PHOTO BY HUGELMEYER

A journey through the history of the 80th Fighter Group from Long Island to the CBI Theater

By Gregory Pons & Robin Adair

The history of the 80th Fighter Squadron is a tale of dedication, adaptability, and courage during World War II. These fearless pilots embarked on a remarkable journey from their humble beginnings on Long Island, New York, to the challenging theater of China-Burma-India (CBI). This article recounts the squadron’s history and the significant events that unfolded along the way.

The Battle of Long Island: 

The 80th Pursuit Group was organized at Farmingdale and Mitchel Field (near Long Island) in New York on January 13, 1942. It was activated a few weeks later, on February 9, 1942, with three fighter squadrons: 88th, 89th, and 90th. This unit was redesignated the 80th Fighter Group in May 1942 and first trained with P-47 Thunderbolt single-engine fighter planes, an intense period they fondly referred to as the “Battle of Long Island.” These dedicated pilots and crew members were headquartered at the New Yorker Hotel in New York City, leading to countless stories of their adventures in the bustling metropolis.

A Delayed Departure:

Despite their readiness, the 80th Fighter Squadron didn’t deploy to the European Theater of Operations (ETO) with the 56th, a sister group. In April 1943, after receiving minimal training on P-40s, at Byrd Field Richmond, the squadron left for war, not knowing their destination.

A Memorable Voyage:

Their journey to the CBI was nothing short of epic. Over 5,000 people, including fighter pilots, crew chiefs, cooks, and administrative staff, boarded the British Liner “Maratania” in New York Harbor. Their trip had them visit ports in Trinidad, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, Madagascar, Colombo, and finally, Bombay. This incredible 56-day odyssey remains etched in the memories of those who experienced it, including a memorable stop in Cape Town.

Arrival in the CBI:

Upon reaching Bombay, they switched to a small British Troop Steamer, which took them to Karachi, India, where they rejoined the U.S. Air Force. In Karachi, their P-40E aircraft were reassembled, and the 80th welcomed General McElroy and other officers to their ranks.

The CBI Theater:

In August 1943, the squadron ferried their aircraft across India and entered the combat zone in Assam. The ground personnel made the arduous trip by troop train. In this theater, they were joined by experienced personnel from the 51st Fighter Group. The 80th Fighter Squadron commenced its combat missions in September 1943, supporting General Stilwell and General Merrell as they pushed into Burma and the construction of the Ledo Road.

The 80th FG pilots’ threefold mission was to provide close air support, fighter protection for the Air Transport Command’s “Hump” flights into China, and air defense for the Assam Valley, which became a significant supply hub as the war progressed.

The 80th FG was the first unit in Burma, flying P-40s after the Flying Tigers had left the country for China.

The men spent days establishing a headquarters, arranging equipment and supplies, and assembling planes. The pilots discovered they were issued old P-40s (A and B versions) and P-38s. The operations began in September 1943. The 89th Fighter Squadron was sent to Guskhara, Eastern India, the 88th FS to Kilibari, and the 90th to Jorhat. During their trip by road and by air, the men discovered the real India: dusty roads, people washing themselves in rivers and ponds along with oxen and elephants, and people using the same water for everything. Dysentery had hit the unit weeks before, but it would become a real and full-time enemy like the Japanese. A fourth squadron was assigned to the 80th FG in September: the 459th FS, which flew the famous twin-engine fighter plane P-38 Lightning. This squadron was sent to Kurmitoal in India.

Unveiling the Valor: The 89th Fighter Squadron’s December 1943 Report from Nagaghuli & Sadiya

In December 1943, amidst the turbulent skies and dense jungles of Nagaghuli and Sadiya, the 89th Fighter Squadron, led by the intrepid Captain Svenningson, wrote a remarkable chapter in their storied history. As Major General Stratemeyer assumed command of the newly formed Eastern Air Command, the 89th Fighter Squadron found itself at the forefront of combat and camaraderie in the theater of operations.

 Organizational Changes:

The month of December witnessed a transformation in the Commands of the theater. The emergence of the Eastern Air Command under Major General Stratemeyer marked a significant shift. This command incorporated units from the 10th Air Force and the Bengal Air Command and was structured into four distinct components. Among them, the 89th Fighter Squadron stood resolute as part of the Strategic Air Force. With the reorganization came a visit from Major General Stratemeyer and Air Marshal Sir John Baldwin, who conducted an internal inspection of the 80th Fighter Group and the 89th Fighter Squadron.
As the organization evolved, so did the squadron’s personnel. While the overall strength of the squadron remained steady, there was a notable turnover in officer personnel. New pilots joined the ranks, including 1st Lt. Felix H. Jones, Jr., and 2nd Lts. Fred S. Evans, Stephen R. Wheaton, John Makar, and Joel Martinez. However, not all changes were welcome, as Captain Webb and 1st Lt. Duke departed for the 459th Fighter Squadron, 2nd Lt. Warren for the 80th Fighter Group, and Captains Sussky, Howie, and McQuillan embarked on the long-awaited journey home. A major’s gold leaf was added to the commanding officer’s shoulders, Captain Svenningson, in recognition of leadership and service.

Operations:

The month was a whirlwind of operations that showcased the squadron’s unwavering commitment. Here are the impressive statistics: 1608 combat hours spent on patrol, 535 sorties executed, 287 offensive combat hours with 125 sorties, 27 tons of bombs dropped, and 5425 rounds of ammunition expended. These numbers reflect the tireless dedication of the squadron.
The squadron maintained an average of 25 planes during the month, with an impressive 78.4% in tactical condition throughout the period. The increased offensive missions were largely in response to requests for support from Chinese ground forces in the northern sector of the Hukwang Valley. Moreover, supply dumps and enemy installations on the road from Maingkwan to Kaimang or Bob were strafed on several occasions.

