"I got my Distinguished Flying Cross the other day have two more on the way, with two air medals so I am liable to feel either very conceited or very lucky. My score now is 12; all confirmed. And six probables. These are all aerial victories, but take it from me I'd rather destroy them in the air any day than to have to strafe them in lines on the enemy fields when we must fly down through the Jap machine gun and rifle fire. They are bound to hit us once in a while. One time my oil line was shot away and I just got back home, with the gauge hovering around zero for the last 20 miles."
There you have fighting over China as it was just a short time ago, direct from one of America's aces, Col Robert L Scott, Jr, recently returned from leading the Blank Pursuit Group, 10th Air Force.
He was chosen for this task by Gen Claire L Chennault, former commanding officer of the immortal Flying Tigers, and Scott proved that the choice was no fluke.
Scotty celebrated his 34th birthday by hopping the Atlantic in a Boeing Flying Fortress en route to India and then ferried a Curtiss Tomahawk fighter into Northern Assam, India, where he began operating as a one-man, one-plane American pursuit force over Burma.
For two weeks he strafed Japanese ground forces in lone-wolf flights, and won a Silver Star for destroying a Jap plane and two supply trucks near Myitkyina. Four days later he knocked out a Jap antiaircraft battery near Lashio. Three times in one afternoon he attacked the Myitkyina air base, hitting the runway with a 500-pound bomb each time.
Alone, he raided Homalin on the Chidwin River four times in one day and, according to British accounts, Jap casualties that day ran into the hundreds. As second in command of the US Army Air Forces on the Assam-Burma-China relay he shuttled almost daily over the "worst air route in the world" and at the Chinese terminus would jump into the cockpit of a Tomahawk borrowed from General Chennault, and join sorties with the AVG, during one of which a train and railroad sidings at Hanoi, Indo-China, were destroyed. Most of the AVG casualties were suffered in strafing missions of this kind, but in none of his raids did Colonel Scott suffer a scratch.
As a result of his aerial activities during May, 1942 (for continued bravery and exceptional gallantry over the enemy lines) he was recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross and corresponding Chinese decoration. Part of the citation reads: "He has made repeated flights in unarmed transports carrying explosives and other vitally needed supplies to Chinese troops. With these maximum loads of highly inflammable materials, he has been subjected to repeated enemy operation. These flights were made over extremely dangerous mountain terrain and through hazardous flying weather. In fighter and transports, he has flown a total of 214 hours during the month."
Two hundred and fourteen hours in enemy territory in one month! That record is as incredible as the man himself. Scotty says of his exploits about that time,
"In a fighter Curtiss Kittyhawk I acted as convoy to bombers in a raid on the big Jap air depot at Hanoi. They bombed it and on the way back I caught a troop column in the rain in a narrow gorge near Mantha. Got about 300 of them. I burned some trucks and then saw an observation plane on the ground. My guns put about 1,000 rounds in it in 30 seconds. It burned, and I have a movie of it. Incidentally, the only time I noticed their antiaircraft fire was while going back to take the pictures. I resolved never to go back again for pictures!"
Before it was disbanded, the AVG came to know Colonel Scott as a superb pursuit pilot, for he joined their sorties on the wing in their formations and burned up the sky with his tracers. Of that indoctrination period Scotty wrote,
"There's something wrong with anybody who doesn't like this kind of life. The AVG out here have really done the greatest job of fighting the world has ever seen. More than 300 victories with a loss of 28 ships and nine pilots.
"While I was with them I made my first raid over Hanoi on the Emperor's birthday, and the second on May 5th, when we really hit that place.
"I burned a Jap train north of Haiphong. I understand that the AVG may be ordered to duty with me. My boss will be Chennault, the greatest tactical flyer I know of. I will count myself the luckiest man in the world of war and strife if such is the case. General Chennault told me the other day he has plans for us, so here's hoping!"
That is a masterpiece of under-hoping. Since the formation of the Blank Pursuit Group under Scott, the imperishable record of the valiant Flying Tigers has been stretched to incredible lengths, for many former Tigers are flying with the group. What Scott learned of tactics with the AVG, he put into practice with his own squadrons with the result that the air war over China immediately became one of brightest hope.
The American Air Force at once went on the offensive and hit the Japs time and again. On September 1, the pursuit squadrons rendezvoused over Hengyang, scene of successful air battles the previous month, and proceeded to the objective on the coast, in the straits of Hainan: 10 steamers towing supplies for the Nips, with three small gunboats as escort.
