Tactics in the Southwest Pacific Area
by Major Thomas B. McGuire, Jr.
Published and Distributed by
Asst. of S, A-3, V Fighter Command
4 May 1944
FEAF A-3 TRAINING
SECTION 20, Oct. 1944
When one considers just what he should say to a new sport who is reporting in to an
operational fighter Group, the mind becomes confused in the complex maze of information it
is necessary for the new sport to know. All of it is important; most of it vital; and all
of it just too much for one brain to absorb in a few lectures.
Rarely has complexity been reduced to clarity, and still include a wealth of information,
as has been done in this article by Major McGuire.
"The proof of the pudding..." The Fighter Group of which Major McGuire is a part
of the team, has destroyed 329 enemy aircraft in eight months of operations in the SWPA.
He describes the tactics of the Group, and its successful pilots.
To the new sports... dont read this article once. Read it again and again. The more
you learn before the fight, the more youll learn during the fight, and the more
chance youll have to keep on learning.
CHARLES H. MAC DONALD,
Lt. Col., A. A. F.
FORMATIONS AND TACTICS
General: The standard squadron formation for P-38s is
sixteen planes in four four-ship flights, the flight being the basic unit for both attack
and defense. Each man within the flight takes up a position on a line extending back at an
angle of approximately forty-five degrees from the flight leader, the planes being spaced
one to three ship-lengths apart. The wingman flies to the left or right and above the
flight leader, usually on the opposite side from the wingman. The wingman for the element
leader may fly either above or below the element leader, but whatever vertical variations
there may be, the one to three ship-length distance on the horizontal plane and the angle
in respect to the flight leader will be maintained.
This flight formation assures a maximum of
visibility, a complete coverage of all angles of vision for each man in the flight,
allowing the flight leader to see that his flight is holding together and the others to
keep the flight leader in sight. It is flexible enough to permit each man to maintain his
throttle setting by playing the turns and crossing over when necessary, yet this freedom
brings no decrease in support strength. It is also loose enough for the flight leader to
maneuver freely without being overrun by his men or losing them by an unanticipated turn,
dive, or climb, a particularly valuable attribute in combat, when it is essential that the
flight hold together as long as possible to gain the benefits of close support. A word of
caution in this respect: it is entirely the responsibility of the wingman, element leader
and the tail-end Charlie to keep out of the blind spot directly behind the flight leader.
Flexibility is not synonymous with sloppiness and a momentary restriction of the flight
leaders line of vision may endanger the whole flight as well as hindering the
leaders tactics by making him uncertain as to the disposition of his men in respect
to himself. No matter what type of cover is being provided, whether the mission happens to
be escort, patrol, or search, the flight formation will hold to the same pattern. This is
a purely defense formation designed for maximum strength, and will never change to
line-abreast; nor will it change to line-astern except in combat.
The squadron formation has the same
characteristics of flexibility and visibility as the flight formation, with each of the
following flights being able to see the squadron leader and all other flights ahead. The
lead flight will be at lowest altitude ahead, the second flight will be to the left or
right and behind, the third flight to the left or right and behind the preceding flights
(staying on the opposite side as much as possible) the fourth flight to the left and
behind the third flight but not directly behind the first flight. Each of the flights is
staggered upwards from the one immediately proceeding, the difference in altitude ranging
from five hundred to one thousand feet. Within the squadron formation the flights will
also play the turns and cross over when necessary to avoid too much changing of the
throttle. This formation is used on all types of missions and not only insures mutual
protection if attacked, but it is also the easiest to change to an attack formation.
Combat Formation: In combat, as in escort formation, the flight is
the basic unit and its attack principle is simply to have the flight constituents drop
into string with a three to six ship-length interval between them. The flights within the
squadron formation also drop back in a string of flights with an interval of half to a
full flights length between flights, also slightly staggered. In both flight and
squadron formation the same benefits accrue on dropping back to the staggered string
formation; there is no danger of hitting the man in front when firing and there is a
concentration of fire on the target chosen by the flight or element leader. This, however,
is usually true of the first pass only, for it seldom happens that a full squadron
formation of sixteen planes can be kept together after the first concerted attack. All
flights of the squadron will remain in the same general area, within support distance, but
will probably be unable to remain in string. In most cases it will be necessary for the
flights to break in different directions, either to attack or defend against the enemy
fighters. It is at this point that the real value of the four-ship flight becomes
The four-ship flight must hold together as long as possible, and if the attack is centered
on bombers there is no reason for breaking formation. Nothing is so embarrassing to a
flight leader as when a small formation of enemy bombers is jumped and the planes go off
individually. It can be more dangerous to encounter a few enemy planes than many if
uncoordinated passes cause the lead man to find himself turning into a stream of tracers
from the guns of his own men.
After making a pass, the flight leader will try to hold the line in a shallow dive or
climb so that his men can follow through normally and retain their relative positions. For
the individual and the three others with whom he is flying it offers the best support, the
tail-end men watching over those ahead, the flight leader in position to swing around if
the tail-end Charlie is attacked.