Contact with Enemy Aircraft:

The squadron’s encounters with enemy aircraft were a testament to their mettle and bravery. On December 10, 1943, Captain Harrell led a patrol that engaged an enemy formation, including three bombers (Sallys) and four fighters (Oscars) south of Fort Hertz. The squadron’s swift and precise action resulted in the destruction of three bombers and two fighters. Captain Harrell’s plane bore the scars of enemy fire but returned unscathed. Later that day, Lt. Col. Evans led a patrol that encountered four enemy fighters (Oscars), damaging two of them, with no losses on the squadron’s side.
On December 13, Lieutenant Adair single-handedly took on a formidable enemy formation of approximately twenty-four bombers and thirty-five fighters (Sallys and Oscars) as they approached the Dinjan airfield. The enemy formation was disrupted, with one fighter destroyed and another damaged. Two bombers also sustained damage. Although Lieutenant Adair’s plane was heavily hit, he returned safely. Lieutenant May joined the fray, destroying one enemy bomber (Sally), albeit at the cost of his plane, which forced him to bail out.
December 28, 1943, saw another remarkable engagement. In a bombing run on Myitkyina Airdrome, the squadron faced four enemy fighters (Oscars). Lieutenant Clower and Lieutenant Hardy exhibited their skill by destroying one enemy fighter each. Major Smith’s plane was severely damaged, resulting in a minor scalp wound for him. However, he managed to bring his plane home. Unfortunately, Lieutenant Clower’s plane caught fire due to enemy fire, necessitating a bailout deep in enemy territory. As of the month’s end, he was classified as a battle casualty.
A recap of these combats reflects the squadron’s prowess:

Captain Harrell: 1 Bomber Destroyed, 1 Fighter Destroyed

1st Lt. Clower: 1 Fighter Destroyed

1st Lt. Whitley: 1 Bomber Destroyed

1st Lt. Adair: 1 Fighter Destroyed, 2 Bombers Damaged, 1 Fighter Damaged

2nd Lt. Hardy: 1 Fighter Destroyed

1st Lt. May: 1 Bomber Destroyed, 1 Fighter Damaged

2nd Lt. Matulevicz: 1 Fighter Damaged

2nd Lt. McCarty: 1 Bomber Destroyed

1st Lt. Shepperd: 1 Fighter Destroyed

Christmas Celebrations:

Amidst the trials of wartime, the squadron managed to bring a touch of the holiday spirit to Nagaghuli and Sadiya. Christmas was celebrated with turkey, and decorations brightened the bamboo and jungle surroundings. The arrival of Christmas packages from the United States added to the festive atmosphere. The American Red Cross played its part by hosting Open House on Christmas Eve and visiting the squadron with comforting coffee and donuts on two occasions.

Rest Camp Visit:

As the year came to a close, 16 enlisted men, all former members of the 51st Fighter Group, had the opportunity to rejuvenate at a Rest Camp in Shillong, providing them with a well-deserved break from the rigors of war.

December 1943 was a month of transition, valor, and camaraderie for the 89th Fighter Squadron. Their operational successes, bravery in the face of enemy aircraft, and the spirit of celebration during the holiday season showcase the indomitable spirit of these remarkable airmen in the heart of a challenging theater of war. Their dedication and courage are remembered and honored to this day.

Wings of Courage: The 89th Fighter Squadron’s January 1944 Adventures in Nagaghuli & Sadiya

As the New Year of 1944 dawned over the jungles and skies of Nagaghuli and Sadiya, the 89th Fighter Squadron had much to hope for and celebrate. January marked a month of renewed optimism, harrowing tales of survival, rotations, combat missions, and camaraderie for these fearless airmen.

Lt. Clower’s Incredible Survival:

The month opened with a remarkable twist of fate. On January 9, 1944, Lt. Clower, who had been missing in action since the bombing attack on Myitkyina Airdrome on December 26, 1943, was reported safe and in the care of friendly natives. This courageous airman had survived a twelve-day ordeal, trekking alone through the treacherous jungle with Japanese patrols lurking nearby and scarce food supplies. He was brought into Ledo on January 15, 1944, and flown back to Nagaghuli on the 17th. His miraculous survival and safe return showcased the indomitable spirit of these airmen.

Squadron Reorganization:

The squadron saw reorganization in January, with one of the flights formerly stationed at Sadiya relocated to Nagaghuli. This shift aimed to ensure that more planes of the squadron were available at all times for offensive missions, underlining their commitment to combat readiness.

Continued Offensive Missions:

The squadron continued its relentless pace of offensive missions. Enemy troop positions and installations near Kamaing were targeted on multiple occasions. A significant mission on January 25, 1944, witnessed a successful bombing attack on the Loiling railroad bridge By-pass. This bridge had been constructed to replace the one previously destroyed by the squadron in October 1943. Captain Harrell and Lt. Adair, along with Captain Powell of the 90th Fighter Squadron (flying with the 89th as part of a new group policy to rotate pilots between squadrons), executed direct hits with 1000-pound bombs, rendering the bypass unserviceable. The mission was not without peril, as the squadron encountered moderate and accurate anti-aircraft fire in the vicinity of the target.

