-seventy degree bearing. I made a normal approach, but had no flaps, and when the wheels touched the ground the landing gear collapsed. The island was under heavy attack, with fighters strafing runways and a patrol boat. When the plane had stopped sliding, I jumped out and ran for a trench, while a plane was strafing in the direction of my abandoned plans or the patrol boat.

All during the above encounter, I flew very close on Captain Carey, making all runs and dives in column. There were one hundred rounds gone from three of my guns and ninety from the other. At least one-half of these were used up during two test fires I had made that morning.

My plane was hit on the right elevator, left wing and flap, and just ahead of the tail wheel by twenty millimeter cannon. There was also a thirty caliber hole through the tail wheel and one that entered the hood on the right side about six inches up, passed just over the left rudder paddle and damaging the landing gear.

Captain Carey's and my engagement was of very short duration, thereby limiting my impression. However, I am positive that the bomber I shot down was not an Aichi type ninety-nine, because when this bomber exploded, I was flat, at about a one hundred forty degree angle, and I am positive that the landing gear was retracted. However, the planes were painted dark and the light was bad, so I couldn't tell the type of ship, but they were larger than our dive bombers. After talking to observers from the island who were observing through field glasses, they were of a twin engine class, because they confirmed that the plans was missing in the afore said position.

During this encounter I flew a F4F-3 type plane, bureau number 3997.

Rising Sun Over Burma

Statement of Captain John Frank Carey, USMC:

We had been on the alert before daylight. Then, the alarm came at about 6:30 A.M. We all got into the air and there was a little mix-up among the Grummans as the planes took to the air. From the radar we were directed up to three hundred ten_. Many bandits at twelve thousand feet altitude. We went out there and contacted them and there were about nineteen carrier dive-bombers escorted by approximately ten "Zero" fighters. The dive-bombers were in four and five plan "V's" and the "Zero" fighters were about two thousand feet above them. There were only three of us.

I went ahead after the leader of the division of bombers and while making the first run, an overhead approach on the division leader of the dive-bomber formation, I got a bullet through the wind shield but continued my attack and shot down the division leader. Then I made an above side approach on the center plane of the formation, hit the leader and think I got one of them. Just then I got shot through the right knee and left leg. I kept going right down, got out of my dive and returned to Midway. I returned with great difficulty and attempted to make a landing which ended in a ground loop as I had a flat tire and could not control the plane because of the wound in my leg.

In talking it over with the other pilots who returned they invariably had tangled with two to five "Zero" fighters and were unable to shake them. The only maneuver which would evade them would be a vertical dive and then a pull-out at high speed just over the water.

The "Zero" fighters out-maneuvered, out-performed and out-climbed the Brewsters and Grummans in over respect. The only advantage the Brewsters and Grummans has was in armor.

While the fighters were attempting to stop the dive-bombers and intercept the oncoming fighters, the Scouts and B-17's had gone on out farther to attempt to intercept the surface craft.

Statement of Captain Marion Eugene Carl, USMC.

At 0600, 4 June, 1942, I took off with my division leader, Captain John Frank Carey. I was flying a F4F-3, bureau No. 4000. When I noticed his wing man missing, I moved up into No. 2 position on his wing and my wing man, Second Lieutenant C. M. Canfield, moved up into No. 3 position on Captain Carey.

Soon after taking off we received a vector of 310o, angle 12. A few minutes later we were told to vector 320o. When about 30 miles out at 14,000', Captain Carey made a right turn. I had been having trouble keeping my position and had dropped behind several hundred yards. Coming out of the turn, Captain Carey reported a large formation of bombers accompanied by fighters, then dived on the bombers. I saw the fighters, three divisions of five each, moving up to screen the bombers, so I made a high side on one of the fighters which was some 2,000' below me. My fire passed through my target and I pulled away and up. When I looked back to see the results of my attack, I was surprised to see several Zero Fighters already swinging into position on my tail. I headed straight down at full throttle and they gave up the chase. I leveled off at 3,000'.

I again climbed and headed for my base. At 20,000' I leveled off and looked for another target. Not seeing anything, I dropped to 12,000' and approached within two miles of my base. I saw three Zero Fighters at a low altitude that were making a wide circle so I came down in a 45o dive with almost full throttle and had barely enough speed to drop in astern and to the inside of the circle made by one of the Zero Fighters. I gave him a long burst, until he fell off on one wing and when last seen was out of control headed almost straight down with smoke streaming from the plane. The other two fighters had out across and were closing on me so I headed for a cloud. One fighter gave up the pursuit, but the other came on and started firing. He fired steadily for several seconds, but was shooting low, for I could see the tracers going by one both side and slightly below me. Finally I felt the impact of bullets striking the throttle, throw the plane into a skid, and he over ran me. I raked him with gun fire as he went by. He slid across in front and below me, and I shoved over sharply and pressed the trigger at the same time, but evidently the pushover was too sharp for none of my guns would fire. I dropped down astern the fighter and through a cloud. I saw no enemy plane thereafter.