If the combat turns out to be fighter versus fighter, then it may be necessary to break up
into two-ship elements, but no further. There is no excuse at all for a wing man to leave
his element leader and the two-ship element must be regarded as the absolute minimum under
any circumstances. The minimum, that is, if the combat is to be successful from our point
of view. Ninety-five percent of the men who have been lost in combat have been lost while
they have been alone, separated from the rest of their flight. The phrase, "He was
last seen at a little distance from the rest of the formation", comes up time and
time again in reports of actions in which we have suffered casualties.
An excellent demonstration of some of the points made in this foregoing paragraphs took
place in Rabaul a few months ago, when a mission there meant certain interception. Before
the target was reached the lead flight had had one snafu, the third flight leader had
taken over position of squadron leader, and there were two snafus from the third flight,
leaving nine of the original twelve planes. Just after the B-25s had finished a
low-level bombing run and were heading for home, a force of sixty or seventy enemy
fighters attacked both the bombers and the escort. Shortly after the first attack the
number two man in the first flight became separated from the rest and the other flights
split up into elements, leaving the squadron leader without a wingman. One element, the
leader of the second flight and his wingman, saw his danger and stayed with the squadron
leader, who had been singled out by the enemy and was being subjected to repeated attacks.
On the first attack, made from the rear, the leader of the second flight shot down one
Zeke while his wingman fired a long burst which caused the second Zeke to break away. The
next attack was made head-on. Again the flight leader shot down one and the second Zeke
broke away. The third attack was made from 11 oclock low. The leader of the second
flight had run out ammunition by this time and as the Zeke came on the leader ducked under
and to the left, allowing his wingman to fire a burst which sent the enemy plane down in
flames. Two more Zekes attacked the squadron leader from behind and the flight leader made
a dry run on them, causing them to pull-off in opposite directions. Then one of about five
enemy aircraft in the vicinity made a ninety-degree deflection attack from the right. The
flight leader peeled up at the Zeke and it half rolled away, frightened off by the empty
Had either of the two men in the second flight broken away to fight on his own, the
squadron leader could not have survived this engagement. Sustained close support saved
him. Dont sacrifice yourself and the man you are supposed to protect by making a
grandstand, lone-wolf play. You might be lucky, once or twice, but dont forget that
you are gambling with another mans life as well as your own and his luck may not
last him through the first minute you have left him. Because it is a temptation for the
last man to strike out on his own, having no one following him, it is the general practice
in this area for the strongest wingman (and by strong I mean experience enough to hold his
own place) to fly number four position in each flight, and for the first and fourth
flights to be the strongest in the squadron. Tail-end Charlie is a mighty important man,
and any time you play the part, play it square with the men who are relying on you it play
it just that way. It is an obligation, not a courtesy, for you to do so.
Our tactics against enemy aircraft while escorting bombers
Heavy Bombers, Close Cover: Depending on the number of bombers
escorted and the opposite expected, close cover for heavy bombers will usually mean that
one squadron is assigned to each of the flanks, one squadron ahead, and one squadron
astern. Formations of twenty-four or less bombers will not require four full squadrons as
escort, but above that number fighters will multiply until, with a hundred or more
bombers, there will be three or four squadrons as close cover, two squadrons as medium and
high cover, and a possible additional squadron as top cover for the fighter and bomber
formation as a whole. The close cover flies one to four thousand feet above the bombers,
weaving to keep the true forward speed the same as that of the bombers and being
particularly careful, if the bomber formation is ragged, to keep watch over the outer
fringe. On return from the target crippled bombers or bombers flying in pairs will make it
necessary for a flight assigned to them for protection.
Heavy Bombers, Top Cover: The job of providing successful top
cover for heavy bombers is a difficult one, not because the Japanese make determined
attacks, but because those who do attack only do so from the position most favorable to
themselves. The squadron which acts as top cover weaves over the whole bomber formation
and the escorting close cover, from four to eight thousand feet above them. The Japanese
will seldom make a real interception, in the sense that they will try to break up our
formation, flying singly or in pairs or threes, but during or after the bombing run
there will be haphazard attacks by individuals or pairs. Almost always these attacks will
come when the enemy pilots have altitude. They will do a half-roll and make an overhead
pass, diving through the bomber formation, clearing away to the side, then returning to
altitude. Since there will be no attack in the formation, the only possible counter-tactic
is to break up the top cover into flights and drive off the attacks as they are begun;
there can be no general movement of the squadron, for the scattered distribution of the
enemy fighters and the impossibility of anticipation leave no alternative but to check
each pass as soon as possible after the Japanese pilot has committed himself.
The above also holds true to some extent for the close cover. While a number of the enemy
will attack from above, there will be others attacking from beneath, particularly against
B-24s. At such times the close cover will move down somewhat and will break up into
flights to ward off the single passes.
Remember, the favorite Japanese target is the target of opportunity. Be most watchful when
the target area has been left behind and damaged bombers begin to struggle. A crippled
bomber is no match for five or six eager Zekes and the best way to forestall such attacks
is for the squadron leader to assign flights to each of the stragglers within range of his
Escort of Low Level Strafers and Bombers: The squadron acting as
close cover for bombers or strafers on a low level strike will generally be at slightly
higher altitudes than when escorting heavy bombers, from two to six thousand feet above
the bomber formation. The top cover will also go higher, staying at eight to ten thousand
foot above the close cover.