"We split into our groups," says Scotty, "each with a target for four planes and hit them as hard and as fast as possible. I saw my tracers eat into the steel side of one of the gunboats. I could see the glow of tracers mixing with the brighter light of heavy and medium antiaircraft coming at me. I held the trigger down until I went right over the smokestack. For the last 100 yards I was right down on the water firing up at the ship. Then, out of range, I turned left and hit the next boat. I saw the men going over the side; saw some of them hit as I aimed intentionally low, and the ricochets were going into the hull just as good as the direct hits. I then spotted steam blasting from the boilers in a huge, white cloud.
"Over and over we went, each man making four passes on each boat. On one of them, I spotted an explosion of black smoke from oil, gasoline or the magazine. One boat sank as we made our second pass. The water was crowded with swimming Japs. The AA grew less intense as we shifted our attacks to fore-and-aft. The ships were swept clean and many were sinking. As I made my fourth pass I saw the boat I had first attacked going down. Only its stack and the Jap flag were showing. That flag burned into my soul. I pulled up into the nearest approach to a chandelle I could make in that situation and brought my sights to bear on it. A short burst of six .50s shredded it. I went over and headed for the other three planes in my flight. Over the side I could see the little group of gunboats and seven of the 10 steamers sinking or badly damaged.
"Then my real test began. As I gunned the Allison, I heard a peculiar pop-pop-pop-pop-pop. Mechanically I reached over to ease the throttle back, figuring that I was pulling too much manifold pressure and detonating. But it continued. Then with a skip of my old heart, I looked into the early morning sun coming up out of the Pacific. Oh man! I could see four winking red glowing lights even in that glare. Instinctively I knew they were the cannon of Zeros! My altitude was only 1,000 feet. I couldn't dive, so I suddenly swerved toward the two enemy aircraft, pressing the gun switch even before I brought the nose of my ship to bear. My six guns really spoke. In that reddish sun glare I saw, heard and felt the sharp explosion as my fire hit the leading Zero head on. I went through the debris, feeling parts of the exploded ship hitting me. I could taste the burned oil as I flew through it.
"When I flew away from there at top speed I lost the other Zero. Gee, but the green rice paddies looked good to me as I climbed to the cooling upper air.
"We refueled and struck again; then went on to another airfield to fluster the Japs, and in co-operation with the Chinese ground advance, we bombed one of their best fortified towns. Three missions in one day and five holes in my plane with one tire flat from a cannon crease and enemy oil all over my windshield I called it a day. Tex Hill with his squadron had hit sail junks loaded with rice and told of seeing the flames rise and burn the bamboo sails. Frank Schiel hit the coast defenses of the nearby port. Besides, we shot down four certain and two probable!"
That is the Army Air Forces in high gear. Other fights above other cities and ports continued. Meanwhile, Scotty took time out to test gun operation at high altitude and to fly a new fighter over the Himalayas. He actually flew over Mt Everest at blank feet, from which vantage spot he could see hundreds of miles across the roof of the world, from Tibet and China far out into India.
The Blank Pursuit struck to the south in Indo-China on September 25, bombed Gia-Lam airfield at Hanoi, fired the docks at Haiphong, shot down most of the 13 fighters which rose to the attack and damaged the remainder. Over in Burma these Yankee lads had cleared Jap trucks off the Burma Road with fragmentation bombs and strafing. In the Swansi and Hunan regions between Hengyang and Kweilin, they won mastery of the air with at least 50 victories! They hit Canton time after time.
But aerial photographs showed much shipping concentrated at Kowloon and Hong Kong, nesting in the blue waters of Victoria Harbor. Besides, the Jap had repeatedly boasted over the radio from Tokyo and Shanghai that all persons were safe in those former Chinese cities the Americans could not bomb it. If they tried, bragged the Jap, all US Army planes would be shot down long before they ever reached the Hong Kong area. Contemptuous, too, were they of Brig Gen Caleb V Haynes, leader of the bomber group:
"He's just an old, broken-down transport pilot," they chortled.
Suddenly, however, the Americans did bomb Hong Kong, in the first Allied action since the tragic fall of that city a year previous. Scotty led the fighters. He personally shot down two Japs and damaged four others; his squadrons destroyed 18 confirmed by the enemy themselves. And the fighters hit the intercepting enemy planes so savagely over Victoria Harbor that in two minutes the only planes in the air were our own!
Medium bombers under General Haynes led the assault. Each ship was loaded with 500-pound bombs, and in each bomb bay were thousands of propaganda leaflets saying in three languages, "Compliments of the old, broken-down transport pilot."
Scotty told me the details of this brilliant victory.
"I swung the flights over the bombers," he said. "I kept 'S-ing' to see more and to watch for enemy fighters. The air around us roughened from ack-ack. I admired General Haynes as he led his bombers through it all with never a turn that might have crossed up the bombardiers. I knew that Col "Butch" Morgan, and others like him, was aligning the cross-hairs on his Norden bombsight.