I climbed to 10,000' in the vicinity of my base and a few minutes later at 0720 received an order to land. I landed at approximately 0730, having managed to clear but one of my four guns. I used a total of a little over 300 rounds.

In my opinion, I shot down one Zero Isento Ki heavy Fighter and inflicted unknown damage to two more of the same type.

Statement of Second Lieutenant Roy Alvin Corry, USMC.

On the morning of June 4, 1942, Captain McCarthy and I were preparing to land after a routine patrol we received a message from radio telling of enemy planes approaching the island from a bearing of 310o true at a distance of approximately 35 miles.

As we were very short on fuel, we landed immediately, serviced our ships and took off.

We were at 8,000 feet heading for the enemy bombers which were around 12,000 or 15,000 feet when we were attacked by eight 00 Fighters. We were immediately broken up by the first pass, and from than on we were fighting singly.

Captain McCarthy shot down one fighter immediately, and I shot one down on his tail.

I lost sight of Captain McCarthy shortly after due to the fact that I had three 00 Fighters on my tail. Being unable to out maneuver them, I attacked a dive bomber that was leaving the area of Eastern Island. I fired a short burst and the dive bomber (Aichi 99) rolled over and crashed in the ocean.

By this time my tanks were all leaking badly and the fighters were shooting my plane up very effectively. I managed to stay low on the water and get back to the field safely. I was flying a F4F-3 type plane, bureau No. 2537.

I observed two F2A-3's shot down during the conflict, one pilot balled out and was strafed.

The 00 Fighter is by far the most maneuverable plane that exists at the present time. You cannot compare them with our service type ships. The 00 Fighter is apparently very strong in construction, being able to withstand as much stress and strain as our own planes. The Japanese planed seem to be very vulnerable if you are fortunate enough to bring your guns to bear.

I expended a total of about 20 rounds out of each gun.

Poland's Daughter

Statement of second lieutenant Charles S. Hughes, USMCR:

The Morning of June 4, 1942, I warmed up my plane at approximately 0350. At 0530 (exactly by my watch) I received word to start the engine again. At approximately 0605 we took off, at five thousand feet I started having trouble keeping with my division, as the engine started vibrating and losing power. At sixteen thousand feet I was lagging badly and the engine was so rough I concluded it would be suicide to try to fight the plane. My decision was to get the plane back to its revetment where it could be readied to hit them later. I carried out this plan and had the plane in the revetment at about 0630. Minute later the horizontal bombers arrived.

The anti-aircraft batteries went into action as soon as the enemy was in range and got two out of the eleven that stated their run on Sand Island. I saw the bombs released over San Island and then had to hug ground as six planes released their bombers over Eastern Island and they landed close to my position. The dive bombers came out of the sun a few minute later. They appeared to be Aichi 99's. The Zeroes came in strafing immediately after word. I saw two Brewsters trying to fight the Zeroes. One was shot down and the other was saved by ground fires covering his tail. Both looked like they were tied to a string while the zeroes made passes at them. I believe that our man with planes even half as good as the zeroes would have stopped the raid completely.

Statement of Captain William Carter Humberd, USMC:

While in the standby division on morning of June 4, 1942, the air raid alarm sounded at 0559. Our division took off at approximately 0605. In our division of six planes, Capt. Kirk Armistead is division leader, 2nd Lt. William B. Sandoval his wingman, myself section leader of second section with 2nd Lt. William V. Brooks as wingman, 2nd Lt. Charles Murphy Kunz 3rd section leader with 2nd Lt. Martin Edward Mahannah his wingman. We took off immediately after fourth division and started gaining altitude in direction of approaching enemy which was 310 degrees, altitude 12,000 feet given by base radio.

Sight contact was made of enemy formations at approximately 12,000 feet bearing about 30 degrees to port and distance of about 10-15 miles. We continued climbing to 17,000 feet, still keeping the enemy slightly to our port, then when in position of about 3,500 to 4,000 feet above and still to port we made attack, about 30-35 miles bearing 320 degrees from islands.

