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Lindbergh Flew with Us (307th Bomb Group)!
By Dick Beardm El Reno, OK
Lindbergh would fly with us
Summer of 1944 our B-24 Bomber Squadron 424 was stationed on Wakde Island and were part of the 307th B.G. (H). Wakde was a few miles off New Guinea and one mile long with the coral air strip dividing the island and extending from edge to edge. Heavy bombers were on one side of the air strip and fighters consisting of P-38’s and P-51’s on the other. Before mission briefings we would be told if we were to get fighter cover and if Lindbergh would fly with us.
. . . one of them pointed to a P-38 about 75 yards away and said . . . "that’s him"
He flew with us on missions to Ceram and the Halmahera Islands. One day when we were not flying was over shooting the breeze with the fighter group G.I.s and asked them if they ever saw Lindbergh and one of them pointed to a P-38 about 75 yards away and said…”That’s him”. Since he was a boyhood hero of mine went over and walked up beside him. He was looking at a P-38 engine with the cover off and said to him…”Do you think it will fly?” He said “Yes” and just kept on looking and that ended the conversation.
The Lone Eagle out there in a P-51 or P-38 putting his life on the line to protect me!
They said he stayed pretty much to himself and did little talking. One the days he flew fighter cover with a squadron of fighters it sure was nice to set up there in my top turret…look down that Davis wing and see the Lone Eagle out there in a P-51 or P-38 putting his life on the line to protect me!
Lindbergh in World War II reprinted from the 307th Bomb Group History
Lindbergh’s book, The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh, was mentioned in the preceding story. With the book before me, this is a good time to clarify Lindbergh’s wartime activities, especially the period spent overseas with Army, Navy, Marine and Allied forces in the Pacific, and perhaps dispel some inaccurate rumors.
Before WWII Lindbergh, at the request of our government, visited many European countries, using his fame to gain access to areas and officials denied others. His assessment of the relative state of readiness of allied and Axis powers lead him to conclude that the United States should not become involved in the approaching war, which he considered already lost. He became involved in the America First Movement, dedicated to keeping the U.S. out of the approaching war, and eventually felt politically and morally obligated to resign his commission in the Air Corps. Less than two years earlier he had served a tour of active duty at the request of General Hap Arnold. After Pearl Harbor, suspicious of his politics President Roosevelt refused to reinstate his commission in the Air Corps and repeatedly turned thumbs down as Lindbergh attempted to join company after company in the aviation industry. Only Henry Ford, something of a maverick himself and no friend of Roosevelt, dared hire him.
Lindbergh joined Ford in early 1942 as the new Ford Willow Run prepared to build B-24 bombers, about the time the 307th was being formed at Ephrata. As a technical advisor, he was deeply involved in trouble-shooting early problems encountered by production. As B-24 production smoothed out, he split his time between Ford and the Vought Aircraft Div. of United Aircraft Corp., working with the Corsair Navy fighter.
In 1944 Lindbergh was able to visit the Pacific Theater of Operations as a Corsair technical rep. Lindbergh left for the Pacific on April 24, 1944, flying to Hawaii in a Navy C-47. From there he moved through Midway, Palmyra and Funa Futi to Espiritu Santo, visiting and flying with Corsair equipped squadrons. After two weeks he moved on through Guadalcanal (Koli) and Bougainville (no strip mentioned) to Green Island. On May 22, 1944, Lindbergh flew his first combat mission, escorting TBFs to Rabaul with a Marine Corsair squadron and strafing assigned ground targets before starting home. Before returning to Guadalcanal on June 10 he had flown 13 missions to Northern Solomon and Rabaul targets from Green and Emirau islands.
Following a week of technical rep duties on Guadalcanal, and anxious to evaluate twin engine fighter performance, Lindbergh moved on to Hallandia where he attached himself to the 475th Fighter Group, a Fifth Air Force P-38 outfit. On June 27 he flew his first mission in a P-38, joining three other 475th planes on a barge strafing mission to Salawati Island at the western tip on New Guinea. By July 4 he had flown five missions in the same area. It was soon noted that Lindbergh consistently returned from missions with several times as much fuel as the other pilots in his flight.
Rumor of his presence in the area brought Lindbergh an “invitation” to Brisbane to discuss his presence in their area of control with MacArthur and Kenney. Apparently our Navy had authorized his move to the SWPA without first checking with MacArthur’s HQ. The usual questions about civilians flying combat and repercussions if he should be shot down were discussed. In addition, Lindbergh commented that he thought P-38 combat radius could be increased from 570 miles to 700-750 miles and still leave a one hour reserve of fuel. He felt our pilots could cruise at lower RPM and higher manifold settings, saving fuel without danger of harming the engines. This caught Gen. Kenney’s attention and it was quickly decided that Lindbergh could continue flying as an observer providing he did not fire his guns, but if he did strafe a little no one would know…and if he could get the “Spirit of St. Louis” all the way to Paris maybe he really could help increase the combat radius of the P-38 and other fighters. Returning to the 475th, Lindbergh resumed flying June 20 and flew eight more missions through August 12, operating from Wakde, Owi and Biak. These missions, mostly to the Ceram and Halmahera areas, included both bomber escort and strafing flights. Between missions Lindbergh talked with many fighter units, explaining his fuel conservation methods.
On July 28, during a bomber escort mission in the Ceram area, Lindbergh shot down a Jap plane. On August 1 he, with three other 475th P-38s, proved the worth of his theories by flying a mission from Biak to Palau. Here his companions destroyed several Jap planes and Lindbergh learned he could not shake an enemy plane which got on his tail. Luckily one of the other planes chased the Jap off before any damage was done and all returned safely to Biak.
Lindbergh continued to fly missions through August 12, but word of the July 28 and August 1 missions proved to be the last straw for Gen. Kenney. In addition to his worry that his civilian guest might be shot down, he now had to wonder how long the story of Lindbergh’s fighter kill could be suppressed, as well as about the reaction of heavy bomber crews if they learned of the Palau fighter sweep. Up to now bomber crews, notably those of the 13th AAF, believed our fighters had insufficient range to escort them to Caroline Island targets. On August 13, Kenney grounded Lindbergh and “suggested” that he leave the SWPA.
By then, however at lease partly because of Lindbergh’s help, P-38 and P-47 maximum combat radius had increased to at least 700 miles. The additional fighter range would soon be of great aid and comfort to 307th crews—beginning with the third of our initial series of strikes on the Balikpapan oil refineries.
While returning to the States, Lindbergh stopped off in the Marshall Islands to visit Marine Corsair squadrons engaged in bombing and strafing by-passed Jap garrisons. During the first of his six missions in the Marshalls he dropped one 1000 lb. bomb. The next day he carried and dropped three 1000 lb. bombs. After several days spent devising a method of hanging a 2000 lb. bomb under the fuselage of a Corsair he then dropped the bomb, the heaviest ever carried by a fighter, on Jap-held Wotje Island. On his final two combat missions, flown September 12 and 13, 1944, Lindbergh carried one 2000 lb. bomb plus a 1000 lb. bomb under each wing—probably the heaviest bomb load ever attached to a Corsair!
On September 16, 1944, Lindbergh arrived back in California, having spent almost five months overseas and, at age 42, flown at least 32 combat missions in the hottest fighters of the time. Contrary to rumor, he did not personally fly on the Balikpapan missions, though his presence was surely felt on those and later 1944 and early 1945 long distance missions where fighter escort for our bombers might not have been possible without his expertise.
Reprinted with permission from the 307th Bomb Group and Dick Beard.
Visit www.CharlesLindbergh.com for more information.
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