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History of the 348th Fighter Group

Discussion in 'Air War in the Pacific' started by Biak, Nov 1, 2010.

  1. Aggie

    Aggie New Member

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    I am currently doing some research on Charles F Whistler. At the moment a photo is important but any information would be appreciated. On a return to Brisbane he is quoted as stating that he flew the “Hap” against P-47’s and Spitfires. This would have been in the July/August (approximately) of 1943. Information on this would be appreciated. The “Hap” was the A6M3 Type32 rebuilt from wrecks recovered at Buna, New Guinea in January 1943. How he ended up back in Brisbane in July/August 1943 or, perhaps he didn’t go to New Guinea when the 342fs initially flew there, is another question to be answered. I will be very interested in anything that addresses these points. Thanks, I look forward to any responses.
    Thank you for the History of the 348th. It did provide some answers to a couple of questions that emerged from some other reading.
     
  2. Biak

    Biak Boy from Illinois Staff Member

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    Welcome, I'll look through what I have and see what I can find. Anything you can add on Mr Whistler ?
     
  3. Biak

    Biak Boy from Illinois Staff Member

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    This is all I've been able to find hope it helps.

    This from "The Fifth Fighter Command in World War 2" by William Wolf ,volume 2, pages 721,754,771.

    November 15, 1944 : the LST transporting the 342FS to Dulag Leyte broke down and they returned to Biak.( interesting coincidence) boarded another LST and caught up with the convoy in a few days.

    Dec. 10, 1944
    Capt. Whistler led a four plane flight on a late afternoon patrol from BayBay to Green Beach to cover Navy LCM's on a beachhead.

    Dec. 20, 1944
    Capt. Charles Whistler was flying as Benz #3 man with 2Lt. John Pate as his Wingman in Red Flight. They were jumped by four Zeros and took a 20 degrees deflection shot at the rear one which began to smoke, broke to port and went into a fatal dive, crashing three miles from the airstrip. Then Whistler was surprised by and explosion in the port wing that tore off the ammunition box door and disrupted the air foil forcing him to land at San Jose strip below. The damage was partially repaired and he flew back to base the next day.

    William Wolfs three volume set of the "Fifth Fighter Command in WW 2" is well worth the price.
    Also "Kearby's Thunderbolts" by John C. Stanaway is a great source for the 348th Fighter Group.
    I checked Kearby's Thunderbolts and was only able to find Capt. Whistler mentioned as being an element leader in October 1943 which would put him 'somewhere' near WeWak. Some of the most intense fighting the Group saw while in New Guinea.
     
  4. Aggie

    Aggie New Member

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    Biak, Thank you. More than what I knew. I will continue my research.
     
  5. Biak

    Biak Boy from Illinois Staff Member

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    I really needed to bump this and thought no better way than to place Part Two from another thread here.
    http://www.ww2f.com/threads/oh-nothing-really-just-wanted-to-share.47394/page-146#post-890114. Post # 2914

    Part Two
    Kenney quickly learned that among the top Allied war planners, despite his tremendous success in the Southwest Pacific, defeating the Japanese was a "war on the back burner." Most Allied efforts were focused on defeating the Axis in Europe. This was not a message Kenney wanted to hear or a decision he would accept. He continued to plead for new pilots and aircraft, and the effort finally paid off. On March 22, less than ten days before Kenney's return to Port Moresby, Hap Arnold called him to his office. He advised the Fifth Air Force commander that he had "squeezed everything dry to give him some help." That help was to come in the form of:

    • One new heavy bombardment group
    • Two and a half medium bombardment groups
    • Three new fighter groups--and, "Oh, one of those groups will have to be a P-47 group. No one else wants them."

    Desperate for anything, despite all the negatives he had heard about the P-47, and ignoring his own misgivings about the ungainly Jugs, Kenney said he would gladly take anything Hap chose to send.

    [​IMG]Major Kearby took a badly needed break from making his squadrons ready for combat in Europe on April 3, two days after George Kenney left Washington to return to his own command. That seven-day leave gave Kearby the opportunity to spend a little time with his children and his beautiful wife Virginia, whom he affectionately called "Ginger." When he returned to work on April 9, it was to find something unusual going on. The 348th Fighter Group was being readied for deployment.

