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Combat Tactics in the SouthWest Pacific Area

Combat Tactics in the SouthWest Pacific Area

By Major Thomas B. McGuire, Jr.

 

Published and Distributed by

Asst. of S, A-3, V Fighter Command

4 May 1944

REPUBLISHED BY

FEAF A-3 TRAINING

SECTION 20, Oct. 1944

 

FOREWORD

When one considers just what he should say to a new sport who is reporting in to an operational fighter Group, the mind becomes confused in the complex maze of information it is necessary for the new sport to know. All of it is important; most of it vital; and all of it just too much for one brain to absorb in a few lectures.

Rarely has complexity been reduced to clarity, and still include a wealth of information, as has been done in this article by Major McGuire.

"The proof of the pudding..." The Fighter Group of which Major McGuire is a part of the team, has destroyed 329 enemy aircraft in eight months of operations in the SWPA. He describes the tactics of the Group, and it’s successful pilots.

To the new sports... don’t read this article once. Read it again and again. The more you learn before the fight, the more you’ll learn during the fight, and the more chance you’ll have to keep on learning.

CHARLES H. MAC DONALD,
Lt. Col., A. A. F.

 

FORMATIONS AND TACTICS

General: -- The standard squadron formation for P-38’s is sixteen planes in four four-ship flights , the flight being the basic unit for both attack and defense. Each man within the flight takes up a position on a line extending back at an angle of approximately forty-five degrees from the flight leader, the planes being spaced one to three ship-lengths apart. The wingman flies to the left or right and above the flight leader, usually on usually on the opposite side from the wingman. The wingman for the element leader may fly either above or below the element leader, but whatever vertical variations there may be, the one to three ship-length distance on the horizontal plane and the angle in respect to the flight leader will be maintained.

Flightform

This flight formation assures a maximum of visibility, a complete a complete coverage of all angles of vision, for each man in the flight, allowing the flight leader to see that his flight is holding together and the others to keep the flight leader in sight. It is flexible enough to permit each man to maintain his throttle setting by playing the turns and crossing over when necessary, yet this freedom brings no decrease in support strength. It is also loose enough for the flight leader to maneuver freely without being overrun by his men or losing them by an unanticipated turn, dive, or climb a particularly valuable attribute in combat, when it is essential that the flight hold together as long as possible to gain the benefits of close support. A word of caution in this respect: it is entirely the responsibility of the wingman, element leader and the tail-end Charlie to keep out of the blind spot directly behind the flight leader. Flexibility is not synonymous with sloppiness and a momentary restriction of the flight leader’s line of vision may endanger the whole flight as well as hindering the leader’s tactics by making him uncertain as to the disposition of his men in respect to himself. No matter what type of cover is being provided, whether the mission happens to be escort, patrol, or search, the flight formation will hold to the same pattern. This is a purely defense formation designed for maximum strength, and will never change to line-abreast; nor will it change to line-astern except in combat.

Squadform
DIAGRAM #2 The Squadron Formation

The squadron formation has the same characteristics of flexibility and visibility as the flight formation, with each of the following flights being able to see the squadron leader and all other flights ahead. The lead flight will be at lowest altitude ahead, the second flight will be to the left or right and behind, the third flight to the left or right and behind the preceding flights (staying on the opposite side as much as possible) the fourth flight to the left and behind the third flight but not directly behind the first flight. Each of the flights is staggered upwards from the one immediately proceeding, the difference in altitude ranging from five hundred to one thousand feet. Within the squadron formation the flights will also play the turns and cross over when necessary to avoid too much changing of the throttle. This formation is used on all types of missions and not only insures mutual protection if attacked, but also the easiest to change to an attack formation.

Combat Formation: -- In combat, as in escort formation, the flight is the basic unit and it’s attack principle is simply to have the flight constituents drop into sting with a three to six ship-length interval between them. The flights within the squadron formation also drop back in a string of flights with an interval of half to a full flight’s length between flights, also slightly staggered. In both flight and squadron formation the same benefits accrue on dropping back to the staggered string formation there is no danger of hitting the man in front when firing and there is a concentration of fire on the target chosen by the flight or element leader. This, however, is usually true of the first pass only, for it seldom happens that a full squadron formation of sixteen planes can be kept together after the fist concerted attack. All flights of the squadron will remain in the same general area, within support distance, but will probably be unable to remain in string. In most cases it will be necessary for the flights to break in different directions, either to attack or defend against the enemy fighters. It is at this point that the real value of the four-ship flight becomes apparent.

The four-ship flight must hold together as long as possible, and if the attack is centered on bombers there is no reason for breaking formation. Nothing is so embarrassing to a flight leader as when a small formation of enemy bombers is jumped and the planes go off individually. It can be more dangerous to encounter a few enemy planes than many if uncoordinated passes cause the lead man to find himself turning into a stream of tracers from the guns of his own men.

After making a pass, the flight leader will try to hold the line of in a shallow dive or climb so that his men can follow through normally and retain their relative positions. For the individual and the three others with whom he is flying it offers the best support, the tail-end men watching over those ahead, the flight leader in position to swing around if the tail-end Charlie is attacked.

