Triumph and Tragedy over the Abucay Line

Though the Bataan Air Force had few aircraft, it certainly made its presence felt in the engagements that took place over the Abucay Line during the January 1942 battles on the Main Line of Resistance (MLR) at Bataan.

At this time there were five P-40E Warhawks and two P-40B Tomahawks on hand at Bataan. The enemy aerial opposition on Luzon consisted of about 11 Ki-27 NATE fighters (3rd Chutai of the 50th Sentai), 36 Ki-30 ANN light bombers and 21 reconnaissance/observation aircraft of the 10th Independent Air Group (Dokuritsu Hikotai), commanded by Colonel Kametaro Hoshi under the control of the IJA 14th Army.

Following on to the initial successes of 17 January described earlier in this web log, additional missions were ordered for 18 January. In the morning Charley Sneed, 20th Pursuit Squadron, and Bill Rowe, 17th Pursuit Squadron, took off at 0645 from Bataan Field, and flew over the Abucay Line. On the ground below, the 45th Infantry Regiment was moving into place to join the 31st Infantry in the counter-attack on the MLR.

Finding a layer of cloud at 6,000 feet over the battle area, the two pilots patrolled above and below the clouds looking for enemy aircraft. Bill Rowe noticed a pair of Ki-30 ANN light bombers above the cloud layer, approaching from the east. He dipped below the clouds, and then rose again at a point of interception. His judgment was good and he emerged from the clouds right behind the pair and engaged them. He fired on both aircraft until their gunner in the rear responded no more and both planes dipped into the clouds, smoking.

A pair of Mitsubishi Ki-30 ANN light bombers armed and in flight.  (Courtesy WWII Vehicles.com)

A pair of Mitsubishi Ki-30 ANN light bombers armed and in flight. (Courtesy WWII Vehicles.com)

Rowe dived into the clouds after them, but then pulled back up to discover a single Ki-27 NATE fighter which may have been the top cover for the light bombers. After firing at the enemy fighter on a head-on pass, he observed it pitch up, stall, then spiral down into the clouds, smoking.

Rowe’s counterpart Sneed observed none of this as he was patrolling beneath the clouds, and because he was alone at the time (no witness) and as the combat had taken place north of the MLR, apparently no forces on the ground had observed any crashing enemy aircraft. So Rowe was not officially credited with the destruction of the three aircraft, though he had expended 500 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition. The rest of the mission was uneventful and the pilots returned safely.

In the afternoon another patrol was launched with Wilson Glover and John Posten, both from the 17th Pursuit, taking off at 1545, ever wary of the possibility of amphibious attack along the Bataan Coast, HQ USAFFE ordered the mission to first reconnoiter over Subic Bay for enemy activity.

South of Silanguin Island (just west of Subic Bay) they sighted a Japanese ship, dark gray in color, three smoke stacks, which looked to them to be a cruiser, heading east. The ship as described sounds like it may have been an older-type IJN light cruiser (Kuma or Nagara class) a vessel which embarked a floatplane, typically the Kawanish1 A7F ALF. The light cruiser Kuma is noted as being on patrol in Philippine waters off Manila Bay departing Takao, Formosa after 10 January 1942, and before it arrived in Lingayen Gulf on 31 January 1942.

IJN light cruiser Kuma, which patrolled in Philippine waters in January, 1942.  (Courtesy DrMike Smugmug.com)

Three-stacked IJN light cruiser Kuma, which patrolled in Philippine waters in January, 1942. (Courtesy DrMike Smugmug.com)

The pilots noticed a seaplane circling the ship, which must have been an anti-submarine patrol, as the aircraft dropped two bombs into the water and fled at the sight of the P-40’s. The American pilots attacked, both firing on the aircraft and leaving it smoking and descending steeply before they turned to the east to patrol Subic Bay, in which they observed a Japanese warship and a transport.

