Enter the Dragons - December 1, 1943 Burma Banshees
November would find the JAAF doubling it’s fighter presence in the area to over 50 fighters. On December 1, 1943 the combined Japanese Army and Navy Air Forces planned a large raid on Calcutta.
Near Rangoon, the Allied Strategic Air Force, StraAF would assemble a force of 15 P-38’s from the Burma Banshee’s 459th Fighter Squadron and 10 P-51’s from the 530th Squadron to protect a force of over 40 B24’s Liberators from the 7th and 308th Bomb group and the 490th’s B-25 Mitchell bombers.
Mustangs would arrive late to the target, delayed once again refueling, leaving the 459th alone to defend the bombers. The enemy attacked the 7th Bomber Group first, shooting down the formation leader, his wingman and a squadron leader. Another B-24 would go down as the remaining bombers closed the gap.
The 308th would lose the lead bomber and later a second as it would crash into the jungle. The Japanese would claim seven bombers this day and two P-51's and a P-38. Actual loses to the US fighters was one P-51which was reported as failed to return.
Despite the heavy loses to the US bombers, the raid was ruled a success. This would mark the first of many days the 459th, the Twin Dragoons, would enter into aerial combat with Japanese fighters. As demonstrated on this day, the 459th would routinely find themselves out numbered by enemy fighters by 3 to 1 odds or more and would have to focus intently on the mission.
Success depended on a good combination of defensive skills and being able to switch to offensive at a moments notice, whenever the opportunity presented itself. Hampton Boggs would claim the first aerial victory for the 459th Fighter Squadron and the Burma Banshees this day, shooting down a "Hamp". He would later return home as one of only 3 double Aces from the 80th Fighter Group.
Lt Walter Thompson would claim a Nick today , and Capt Kenneth E. George would report another as a probable.
Dec 1, 1943 marked an interesting time in the Burma Campaign. For the first time the Japanese would be forced to defend this part of their empire. The assembled forces would begin an offensive to drive the enemy forces from Burma. The 459th would support the bomber groups providing bomber escort as needed and launching offensive missions against enemy fighters whenever possible.
As the other squadrons of the 80th Fighter Group provided the aerial artillery for Merrill's Marauders as they began the Battle for Myitkyina up north, the Twin Dragons of the 459th would conduct nastier fighter sweeps against Meiktila and Mandalay.
Often the 459th would find the Japanese fighters air borne and waiting for them, or intercept them as they conducted their own sweeps against US and British forces. It would take nearly a year for Hampton Boggs and others of the 459th to finally destroy enough of the enemy fighters to establish air superiority of Burma. The Japanese forces began with over 400 fighters in this theater. The 459th would claim over 66 of them in aerial combat and far more than that on the ground. By February of 1945 there was simply nothing left to shoot at in the air. The 459th would finish the war providing support for the ground forces.
More informtion can be found in the following:
Shores, Christopher. Air War for Burma: The Concluding Volume of The Bloody Shambles Series. The Allied Air Forces Fight Back in South-East Asia 1942-1945 (Kindle Locations 2638-2642). Grub Street Publishing.
Col Fielders 459th FS History