By time to make attack, my division leaders wingman had dropped back some in which case I was second to attack. I followed division leader in a high side approach shooting down one (1) bomber in this approach, then coming up for high side approach on other side I again attacked, thinking I might have shot down another bomber in this approach. I again attacked, thinking I might have shot down another bomber in this approach. I came up on other side and started another approach when, about half way through run, I heard a loud noise and turning around I saw a large hole in hood of my plane and also two type 00 navy fighters on me about 200 yards eastern, then I immediately pushed over in steep dive in which one (1) followed me. I descended to water level in trying to gain distance on the fighter, the plane staying with me; I stayed at water level with full throttle gaining distance slowly until I decided the distance was great enough to turn on 300 yard distant and the plane caught on fire and out of control dived in the water. By this time I was approximately 40 miles from first attack and started gaining altitude up to 10,000 feet. My fuel and ammunition were fairly low, about three-fourths exhausted, and I called to see if field was clear for landing, in which case I received an "affirmative". In the meantime, while climbing for altitude, I discovered my hydraulic fluid had been lost and my flaps and landing gear would not lower so I used emergency system and the wheels lowered, then made proper approach to field and landed. After refueling and rearming, I again took off and while I knew my wheels would not retract, I intended going some distance from field to remain for a period when orders to land were given to all fighting planes.

My plane was a [Brewster] F2A-3, Bureau Number 01553, loaded with 1300 rounds of .50 cal. Ammunition, one ball, 2 armor piercing. The attack was made at approximately 0625 and I used approximately 400-600 rounds of ammunition; the final landing being about 0745.

The enemy formations were of a Vee consisting of about five to nine planes each, there being about 4 to 5 of such formations in group we attacked. I don't know what formation the fighters used or where they were as the first I knew of their presence was the loud burst in my plane and turning, saw them. The type of bombers seems to correspond to the type 99 Aichi (navy), and the fighters were navy type 00.

After my second approach, I saw about four or five planes going down in flames and only identified one as our own, all this was just a glance on my part. Their fighters seemed to out maneuver us in most all respects except n my case, I out dived the one after me and gained distance at sea-level. Frankly, I think the F2A-3 does not compare with their type 00 fighters whatsoever.

My plane had a number of holes in it, three or four making the left beam tank unusable. Had two large holes in fuselage of what appeared to be 20 mm size. No apparent damage to plane except for left beam tank and hydraulic lines broken.

Now Comes Theodora

Statement of Second Darrell D. Irwin, USMCR.

I was pilot of a Brewster Fighter, F2A-3, Bureau No. 01550, on 4 June, 1942. The air raid siren sounded about 0600, and Captain R. L. Curtin and I, the two of us being the entire fourth division, took off approximately at 0603. I flew No. 2 position on Capt. Curtin, and together we followed another division of five Brewsters to 14,000, on heading about 000°. About 20 miles out, at 0625, we see, about 2,000' below, two division of single engine Japanese bombers in large Vee formation. Each bomber division contained from 7 to 9 planes. The division of Brewsters in front of us made an overhead approach followed by Captain Curtin and myself, after which I never again saw Captain Curtin or any of the first division. During the pull-out of my run, I saw one bomber in flames, presumably shot by some one in the first division. I, then., climbed to about 16,500' looking for my division leader. I was just preparing for another run on the bombers, when I saw a Japanese fighter already on my tail. I immediately dove to lose the fighter, attaining speed of at least 300 knots, pulling out about 3,500'. The Japanese fighter was still on my tail and that time shot most of my left aileron away. I dove again to about 500' and headed for Eastern Island, knowing I could not maneuver my plane well enough for combat. All this time, the Japanese fighter, supported by at least on other fighter, continued making runs on me, each time going by me and making steep wing-overs for another run. All this time I carried full throttle, making about 240 to 260 knots. Their gunnery was very good and I doubt if on any run that they missed getting my plane. On several occasion, I heard bullets strike the armor plate in back of my seat which is only shoulder high, and several times I ducked my head as far as I could in the cockpit when a fighter was firing on me. I managed to land my plane with my head still in the cockpit and the Japanese still making runs on me. I landed approximately at 0650, during full scale dive bombing attack.

On no occasion, did I have the distance between the Japanese fighter and myself to turn back and try any dog-fighting. The Japanese fighter, which I recognized to be a Zero Fighter, apparently had greater speed, much more my plane has several cannon holes in it, although my right wing tank which was struck by cannon fire did not burn, but was hot enough to scorch and blister paint on the wing and aileron. I expended approximately 170 rounds from my four guns, and the ammunition was two armor piercing, two ball, and one tracer. The Japanese had little regard for our ground anti-air-craft fire, which almost always burst behind the plane fired upon. I saw only one fighter shot down by anti-aircraft fire all he was strafing the field from about 100'.

