Letters From Readers—July 2013 Aviation History

Yamamoto Shoot-down Controversy Lives On

Regarding “Death by P-38,” in the May issue, there are inaccuracies in the conclusion to the sidebar about who actually shot down Isoroku Yamamoto. I wrote the article about the Yamamoto mission for the U.S. Air Force Museum years ago, and interviewed two surviving members of the mission, as well as others who had firsthand information.

The mission report signed off by CO John Mitchell did give full credit to Tom Lanphier, but for years the controversy kept surfacing. Jack Jacobson (a member of the mission) felt that much of the problem had to do with Lanphier’s ego. Jacobson stated that “as there is absolutely no witness to what either Barber or Lanphier did, we have to accept what each guy said.” He believes the credit should be left at 50/50, although he added that “Lanphier was a very aggressive fighter pilot–if he had a shot he would have pursued it.”

Still, the group backing Rex Barber in recent years got the American Fighter Aces Association to strip Lanphier of his credit, waiting several years after Lanphier had died. Barber’s claim got the support of the main board members of the AFAA, including Gerald Brown and Steve Pisanos, who admitted that the deflection shot version given by Lanphier would have been “difficult, but not impossible.” Besby Holmes (another mission member) said the action happened so fast that no one, including himself, could state exactly what happened.

In 1992 Air Force Secretary Donald Rice upheld the shared-credit ruling of the Victory Credit Board, saying the “Glory should go to the team.” The Appeals Court ruling in 1996 stated that “no change in the record was needed to correct an injustice.” Time has upheld the original verdict of history, and the official books are finally closed.

The only group that changed the credit was the AFAA, and officially Lanphier remains an ace.

Frank Lorey
Escondido, Calif.

Author Don Hollway responds: It is my understanding that not only the AFAA but also the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States has denied Lanphier credit for both the Zero and Betty he claimed on the Yamamoto mission. A representative of the Air Force His­torical Research Agency confirmed to me that, decades ago and prior to the decisions you mention, the USAF Victory Credit Board and Air Force Board for the Correction of Military Records denied Lanphier his Zero, leaving his official tally at 4.5 victories. However, because neither Barber nor Holmes ever lost credit for Zeros they claimed that day (if they had, none of the three pilots would be aces), Lanphier’s claim has recently been reinstated. As far as the Air Force is concerned, his score once again stands at 5.5, including half credit for Yamamoto’s Betty.

Superforts vs. MiGs

I very much enjoyed Warren E. Thompson’s article “Superforts vs. MiGs” [May 2013], particularly his rundown of victories by B-29 gunners in the Korean War. There is one "victory," however, that I doubt is included in those totals. On July 28, 1950, a Royal Navy Seafire from HMS Triumph was shot down by B-29 gunners after it apparently got too close for their liking. The British aircraft had reportedly been mistaken for one of the Russian piston-engine fighters, probably a Yak-9, then flown by the North Koreans. As a result, Royal Navy aircraft flew with black-and-white stripes on their wings and fuselages to distinguish them from Communist forces.

Charles Jarrells
Dayton, Ohio

Just read your interesting article on B-29s vs. MiGs in Korea. I am old enough to have served in the USAF with some Korean War and even a few WWII vets. One was a Sergeant Evans, my crew chief in Radar Main­te­nance at the 793rd Radar Squadron in 1963.

Evans had been in B-29s in Korea–I believe he was a radio operator. He told of a time when their squadron maintenance chief had flown to Guam to pick up some spare parts, and there in a warehouse were some of the 20mm tail guns that had been removed to lighten the B-29s for their missions over Japan. He brought a few back and reinstalled them in some of the squadron’s planes. He said the MiGs would generally sit back out of range of the .50-caliber M-2s and pop away with their 37mm guns–and one hit could knock down a B-29. He reported that the MiG pilots got quite a surprise after the new guns were installed, and stopped attacking from the rear.

It would be interesting to see a picture somewhere that could confirm his story.

Carl Grimm
Hutchinson, Kan.

Another Wally “Gotcha”

It might interest your readers to know that the first music from outer space was performed by two astronauts aboard Gemini 6. It was the Christmas season, and Wally Schirra [see “Aviators,” March] had included among his personal items a miniature harmonica made by Hohner called the “Little Lady.” Thomas P. Stafford, his fellow pilot, brought along small bells that might embellish a Christmas wreath.

Just before they were scheduled to reenter Earth’s atmosphere on December 16, 1965, they reported seeing a command module with eight smaller modules in front. The pilot in the control module was wearing a red suit. Schirra broke out his harmonica and rendered “Jingle Bells,” accompanied by Stafford on his miniature sleigh bells.

The harmonica and bells–see my photo attached [July issue]–are credited with being the first musical instruments ever played in space. They are enshrined at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Harvey Alley
Grand Rapids, Mich.

Send letters to Aviation History Editor, World History Group, 19300 Promenade Drive, Leesburg, VA 20176-6500, or e-mail to aviationhistory@weiderhistorygroup.com.


2 Responses

  1. Matthew Mahoney

    Dear Editor: I’ll start with a disclaimer: I picked up this copy of AH due to the Dambusters article. I don’t know what sort of researcher Stephan Wilkinson is, but he should not be allowed to publish articles in your magazine when he knows next to nothing about geography. In his article about the best single engine aircraft, he had Valery Pavlovich Chkalov pilot an ANT-25 from Moscow to Portland, Oregon, In reality Chkalov and crew landed in Vancouver, Washington, short of fuel. He was trying for San Fransisco, CA. If Mr. Wilkinson would care to consult an Atlas, Sea Chart, Jeppesen’s or Texaco Road Map, he would discover that Vancouver, WA and Portland, OR are in two distinctly different states. Those two states are separated by the Columbia River. Maybe Mr. Wilkinson has heard of it. Woody Guthrie wrote a song mentioning it. Minor details like state borders may not mean much to the author, but they certainly mean something to the citizens of those states. The History Channel organization has a History of slighting and confusing Vancouver, WA (founded, organized, settled, existing long before that city in British Columbia by the way) with Portland, Oregon. History has managed to place the WWII Kaiser Columbia Shipyards in Portland as well. Despite the fact that Kaiser Columbia at Vancouver built 50 Casablanca Class escort carriers in less than 2 years, History insists that they were built in Portland. Kaiser’s St. John’s and Swan Island shipyards on Portland’s Willamette River, built Liberty and Victory Ships, not carriers. Very poor research and reporting in my opinion. I’ll be at hanger 5526 for the Reno Air Races if the author would like to discuss it personally.
    Matthew Mahoney
    Vancouver, WA
    Not Portland, Or or Vancouver, BC. (Do some reading, it might surprise you.)
    PS: I’m not apologizing for the pissy tone of this email, I’m pissed off.

  2. Carl von Wodtke

    Dear Mr. Mahoney,
    You are correct that the ANT-25 landed (at Pearson Field) in Vancouver, Wash., although Chkalov had intended to land in Portland, Ore. When he saw the crowds gathered at Portland, however, he decided that the military airfield at nearby Vancouver would be a better choice. You’ll find a correction to this effect in the September issue’s Mailbag.

    I can assure you that Stephan Wilkinson is well versed in geography, having built a Sequoia Falco that was flown most of the way around the world. It departed from Portland, Oregon!

    By the way, we are in no way affiliated with the History Channel.
    Carl von Wodtke


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