35TH FIGHTER (PURSUIT) GROUP USAAF
"ATTACK TO DEFEND"
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WWII

 

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35th Fighter Group

- 39th Pursuit Squadron - "The Cobra Squadron"

- 40th Pursuit Squadron - "Fightin' Red Devils"

- 41st Pursuit Squadron

- Headquarters Squadron

- 679 Ordnance Coy., 1 & 2 Platoon

 

The 35th Fighter Group departed San Francisco, California on 31 January 1942 aboard the US Army Transport Ancon as a skeleton organization and arrived in Brisbane, Queensland on 25 February 1942. 

Teddy W. Hanks of the 40th Fighter Squadron related to me his memories of arriving in Brisbane on 25 February 1942:-

After our arrival on 25 Feb ' 42 at Brisbane, we were immediately trucked to Ascot Race Track. Apparently it is the same Ascot Camp you mentioned. I vividly remember the week we spent there -- at least portions of it. Our tents were small, white and low to the ground; too low to stand erect. Obviously intended only for sleeping, they accommodated two to four men -- can't recall how many. I do recall our first meal: Curry, prepared by Aussie (army?) cooks. Fortunately, we soon found outside sources of more appetizing food such as fresh pineapple, solid chocolate candy from Tasmania and other goodies.

The second time I spent a few days at Brisbane was the end of June ' 43. The C-47 that took a load of us from the Port Moresby area landed after sundown at Archerfield. We were bussed to a downtown hotel where we were directed to go to the second floor. There, waiting for us, were several long tables covered with white table cloths and adorned with honest-to-goodness silverware, dinner plates, glass ice tea glasses filled with genuine ice and tea, and other items we had not seen in several months. As we sat looking at all those almost-forgotten appurtenances, we began to giggle like a bunch of school girls. The food served us was another thing that was unexpected. But, due to shrunken stomachs resulting from months of eating only enough to keep from starving, most of us could devour only a portion of what was before us. Afterwards, we were directed to rooms containing beds with genuine mattresses and sheets.

You may wonder why I've described such a seemingly mundane occasion. The reason is simple. A mere few hours earlier we were "existing" on field rations, drinking warm highly-clorinated water, sleeping on canvas cots with only a wool blanket beneath and one for cover, and having our nightly rest frequently interrupted by an enemy bomber or two. It was like going from an uncivilized part of the world to one we had often dreamed about.

Undermanned and without aircraft, they departed Brisbane on 4 March 1942 aboard the USAT Hugh L. Scott and arrived in Melbourne on 8 March 1942. They were then taken via rail immediately to Ballarat, where they were billeted in civilian homes until departing by rail late on the 16 March 1942. They arrived in Mount Gambier, South Australia, the next day. 

It was at Mount Gambier that the 39th and 40th Squadrons received their new P-400 aircraft. The P-400, the export version of the Bell P-39 Airacobra, had been built for the RAF, but were refused by the British because the aircraft did not live up to Bell's claims and the RAF's expectations. So one hundred of the P-400s were sent to Australia to equip the 35th Pursuit Group. They were originally intended to go to the Philippines but the convoy was diverted to Brisbane. These aircraft were then assembled at Amberley Airfield west of Brisbane Brisbane. The 8th Fighter Group were the next to be equipped with P-400's assembled at Amberley Airfield

The 35th had its designation changed to 35th Fighter Group on 15 May 1942.

After a rift between USAFIA and ABDACOM, in mid February 1942, General Wavell and A.M. Peirse commandeered all fighter aircraft enroute along the "Brereton Route" and ordered that they be diverted to Perth in Western Australia for partial disassembly and shipment by boat to Java. 140 Kittyhawks (Warhawks) were loaded onto the old aircraft tender USS Langley and the freighter USS Seawitch headed for Tjilatjap in Java. Aircraft intended for the 49th Pursuit Group were diverted to Perth for this operation. The whole operation was very confused and valuable pilots were scattered all over Australia. On 27 February 1942 USS LANGLEY was attacked south of Tilatjap by Japanese aircraft and was so badly damaged it had to be torpedoed by an escort. USS LANGLEY was actually one of the support ships for the US Navy's Patrol Wing Ten. The PW10 War Diary for 27 February 1942 lists the names of the 31 USAAC pilots missing (none survived the War) as a result of the attack on USS Langley. There was one 1st Lt. and thirty 2nd Lts. Also lost were 12 crew chiefs from the 35th Pursuit Group, but their names are not recorded in the above War Diary.

