Category Archives: USAF

Thunderbolt!

Via the National Archives: This 1944 original color film captures footage of the air war over Italy during World War II, focusing on the life and death struggle of a train-busting P-47 Thunderbolt squadron operating out of Corsica.

In addition to showing how the pilots’ activities seriously crippled the Nazi fighting ability, hastening the sweep of Allied forces into Rome, the footage also shows the suffering of non-combatants on the ground. The film was directed by William Wyler and John Sturges, with an introduction by Jimmy Stewart (who flew B-17s during the war) and is narrated by Lloyd Bridges and Eugene Kern.

There are far worst ways to spend 42 minutes.

The film was compiled at Alto Air Base, call sign “Break Neck” which was home to 27-year-old Lt. Col Archie Knight’s 57th Fighter Group which consisted of the 64th, “Black Scorpion,” 65th “Fighting cocks,” and 66th “Exterminators” FS.

“The long and bitter struggle…”

Official caption: “Victory Carving-First Division Marines on Okinawa gather around Corporal John Dulin as he wields a Japanese samurai sword to cut a VJ cake that he baked for the celebration. That isn’t sugar cake though, the icing is made of starch.” From the Marion Fischer Collection (COLL/858), Marine Corps Archives & Special Collections

“On board all naval vessels at sea and in port, and at our many island bases in the Pacific, there is rejoicing and thanksgiving. The long and bitter struggle, which Japan started so treacherously on the seventh of December, 1941, is at an end,” began Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz’s address to the combined Pacific Fleet on Sept. 2, 1945, as World War II officially ended, some 75 years ago today.

While today is ostensibly a Warship Wednesday, and logically I should do the USS Missouri, I like to dedicate WW to covering little-known ships and, on this day, Mighty Mo will have her story told far and wide by more mainstream sources than I. This includes a live stream of the anniversary celebration on her decks today.

With that being said, let us take to the sky with a great video on the 75th Anniversary Warbird overflights in Hawaii.

No more posts today, Happy Surrender Day +75. Reflect on those lost. Salute those left.

Operation Allied Sky

A Minot-marked 5th BW B-52H and vintage Belgian Air Force F-16As last Friday, as part of the Buff’s 30-nations-in-one-day tour. 

Even while about half of the USAF’s meager Stratofortress pool was greatly disrupted by the temporary relocation of B-52s from Barksdale AFB in Louisiana to escape Hurricane Laura, a flight of six B-52Hs– forward-deployed 5th Bomb Wing Bomber Task Force (BTF) ships operating from RAF Fairford after flying cross-continental from Minot on 22 August — overflew every single one of the 30 NATO member states last Friday while being escorted in turn by a rotating force of 80 fighters belonging to 19 European air forces and Canada.

Most importantly, they did it all in a single day.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said:

“Today’s training event demonstrates the United States’ powerful commitment to NATO, and Allied solidarity in action. As US bombers overfly all 30 NATO Allies in a single day, they are being accompanied by fighter jets from across the Alliance, boosting our ability to respond together to any challenge. Training events like this help ensure that we fulfill our core mission: to deter aggression, prevent conflict, and preserve peace.”

Of course, the Russians also buzzed the B-52s as they operated over the Black Sea, popping by with Su-27s. The below Russian Ministry of Defense video shows that briefly, ending with a clip of a different series of intercepts buzzing a Danish Challenger, a Swedish Gulf Stream, and an RC-135 over international air space in the Baltic.

Here is the B-52 intercept from the view of the U.S. side of things, showing the Russian antics.

 

Meet the F-110A Spectre

Originally pitched by McDonnell to the Air Force as the F-110A Spectre, this smokey J-79 twin-engined beast was the Air Force’s version of the famed, albeit Navy, F4H-1.

McDonnell Aircraft Corporation F-110A Spectre SN 149405.

The corporate propaganda from 1962:

Ultimately, the McNamara Pentagon would just call both versions of the plane the F-4 Phantom II, with the Navy using at first the F-4B (the old F4H-1) and the USAF the F-4C (the F-110A). The first Air Force Phantom flew on 27 May 1963.

More than just a green plug

On this day, 75 years ago, 9 August 1945, a 509th Composite Group Boeing Block 36 Silverplate B-29-36-MO Superfortress SN 44-27297, Victor 77, dubbed Bockscar by her normal crew, piloted by the 393d Bombardment Squadron’s commander, MAJ Charles W. Sweeney, dropped the “Fat Man” A-bomb with a blast yield equivalent to 21 kilotons of TNT over the city of Nagasaki, which had two large Mitsubishi plants, with the aim point of the device plotted roughly between the two factories.

It was the plane’s fourth combat mission.

In the West Point Museum is Fat Man’s safety fuze for the atom bomb.

Bockscar took off with this green “Safe” fuze in place and, while in flight, the bombardier, CPT. (later COL) Kermit K. Beahan, removed the green fuze and plugged in a red “Armed” fuze. (Photo via West Point Museum) 

This is the sole remaining part of the Nagasaki bomb while Bockscar itself is preserved at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. 

The green plug for the 13-kiloton “Little Boy,” the Hiroshima device, is at the Truman Library and Museum.

A planned third and fourth “Fat man” bombs were not needed.

Touching the Sun, 75 Years Ago

Last summer, I had a chance to stop in at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, and, while the collection is impressive and even has a Space Shuttle, the centerpiece is and probably always will be the Enola Gay.

Every military history buff is of course familiar with the plane. I, perhaps, more so than others as I have studied Col. Paul Warfield Tibbets, coming close enough in North Carolina to his flight suit to see the sweat stains on the collar, and long ago meeting Enola Gay navigator Theodore “Dutch” VanKirk in Georgia before his death. VanKirk thought that dropping the bomb saved hundreds of thousands of lives in the end, ironically most of them Japanese.