Since attack from beneath is virtually
impossible, the strategy of our fighters is to break up the Japanese attacks before they
are well started, before too many can get within range of the straffers and bombers.
Against strafers, the Nips dive down either to or through the formation in as nearly a
vertical dive and climb as they can achieve. A few may make passes horizontally but the
disadvantage in altitude will dissuade all but the most eager. Here, again the squadron
formation will be broken up to ward off attacks at numerous points and will probably break
from flights to elements relatively early in the combat, because the defense will be more
a matter of protecting individual bombers at the perimeter than covering the whole
formation. It will be a temptation on this kind of mission to attack and give chase to the
opposing fighters after they have made their passes and before they can regain altitude.
This is foolish and futile. It weakens both squadron and flight and defeats the purpose of
escort. Attack is the function of the bombers in this case; you are present to assure them
a chance to do their job with as little hindrance as possible from enemy fighters.
Our tactics when intercepting enemy bombers
The enemy is well aware of the advantages of a tight formation, as well aware of it as we
are, and an enemy bomber formation will hold its pattern tenaciously, closing up if one of
its number is shot down and making itself as little vulnerable as it can. The answer to
this tactic is to make the first pass with sixteen planes and break up the enemy
formation. This way the highest concentration of our own power is achieved and the enemy
is forced to disperse his fire power. Our function is to break up the enemy formation and
keep it from reaching the target. Once the formation is broken the individuals or pairs
make much better targets for flights or elements.
Medium Bombers: The
best way to attack enemy medium bombers is to make a head-on pass from forty-five degrees
left or right, breaking away to the same side as that from which the approach was made.
Follow through the circle and swing ahead for another pass. The squadron should hold
together as long as possible, but if enemy fighter interference forces a change in the
manner of breaking away then it will be up to the flights to make their attacks
Another form of attack which works out quite
well is the side attack from ninety degrees high, coming down and breaking away when the
angle of approach narrows to approximately forty-five degrees. This keeps the attacking
planes out of the arc of fire of that potent 20mm stinger in the tail of Japanese medium
bombers and it is also easier to keep the squadron together.
As long as you can make passes on the bombers,
dont engage enemy fighters. Fighters can do no damage to the target and the
enemys air strength is weakened far more by the loss of a bomber than by the loss of
a fighter. Individual scores may not amount rapidly, but the net profit will be
substantially in our favor if you shoot down or drive off the bombers and deal with the
fighters only when they cannot be ignored.
Light Bombers and Dive Bombers:
It may be varied to head-on or from the side under appropriate conditions, but the best
attack against the Japanese light bomber or dive-bomber is the attack from dead astern.
Light bombers are not often encountered, but the wheels-down dive-bombers are so familiar
that our pilots have almost a friendly feeling toward them. These slow-moving, poorly
armed, unarmored planes are the nearest thing to sitting ducks as will be found in modern
warfare, and their strategy in action appears to be designed to have as many of them shot
down as possible. Starting their dives from fifteen to eighteen thousand feet, the Vals
reach a maximum speed of 300-325 mph, drop their bombs, and go right on down to the deck,
where they break formation and scoot for home in all directions. A P-38 can follow them
nicely in their dives and with any sort of luck can force them to jettison their bombs
before they can release them on the shipping which is their usual target. Having pulled
out of the dive, the Val slows down rapidly, skimming low over the water and the pursuing
P-38 closes and delivers the coup de grace.
Enemy fighters protecting their own bombers
usually hover well above the formation in one large loose group, like a swarm of gnats.
They do not make coordinated or combined passes and they cannot stop a determined
interception unless they greatly outnumber the intercepting force. The Japanese fighters
prefer to hang around the edges of the combat, picking on individuals completing passes or
perhaps making an occasional surprise attack from the clouds, then pulling up into the
cloud coverage and as soon as possible.
When escorting dive bombers, Japanese fighter
pilots almost never follow them down to protect them, seemingly acting as a decoy, rather
than protecting against our fighters. The Zekes and Oscars stay up in hopes of having our
men join combat with them there, being reluctant to make themselves vulnerable by going to
low altitudes. Don't oblige them - follow the dive bombers and you will rarely find the
fighter pilots try to stop you.
The diagram shows an interesting example of
Japanese tactics used on 26 December 1943, when a force of bombers made an attack on ships
engaged in landing troops on Cape Gloucester. One of our squadrons on patrol was ordered
to investigate a plot, but when it reached the area no enemy aircraft were sighted.
Shortly after the squadron had returned to the area in which the shipping was
concentrated, another plot was given which disappeared entirely. (Radar personnel said
that it "faded out".) What had happened was that a force of Japanese fighters
had dropped plates of tinfoil, suspended from small parachutes to confuse the radar into
luring our fighters away from the center of the patrol area. As the squadron again
returned to its place above the shipping these fighters were sighted coming in at an
altitude of approximately 23,000 feet. The squadron climbed to intercept them. While
climbing, another force of enemy fighters dived on the squadron. The squadron turned under
the enemy fighters and began a slight dive. At this time, the squadron leaders sighted
approximately 30 bombers at 18,000 feet, just beginning an attack on the shipping. Instead
of engaging the fighters above his squadron, the squadron leader led an attack on the
dive-bombers, following them down and forcing most of them to jettison their bombs.