Engagement with Enemy Aircraft:

On January 18, 1944, a four-ship patrol, led by Lt. Shepard and including Lts. Coll, Evans, and JP Maguire, engaged an enemy formation in the Fort Hertz area. The enemy consisted of approximately six bombers (SALLYS) and 10 to 12 fighters (OSCARS, and a plane identified as a TOJO). In the ensuing engagement, Lt. Evans claimed one Oscar fighter as destroyed, Lt. Shepard damaged an Oscar fighter, and an enemy TOJO fighter was damaged in the skirmish.

Realism Amidst Practice:

 January 12, 1944, saw a practice ground alert against simulated paratrooper and air attacks in Nagaghuli and the Mahenbari area. Coincidentally, a real red alert was sounded during the exercise, adding a significant dose of realism. While our planes were airborne in anticipation of enemy planes, the reported enemy planes turned out to be friendly. This experience highlighted the constant state of vigilance these airmen maintained.

Squadron Party and Camaraderie:

Amidst the intensity of combat and practice alerts, the squadron took a moment to unwind and celebrate. On January 16, 1944, a squadron party was held at the Dibrugarh Club. With the help of Lt. Binns, S/Sgt. Paul Fritz, a former florist, and the dedicated mess personnel led by S/Sgt. Scamby, the party was a resounding success. The event featured all available feminine talent, including the ever-supportive Red Cross representative, who contributed significantly to the event’s success. Music filled the air, courtesy of Lt. McMillan and an orchestra assembled for the occasion.

January 1944 embodied the spirit of resilience, bravery, and camaraderie within the 89th Fighter Squadron. It was a month of contrasting tales, from harrowing survival in the jungle to the successful execution of combat missions and moments of celebration. These brave airmen proved that valor knows no bounds, both on the battlefield and in the bonds they shared as a squadron.

Unstoppable Courage: The 89th Fighter Squadron’s February 1944 Missions in Nagaghuli & Sadiya

February 1944 marked another chapter in the relentless and courageous journey of the 89th Fighter Squadron as they continued their offensive missions against enemy forces and supply lines in the Kamaing area. As the theater of war raged on, these daring airmen proved their unwavering commitment to the cause.

Continued Offensive Missions:

Throughout the month, the squadron continued its determined offensive missions aimed at disrupting enemy supply chains and troop concentrations in the Kamaing region. The dedication to these missions was unwavering, a testament to the squadron’s resolve to support ground forces and maintain air superiority.

The Successful Strike at Manyet:

On February 19, 1944, a highly successful mission took place that garnered praise from ground forces. This mission targeted a reported supply dump near Manyet. The squadron dropped twenty-four 325 lb. landmines in a precise pattern on the target area. The results were immediate and devastating: large fires erupted, and significant damage was inflicted on enemy personnel in the vicinity. The success of this mission reinforced the importance of coordinated air-ground operations.

Namkwin Railroad Bridge Disabled:

On February 21, 1944, the Namkwin Railroad Bridge became the focal point of an operation that would render it unserviceable. In a coordinated attack, Captain Harrell and Lt. Darden each achieved a direct hit on the bridge using 1000-pound bombs. Their precision strikes severed a vital enemy supply route, and their actions were met with commendation. Colonel John F. Egan, Commanding Officer of the 5320th Defense Wing (Provisional), extended congratulations to the 80th Fighter Group for the successful execution of this mission. It was a testament to the precision and skill of the pilots who made it happen.

Knocking Out the Namkwin Railroad Bridge By-pass:

The month concluded with another significant blow to enemy logistics. On February 29, 1944, the Namkwin Railroad Bridge By-pass was also targeted, this time with 1000 lb. bombs. The strike was resoundingly successful, effectively knocking out another vital link in the enemy’s transportation network. The relentless efforts of the 89th Fighter Squadron helped to disrupt enemy supply lines, making their advances even more challenging.

The heroic airmen of the 89th Fighter Squadron had once again demonstrated their unwavering commitment and fearless resolve. Their operations in February 1944, from precision strikes on supply dumps to disabling critical bridges, showcased their unparalleled courage and dedication to the Allied cause. In the midst of adversity, these brave souls in the skies above Nagaghuli and Sadiya continued to press forward, forging a path toward victory.

 February 1944: Unforgettable Triumphs and Heartbreaking Losses in Nagaghuli & Sadiya

The month of February in 1944 brought a blend of exhilarating triumphs and heart-wrenching losses for the 89th Fighter Squadron stationed in Nagaghuli and Sadiya. These fearless airmen faced the trials of war with unmatched valor and fortitude.

Triumph at Manyet:

On February 19, 1944, a mission unfolded that would go down in history as an outstanding success. The squadron, responding to reports from ground forces, targeted an enemy supply dump near Manyet. In an act of precision and coordination, twenty-four 325 lb. landmines were dropped in a close pattern over the target area. The outcome was astounding. Large fires ignited, and ground reports confirmed substantial damage inflicted on enemy forces in the vicinity. The mission showcased the indomitable spirit and unwavering dedication of the 89th Fighter Squadron in their pursuit of victory.

The Namkwin Railroad Bridge:

February 21, 1944, became another day of significance for the squadron as they undertook a mission to render the Namkwin Railroad Bridge unserviceable. In a meticulously executed attack, Captain Harrell and Lt. Darden each achieved a direct hit on the bridge using 1000-pound bombs. This critical blow disrupted the enemy’s transportation network and severed a vital supply route. Their actions did not go unnoticed, earning the admiration and congratulations of Colonel John F. Egan, Commanding Officer of the 5320th Defense Wing (Provisional). It was a moment of pride and honor for the 80th Fighter Group, further solidifying their vital role in the theater of war.

