Fire bombing Mapia Island
The mission was to rid the island of a single Japanese soldier who was radioing Allied naval information in that area.  The squad dropped their napalm without arming it spreading raw napalm all over the island.  The leader then dropped his (which was armed) and the whole island went up in a huge ball of fire.  There was not a tree left.  The island was barren.  And there were no more radio broadcasts.  The next day the army landed to rid the island of the radio operator who was no longer there.

Fire bombing Old Namlea (Japanese air base)
This mission was not clear but Ray described how they would fly very low, slow, and wingtip to wingtip.  They would all drop their napalm together which would spread out in a "v" below each plane and form a rolling "wall" of fire which was very deadly.  On this mission he had a three story building right in front of him when they dropped their napalm.  His wingman said Ray's napalm went right in the front door of this building and before they got far by there was fire coming out the third story windows.

Wingman's Problem
Another pilot in Ray's squadron complained of something "poking" him in the back of the head on the way back from a mission (flying P-39's).  When they landed they found a machine gun bullet half way through the headrest on the pilot's plane.  From then on this pilot (other then taking off or landing) would slouch down in his seat so that all you could see was the top of his head and eyes just peeking above the side of the plane.  Ray said "I don't know how he did it but he flew pretty good like that".  He flew that way even in the P-38's which had much better pilot protection.

The expensive baseball game
There was a lull in the action and there was always competition between the squadrons.  To relieve some of the pressure on the flyers the brass arranged a baseball game between the 67th and an unknown squadron where the 67th had to fly a very long distance to attend.  On the way back three P-38's ran out of gas and dropped into the ocean.  All pilots were recovered but it was embarrassing to the military.  You never heard this story before did you?

New recruits initiation
The 67th had a "latrine" hanging on the edge of a cliff over the ocean so that the waste went you know where.  Whenever a ship would go near the island the wake would create a giant wave which would shoot up to (and into) the bottom of the latrine.  They always made sure the new recruit got to experience this first hand!

Going down in a P-39
Ray was taking gunnery practice and pulled up from a dive and his rear right elevator broke off and the whole tail started to disintegrate.  He didn't realize it and tried to pull the plane out of the spin.  Arthur Durtschi yelled "get out John, your tail is gone".  Finally he kicked out the canopy, crawled up the side of the plane in (that was in a high "g" force spin), waited for the broken off tail to clear and finally jumped away to open his chute at only 1500 feet. He landed in the ocean 5 miles from base.  There was a ship in the area and he was picked up after only 20 minutes in his Mae West and was not hurt.  

Ray's comments on the P-39
He used to say those @#$@% slow, lousy handling planes with the $@#@#%^ noisy, smoking, vibrating engine right behind you and that $#@@%^% shaft between your feet was terrible.

The 67th "comfort uniform"
The strategy used by the US as they moved up the Solomons and through the Pacific theatre was to drive the Japanese off their air bases and into the jungles.  They would then take over the air bases and keep them in the jungle without following them.  The Japanese would eventually run out of ammunition and supplies since we would cut off their shipping as part of this plan.  This worked very well and saved many soldiers lives.  When the Japanese would leave the air bases they would usually abandon their food and supplies also.  The American pilots and ground crew would eat their rice and food and (when off duty) wear the most popular clothing item for that climate.  It was called a "fundoshi" (loin clothe) and were perfect for the jungle heat and humidity.  It was a square clothe that looked like a big diaper and you can find pictures of our servicemen wearing these if you dig hard enough.  You can also find many pics of the Japanese wearing these during WWII.

Why P-38's and not P-51's?
Ray said that the AAF used P-38's instead of P-51 (even to the end of the war) because most of the "landing strips" were Coral stones and the P-51's radiator (which was under the plane behind the wings) would be punctured by stones off the tires before they even got airborne.  They could not be used until they got better airfields toward the end of the war.  There was also the issue of the air cooled radial engine vs. the water cooled in-line engine when flying over great expanses of water due to not needing a radiator (P-38 was in-line but had two engines).  

Was Ray an "ace"?
Ray mentioned many times that he shot Japanese planes but haven't yet found the details until Arthur Durtshchi helped me.  Nope, Ray didn't shoot down any planes in the air but destroyed hundreds on the ground.  Arthur shot down a Mitsubishi twin engine "night fighter" (haven't zeroed in on the model) but said there were not alot of opportunities to shoot them down.  They would turn and flee rather then fight because they were trying to save their planes.  I have received a 16mm microfilm of the 67th fighter squadron's records from 1941 to 1945 and Ray's name comes up often but only thing I found out so far was that there were no Japanese interceptions on any of their missions in October, November, or December of '44.  They destroyed numerous planes on the ground in that time before they could intercept them.  There was a mission over Saigon in 1945 where George Dubis shot down a Ki-44 "Shoki" (or "Tojo" as we called them).