 

39TH FIGHTER SQUADRON - THE COBRA SQUADRON

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The 39th Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) was constituted on paper on 22 December 1939. The 39th Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) was initially assigned to the 31st Pursuit Group on 1 February 1940. In early 1940 personnel were drawn from the old 94th Pursuit Squadron. This was a Squadron from WW1 which Eddie Rickenbacher had served in. The 39th Pursuit Squadron started to train in Seversky P-35 aircraft. In early 1941 they received the first P-39 Airacobras to run off the production line at their base at Selfridge Field in Michigan.

The 39th Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) was then assigned to the 35th Pursuit Group on 15 January 1942.

Maurer shows the  39th Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) arriving at Brisbane, Queensland on 25 February 1942, then moving to Ballarat, Victoria on 8 March 1942, then to Mt. Gambier, South Australia on 16 March 1942, then Williamstown on 3 April 1942.

The 39th Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor), of the 35th Pursuit Group (Interceptor), relocated from Williamstown to Woodstock airfield with their P-39 Airacobras on 20 April 1942.

Roger Warfield, a new pilot, was killed in April of 1942, probably at Williamstown, before the squadron moved to Woodstock

The 39th Fighter Squadron were based at Woodstock near Townsville from April 1942 until June 1942. The 39th Fighter Squadron, 35th Fighter Group, moved from Woodstock airfield to Port Moresby, New Guinea with their P-39s on 2 June 1942 and flew their first mission that day. 2nd Lt. David L. Silverman (0-427011), a new pilot assigned to the 39th Pursuit Squadron, 35th Pursuit Group was killed landing on the center strip at Woodstock airfield on 10 May 1942.

The 39th Fighter Squadron then returned to Townsville on 26 July 1942 and returned to Port Moresby with their new P-38's on 18 October 1942.

The 35th Fighter Group replaced the 8th Fighter Group in Port Moresby. The 8th Fighter Group were moved back to Townsville for rest and re-equipment.

The 39th Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) was redesignated as the 39th Fighter Squadron on 15 May 1942.

The Ace of Aces, Richard Ira "Dick" Bong, spent some time with the 39th Fighter Squadron where he first became an ace. He then returned to his assigned Squadron.

Aircraft numbers for the 39th Fighter Group ranged from 10 to 39.

NOTE:- Another source indicates that the 39th Fighter Squadron spent two and a half months in Port Moresby and returned to Townsville at the end of July 1942 to take delivery of their new P-38 Lightnings. They were the first Lightning Squadron in the Southwest Pacific area. They returned to New Guinea in October 1942.

Frank Royal had been sent in early August 1942, after 2 months combat duty in the 39th FS with Bell P-39/400s in New Guinea, to take charge of erection and testing of P-38 Lightnings at Amberley Airfield west of Brisbane. A few pilots and NCOs went with Frank, among them was Tom Lynch the head engineer/test pilot and first Ace of the 39th Fighter Squadron. The "sharks teeth" motiff was applied to the P-38's as they were being erected at Amberley Airfield.

The following 49 P-38F's and 1 P-38Q were listed on a Letter from Jas. B. Jordan, Colonel, AAF, Air Officer to Commanding General, Army Air Force Troops, Melbourne, Australia, Attention Depot Supply Officer dated 12 August 1942. It references Air Corps Forms 60A and 60B for the following aircraft. The Letterhead shows Headquarters, San Francisco Port of Embarkation, Office of the Port Commander, Port Mason, California, Air Office.