    Within 30 days the group moved to Camp Shanks, New York, to begin their final preparations before leaving for overseas combat. On May 14 both pilots and planes were boarded on the Army Transport Henry Gibbons. On May 21 the Henry Gibbons passed through the Panama Canal, and the men aboard who were headed for war, at last, knew what many had begun to suspect, that the 348th Fighter Group with its P-47 Thunderbolts was not headed for Europe. They were, in fact, the group no one else wanted that Hap Arnold had promised General Kenney.
    The 348th Fighter Group was headed for war in the Pacific with their unwanted, untested, and oft-derided, P-47s Thunderbolts.

    Lieutenant Colonel Neel Kearby reported for duty with the Fifth Air Force at Brisbane, Australia, on June 20. Meanwhile, his ground crews and crated P-47s continued on to their final destination further north at Townsville. General Kenney recalled meeting Kearby for the first time quite well. The newly-arrived group commander made a solid impression, not only for his resume as a seasoned pilot with 2,000 hours of flight time already on the books, but for his eagerness for combat. From the moment of that first meeting, something clicked between the two men, and they became very close friends.

    Neel Kearby's boyhood heroes had been the great aces of World War I, men who admired and hoped to emulate. Perhaps Kenney saw in Kearby the same fire, ability, and hunger that had marked one of those men, the pilot even Eddie Rickenbacker had proclaimed the "the greatest airman of World War I," the unstoppable Frank Luke. Kenney had flown combat in that earlier war, shooting down his first German plane on the same day Luke began his incredible string of aerial victories by bagging three balloons in a day on September 15, 1918. Kenney knew well the story of Luke's competitive personality, his daring braggadocio, and the skill as a pilot that had enabled him to accomplish what he proclaimed he would do. (In all, Kenney netted two confirmed kills in World War I, earning the Distinguished Service Cross for his second aerial victory on October 9.)

    Kenney wrote of that introduction:

    Kearby, a short, slight, keen-eyed, black-haired Texan about thirty-two, looked like money in the bank to me. About two minutes after he had introduced himself he wanted to know who had the highest scores for shooting down Jap aircraft. You felt that he just wanted to know who he had to beat."

    In the summer of 1943, General Kenney had plenty of seasoned heroes under his command of whom he could be...and was...justifiably proud. There was Captain George Welch who had shot down four Japanese airplanes at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, earning him the Distinguished Service Cross. Still knocking down enemy airplanes, Welch scored his ninth victory the day after Kearby reported.

    Captain Tom Lynch and First Lieutenant Richard Bong were tied at eleven victories each and looked to be poised for many, many more. The previous December, Eddie Rickenbacker himself had visited the Fifth Air Force, promising to match Kenney's proffered case of Scotch to the first airman to beat the World War I Ace of Aces' unequaled twenty-six aerial victories. Kenney had no doubt that one of his young pilots would eventually reach that benchmark, and any one of his three veteran aces was capable. But Kenney recognized a difference in the attitude of the young Lieutenant Colonel before him, who had reported for duty by inquiring who he had to beat for the top spot on the victory list.

    Though Welch, Lynch, and Bong were each capable of breaking Rickenbacker's record, none of the three felt pressured to do so. For them, aerial combat was a daily job of shooting down enemy planes. Theirs' was not a race to the top. They were simply doing a job to be done, and they were all three very good at doing their jobs. Neel Kearby, on the other hand, had a hunger in his eyes. It was a drive perhaps fueled by his boyhood adoration of the World War I top guns, coupled with the boyhood dream to emulate, and even exceed, the accomplishments of his personal heroes. Beyond the hunger that fueled his intensely competitive spirit, Lieutenant Neel Kearby had both the skill and tactical prowess to accomplish his goals. Perhaps the only real difference between Neel Kearby and the great balloon-buster Frank Luke was that, while Luke's braggadocio turned off his fellow pilots and relegated him to being a lone-wolf, Kearby was an easily likable man. No one, least of all General Kenney, took offense when the 348th Group commander began to proclaim that he intended to shoot down fifty Jap planes.

    Of course, before Kenney's newest would-be ace could get started, General Kenney had to get him into combat. That, despite Kearby's eagerness, was no small matter. First and foremost, it would take a month to assemble the crated P-47s at Townsville. Once assembled, the small fuel tanks would limit the range of combat operations, necessitating additional delays until supplemental "wing tanks" could be manufactured and installed. To further complicate matters, the veteran pilots of the Fifth Fighter Command weren't all that confident that the P-47 Thunderbolts were even capable of combat operations.

