When the Bataan campaign began in January, 1942, there were 18 Curtiss P-40 fighter planes on hand, survivors of the 92 operational P-40’s at the start of the war. They were a mix of P-40s surviving from the various pursuit squadrons of MacArthur’s Far East Air Force which had all experienced heavy losses in December, 1941. These included the 3rd, 17th 20th, and 21st Pursuit Squadrons. (A fifth pursuit squadron, the 34th, flew the older Seversky P-35 fighter.)
Included in these 18 surviving ships were at least two P-40Bs from the 20th Pursuit Squadron commanded by 1st Lt. Joseph Moore. The squadron had originally received 25 P-40Bs in mid-1941, with the other squadrons slated to receive two P-40Bs each to serve as familiarization aircraft before they received newer P-40Es. The following aircraft serial numbers for Curtiss P-40Bs (Model H81-B) are those received in the Philippines as of 17 May 1941:
41-5258 to 41-5282, 41-5284, 41-5285, and 41-5287 to 41-5290.
The P-40Bs were transported from ship to the Philippine Air Depot at Nichols Field where they were assembled, and then sat. They had arrived in the Philippines without the Prestone coolant their liquid –cooled engines required! It wasn’t until early July that coolant arrived and the aircraft were able to be used.
These $50,000 aircraft were “hot ships” for inexperienced pilots and a number were lost in accidents. The following P-40B fighters were involved in mishaps before the war began; there may be additional pre-war accidents unrecorded (Source: Joe Baugher 1941 aircraft serial numbers):
5262 in mid-air near Minal near Pampanga, PI, 10/13/41
5268 in accident at Clark Field, PI Jul 19, 1941
5276 in midair collision with P-26 33-111 Jul 30, 1941, Clark Field, PI.
5282 in ground loop accident Oct 14, 1941, Philippines
5284 in accident in Philippines Oct 14, 1941.
5285 taxied into the rear of 41-5271 Jul 29, 1941 at Clark Field, Philippines
On Dec 8, 1941, day one of the war, the 20th PS had 23 P-40Bs operational at Clark Field, but only three made it into the air before the Japanese struck, including No. 41, flown by the squadron commander.
But one of those three obtained the first aerial victory of the war for the United States in the Philippines when 2d Lt. Randall Keator shot down a Mitsubishi A6M2 of the Formosa-based Tainan Kokutai flown by PO 3d Class Yoshio Hirose, who had already strafed Iba Field and flew over to join the melee at Clark.
After the attack only those three P-40B remained intact, with the rest on the ground destroyed or rendered non-operational by battle damage from the sudden Japanese air attack.
Fast forward to January, 1942, when the Bataan campaign began, there was but a total of 18 operational P-40s left in the Philippines. On 4 January 1942, nine P-40’s were sent south to Mindanao (two were lost enroute, unfortunately), which left nine on Bataan to begin the campaign. It is unclear how many of these P-40s were B-models, but available information indicates at least two of those retained on Bataan were of this variant.
Like the more numerous P-40E’s, the P-40B’s served in a variety of roles on Bataan, including reconnaissance (on order from USAFFE HQ on Corregidor), counter-air and surface attack, and may have also been flown on other P-40 missions flown from Bataan such as aerial resupply (ammo, medical supplies to other forces on Luzon behind enemy lines), leaflet drops, and urgent dispatch courier to and from points south (e.g. San Jose, Mindoro, or Del Monte, Mindanao).
Circa 17 Jan 1942, Bataan Field had two P-40B and five P-40E on hand, with 11 pilots assigned to the flying detachment, which was formed with pilots from the various pursuit squadrons.
With some P-40E reinforcements from Mindanao, on 21 Jan 1942 there were two P-40B and seven P-40E in commission at Bataan Field, for a total of nine P-40’s. This resulted in a slight boost in the number of pilots assigned to fly them, and by 23 Jan 1942 14 pilots assigned to flying detachment at Bataan Field.
In early February, both P-40Bs were operational, but by 14 Feb 1942, after the losses of three P-40s in the week prior, there was one P-40B and three P-40E operational. One P-40B and one P-40E were nonoperational. It doesn’t appear that the non-operational P-40B ever returned to service from the sparse records of that time. It may have been “cannibalized” as a source of spare parts to keep the operational machine going, or kept on hand in the slim odds that some kind of spare parts could be found or relief from the States would arrive.
On 2 March 1942 the Bataan P-40 fighters made their last “large scale” effort of the campaign, with five of them, including the P-40B, successfully attacking enemy shipping at Subic Bay. One P-40E was shot down, but two P-40Es cracked up on landing with strong tail winds on short airfields at Mariveles (runway 3,800 feet long, 65 feet wide), as did the last operational P-40B upon return at Cabcaben Field (runway 3,900 feet long). The P-40B happened to be No. 41, the 20th Pursuit Squadron commander’s aircraft, the same ship Joe Moore flew over Clark Field on day one of the war – he was reportedly upset when he heard about the accident.