41-2382
41-7484
42-12567  *** This one is a P-38Q Lightning
42-12621
42-12622
42-12623
42-12624
42-12625
42-12626
42-12727
42-12628
42-12629
42-12571
42-12630
42-12631
42-12632
42-12633
42-12634
42-12635
42-12636
42-12637
42-12638
42-12639
42-12640
42-12631
42-12642
42-12643
42-12644
42-12645
42-12646
42-12647
42-12648
42-12649
42-12650
42-12651
42-12652
42-12653
42-12654
42-12655
42-12656
42-12657
42-12658
42-12659
42-12660
42-12661
42-12662
42-12663
42-12664
42-12665
42-12666

A Lockheed technical representative and about 12 pilots with varied P-38 hours had been sent from the USA to be a part of this first P-38 Squadron in the Southwest Pacific Area. Among them was John Mangas, a handsome, eager young man. After erection and testing, the planes were sent to nearby Eagle Farm airfield where refresher/transition/combat training was carried out.

Walter Markey was one of the early arrivals in Australia in 1942, after being trained for 90 hours in the P-38 Lightning in the United States. His first station was at Amberley Field flight testing the aircraft that had been assembled at Eagle Farm. While awaiting the arrival of his squadron, the 9th Squadron, 49th Fighter Group from Darwin, Walter and three others were ordered to join the 39th Fighter 35th Fighter Group in New Guinea.

Several of the best combat pilots and maintenance NCOs were brought to help with this process and learn the P-38 Lightning. The rest of the 39th Fighter Squadron were still at Woodstock airfield, and Antil Plains Airfield near Townsville.

As the refresher/transition/combat training went on at Eagle Farm Airfield some P-38s, pilots and NCOs were sent north to train the rest of the 39th Fighter Squadron  in north Queensland. Major Geo Prentice was sent in by Wurtsmith, the Commanding Officer of the 5th Fighter Command to take charge at Brisbane. Major Prentice asked Frank Royal to stay as his Operations Deputy to which Frank agreed.

By mid September 1942 most of the Brisbane area process was being completed so a small contingent was left to finish there and the main body of 12 P-38s in two 6 ship elements led by Major Prentice and Frank Royal flew north to Townsville on 21 September 1942. An advance element of the 39th Fighter Squadron had already been sent into the Port Moresby area to prepare for the rest to move into that "combat zone".

Frank Royal remembers that they had a maintenance/armament element in Townsville that up-loaded ammunition for all the guns and did other things so they would be flying into Moresby in a "combat-ready" status. They stayed overnight in Townsville and then flew on into Port Moresby's 7 mile strip the next morning, still with their 12 ship formation. After checking to make sure the newly configured 14 Mile Field was ready they moved the 12 P-38s over there and went "on alert" with pilots/crews settling into a nearby tent camp already set up by the 39th Fighter Squadron's advance element.

By the end of September 1942, the 39th Fighter Squadron was approaching its full complement of P-38's, nearly 24. Lt. John Mangas was one of the 12 pilots, probably chosen because he was trained as a P-38 pilot stateside and was shipped out from San Francisco to Brisbane to accompany and fly the P-38 Lightning.

The remainder of the 39th Fighter Squadron would move from Woodstock Airfield to join those in Port Moresby as maintenance/testing/training allowed. There were problems with leaky tanks and other problems that appeared and had to be resolved before the P-38's could be a really effective combat plane. So it was not until later (Oct/Nov 1942?) before they could do effective combat patrols/fights.

On 14 November 1942 Major Richard Ira Bong, the Ace of Aces was re-assigned to the 39th Fighter Squadron of the 35th Fighter Group at Port Moresby in New Guinea.

Despite Frank Royal's protests, the 35th Fighter Group Commanding Officer Legg pulled Frank out of the 39th Fighter Squadron and transferred him into the 35th Fighter Group Headquarters. As a consequence, Frank Royal was only able to fly missions occasionally with the 39th Fighter Squadron from then on.

 

Two P-38 Lightnings of the 39th Fighter Squadron at an unconfirmed location. Can anyone confirm where this
photo was taken. The prefabricated hangars in the rear left of the photo should help to identify the location.

 

Gary Smith believed the above photograph is not taken in Port Moresby, but probably in the Eagle Farm Airfield or Amberley Airfield area. The late Charlie King a former Ace of the 39th Fighter Squadron advised that the 39th Fighter Squadron P-38 Lightning’s were numbered from 10 through 39.