If the combat turns out to be fighter versus fighter, then it may be necessary to break up into two-ship elements, but no further. There is no excuse at all for a wing man to leave his element leader and the two-ship element must be regarded as the absolute minimum under any circumstances. The minimum, that is, if the combat is to be successful from our point of view. Ninety-five percent of the men who have been lost in combat have been lost while they have been alone, separated from the rest of their flight. The phrase, "He was last seen at a little distance from the rest of the formation", comes up time and time again in reports of actions in which we have suffered casualties.

An excellent demonstration of some of the points made in this foregoing paragraphs took place in Rabaul a few months ago, when a mission there meant certain interception. Before the target was reached the lead flight had had one snafu, the third flight leader had taken over position of squadron leader, and there were two snafus from the third flight, leaving nine of the original twelve planes. Just after the B-25’s had finished a low-level bombing run and were heading for home, a force of sixty or seventy enemy fighters attacked both the bombers and the escort. Shortly after the first attack the number two man in the first flight became separated from the rest and the other flights split up into elements. Leaving the squadron leader without a wingman. One element, the leader of the second flight and his wingman saw his danger and stayed with the squadron leader, who had been singled out by the enemy and was subjected to repeated attacks. On the first attack, made from the rear, the leader of the second flight shot down one Zeke while his wingman fired a long burst which caused the second Zeke to break away. The next attack was made head-on. Again the flight leader shot down one and the second Zeke broke away. The third attack was made from 11 o’clock low. The leader of the second flight had run out ammunition by this time and as the Zeke came on the leader ducked under and to the left, allowing his wingman to fire a burst which sent the enemy plane down in flames. Two more Zekes attacked the squadron leader from behind and the flight leader made a dry run on them, causing them to pull-off in opposite directions. Then one of about five enemy aircraft in the vicinity made a ninety-degree deflection attack from the right. The flight leader peeled up at the Zeke and it half rolled away, frightened off by the empty guns.

Had either of the two men in the second flight broken away to fight on his own, the squadron leader could not have survived this engagement. Sustained close support saved him. Don’t sacrifice yourself and the man you are supposed to protect by making a grandstand, lone-wolf play. You might be lucky, once or twice, but don’t forget that you are gambling with another man’s life as well as your own and his luck may not last him through the first minute you have left him. Because it is a temptation for the last man to strike out on his own, having no one following him, it is the general practice in this area for the strongest wingman (and by strong is experience enough to hold his own place) to fly number four position in each flight, and for the first and fourth flights to be the strongest in the squadron. Tail-end Charlie is a mighty important man, and any time you play the part, play it square with the men who are relying on you it play it just that way. It is an obligation, not a courtesy, for you to do so.

TACTICS

Our tactics against enemy aircraft while escorting bombers.

Heavy Bombers, Close Cover: -- Depending on the number of bombers escorted and the opposite expected, close cover for heavy bombers will usually mean that one squadron is assigned to each of the flanks, one squadron ahead, and one squadron astern. Formations of twenty-four or less bombers will not require four full squadrons as escort, but above that number fighters will multiply until, with a hundred or more bombers, there will be three or four squadrons as close cover, two squadrons as medium and high cover, and a possible additional squadron as top cover for the fighter and bomber formation as a whole. The close cover flies one to four thousand feet above the bombers, weaving to keep the true forward speed the same as that of the bombers and being particularly careful, if the bomber formation is ragged, to keep watch over the outer fringe. On return from the target crippled bombers or bombers flying in pairs will make it necessary for a flight assigned to them for protection.

Heavy Bombers, Top Cover: -- The job of providing successful top cover for heavy bombers is a difficult one, not because the Japanese make determined attacks, but because those who do attack only do so from the position most favorable to themselves. The squadron which acts as top cover weaves over the whole bomber formation and the escorting close cover, from four to eight thousand feet above them. The Japanese will seldom make a real interception, in the sense that they will try to break up our formation, flying singly or in pairs or three’s, but during or after the bombing run there will be haphazard attacks by individuals or pairs. Almost always these attacks will come when the enemy pilots have altitude. They will do a half-roll and make an overhead pass, diving through the bomber formation, clearing away to the side, then returning to altitude. Since there will be no attack in the formation, the only possible counter-tactic is to break up the top cover into flights and drive off the attacks as they are begun; there can be no general movement of the squadron, for the scattered distribution of the enemy fighters and the impossibility of anticipation leave no alternative but to check each pass as soon as possible after the Japanese pilot has committed himself.

The above also holds true to some extent for the close cover. While a number of the enemy will attack from above, there will be others attacking from beneath, particularly against B-24’s. At such times the close cover will move down somewhat and will break up into flights to ward off the single passes.

Remember, the favorite Japanese target is the target of opportunity. Be most watchful when the target area has been left behind and damaged bombers begin to struggle. A crippled bomber is no match for five or six eager Zekes and the best way to forestall such attacks is for the squadron leader to assign flights to each of the stragglers within range of his cover.