Stories of the 67th submitted by others

From Todd Cabral
Todd's father, Warren Cabral (still living), was a Navy Radarman 3/c assigned to Argus Unit 1 (Fighter Director Radar Unit) and landed on Woodlark Island on June 30th, 1943. The island was to be a forward air base for planes to secure the entrance to the Solomon Sea and range over the approaches to New Britain. It took the SeaBees 13 and a half days to build the airstrip there, a record at that time, for which they were awarded a Presidential Unit Citation. On July 21 the airstrip was declared operational and two days later the first P-39's of the 67th fighter squadron began to arrive. He remembers the pilots that he met to be small in stature, had to be to fit into the P-39 cockpit, and long on guts! He recalls plotting bogies coming down from Rabaul at night and the pilots would take off, even though they were not night fighters, to orbit north of the island for an intended ambush. He also recalls the pilots, after taking off, would buzz their camp early in the morning, just to wake them up. One of the pilots had a habit of doing a roll on takeoff, until one day the engine missed and he went in.

Another story he recalls was when he was in the radar plotting room and the officers were plotting a raid that was coming to Woodlark. He said that each branch of the service had their own officers doing the plotting and the information was relayed to their respective branch. Well the bombs started falling around them and the Army and Marine officers headed to the slit trenches. He was about to leave when he saw this Air Force officer, a pilot, staying behind and continuing to relay information to the fighters. My father said to himself, "If he isn't going, I'm not going." So the two of them stayed at their post with the bombs falling all around them.  Warren must not have met Ray.  Ray stood over 6'0 tall.  

Pictures of Woodlark (Ray was there) from Todd...


This is an interview I was fortunate enough to get with George Gray, who flew P-39's and P-38's with the 67th Fighter Squadron of the 347th Fighter Group (two engine) of the 13th Army Air Force in the South and Southwest Pacific Theatres during World War II. He represents the typical brave pilot that did not get the "glory" that the few aces received but that was just as instrumental in helping us win the war. You'll note in this interview that George (and most other) pilots did not shoot down Japanese aircraft. You'll also note that they never had the opportunity as most of the Japanese would avoid flights of P-38's. These pilots faced extreme danger on every mission and they flew them daily. The 13th Air Forces best ace, Robert Westbrook, was not shot down by a Japanese plane but by flak. Some lost their lives in the terrible storms on their way to or from missions. They have given just as much to this Country as those that died in aerial combat. The missions in the Pacific were usually over large expanses of water and in Japanese held territory. If they had to bail out they faced sharks in the water and head hunters on the islands or Japanese capture, torture and beheading. They deserve this Country's highest respect.

WBL: You made numerous trips to attack the Balikpapan area from Middleburg in the northeast coast of the Dutch East Indies. What was the purpose of some of these missions?

GG: I only made 2 trips to Balikpapan. We covered B-24's that were bombing the area and also got to spend about 15 minutes over the target, strafing oil refineries.

WBL: You were part of the longest missions of the war, over 2,100 miles round trip. Were there many pilots that did not make it back from these dangerous missions?

GG: On the missions I participated in, approximately 48 aircraft (67th, 68th and 339th Fighter Squadrons) flew together. After the missions, we flew from Balikpapan to Morotai for refueling, then back to Middleburg, and I'm pretty sure all the pilots made it safely back to base.

WBL: How many hours did it take to complete these missions?

GG: 10 hours and 10 minutes.

WBL: Lindberg showed you how to "lean out" your P-38 engines to be able to fly this distance. Did you get to talk to him and if so what was he like?

GG: No. Lindberg worked directly with the Fifth Air Force. But his theory on increasing the range of P-38's was passed on to all P-38 outfits in the Pacific Theatre of Operations.

WBL: The pictures show the 67th Fighter Squadron in front of the Walt Disney designed "fighting cock" emblem. At the bottom of this emblem there are about 22 Japanese flags. Arthur Durtsche shot down a "Mitsubishi night fighter" (his words) and George Dubis shot down a Ki-44 "Tojo" but do you remember any others?