    "I told Kearby that, regardless of the fact that everyone in the theater was sold on the P-38, if the P-47 could demonstrate just once that it could perform comparably I believed that the 'Jug,' as the kids called it, would be looked upon with more favor.
    I told him that Lieutenant Colonel George Prentice would arrive that afternoon from New Guinea to take command of the new P-38 group which I had formed and had started training at our Amberley Field. He would probably celebrate a little tonight. I told Neel to keep away from Prentice, go to bed early, and the first thing in the morning to hop over to Amberley in his P-47 and challenge Prentice to a mock combat. Neel Kearby was not only a good pilot but he had several hundred hours' playing time with a P-47 and could do better with it than anyone else. Prentice was an excellent P-38 pilot, but for the sake of my sales argument I hoped he wouldn't be feeling in tiptop form when he accepted Neel's challenge.


    General George C. Kenney
    General Kenney Reports


    It was this critical situation that led to the early morning of mock-combat over Amberley where General Kenney's gamble paid off, resulting in Kearby shooting down Prentice's P-38 several times. Kenney, for his own part, was pleased with the outcome and quick to nix any hopes for a rematch. The single clash between P-38 and P-47 had achieved its necessary goal. In a rematch, with Prentice at the top of his form, the results might be reversed.
    For the moment it was sufficient to know that at last the Thunderbolts had been accepted, even if still dubiously so, as a part of the combat inventory of the Fifth Air Force. The real test would come later when they faced the Japanese in the air. Kenney could only hope that the P-47 would again prove itself a capable fighter, despite its many deficiencies.

    During the last week of July, Lieutenant Colonel Kearby began moving his fighter squadron to Port Moresby. Even as they were arriving, Kearby's competition was growing. On July 26 Lieutenant Bong had his single-best day of the war, shooting down four enemy planes and earning the Distinguished Service Cross. Two days later he bagged another, bringing his score to sixteen.
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2023
  6. Biak

    Biak Boy from Illinois Staff Member

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    Part Three ?

    If Dick Bong wasn't counting, Neel Kearby certainly was. He saw his competition increase at the same time he and his men were relegated to generally uneventful duty at Port Moresby, missions that offered little chance for combat. Kearby's P-47s were still on a short leash for lack of supplementary wing tanks. Besides that fact, the slow-to-takeoff Jugs made them well-suited to the defense of Port Moresby. Radar provided up to an hour of advance warning before incoming bogies arrived and, even at their slow climb speed, an hour was ample to get the Thunderbolts in position to meet an incoming Zero or bomber.

    During the first two weeks of August, the Japanese began reinforcing New Guinea by moving hundreds of fighters into airfields west Lae, on the north coast of the island, in and around Wewak. Kenney responded at mid-month with the most sweeping raids since the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. It was during these missions on August 18 that Major Ralph Cheli was shot down while piloting his B-25, earning him a posthumous Medal of Honor.

    That same day, a new would-be top gun with a fire akin that which burned within Neel Kearby got his first, and second...and the third victory. Two days later the newly arrived Tommy McGuire became an ace in his P-38.
    Dick Bong missed the action around Wewak in mid-August when the Fifth Fighter Command had some of its best hunting. The leading Army ace in the Southwest Pacific had suffered battle damage in a July 28 mission, and his plane was out for repairs. Kenney promoted Bong to Captain and sent him to Australia for R & R while his P-38 was being repaired. In Bong's absence, Tom Lynch took up the slack, shooting down two enemies on August 20 and bringing his own total to fourteen. He scored another victory the following day.

    While Kenney's Lightning's had a "field day" in the skies over the Huon Gulf and around the airfields near Wewak in the latter weeks of August, Kearby's Thunderbolts continued to fly nondescript missions--protection patrols at Port Moresby and Dobodura, and routine convoy escort operations. The one-piece of good news in the month came on August 16 when sixteen P-47s flying close escort duty for Army transports bound for Marilinan were attacked by a dozen enemy Oscars. Captain Max Wiecks and Lieutenant Leonard Leighton each scored a victory, the first for the 348th Fighter Group.

    Lieutenant Leighton was himself shot down and was last seen parachuting into the jungle below. Several months later an Allied patrol found his body, confirming him as the Group's first combat casualty.

    When the month of August ended, Dick Bong was in Australia, Tom Lynch was two victories behind Bong with fourteen kills, and the rookie Tommy McGuire's tally was up to seven. Lieutenant Colonel Neel Kearby, who had yet to prove the true value of his P-47s despite the Groups two victories, was still fifty victories shy of the mark he had set for himself. And for the most part, Kearby and his pilots were still stuck in convoy escort duty, far from the fertile hunting grounds around Wewak.