Statement of second lieutenant Charles Murphy Kunz, USMCR:

I was pilot of F2A-3, Bureau number 01521, on the morning of June 4, 1942. Our division was led by Capt. Armistead with 2nd Lt. Sandoval flying on his wing. Leading the 2nd Section in the division was Capt. Humberd with 2nd Lt. Brooks on his wing. I was leading the 3rd section in the division with 2nd Lt. Mahannah flying on my wing.

Our division had touched down to end of #2 runway to go on standby at 0515. We had all cut our engines, and at approximately 0545, Lt. Musselman, the duty officer, drove down in the squadron truck and told us to turn our engines up and await take off instructions. No one in our division had heard the alarm sound and several sections had taxied down and taken off. Our division was in the air at 0602 when the radar vectored us out on a heading of 310 degrees, angle 12, and very shortly the radar vectored us to a heading of 320 degree. We had been climbing at almost full throttle and sighted about 40 on any planes in 5 to 9 plane divisions. Shortly after reaching 17,000 ft., there was one long F4F-3 thought to be 2nd. Lt. Swansberger flying in my section at about 20 miles. I saw Capt. Armistead make his attack and Capt. Humberd. My attack was a high speed over head approach. I was firing at the 5th the last division and saw 2 planes in flames in the 4th division very likely shot by Armistead and Humberd. It is my belief that Lt. Sandoval was drawn flat in his approach and was shot by enemy back seat gunner. I say my target burst into flames and pull out formation.

After the initial attack, our division was completely separated and I zoomed up on the starboard side of the enemy Aichi type 99 V SE DB formation. I was about 2000 ft above the formation when I made my 2nd attack. I used the above side approach and was firing short burst frequently when this target caught fire. The pilot on the port outboard side of the Vee pulled out of formation to apparently let the plane on fire next to him get out. I started firing short burst at long range at the plane that left the formation when I was attacked. I was at an altitude of about 9,000 ft., and shoved over in a dive trying to shake the plane on my tail until I was about 20 feet from the water. I was making radical turns hoping the pilot couldn't get steadied on me. I glanced out of the rear and saw that it was a type 00 ISENTO KI Navy fighter. I continued flying on a rapid turning course at full throttle when I was hit in the head by a glancing bullet. After he fired a few short burst he left as I had been in a general direction of 205o heading away from the island. My plane was badly shot up and I knew it could not be used in another attack due to radio being shot and hydraulic system out. I flew for 10 or 15 minutes on this heading and circled until 0730 at which time I came in to the island and made my proper identifying approach and landed. I landed at 0750. I was very dizzy due to wound in head immediately went to dispensary. I expanded 312 rounds from 3 of my guns. In my opinion the 00 fighter has been far underestimated. I think it is probably on of the finest fighters in the present war. As for the F2A-3, (or Brewster trainer) it should be in Miami as a training plane, rather than be used as a first line fighter.

Remains - A Story of the Flying Tigers

Statement of Captain Herbert Thompson Merrill, USMC:

We had taken off at 3:50 a.m. on an early morning patrol and had returned about 5:30 a.m. We were all standing by and about 6:30 the siren went. We took off in a six plane division, rendezvoused at 4,000 feet and then to vector 310; ten miles and 10,000 feet above. We climbed up to 12,000 feet and were then told to go back to 310 and intercept the bombers at 12,000 feet. Went up to about 15,000 feet to the bombers formation which had nine in one group, three in another and five in the other group. They were in very, very tight formation. The three planes division was leading.

I went in and made an overhead run from about 3,000 feet above. Then I went down. My plane was hit by bullets when pulling out. My right wing and instrument panel was struck and I lost partial control. Then I dove again and headed towards the reef. They hit again and the third time the plane caught fire and I was thrown clear of the plane. I opened my parachute and then landed in the water. I swam for about two hours and finally made the reef. Then after about a half hour I was picked up by a PT boat. Evidently the "Zero" fighters dove on me when I made my approach to the bombers and I could do nothing to evade them.

The "Zero" fighters were superior to the Grummans in speed and performance.

Statement of Second Lieutenant John C. Musselman, USMCR:

The morning of June 4th I was Duty Officer due to my plans being out of commission. At 0559 the air raid siren sounded and all the planes immediately took off. At 0615 Captain McCarthy and Second Lieutenant Corry landed to re-gas, having been on patrol since 0400. At 0618 Second Lieutenant Hughes landed with motor trouble. At 0625 Captain McCarthy and Second Lieutenant Corry took off. I immediately notified the Command Post and at the same time noticed enemy bombers approaching Sand Island. At 0630 enemy bombers hit Eastern Island, I having just made the nearest slit trench. The bombing attack lasted for approximately two minutes, after which I ran to a small two-can dug-out nearby due to the lack of covering in the slit trench. The nearest bombs landed about 100 yards from the Ready Tent causing no damage.

