P-38 Lightning At War

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Joe Christy &. JeffEthell


Acknowledgements A work of this kind is hardly po ible without the aid of a great many people. The authors cannot adequately thank all tho e who helped, but we can dedicate thi book to them. So, we tru t that you will approve of the use we made of your help, Ginny Fincik, and Maj Shirley Bach of the USAF 1361st Photo Squadron; and Wayne Pryor at Lockheed, James Knott of the Allison Division of General Motors, and General Ben Kel ey. This book i also dedicated to 0 amu Tagaya who unearthed Japanese records, and Arno Abendroth who delved into Luftwaffe files; to Bruce Hoy of the Air Museum, Papua, New Guinea; our fellow researchers in Australia, T. R. Bennett and Frank F. Smith; and to Dennis Glenn Cooper, Ira Latour, Wayne Sneddon, Ralph P. Willet, and William Carter. It is also for Carl Bong, brother of America's Ace of Aces; authors Kenn C. Rust, Roger A. Freeman who opened his extensive P-38 file to u , and the generous Edward Jablon ki, along with Mitch Mayborn, John Stanaway, Merle Olmsted, T. R. Bennett, and Glenn Bavou ett. And for Ken Sumney and Emery J. Vrana.

Copyright under the Berne Convention All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any from without the permis ion of Charle cribner's Sons. De ign by Anthony Wirkus L lAD PRINTED I


E pecially, it is dedicated to the exLightning commanders and pilot who contributed: Oliver B. Taylor, John Tilley, o ug Canning, Hank Schneider, Carroll 'Andy' Ander on, Jack Lenox, Lee Carr, Sidney Inglet, Sterling Winn, Warren Campbell, George Laven, Art Beimdiek, Bill Hoelle, Frank Barnecott, corgc Fleckenstein, Jack Curti, Downey linch, Guy Watson, Norm Jackson, Frank Lawson, Jack Fehrenbach, Tom Jone, Dick Burn, Revis Sirmon,. Ben Mason, Ray Toliver, Robbie Robert on, Jules Hymel, Frank Shearin, Ross Humer, Richard Bracey, Hugh Bozarth, Jack Goebel, Carroll Knott, Harry Brown, Don De sert, Nick Zinni, Jack Jone Bob Margison, Carl Gardner, Sherrill Huff, Bill Caughlin, Franci Pope, Billy Broadfoot, John Stege, Erv Ethell, J. B. Wood on, George O. Doherty, Robert H. French, Noah Ray Tipton, James E. Kunkle, Fredric Arnold, D. A. Suddeth, Bob Woodard, and Royal Frey. Again, our sincere thanks ...

Joe Christy and Jeff Ethell

Prelude: The Company 8 P-38 Development 12 The Aleutian and North Atlantic Ferry North Africa 46 South-West Pacific 1942-1943 64 Sicily and Italy 82 Europe 100 Far Ea t Victory 1944-1945 142 P-38 Production



The following was originally printed in the us Army paper, tars and Stripes in 1943, and was written by a B-17 gunner in North Africa. It was forwarded by ex-Liberator pilot, Fred Bowen, Canoga Park, California.

Oh, Hedy Lamarr is a beautiful gal And Madeline Carroll is, too; But you'll find, if you query, a different theory Amongst any bomber crew. For the loveliest thing of which one could sing. (This side of the Heavenly Gates) is no blonde or brunette of the Hollywood set, But an escort of P-38s ... Sure, we're braver than hell; on ground all is swellIn the air it's a different story. We sweat out our track through fighters and flak; We're willing to split up the glory. Well, they wouldn't reject us, Heaven protect us And, until all this shooting abates, Give us the courage to fight 'em one other small item An escort of P-38s.

the the so and


Prelude:The Company

BeloUl: The 10-passenger Model 10 Electra, introduced in 1934, cruised at 1 Smph, and enjoyed immediate uccess with airline operators around the world. . / Lockheed California Company

In February 1937 when me us Army Air and Fred Keeler. Eight of those designs had Corps asked America's struggling aircraft been produced for a total of277 airplanes, 196 industry to submit design proposals for a new of which were the wooden Lockheeds, such 'interceptor', Lockheed Aircraft Corporation as the famed Vega , Orions, and Altair . In 1929 the company founders had sold out was a small company. Its cash on hand was approximately equal to one month's to a Detroit group, which in turn allowed operating expenses; and its sole product, the Lockheed to lip into receivership a the twin-engined Electra, aimed at the feeder commercial aircraft market dwindled during airline market, could claim a production run the Great Depres ion. Then, in 1932, of Ie s than 80 machine during the preceding company a set were purcha ed for 40,000 three year. by a group b ought together by investment Nevertheless, Lockheed made a bold banker Robert E. Gross (who had previously response to the Air Corps' request, submitting backed Lloyd Stearman in Wichita). The e drawings of an airplane 0 advanced that, if people originally included airline pioneer built, it would demand answers to Walter Varney, Lloyd Stearman (who had engineering and aerodynamic questions for old out to United Aircraft three years which no answer yet exi ted. Lockheed earlier), Thomas F. Ryan III of Midcalled the design 'Model 22'. The Air Corps Continent Air Line, broker E. C. Walker, and Mr and Mrs Cyril Chappellet. would call it the P-38 Lightning. 'Model 22' represented the 22nd design Gros also brought in engineer Hall proposed by Lockheed engineers since the Hibbard, who had begun his career with company was founded 11 years earlier by Stearman in 1927, after earning his degree at Allen Lockheed, John Northrop, W. K. Jay MIT. Hibbard was respon ible for

