There is a Jap Air Force - 13, December 1943 - The lost files of the Burma Banshees
There is a Jap Air Force 13 December 1943
By December 13 things had begun to quiet down. Everyone knew just what scores the pilots had received for the meeting they had held with the Japs just three days before. It was a big topic of discussion yet, of course, and it was fought and refought at all the gatherings of pilots. But everyone knew the whole story.
At 1130 three shots were fired down at 89th operations. Hit the fox holes!! Soon enough, in a few seconds the siren picked up the alarm. Before I got going good for my foxhole, ships were racing down the runway. This might not be just a "scare scramble". Over Mokalbari we could see P-40s moaning as they held their noses up and ran for altitude. Transports came over low as they hurried to abandon their field. For a few minutes there was plenty of activity, then things quieted down. We heard a number of dull booms but at the time thought they were heavy ack-ack practise or warning shots. High overhead we could hear airplane engines, but nothing out of the ordinary was noticed.
After about half an hour of sweating it out, a P 40 came in alone. It landed, taxied into engineering, and cut the engine. It was number 44, Lieutenant Adair's ship. Some of the line men ran over to the ship. It was the first to return of the five from our field. There had been 22 scrambled from the valley but most of them were too late. A short time later we got the all clear. He had been on alert just a little over an hour. Lt. Adair had taken off again but soon returned.
Lt. Adair had been flying number 44. After climbing to altitude he couldn't see his flight, he had lost them on the way up. But he did see a lot of airplanes. In fact he saw enough Jap planes to outnumber him 50, or more, to one. No one was stopping them from hitting their target, the largest field in the valley. He turned into them.
On his first pass he shot down a fighter, went on through and put some hits into a bomber. He broke away. He never got to the bombers again. On his second attack he was jumped by fighters and in the dogfight that followed he damaged two of them. He broke away, ran into more fighters, bluffed his way through them, and dived for the deck. He had to go home, he was out of ammunition and had been hit several times in the wing, fuselage, and tail. Lt. Chapman from Sadiya had got into the air and high enough to see them but they were going away from him and he couldn't get altitude and still stay up with them as a last resort he pulled the nose up and fired A burst at the nearest fighter. All the tracers were low and wide. He turned away and returned to base.
All the planes landed back to their strips. All but one, Lt. May. He had followed Lt. Adair but couldn't keep up with him. He climbed to his orbiting point, saw the enemy, and told control that
he was going in. He didn't come back when the rest did. At three in the afternoon he wasn't back yet. Some of the pilots looking for him saw a fire in the hills up toward the pass. It might be him. At chow time everyone knew he hadn't come back and hadn't landed on any field in the valley. He had gone down.
Lt. May was the only "veteran" to intercept the enemy formation. Three days before he had been in a dog fight in which he damaged zero. This was a chance to put one down for keeps. There were enough for them to shoot at, over fifty. He had to do it alone, though. He rolled and dived through the fighters. They were on their way out of the valley so he had to get in there before they let him too far from Base. He got on a bombers tail and opened fire. Nothing happened, fired too soon. As he closed in he fired again and noted hits in the wings and fuselage, one engine started smoking. He fired again and passed underneath the bomber. Before he could get in another pass the fighters were all over him. He dived away from them but not far enough or fast enough. Two of them stuck to him. As he smoothed out his dive they were still there and he could hear or feel their guns firing. Then an explosive bullet hit his engine and he was a flamer.
It was a hot ship in a hurry, so he got out. Melting metal hit his face and hands. He pulled the string and got down all right. Gathering his shoot under his arm he walked to the road which was not far from where he had come down. As he walked down the road a staff car passed him. And kept going. He finally made it to Margherita, where he notified someone to send a radio message that he was all right. From Margherita he caught a ride, arriving about six thirty, just half an hour after his message came through.
Just a couple of days later natives from the hills brought in helmets, guns, clothes, pieces of airplane, parts of burned chutes – all Jap. Lt. May had brought down his bomber. It had been a rather poor interception. They had put bombs on their target, destroyed some of our planes on the ground, one in the air, and had lost very lightly from their own formation by their standards. They went through the pass into Burma unpursued. But they hadn't had it all!
Six planes from Mokalbari Strip were returning from a bombing mission. They saw the enemy as he was passing them on the way home. They had a lot of distance to go to catch the jabs and not much advantage in altitude. By the time they caught up to the end of their formation they had
lost all speed and altitude advantage. They couldn't get through the fighters to hit the bombers. Captain Hamilton and Lt. Randall both fired at an Oscar at the same time. He exploded. Captain Hamilton damaged another. Lt. Emrick knock down a fighter. Lt. Anderson another "vet" three days before, shot down an Oscar and damaged another. Captain Allred destroyed a fighter and Lt. Burns damaged one. They had to break away because they were low on gas. As they came back over the hump Lt. Anderson decided he couldn't make it, so he went into a small emergency strip. He notified fire control that he was down safely. He couldn't get serviced so he took a chance and took off. He ran out of gas, reaching out on a long glide and made it to Moran. He returned to base the next morning. None of the Mokalbari ships were damaged by the Japs.
For the day our pilots confirmed destroyed one bomber and five fighters, damaged one bomber and five fighters. We lost one fighter and had one damaged. After two consecutive contacts with the Japs everyone was eager to fly any kind of mission. They knew for sure the Japs were in the war.
The only confusion during the day was at the Mokalbari alert shack. The original interception was over and they knew some pilots had been in the fight and that Dinjan had been bombed. A flight came over head. They sounded like P-40s. Captain Hamilton's mission was due back. It must be him. Someone looked out but couldn't see them for they were diving on the field from out of the sun. Maybe they had run into the Japs and were showing off. Suddenly came a burst of gunfire and the doors were clogged with men. Bodies catapulted out through the side of the building. The fox holes filled up instantly. Captain Hamilton had his switches on and had accidentally touch the button. No one praised him for his thoughtfulness when he landed.
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.