Escort of Low Level Strafers and Bombers: -- The squadron acting as close cover for bombers or strafers on a low level strike will generally be at slightly higher altitudes than when escorting heavy bombers, from two to six thousand feet above the bomber formation. The top cover will also go higher, staying at eight to ten thousand foot above the close cover.

Since attack from beneath is virtually impossible, the strategy of our fighters is to break up the Japanese attacks before they are well started, before too many can get within range of the stafers and bombers. Against strafers, the Nips dive down either to or through the formation in as nearly vertical dive and climb as they can achieve. A few may make passes horizontally but the disadvantage in altitude will dissuade all but the most eager. Here, again the squadron formation will be broken up to ward off attacks at numerous points and will probably break from flights to elements relatively early in the combat, because the defense will be more a matter of protecting individual bombers at the perimeter than covering the whole formation. It will be a temptation on this kind of mission to attack and give chase to the opposing fighters after they have made their passes and before they can regain altitude. This is foolish and futile. It weakens both squadron and flight and defeats the purpose of escort. Attack is the function of the bombers in this case; you are present to assure them a chance to do their job with as little hindrance as possible from enemy fighters.

TACTICS

Our Tactics When Intercepting Enemy Bombers.

The enemy is well aware of the advantages of a tight formation, as well aware of it as we are, and an enemy bomber formation will its pattern tenaciously, closing up if one of its number is shot down and making itself as little vulnerable as it can. The answer to this tactic is to make the first pass with sixteen planes and break up the enemy formation. This way the highest concentration of our own power is achieved and the enemy is forced to disperse his fire power. Our function is to break up the enemy formation and keep it from reaching the target. Once the formation is broken the individuals or pairs make much better targets for flights or elements.

Medium Bombers: -- The best way to attack enemy medium bombers is to make a head-on pass from forty-five degrees left or right, breaking away to the same side as that from which the approach was made. Follow through the circle and swing ahead for another pass. The squadron should hold together as long as possible, but if enemy fighter interference forces a change in the manner of breaking away then it will be up to the flights to make their attacks independently.

Another form of attack which works out quite well is the side attack from ninety degrees high, coming down and breaking away when the angle of approach narrows to approximately forty-five degrees. This keeps the attacking planes out of the air of fire of that potent 20mm stinger in the tail of Japanese medium bombers and it is also easier to keep the squadron together.

As long as you can make passes on the bombers, don’t engage enemy fighters. Fighters can do no damage to the target and the enemy’s air strength is weakened far more by the loss of a bomber than by the loss of a fighter. Individual scores may not amount rapidly, but the net profit will be substantially in our favor if you shoot down or drive off the bombers and deal with the fighters only when they cannot be ignored.

Light Bombers and Dive Bombers: -- It may be varied to head-on or from the side under appropriate conditions, but the best attack against the Japanese light bomber or dive-bomber is the attack from dead astern. Light bombers are not often encountered, but the wheels-down dive-bombers are so familiar that our pilots have almost a friendly feeling toward them. These slow-moving, poorly armed, unarmored planes are the nearest thing to sitting birds as will be found in modern warfare, and their strategy in action appears to be designed to have as many of them shot down as possible. Starting their divers from fifteen to eighteen thousand feet, the Vals reach a maximum speed of 300-325 mph, drop their bombs, and go right on down to the dock, where they break formation and scoot for home in all directions. A P-38 can follow them nicely in their dives and with any sort of luck can force them to jettison their bombs before they can release them on the shipping which is their usual target. Having pulled out of the dive, the Val slows down rapidly, skimming low over the water and the pursuing P-38 closes and delivers the coup de grace.

Enemy fighters protecting their own bombers, usually hover well above the formation in one large loose group, like a swarm of gnats. They do not make coordinated or combined passes and they cannot stop a determined interception unless they greatly outnumber the intercepting force. The Japanese fighters prefer to hang around the edges of the combat, picking on individuals completing passes or perhaps making an occasional surprise attack from the clouds, then pulling up into the cloud coverage and as soon as possible.

When escorting dive bombers, Japanese fighter pilot's almost never follow them down to protect them, seemingly acting as a decoy, rather than protecting against our fighters. The Zekes and Oscars stay up in hopes of having our men join combat with them there, being reluctant to make themselves vulnerable by going to low altitudes. Don't obliged them- follow the dive bombers and you will rarely find the fighter pilots try to stop you.

tactics_12_23

The diagram shows and interesting example of Japanese tactics used on 26 December 1943, when a force of bombers made an attack on ships engaged in landing troops on Cape Gloucester. One of our squadrons on patrol was ordered to investigate a plot, but when it reached the area no enemy aircraft were sighted. Shortly after the squadron had returned to the area in which the shipping was concentrated, another plot was given which disappeared entirely. (Radar personnel said that it "faded out".) What had happened was that a force of Japanese fighters had dropped plates of tinfoil, suspended from small parachutes to confuse the radar into luring our fighters away from the center of the patrol area. As the squadron again returned to its place above the shipping these fighters were sighted coming in at an altitude of approximately 23,000 feet. The squadron climbed to intercept them. While climbing, another force of enemy fighters dived on the squadron. The squadron turned under the enemy fighters and began a slight dive. At this time, the squadron leaders sighted approximately 30.bombers at 18,000 feet, just beginning an attack on the shipping. Instead of engaging the fighters above his squadron, the squadron leader led an attack on the dive-bombers, following them down and forcing most of them to jettison their bombs. Meanwhile the Zekes and Oscars stayed at high altitudes to engage other squadrons of P-38's