But the Airmen of Bataan, having to make due and fight with what they had, set to trying to salvage what they could from the wrecks. Old No. 41 was chosen for repair. By the afternoon of March 5, with parts from the other P-40 wrecks, and a spare engine (new or overhauled) from the Air Depot, an operation by 21PS mechanics, directed by Lt. Leo Boelens, created a “hybrid“ P-40B/E. It was carried on the S-3 daily operations report as a P-40B, but this Cabcaben-based fighter was known by the men as the “P-40 Something.” This ship and the P-40E named “Kibosh” by Capt. Ed Dyess, 21st PS commander, were the last two operational P-40s on Bataan.
The “P-40 Something” was in action as early as 14 Mar 1942, when it was flown on a recon of Nichols, Nielsen, Zablan and Del Carmen airfields. It flew a repeat mission the next day of the same enemy-occupied airfields.
Just before the final Japanese offensive on Bataan, on 2 April 1942, the P-40 Something flew a supply mission to Cebu and back. On 6 April, “Kibosh” flew a recon north to Clark and Nichols fields, whilst the “P-40 Something” flew south on recon for enemy ships, but returned early with engine problem.
Engine problems did not prevent the departure of the last two P-40s on 8 April, just before Bataan fell on 9 April, when P-40E “Kibosh” and “P-40 Something” flew out for Mindanao. “Kibosh” cracked up on landing at Maduriao Field, just outside Iloilo, Panay, when its landing gear would not go down, possibly from battle damage to the hydraulic system from a last attack on the approaching Japanese forces before the flight south. “P-40 Something,” piloted by (now) Capt. Joe Moore, made it safely to Cebu. From there another pilot brought it to Del Monte on 10 April. It was the last P-40B in the Philippines, and probably the only P-40 to survive participation in the Bataan Campaign.
Unfortunately, “P-40 Something” did not last long at Del Monte, though long enough to witness the Royce Mission. On April 13, it set off with a P-40E on a recon and strafing mission against Davao, Mindanao. As the P-40s departed the field, Del Monte No. 3 (Dalirig), a narrow, 6,000 foot strip, the encountered a pair of pesky Japanese floatplanes. “P-40 Something” could not keep up with the P-40E, which engaged and shot down one of the floatplanes. In a tight turn, “P-40 Something” suddenly snapped to the outside of the turn, threw off the sliding canopy and nearly ejected the pilot, Gus Williams. The aircraft went into wild movements, with the throttle wide open, like a bucking bronco. Then the engine quit, and the pilot prepared for a deadstick landing back at Dalirig. Six feet from the ground, the engine suddenly roared to life, at full throttle, so the pilot aborted the landing and went around for another approach and made a safe landing. The aircraft clearly needed attention; Williams recommended it not be flown again until the problem was diagnosed. It appears that it was flown over to Del Monte No. 1 at some point shortly after this, perhaps for maintenance troubleshooting.
It rained heavily the next morning, 14 April. After a more senior pilot declined to fly in the miserable weather, Lt. Larry McDaniel, a 34PS pilot who just made it out from Bataan in the baggage compartment of a P-35, had not flown for months, who didn’t know Dalirig, was in poor physical condition (as most everyone else), and, who didn’t know “P-40 Something,” flew the ship from Del Monte No. 1 back to Dalirig. His flight took place in the afternoon, but the aircraft stalled and crashed on final approach in the rain, and Lt. McDaniel was fatally injured in the accident.
And so ended the service of the 31 Curtis P-40B fighters that arrived in the Philippines in May of 1941, and the two which served in the Bataan Campaign, none of them lasting even a year.
And such is war, which is terrible in its carnage and wastage, of human beings, and of machines. However, the sacrifice of the men and women at Bataan warns us of the danger of unpreparedness against aggression. May we long remember the hard and bitter lessons of a lack of such preparedness experienced in the skies, fields and seas of Bataan, so mistakes of the past won’t be repeated in the future.
Bartsch, William H., “Doomed at the Start: American Pursuit Pilots in the Philippines, 1941-1942,” Texas A&M University, College Station, 1992. Some reader reviews at: http://www.amazon.com/Doomed-Start-Philippines-Williams-Ford-University/product-reviews/0890966796/ref=dpx_acr_txt?showViewpoints=1
Edmonds, Walter D., “They Fought With What They Had: The Story of the Army Air Forces in the Southwest Pacific, 1941-1942,” Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1951. http://www.afhso.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-101001-051.pdf
LIFE Magazine, various images
Gen. Joseph H. Moore, drawing at: http://www.aerospaceweb.org/question/history/q0155.shtml
Aviation Art Hangar, “Too Little Too Late by Keith Ferris,” at: http://www.aviationarthangar.com/avarthatooli.html
3rd Kokutai A6M2 profile, at: http://wp.scn.ru/en/ww2/f/1039/65/11
Joe Baugher 1941 aircraft serial numbers http://www.joebaugher.com/usaf_serials/1941_1.html
Views of P-40s in Air Depot, ground accident at Nichols, at Clark, at: http://corregidor.proboards.com/thread/447/aircraft-philippines-1-december-1941
Pics of 20PS P-40B’s in flight, at:
P-40E “Kibosh” profile at: http://corregidor.proboards.com/thread/691/captured-aircraft
P-40B scale model, 20th PS, No. 41, image, at: http://www.p40warhawk.com/Models/Builds/TonyFeredo/P-40B/P-40B.htm
Mindanao Map, Morton, Louis, “The Fall of the Philippines,” Chapter 28, at: http://www.history.army.mil/books/wwii/5-2/5-2_28.htm