Meanwhile the Zekes and Oscars stayed at high altitudes to engage other squadrons of
The first squadron kept after the dive-bombers
at minimum altitude, making passes from dead astern and shot down 14 of them without
interference by enemy fighters. (Other squadrons accounted for the remaining
dive-bombers.) Had the squadron been taken in by the deception, and tried to fight with
the Zeros, the dive bombers would have been successful in their attempt to slip in at
lower altitudes and would have no doubt done great damage. Quick thinking and a knowledge
of Japanese tactics enabled the squadron leader to take the best action possible. He knew
he would not be endangering his squadron by exposing it to attack by Japanese fighters
because he was sure the fighters would not follow to low altitudes. He also knew that it
was better to break up the dive bomber attack before the Vals reached the point at which
they can release their bombs most effectively. A successful combat is not evaluated by the
type of opposition you choose to meet, but by the amount of damage you prevent or inflict.
Japanese Planes, Pilots
Japanese Fighter Planes: The only Japanese fighter which can be
outmaneuvered by a P-38 is the twin engine Nick. When pursuing or pursued you must keep to
the shallow dive, climb, or turn because there is not a trick maneuver in the book that
can't be done better in a Japanese plane than in a P-38. In making passes, hold your lead
in deflection as long as you can, but just as soon as you lose that lead, roll out of the
turn and keep going straight. Never pull up beyond 30 degrees when pursuing, because your
loss of speed will permit the Japanese pilot to loop over onto your tail. Break combat
when it is to your advantage to do so, don't wait until you set yourself up in such a
position that the Japanese pilot will have the advantage. Make him fight on your terms,
don't fight on his.
The Japanese Air Force, now in a transitory
stage both in the Army and Naval services, will soon be equipped with more modern and
high-speed fighters. It is believed that stress will be placed on Frank in the Army
services and in Jack and George in the naval services. All of these planes are in the 400
plus mile per hour group. With the increase of maximum speeds, the exceptional
maneuverability typical of former single engine models will be sacrificed in some small
degree. Generally speaking, altitude performance will be increased. It is of interest to
note that no Japanese Naval single engine fighter examined to date has been equipped with
either armor plate or protected fuel tanks. Oxygen bottles of high-pressure types are used
throughout in Naval fighters. Their position is usually just aft of the cockpit
greenhouse. Fuel tanks are invariably located in the wing root.
Army fighters, on the other hand have always
used fuel tank protection of some nature and quite often utilize oxygen generators, which
are not vulnerable in an explosive or rapidly burning sense. Armor plate usually of heavy
type is used in all late model Army Japanese fighters. The armor plate installations are
usually located underneath and behind the pilot.
So far as armament is concerned, Army fighters
have favored the 12.7 mm machine gun which is almost identical in mechanical principle and
construction to that of our own Browning .50 caliber machine gun. This gun however,
because of the modification in the buffer mechanism, has a higher rate of fire, but with
slightly less range than our own .50 caliber machine gun. An interesting point is the fact
that the Japanese 12.7 mm gun utilizes fused ammunition. The 7.7 mm guns are used by both
Army and Navy services, and from a combat point of view may be treated with the same
ballistics data as that of the Vicker's .303 machine gun. In the heavy caliber types, the
Navy has shown preference for the Oerlikon type cannon, which has been recently improved
and which has considerably higher muzzle velocity than the former model. It is rapidly
becoming standard equipment.
For the benefit of new pilots a description of
the more prominent characteristics of Japanese fighter planes follows. These
summarizations should be supplemented by study of data available in the TEIC memorandums
and the blue covered intelligence summaries. (AAF. SWPA)
Oscar - 2 synchronized 12.7s
firing through the prop constitute the armament of this Army version of the generic Zero.
It is particularly vulnerable around the cockpit were there is a little armor to protect
the pilot. Gas tanks are covered with the crudest sort of leak absorbent material.
Zeke - armed with 2 20 mm cannon, one
in each wing and 2 7.7s is firing through the prop. This, the best-known of Japanese
Naval aircraft, has a slight edge in speed and a better rate of climb than the Oscar. It
is most of all vulnerable around the cockpit. Flown by a pilot of reasonable ability, it
must be regarded as a package of high explosives to be approached with caution.
Unless the Zero is close, with a slight
advantage in altitude and speed, the best evasive tactic against Oscar and Zeke are a
high-speed shallow climb or dive and full speed ahead. Once you have out-distanced your
pursuer, you can turn and come back for another go, but make sure you don't turn too soon.
If the Japanese pilot has diving speed push your plane over flattening out the diving
angle after you have picked up to around 375 to 400 mph. If you are a good judge of speed,
and the Oscar or Zeke doesn't appear to be coming in too fast, a shallow dive will be
enough to shake him, but only if you have good judgment.