The first squadron kept after the dive-bombers at minimum altitude, making passes from dead astern and shot down 14 of them without interference by enemy fighters. (Other squadrons accounted for the remaining dive-bombers) Had the squadron been taken in by the deception, and tried to fight with the Zeros, the dive bombers would have been successful in their attempt to slip in at lower altitudes and would have no doubt done great damage. Quick thinking and a knowledge of Japanese tactics enabled the squadron leader to take the best action possible. He knew he would not be endangering his squadron by exposing it to attack by Japanese fighters because he was sure the fighters would not follow to low altitudes. He also knew that it was better to break up the dive bomber attack before the Val's reached the point at which they can release their bombs most effectively. A successful combat is not evaluated by the type of opposition you choose to meet, but by the amount of damage you prevent or inflict.

Japanese Planes, Pilots and Tactics:

Japanese fighter planes: The only Japanese fighter which can be outmaneuvered by a P-38 is the twin engine Nick. When pursuing or pursued you must keep to the shallow dive, climb or turn because there is not a trick maneuver in the book that can't be done better in a Japanese plane than in a P-38. In making passes, hold your lead in deflection as long as you can, but just as soon as you lose that lead, role out of the turn and keep going straight. Never pull up beyond 30 degrees when pursuing, because your loss of speed will permit the Japanese pilot to loop over onto your tail. Break combat when it is to your advantage to do so, don't wait unto you set yourself up in such a position that the Japanese pilot will have the advantage. Make him fight on your terms, don't fight on his.

The Japanese Air Force, now in a transitory stage both in the Army and Naval services, will soon be equipped with more modern and high-speed fighters. It is believed that stress will be placed on Frank in the Army services and in Jack and George in the naval services. All of these planes are in the 400 plus mile per hour group. With the increase of maximum speeds, the exceptional maneuverability typical of former single engine models will be sacrificed in those small degree. Generally speaking, altitude performance will be increased. It is of interest to note that no Japanese Naval single engine fighter examined to date has been equipped with either armor plate or protected fuel tanks. Oxygen bottles of high-pressure types are used throughout in Naval fighters. Their position is usually just aft of the cockpit greenhouse. Fuel tanks are invariably located in the wing root.

Army fighters, on the other hand have always used fuel tank protection of some nature and quite often utilize oxygen generators, which are not vulnerable in an explosive or rapidly burning sense. Armor plate usually of heavy type is used in all late model Army Japanese fighters. The armor plate installations are usually located underneath and behind the pilot.

So far as armament is concerned, Army fighters have favored the 12.7 mm machine gun which is almost identical in mechanical principal and construction to that of our own Browning .50 caliber machine gun. This gun however, because of the modification in the buffer mechanism has a higher cyndrical rate of fire, but with slightly less range than our own .50 caliber machine gun. An interesting point is the fact that the Japanese 12.7 mm gun utilizes fused ammunition. The 7.7 mm guns are used by both Army and navy services and from a combat point of view, may be treated with the same ballistics data as that of the Vicker's .303 machine gun. In the heavy caliber types, the Navy has shown preference for the Oerlikon type cannon, which has been recently improved and the new implement which has considerably higher muzzle velocity than the former model. It is rapidly becoming standard equipment.

For the benefit of new pilots a description of the more prominent characteristics of Japanese fighter planes follows. These summarization’s should be supplemented by study of data available in the TEIC memorandums and the blue covered intelligence summaries. (AAF. SWPA)

Oscar- 2 synchronized 12.7’s firing through the prop constitute the armament of this Army version of the generic Zero. It is particularly vulnerable around the cockpit were there is a little armor to protect the pilot. Gas tanks are covered with the crudest sort of leak absorbent material.

Zeke- armed with 2 20 mm cannon one in each wing and 2 7.7’s is firing through the prop. This, the best-known of Japanese Naval aircraft, has a slight edge in speed and a better rate of climb than the Oscar. It is most of all vulnerable around the cockpit. Flown by a pilot of reasonable ability, it must be regarded as a package of high explosives to be approached with caution.

The unless the Zero is close, with a slight advantage in altitude and speed, the best evasive tactic against Oscar and Zeke are a high-speed shallow climb or dive and full speed ahead. Once you have out-distanced your pursuer, you can turn and come back for another go, but make sure you don't turned too soon. If the Japanese pilot has diving speed push your plane over flattening out the diving angle after you have picked up to around 375 to 400 mph. If you are a good judge of speed, and the Oscar or Zeke doesn't appear to be coming in too fast, a shallow dive will be enough to shake him, Only if you have good judgment.