Gary Smith has found the Combat Fighter Reports of the squadron (typed up on the old R.A.A.F. Form A.108(A)), from the 27 December 1942 air battle over Buna, PNG, and these show several of the 39th Fighter Squadron’s P-38’s numbered similar to those in the above photograph, i.e. 112 and 118 (and others in the 10 – 39 range).

Gary Smith is confident that the P-38's in the above photograph were 39th Fighter Squadron P-38’s, because when he looked closely, he noticed they were painted with the familiar sharks-teeth on the front of the twin booms – clearly a 39th Fighter Squadron insignia. Another distinctive feature, prop-spinners painted the colour of Air Force blue (obviously not detectable in black and white photo).

The following listings of pilots and P-38 Lightnings per combat of 27 December 1942 were provided by Gordon Birkett:-

Capt Thomas Lynch 42-12715
2nd Lt John Mangas 42-12653 (aka #27)
2nd Lt Richard Bong 42-12644
2nd Lt Kenneth Sparkes 42-12651
1st Lt Hoyt Eason 42-12624
2nd Lt Stanley Andrews 42-12659
1st Lt Charles Gallop 42-12627
2nd Lt Ralph Bills 42-12699
2nd Lt Harris Denton 42-12654
2nd Lt Carl Pianck 42-12633

Details for combat action on 31 December 1942 from Gordon Birkett:-

Capt Thomas Lynch 42-12715
2nd Lt Richard Bong 42-12624
2nd Lt John Lane 42-12638
2nd Lt Kenneth Sparkes 42-12652
1st Lt Hoyt Eason 42-12653
2nd Lt Norman Hyland 42-12644
2nd Lt Ralph Bills 42-12647

Major George W. Prentice's P-38 Lightning on the 3 March 1943 in the Bismark Sea mission was 42-12634.

 

40TH FIGHTER SQUADRON - THE "FIGHTIN' RED DEVILS"

The 40th Fighter Squadron was started at Selfridge airfield in Michigan, USA on 22 December 1939 and was originally part of the 31st Pursuit Group with the 3rd and 41st Pursuit Squadrons. By the autumn of 1941 the 40th Pursuit Squadron was flying P-39 Airacobras.

The 40th Squadron moved to Baer airfield in Fort Wayne on 7 December 1941 and three days later they relocated to Port Angeles, WA. The 31st Fighter Group was recalled to Selfridge and with half of the 40th Fighter Squadron it became the 308th Squadron. The rest of the 40th Fighter Squadron left San Francisco by ship and arrived in Brisbane on 25 February 1942. Once in Australia, the 40th Fighter Squadron became part of the 35th Fighter Group in the 5th Air Force, USAAF.

In March 1942 they moved to Ballarat and then Mt. Gambier. Teddy W. Hanks was a member of the 40th Fighter Squadron and did not know the movements and/or locations of the other two squadrons during the early months after their arrival in Brisbane. While at Mt. Gambier, Teddy Hank's squadron received the first influx of personnel, namely 8 pilots and 16 enlisted men who had served in Java in the 17th Pursuit Squadron, Provisional, a P-40 organisation. 

In the early evening of 31 March 1942, they departed Mount Gambier via train and arrived at Camden in New South Wales, late on the 2 April 1942. Because of the difference in the width of rails, at Albury they were compelled to change trains. As Teddy recalls, they were sent to Camden to afford aerial protection for Sydney in case the Japanese should manage to send aircraft carriers close enough to launch an attack. They departed Camden on 14 April 1942 and, after changing trains at Brisbane, reached Townsville at mid-day on the 17th April 1942. They were transported to Antil Plains that same day. 

Teddy W. Hanks very brief diary entry simply reads:-

"Went on out to Antil Plains."

The 40th Squadron moved in with the 36th Squadron of the 8th Fighter Group. Within a very few days, the 36th packed up and departed for Port Moresby. Within walking distance of their camp was an airfield (pasture?) being used by the 33rd Bomb Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group, a B-26 Martin Marauder unit. Teddy W. Hanks knew one of the gunners in the 33rd, and soon located him. His friend in the 33rd Bomb Squadron explained that it took three days for them to make a strike against the enemy. 

