That was Henry Garfield “Hank” Thorne, Jr., one of the Far East Air Force pursuit squadron commanders who participated in the Bataan Campaign. He was one of a number of men who fought on Bataan and either escaped or evaded to continue the war against Imperial Japan.
Born in Waco, Texas, 1913, he enlisted in the Army in 1932. But Hank Thorne was born to fly and in 1937 earned his pilot’s wings and a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps through the aviation cadet program.
Assigned later to the Philippines, First Lieutenant Hank Thorne became the commander of the 3rd Pursuit Squadron at the end of October, 1941, just before the war. The 3rd Pursuit was based at Iba Field on the Zambales coast of Luzon when the war began in the Philippines on 8 December 1941.
On that day he commanded a squadron with 24 Curtiss P-40E fighters with 18 in commission and six as spares. The squadron also had four Seversky P-35 fighters and a sole North American A-27 light attack aircraft.
But it didn’t take long for the aircraft inventory to change given the costly combat of the first weeks of war. By the time of the Bataan Campaign the 3rd Pursuit was a planeless squadron which had relocated first to Nichols Field, then to a new dispersal field at Tanuan some 40 miles by road southwest of Manila. When USAFFE forces moved to the Bataan peninsula, the squadron’s officers and men assigned beach defense duty near the Biaan River two miles northwest of Mariveles.
Thorne led the squadron through much of the Bataan campaign, including its role in repelling the Japanese landings along the west coast of Bataan in the Battle of the Points in January-February 1942. By April 1, he was ordered to Bataan Field, turning over command to 1st Lt. Herb Ellis.
Just before Bataan fell on 9 April, Thorne was ordered to fly one of the last aircraft out of Bataan, a P-35A fighter with two other pilots in the cargo compartment. The aircraft took hits from enemy small arms fire on the departure from Bataan Field at 8:15pm on 8 April, but made it off safely. Thorne dropped six small fragmentation bombs on some enemy shipping south of Luzon before continuing on down to Cebu where he rested and had his aircraft serviced after arriving around midnight. He departed for Mindanao early on 10 April 1942, just evading Japanese landing forces which had invaded Cebu in the early morning hours. He arrived without passengers, as they had opted to fly out of Cebu on another aircraft after Thorne’s P-35 had proven balky in starting up. But Thorne brought the P-35 in safely to Del Monte No. 1 field, only to be told to head immediately for the dispersal field at Maramag – it was Thorne that flew the last surviving P-35 of the Philippines campaign of 1941 – 1942.
Late on 13 April 1942, Hank Thorne was evacuated from the Philippines by air to Australia on order of Brigadier General Hal George, who needed pursuit squadron commanders for new units forming in Australia. Thorne flew out on one of the B-25’s involved in the Royce mission *Note: See earlier post, “The Bataan Genesis of the Royce Mission,” at: https://bataancampaign.wordpress.com/2015/04/27/the-bataan-genesis-of-the-royce-mission/
But it seems that after arriving in Australia, Lt. Thorne returned to the US instead of directly to command another pursuit squadron, perhaps due to the untimely death of General George on 30 April 1942 and the arrival in Australia of new, intact air units from the States. So he returned to the US and spent much of 1942 and 1943 at Army Command and General Staff school and then in staff jobs in air defense commands on the west coast of the U.S.
From May to October 1944, Thorne commanded the 430th Army Air Force Base Unit at Ephrata Army Air Base, Washington, which was a replacement training unit for twin-engine fighter pilots. Undoubtedly some of these new Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter pilots found their way to the Pacific to combat the Japanese.
However on 9 November 1944, now Colonel Henry G. Thorne, Jr., took command of a combat unit headed for the Pacific, the 508th Fighter Group, at Pocatello Army Airfield, Idaho. The 508th was a new outfit set to fly the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane and slated for Very Long Range fighter missions in the strategic air campaign against Imperial Japan. The group’s three squadrons, the 466th, 467th and 468th fighter squadrons, had the ultimate production model of the Thunderbolt fighter, the P-47N. Each squadron had an authorized strength of 25 aircraft, so now Thorne commanded three times the number of aircraft going into combat against the enemy than he did on day one of the war, not to mention the much greater firepower and weapons load capability of the P-47N as compared to a P-40E.
But the powers that be decided that the unit would be diverted to Hawaii instead, and Colonel Thorne was reassigned in late November, 1944. His former group went overseas to the Territory of Hawaii in January, 1945, where it joined Seventh Air Force and provided air defense, some replacement pilot training for other units, P-47 and P-51 aircraft repair for VII Fighter Command combat units, and also some aircraft ferry to forward area services.