TONY- The usual armament of this plane is two 12.7 mm. machine guns, synchronized through the prop with one 12.7 mm. machine gun in each wing. (Later models have one 20 mm in each wing). With heavier armor and a fair quality of self- sealing tanks this plane does not have the tendency of the OSCARS and ZEKES models to explode or burn unless a very good hit is scored. An in-ine fighter like our P-40’s the TONY is not an altitude fighter but makes up for this by being faster than the ZEKE in level flight and extremely fast in a dive. A successful evasive tactic against this plane is, if in a dive, to make a diving turn to the right. At high speeds the TONY handles very poorly to the right and the Japanese pilot has trouble turning in that direction. If you are pursued from the rear and on the level, a very high-speed, shallow climb will keep you out of the range and eventually you will draw way.

One pilot found out about this the hard way. He was returning from a strike at Wewak when he was jumped by three TONYS. He was at 20,000 feet at the time and went into a shallow dive which ended up on the dock one hundred miles farther south, with the TONYS right behind him. Forced to alter his tactics, the pilot began a high-speed, shallow climb and soon lost them. His was the original experience of this sort with the TONY and his pioneerings saved many from falling into the same error.

If you are on the deck, a very sharp turn to the right at high-speed, may do as an emergency maneuver, but it is definitely a last resort and at best will only keep the enemy pilot from holding his lead on you.

TOJO- Too little is known about this new plane to permit positive assertions beyond the statement that it has a very good rate of climb and will make 370 mph at 18,000 feet. Those who have had contact with the TOJO have found that the best way to evade an attack is to go into a high-speed dive.

NICK- There haven't been many of these twin-engine fighters in this area and with their poor performance they there are becoming scarcer as P-38 pilots and others prove that this is one Japanese fighter they can out-turn, out-run, and out-climb. The NICK is structurally strong and there will be some difficulty in diving away, but then it won't be necessary unless he gets closed on your tail.

FRANK- FRANK is gradually replacing in Army services the old standby OSCAR. Recent interceptions have indicated its use. Stemming from the OSCAR designed, it is believed that this new plane will have many recognition characteristics of OSCAR, with an emphenage that is similar to TOJOS. The similarity to TOJOS may possibly have been the contributing cause to misidentification of this particular type of airplane. TOJO is believed to have been accepted and manufactured only to fill a gap between the Oscar and the ultimate standardization of FRANK. FRANK is equipped with an 18 cylinder engine which utilizes methanol injection. Crash exams have shown that FRANK is equipped with two 12.7 mm machine guns mounted at 11 and 1:00 respectively in the engine cowl with a reduced rate of fire, because of the necessary synchronization of these guns. The wing guns are 20 mm Canons that are very similar in construction to the Browning 50 caliber machine gun. The pilot is well protected by half inch armor plate to. Fuel tanks are protected by are relatively ineffectual covering.

JACK- JACK is believed to be destined as a standardized Japanese Naval single engine fighter. JACK also equipped with an eighteen cylinder engine of almost 2000 horsepower and is well streamlined job. Recognition material may be obtained through the pages of AAF intelligence summaries, which will also serve to keep combat personnel abreast of technical information affecting their tactical units. JACK unfortunately to date has not been examined and consequently the information as yet cannot be completely evaluated. Documentary evidence indicates the use of two 7.7mm machine guns mounted on the cowl and two 20 mm Cannons, one in each wing. This armament may also be changed to include two 20 mm Cannons in each wing and the removal of the synchronized guns. Fuel tanks are not protected and oxygen bottles are of the high-pressure type.

IRVING- IRVING is widely used by the Navy as a night the fighter. This twin engined job which is equipped with Radar for night fighting, has an usual armament arrangement. Three guns are mounted in the nose of IRVING. These guns are two 7.7 mm machine guns and one 20 mm Cannons. The dorsal and ventral guns are unique. Two staggered dorsal 20 mm Cannons are fixed and mounted at an angle of 35 degrees to the line of flight and are pointed forward and upward. The two ventral guns, also 20mm Cannons, are pointed downward and are fixed at an angle of approximately 35 degrees forward to the line of flight. IRVING has protected fuel tanks and mounts armor plate behind the pilot. Leading edge wing slots are provided which should give IRVING at maneuverability (at slows speeds) and good stall characteristics.

Japanese Fighter Pilots- Japanese fighter pilot are individuals who do not fly in set patterns nor attack by squadron or flight, although lately a few exceptions have been observed of Japanese imitating standard U.S. four-ship flights escorting their own bombers. The quality of Japanese pilots is unpredictable, although Navy pilots are definitely superior to Army pilots. The variation is entirely between the very able, experienced pilots and very poor pilots, nothing to compare with the more uniform abilities of our own men. The only advanced indication to the probable quality of the opposition is the type of plane the enemy flies- silver or gray ZEKES and OSCARS with roundels on fuselage as well as on the wings are Navy planes. Green, brown, or mottled HAMPS, NICKS, or TONYS are the Army planes.