The Loss of Heroes:

As the squadron celebrated their victories, February 1944 also brought profound sorrow. Major Swenningson and 2nd Lt. Keith, two valiant officers with remarkable records of service in this theater, tragically lost their lives en route home to the United States. The news of their untimely deaths cast a somber shadow over the squadron. Major Swenningson and 2nd Lt. Keith had contributed significantly to the war effort, and their sacrifices would forever be remembered.

February 1944 in Nagaghuli and Sadiya was a month of great contrasts – of bravery and resilience that yielded remarkable successes but also of profound grief at the loss of two remarkable officers. The 89th Fighter Squadron continued to demonstrate their unwavering commitment to the Allied cause, resolutely pushing forward in the face of adversity. They paid tribute to their fallen comrades by persisting in their relentless pursuit of victory.

March 1944: Unwavering Resolve in Nagaghuli and Sadiya

The echoes of determination and resilience continued to resound in the valleys of Nagaghuli and Sadiya during March 1944. The men of the 89th Fighter Squadron remained undaunted, persistently supporting ground forces while striking enemy strongholds.

Precision Strikes and Explosive Success:

This month was marked by an array of missions, including direct support to the ground forces. The squadron targeted reported enemy supply dumps and military installations. On multiple occasions, the results were awe-inspiring, with explosions and fires suggesting the squadron’s direct hits on ammunition and gas storage dumps. Successful missions also took place against key bridges. The Namkwin Railroad Bridge bypass faced destruction on three separate occasions. The Kamwing Road bridge was rendered unserviceable, and the Hopin Railroad bridge was unseated from its foundation, collapsing into the river. The credit for these precision hits went to the skill and accuracy of remarkable pilots, including Capts. Harrell, Whitley, Upson, and Darden, and Lts. E.C. O’Connor and Smith.

The Pinnacle of Air Interception:

March 27, 1944, witnessed a momentous encounter as planes based in the valley intercepted a significant enemy air formation. While all available aircraft from the squadron were scrambled, a four-ship flight from Sadiya, led by Lt. Bell, was the sole group to make contact. They spotted a formidable enemy formation, consisting of around fifteen bombers known as Helens, escorted by twenty-four fighters identified as Zekes and Oscars. The battle that ensued was fierce and unyielding. When the dust settled, this flight had emerged victorious, with a total of four bombers destroyed and one damaged, in addition to six fighters annihilated. The pilots’ remarkable courage and skill had turned the tide of battle.

However, the encounter also bore witness to the grim realities of war. Lt. Marshall’s aircraft, after claiming one bomber and one fighter, suffered critical damage as enemy fire obliterated the rudder controls. In an act of unwavering composure and survival instinct, Lt. Marshall bailed out successfully in the vicinity of Shingbwiyang. He bore only minor injuries—a testament to the resilience of these remarkable aviators.

March 1944 was yet another chapter in the valiant efforts of the 89th Fighter Squadron. Their remarkable precision in striking enemy targets and their ability to engage and triumph against formidable enemy air formations showcased their indomitable spirit and unwavering commitment to the Allied cause. These brave men continued to bear the torch of freedom, regardless of the trials they faced, as they pursued victory on the battlefield.

 April 1944: Valor and Victory in Nagaghuli and Sadiya

The courageous warriors of the 89th Fighter Squadron continued to write their remarkable saga of valor and triumph in the valleys of Nagaghuli and Sadiya during April 1944. As the world grappled with the shadows of war, these unwavering aviators stood as beacons of hope.

Change in Leadership:

In the early part of the month, a significant change in leadership took place. Colonel Ivan W. McElroy, who had taken command of the 80th Fighter Group in July 1943, was transferred to the 10th Air Force. The mantle of command was gracefully shouldered by Lieutenant Colonel Albert L. Evans, Jr., who had previously commanded the group before Colonel McElroy’s tenure. The transition in command signaled the squadron’s adaptability and unity, a testament to the unyielding spirit that propelled them forward.

Relentless Pursuit of the Enemy:

The squadron’s focus remained steadfast on the relentless pursuit of enemy targets, with reported supply dumps and troop concentrations being the primary bombing and striking objectives. Furthermore, their unyielding commitment to the ground forces operating in Northern Burma did not waver. Their support was marked by accuracy and exceptional performance, garnering the 80th Fighter Group numerous commendations for their unwavering dedication.

A Near Miss and Heroic Return:

The valley also bore witness to an almost tragic incident on April 20, as the squadron faced the looming specter of a combat loss. After a daring strafing pass over the target area, 1st Lt. Robbins’ aircraft was suddenly engulfed in flames. With indomitable courage, Lt. Robbins bailed out from his stricken plane, landing perilously close to the rugged terrain and reported Japanese troop positions near Myitkyina.

A harrowing eight-day journey through the unforgiving jungles and treacherous mountains followed. Lt. Robbins faced the perils of nature and the ever-present threat of enemy forces. His determination, resilience, and sheer will to survive were his guiding light. Ultimately, his odyssey led him to safety, and on April 29th, he returned to the embrace of his comrades at base. Despite suffering minor injuries and burns on his hands, Lt. Robbins returned in remarkably good condition, a living testament to his heroism.

His safe return became a symbol of hope and resilience for all who shared in his ordeal, a moment of rejoicing that reverberated through the hearts of his fellow warriors.

April 1944 etched yet another chapter in the valorous history of the 89th Fighter Squadron. Their change in command, unwavering focus on the enemy, and the resilience showcased in the face of adversity were a testament to their unyielding commitment to the Allied cause. As they continued to pave the way for victory, their indomitable spirit shone ever brighter.

May  1944: The Battle for Myitkyna

The pages of history are often inked with stories of valor and sacrifice, and May 17, 1944, etched another chapter in the annals of the 89th Fighter Squadron’s heroic journey during World War II. In a relentless pursuit of victory, the squadron’s exploits continued to illuminate the path to freedom.