Tony - The usual armament of this
plane is two 12.7 mm. machine guns, synchronized through the prop with one 12.7 mm.
machine gun in each wing. (Later models have one 20 mm in each wing). With heavier armor
and a fair quality of self-sealing tanks, this plane does not have the tendency of the
OSCAR and ZEKE models to explode or burn unless a very good hit is scored. An in-line
fighter like our P-40s, the TONY is not an altitude fighter but makes up for this by
being faster than the ZEKE in level flight and extremely fast in a dive. A successful
evasive tactic against this plane is, if in a dive, to make a diving turn to the right. At
high speeds the TONY handles very poorly to the right and the Japanese pilot has trouble
turning in that direction. If you are pursued from the rear and on the level, a very
high-speed, shallow climb will keep you out of range and eventually you will draw way.
One pilot found out about this the hard way.
He was returning from a strike at Wewak when he was jumped by three TONYS. He was at
20,000 feet at the time and went into a shallow dive which ended up on the deck one
hundred miles farther south, with the TONYS right behind him. Forced to alter his tactics,
the pilot began a high-speed, shallow climb and soon lost them. His was the original
experience of this sort with the TONY and his pioneerings saved many from falling into the
If you are on the deck, a very sharp turn to
the right at high-speed, may do as an emergency maneuver, but it is definitely a last
resort and at best will only keep the enemy pilot from holding his lead on you.
Tojo - Too little is known about this
new plane to permit positive assertions beyond the statement that it has a very good rate
of climb and will make 370 mph at 18,000 feet. Those who have had contact with the TOJO
have found that the best way to evade an attack is to go into a high-speed dive.
Nick - There haven't been many of
these twin-engine fighters in this area and with their poor performance they are becoming
scarcer as P-38 pilots and others prove that this is one Japanese fighter they can
out-turn, out-run, and out-climb. The NICK is structurally strong and there will be some
difficulty in diving away, but then it won't be necessary unless he gets close on your
Frank - FRANK is gradually replacing
in Army services the old standby OSCAR. Recent interceptions have indicated its use.
Stemming from the OSCAR design, it is believed that this new plane will have many
recognition characteristics of OSCAR, with an empennage that is similar to TOJOS. The
similarity to TOJOS may possibly have been the contributing cause to misidentification of
this particular type of airplane. TOJO is believed to have been accepted and manufactured
only to fill a gap between the Oscar and the ultimate standardization of FRANK. FRANK is
equipped with an 18 cylinder engine which utilizes methanol injection. Crash exams have
shown that FRANK is equipped with two 12.7 mm machine guns mounted at 11 and 1:00
respectively in the engine cowl with a reduced rate of fire, because of the necessary
synchronization of these guns. The wing guns are 20 mm cannons that are very similar in
construction to the Browning 50 caliber machine gun. The pilot is well protected by half
inch armor plate to. Fuel tanks are protected by relatively ineffectual covering.
Jack - JACK is believed to be
destined as a standardized Japanese Naval single engine fighter. JACK is equipped with an
eighteen cylinder engine of almost 2000 horsepower and is a well streamlined job.
Recognition material may be obtained through the pages of AAF intelligence summaries,
which will also serve to keep combat personnel abreast of technical information affecting
their tactical units. JACK unfortunately to date has not been examined and consequently
the information as yet cannot be completely evaluated. Documentary evidence indicates the
use of two 7.7mm machine guns mounted on the cowl and two 20 mm cannons, one in each wing.
This armament may also be changed to include two 20 mm cannons in each wing and the
removal of the synchronized guns. Fuel tanks are not protected and oxygen bottles are of
the high-pressure type.
Irving - IRVING is widely used by the
Navy as a night fighter. This twin engined job which is equipped with radar for night
fighting, has an unusual armament arrangement. Three guns are mounted in the nose of
IRVING. These guns are two 7.7 mm machine guns and one 20 mm cannon. The dorsal and
ventral guns are unique. Two staggered dorsal 20 mm cannons are fixed and mounted at an
angle of 35 degrees to the line of flight and are pointed forward and upward. The two
ventral guns, also 20mm cannons, are pointed downward and are fixed at an angle of
approximately 35 degrees forward to the line of flight. IRVING has protected fuel tanks
and mounts armor plate behind the pilot. Leading edge wing slots are provided which should
give IRVING maneuverability (at slows speeds) and good stall characteristics.
Japanese Fighter Pilots:
Japanese fighter pilot are individuals who do not fly in set patterns nor attack by
squadron or flight, although lately a few exceptions have been observed of Japanese
imitating standard U.S. four-ship flights escorting their own bombers. The quality of
Japanese pilots is unpredictable, although Navy pilots are definitely superior to Army
pilots. The variation is entirely between the very able, experienced pilots and very poor
pilots, nothing to compare with the more uniform abilities of our own men. The only
advanced indication to the probable quality of the opposition is the type of plane the
enemy flies- silver or gray ZEKES and OSCARS with roundels on fuselage as well as on the
wings are Navy planes. Green, brown, or mottled HAMPS, NICKS, or TONYS are the Army
In the early days of the war the enemy fighter pilots built up a reputation for skill and
aggressiveness and they had little trouble keeping that reputation as long as they were
opposed by ancient models like P-39s and P-40s. With the introduction of the P-38
and the P-47 in this theater, and the F4F and F6F in the Solomons, the Japanese learned
caution, caution to the point of timidity. Even over their home bases they have shown a
distaste for all-out fighting.
