By Col. H.B. Reeves

The Split-S that FailedThe 431st FS launched eight P-38’s from Clark Field early the morning of March 28th, 1945. We, along with other P-38’s from the 475th FG, were to escort a Group of B-25’s whose mission was to strike Japanese shipping along the China coast. As a result of the great distance to the target, it was necessary to carry maximum fuel. Additionally, we had been given a secondary mission of glide bombing. For this mission, we were loaded with a 2,000 General Purpose bomb on one shackle and a 300 gallon fuel tank on the other. This was the heaviest load for takeoff that I had experienced in a P-38, and it turned out to be a piece of cake; I had plenty of runway left when I broke ground.

I was the element leader of the last flight (#3). Shortly after takeoff, a wing man up front experienced mechanical difficulty and had to abort the mission. It was necessary to move my wingman forward to fill the empty space, leaving me as Tail-end Charlie. The mission went as planned and after the B-25’s cleared the target, we made our bomb run releasing at 4,000 ft. We then escorted the bombers toward home to about 30 miles offshore. As we had not seen any enemy fighters, we requested a release from the bombers. We received an okay. At this point, we turned back for a fighter sweep down the French Indo-China coast to the south. Twenty to thirty minutes later, a radio call sounded “BANDIT” and the fight was on. My flight, down to 3 P-38’s, stayed at about 10,000 ft., while the others engaged the Japanese fighters at 15,000 to 10,000 ft. We swept across the area of Can Rahn Bay without seeing an enemy aircraft. Disappointed, we turned toward our base (Clark Field) and reduced power for economy cruise. We were a long way from home.

The Split-S that FailedWe no sooner got cruise condition set when I noted in my rear view mirror three Japanese fighters (HAMPS) at shooting range, their wing and cowl guns blazing. I yelled “BANDITS” on the radio and kicked hard right rudder as well as hard forward yoke. This action rolled me almost to an inverted position. I managed to get full power (Max RPM, 60 inches of MANIFOLD PRESSURE and full rich mixture) as I completed a diving turn to the right, coming up to about where I began the evasive maneuver. I was looking for the Japanese fighters. I saw my flight leader who was engaging a HAMP and his wingman was in trail behind and below him. Suddenly, another HAMP came into view and was lining up on #2 P-38. As soon as I noted this HAMP, which was climbing rapidly and trying to close on #2, I maneuvered to get into a trailing position. I was rapidly closing on the HAMP. He was 1400-1500 ft. above me and 1600-1800 ft. ahead of me. I continued to close rapidly on him and when I was nearing firing range, he did a rapid half roll, and started into a split-S.

Note: This was a typical attack maneuver used by the Japanese and was often effective. A HAMP would complete a Split-S, then roll out and climb to a level astern of his target.

The Split-S that FailedThings happened rapidly within the next few moments. The HAMP’S diving flight path was bringing him directly in front of me. I lowered my nose to get a lead. The HAMP was in a vertical dive and our two aircraft were closing rapidly. I was looking at the top side of the HAMP as I started going down. I was essentially in a right side up position, but I began to lower my nose to get off a short burst. Both aircraft were at about the same altitude when I fired. I observed flashes on his canopy and wing roots just before the HAMP passed from my view. Immediately, I broke right to look for him. Instead of the HAMP, I saw the Japanese pilot in his parachute. My turn took me right past the parachute, and I could see that the pilot’s head was hanging.

My flight leader and his wingman were engaged with three more HAMPS. I kept my speed up and climbed to join them. I was nearing them when a HAMP suddenly appeared from the usual afternoon cumulus. I promptly latched on to him and closed to firing range. I fired two fairly long shots, and splashed him. He was burning and smoking as he hit the low-lying hills. We turned for home and reduced speed.

We had gotten further and further from home and had several minutes of high fuel consumption during the dogfight. As we coasted out at about Can Rahn Bay, we slowed to cruise speed. We kept our heads on swivels as we didn’t have fuel for another fight. We discussed the kills we had made and when we were about 15 minutes out, we fired all remaining ammunition to lighten the aircraft weight and give us increased mileage per gallon of fuel.

The Split-S that FailedAfter landing at Clark Field and filling out the Form 1, I noted the sortie had been 9 hours and 25 minutes. That’s a long time to sit on the folded one-man dinghy.