"The black and white puff balls of ack-ack came closer. Then I saw the bombs growing smaller and smaller as they fell in salvo. I yelled that they were on the way 'Okay, Hirohito! We have millions of others. When these hit we'll be back with more!'
"On we went across Victoria Harbor and I saw others head for the dry docks and power plants of Hong Kong. Fires showed against the green background of the hills. As the last bombs fell I breathed relief. I raised my movie camera and took pictures of the burning wharves of Kowloon. Then, just as I dropped the camera back in the map case, I saw them
"Knifing up at us were the enemy interceptors. I called over my radio, 'Zeros at 12 o'clock!' Tex Hill answered, 'Hell, I see them!' All flight leaders now called 'Attack!' and the thin falsetto jabber of the Japanese came back to our ears as they tried to jam our frequency. Now Tex Hill rolled over on his back, followed by Captain Hampshire, and barreled down on the Japs. I pulled out of my roll and caught the first enemy fighter in my sights. I let him fly into my line of tracers, and at that instant Tex flashed by me in his No 151. His tracers hit the Jap, too, and the Zero fell in flames toward the water near the western tip of Hong Kong.
"I rolled now to shake off any pursuit, and saw Hampshire firing into No 2 in the flight, so I took No 3, diving on him from above. I saw pieces of wing covering first, then parts of his canopy strip off. Suddenly he flamed back for 30 feet and as I passed over him he exploded and fell, turning slowly over and over.
"As I climbed back to fighting altitude I saw five flaming planes falling, and I hoped then that they were enemy ships. (They were.) I next looked around to see a long formation of six or eight twin-engined Japs climbing steeply for our bombers.
"I dived for their leader. Once more an enemy plane grew in my sights. As I pressed the trigger I could see the red tracers going into him. His plane seemed to vibrate as the force of those six heavy guns struck. He rolled over slowly, evidently hit. I followed him and caught up with him as if he were standing still. I watched my guns strike again from very close range and the ship bounce at each impact. Flames streaked from first the right engine, then the left, and the Jap hit the sea only 1,000 feet below, skipped across the blue water and continued burning even as he sank.
"Our bombers were safely gone now. Fighters couldn't attack them, but we continued to fire into several to give them something to think about. I know my tracers hit four more. We fought the rear guard action until we were the only planes over Victoria Harbor. The entire action had consumed about two minutes!
"Well, we sure gave those big-toothed monkey-men something to worry over that day, for we made two more missions before we were through, and after watching that night's work I'm satisfied that we really have something. Tokyo admitted heavy damage; they had lost 18 fighters in the battle over Hong Kong we lost none. Best of all about that battle, though, I'll always remember the sight of the prison camps far below little black dots that were American, British and Chinese prisoners in the corners, looking up at the first sight of Allied aircraft they had seen since the previous December. We could imagine them cheering hoarsely, though they knew full well that they'd be treated miserably for days to come.
"We've dive-bombed the ships in Hong Kong and Kowloon plenty since then, but on this first day I got my seventh and eighth aerial victories."
Scott had to wait patiently, with the patience he had learned from the Chinese themselves, for his No 9. During October and November the 10th Air Force pulled eight heavy bombing raids escorted by fighters in six days! On the third Canton raid they shot down 24 to 29 Japs without a single loss to themselves. One day they set out with bombers and fighters to the edge of the Pacific. In the afternoon they sunk two big freighters and raised hell with coal production at Hongay. The Jap in retaliation struck that night after all the planes were back home, believing the US pilots exhausted. The Nips circled the town in derision, lined up with the dummy runway and, diving low, began to machine gun and bomb the runway.
Yankee pilots were far from asleep. Guns chattered, and one US plane went down in flames, but the pilot walked in two hours later. Soon the Japs were in trouble, falling on every side. At first, the Blank Pursuit Group claimed only about three-fourths of them, but then all but one were found wrecked. Two days later that one was discovered by the Chinese 75 miles from Canton!
The following morning on a brilliantly clear day, the Blank Pursuit took off for the Jap base on Sanchau Island, hit it with heavy bombs and knocked out at least three of the four hangars, strafed ships taking off and returned home without loss.
That same afternoon they dive-bombed the warehouses and plane factories of Canton. The Japs wouldn't come up and fight, and this angered the Americans. So the next morning Scotty's outfit headed for Canton again and bombed Tien Ho airdrome. At least 65 per cent of the building area and many planes were destroyed. Not a single Jap rose to intercept, but the ack-ack was heavy.