Kawanishi E7K2 ALF floatplane of the type used aboard IJN light cruisers in WW II.  (Courtesy WW2photo.se website)

Kawanishi E7K2 ALF floatplane of the type used aboard IJN light cruisers in WW II. (Courtesy WW2photo.se website)

Continuing east of Binangan, they sighted a two-seat enemy observation aircraft and chased after it. Posten made an attack but the nimble Japanese aircraft, however, evaded it, and escaped. The pilots returned to Bataan Field without any further excitement. According to USAF records, 2nd Lt. John H. Posten was credited with one aerial victory on this day, though the type is not specified in the credits listing. It was likely the seaplane as Posten wrote in his diary about his failed attack on the observation aircraft and how it “turned rings around me” and got away. (Bartsch, page 255).

On January 19, four P-40’s took off from Bataan Field at 0700 to cover the anticipated arrival of several more P-40’s from Mindanao. They reached 15,000 feet in good visibility as they flew west over Bataan, up north towards Subic Bay, and then east toward the MLR. Lloyd Stinson, with Marshall Anderson on his wing, then noticed eight enemy aircraft below them, climbing towards them. The P-40’s winged over and dove against them, Japanese fighters, and a wild dog-fight ensued. In the battle, it appears that Stinson and Marshall both got into position to fire on the enemy. The other pair of pilots, Kiefer White, 20th Pursuit, and Bill Baker, 34th Pursuit, said they were unable to get into a firing position in the swirling dogfight against the maneuverable Japanese fighters.

A flight of Curtiss P-40 fighters on a Stateside training mission during WWII peels off into an attack against a target below.  (Courtesy Howitflies.com)

A flight of Curtiss P-40 fighters on a Stateside training mission during WWII peels off into an attack against a target below. (Courtesy Howitflies.com)

This was Lloyd Stinson’s first encounter with Japanese fighters, and he wrote about it afterwards. After an initial head on pass his P-40 stalled and he dived to recover and regain some airspeed: “…When I pulled up, I spotted one Zero and gave him a long blast. I now had speed and could better fighter and protect myself. I rolled off that Zero and down and back up again. This time I spotted a Zero on a P-40. The Zero was firing away. I gave him a good long burst and rolled away again. I pulled back up and looked around for a while, but could not find anyone. It was quite odd how the sky could be full of aircraft a few minutes before and then nothing.” (Note: The enemy fighters were likely Ki-27 NATE fighters, as the IJN’s A6M Zero fighters involved in the early battles in the Philippines (3rd Kokutai, Tainan Kokutai) had moved on by this time to join in the assault on the Netherlands East Indies.)

Experiencing some trouble with his guns in the last pass on the enemy, Stinson decided to make for home and landed safely. There he discovered his aircraft had been hit several times. One shell had passed through the fuel tank behind him Hits in the right wing had cut the wiring from the cockpit to the guns in the wing, hence the machine gun problems.

But only three P-40 pilots returned to Bataan Field after the mission – missing was Marshall “Andy” Anderson, a victor against Japanese aircraft just two days before. Hopes that Anderson survived the encounter were lost when ground observers reported the American pilot had successfully bailed out near Bagac on the west coast of Bataan. But after he did, a pair of Japanese fighters strafed him in his parachute. They shot his parachute full of holes and the hapless pilot fell 1,000 feet to his death.

This atrocity enraged Fil-Am servicemen. One source indicates that the IJAAF, in contrast to the IJN naval aviators, displayed no sense of chivalry when it came to downed aircrew, and often sought to kill their helpless opponents when they could. (Burton, page 220) It was not the only time in the Philippine Campaign when Fil-Am Airmen were attacked when in such a vulnerable situation, unfortunately.

Spotters on the ground reported two enemy aircraft crashed in this dogfight. USAF records credit 1st Lt. Marshall J. Anderson with one aerial victory on this day. He is remembered on the Tablets of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery, Manila, Philippines. Lt. Anderson received the Distinguished Service Cross for his 17 January 1942 action over Bataan, and the Purple Heart, for his service and sacrifice at Bataan.