Resupplying China:

In March 1944, General Joseph Stilwell and his intrepid Merrill’s Marauders embarked on a daring mission to reopen the Burma Road, a vital lifeline for supplying Chinese forces. Their journey took them down into the challenging terrain of the valley, with Ledo as their starting point. As they advanced, they required not only close air support but also air supply drops. It was the 89th Fighter Squadron that provided the crucial cover, flying a myriad of missions that involved dropping bombs of various sizes, from 352-pound landmines to the formidable 1,204-pound behemoths. The latter had the power to shear the wings off an aircraft if detonated below 1,000 feet, causing havoc on the ground and striking terror into the hearts of the Japanese forces.

The Desperate Call for Support:

As May 17, 1944 dawned, General Stilwell’s troops found themselves locked in fierce combat in Kamaing, their valiant stand met with tenacious Japanese resistance. The volatile weather conditions in the valley were an impediment to daily close air support, creating a significant challenge for the Allied forces. Ten long days had passed since their last contact with the skies, giving the enemy an upper hand in the clear conditions south of Kamaing, where they relentlessly harassed our troops, demanding urgent assistance.

Yet, amidst the adversity, Merrill’s Marauders executed a daring move. They captured a Japanese airstrip, a 4,000-foot-long rock-strewn strip, just 9.5 miles from the town of Myitkyna. Despite it having already felt the wrath of Allied bombs, it was now serving as their forward base. C-47s and other aircraft, often carrying vital supplies, landed on this makeshift runway, defying the odds.

The Relocation of the Squadron:

Meanwhile, the squadron underwent a change. The detachment stationed at Sadiya, consisting of 67 enlisted men and 14 officers, was transferred to Mokelbari. This marked the return to the roots of the 88th Fighter Squadron, in the hope that the facilities at Nagaghuli would eventually house the entire squadron, especially during the monsoon season.

The Rise of Offensive Combat Missions:

As the month progressed, the squadron shifted its focus to purely offensive combat missions. These reached new highs both in terms of flight hours and the number of sorties. Their missions revolved around supporting ground forces in northern Burma. On May 20, 1944, a flight of eight planes was stationed in Shingbwiyang, Burma, further strengthening the ground forces’ endeavor. The forces under General Stilwell, which included Merrill’s Marauders, had made remarkable headway during the month. The seizure of the Myitkyina airfield on May 7, 1944, stood as a monumental achievement.

The Turning Point in the Skies:

May 17, 1944, was a turning point for the squadron as they entered into a fateful encounter. A flight led by Lt. Adair and including Lts. Rogers, Martinez, and T. J. O’Connor, Jr. spotted an enemy formation of 12 to 15 planes, including Oscars, Hamps, and Zekes, in the Kamaing region of Burma. The flight had just completed an offensive reconnaissance mission in support of General Stilwell’s ground forces.

In a spectacular dogfight, the squadron’s pilots demonstrated exceptional skill, shooting down three enemy planes (identified as Oscars) and damaging three more. Though two of our planes were scarred by enemy gunfire and Lt. O’Connor sustained a minor wound, all of our planes safely returned to base. This marked Lt. Adair’s third encounter with enemy aircraft, solidifying his status as a three-time ace. The squadron now boasted a tally of 23 destroyed enemy planes.

This contact was not only significant for the enemy planes downed but also for thwarting their objectives. The intercept prevented the enemy from reaching their likely target—Chinese-American ground forces operating in the region. This success marked a stark contrast to a similar enemy attack just days before when Allied planes failed to intercept or interfere.

May 17, 1944, epitomized the valor, determination, and resilience of the 89th Fighter Squadron. Their story is one of unwavering commitment to the cause of freedom, etching a legacy of bravery for generations to come. In the skies above Myitkyna, they once again stood as sentinels of liberty, turning the tide in a war that would reshape the world.

June 1944: Navigating Challenges with Tenacity

The echoes of battle were beginning to fade as June 1944 arrived, and the 89th Fighter Squadron braced itself for new challenges. Operations during this month witnessed a notable drop, and several factors played a pivotal role in this decline.

Adverse Weather Conditions:

One of the primary culprits that hampered our operations was the unpredictable monsoon weather. The skies over Assam were often veiled in thick clouds and relentless rains, curtailing the ability to launch sorties and provide much-needed air support to ground troops.

In the months that followed, the group launched several attacks on Myitkyina Airdrome in an effort to reduce Japanese attacks on the Hump cargo planes. Myitkyina, the only all-weather strip in northern Burma, was the principal Japanese base for the defense of Burma from the north. Japanese opposition was not the only enemy. In the dense jungles, temperatures sometimes soared to 140 degrees, and the humidity hovered near 100 percent. Crews worked in swarms of beetles, flies, and gnats. At night, sleeping requires the use of mosquito netting. Supplies came by ship from halfway around the world and were nearly impossible to obtain. Finally, disease and fungi claimed more troops than opposing enemy fire.

Pilots Embarking on a Journey:

Another significant reason for the operational lull was the reassignment of many of our seasoned pilots to Karachi. Their mission was to ferry the squadron’s new aircraft, the P-47 Thunderbolt, back to our base in Assam. This transition to the P-47 marked a new chapter in our squadron’s history, and the training program was initiated to familiarize everyone with the capabilities of this powerful new aircraft.

