As the Bataan Campaign began, the fighter of the Bataan Air Force under Colonel Harold H. George (the “Pursuit” George of the Army Air Corps) were operating under restricted orders – they were only to perform visual reconnaissance missions when ordered by HHQ. Although not the mission desired, for a fighter pilot wants to fight, the paucity in numbers of remaining combat aircraft dictated the judicious use of them for the benefit of the entire United States Army Forces Far East (USAFFE) command.
But as the battle for Bataan began along the Abucay Line starting on 9 January 1942, the II Corps grew frustrated at the unopposed activity of Japanese observation aircraft flying over the Abucay battlefield, gathering vital information on the location and activities of Fil-Am ground forces. Even worse, Japanese bombers were unopposed as well, raining down death and destruction on the beleaguered defenders of Bataan.
On 14 January, General MacArthur’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Richard J. Marshall, traveled from HQ to “Little Baguio,” the HQ on the slopes of Mariveles Mountain for the Bataan Air Force (V Fighter Command) to meet with the air commander, Col. George. Brig. Gen. Marshall conveyed instructions that the fighter pilots were to continue to fly visual reconnaissance missions as directed, but amended the order to include a provision for shooting down Japanese observation aircraft when sighted.
The Bataan AF had actually quietly begun to act on this order the day before, on 13 January, when three P-40’s launched in pursuit of a reported observation plane, without result, unfortunately. They could not find the enemy plane over the Abucay Line, but spotted a column of some 30-40 enemy trucks on a road and made three strafing passes against it.
The next morning, 14 January, nine Imperial Japanese Army Air Force Type 97 light bomber aircraft (aka Mitsubishi Ki-30 ANN) bombed Bataan Field, like angry hornets striking back at someone who disturbed them, perhaps in retaliation for the strafing attack of the day before.
In the afternoon four P-40’s were launched on recon missions but three returned with mechanical problems, the fourth without result.
On 15 January, II Corps sent repeated requests throughout the day to HQ USAFFE for air support which went unanswered.
But at 0630 on 16 January, as the 31st Infantry Regiment and the 45th Infantry Regiment moved forward toward the Abucay Line from reserve positions in order to counterattacks against the Japanese, the II Corps G-3 again contacted his counterpart at USAFFE G-3 and pleaded for air support. “We want a few eagles to chase the hawks overhead,” he said, “or at least some ‘coyotes’ to bark at them and force them higher.” With the movement to the line for the counterattack underway, HQ USAFFE relented and ordered the Bataan AF to support II Corps.
By 0700, five P-40’s took off with orders to head north up the east coast of Bataan and fly patrol over the Abucay Line. The fighters sighted one enemy observation plane near Orani and chased after it through some clouds, taking a couple of shots but missing. Unbeknownst to them, some Japanese bombers passed by unobserved and bombed the Fil-Am troops on the ground – traveling in daylight the 31st Infantry was attacked but fortunately with little result, as they were able to quickly disperse. But before they returned to base, the P-40’s sighted and strafed another column of Japanese vehicles behind enemy lines, much to the delight of friendly troops – it was a great boost to their morale to see the Bataan AF in action.
The pesky ANN aircraft retaliated again, attacking Bataan Field at noon that day. In an effort to prevent the friendly fighters from flying again, the IJAAF sent nine Type 97 fighters (aka Nakajima Ki-27 NATE) to strafe Bataan Field at dawn the next morning, 17 January.
But the Bataan AF would not stay grounded, and at 1025 that morning, 17 January, roughly two hours after the 31st Infantry Regiment commenced its counterattack on the Abucay Line, three P-40’s were readied for takeoff, again to intercept enemy aircraft over the Main Line of Resistance (MLR). A tire blew out on one of the aircraft which forced the pilot to cancel his mission. But the other two P-40’s, piloted by First Lieutenant Marshall Anderson, 20th Pursuit Squadron, and Second Lieutenant Jack Hall, 34th Pursuit Squadron, managed to takeoff, rose toward a solid layer of clouds and headed north.
A few minutes later some four miles east of Cabcaben, the two pilots spotted a Japanese observation aircraft – Anderson shot it down right into Manila Bay, in view of personnel at Bataan Field who must have been quite satisfied after being bombed and strafed by Japanese aircraft.
The men continued north to the MLR area and patrolled, soon sighting nine enemy light bombers – they pursued them and the Japanese, seeing them approach, unloaded their bombs and fled, hitting an empty field on the ground.
The Warhawk pilots did not pursue, but reached their patrol area over the MLR. Floating north of the MLR, they sighted a column of Japanese vehicles and descended to strafe it. After about 15 minutes of tearing it up, they pilots sighted two more enemy observation aircraft over Hermosa to the northwest and lit off after them.
This time Lt. Hall scored, destroying one of the enemy aircraft as the other one fled. Having run out of ammunition, Marshall and Hall then returned to Bataan Field, landing at 1125.
In anger again, the IJAAF struck Bataan Field again at 1615 hours. The raid damaged the runway and forced the cancellation of another planned recon mission by three P-40s at 1630, but at least the aircraft were not harmed by the attack.
But for the Bataan AF, and the soldiers of II Corps in the Abucay fight who witnessed the aerial action, it was a splendid day. General MacArthur thought so too, and directed the two P-40 fighter pilots, Marshall and Hall, to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for their successful combat mission.
If only there were more combat aircraft on hand, more could have been done, but the Airmen of Bataan fought with what they had, whenever and wherever they could. They would fly more during the fight for the Abucay Line, but that is the subject of another post.
Bartsch, William H. “Doomed at the Start: American Pursuit Pilots in the Philippines, 1941-1942.” Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, 1992.
Far East Air Force (United States), Wikipedia page, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Far_East_Air_Force_%28United_States%29
USAF Historical Studies No. 85: Newton, Wesley P. Jr., and Senning, Calvin F. “USAF Credits for the Destruction of Enemy Aircraft, World War II.” AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, AL, 1985, at: http://www.afhra.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-090601-121.pdf
Whitman, John W., “US Army Doctrinal Effectiveness on Bataan, 1942: The First Battle,” US Army Command and General Staff College Thesis Paper, Ft. Leavenworth, KS, 1984, at: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a147751.pdf
Major General Marshall, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Marshall_%28general%29
Brigadier General George, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Huston_George
Ki-30 ANN and Ki-30 ANN over Bataan, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitsubishi_Ki-30
P-40E Warhawk, at: http://parrotheadjeff.com/blog/archives/2599/plane-pr0n-curtis-p-40-warhawk/
P-40E with gear down, at: http://forum.keypublishing.com/showthread.php?96221-If-The-P-51-Mustang-Had-Not-Been-In-WWII/page2