Warhawk Close-up

80 years ago. North African Campaign, Tunisia, May 1943: A great shot of a Curtiss P-40K-1-CU Warhawk from the 64th Fighter Squadron (The Black Scorpions), 57th Fighter Group, of Ninth Air Force, USAAF. The ground crewman is riding the wing to relay to the pilot to avoid ground obstacles that the aviator at the controls of the tail dragger is unable to see due to the angle. 

Via LIFE Archives

The above aircraft is “White 13” (SN 42-46040), “Savoy” assigned to 22-year-old 1st LT (later Capt.) Robert Johnson “Jay’ Overcash, and was likely taken either at Hani Airfield or Bou Grara Airfield in North Africa. Note the dot-dot-dot-dash (Morse= V) code and black scorpion on the aircraft’s fuselage along with the disembodied skull. Does it get any more moto?

The image was snapped just a couple weeks after the 64th Squadron famously mixed it up over the Sicilian straits with a German air convoy on 18 April during which 74 enemy planes, mostly transports, were claimed destroyed. The event was known in the 57th FG as “The Palm Sunday Massacre.”

Soon after this image was taken, 46040 was transferred further East to a Chinese KMT AF training unit in Karachi, India, and would be wrecked at Malir Air Base, India on 30 September, with the pilot trainee at the stick killed.

The unit, constituted as the 64th Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) on 20 November 1940, would end the war flying P-47s on interdiction and support operations in northern Italy.

In all, Overcash would be credited with 5 victories, an ace, the last two flying White 13 (then a P-47) on 26 April 1944, while escorting USAAF B-25s and RAF Baltimores on a bombing mission. Post-war, he transferred to the new U.S. Air Force and retired in 1980 as a U.S. Air Force Reserve Colonel.

Today, the 64th Aggressor Squadron of the 57th Adversary Tactics Group is still around, located at Nellis AFB Nevada.

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