Tag Archives: P-38 Lightning

Chilly Turkey Day, 80 Years Ago

Official caption: “Thanksgiving Day Exercises For Men Of 2nd Service Group in Air Force Engineering Shop At An Airfield Somewhere In Iceland. 26 November 1942.”

(U.S. Air Force Number 75406AC) Via NARA 

Note the mix of leather flight jackets, utilities, overalls, and field dress, with Brodie helmets and gas masks on the wall at the ready. Also, note the proximity of the wood stove– essential on the wind-swept outpost in winter.

Snow Scene At 2nd Service Group Airfield, Reykjavik, Iceland. Note The Douglas A-20 ‘Miss Carolina’ To The Left. 30 November 1942. (U.S. Air Force Number 75412AC) via NARA 

When the U.S. arrived in Iceland in the summer of 1941— months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor and while still ostensibly neutral– to take over the occupation of the Danish colony from the British, the USAAF soon flew in elements of the 33d Pursuit Squadron (P-40s), 9th Bomber Squadron (H)(A-20s), and 1st Observation Squadron to relieve the RAF’s own force (one squadron of 15 Wellington bombers, a flight of Hurricane fighters, a Norwegian squadron of 6 Northrop reconnaissance float planes, and 30 utility planes) for use elsewhere. It was the 2nd SG that supported these operations, part of a force that would grow to almost 30,000 Allied troops by 1943.

Notably, the USAAF achieved its first Army Air Forces aerial victory in the European theater on 14 August 1942 when Iceland-based fighters shot down a Luftwaffe FW- 200 C-4 Condor.

Meanwhile, the Navy’s VP-73 (PBY Catalinas) and VP-74 (PBM Mariners) would set up operations at Keflavik in August 1941 (and stay there for a while!)

Army Gets in the Game against Goering

While Pacific-based U.S. Army Air Forces fighter pilots, running P-39s and P-40s, had already taken a few bites out of the assorted Japanese air forces at Pearl Harbor, the CBI, and over Guadalcanal, it wasn’t until eight months after the U.S. entered the war against the Germans that the Army could claim its first “kill” against the Luftwaffe.

Eighty years ago, the USAAF achieved its first Army Air Forces aerial victory in the European theater on 14 August 1942.

Via U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa:

In August, the 27th Fighter Squadron began ferrying P-38 Lightnings to England as part of Operation BOLERO. While en route the squadron stopped in Iceland to refuel, rest, and prepare. During a mock dogfight between two 27 FS P-38s and a P-40 assigned to Iceland Base Command, an RAF Nomad tracked a German FW- 200 C-4 Condor, as the Luftwaffe aircrew flew around the perimeter of Iceland and near Reykjavik collecting information on weather and allied shipping.

P-40 pilot, 2d Lieutenant Joseph D.R. Shaffer, 33 FS assigned to Iceland, performing air defense of the island, first attacked the Condor, damaging one of the bomber’s engines. Soon after 2d Lieutenant Elza E. Shahan, 27 FS P-38 pilot, followed Lt Shaffer’s attack, hitting the bomb bay, causing the aircraft to explode and crash into the sea. For their actions that day, Lts Shaffer and Shahan earned the Silver Star and achieved the first active-duty shoot down of German aircraft in World War II.

Summer 1942: U.S. Army Air Forces Lockheed P-38F-1-LO Lightning fighters (identifiable are s/n: 41-7540, 41-7594, 41-7598) of the 1st Fighter Group during a refueling stop in Iceland on their way to England. 41-7540 was flown by Lt. Elza E. Shahan (27th Fighter Squadron) on 14 August 1942. He shot down a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor over the Atlantic, together with 2nd Lieutenant Joseph Shaffer of the 33rd FS Squadron, 8th FG, (flying a Curtiss P-40C). This was the first USAAF victory over a German aircraft in World War II. (National Museum of the U.S. Air Force photo 050524-F-1234P-002)

As noted by Lockheed:

Within six months, as the P-38 showed its versatility in North Africa, a lone hysterical German pilot surrendered to soldiers at an Allied camp near Tunisia, pointing up to the sky and repeating one phrase—“der Gableschwanz Teufel”—over and over. Once the phrase was translated, U.S. officials realized the focus of the pilot’s madness. The P-38 had been given a new nickname: the “fork-tailed devil.”