Offered in evidence is the Japanese reaction to the head-on pass. They don't like it and
nine out of 10 will break first, even before they are in range. To be sure, the head-on
attack cannot be recommended when flying a plane that has little armament, no convergence
of lines of fire, and light armor, but what about this shout of "Banzai" and the
suicide crash? Nothing about it because the Japanese arent living up to dying for
their propaganda. Instead they will break from the head-on pass in a vertical bank and try
to come around for a tail attack. The P-38 pilot need only to keep on at the same speed or
go into a shallow dive to defeat this tactic, for the enemy pilot loses speed in the bank
and turn and will wind up too far behind to be a menace. In this case of the exceptional
one who does hold to a head-on pass, simply push over. The Japanese pilot will invariably
go up. One thing you must not do when committed to a head-on pass: you must not turn until
It is a seeming contradiction to say that Japanese gunnery is good, but results don't show
it. The discrepancy lies in the poor quality of the guns and the lack of convergence,
factors which reduce the theoretical fire-power and which have saved many of our pilots
from being hit when the Japanese gunner had his lead and timing absolutely right. Don't
underestimate Japanese gunnery!
Japanese Fighter Tactics: Most of the Japanese pilots rely on the
half-roll when pursued and almost always roll to the left. When on their tails aim
slightly to the left and be ready to shift fire to the left. If the flight or element
leader forces an enemy pilot into a half-roll, there is a brief time in which an alert
wingman can get in a deflection shot by depressing the nose of his plane. It isn't much
more than a snap-shot but the chance is there if he isnt ready for it. If you
haven't seen it before, watch out for that half- roll. A ZEKE can do a half-roll or
split-s in some 700 to 1,000 feet and it is hard to realize that such great
maneuverability is possible until you have been a witness to it.
There is another opportunity that sometimes comes to the pilot who anticipates the tactic.
If the enemy pilot pulls up instead of doing a half-roll he will almost certainly pull up
to the left and stall out. Don't follow him up, but if you have altitude and see the enemy
start to pull up you can be right next to him when he reaches the stalling point. It makes
a nice shot with no danger of a surprise move on the part of the enemy pilot.
One trick employed by the enemy has worked on a couple of occasions and what is more, it
has worked against pilots who to ought to know better. This is the famous lufberry or mock
fight and its purpose is to suck in one or two or three of our men who are trustful enough
to assume that a lot of milling around means a genuine fight. The mock fight takes place
at some distance from the main fight and our Rover boy goes tearing across the sky all
alone, eager as hell to get into it. Then these six or so fighters which have been sitting
up above, probably in the clouds, come cracking down in the Japanese version of the mouse
trap play. The Rover Boy is concentrating on what he can see, and "out of sight, out
of mind" is no motto for aerial combat. He'll never know what hit him.
Japanese Medium Bombers: BETTY, the well-known 2/EB used by the
Japanese Navy, and Helen, an Army standby are the first line Japanese attack bombers and
will usually make their strikes from an altitude of 20,000 to 25,000 feet, flying in a
tight to V of Vs. Line abreast has been observed. Both are fast, with true air
speeds in excess of 300 mph. On occasion BETTY has been used as a torpedo bomber. Like the
Japanese fighter, the Japanese medium bomber is inadequately armed and armored and is
deficient in self sealing protection for the gas tanks which stretch the whole length of
the wing. The Sally, a second line plane, is rarely used and need not be discussed.
BETTY is now equipped with a power operated dorsal turret, which has a 20 mm cannon as
well as the 20 mm cannon in the tail position which remains as a manually operated gun.
The nose and waste gun positions are all 7.7 mm guns of the Lewis type.
In attacking a formation of BETTYS, the rear attack is dangerous because of the BETTYS
tail gun. If the tail gunner has been knocked out, that is another story, but in any event
the attacks the most likely to succeed will be those made head-on or high from the side.
With so little opposing fire power, take your time and pick your spots when you have one
of these planes in your sites. The wing-tanks are easily ignited and the oxygen bottles
around the cockpit are decidedly hazardous to the enemy pilots.
Japanese Light Bombers and Dive Bombers: The use of light bombers
in this area is mainly restricted to reconnaissance and night bombing, while dive bombers
are used only on occasions of great need or when concentrations of shipping demand higher
precision than the mass formation can achieve. Of the light bomber types, the LILY is
frequently met, but is slow and vulnerable.(Recently, six of them were caught at low
altitudes and shot down within two or three minutes by a squadron of P-38's.)
Dinah - is the Japanese plane most
used for day reconnaissance and is well-designed for the job, being fast (350-375 true air
speed) and having a service ceiling of 38,000 feet. Speed is obtained at the expense of
structurals strength and the elimination of all armor and armament except a 7.92
Val - formerly the most frequently
used Japanese dive-bomber, is rapidly being replaced by the JUDY. VAL is the plane that
helps keep alive the myth of Japanese willingness to commit suicide for the Emperor. After
an attack these VALS scatter at deck level, attaining the speed of about 250 miles an hour
as they head for home. It is at this point that it becomes suicide to fly one.
