on was in general disarray, and I had completely
lost track of George.
“I then tagged onto a third Val that was offshore
near Barbers Point. I pulled up very close to this
aircraft with the rear gunner plainly visible firing
at me… Because of the close proximity, I saw that
he was killed with my first burst. However, despite all the hits that I was getting, this aircraft did
not burst into flames, as the others had, but started a gradual descent smoking badly. Although
I turned for home, this plane also undoubtedly
went down at sea. It was most frustrating at this
point to find I was out of ammunition at a time
when these much slower aircraft were making a
hasty retreat to their carrier. With more ammunition, or more judicious use earlier, I could have
caught and destroyed several more of them.”
raiders had cleared the area by this time, but the
airspace over Oahu was still a dangerous place to be. As Dains approached Wheeler Field to
land, he was fired on by jumpy anti-aircraft batteries at Schofield Barracks and crashed to his
death on the golf course.
Welch was credited with four confirmed victories
on December 7, Taylor got two and Dains one. Taylor and Welch still had plenty of air combat in
front of them. Taylor would serve as a flight commander in the 44th FS on Guadalcanal in 1943.
Welch went to New Guinea to fly P-39s in the 8th
Fighter Group, scoring three victories on December 7, 1942, exactly one year after his Pearl
Harbor heroics, to reach ace status. He finished
the war with 16 victories and then became a test
pilot for North American Aviation after the war.
He was killed while testing an F-100 in October
In all, the five P-40s that got airborne during the
Pearl Harbor attack shot down seven Japanese
planes while losing two of their own with one pilot killed. Viewed statistically, the P-40’s combat
debut in U.S. Army service might be viewed as
a success. But as a practical matter, the P-40
interceptor force had failed in its assigned task
to defend Pearl Harbor from air attack. Perhaps
undeservedly, the P-40’s reputation received an
indelible black mark, one that would darken in
the days ahead.
The Japanese attack had shattered the battleship
forces of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet. Similarly,
the 14th Pursuit Wing suffered 61 P-40s and
P-36s destroyed plus 41 disabled. Had the
Japane-se sent a third wave of attackers in the
afternoon, only 38 Army fighters would have
been available to intercept them. But the
Japanese didn’t return – not on December 7,
and never thereafter. The Army fighter
squadrons at Hawaii quickly shifted to wartime
status, and their lost aircraft were soon
replaced by later models of the P-40 and by
Bell P-39s. Hawaii became a large training
center, preparing fresh Army pilots for combat
assignments throughout the Pacific Theater in
the nearly four years of war that lay ahead.
Photo: Francis S. Gabreski
Welch and Taylor landed at Wheeler to rearm and
refuel. At about 9:30 a.m., a flight of Vals approached the base, intent on strafing, and Welch
took off immediately with another partial load of
ammunition. Taylor was a few moments behind
him, just long enough for the Vals to begin their
strafing runs. Taylor made his takeoff run directly at the oncoming Japanese bombers and began firing as soon as his wheels left the ground.
Picking up speed, he made a tight chandelle and
happened to roll out behind the next-to-last Val
in the line. Taylor started firing just as the last
Val started shooting at him. Taylor took some
hits, including a bullet through his left arm, but
fortunately Welch dropped in line behind the Val
and shot it off Taylor’s tail. Though wounded, Taylor chased the retreating Vals out to sea until he
expended the last of his ammunition. Welch flew
to Ewa, where he spotted a lone Val and shot it
down just off the beach at Barber’s Point.
Welch went up a third time that morning, accompanied by 2/Lt. John Dains of the 47th PS in a
P-36. Earlier, Dains had made two sorties in a
P-40 from Haliewa and apparently shot down a
Japanese bomber in a combat witnessed by personnel at the Kaawa radar station. The Japanese
About the Author
Carl Molesworth worked as journalist in
newspapers and magazines for nearly 40
years before retiring in 2015. He also has
been researching and writing about World
War II flight operations for more than three
decades. His 15 non-fiction books on the topic include the latest, Flying Tiger Ace, which
was published in 2020 by Osprey Publishing.
Carl has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English
from the University of Maryland. He lives in
Bay View, WA,USA.
1/Lt. John Thacker flew this P-40B, named for his girlfriend on Hawaii in 1942. The aircraft had alternating red
and white rudder stripes.
INFO Eduard - December 2021