Day One: Fly to Seven Mile (now Jackson International Airport) at Moresby and refuel the aircraft by hand pumping fuel out of 55 gallon barrels. 

Day Two: Fly to Rabaul, make attack and return to Moresby where the aircraft was refueled. 

Day Three: Return to Antil Plains. A strike consisted of six B-26s -- no fighter escorts because none were capable of flying the distance. My friend said they were losing an average of one plane per strike. The day Teddy visited him he had just returned from a mission on which the squadron commanding officer was lost. A few days later the 33rd moved to another location believed to be Woodstock.

Around the end of April 1942, and the first part of May 1942, the 40th Squadron was brought up to authorised strength when a large contingent of enlisted men joined the squadron. Almost all of them had enlisted after the Pearl Harbor attack. Very few were trained to do the various jobs required of a fighter squadron. It was up to the existing men in the squadron who knew a little, to train those who knew nothing. With few exceptions, they learned and performed well. On 2 June 1942, the 39th and 40th squadrons were sent to the Port Moresby area to relieve the 35th and 36th Fighter Squadrons, of the 8th Fighter Group, that had been sent up in April 1942.

They returned to Townsville in July 1942 to recover and re-arm. In November 1942 they returned to Port Moresby. The 35th Fighter Group replaced the 8th Fighter Group in Port Moresby. The 8th Fighter Group were moved back to Townsville for rest and re-equipment.

After arriving in Australia and before arriving at Antil Plains, Teddy Hanks and his fellow 40th Squadron men had received only partial pay. Following their arrival at Antil Plains, their pay records were brought up to date and they were paid back pay. Teddy went to a camera shop in Townsville and told the man he wanted the best camera he had in stock. He brought out a Kodak 616 folding type. Teddy went next to a shop and had a heavy leather case made for it. Teddy still has both items, although the bellows of the camera is split due to age. 

Teddy had no exposure meter and no experience with a camera that required setting of aperture opening and shutter speed. Consequently, some of his hard-to-get film was either over or under exposed. Practically all of Teddy's shots were of squadron personnel or of aircraft; virtually none of scenery. Most of Teddy's two and a half years in the Southwest Pacific was spent in New Guinea. He was on the island of Kiriwina for a couple days in early November 1943 while their P-38s were flying escort for the bombers hitting Rabaul. Teddy was on Biak Island for three or so months before departing the end of August 1944 en route home. A few of Teddy's photos were of Charles Lindbergh, a civilian technical representative for the makers of the Corsair Marine/Navy fighter, who flew 35 combat missions in the Pacific -- mostly with the 475th Fighter Group, the all-P38 group that was formed at Amberley Field in mid-1943. McGuire was the second ranking American fighter ace of all time with 38 confirmed kills.

 

Did a P-38 Lightning from the 35th Fighter Group crash land
after take-off from the Stock Route Airfield?

 

Captain Thomas J. Lynch
35th Fighter Group's Ace Pilot

 

Crash of a P-400 at WIlliamstown? in about April 1942

 

Crash of a P-400 at Woodstock on 10 May 1942

 

E-mails from Rip Collins
of 40th Fighter Squadron

 

E-mails from Charles King
of 39th Fighter Squadron

 

E-mails from Roy Seher
of 39th Fighter Squadron Association

 

E-mails from Walter Markey
of the 39th Fighter Squadron

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Frank Royal and ex member of the 39th Fighter Squadron.

I'd also like to thank Gary Smith, nephew of Lt. John Mangas, of the 39th Fighter Squadron, Missing In Action, 8 January 1943 near Lae in New Guinea.

I'd also like to thank Gordon Birkett and Ross Whistler for their assistance.

 

REFERENCE BOOKS:-

"Eagle Farm 1942 - Airacobra Assembly"
by Brian Creer (note these Airacobra's were actually assembled at Amberley airfield)

"North Queensland WWII, 1942-1945"
By P.D. Wilson

 

Can anyone help me with more information?

 

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This page first produced 27 June 1999

This page last updated 14 January 2017