Judy - The latest dive bomber to
become standardized by the Naval services, is a liquid-cooled dive bomber with very clean
lines which appears similar in many respects to the P-40. It is fairly fast (approximately
330 mph) and mounts two synchronized 7.7 mm machine guns firing forward and one flexible
7.7 mm machine gun mounted in the dorsal position. Fuel tanks are not self-sealing and no
armor plate is installed.
Frances - In the Naval twin engine class this multi-purpose bomber is attaining
increased uses. This plane known by the Allied code name Frances is used for bombing,
level bombing and torpedo bombing. Powered by two eighteen cylinder 2000 horsepower
engines and very cleanly designed, this plane should be capable of speeds up to 350 miles
an hour. The nose gun, mounted in a power operated position, is of the 20 mm variety. Fuel
tanks are well protected and armor plate is installed behind the pilot only.
Jill - Is the most widely used single engine torpedo bomber and is extremely
vulnerable to attack because of the lack of self-sealing fuel tanks, and armor plate. Two
7.7 mm machine guns are mounted at the top of the radial engine cowling, while the dorsal
gun position mounts a single 7.7 mm flexible machine gun. One ventral gun 7.7 mm should be
especially noted when making attacks at low rear.
A pilots preparation for a combat mission is based on more things than ability to
handle a plane. A great deal of his preparation should consist of a constant willingness
to listen to more experienced men, even if it involves hearing the same stories more than
once. The odds scraps of information picked up in this way are more useful than a formal
set of instructions because they are related to situations you yourself are likely to
encounter. Then there are the maps at the alert shack, always available to provide you
with the data you will need if you return from a flight alone. Go out of your way to learn
terrain - a brief glimpse of a familiar bit of coastline will fix your position when
flying through bad weather. Learn what to expect in the way of weather conditions in the
area. Weather is a big factor in the operational losses and if you know when to turn back
you are going spare yourself some serious trouble. Don't buck weather and don't have so
much faith in your instruments that you deliberately put yourself into a spot where you
will have to use them.
You must also know the limitations and
potentialities of your own aircraft. It is very important to keep in mind all the
performance data on the speed and maneuverability of the type as well as any little
peculiarities of your own particular plane. You are a less likely to get into trouble if
you do not try the impossible, or rather if you do try to use your plane in the best
possible manner. Don't abuse the powers of the aircraft by maintaining excessive manifold
pressure; save its strength for the time when you need it and it won't fail you. At the
same time, don't SNAFU (return because of mechanical trouble) when some minor gauge fails
to work properly. Any pilot who should be over the target but has returned unnecessarily
leaves the squadron weaker and forces someone else to do double duty. The habitual snafu
leaves himself liable to a bad reputation, ostracism, and eventual transfer.
In this area the P-38 pilot flies long
missions, from four to six hours as a rule, and that is a long time to sit with a
parachute strap twisted under your fanny or your emergency kit off-center on your back.
Before you start, make sure you are comfortable, check your equipment not only for content
but for maximum ease in the cockpit, and then you will be in condition for combat when you
reach the target; your energy won't have been dissipated in fretting over a cramped
Check your gunsight soon after take-off and
make sure it is working properly. Remember that you are playing for keeps and little
things count when only your best is good enough.
On the way to the target don't indulge in
unnecessary radio chatter. If you are in doubt whether to speak or keep still, shut up!
You may miss vital instructions or warnings by opening your mouth at the wrong time. Be
familiar with the calls of the fighter sectors, too. If you are flying above overcast it
will be useful to know at least the area over which you are flying even if you cannot see
the terrain features, and if the fighter sectors pass on information you'll know where it
is coming from. Over the target use the clock system of calling in aircraft, adding high,
level, or low as the case may be. Clearly identify yourself and the one to whom you are
talking when you call in bogies or enemy aircraft. You won't help anyone by it and nothing
will split a formation wider than some voice coming over the air saying, " P-38,
there's a Zero on your tail."
As you near the target keep a close watch on
cloud formations. The enemy is liable to be waiting for the chance to make a surprise
attack. It is well to remember that effective use of cloud cover is as valuable for
defense as for attack, since it may be the means of escape for you if your plane is
damaged or if the situation calls for flight instead of fight.
This is what happened to one pilot over
Rabaul. After receiving hits on the canopy, radio compartment, and left and right tanks, a
20 mm shell burst squarely on the left engine of his plane, stopping the engine and
setting it afire. Two TONYS and three ZEKES came in behind this pilot, but he took evasive
action and headed for the nearest cloud. He made it and then, by slipping this plane,
smothered the fire. The left engine was entirely burned out and then the right engine
began coughing. The pilot tried to head for home on a direct southwest course. Twice he
left the cloud to find that the five enemy planes were waiting for him. The pilot thought
this over and climbed to 8,000 feet inside the cloud, then to a heading due south instead
of southwest. The enemy pilots werent watching that side of the cloud and so the
P-38 pilot dived to the water and flew due south for 20 minutes before setting his course
for home. On a clear day he wouldn't have had a chance, but by using his head and the
available cloud cover he was able to flying his crippled plane back to base, where he
landed wheels-down and turned it over to a service squadron for salvage.