As things turned out, Hank Thorne would lead men into battle against Imperial Japan again. On 6 December 1944, almost three years to the day the war in the Pacific began, he took command of the 414th Fighter Group and its three fighter squadrons, the 413th, 437th and 456th at Seymour Johnson Field, North Carolina. In May and June 1945 the group deployed from the States to the Pacific, with echelons arriving at Guam and Iwo Jima where Navy escort carriers Casablanca (CVE-55) and Cape Esperance (CVE-88) brought its P-47N Thunderbolt aircraft.
In the western Pacific the 414th group became part of Twentieth Air Force. Beginning 13 July, the unit flew a couple of missions from Harmon Field in Guam against the Japanese bastion at Truk in the Caroline Islands. Later, these Guam-based aircraft moved up to Iwo Jima, as can be seen in this vintage film featuring 414th Thunderbolts from July, 1945:
Iwo Jima-based operations began on 29 July with an attack on a Japanese radar station on Chichi Jima, and in August the group conducted missions again the Japanese Home Islands. The 414th would fly four combat missions from Iwo Jima against the Japanese Home Islands before the war ended, ranging as far as Nagoya and Kyushu. In its brief period of action against the Japanese Home Islands, the 414th was “…directed primarily against enemy airfields in Japan, but also strafed hangars, barracks, ordnance dumps, trains, marshalling yards, and shipping.” On the mission to Kyushu escorting B-29s against the steel works at Yawata, the group flew its longest mission of the war, with one pilot recording eight hours and 45 minutes in flight. Some pilots couldn’t stretch their fuel out long enough to return and bailed out near some US Navy ships stationkeeping along the mission flight routes. The group only claimed one aerial victory on 4 August 1945, by 1st Lt. Robert P. Witty of the 456th Fighter Squadron. The 414th received credit for participation in two campaigns including the Air Offensive Japan and the Eastern Mandates.
After hostilities concluded the group flew one show of force mission over Tokyo and surrounding areas on 30 August 1945. The unit departed Iwo Jima for Clark Field in the Philippines on 23 December 1945, later to Floridablanca Airfield, and was subordinate to Thirteenth Air Force until it inactivated there on 30 September 1946.
Subsequent to his command of the 414th Fighter Group (his end of tour date is not readily available), Col. Thorne was given additional responsibility and became the assistant chief of staff for VII Fighter Command, first at Iwo Jima and after 1 December 1945 when it relocated to the Mariana Islands. Although he was back in a staff position, Hank Thorne surely had some satisfaction in being able to come back in the sky from a position of great disadvantage at Bataan in early 1942 to a position of superiority against the same foe in the summer of 1945.
Bartsch, William, Doomed at the Start: American Pursuit Pilots in the Philippines, 1941 – 1942. Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, 1992.
Maurer, Maurer, editor, Air Force Combat Units of World War II. Office of Air Force History, Washington, D.C., 1983. Entries for the 414th Fighter Group and 508th Fighter Group.
USAF version online at: http://www.afhra.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-090529-055.pdf
Maurer, Maurer, editor, Combat Squadrons of the United States Air Force, USAF Historical Division (reprint, Platinum Press, Woodbury, New York (Smithmark Publishers, Inc.), 1992). USAF version online at: http://www.afhso.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-101202-002.pdf
Major General Henry Garfield Thorne, Jr., official biography, at: http://www.af.mil/AboutUs/Biographies/Display/tabid/225/Article/105452/major-general-henry-garfield-thorne-jr.aspx
508th Aerospace Sustainment Wing, Wikipedia page, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/508th_Aerospace_Sustainment_Wing
414th Fighter Group, Wikipedia page, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/414th_Fighter_Group
414th Fighter Group, at: http://www.7thfighter.com/414thfg/index.htm
414th Fighter Group History, at: http://www.7thfighter.com/414thfg/grouphistory.htm
414th Fighter Group P-47N Thunderbolts transfer from Saipan to Iwo Jima (1945), video on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxuAazwG-04
414th Fighter Group aerial victory, a Ciel de Gloire website, at: http://www.cieldegloire.com/fg_414.php
“Flying the P-47N Thunderbolt: The final missions at war’s end still extracted a price,” at: http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/flying-the-p-47n-thunderbolt/
Maj Gen Henry Thorne, at: http://media.dma.mil/2009/Sep/16/2000480203/-1/-1/0/090916-F-JZ029-365.JPG
3rd Pursuit Squadron emblem, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3d_Flying_Training_Squadron
P-40E box art, at: https://www.scalemates.com/kits/149850-revell-04566-p-40e-warhawk
P-47N with bombs and rockets, at: http://413thfightergroup.com/
USS Casablanca and P-47N fighters, at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USS_Casablanca_CVE-55_with_P-47Ns.jpg
P-47N Detroit Miss II, at: http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/flying-the-p-47n-thunderbolt/