However, amid the operational slowdown, the flight stationed at Shingbwiyang, Burma remained engaged. They flew vital missions in support of the Chinese-American ground forces operating in the Myitkyina area, as well as the British forces in the vicinity of Mogaung. These missions played a pivotal role in the broader military strategy, securing commendations from both American and British forces. These accolades underscored the dedication and effectiveness of the squadron in achieving their objectives.

The Arrival of the P-47 Thunderbolts:

In June 1944, the unit was temporarily based at Moran in India, where new mighty P-47s replaced its tired P-40s. Lt Col. Albert L. Evans Jr. (CO of the 80th Fighter Group) led the first flight of 12 P-47s to come in from Karachi. These new P-47s were the first to be assigned to the unit in this theater. War markings were applied on the planes. Each P-47 wore an individual fuselage number and a color ring around the hood:

  • Yellow for the 88th FS
  • Red for the 89th FS
  • Blue for the 90th FS
  • Black stripes were also applied on their tails as fast identification markings

The squadron saw a significant transformation with the arrival of 26 P-47 Thunderbolts. While the P-47 was familiar to pilots who had embarked on their overseas journey with the squadron, it was a new experience for many others. The arrival of this formidable aircraft brought both excitement and the need for an extensive training program to ensure that everyone was well-acquainted with its features and capabilities.

June was a month marked by challenges, transitions, and training. As the monsoon season continued to test the squadron’s resilience, the introduction of the P-47 Thunderbolt signified a shift towards even more potent air power. The 89th Fighter Squadron was poised to rise above these challenges, embracing the future with determination and resolve.

July 1944: Advancing on New Frontiers

As the calendar pages turned to July 1944, the 89th Fighter Squadron found itself once again on the cusp of uncharted territory. This month saw the squadron undertaking missions of great significance, pushing further into enemy territory than ever before.

Penetrating Enemy Territory:

The squadron’s primary missions during this period were daring sweeps over various enemy airfields. These sweeps targeted strategic locations, including Loiwing, Lashio, Shwebo, Onbauk, and the Mandalay area. Notably, these missions marked the squadron’s most extended foray into enemy territory yet, involving round trips of over 500 miles. This demonstrated the squadron’s growing reach and commitment to disrupting the enemy’s operations.

Intense Antiaircraft Fire:

While the squadron did not encounter any enemy aircraft opposition during these sorties, they faced a formidable obstacle in the form of intense but inaccurate anti-aircraft fire. This was particularly pronounced in the Lashio area, where enemy forces defended their territory with great determination.

Successful Strafing and Bombing Runs:

On the mission flown on July 11, 1944, Lieutenant Rogers displayed exemplary precision and skill. He managed to strafe an enemy fighter plane concealed in a camouflaged revetment on the Lashio aerodrome. His attack left the plane in ruins, and it was officially recorded as damaged. Additionally, during a mission on July 15 to the same target, the squadron successfully hit and obliterated a significant gas and oil dump, causing substantial damage to the enemy’s resources.

Training and Familiarization:

As the squadron continued to adapt to the evolving landscape of aerial combat, training and familiarization remained pivotal. Pilots dedicated time to get better acquainted with their formidable new aircraft, the P-47 Thunderbolt.

Setting Up New Bases:

In an effort to extend the squadron’s reach and tactical flexibility, a flight of four planes led by Lieutenant Adair was deployed to the recently constructed airfield at Tingkawk Sakan in northern Burma. This strategic move aimed to position forces in closer proximity to potential targets.

Additionally, another flight consisting of eight planes, along with all the pilots and personnel formerly stationed at Mokelbari, was dispatched to Dergaon. In the future, they would operate from this new location, further expanding the squadron’s operational range.

July 1944 marked a period of remarkable progress and adaptability for the 89th Fighter Squadron. Despite facing intense antiaircraft fire, they ventured deeper into enemy territory and achieved significant successes. The squadron’s determination and continued familiarization with the P-47 Thunderbolt demonstrated their readiness to face the challenges of a dynamic and ever-evolving battlefield.

The 14th of July 1944  was marked by the loss of Lt. Joseph “Bonaz” Patton, who crashed during a training flight in the Naga Hills area. This is the first pilot killed in a non-combat flight since the unit left the United States. Major Glenn, ex-90th FS “B” Flight Leader, transferred to the 459th FS on January 1, 1944, and visited the 90th FS on July 23. With eight planes destroyed in the air and ten on the ground, at the time, he was the leading ace in the CBI theater of operations.

 

August 1944: The Liberation of Myitkyina and New Frontiers

The month of August 1944 marked a turning point in the ongoing conflict against the Japanese forces in the Burma Theater. This period saw significant shifts and strategic maneuvers by the 89th Fighter Squadron as they continued their relentless campaign against the enemy. 

The Fall of Myitkyina:

On August 5th, 1944, Allied forces achieved a significant victory as they captured the Japanese stronghold of Myitkyina. The successful liberation of this pivotal location marked a turning point in the campaign. A week later, a flight led by Major Harrell was dispatched to this newly conquered base to relieve the planes of the 88th Fighter Squadron, which had played a critical role during the siege of Myitkyina.

One of the most successful missions in August occurred on the 6th while the P-47s of the 90th FS strafed along the railroad from Onbauk to Indaw, setting 30 box cars and ten bashas (bamboo huts) afire.

Squadron Transfer to Myitkyina:

Later in the month, it was decided to transfer the entire squadron to Myitkyina. This shift represented a strategic move to bring the squadron closer to the frontlines and streamline operations in support of the ongoing campaign.