In the early days of the war the enemy fighter pilots built up a reputation for skill and aggressiveness and they had little trouble keeping that reputation as long as they were opposed by ancient models have P-39’s and P-40s. With the introduction of the P-38 and the P-47 in this theater and the F4F, and F6F in the Solomons, the Japanese learned caution, caution into the point of timidity. Even over their home bases they have shown a distaste for all-out fighting.

Offered in evidence is the Japanese reaction to the head-on pass. They don't like it and nine out of 10 will break first, even before they are in range. To be sure, the head-on task cannot be recommended when flying a plane that has little armament, no convergence of lines of fire, and light armor, but what about this shout of "Banzai" and the suicide crash? Nothing about it because the Japanese aren’t living up toor dying for their propaganda. Instead they will break from the head-on pass in a vertical bank and try to come around for a tail attack. The P-38 pilot need only to keep on at the same speed or go into a shallow dive to defeat this tactic, for the emeny pilot loses speed in the bank and turn and will wind up too far behind to be a menace. In this case of the exceptional one who does hold to a head-on pass, simply push over. The Japanese pilot will invariably go up. One thing you must not do when committed to a head-on pass: you must not turn until entirely clear.

It is a seeming contradiction to say that Japanese gunnery is good, but results don't show it. The discrepancy lies in the poor quality of the guns and the lack of convergence, factors which reduce the theoretical fire-power and which have saved many of our pilots from being hit when the Japanese gunnery had his lead and timing absolutely right. Don't underestimate Japanese gunnery!

Japanese Fighter Tactics- most of the Japanese pilots rely on the half-roll when pursued an almost always roll to the left. When on their tails aim slightly to the left and be ready to shift fire to the left. If the flight or element leader forces an enemy pilot into a half role, there is brief time in which an alert wingman can get in a deflection shot by depressing the nose of his plane. It isn't much more than a snap-shot but the chance is there if he isn’t ready for it. If you haven't seen it before, watch out for that half- roll. A ZEKE can do a half-roll or split-s in some 700 to a 1,000 feet and it is hard to realize that such great maneuverability is possible until you a been a witness to it.

There is another opportunity would sometimes comes to the pilot who anticipates the tactic. If the enemy pilot pulls up instead of doing a half-roll he will almost certainly pull up to the left and stall out. Don't follow him up, but if you have altitude and see the enemy start to pull up you can be right next to him when he reaches the stalling point It makes a nice shot with no danger of a surprise move on the part of the enemy pilot.

One trick employed by the enemy has worked on a couple of occasions and what is more, it has worked against pilot to ought to know better. This is the famous lufberry or mock- fight and it's purpose is to suck in one or two or three of our men who are trustful enough to assume that a lot of milling around means genuine fight. The mock flight takes place at some distance from the main fight and our Rover boy goes tearing across the sky all alone, eager as hell to get into it. Then these six or the fighters which have been sitting up above, probably in the clouds, come cracking down in the Japanese version of the mouse trap play. The Rover Boy is concentrating on what he can see, and "out of sight, out of mind" is no motto for aerial combat. He'll never know what hit him.

Japanese Medium Bombers: BETTY, the well-known 2/EB used by the Japanese Navy, and Helen, an Army standby are the first line Japanese attack bombers and will usually make their strikes from an altitude of 20,000 to 25,000 feet, flying in a tight to V of V’s. Line abreast has been observed. Both are fast, with true air speeds in excess of 300 mph. On occasion BETTY has been used as a torpedo bombers. Like the Japanese fighter, the Japanese medium bomber is inadequately armed and armored and is deficient and self sealing protection for the gas tanks which stretch the whole length of the wing. The Sally, a second line plane, is rarely used in need not be discussed.

BETTY is now equipped with a power operated dorsal turret. Which has a 20 mm cannon as well as the 20 mm cannon in the tail position which remains as a manually operated gun. The nose and waste gun positions are all 7.7 mm guns of the Lewis type.

In attacking a formation of BETTY’s, the rear attack is dangerous because of the BETTYS tail gun. If the tail gunner has been knocked out, that is another story, but in any event the attacks the most likely to succeed will be those made head-on or high from the side. With so little opposing fire power, take your time and pick your spots when you have one of these planes in your sites. The wing-tanks are easily ignited and the oxygen bottles around cockpit are decidedly hazardous to the enemy pilots.

Japanese Light Bombers and Dive Bombers: The use of light bombers in this area is mainly restricted to reconnaissance and night bombing, while dive bombers are used only on occasions of great need or when concentrations of shipping demand higher precision than the mass formation can achieve. Of the light to bomber types, the LILY is frequently met, but is slow and vulnerable.(Recently, six of them were caught at low altitudes and shot down within two or three minutes by a squadron of P-38's.)

DINAH is the Japanese plane most used for day reconnaissance and is well-designed for the job, being fast(350-375 true air speed) and having a service ceiling of 38,000 feet. Speed is obtained at the expense of structural’s strength and the elimination of all armor and armament except a 7.92 dorsal gun.

VAL; formerly the most frequently used Japanese dive-bomber, is rapidly being replaced by the JUDY. VAL is the plane that helps keep alive the myth of Japanese willingness to commit suicide for the Emperor. After an attack these VALS scatter and deck level, attaining the speed of but 250 miles an hour as they head for home. It is at this point that it becomes suicide to fly one.

