Bataan Air Force Reinforced

Given the ongoing fighting on Bataan, on 14 January 1942, Commander of the Bataan Air Force, Col. Hal George, called for reinforcement from the P-40’s that were based in Mindanao, which were used for reconnaissance operations in that area. The aircraft were from among the nine P-40’s which had been flown from Bataan down to Mindanao on 4 January 1942 – there were 18 P-40s on Bataan that day before the force was split up.

The request for reinforcement was approved by MacArthur’s HQ, and orders were sent to Mindanao. After drawing cards to decide which of the pilots would return to Bataan, four pilots set out from Del Monte Airfield on 18 January with their P-40’s from the southern island. Unfortunately, one aircraft was lost when its rough running Allison engine quit overwater and the pilot, 2nd Lt. Gordon S. Benson, 3rd Pursuit Squadron, had to bail out, which he did successfully.

Map of the Philippine Islands.  (Courtesy Islandproperties.com)

Map of the Philippine Islands. (Courtesy Islandproperties.com)

The other three, flown by 1st Lt. Edward R. Woolery (3rd Pursuit Squadron), 2nd Lt. David L. Obert (17th Pursuit) and 2nd Lt. Robert S. Ibold (21st Pursuit), though delayed by weather enroute with stopovers at Cebu City, Cebu and San Jose, Mindoro, successfully made it to Bataan Field by dusk on 20 January 1942. The pilots ate a dinner of cold corned beef on bread. That night they were given a blanket and slept on the ground, unsure of what was next.

A can (tin for Commonwealth types) of Corned Beef (aka Bully Beef).  (Courtesy Wikipedia)

A can (tin for Commonwealth types) of Corned Beef (aka Bully Beef). (Courtesy Wikipedia)

The next morning Col. George called them in to his operations office, now at Bataan Field after transfer from Little Baguio near Mariveles. He gave them the choice of either remaining at Bataan Field to fly or of rejoining their pursuit squadrons which were assigned the beach defense mission on Bataan. Even with the warning that the flying would be “…the hardest and most dangerous they would ever do” all three opted to stay and fly, without hesitation. One of them would never leave Bataan again.

The addition of these three pilots brought the number of pilots at the Bataan Field to eleven men, including pilots from all five pursuit squadrons in the command.

Aircraft mechanics from the Headquarters Squadron, 24th Pursuit Group and 17th Pursuit Squadron pose with a Curtiss P-40E in a camouflaged revetment at Bataan Field, January, 1942.  From left to right, front row:  Charles Parman, Alan Waite, Brown Davidson, Henry McCracken, William Miller, Melvin Dixon, Lyall Dillon; middle row:  Marcus Keithley, Jesse White, Ellis Holcomb, Chester Brown, Louis Tome, Michael Tardivo, Sid Wilkinson, John Dujenski; back row:  Earl Akers, Richard Hunn, John O’Neal, Louis Myers, Clarence Hatzer, Henry Blair, William Alvis.  Dujenski, Keithley, White and Wilkinson had just returned to aviation duty from the west coast fighting at Quinauan Point. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia; names in Wm. Bartsch's "Doomed at the Start.")

Aircraft mechanics from the Headquarters Squadron, 24th Pursuit Group and 17th Pursuit Squadron pose with a Curtiss P-40E in a camouflaged revetment at Bataan Field, January, 1942. From left to right, front row: Charles Parman, Alan Waite, Brown Davidson, Henry McCracken, William Miller, Melvin Dixon, Lyall Dillon; middle row: Marcus Keithley, Jesse White, Ellis Holcomb, Chester Brown, Louis Tome, Michael Tardivo, Sid Wilkinson, John Dujenski; back row: Earl Akers, Richard Hunn, John O’Neal, Louis Myers, Clarence Hatzer, Henry Blair, William Alvis. Dujenski, Keithley, White and Wilkinson had just returned to aviation duty from the west coast fighting at Quinauan Point. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia; names in Wm. Bartsch’s “Doomed at the Start.”)

With the reinforcementsfrom Mindanao, on 21 January 1942 there were seven P-40E and two P-40B in commission at Bataan Field. In addition to the fighters, there were several other aircraft too, including one Beechcraft Staggerwing, two basic trainers, two primary trainers and a single O-49 observation aircraft. These were used for various support missions, such as courier flights to Corregidor.

A US Army Air Force Beechcraft Staggerwing biplane in flight during World War II.  (Courtesy WW2incolor.com)

A US Army Air Force Beechcraft Staggerwing biplane in flight during World War II. (Courtesy WW2incolor.com)

It wasn’t much of a plus-up, but every little bit helped in defending Bataan and having some capacity to strike back at the Imperial Japanese invaders. Given the imminent seizure of various points and airfields in the Netherlands East Indies, the likelihood of any fighters arriving in the Philippines from Australia where such aircraft were then arriving was decreasing daily. The Bataan Air Force would have to fight on with the P-40’s on hand.

References

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

Photos from

Philippines Map, at: http://www.islandsproperties.com/maps/

Corned Beef, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corned_beef

P-40 and Mechanics, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bataan_Airfield

Beechcraft Staggerwing, at: http://www.ww2incolor.com/us-air-force/staggerwing-flight.jpg.html

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One thought on “Bataan Air Force Reinforced

  1. Edward Woolery was my father. I was born in Manila September 1940. My father was KIA January 30, 1940. I am very grateful for Bartsch’s Doomed at the Start. In that book I learned for the first time the full story about my father. He, as were all those men and women, in uniform, were gallant heros.

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