GG:I was on rest leave when Arthur made the 935 mile mission from Middleburg Island, Dutch New Guinea to Makassar, Netherlands East Indies in November 1944. That was a serious battle, with our boys bombing and strafing enemy ships, buildings, planes, everything in the area. Art shot down a twin engine Jap bomber, known as a "Hank." Robert "Westy" Westbrook, our 13th Air Force Ace and Deputy Group Commander, was shot down on that mission, as was his wingman. The wingman was later recovered (Westy wasn't so lucky). This battle opened the route to the Philippines.

Under separate cover, I'm sending you a copy of 13th Air Force Victories for reference. This document lists all aircraft shot down by 13th Air Force pilots during the Pacific War.

Note: Disney still owns the Fighting Cock insignia.

WBL: Did you fly any missions that were intercepted by Japanese fighters and if so please elaborate?

GG: No, thankfully I never encountered enemy aircraft. Most of my work and practically all of the Thirteenth Air Force's work was dive bombing and strafing to neutralize troop concentrations and enemy fortifications on the ground and make it a little easier for Allied ground forces to enter enemy lines.

WBL: This was serious business but tell of any funny stories or situations that you remember.

GG: When I got into my plane for a mission, the only thoughts on my mind were to get safely off the ground, fly to the target and do my job well, return to base safely and land safely. That's all any of us thought about because we all wanted to come home in one piece. It was dangerous work that took all of our focus and strength.

WBL: John Johnson used to tell of one of the island bases that had an artillery gun firing occasionally at the base and could not be destroyed. What base was this and elaborate?

GG: That was on Bougainville. The island held an active volcano and there was a hidden gunman somewhere near there. Every time we flew our P-39's close to the mouth of the volcano, smoke would come into our cockpits and damn near choke us to death. I'm not sure if they ever caught that gunner.

WBL: You used napalm extensively. What technique did you use in regard to altitude, formation etc.? Were the results usually successful?

GG: We would fill our two 110-gallon belly tanks full of the jelly-like substance and strafe areas we believed to be heavily concentrated with the enemy. I never looked back to see the fire below, but I know it was successful. We dropped Napalm on Palawan prior to the Allied invasion, burned a lot of ground, and later found out that we killed many enemy troops.

SBL: You attacked air fields and ships on many missions. Could you describe the most memorable one?

GG: Oh, it all seems so vague now. Hard to remember the details. We strafed air fields on Kendari in the Celebes, shooting up aircraft on the ground. And I remember dive-bombing Rabaul in a P-39 with a 500 lb. bomb. We'd descend from 12,000 feet, drop the bomb at 5,000 feet and have enough altitude to get back up and fly away.

WBL: What was your impression of the P-38 compared to other Allied aircraft and compared to the Japanese aircraft?

GG:We'd been used to flying lightweight aircraft and the P-38 was very heavy. When I first climbed into the cockpit, it felt like a mack truck. But after 3 hours, I loved it. The P-38 was the most aerodynamically stable plane we'd ever had. It could achieve the altitude and had the firepower we needed to damage enemy lines.

WBL: How short a distance could the P-38 take off from and how long and what type of air strip did you usually have on these islands?

GG: Our airstrips were constructed of Marston matting, steel mats locked together on top of the sandy terrain. They may have been 5,000 feet in length, if that. With a full load of fuel in my two 110-gallon belly tanks and enough ammunition for the mission, I'd hold the brakes and run the throttle up to 52 inches of manifold pressure. When I hit 110 mph, I'd hit the flaps at 20% and be lifted off the runway. I wouldn't pull the wheels up until I hit 300 feet (to avoid sinking). And I'd pull the flaps up at 500 feet. The best a loaded P-38L could do was take off in about 1090 feet of runway.

WBL: What island bases do you remember being at?


* Russell Islands
* Torokina Strip at Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville
* Middleburg Island off the Coast of Dutch New Guinea
* Morotai in the Halamahara Islands
* Dulag at Leyte in the Philippines
* Port au Princessa, Palawan

There were other bases in between, but none I stayed in for any length of time.

WBL: Did you get to meet some of the famous P-38 pilots like Bong and McQuire? If so, what were they like?

GG: No. Those privileges were reserved for the Fifth Air Force, General Kenney's preferred group of pilots and squadrons. They received all the priority missions and celebrity visitors while the aptly named Jungle Air Force did the dirty work that ensured victory overseas.

WBL: Do you remember when Yamamoto was shot down and were you stationed in that area?

