Sacrifice Leads to Double Play March 27. 1944 - The lost files of the Burma Banshees
SCRAMBLE!!! Everything we had that would fly took off. Fighter Control told the P-5ls to get into the air, also. Something big was coming after us. None of our local ships made any contact but we, on the ground, heard the talkative P-51 jockeys shouting exultantly. When the all clear was sounded we heard that they had made contact and had shot several Japs down. Fighter Control had scrambled everyone, then proceeded to vector the Mustangs to the enemy force.
Lt. Bell, leading a four ship flight from Sadiya, listened to the vectors, and when he heard the Mustang pilots say the enemy was sighted, he planned his own vector. He was at 12,000 feet when he heard that the Japs were sighted. He climbed toward them until he reached 21,500 feet. The P-5ls were another 500 feat above him,forming for attack. The Japs were straight ahead of him and below: Scrambled at 1040, it had taken him 20 minutes to get to them. He took a hurried scan about him and saw approximately fifteen bombers, identified as Helens, and twenty-four fighters, identified as Zeke’s and Oscars. They "Were at 20,000 feet halfway between Ledo and Shingbwiyang. The Japs made a l80 degree turn and headed southeast. Our planes commenced their attack on the rear bombers of the formation.
Lt. Bell began with a quarter attack from the sun, closing to a dead astern attack. During a long burst from dead astern, tracers entered the tail section and wing roots of the enemy plane. Just as he broke away the plane exploded amidships. Black smoke and flame streamed out of the shattered tail turret. Pieces of tail surface flew off, then smoke and fire enveloped the entire plane. Lt. Bells wing man, Lt. Marshall, and the leader of the second element Lt. McReynolds, each observed this plane to be on fire all over and to roll onto its back, diving away obviously out of control. Lt. Bell broke away and climbed, meeting three enemy fighters diving toward him in a three-quarters head on attack. He fired bursts at the lead plane and saw bullets enter the engine cowling and fuselage about the cockpit. The plane exploded m mid-air. Lt. Bell dove through the overcast to about 8,000 feet. He observed one enemy fighter slightly below him. He climbed to 9,000 feet and began closing in on this plane, apparently unobserved. He opened fire and put tracers in the wing roots and fuselage. The plane began smoking badly and went into a steep dive. Lt. Bell followed it down and saw it crash and explode on the ground. Lt. Marshall, flying on Lt. Bells wing, attacked an enemy bomber near the rear of the enemy formation. Bullets were observed to enter the fuselage between the port engine nacelle and the main body of the plane. Finally the wing broke off and the rest of the· plane rolled away from it, spinning into the overcast, completely out of control. Lt. Marshall broke away from this encounter and made a stern attack on a fighter from close range. Bullets hit the fuselage and wing roots. The fighter burst into flames and dove down in an uncontrolled spiral. Two more enemy fighters jumped Lt. Marshall from the rear and shot away his rudder controls. He dived to about 12,000 feet and bailed out, landing near the Shingbwiyang airstrip. He suffered a minor leg wound and a chipped tooth.
Lt. McReynolds, leading the second element, made a rear quarter attack on one of the enemy bombers flying in the rear formation of Vees. Bullets entered the fuselage, wing roots, and engines. Both engines began to smoke, then caught fire. The fire soon enveloped the entire plane. Lt. McReynolds and Lt Doughty both saw this bomber wing over, leave the formation, and spiral down, a ball of flames, obviously out of control. Lt. McReynolds broke away and climbed. A Zeke made an attack from two o'clock. Firing a burst from short range, the hits caused the enemy to flame, roll over, and spin away through the overcast.
Lt. Doughty, flying number four, made a rear quarter attack on a bomber. The first burst hit the port engine and gas was observed streaming back. The next burst set the port engine on fire and caused the entire port wing to be severed from the fuselage. The bomber spiraled away completely out of control. Breaking, off this attack, Lt. Doughty split-Sed down and an enemy fighter passed directly through his sights at close range. A short burst hit his engine and the plane caught fire. Lt. McReynolds verified that this plane was enveloped in flames, plunging down, completely out of control. Lt. Doughty climbed and made another pass on the bombers. Bullets hit the starboard engine of one plane, setting the engine on fire and causing the plane to smoke badly. As he broke away from this attack a Zeke between LT. Doughty and LT McReynolds. Lt. Doughty
followed him down and put bursts into the plane causing the tail surfaces and wings to fall off. The plane burst into flame and spiraled through the over-cast. The Japs maneuvered their bombers and coordinated their fire with a precision that showed it was by a predetermined plan. On his first pass Lt. Marshall was seen to pull up above the bombers and while in a nose high position to be the center of a coordinated cone of fire. This was the last time he was seen by the rest of the flight. He never got to an altitude where he could reach the bombers again.
