Saturday, December 24, 2011

You guys were really the glimmer of hope

Today, accounting for the International Date Line, is the 70th Anniversary of the Christmas Battle over Rangoon. Here a few P-40B fighters of the 3rd Pursuit Sqn, Hell's Angels, of the American Volunteer Group along with RAF Buffalo fighters repeatedly tangled with waves of Japanese fighters and bombers bent on smashing Rangoon and its docks.

If the Japanese seized Rangoon, the Burma Road would be closed. With the Burma Road closed, the prospects of continued Allied resistance in China would be grim. The Burma Road was the lifeline for China's military and for the AVG. So Rangoon had to be held.

While the 1st Pursuit, Adam&Eve, and 2d Pursuit, Pandas, flew north to Kunming, Hell's Angels left Toungoo for Rangoon and fame. Their first skirmish with the Japanese happened on 23 Dec 1941. The tally for the Americans and British was six bombers and four fighters. They lost in return nine planes and seven pilots.

Then came Christmas Day over Rangoon. The Japanese threw two separate attacks. One against Rangoon and the other against Mingaladon airfield where British and American fighters were based. Rangoon received a three wave attack of Ki-21 Sally bombers and Ki-43 Oscar fighters. Mingaladon would be attacked by two waves of Ki-21 Sallys, Ki-27 Nate fighters, and Ki-30 Ann bombers.

When the skies had cleared of enemy planes and the total was tallied, the results were spectacular. The Hell's Angels had managed to shoot down 23 enemy aircraft without a single loss of their own.  The defense of Rangoon would rage for ten grueling weeks.  Men and planes of the 1st and 2d from Kunming would join the battle to defend Rangoon.  The British would rush in Hurricane fighters to bolster the defenses.  The British managed to shoot down 74 planes with a further 33 probables while losing 22 Buffaloes and Hurricanes.  The Americans would down 217 planes with another 43 probables while losing only 16 P-40s.  In that time over Rangoon, the world came to know and admire the AVG.

"The six or eight months you fellas operated in the beginning of the war, there wasn't much good news for us. We, nor the British or anyone else were able to beat the Japanese in those early months of the war. You guys were really the glimmer of hope because you were the only ones getting results. That meant an awful lot back here." - General Hap Arnold to Kenneth Jernstedt, 3rd Squadron Hell's Angels in 1944.


Ed Rasimus said...

"...to so few."

It is surprisingly easy to find examples of "the few" when we look back at history.

The leverage of military aviation when focused at key points has been impressive and often over-looked.

Anna said...

It has been decisive when properly applied. Like Douhet predicted. Though in WWII the cost was high.