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