    September 4, 1943
    First Blood
    After the fall of Buna and Gona in January, Allied attention focused on routing the last Japanese stronghold at Lae, near the Huon Gulf. Early in the Spring General Kenney established an airfield at Tsili Tsili, just forty miles from the large and critical port of Lae. Then, on September 3, he dispatched twenty-three heavy bombers to unload 84 tons of bombs on Lae's gun defenses while nine strafers followed with more than 500 fragmentation bombs and 35,00 rounds of machine-gun fire. It was preparation for the final showdown to at last capture Lae.

    The following morning two dozen B-24s dropped another 96 tons of bombs on Lae. Meanwhile, Major General Wooten's 9th Australian Division, departing out of Buna, landed in U.S. Navy LSTs on Hopoi Beach a short distance east of Lae. The invasion date had been selected based on suitable weather, cloud cover, and fog to keep enemy planes based on nearby New Britain Island from interfering with the landing. Unfortunately, that same weather masked events on the surface of the ocean from the fighter cover flying just above the haze. When the transports neared the beach, enemy shore batteries opened up with a withering fire. Simultaneously, enemy airplanes hidden in the nearby jungle managed to slip in beneath the haze to attack the landing force.

    LST 473 was approaching the beach with its cargo of Australian infantrymen, tanks, and supplies even as a torrent of deadly shells erupted in the waters around it. The transport continued its course towards the beach, determined to brave the maelstrom. Suddenly one of the Japanese dive bombers came in low and released a torpedo directly into the path of the landing craft. Seaman First Class Johnnie David Hutchins glanced quickly to the pilothouse to warn the steersman when, in an instant, a bomb-shattered LST 473. The explosion killed the steersman and mortally wounded Seaman Hutchins, leaving the barge nearly dead in the water. LST 473 was helpless and the ship and the men it carried were doomed by the incoming torpedo.
    With only seconds to react, and with the last vestiges of life vanishing from his battered body, somehow Johnnie Hutchins managed to stagger to the wheel and turn the ship clear of the torpedo's path. Then he died, still clinging to the wheel.

    Around him combat-hardened Australian soldiers who had seen the act were awed by the sheer resolve and determination they had witnessed. They could not forget the smiling, blond, 21-year-old sailor from Texas who had sacrificed his last ounce of ebbing strength to save their lives. One year later at the Sam Houston Coliseum in Houston, Texas, Rear Admiral A. C. Bennett presented Johnnie Hutchin's well-deserved Medal of Honor to his mother.

    Despite the hail of enemy fire from the beach, General Wooten's Rats of Tobruk, so-named for their own heroic stand a few years earlier in North Africa, landed together with their tanks and supplies. Before noon the transport convoy began the return trip to Buna, save for Johnnie Hutchins' and one other transport so damaged that it would only get as far as the port at Morobe.

    The returning convoy was faced with new dangers when the afternoon sun burned off the haze, exposing the ships to enemy flights out of New Britain. At the airfield at Dobodura near Buna, Lieutenant Colonel Neel Kearby was unaware that enemy pilots had killed a fellow Texan, but he was well aware that a fight was brewing. Word reached Dobodura that enemy aircraft had been sighted moving into the Morobe, Salamaua, and Finchhafen areas, which were near the invasion site at Hopoi Beach. It was the anticipated enemy response to the landing of Australian troops on the doorstep of their fortress at Lae.

    Kearby's Thunderbolts began taking off around two o'clock in the afternoon, Yellow Flight from the 342d Squadron, followed by seven more airplanes of Blue and Green Flights. The last flight of twenty P-47s was led by the Group commander himself.

    Half-an-hour later Kearby's formation of four fighters were fourteen miles south of Hopoi Beach, cruising easily at 25,000 feet, when Neel saw what appeared to be two fighters and a flying boat flying close-formation miles below. At that distance it was impossible to identify the bogeys and Kearby knew if he dove, he would lose precious altitude that would be difficult to recover if the dark blips beyond turned out to be American. Kearby noted the signs of bomber damage around Morobe and several fires in the water near Cape Ward Hunt, and decided the possibility that the unidentified airplanes were enemy made it worth the risk. With his wingman trailing, he nosed into a steep dive at more than 400 miles per hour, closing the gap in less than a minute.
    At 2,000 feet Kearby and Lieutenant George Orr, his wingman, closed to within three-hundred yards behind and to the left of the three aircraft. The large flying boat in the center was a Betty bomber, protected by a Zero and an Oscar close on each wing. The red orbs of the rising sun confirmed their identity as Japanese.