GG: Yamamoto was shot down April 18, 1943 over the southern tip of Bougainville in an area known as Kahili. I was in basic flight training in Newport, Arkansas at the time, but later came to know the area well. It was a "hot spot," always full of enemy forces. The mission was kept very quiet until after the war for security reasons (to protect our intelligence) and also because Tom Lanphier's brother was a Navy pilot being held as a prisoner of war on Rabaul. (Lanphier was the pilot initially credited with shooting down Yamamoto)

Under separate cover (not for publication), I sent you the following info to give you an idea of the scope of this mission:

* Copy of a military debriefing memo;

* Copy of an article published by Doug Canning, one of the pilots who flew the mission (still living);

* Copy of a 13th Jungle Air Force newsletter containing Rex Barber's account of the mission. According to P-38 pilots on the mission as well as one of the Zero pilots flying with Yamamoto that day, Rex actually shot the Admiral down.

WBL: Was the P-38L much better then the earlier models and why?

GG: Yes, much better because of the additional features. It had dive flaps to help pilots recover from steep dives, a more powerful engine and the aileron boost, something like power steering for fighter pilots.

WBL: Did you ever get in a "compressibility" dive and if so how did you get out?

GG: Yes, over Middleburg on a test flight. I was in a dive from 20,000 feet, and by the time I realized what was happening, the nose was starting to tuck under in partial compressibility. I began trying to pull out and was able to regain control of the plane at 8,000 feet, at which point I terminated the test.

WBL: The P-38 was said to be the fastest accelerating Allied fighter of WWII. Is this true?

GG: I don't know about fastest accelerating. The P-38 gave us speed and distance. It was a formidable aircraft and the fastest plane in the Pacific.

WBL: How much of an improvement was the P-38 over the P-39 AiraCobra?

GG: Immense.

WBL: Were you in any "dogfights" with the Japanese planes and if so describe it?

GG: Negative. I never encountered any enemy aircraft.

WBL: Was the P-38 a difficult airplane to fly?

GG: No. It was the most aerodynamically sound aircraft I ever flew.

WBL: Was it easier to fly than the P-39?

GG: Yes.

WBL: How early in the war could you see the tide turning in the Allies favor?

GG: When we started flying missions out of Middleburg to the Philippines, there was a definite turn in our favor. But I believe there were 3 major turning points in the Pacific Theatre of WWII ... The Battle of Midway, Guadalcanal and The Yamamoto Mission. Yamamoto was the supreme commander of all Japanese naval forces and his death was a devastating blow to the Japanese.

WBL: Your P-38's were "bare metal". Was there a reason for this or was it just not considered necessary? John Johnson used to say it was to lower weight.

GG: He was correct. The bare bones approach lessened our weight, which was always a consideration. It also saved money on paint and just looked better.

WBL: Tell us about "Washing Machine Charlie."

GG: Washing Machine Charlie was a Jap bomber who used to fly over and drop bombs from 20,000 feet in the middle of the night. I guess his mission was to make sure we never got a good night's sleep.

WBL: How far "east" did your missions take you?

GG: I traveled as far east as Saigon to Nga Trang to cover for B-24's and over French Indo China. Those missions were 1,500 miles round trip, all over water, and took about 7 hours 40 minutes to complete.

WBL: What other interesting things could you tell us about your time in the war?

GG: In Primary, I was Group Captain of Cadets and had to conduct early morning calisthenics because our P.T. Instructor liked to sleep in. And in the Pacific, we shared bunks with a couple of canine companions, Mitzi, a little brown dachshund and Snuffy, a black cocker. They brought a lot of comfort to us over there.

WBL: When deploying the flaps, was there a noticeable change in pitch? If so, which direction (up/down)?

GG: Flaps give an aircraft lift at lower speeds. There was a slight change in altitude (up) when deploying them, and you could experience quite a change in altitude, depending on the degree of flaps you put down.

WBL: Similarly, did the flaps induce an appreciable reduction in speed?

GG: Yes. It slowed you down a bit. We increased the manifold pressure by throttles to compensate.

WBL: At what altitude would you typically cruise for medium and long range missions?

GG: 12,000-15,000 feet. On long range missions, we had to decrease rpm's to 1650 and manifold pressure to 26-27" and mix the controls back to just above automatic lean, which would put us at a cruise of 175 mph. As fuel was used, our speed would increase. After 1 hour of flying, we had to increase our altitude and put our mixture controls back to automatic rich to clean out carbon that had collected in the valves. That took about a minute, then we returned our settings and speed to normal.