That night the lads went wild. They struck to the northeast with dive-bombers and night strafers. Some of them dove so low that they could see the Hankow hangar doors were closed. Intense ack-ack hit all of them, but the sturdy Curtiss Kittyhawks took it. Captain Hampshire shot out three searchlights by diving down the beams; Johnny Allison strafed a big ocean-going freighter of about 8,000 tons. Others dived their fighters to bomb the docks and warehouses with heavy incendiaries. They left the scene after 22 minutes with many holes in their ships but the Japs had suffered far more, losing face and other parts.
The lads slept from 2 AM until 3:30, then went out and alerted the ships. Our bombers came in at dawn and they all took off for an objective just below Hankow. Bombers scored dead hits again and every bomb landed within the city walls, one hotel containing 125 Jap officers being destroyed. Again no interception, which was making the pilots mad.
They refueled, had a bite to eat and took off once more. This time Yoyang caught it. Bombs registered on warehouses and railroads and again the fighters went down to strafe. Again no interception. Thanksgiving provided a breather. The following day the boys rose early and took off into the dawn for Canton. Turning, they came in over the target three big freighters and the docks of the Whangpo.
"I could see the bombers split into four flights," said Scotty, "and I closed up our heavy force of fighters. There were no Jap fighters in the sky. Then suddenly I heard somebody say, 'There's one of the - coming up you take him, Hamp.'
"Two ships dived and the Jap exploded. Boy, we had altitude on them this time and that's where we shine. Somebody knocked off another climbing up for the bombers. I saw one climbing steeply for the lead flight and I went to work. There were others coming up from far below. I could also see the smoke rings from their cannon.
"The first square-tipped Zero grew in my sights and, as he closed, I burned him 100 yards from the bombers. I shot down another, but didn't see it burn for I was already busy with another one. Colonel Cooper in the lead bomber confirmed the first one for me later.
"We stayed back there 45 minutes with complete air superiority. They sent up 45 planes from Canton and Kai Tak and we shot down 24 to 28 with many probables never confirmed. The Japs again had really lost face.
"I dove on White Cloud airdrome over Tien Ho through the blackest and heaviest ack-ack that I've ever seen. It rocked my ship like a small boat. Down on White Cloud I could see a big plane unloading passengers. I was going so fast I couldn't hold the rudder properly for accurate shooting, so my first burst missed the crowd coming out the door. On my next pass they were gone, but I had slowed down. The ack-ack raised hell all about me, but this time I held my sights on the engines and put about 200 rounds of fifties into the Junkers Ju-52 tri-motored transport. On my third pass I'm pretty sure it began to burn, but the dust may have deceived me.
"I shot up a staff car scurrying about the hangar area, and then headed for Kweilin. Holloway shot down a twin-engined fighter 50 miles from the target.
"I landed with little gas and counted the holes. Guess I was skidding too much for the AA but I know the enemy meant to aim well. That afternoon we got everything together for our final raid and watched anxiously for two missing pilots. They soon came straggling in. So it was 28 to nothing, not counting the probables!
"The next morning we hit Haiphong in Indo-China and wrecked two ferry boats with strafing and blew up the dock area. There was no air interception.
"Once more back in Kunming we added up our losses. One pilot, and two ships lost, two ships damaged (but they flew again). The Japs had lost between 40 and 50 in the air and I don't know how many on the ground and in bombed and sunk freighters.
"In those six days I had flown 37 hours in combat, had shot down two to four enemy aircraft, and probably destroyed others. Just as an example of what one man can do, a pilot from the Blank unit shot down three confirmed over Canton in one flight!"
The Blank Pursuit Group rolled right along, led by their tireless young colonel. On Christmas Scott went aloft looking for prey but found no Jap air activity. On the following day he shot down two Jap fighters in honor of the birthday anniversary of the late Capt Don Brown, USAAF, son of Joe E Brown the actor. When the comedian heard of this tribute by Scott, tears came to his eyes as he declared, "That is a wonderful gesture. I wish we had more men like Scotty in our Air Force."
Up to the first of January this pursuit group had unleashed its power on the luckless Jap at many strategic points; Yunnan, Kwansi, Hunan, Fukien and Kwangtung are littered with the wrecks of Japanese aircraft shot down by these American air devils. Their probables will never be known, but they run in the hundreds.
Scott's incessant plea is for 500 American pursuit ships for the skies of China. They would clean the Japanese out of the country, he says, and do it in short order.
He should know!
This article was originally published in the June, 1943, issue of Flying including Industrial Aviation magazine, vol 32, no 6, pp 48-50, 96, 101, 138.
The original article includes 4 photos.
Photos are not credited.
Note: The "Blank Pursuit Group" would be the 23d Fighter Group.
Colonel (later General) Scott was the author of God is my Co-Pilot.