U.S. Army Distinguished Service Cross (Courtesy Military Times)

U.S. Army Distinguished Service Cross (Courtesy Military Times)

“The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to First Lieutenant (Air Corps) Marshall Judson Anderson (ASN: 0-396368), United States Army Air Forces, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Pilot of a P-40 Fighter Airplane in the 20th Pursuit Squadron, 24th Pursuit Group, FAR EAST Air Force, in action on Bataan Peninsula, Philippine Islands, on 17 January 1942. Ordered to lead his flight of pursuit airplanes in a dawn reconnaissance of front line areas with the secondary mission of destroying enemy installations and aircraft, Lieutenant Anderson took off at the head of his flight directly into the face of enemy dive-bombers which were hovering over the flying field. The hostile airplanes were dispersed. Upon gaining additional altitude, he attacked and shot down an enemy observation plane within sight of an approaching Japanese bomber formation. He then led his flight in an attack on the hostile bomber formation, forcing the bombers to release their bombs prematurely and harmlessly, and to disperse. Observing an enemy truck convoy, Lieutenant Anderson continued the execution of his mission by leading his flight in a heavy strafing attack of the convoy. Although ammunition and fuel were now nearly exhausted, he led his flight in a successful attack on a second hostile observation plane, after which he brought his flight safely to its base. In the same vicinity two days later, Lieutenant Anderson’s flight was attacked by a superior force of enemy aircraft. He gave battle immediately, shooting down one of the hostile airplanes before he was brought down to his death in a hail of enemy fire. Lieutenant Anderson’s unquestionable valor in aerial combat is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself and the United States Army Air Forces.

General Orders: Headquarters, U.S. Army Forces in the Far East, General Orders No. 12 (1942)

Action Date: 17-Jan-42

And so it was, days of triumph and tragedy, in the skies over Bataan as the battle for the Abucay Line raged on the ground below in January, 1942.
References

Anderson, Marshall J., American Battle Monuments Commission database search at: http://www.abmc.gov/search-abmc-burials-and-memorializations/detail/WWII_93672#.VL3Hsy7m4qM

Bartsch, William H. “Doomed at the Start: American Pursuit Pilots in the Philippines, 1941-1942.” Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, 1992.

Burton, John. “Fortnight of Infamy: The Collapse of Allied Airpower West of Pearl Harbor.” Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 2006.

Cabral, Steve. “Floatplanes in Second World War at Sea.” Avalance Press, August 2013, posted at: http://www.avalanchepress.com/floatplanes.php

Hata, Ikuhito, and Izawa Yasuho (translated by Don C. Gorman). “Japanese Naval Aces and Fighter Units in World War II.” Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1989.

“IJN Kuma: Tabular Record of Movement.” Combined Fleet.com website, at: http://combinedfleet.com/kuma_t.htm

Millman, Nicholas, and Ollsthoorn, Ronnie. “Ki-27 ‘Nate’ Aces.” Osprey Aircraft of the Aces series, Osprey Publishing, 2013.

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

DSC Citation for Lt. Anderson, at:  http://testvalor.militarytimes.com/recipient.php?recipientid=6283

Photos from

Ki-30 at: http://www.wwiivehicles.com/japan/aircraft/bomber/mitsubishi-ki-30-ann-bomber/mitsubishi-ki-30-ann-01.jpg

IJN Kuma at: http://drmike.smugmug.com/Wreck-diving/Malacca-Straits-Trip-March-06/IJN-Kuma-Japanese-Light/i-2qJf73V/0/O/Kuma.jpg

E7K ALF, at: http://ww2photo.se/air/jap/kanish/04667.jpg

P-40 flight, at: http://www.howitflies.com/Curtiss-P-40-Warhawk

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One thought on “Triumph and Tragedy over the Abucay Line

  1. Pingback: Autobiography of Arthur Walton, May 1971 | bigreunion

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