Observations were restricted by a 9,000 foot overcast with two additional layers of overcast between 9,000 and 18,000 feet. Most of the confirmed destroyed were by fire or disintegration in the air. The sacrifice had been made by the Japs to no avail, for they never reached the target.
The second part of the double play came when a Moran flight over Burma climbed to 18,000 feet and circled waiting for further instruction from Fighter Control. They heard the Assam flights getting vectors but before contact was made by anyone, Control told all Moran flights to pancake. Lt. Ward heard this order but assumed it to mean the Moran flights in the valley. He led his flight northwest. He heard the Mustang pilots say they had made contact. They gave no position so he continued on his course. Lt. Ward observed a closely packed formation seven miles ahead of him. It was proceeding toward Shingbwiyang, fifteen miles away. He led his flight to 21,000 feet, deciding that the approaching planes were enemy by their formation. There were nine bombers in a Vee of Vees, escorted by six fighters. Behind them by some distance was a dog fight between Jap fighters and Mustangs. Lt. Ward broke radio silence to call, "Tally-ho at one o'clock. Stay in elements." The P-40s pealed off and met the enemy at 18,000 feet. Lt. Ward attacked the rear bomber in the rear Vee to the right. He opened fire at 800 yards from directly astern and a little below. He closed at 350 mph until he thought he was going to collide. The bomber took no evasive action other than a slight skid. At approximately 400 yards pieces started flying from the center of the plane, smoke was coming from the wing roots. Both engines caught fire and the left engine nacelle exploded. Lt. Patton also observed this action. Lt. Ward broke away and pulled up in a steep chandelle. He noticed the burning bomber spinning down with pieces flying from it. Clouds prevented witnessing the actual crash. Lt. Ward again picked the outside bomber on the right and made a stern attack. He opened fire at 800 yards and closed to approximately 50. He observed strikes around the
fuselage and pieces flying from the fuselage. During this pass a fighter came in from nine o'clock but did not come within range. As he climbed up to get in position for his third pass he saw the left wing come off the bomber Lt. Lyon was attacking. The tight bomber formation was broken up. Enemy fighters were coming in from above for protection. The enemy had dropped to 17,000 feet. Lt. Ward made his third pass on the right flank of the bombers, again it was a dead astern attack. He opened at 800 yards and closed to 50, getting numerous hits and seeing pieces fly from the plane. He broke away and pulled up out of range. As he turned going up he saw the bomber he had just attacked start to disintegrate with huge pieces flying off it. One parachute opened and what was left of the bomber was smoking as it passed through the clouds, obviously out of control. He came in at 16,000 feet and made a 50 degree deflection shot from the rear on a bomber, observing strikes and pieces flying from the fuselage. Fighters came in from behind. He turned, fired one burst but missed because he didn't lead enough. He dived through the clouds. As he pulled up he saw a bomber at 10,000 feet heading southeast. He followed the bomber and a Jap fighter followed him. All started a shallow dive. The bomber hit the deck near Taihpa Ga on the river. Lt. Ward had three guns firing when he started this attack but two quit. The Hamp kept making passes, not very aggressively, but passes. As a result of repeated attacks, one engine was completely out, the other was pouring black smoke, and the bomber was just mushing along, going down over the trees. He was unable to follow further because he was out of ammunition.
The wing man to Lt. Ward was Lt. Gale Lyon. He heard the "Tally-ho" of the flight leader and saw the planes coming about three miles away. The formation passed underneath and they peeled off to make a dead astern pass. Lt Lyon was about five plane lengths behind his leader. He turned to attack the number three bomber in the Vee,counting from the right of the entire formation. He opened at one thousand yards and closed to one hundred, noting strikes on the fuselage. He saw Lt. Ward’s victim smoking and breaking away from the formation.
Breaking away, Lt. Lyon looked behind and saw nothing following him. He pulled up to l9,000 feet and came in dead astern the lead bomber in the right Vee formation. He opened at one thousand yards and closed to two hundred when the complete left wing came off, probably from an exploding gas tank. The bomber spiraled down out of control. Clouds prevented seeing the crash. LT Lyon pulled up to the right to 20,000 feet, checked his tail for followers; and dived for his third stern pass. He opened at one thousand yards and closed to five hundred, observing strikes all during the pass. The Jap started a gradual dive,increasing the angle until it was seen to be out of control as though the pilot had been killed. He saw it crash into the mountains. As he came out of this pass an enemy fighter fired a 90 degree deflection shot from 500 yards. The tracers came straight for him but fell behind because the Jap didn't take enough lead. The next pass, a stern pass, was from 18,000 feet. He opened fire at eight hundred yards and finally broke off at fifty. Strikes damaged the fuselage. He pulled up into a cloud bank and when he came out there was one bomber and three fighters above him and two miles away. Lt. Lyon turned away and landed at Shing.