WBL: As a flight progressed, could you sense any significant change in the center of gravity due to fuel consumption? Did you have to change trim much as the center of gravity changed?

GG: Not really. Our speed would increase as the weight of fuel and ammunition decreased. To keep my flight equilibrium balanced, I would use 50 gallons out of my left tank, then switch to the right tank and back again.

WBL: What was the effect on the aircraft when firing guns? Could you feel any recoil? Did you notice any appreciable change in the center of gravity due to firing a lot of ammunition?

GG: No effect in the P-38, because our guns were all housed in the nose of the aircraft. But the 37mm cannon in the P-39 was a different story. There was a definite kick - it felt like you were backing up!

WBL: Did you ever fly a P-38 with the dive recovery (compressibility) flaps (on late J's and all L's)? (If so, please comment on how they were used generally and in combat situations. How did they affect normal flight?

GG: Yes. We were approaching the speed of sound in a dive from high altitudes, and unless the pilot cut the power and started pulling out in time, the nose would start to tuck under, causing a loss of control. I later learned (from Lockheed's Chief Test Pilot) that many P-38 pilots lost their lives that way, mostly in training accidents. With the "L" model, Lockheed installed dive flaps under the wing tips to help us recover from those steep dives. What a wonderful invention. The dive flaps also made it possible for us to make a square turn in our P-38's.

WBL: During extreme combat maneuvers, did the aircraft have a tendency to stall (during rapid climbs, turns, etc.) If so, what was done to recover?

GG: Negative. You could stand the P-38 on its tail and either push it through or pull it through a maneuver without snapping a wing or stalling out.

Note: At least two of the 339th pilots who flew The Y Mission are still
with us - Doug Canning and Jack Jacobson.

WBL: George, thanks so much for the interview.

GG: You're very welcome Jerry

The Admiral Nimitz Foundation / Pacific War Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas (an hour's drive from San Antonio or Austin) is an excellent place to research anything about the 67th days in the Pacific. Look them up on the web at and pay them a visit when you can. The 67th Fighter Squadron has a plaque there (dedicated last fall).

Many thanks to his daughter, Mary Jane Gray, who helped me complete this interview.

Interview with Arthur Durtsche by warbirdlover (Jerry Lindell)

Arthur Durtsche was a flight leader with the 67th Fighter Squadron (347th Fighter Group of the 13th Army Air Force).  He flew with George Gray, whom I had previously interviewed and also my father-in-law John Johnson and is one of the senior members of this squadron with over 100 missions flown.  He shot down one Japanese plane (his only opportunity to do so).  He still runs his jeep business in Brownwood, Texas.  Last summer he invited me to visit with him when he came up to Monroe, Wisconsin for his yearly family reunion (he is originally from Monroe) so on Saturday, August 30th, 2003 we finally met and talked.

Interview with Arthur Durtsche

This was not a typical question and answer interview.  I felt it would be much more interesting if I just let Arthur tell some stories and this is the result.  He is quite a sharp guy and I could have listened to him all day!

WBL:  Arthur, just tell me some of your most memorable experiences please.

AD:  Well, I can tell you the most frightening mission I was on was when we were asked for a volunteer to go pick up an AT-6 from Henderson and return it to Bouganville because some of the new pilots still needed some more training.  There was no flack or Japanese planes or bad storms either.  No one volunteered and since I was the most senior pilot I said I would go.  I didn’t want a new recruit to have to make this 300-mile flight alone.  I rode the C-47 to Henderson and started my return flight in the AT-6.  I noticed a whole fleet of warships below and knew they were ours since by then the Japanese were no longer using that route.  I also noticed some of our Navy fighters (Wildcats) had taken to the sky.  All of a sudden there were tracers whizzing past me.  They were shooting at me!  Obviously they thought I was a Japanese Zero (the AT-6 were used as Japanese Zeros in the movie Tora Tora Tora) so I tried to radio them to tell them I was friendly on every channel I could find.  The radio didn’t work so I had to dodge and dance around the sky to avoid getting hit.  I decided to land at the closest base and made it down without damage.  I told those guys to get that radio working before I went back up in that thing again and they did.

The 5th Air Force was McArthur’s "favorites" with Bong and McQuire and the others so they got all the glory missions and air combat.  We did all the dirty work that was just as important but was never mentioned in the history books.  An example was a Japanese base in Borneo had a string of warehouses all around the shoreline of the island and ships were constantly stocking these warehouses with supplies the Japanese needed for the war.  We made numerous attacks on those warehouses and ships using phosphorus incendiary bombs.  Those bombs would burn those warehouse down and it was impossible to put those fires out.  When we flew back after using the incendiary or napalm we had to make sure no one had any hanging up or not released.  If they did they would bail out and ditch the plane because you DID NOT risk landing with one of those type weapons on your plane.