Above: Key executive who provided the foundation for. Lockheed Aircraft Cotporanon were photographed together on 26 July 1934. Left to right: Lloyd tearman, Robert Gros , Cyril Chappellet, and Hall Hibbard. / Locklzeed Califortlia Company Left: Clarence L. 'Kelly' Johnson, father of the P-38 (and many advanced de ign to follow), was discovered by Chief Engineer Hall Hibbard at the Univer ity of Michigan in 1933 when John on wrote a report critical of the Electra' initial tail design. / Lockheed Califortlia Company


Left: Final assembly of the XP-38 at Burbank. Lockheed security was tight and photos forbidden, which explains poor qualiry of this sneak shot by Lt Ben Kelsey. / Ben Kelsey

Right: Sketches of ix designs roughed out by Kelly Johnson for the 1937 Air Corp fighter competition. Number four wa selected. / Lockheed Califortlia Company Below: Original patent drawing of the XP-38, filed 27 June 1939, Ii ts Hall L. Hibbard and Clarence L. John on a inventors. / Lockheed Aircraft Corporation


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developmen.t of the Model 10 Electra, which fir. t flew In February 1934, and it was HIbbard who first recognised the design genius of the man who would become Lockheed's most famous engineer Clarence L. 'Kelly' Johnson. ' J~hnson was doing graduate work at the UnIVersIty of Michigan when a scale model of the Electra was sent there for wind tunnel tests early in 1933. When John on wrote a report critical.of the Electra's tail as embly, HIbbard was Impressed. He promptly hired Johnson; and thus laid the cornerstone for Lockheed's well known 'Skunk Works'. Preliminary drawings of the Model 22 wer prepared in a matter of days starting w~th freehand sketches by Kelly Joh~son. The AIr Corps wanted a craft for the 'tactical mission of interception and attack of hostile aircraf~ at high altitudes.' Specifics included a tr~e aIr peed of 360mph at altitude, and chmb to 20,000ft within six minutes. T~ese figures imposed a power reqUIrement that dictated the use of two engines, since no single engine of sufficient power then existed. Also inherent in the request. was the obvious necessity of emplOying Allison liquid-cooled engine. The AIr Corps had become convinced several years before that the high-hor epower liquidcooled engIne offered more possibilities with turbo ~upe~charging at high altitudes than did the bIg aIr-cooled radial. Therefore, the Ar~y had contributed development funds to Alltson (a small subsidiary of General Motors

rporation) for its V-1710 project as early as mber 1932; and when the Lockheed del 22 drawings were completed in bruary 1937, the Allison V-1710-C8 was t a few weeks away from its first succe sful t at 1,000hp. It was America's only , liquid-cooled engine near production tu . ockheed Pre ident Robert Gross r nally delivered the Model 22 drawing Wright Field, Ohio, and, four month I r, the Army indicated its approval of the 'gn. Air Corp Contract 9974, dated June 1937, authorised construction of one lane. It would be designated XP-38, J a signed Air Corp erial number 57. onstruction of the XP-38 did not begin til 13 months later, and delivery to the Air rp was made on New Year' Day 1939. I sembled, it wa loaded on three trucks, ncealed by canvas, and taken from the kheed plant at Burbank to March Field, r Riverside, California. eanwhile, events had conspired to place heed in a more favourable financial Irion. The Electra had been caled-up to a place midwing transport for which the n Air Line Company (Oai Nippon) ed a timely order. It was timely because craft were coming down the production when a British purchasing commission ,ved in the US in April 1938, in search of lane to belatedly bolster Britain' nee in the face of Adolf Hitler's

mounting aggressions. A Cyril Chappellet later told it, 'If we hadn't had this Qapane e) business, our factory would have been empty and the British would hardly have dared to place contracts with a concern that was not in production.' Although Lockheed had but five days' notice to prepare for the British visit, a combination of long hours and frantic effort during that time produced a full-scale wooden mock-up of a Model 14 converted to a medium reconnaissance bomber. The British liked it; and the Air Ministry soon approved an order for 250 such machines, which they designated the Hudson, at a total cost of 25million. It wa the largest single order ever received by any US aircraft builder. It allowed Lockheed to market 4.25million in stock, and begin an expansion programme that saw the company grow from 2,500 employees in January 1939, when the XP-38 was delivered, to 50,000 workers in January 1941, when the first YP-38 service test machine was delivered. It would be yet another year before P-38 production reached 150 units per month; and although the Lightning entered combat quite early, F-4 versions went to Australia in April 1942 and P-38E models were ent to the Aleutians in June of that year, still another year would pass before this unique and deadly craft could honestly be called 'combat ready'. But that didn't matter. The enemy was upon us, and we were obliged to ftght with what we had. 11

PJ8 Development

Below: Boldly designed, the XP-38 reached beyond the knowledge of the best aerodynamicist . At right is a Douglas B-1 Bolo b mber. I Lockheed Aircr~(r CompallY

Nine days after the XP-38 arrived at March Fi~ld, it was ready to fly; in the quiet, hazy chtll of a Southern California winter morning, the man who would fly it tood for a time, silently looking at this ominouslybeautiful craft. Lt Benjamin S. Kelsey was not a talkative man, but hi thought would not be difficult to gue s. The XP-38 repre ented a quantum advance in fighter aircraft design, and it urely po sessed ecrets, perhap dangerous secrets. Kel ey, however, was an experienced and highly proficient pilot. He had received his commission in the US Army Air Corps 10 years before (promotion in rank wa agonisingly slow in the US Army during the twenties and thirties), and his record was such that it had earned him the job of XP-38 project officer. . Th