    Adrenaline filled every fiber of the would-be super-ace at the prospect of his first combat. Perhaps it was buck fever, it was doubtless not by design, that rather than making a nearly sure-shot at one plane, Neel Kearby unleashing his eight 50-caliber machineguns on two enemy at once. Even before Lieutenant Orr could trigger his own guns, the wingman watched in amazement as the Betty bomber exploded. One wing ripped away from one of the escorting fighters, causing it to also plunge into the sea below. Kearby knew he had been lucky--his first victory had been a double-punch. Chalk one up for the highly touted increased firepower of the P-47. There could be no more doubts.

    The P-47s zipped past the flaming, falling debris that had been two enemy planes before they could sight on the third fighter. Struggling against the inertia of their diving seven-ton Thunderbolts, Kearby and Orr banked and tried to pursue the now vanishing Oscar. Kearby tried to line up for a third kill, but the Japanese pilot executed a nimble climb, leaving Kearby's sights filled only with blue sky and white clouds.

    Nearly thirty enemy aircraft were destroyed on September 4, six by the anti-aircraft guns in the convoy, twenty-one of them by General Kenney's P-38s. Neel Kearby scored the only victories for the 348th squadron. Kearby also realized that his over-eagerness had disrupted what could have been a near-perfect attack, one that would have netted all three enemy planes.
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2023
  7. Biak

    Biak Boy from Illinois Staff Member

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    Stay tuned for more.
     
  8. Biak

    Biak Boy from Illinois Staff Member

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    I've really been busy lately but today might give a clue why. Now if I can figure out finding things on my desktop you'll see. Fingers crossed.

    This is Bonnie in her newfound Glory just before heading for Oshkosh. I was able to stand a few feet outside the wing tip and about twenty feet from the tail on startup. So, as I see it, I've been anointed by the rarified air of a 1942 Thunderbolt prop wash.
    There is a possibility this aircraft was actually flown by the 348th Fighter Group but also a couple other Group's. Due to eighty years time and war time record keeping the search is still continuing by AirCorps Aviation to pin down exactly which.

    IMG_3586.jpg
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2023
  9. Biak

    Biak Boy from Illinois Staff Member

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    Well Hot Damn !

    IMG_3614.jpg
     
  10. Biak

    Biak Boy from Illinois Staff Member

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    Oh this is working well.

    IMG_3585.jpg
     
  11. Biak

    Biak Boy from Illinois Staff Member

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    I'll try one more.

    IMG_3583.jpg
     
    CAC likes this.
  12. Biak

    Biak Boy from Illinois Staff Member

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    Not that y'all don't know, there's a small kick plate just below the "Step" to put your boot in and above just to the right - just right of the stern of the ship - is a lever that pulls out to step up on and then step into the cockpit. The other lever to the right of that one comes out also.
     
  13. Biak

    Biak Boy from Illinois Staff Member

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    CAC likes this.
  14. Biak

    Biak Boy from Illinois Staff Member

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    I know it’s been a while. Just to sweeten the pot and bump;
    Not sure about searching the Web decided to make my own. 341st fighter squadron patch,

    upload_2024-1-22_15-26-29.png
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2024
    OpanaPointer likes this.
  15. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    I give poker lessons. Just sayin'.
     
  16. Biak

    Biak Boy from Illinois Staff Member

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    I played enough Poker to know I ain’t good at it. That or they were better cheaters than me.
     
  17. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    There are simpler way to commit suicide. I got dealt four queens face up in a game of seven card stud. One of the guys accused me of cheating. I gently pointed out that *I* wouldn't deal myself four queens face up, that I wasn't flippin' dealing at all, and that his family tree didn't branch.
     
  18. Biak

    Biak Boy from Illinois Staff Member

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    I Too have "Family" that are suspect as to their true Ancestry. Marriage can dilute the family tree to the point of idiocy. Thankfully the immediate dominate Family DNA has overridden/squashed the outsiders to the point of irrelevance.
     
  19. Biak

    Biak Boy from Illinois Staff Member

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    IMG_4290.jpeg

    Only putting this up to bump the thread and say;

    Yee-Haw ! After June 15th I shall refer to others as ‘ You poor bastards’ or possibly, “Well Life was great while it lasted”. Either way I’m one happy SOB !
     
  20. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    And remember, about one foot above the ground, JUMP UP!
     

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