Supporting the British 36th Division:

Throughout August, many of the squadron’s missions were run in support of the British 36th Division, which was operating along the so-called “railroad quarter” south of Mogaung. The squadron’s contributions received praise in the form of a commendation for the “good work” accomplished from Brigadier Haslett, the commanding officer of the division. These missions encompassed a wide range of activities, including river and airdrome sweeps and road sweeps in the Tengchung–Lungling–Waneling area along the Burma Road. These operations unveiled heightened Japanese activity on the Salween front and resulted in the destruction of a substantial number of enemy motor transport vehicles used in support of these operations. Additionally, bridge targets were successfully attacked, underscoring the squadron’s effectiveness in disabling critical infrastructure.

Search and Intercept Mission:

On August 18, 1944, Major Harrell led an unarmed A-24 aircraft, escorted by two P-47 Thunderbolts piloted by Captain McMillan and Lieutenant May, on a search mission for Lieutenant E.C. O’Connor, also known as “Big Okie.” Lieutenant O’Connor had been forced to bail out in the vicinity of Kutkai the previous day and was tragically reported as Killed in Action (KIA). During this mission, the flight encountered two Japanese Oscars just south of Kutkai. In the ensuing aerial combat, Lieutenant May managed to score hits on one of the enemy planes, which was observed breaking away with black smoke trailing behind. This Japanese aircraft was officially claimed as damaged. Captain McMillan’s plane sustained minor damage with a bullet hole in the wing, but none of the squadron’s aircraft suffered significant harm.

August 1944 bore witness to significant progress in the ongoing campaign, culminating in the liberation of Myitkyina and the 89th Fighter Squadron’s strategic transfer to this key location. Their steadfast support of the British 36th Division and continued dedication to challenging missions showcased their growing impact in the Burma Theater.

A little entertainment and diversion from the perils of war:

On August 30th, 1944, the glamorous Ann Sheridan, the very funny Ben Blue, clever Jackie Miles, M.C., a very attractive brunette accordionist (Ruth Denas), and a Hula dancer in a grass skirt (Mary Landa), put on a highly entertaining one-hour show and were greeted by loud whistling and tumultuous applause. 

For the men of the 80th FG, activity was not confined to aerial operations. The mud was everywhere, from morning until evening. There was little opportunity to break the monotony of work, and sleep was usually easily lulled by the patter of rain beating on the tent at night. There was very little poker or other gambling, possibly because the combat area, where there is no place to spend it, had so little significance. One of the most popular diversions for the men of the 80th FG was swimming in the rivers and lakes around Tingkawk Sakan. Mail, which arrived and was distributed during the month, was like a ray of sun in the heart of the men. On September 27th, Lt. Ekins and a Royal Air Force pilot landed with two new British P-47 D-25s with a bubble canopy, the first ones for the unit.

Myitkyina – September 1944: Expanding Frontiers and Focused Strikes

Despite the rain, which fell for 27 days during the month of September 1944, approximately 50% more offensive missions were flown during the first full month in Burma. The average bombing mission consisted of four planes, each dropping two 250-pound “General Purpose” bombs with a 1/10th second delay fuse.

As the Allied campaign continued to unfold in the Burma Theater, the 89th Fighter Squadron adapted to new strategies and evolving circumstances in September 1944. This month marked a shift from direct support of ground forces to more specific and strategic bombing and strafing missions.

Changing Mission Focus:

Unlike the previous month, September saw a change in the squadron’s mission profile. The squadron did not run missions in direct support of the ground forces during this period. Instead, the emphasis shifted to targeting specific locations and enemy infrastructure.

Strategic Targets:

Principal bombing and strafing targets for the squadron in September included Bhamo and the Japanese supply base at Kutkai. The effectiveness of these sorties was evident in the observed results, particularly in the Kutkai area, where large fires were ignited, and numerous buildings were destroyed. These operations indicated successful strikes on vital enemy supply depots and positions.

Bridge Disruptions:

Several bridge targets were attacked during this period, with notable damage caused to the railroad bridge at Naba Junction and the road bridge near Man Ming. In each case, the bridges were rendered unserviceable, disrupting the enemy’s lines of communication and supply.

Sweeps Along the Burma Road:

Throughout the latter half of the month, daily sweeps were conducted along the Burma Road, running from Lungling and extending southwest to Wanting or Wanling, then looping back up to Bhamo. These sweeps were contingent on favorable weather conditions. These missions provided vital reconnaissance and inflicted damage on enemy motor transport and supply depots along the road. The presence of Japanese forces and supplies in the area was evident from observations and the destruction caused.

Strikes on Enemy Airfields:

Squadron missions also targeted Japanese airfields at Nawnghkio, Anisakan, and Lashio. Although these missions were flown against enemy airfields, no enemy aircraft were observed or encountered during these operations.

September 1944 showcased the squadron’s adaptability and its ability to execute focused and strategic strikes on critical targets. The change in mission focus allowed the squadron to disrupt enemy supply lines and infrastructure effectively, further contributing to the Allied advance in the Burma Theater.

 Myitkyina – October 1944: Changing Theaters and Continued Success

October 1944 was a month of significant developments and continued operations for the 89th Fighter Squadron. It brought changes in the C.B.I. theater’s structure and leadership and a shift in mission focus for the squadron.

Changing Theater Divisions:

Towards the end of the month, the C.B.I. theater underwent a division into two separate theaters: the India-Burma theater and the China theater. This division marked a significant change in the theater’s structure and focus. General Stillwell, an iconic figure in the C.B.I., was recalled to the United States for a new and undisclosed assignment. General Sultan, who had served as Chief of Staff to General Stillwell, assumed command of the India-Burma Theater, while General Wedemeyer took charge of the newly created China theater.