During the strafing attack that followed, Second Lieutenant Phillips and I were in the dug-out. Approximately at 0700 the attack was over. There was no damage to the Ready Tent, and only two holes in the windshield of the squadron truck parked near the tent. There were no injuries or casualties to officers or personnel within 100 yards of the Ready Tent.

What action I witnessed brought out the superiority of the Japanese 00 Fighter over our F2A's and F4F's. The Japanese fighters and dive bombers showed very good skill and daring.

Statement of Second Lieutenant Hyde Phillips, USMCR.

My plane, F4F-3, #28, Bureau number 1864 was out of commission. I stood by the telephone in the ready tent with Lieutenant Musselman.

The bombs started dropping at 0630, at which time I went to a slit trench adjacent to the tent. After the bombing was over I went to the mess hall where, with a detail recruited from men in slit trenches, we extinguished the fires. I found six boxes of Blood Plasma in the mess hall wreckage which I delivered to the sick-bay.

During the action I saw a Brewster Fighter out across the N. E. tip of Eastern Island to help another Brewster. This Brewster was shot down by a Zero Fighter. The pilot baled out and the Zero Fighter, with another, strafed the pilot about three times each.

Zero Fighters outnumbered our fighters, had greater speed, and vastly great maneuverability. The Japanese planes were flown with skill and daring. Brewsters and Grummans were no match for the Zero Fighters.

Island defense were well and cleverly manned. There was no confusion evident during the raid and not a person visible in our sector of the Island, although the AA guns fired at every opportunity.

Statement of Captain Philip Renee White, USMC

At 0600, June 4th, I took off in a F2A-3, bureau number 01568, with Captain Daniel Joseph Hennessy leading the division.

He climbed to twelve thousand feet and circled for two or three minutes and contacted the enemy formations.

Captain Hennessy led us in a attack on the horizontal bombers. There were three formations of nine planes to the formation. After the first pass I lost my wing man and rest of the division. I made a long low fast climb and made a second above side pass, and started for a third, when I saw a Zero Fighter climbing up on my tail very rapidly. I rushed my stick forward as hard as I could and went into a violent dive. When I recovered and looked around, I had lost the Zero Fighter.

I regained my altitude and received a transmission saying that an enemy plane was leaving the area on a heading of 310o. I made a long fast above side pass on this plane which I had spotted. After the pass I saw him waver and make an easy left turn into the water. He was at approximately one thousand feet when I initiated the pass. I believe I shot the pilot. The plane was Aichi 99 Dive Bomber.

I again regained my altitude and saw another Aichi 99 weaving in and out of the clouds, returning to his carrier. I had six thousand feet and gave my Buffalo all the power I could get and just stayed in the same relative position. I finally gained enough to make a pass by nosing over and losing three thousand feet. After my fist pass I slowed down a great deal, and I was able to make another pass quite easily. I believe that in my first pass, I had damaged his engine. After the second pass I got behind him and was going to bore in and found out that I was out of ammunition. I am sure that I shot the rear seat gunner in this plane because he did not fire on me on the third pass, and he could have easily.

I returned to the base and rearmed and took off and later received instructions to land.

The F2A-3 is not a combat airplane. It is inferior to the planes we were fighting in every respect. The F2A-3 has about the same speed as an Aichi 99 Dive Bomber. The Japanese Zero Fighter can run circles around the F2A-3. I estimated the top speed of a Zero Fighter, form what I saw, at better than 450 mile per hour.

It is my belief that any commander that orders pilots out for combat in a F2A-3 should consider the pilot as lost before leaving the ground.

During the combat I expended 1360 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition.

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

Sorry Saga of the Brewster Buffalo

On this website: Front page | Flying Tigers | Chinese Air Force | Japan at War | Brewster Buffalo | Glen Edwards & the Flying Wing | Vietnam | War in the Modern World | The Spadguys Speak | Bluie West One | Poland 1939-1948 | Book Club | Book reviews | Question? | Google us | Website & webmaster | Site map

Other sites: Flying Tigers: the book | Daniel Ford's blog | Daniel Ford's books | Facebook | Piper Cub Forum | Raintree County | Reading Proust | Expedition Yacht Seal

Posted June 2019. Websites © 1997-2019 Daniel Ford; all rights reserved.