U.S. aircraft in the Philippines, 1937-1942

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Jan 28, 2007
W. Washington
In the 1980s, I did research on U.S. military aircraft in the Philippines and had a number of articles published. Pictures of these aircraft are relatively rare and the saga of how I got some of these could have "written" another article. I thought I'd share a few of them with you.

Clark Field, about 1938-39. Note the B-10s, P-26s, O-46s, and O-19s on the field.

A new P-26 taxiing out to takeoff at Nichols Field. #rd Pursuit Squadron, 1938. These aircraft were later handed over to the Philippine Army Air Corps.

Two P-35As being assembled at Nichols Field, end of 1940. These aircraft were originally bound for Sweden and were impounded. About 50 were sent to the Philippines, still Swedish insignia and with metric instrumentation and manuals in SWEDISH!

P-35As flying over Manila Bay, late 1941, 17th Pursuit Squadron (who soon changed to P-40Es. Note the window in the fuselage of the cargo compartment. They could (and did) carry another passenger.

Another P-35A in pre-war colors of the 17th Pursuit Squadron, early 1941, Nichols Field.

How many aircraft can you identify? Nichols Field, 1941

Rare color photo taken of one of the first B-17s in the Philippines, Oct., 1941, Iba Field (which was used for gunnery training). Nine B-17s from Hawaii arrived shortly before.

Finally the photo that tells it all. Three "generations" of aircraft are identifiable in this picture - a Keystone B-3A belonging to the PAAC, a couple of P-26s, still in U.S. colors and a relatively modern P-35A.

These, and other photos appears in an article which I wrote that appeared in Airpower Magazine in November, 1987, "And Then There Were One"
Very interesting mate.

Any information on how they fared in combat against the Japanese? This is an area of WW2 that I know little about.
They fared very poorly. Over half were destroyed on the ground in the first day or two. They had to learn tactics against Japanese aircraft the hard way. The P-35s were used by the 34th Pursuit Squadron and as I said, the P-26s were used by the Filipinos. A few P-26s actually got into combat with Japanese aircraft and reportedly shot down one bomber.

Even the more modern P-40ss didn't fare well, due to poor tactics, equipment failures and lack of replacements. The only ace was Boyd (Buzz) Wagner, commander of the 17th PS.
I figured as much, against the cream of the Japanese Air Forces at the start.

I will have to do some reading on this Boyd Wagner.
Excellent Post!!!!

Im quite interested in the war in the pacific, and greatly appreciate this.

If you have more pics or stories to share, please do!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You might want to check out my on going thread "The War In The Pacific 65 years ago". Theres "daily" summaries of the land and aerial battles in the PI, among others.
Good post, thanks for putting up the pics and info. Am reading "Doomed at the Start" now. About the PI campagne. Depressing.
Boyd Wagner escaped from the Philippines, and if I remember correctly, added a couple of more kills. Unfortunately, like a number of pilots, he was killed in a flying accident in late 1942.

Another outstanding pilot was William E. Dyess, commander of the 21st PS I talked to a number of veterans and without any dissent, they called him the best leader in the Philippines. He also died in a plane crash in November, 1943. He wrote "The Dyess Story" one of the most graphic telling of the Bataan Death March and prison life.

During the writing of this and other articles on this subject, it was my pleasure to chat and write with a number of former pilots and ground crewmen.

I still remember one old gentleman, a former pilot with the 17th, who hand wrote his experiences in about 30 pages!! Another pilot, who came from my hometown of Spokane WA, was a friend of Ed Dyess', flew with him on Bataan, went through the Death March and a year later, escaped with nine others (Dyess included - he planned the escape) from the Davao Penal Colony on Mindanao. They served with the guerrillas and were evacuated out (except for one who was recaptured and killed). Stuff that Hollywood wouldn't even believe!

I know a lot of you focus on the P-51, the F4U and other planes which were in their heyday when the Allies ruled the skies. My two favorite planes are the P-40 and the F4F, flown when the skies and indeed the course of the war was in considerable doubt. I will count it one of the greatest thrills of my life to have a chance to meet these men and write about them!

I can also recommend William Bartsch's "Doomed at the Start" as the most complete book on American fighters in the Philippines during this period. Bill and I were writing about this at about the same time and we even corresponded for a while.

A couple of more pictures:

1) It was customary for U.S. Army aircraft to meet incoming ships. This photo was taken from the USAT "Washington" in May, 1941. It is my favorite picture from an "artistic" standpoint:


The first page from my article in "Airpower":


I'll try to include some more pictures and stories from time to time.
One and the same. Sam Grashio, one of his fellow pilots said that Ed would be enjoying a good laugh in the Great Beyond over the fact that Dyess AFB was a SAC base, while Ed Dyess was a fighter pilot!!

I am far more interested in the pre and early war aircraft than the later "uber" kit.

I am particularly fond of the Curtiss Hawks. Fly them a good deal in Fighter sims. :D

WWIIOL in particular, since its system of introducing equipment gradually, allows for a couple weeks where everyone is flying around in H.75A-3s, Hurri.Is, H.81A-2, D.520s, Bf.109E4s, etc.
The P-35A was an export version of the Army's standard P-35. A slightly bigger engine, another .50 caliber gun in each wing and a few other modifications. Although a little more manuverable than the P-40, they were no match for the Zero is several categories. The ones not shipped to the Philippines or Sweden were used as advanced trainers.

I mentioned there was a compartment that in a pinch, could hold a passenger. One of the surviving P-35s flew from Bataan to Cebu, which, at the time, was still held by the Americans. The officer meeting the plane was amazed to see no one but TWO passengers crawl out of the compartment - PLUS another person riding on the pilot's lap!! Talk about claustrophobia!!

Another interesting story was during the pre-war period. The 17th PS had a monkey as a mascot and one of the pilots (apparently not the one with the highest i.q.!) took the monkey on a flight with him. The monkey was NOT taken with flight and the pilot was lucky to land the plane!!

You have any information on the naval aircraft there?

I dont suspect anything but PBY's....... but since this was a backwater in pre war years, the navy must have had some ancient planes in service.
You're correct - mostly PBYs of Patrol Wing 10 (PatWing 10) - however, there were a few others. OS2Us, a couple of SOCs and J2Fs. One J2F was sunk as it lay moored. It was raised, repaired and became "The Candy Clipper", carrying supplies, medicines passengers and (yes) candy to Bataan and Corregidor from Cebu. The night Bataan fell, it carried several passengers out of Bataan.

If you want to read a good book on this subject, read In the Hands of Fate: The Story of PatWing 10 by Dwight Messimer. It may be out of print but may be available in libraries on used. Great book.

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