Personnel Changes:

Within the squadron itself, the month of October saw a decrease in personnel. The number of officer personnel decreased from 61 to 53, and enlisted personnel decreased from 260 to 250. Notably, Captains Whitley and Adair, along with several Lieutenants, returned to the United States after approximately 18 months of service in the theater. Additionally, nine enlisted men returned to the U.S. after 33 months of service. These returns marked a significant moment as they indicated the initiation of a rotation policy, raising hopes among the personnel.

Mission Focus:

Despite the changing theater dynamics and personnel shifts, the squadron continued its operations with determination. The principal missions of the month focused on targeted strikes and strategic bombings. Overlapping patrols remained a priority, alongside 419 offensive combat sorties. Among these, 195 missions involved attacks against reported Japanese supply and troop positions, fighter sweeps along the Burma Road, and enemy airfields.

Effective Use of Landmines and Incendiary Bombs:

Two primary targets, Man Wing and Meng Mao, were hit effectively during missions in which 325-pound landmines were used, with each plane carrying two of these bombs. Additionally, 500-pound incendiary bombs were used for the first time, carried by four planes and employed with a telling impact on the target.

Support for British 36th Division:

The squadron flew 29 missions, totaling 117 sorties, in close support of the British 36th division’s operations along the Mandalay-Mogaung-Myitkyina rail line. The effectiveness of these operations was recognized through a commendation received from Major General Festing, commanding the division.

Bridge Destruction and New Bombing Approach:

Nineteen missions, comprising 107 sorties, targeted road bridges on key enemy supply routes to Bhamo and the Salween Front. The squadron successfully destroyed ten bridges, including main bridges, bypasses, and reconstructed bridges. The destruction of these bridges disrupted enemy lines of communication and led to the rapid repair or replacement efforts by the Japanese.

A notable development in bombing approaches emerged in the latter part of the month. The glide approach, combined with bomb releases from 30 to 45 degrees and 8 to 11-second delay fuses, allowed for greater accuracy. This method was particularly beneficial for less experienced pilots, as it produced closer bomb patterns, greater consistency, and improved accuracy.

In the last two months, the squadron’s offensive operations primarily focused on the Bhamo area and the Burma Road south of Lungling. These operations demonstrated the squadron’s adaptability and its continued contribution to the Allied campaign in the C.B.I. theater.

During the month of October, the 80th FG pilots flew bomb/strafe missions on various targets, including many bridges using dive-bombing and low-altitude glide bombing, which proved vastly more accurate than dive-bombing the bridges. As the intensity of the missions grew, it became necessary to use all explosive devices available in the area, and depth charges were used for the first time on October 17th.

In November 1944, several missions were flown, including direct support, with the targets being designated by ground radio in the Loi-ing Valley. On November 23rd, men of the 80th FG celebrated Thanksgiving. The turkeys were delivered by trucks through the jungle. Several men from the squadron returned from a jungle rescue mission which located two transport plane wrecks and buried the dead.

December 1944 started with several support missions near Bhamo, but the city’s fall to the Chinese forces ended the necessity for close support in the area, except on December 20th, when the Japanese forces stopped a Chinese division. Incendiary clusters and napalm tanks were used successfully. Twice in the month of December 1944, the P-47s escorted the B-25s of the 490th Bomb Squadron. Several other bridges were also destroyed, but many of them were repaired with wood or bamboo constructions, and they were knocked out again. On December 31st, an important fighter sweep of Kunlon, Aungban, and Heho airfields was conducted to intercept a maximum of Japanese planes returning to other fields. The biggest event in December 1944, without any competition, was the aerial combat on December 14th during a two P-47s patrol along the Irrawaddy, during which Lt. Hammer was credited with three confirmed victories and Lt. Howarth was credited with one. During the month of January 1945, the 80th FG moved to Myitkyina, from where the unit operated until May 1945, before being transferred to India until the end of the war.

The  80th FG carved a unique and impactful niche in the annals of military aviation history. Known for their astonishingly brief yet intense missions, the 80th set a record for flying the shortest missions, often lasting a mere 10 to 15 minutes. Their primary objective: was to deliver precise and devastating strikes against enemy positions within the city, some perilously close, just 40 yards away from their fellow troops, and in one harrowing instance, a mere 10 yards.

The  80th FG played a pivotal role in providing fighter bomber support, contributing a staggering 80 percent of this crucial air support. They destroyed over 100 aircraft in the air and probably more than that on the ground. The 459th Fighter Squadron scored most of the victories, with six pilots becoming aces. The numbers they amassed during their service paint a vivid picture of their unwavering commitment: 435 tons of bombs dropped, 489,808 rounds of .50-caliber ammunition expended, a total of 1,948 sorties flown, clocking in an impressive 3,632 hours of flight time, and consuming a whopping 204,886 gallons of gasoline. In terms of actual dollars spent, their accounts reported expenditures of $220,483 for the 3,252 bombs dropped and an additional $88,382 for the immense quantity of 50-caliber ammunition fired during their 79-day campaign. Sadly, their sacrifices included the loss of six P-40 aircraft and two valiant pilots. 

In July of 1945, with the war in China winding down, the 80th Fighter Squadron received the call to return to their base in India. They made their journey back to the United States in October of the same year and officially deactivated on November 3rd, 1945. Their legacy, however, lives on as a testament to their unwavering dedication and remarkable achievements in World War II history.

 

If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking.

Gen. George Patton

While testing a Republic P-47 over Long Island, Lt. Richard W. Nellis’s P-47, caught fire. He stuck with it, piloting his flaming P-47 out to sea, until he was sure it would not crash on land to avoid crashing in a populated area, making the ultimate sacrifice.

In honor of all the WW II war heroes

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