The sentiment was repeated when I spoke a few years ago to navigator Russell Gackenbach, who flew on the Hiroshima photographic plane, Necessary Evil, on that fateful day. Like VanKirk, he too has passed.

It is hard not to look at the sheer size of that “aluminum overcast” and feel a sense of spooky unease about the hell that B-29 unleashed once upon a time. Talk about touching history.

One of the most curious facets of my visit to the Enola Gay was to note that it was teeming with crowds of Japanese tourists, many in their teens, all eager to get a look at the plane.

While Al Jazeera argues the Hiroshima bomb is a war crime, I’ve talked about that subject before in past posts and tend to side with VanKirk and Gackenbach as other alternatives seemed more deadly for all concerned in the long run.

Speaking of the long run, most of the nation’s five-star admirals and generals later went on record against the use of the A-bomb. Here is what the two top admirals in the Pacific had to say on its use:

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet stated in a public address given at the Washington Monument on October 5, 1945:

The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace before the atomic age was announced to the world with the destruction of Hiroshima and before the Russian entry into the war.  . . . [Nimitz also stated: “The atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military standpoint, in the defeat of Japan. . . .”]

In a private 1946 letter to Walter Michels of the Association of Philadelphia Scientists, Nimitz observed that “the decision to employ the atomic bomb on Japanese cities was made on a level higher than that of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., Commander U.S. Third Fleet, stated publicly in 1946:

The first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment. . . . It was a mistake to ever drop it. . . . [the scientists] had this toy and they wanted to try it out, so they dropped it. . . . It killed a lot of Japs, but the Japs had put out a lot of peace feelers through Russia long before.

Professor of History at Notre Dame, Father Wilson Miscamble, weighs in on the subject with the opinion that dropping the bomb shortened the war and saved countless lives — on both sides.

Prof. Miscamble is not speaking off the cuff. His 2007 book, From Roosevelt to Truman: Potsdam, Hiroshima and the Cold War was published by Cambridge University Press and received the Harry S. Truman Book Award in 2008. He subsequently published The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs and the Defeat of Japan in 2011.

Lucky Legs and her big fish, 75 Years ago

North American B-25 Mitchell #43-3981 “Lucky Legs” of the 47th Bombardment Squadron, 41st Bombardment Group, 7th Air Force, prepares to take off from Ryuku Retto, Okinawa for a mission against Sasebo Harbor on Kyushu in the Japanese Home Islands, 28 July 1945. Lucky is carrying a Mark 13/44 GT-1 (glide torpedo), a weapon the particular plane used for the first time, in this mission.

[Source: USAF Photo via Mark Allen Collection]

While primarily a Navy-dropped weapon, the Mark 13 was used by the Army in a few instances, such as the 41st BG’s B-25s, and by B-26 Marauder units at Midway and in the Aleutian Islands, the Southwest Pacific, North Africa, and the Mediterranean, with limited success.

Mark 13 Torpedo on display in the World War II Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Notably, the fish does not have her “pickle barrel” wooden drop nose attached. (U.S. Air Force photo)

With that being said, the Mark 13 was probably the most common air-dropped anti-ship torpedo in history, with more than 17,000 made, and had the distinction of being the U.S. Navy’s final such weapon used in combat, by Skyraiders from USS Princeton against the Hwachon Dam in Korea. Notably, late-war PT-boats also used the weapon as it was lighter than their older Mark 8s. Some 13-feet long and 22.4-inches in diameter (wider than a tube-launched torp) the Mark 13 weighed about 2,200-pounds, including 600 of Torpex high explosives. Once dropped, it could make 33.5 knots to 6,300 yards.

From “U.S. Naval Weapons” by Norman Friedman via Navweaps:

“A review of war experience showed a total of 1,287 attacks [this count only includes those launched by carrier-borne aircraft, other US Navy aircraft launched another 150 torpedoes – TD], of which 40 percent (514) resulted in hits, including 50 percent hits on battleships and carriers (322 attacks, including Midway), 31 percent on destroyers (179 attacks), and 41 percent (out of 445 attacks) on merchant ships.”

More info on the Mark 13, below:

For the record, the 47th BS inactivated 27 January 1946 at Manila and has remained that way while the parent 41st BG endured into the Cold War as an F-4 unit, the 41st TG, until it was inactivated in 1970 at Incirlik. Ironically, the F-4, a tactical fighter, could carry more ordinance than the B-25 of WWII fame.

Sherman was right, 1945 revisit

Here we see a P-47N Thunderbolt of the 7th AAF’s 19th Fighter Squadron, 318th Fighter Group, at Ie Shima Airfield on Ryukyu Retto, Okinawa on 7 July 1945, with an M2 machine-gun-armed M3 half-track on anti-paratrooper/banzai defense.

Photo 65093AC

Notably, the “Jug” (S/N 44-88104) is named “Sherman Was Right” (which was apparently a popular name for AAF fighters in both theaters of the war).

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The reference is likely an ode to the Union General’s 1879 ” war is Hell!” speech to the graduating class of the Michigan Military Academy.

Of course, you could also argue that sections of Sherman’s well known, “War is a Terrible Thing” rant from the eve of the Civil War referencing the South’s slim likelihood of victory in the coming fracas between the states as a direct allegory to Japan’s own chances of winning the Pacific War.

That quote, below:

“You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization!

You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about. War is a terrible thing! You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it.

Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth — right at your doors. You are bound to fail.

Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see in the end that you will surely fail.”

~William Tecumseh Sherman, December 24, 1860.”

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