After orbiting Shing, Lt. Patton thought the flight was headed for Moran when the flight leader made a sudden turn. Lt. Patton saw the enemy formation about three miles away. He observed nine bombers and twenty fighters above and to the left of them. Lt. Patton led his element five hundred above the flight leaders element to cover him on his pass. As the flight leader broke away the second element made their pass. Lt. Patton hit the remaining bomber in the right Vee. He opened at five hundred yards and closed to two hundred in a quarter stern attack. Bullets caused large pieces to fly off from the rear tail surface and left engine cowling. The left engine started to burn, then exploded. Smoking and burning the bomber went down obviously out of control. Clouds obscured the crash. Lt. Patton broke to the right and saw tracers over his right wing. Looking back he saw an Oscar dead astern, firing from point blank range. A second fighter was behind this one and Flight Officer Hammer was diving on them. Lt. Patton immediately dived into tho clouds. As he pulled up he saw two fighters at 10,000 feet headed southwest. He attacked the nearest one dead astern but the other turned and got on his tail, forcing him to break away and get into the clouds. As he came out this time he saw four enemy bombers, one smoking badly. He started chasing the smoking one but as he neared the bomber formation a fighter made a head-on pass at him. Both fired and both missed. After passing both turned sharply in. Six hundred yards away at eleven o'clock was another enemy fighter. Lt. Patton made a thirty degree deflection pass using a long burst. He opened at six hundred yards and closed to three hundred when he saw the right wing explode and blow off. The fighter spun down into the side of a mountain where Lt. Patton saw it hit and explode. Another fighter fired at Lt. Patton so into the clouds he went again. As he came out he saw another fighter so he attempted to get on his wing. The other fighter banked, then Lt. Patton saw the big red balls on his wings. Into the clouds again. He climbed to fifteen thousand, joined his wingman and went home.
The wing man to Lt. Patton was Flight Officer Hammer. He sighted the enemy formation just a few seconds before the flight leader went into the turn. The flight leader called for them to stick together. The enemy was three thousand feet below. He didn't observe the effect of the flight leader's and his wing man's attack but as the second element went in the whole formation shifted to an echelon of Vee's to the left. The Vee in the middle dropping back fifty yards and the Vee on the left dropping back one hundred yards so they could better concentrate their cross fire on their attackers. Heavy fire from the tail turret of two bombers was directed at Lt. Patton as he was firing back on them. As Lt. Patton turned away two enemy fighters jumped his tail Hammer dived on the closest one and gave him one burst from one thousand yards at 90 degrees deflection. The tracers fell behind. He continued an attack from five hundred yards on a bomber. It was a dead astern pass. The left engine received hits and blew up. The bomber headed down in a steep bank with the left engine on fire. A fighter was making a diving attack on him from eight o'clock. He turned into the clouds, observing his bomber going down smoking, flames shooting from the left engine, diving and undoubtedly out of control. He entered the clouds and as he came out underneath he saw the bomber hit the mountain ten miles south of Shing. There was a'terrific explosion as it had evidently failed to get rid of its bombs. Flight Officer Hammer regained altitude and hunted for the rest of the bombers. He caught one straggler, closed in dead astern from a shallow dive, and opened fire. He opened at five hundred yards and closed to one hundred yards. The left engine caught fire. Pieces flew off the fuselage and the right engine started smoking badly. He chandelled up and watched the bomber steeply spiraling towards the ground completely out of control. Two fighters dived on him from eleven o'clock. He saw them twelve hundred yards away, split-Sed away and came up looking to see if they had followed. They had not. The bomber had spiraled through the clouds so he followed down under to seven thousand feet. He saw a large fire and black smoke. Hammer, climbed back through tho clouds, got on the tail of another bomber. All his guns jammed. Three enemy fighters attacked from four, six, and eight o'clock.' Their fire was inaccurate, underneath and low. He did a split-S, found his element leader and went to Shing.
The P-51 pilots destroyed two bombers, seven fighters; probably destroyed one bomber, two fighters; damaged five bombers, two fighters. The P-40 boys got eleven bombers, seven fighters confirmed; one bomber probably destroyed; and five bombers, damaged. Two P-51' s failed to return.
Note: This account is believed to have been written by an unnamed member of the Burma Banshees, perhaps Brad Shuman, perhaps intelligence officer Reeder or Bill Harrell. It was located in the files of fellow Burma Banshee member Philip Adair.