JUDY: The latest dive bomber to become standardized by the Naval services, is a liquid-cooled dive bomber with very clean lines and appears similar in many respects to the P-40. It is fairly fast (approximately 330 mph) and mounts two synchronized 7.7 mm machine guns firing forward and one flexible 7.7 mm machine gun mounted in the dorsal position. Fuel tanks are not self-sealing and no armor plate is installed.

FRANCES: In the Naval twin engin class this multi-purpose bomber is attaining increased uses. This plane known by the Allied code name Frances is used for bombing, level bombing and torpedo bombing. Powered by two eighteen cylinder 2000 horsepower engines and very cleanly designed, this plane should be capable of speeds up to 350 miles an hour. The nose gun, mounted in a power operated position is of the 20 mm variety. Fuel tanks are well protected and armor plate is installed behind the pilot only.

JILL: Is the most widely used single engine torpedo bomber and is extremely vulnerable to attack because of the lack to self-sealing fuel tank, and armor plate. Two 7.7 mm machine guns are mounted at the top of the radial engine cowling, while the dorsal gun position mounts a single 7.7 mm flexible machine gun. One ventral gun 7.7 mm located in this tough you do bombers should be especially noted when making attacks at low rear.

COMBAT GUIDES

A pilot’s preparation for a combat mission is based on more things than ability to handle a plane. A great deal of his preparation should consist of a constant willingness to listen to more experienced men, even if it involves hearing the same stories more than once. The odds scraps of information picked up in this way are more useful than a formal set of instructions because they are related to situations you yourself are likely to encounter. Then there are the maps at the alert shack, always available to provide you with the data you will need if you return from a flight alone. Go out of your way to learn terrain-- a brief glimpse of a familiar bit of coastline will fix your position when flying through bad whether. Learn what to expect in the way of weather conditions in the area. Weather is a big factor in the operational losses and if you know when to turn back you are going spare yourself some serious trouble. Don't buck weather and don't have so much faith in your instruments that you deliberately put yourself into a spot where you will have to use them.

You must also know the limitations and potentialitics of your own aircraft. It is very important to keep in mind all the performance data on the speed at maneuverability of the type as well as any little peculiarities of your own particular plane. You are a less likely to get into trouble if you do not try the impossible, or rather if you do try to use your plane in the best possible manner. Don't abuse the powers of the aircraft by maintaining excessive manifold pressure; save its strength for the time when you need it and it won't fail you. At the same time, don't SNAFU (return because of mechanical trouble) when some minor gauge fails to work properly. Any pilot who should be over the target but has returned unnecessarily leaves the squadron weaker and forces someone else to do double duty. The habitual snafu leaves himself liable to a bad reputation, ostracism, and eventual transfer.

In this area and the P-38 pilot flies long missions, from four to six hours as a rule, and that is a long time to sit with a parachute strap twisted under your fanny or your emergency kit off-center on your back. Before you start, make sure you are comfortable, check your equipment not only for content but for maximum the ease in the cockpit, and then you will be in condition for combat when you reach the target; your energy won't have been dissipated in fretting over a cramped position.

Check your gunsight soon after take-off and make sure is working properly. Remember that you are playing for keeps and little things count when only your best is good enough.

On the way to the target don't indulge in the unnecessary radio chatter. If you are in doubt whether to speak were keep still, shut up! You may miss vital instructions or warnings by opening your mouth at the wrong time. Be familiar with the calls of the fighter sectors, too. If you are flying above overcast it will be useful to know at least the area over which you are flying even if you cannot see the terrain features, and if the fighter sectors pass on information you'll know where it is coming from. Over the target use the clock system of calling in aircraft, adding high, level, or low as the case may be. Clearly identify yourself and the one to whom you are talking when you call in Bogies or enemy aircraft. You won't help anyone by it and nothing will split a formation wider than some voice coming over the air saying, " P-38, there's a Zero on your tail."

As you near the target keep a close watch on cloud formations. The enemy is liable to be waiting for the chance to make a surprise attack. It is well to remember that effective use of cloud cover is the is as valuable for defense has for attack, since it may be the means of escape for you if your plane is damaged or if situation calling for flight instead of fight.

This is what happened to one pilot over Rabaul. After receiving hits on the canopy, radio compartment, and left and right tanks, a 20 mm shell burst squarely on the left engine of his plane, stopping the engine and setting it afire. To TONYS and three ZEKES came in behind this pilot, but he took evasive action and headed for the nearest cloud. He made it and then, by slipping this plane, smothered the fire. The left engine was entirely burned out and then the right engine began coughing. The pilot tried to head for home on a direct southwest course but twice unless the cloud to find that the five enemy planes were waiting for the pilot thought this over and climb to 8,000 feet inside the cloud, then to a heading due south instead of southwest. The enemy pilots weren’t watching that side of the cloud and so the P-38 pilot dived into the water and flew due south for 20 minutes before setting his course for home. On a clear day he wouldn't have had a chance, but by using his head and the available clod cover he was able to flying his crippled plane back to base, where he landed wheels-down and turned it over to a service squadron for salvage.

