Nick Ilnicki in New Guinea. Letters from a Fighter Pilot. Nov. 1943 - Nov 1944, Vol. 1Volume 2 (May to November 1944 also available).  Please contact us for more information.

2nd Lieut. Ilnicki was fortunate enough to be assigned to the 432nd Fighter Squadron, 475th Fighter Group currently stationed in Dobodura, New Guinea. He was lucky in that the 475th had been purposefully and personally organized by Major General George Kenney, Commander-in-Chief of the USAAFs Fifth Air Force/South West Pacific. In May, 1943, he had transferred every qualified P-38 pilot available under his command as well as experienced ground crew into the newly constituted 475th, much to the consternation of existing units in the area who were badly in need of every pilot, let alone the really good ones. Kenney had held out and instead of the usual combination of P-39s, P-40s and P-38s in a Group, he made sure this unit would be 100% P-38s. Five or six pilots came from each of the nine operational squadrons within the command at the time and they were chosen specifically for the training or experience they had in long distance escort missions. They were an elite group and would prove their worth. In the 23 months that it was on operations, the Group shot down 551 enemy aircraft (in the air) and lost only 56 aircraft to the Japanese. The Group took part in seven campaigns and was awarded three Distinguished Unit Citations.

The 475th Fighter Group was divided into three squadrons, the 431st (nicknamed Possum), the 432nd (Clover) and the 433rd (Hades). Nick was assigned to the 432nd. The war in the Pacific had been going on for almost 2 years. By the time Nick arrived in the South West Pacific, the U.S. had occupied the Solomon Islands, all but isolated the great Japanese naval port at Rabaul, on New Britain Island, and General Douglas MacArthur was beginning his advance up the north coast of New Guinea on his way toward his goal of invading the Philippine Islands. His strategy was to leap frog along the coast capturing major posts and airfields and isolating other pockets that were of no strategic value.

The battlefield was 1,200 miles of New Guinea coastline with major Japanese installations from Madang, 200 miles from the island’s southeast tip to Manokwari on the northwest tip. Midway along the coast was the city of Hollandia, the former capital of Dutch-owned western New Guinea. The Japanese had turned the port into their chief trans-shipment center for troops and supplies coming in to the southwest Pacific. It was MacArthur’s main objective on the New Guinea coast, the point beyond which he expected to veer northward across the sea toward the Philippines.

Nick arrived just in time for MacArthur’s charge.