Significant Days in the History of the P-38 (Part III)
By John Stanaway
April was a significant month in the history of the P-38 for a number of reasons. The first operational deployment of the P-38 occurred in April 1941 when the 1st Fighter Group accepted the initial complement of fighters. Perhaps the most remarkable interception mission of the war was flown on April 18, 1943 when 16 P-38s of the 339th Fighter Squadron flew to Bougainville from Guadalcanal to claim the Betty bomber of Admiral Yamamoto. One of the last victories scored by the 49th Fighter Group occurred over the Hong Kong area by Jerry Johnson and James “Duckbutt” Watkins on April 2, 1945. Other dates include:
April 2, 1944: The 14th Fighter Group earns a Distinguished Unit Citation when it claimed approximately 17 enemy interceptors while defending bombers during a raid over Austrian ball bearing plants.
April 3, 1944: Twenty-five Japanese fighters are claimed in the Hollandia area by fighters of the 475th Fighter Group and 80th Fighter Squadron in a continuation of the reduction of Japanese forces prior to invasion.
April 5, 10, 11, 1943: P-38s of the 1st,14th and 82nd FGs account for more than 100 Axis aircraft in Operation Flax off the coast of Tunisia. Most of these kills are transport aircraft trying to reinforce Rommel.
April 12, 1944: The 80th FS accounts for nine Japanese aircraft during the climactic battle over Hollandia. Capt. Dick Bong accounts for three of these aircraft to record his 28th victory, surpassing Rickenbacker’s WW1 record.
April 14, 1943: Operation I-go ends with attacks on Port Moresby. P-38 interceptions credited with a number of Japanese aircraft raiders shot down during the period over New Guinea and the Solomons.
April 10, 1944: Droopsnoot missions begin over occupied Europe.