Photo: Molesworth collection


ries by 1/Lt. Lewis M. Sanders and 2/Lts. Philip M.

Rasmussen and Gordon H. Sterling of the 46th

PS for the cost of one P-36 shot down and its

pilot killed. In addition, most of the other P-36s

suffered varying degrees of battle damage.

Two pilots of the 44th PS and three of the 47th PS

flew a total of nine P-40 sorties during the Japanese raids. It is significant that the 44th and 47th

squadrons performed all the P-40 encounters

because neither unit was based at Wheeler at

that time. Thus, both were spared the first wave

of Japanese attacks. The 44th had 12 P-40s at

Bellows Field, but only three of its pilots were on

the base that morning. A single strafing pass by

Zeros about 9 a.m. killed one pilot in the cockpit

of his plane on the ground and caught two P-40s

just taking off. Both were quickly shot down, with

one pilot killed and the other wounded.

The 47th PS was more fortunate. Its mixed complement of 18 P-40s and P-36s were at Haliewa, an auxiliary field on the coast about 10 miles

west of Wheeler, where the squadron had been

undergoing gunnery training. Japanese intelligence was unaware of the airfield, and therefore

it was not targeted. Most officers of the 47th PS

had deserted their tents at Haliewa on Saturday

in favor of more comfortable accommodations at

Wheeler. When the bombs began to fall on Wheeler Sunday morning, 2/Lts. George S. Welch and

Kenneth M. Taylor of the 47th PS called Haliewa

to alert the men there to the attack and to or10


Photo: via Francis S. Gabreski

2/Lts. Ken Taylor (left) and George Welch of the 47th PS pose for the press following the December 7, 1

941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

der their P-40Bs prepared for flight. Then they

leaped into Taylor’s car a sped across the island

toward the base, dodging a couple of strafing

attacks on the way. Several other 47th pilots followed a few minutes later.

When Welch and Taylor reached Haliewa their

planes were ready, and they took off shortly after 8:30 a.m. Unfortunately, their twin .50-caliber

cowl guns were not loaded because no ammunition for them was stored at Haliewa. As they

headed east toward Pearl the two pilots knew

they would have to make do with just the four

.30-caliber wing guns in their planes. Reaching

the Marine base at Ewa, the pair spotted about

20 D3A1 Vals strafing the facility. Welch, the high-spirited son of an influential DuPont research

scientist, gave this account of his first encounter

with enemy aircraft:

“I was leading and peeled off first. Lieutenant Taylor was about 200 yards to the rear and side, following me. Their rear gunners were apparently

shooting at the ground because they didn’t see us

coming. The first one I shot down the rear gunner

didn’t even turn around to face me. I got up close

enough to see what he was doing. I got him in a

five-second burst – he burned right away.

“I left and got the next plane in the circle, which

was about 100 yards ahead of me. His rear

gunner was shooting at me. One bullet put a hole

through my cooling radiator, and I got one in the

nose. It took three bursts of five seconds each to

get him. He crashed on the beach.”

Ken Taylor’s account of the flight reveals his

inexperience at air combat:

“The first aircraft I shot at burst into flames immediately, rolled over in a ball of fire and dove

into the ground near Ewa Field. I then proceeded

up the string, catching the next Val, which also

went down quite easily. By that time the formati-

Pilots live it up at the Wheeler Field offers club, May 4, 1942. 2/Lt. Francis S. “Gabby” Gabreski (left) and 1/Lt. Emmett S.

“Cyclone” Davis. Others unidentified.

INFO Eduard - December 2021