Over the target keep formation. It is the wingman's job to protect his element leader even if he never gets a shot himself. Your element leader will give you whatever chances he can and it is not necessary to be leading to shoot down enemy planes.(One pilot pass credit for eight enemy fighters, all of which he shot down while flying wing position and without leaving his element leader). You are part of a team and holding the formation is a matter of life and death, if not for yourself then for someone else. The best results come with the best teamwork, and the highest individual scores are made by men who have the team spirit. Individualists don't live long enough to build up a personal score, because there is absolutely no chance to fight one against one with the Japanese and survive. American planes and formations are designed to force the Japanese to fight on our terms. One of the foremost factors in the success of our plans against the Japanese in this theater has been General Wurtsmith's development and insistence on the use of two-ship elements and combat, devised for the used of the P-40 pilots who made the Darwin raids so costly to the Japanese, the theory has become standard practice throughout this area simply because there is no better way to guarantee the high-low ratio of Japanese losses to ours.

Once in a fight don't concentrate entirely on your own attack. The emphasis on looking around can’t be made strong enough, for there is a tendency, a very natural and human tendency, to watch and enemy go down. Don’t do it! Once you have completed your pass look around, both for another target and to make sure no enemy pilot has slipped in close enough to make a target and to make sure no Jap has slipped in close enough to make a target of your plane. Clear yourself before you put a notch on your gun.

Speed is important! Said she cannot out-maneuver the Japanese fighters it should be obvious that to have any success in combat against them, speed is essential. If at all possible, keep your speed in combat at three hundred miles plus. Never slow down below 250 miles per hour once in a flight. There have been pilots who slowed down in combat, but they are no longer capable of telling you how dangers it is to do so.

New pilots have had gunnery drummed into them in schools, but it is not until they get into combat that they find out that a high degree of skill is necessary. Using this 70-mil sight, an enemy bomber will fill the site at three hundred yards; a fighter will fill half the site. Unless they fill the site to that extent, hold your fire; it doesn't count beyond 300 yards. On the other hand, the closer you get the better. Your chances of scoring hits and the destructiveness of your fire will increase in proportion. Go in close and then, when you think you're too close, go in closer. The majority of pilots with good scores believe in closing to minimum range, were there is no chance of missing and where firepower has its maximum effect. When you do close in, don’t fire all the way. Use several bursts of 1 to 3 seconds duration. Long bursts cause jamming and overheating of the guns. You are aiming at a target, not spraying the general area. If you take a shot in deflection, pull your site through the enemy’s line of flight. Misses are do more to shooting over or under than to improper lead. Above all, keep your flying smooth when you fire. The smoother the pilot the better his gunnery, for one smooth burst is more likely to bear results than a number of nervous, jerky bursts. Try taking a deep breath just before you press the button, or develop any psychological trick which will keep you steady through that brief moment when you have drawn a bead and are ready to let fly.

There are going to be a number of occasions when you will not be the aggressor. If you are attacked from above and to this side wait till the enemy has definitely committed himself and then turned underneath them. This forces him into a tighter turn, limits the effective length of his pass, and gives you the chance to straighten out while he is still in his turn. If a pass is made and your plane is damaged, don't be too quick to regain control. Let your plane appear to be more severely damaged than it is, let it fall away out of control and the enemy will not sacrifice his altitude just to check up. If you pull out too soon he will follow you down and try to finish you off, and he will have enough advantage to do a thorough job.

If you are fighting at low altitudes, watch out before the enemy who seems to be lagging just enough to let you close in slowly. If he is over his home base he is probably trying to lead you over the ack-ack positions, setting you up as a close-range target for small and medium ack-ack. Or he may let you follow him until you are so eager for a shot that you forget how close you are to the ground. The Japanese may try a rollover, tempting you to follow him in a maneuver impossible for a P-38 at low altitude.

When you are back at home base after a successful combat don’t indulge in that last bit of foolishness- don't do a victory roll. You may easily be shot out without your knowing it and the strain imposed on your plane by the victory roll might be enough to break a partially severed control cable or damaged control surface. If that happens you'll never be able to pick up that TS ticket you will have earned by taking a chance at the wrong time. If you have really feel so good about a victory then land, check your plane on the ground, and take it up again. It is all right to give the ground crews an idea of just how well you do aerobatics, but don't let the staging expenses for your act to run to $125,000 worth of equipment, and $25,000 worth of pilot training.

Finally, develop and display the aggressiveness, alertness, flying ability, and proficiency in gunnery which are the attributes a fighter pilot must half. Any man who does not possess all these qualities would do well to get out of a fighter outfit before his C.O. convinces him that he isn't the right type by requesting that he be transferred. There is not a place for him among those whose faith in each other must be complete.

Save the Date!

475th Fighter Group Reunions

  • Moving forward, all reunions will be held on the second weekend in August.
  • The location for 2018 is TBA. Stay Tuned!
  • Contact Rhonda Rose
    (for more info)
    communications@475th.org
  • More info >