We did not get a chance at many Japanese planes in the air although we destroyed hundreds on the ground.  We were on a mission over Indo-China and someone called out a bogey below us.  Normally we would never break formation unless there was a plane that needed to be shot down.  I broke off to get it and shot it down.  It was a twin engine night fighter.  It only took one short burst from the guns on the P-38 to destroy it.  

When we were on Bouganville, we were to go on a mission very early in the morning so were driving in a jeep to the kitchen area.  There was a Japanese artillery unit on the mountain that would occasionally fire rounds at the airstrip and us.  This particular day they started early also and shelled the mess tent killing two cooks.  We left the jeep running and dove for one of the many foxholes dug next to the runway.  I was in first and all these other guys piled on top of me.  When they stopped we got airborne and searched for the telltale muzzle flash (they were well camouflaged) but it never came again that day.

We lost many pilots to the storms we had to fly through.  One time we had been alerted to a "bogey" that appeared to be on the other side of a tropical storm so we flew our formation into that storm.  It was so bad we could not see our own wings and were being tossed around so badly we were sure we would collide.  Luckily we passed through the other side but were missing one of our planes.  We turned around and decided to fly "under" the storm on the way back and saw the P-39 sitting in the water and the pilot climbing into the raft.  We radioed to get someone there quickly after figuring out the co-ordinates because we didn’t have enough gas to circle around very long.  They did pick him up and he was okay.

On another mission in P-38’s one of the pilot’s engines started acting up.  I told him not to panic, just shut that engine down and return to base on the good engine.  To just fly it like normal.  He shortly radioed that his other engine had now quit and what should he do.  I told him to land it in the ocean near the shore of an island just like he would on an airstrip only leave the landing gear up and I would fly with him while he did it.  He proceeded to make the nicest, softest water landing you could ever imagine just off the shore of the island.  Before he did he made sure to get rid of the canopy and the pilot was sitting in the seat waving at me.   The plane slowly sank and he continued waving instead of getting out.  I could still see him waving as the plane disappeared under water.  In his panic and excitement he forgot to unbuckle his safety belt and died in his plane.

After the war Lockheed flew all the brand new P-38LO’s from their factory in California to the Arizona desert where they parked them before destroying them.  They offered them to us (brand new!) to fly home for $500 and I had the money.   One of my biggest regrets!  (They are now worth over two million dollars).  

Colonel Dussard who was CO of the 67th Fighter Squadron in WWII stayed in the Air Force after the war and was the head of a base.  I went to visit him a few years ago and he was very excited to see me and asked me if I had ever flown in a jet fighter.  I told him no so he arranged for me to go up in a T-33 trainer.  The pilot invited me to take the controls (once you’ve flown a plane you can fly just about any of them) so I did some rolls and other maneuvers and had a ball.  He asked me if I wanted to land it but I declined.

We had one pilot in the 67th who right before his first mission said he couldn’t do it and that he was too afraid.  He said to take away his commission or whatever but that he couldn’t go.  We didn’t court marshal him but sent him back to train other pilots in the US.  I met him in the US after the war and we had a nice visit.  Not everyone could be a fighter pilot.

John Johnson was taking gunnery practice in his P-39.  That 37mm cannon was quite something when you fired it.  The whole plane felt like you slammed on the brakes and stopped in mid-air.  He was just pulling up out of his dive on the target and the tail started disintegrating.  He didn’t realize it and kept trying to regain control of the plane.  By then the tail had completely broken off.  I radioed to John to get out of the plane now!   He couldn’t get the "doors" open due to the g-forces so kicked out the canopy and crawled up the side of the fuselage to avoid one of the wings hitting him as the plane spun.  He had to wait until the tail cleared before releasing and just had enough time for his chute to open before he hit the water.  A boat picked him up within an hour.  He commented that the combination yellow dye (for spotting downed planes) and shark repellant didn’t work as a shark repellant since he had some swimming very close.

I enjoyed flying the P-39.  It was far outclassed by the P-38 but was still a nice plane to fly.

WBL:  Thanks for the great information Arthur

AD:  You’re welcome Jerry.  We’ll have to talk more now that we have each other’s phone numbers.