Over the target keep formation. It is the
wingman's job to protect his element leader even if he never gets a shot himself. Your
element leader will give you whatever chances he can and it is not necessary to be leading
to shoot down enemy planes.(One pilot got credit for eight enemy fighters, all of which he
shot down while flying wing position and without leaving his element leader). You are part
of a team and holding the formation is a matter of life and death, if not for yourself
then for someone else. The best results come with the best teamwork, and the highest
individual scores are made by men who have the team spirit. Individualists don't live long
enough to build up a personal score, because there is absolutely no chance to fight one
against one with the Japanese and survive. American planes and formations are designed to
force the Japanese to fight on our terms. One of the foremost factors in the success of
our plans against the Japanese in this theater has been General Wurtsmith's development
and insistence on the use of two-ship elements and combat, devised for the used of the
P-40 pilots who made the Darwin raids so costly to the Japanese. The theory has become
standard practice throughout this area simply because there is no better way to guarantee
the high-low ratio of Japanese losses to ours.
Once in a fight don't concentrate entirely on
your own attack. The emphasis on looking around cant be made strong enough, for
there is a tendency, a very natural and human tendency, to watch an enemy go down.
Dont do it! Once you have completed your pass look around, both for another target
and to make sure no enemy pilot has slipped in close enough to make a target of your
plane. Clear yourself before you put a notch on your gun.
Speed is important! Since you cannot
out-maneuver the Japanese fighters it should be obvious that to have any success in combat
against them, speed is essential. If at all possible, keep your speed in combat at three
hundred miles plus. Never slow down below 250 miles per hour once in a flight. There have
been pilots who slowed down in combat, but they are no longer capable of telling you how
dangerous it is to do so.
New pilots have had gunnery drummed into them
in schools, but it is not until they get into combat that they find out that a high degree
of skill is necessary. Using the 70-mil sight, an enemy bomber will fill the site at three
hundred yards; a fighter will fill half the site. Unless they fill the site to that
extent, hold your fire; it doesn't count beyond 300 yards. On the other hand, the closer
you get the better. Your chances of scoring hits and the destructiveness of your fire will
increase in proportion. Go in close and then, when you think you're too close, go in
closer. The majority of pilots with good scores believe in closing to minimum range, were
there is no chance of missing and where firepower has its maximum effect. When you do
close in, dont fire all the way. Use several bursts of 1 to 3 seconds duration. Long
bursts cause jamming and overheating of the guns. You are aiming at a target, not spraying
the general area. If you take a shot in deflection, pull your sight through the
enemys line of flight. Misses are due more to shooting over or under than to
improper lead. Above all, keep your flying smooth when you fire. The smoother the pilot
the better his gunnery, for one smooth burst is more likely to bear results than a number
of nervous, jerky bursts. Try taking a deep breath just before you press the button, or
develop any psychological trick which will keep you steady through that brief moment when
you have drawn a bead and are ready to let fly.
There are going to be a number of occasions
when you will not be the aggressor. If you are attacked from above and to the side wait
till the enemy has definitely committed himself and then turn underneath them. This forces
him into a tighter turn, limits the effective length of his pass, and gives you the chance
to straighten out while he is still in his turn. If a pass is made and your plane is
damaged, don't be too quick to regain control. Let your plane appear to be more severely
damaged than it is, let it fall away out of control and the enemy will not sacrifice his
altitude just to check up. If you pull out too soon he will follow you down and try to
finish you off, and he will have enough advantage to do a thorough job.
If you are fighting at low altitudes, watch
out for the enemy who seems to be lagging just enough to let you close in slowly. If he is
over his home base he is probably trying to lead you over the ack-ack positions, setting
you up as a close-range target for small and medium ack-ack. Or he may let you follow him
until you are so eager for a shot that you forget how close you are to the ground. The
Japanese may try a rollover, tempting you to follow him in a maneuver impossible for a
P-38 at low altitude.
When you are back at home base after a
successful combat dont indulge in that last bit of foolishness - don't do a victory
roll. You may easily be shot out without your knowing it and the strain imposed on your
plane by the victory roll might be enough to break a partially severed control cable or
damaged control surface. If that happens you'll never be able to pick up that TS ticket
you will have earned by taking a chance at the wrong time. If you have really feel so good
about a victory then land, check your plane on the ground, and take it up again. It is all
right to give the ground crews an idea of just how well you do aerobatics, but don't let
the staging expenses for your act run to $125,000 worth of equipment, and $25,000 worth of
Finally, develop and display the
aggressiveness, alertness, flying ability, and proficiency in gunnery which are the
attributes a fighter pilot must have. Any man who does not possess all these qualities
would do well to get out of a fighter outfit before his C.O. convinces him that he isn't
the right type by requesting that he be transferred. There is no place for him among those
whose faith in each other must be complete.