A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE 460TH FIGHTER SQUADRON
PRESENTED DURING THE MEMORIAL DEDICATION CEREMONY
AT THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE MUSEUM
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, OHIO, 20 MAY 1991
The unique fighting organization which we honor today was conceived some 47 years ago in the midst of combat, to blaze briefly but brightly, across the skies of Southeast Asia and Japan. Less than 14 months elapsed between its inception at Nadzab, New Guinea on 14 July 1944 until V-J Day, 2 September 1946. And the total active life-span of this 300-man, 25-plane unit was less than 20 months.
This creature of combat was born out of organizations, aircraft, equipment and people that could be made available because combat attrition had been less than anticipated. The ground echelon came from the 1st Airborne Squadron at Gusap, New Guinea. The initial cadre of pilots was drawn from the three squadrons of the 348th Fighter Group then based at Wakde Island on the New Guinea Coast. Additional pilots were assigned from the Combat Replacement Training Center at Port Moresby. And the aircraft, the P-47 Thunderbolt, the famous and beloved "Jug," came from excess theater resources.
The bonding that made this aggregation of men and machines unique began at Noemfoor Island in September 1944 and was strengthened through inspirational leadership, comraderie and combat during successive moves to Tacloban, Tanuan and Floridablanca in the Phillipines, Ie Shima Island, just off Okinawa in the Ryukyus, and finally to Itazuke airfield near Fukuoka, Japan.
This must of necessity be a brief history, and therefore selective. No two people in the squadron would choose to highlight the same events. But that task has fallen to me, and I would offer these as a few of the things we will all remember.
First, and most important, the inspirational, follow-me leadership of our first commander, Major (later Brigadier General) William D. "Dinghy" Dunham. He came to us from the 342nd Fighter Squadron; he reveled in combat; and he led us into it with zestful enthusiasm for the first five of those 14 combat months.
I think we'll all remember 8 October on Noemfoor, our first air raid, when a single Jap bomber dropped a stick of bombs that caused more consternation than damage.
The long flights across Geelvink Bay to Ambon and Ceram. Fuel requirements prevented carrying much of a load. And while anti-aircraft fire was a hazard, weather was our worst enemy. But those missions taught us much about our airplane and about each other.
Then came our first real test. Dinghy was successful in having 5th Air Force select the 460th as the Group's lead squadron into the Philippines. And on 10 November 1944, only 21 days after MacArthur waded ashore at Leyte, the squadron launched from Moratai as top cover for a B-25 strike against a Japanese Convoy in Ormac Bay attempting to land troops on the west side of Leyte. For the B-25s, it was their bloodiest day of the war. More than half of them were shot down by naval gunfire as we watched in awe and wonder while providing top cover for an air attack that never came. When we landed at Tacloban, the engineers were still laying pierced steel planking at both ends of the runway.
Whoever selected our camp area did so in a hurry. A rain-filled depression only a few yards back from White Beach, crowded between a gasoline dump on one side and an ammunition dump on the other. At that time, Tacloban was receiving day and night air raids. One stick of bombs could have done for us all.
It was a nightly occurrence to drive back from the airstrip in a blackout, everyone crowded into one vehicle. Meals eaten in the dark; pilots, ground officers and ground crews, standing about in ankle-deep water, eating "c" rations right out of the can; cracking jokes, laughing and enthusiastically rehashing the events of the day.
Two days later we received our first taste of air-.to-air combat. Capt Dick Frost scored the squadron's first victory when he shot down a Zeke 32 over Leyte Gulf on 12 November 1944. Nine more enemy aircraft were downed by the end of the month. Then the air war intensified. Thirty-eight enemy aircraft were downed in December followed by only three in January when Japanese resistance from the air virtually ceased. Seven long months would pass before we scored another air-to- air victory when flying out of Ie Shima in August 1945. In all, the 460th shot down a total of 54 aircraft during the war with 38 of those destroyed in the one month of December when Japan made an all out effort to drive us from Leyte into the sea. The memories and hangar-flying yarns from that month alone are far more than could be recounted today.
I doubt that any of us will ever forget December 7, 1944, the third anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. For us, it was one of the strangest days of the war. A U.S. convoy carrying the 77th Army Division, with the 7th and 11th Divisions close behind, landed at Ormoc Bay on the west side of Leyte only an hour or so ahead of a Japanese troop convoy that steamed into the same harbor. Two convoys, both protected by naval warships and strong air cover, and both zeroing in on the same landing beach. It was wild. In the confusion it was hard to determine who was attacking whom. The 460th engaged enemy air cover in the morning and enemy shipping in the afternoon with notable successes in both. Of the 76,000 tons of shipping sunk by the squadron throughout the war, more than half were sunk in the month of December.
A final bizarre note was added on the evening of December 7, just at dusk, when the enemy launched a paratroop attack on San Pablo airfield directly across the road from Group Headquarters. The Group lost contact with all four of its squadrons. Two 341st sentries were killed by Japanese troops wielding sabres. Fortunately, the Army reacted to the attack in time to nullify its success. Still, it was a nip and tuck day.
On 14 December the 460th moved to a new airstrip and camp area at nearby Tanauan. The camp area appeared to be ideally located on a palm dotted grassy plain along the banks of the beautiful Guinarona river. But we suffered more from that river than we ever did from the enemy. It was infested with a tiny liver fluke that transmitted a pernicious disease called Shistosomiasis. A number of our people were infected before we discovered the cause and banned swimming in the river. Some of those stricken are still being treated today, 46 years after immersion in that deadly stream.
The move to San Marcelino on the Island of Luzon took place in February along with a major change in our combat mission. We became primarily a fighter bomber squadron and all that month provided close air support to the 37th Infantry and 1st Cavalry Divisions as they raced down the central Luzon plain and invested Manila. Japanese aircraft had disappeared. Manila fell. We covered the paratroop attack on Corrigador and then bombed and strafed ahead of the troops until the enemy was driven from the island fortress. The American Army once again entered the bunker which had sheltered Douglas MacArthur and his wife and son some four years earlier.
In March 1945 came the transition from the gallant old Jug to the P-51 Mustang and the arguments are still going on as to which was the better aircraft. They were both superb. Every pilot here today would jump at the chance to fly either of them again.
The 460th officers were unanimous in agreeing that our enlisted men were unsurpassed. Every section of the squadron was strongly manned. One of the best examples of the magnificent support they provided took place on 14 April 1945. That is the day we launched 20 perfectly maintained and armed P-51s from San Marcelino 650 miles across the China Sea to the Hong Kong/Canton area, covering a B-25 strike, without a single abort. Four of those 20 were spares. Not one was needed. All 20 aircraft made it to the target area and returned. According to the Group Commander, Col. Dick Rowland, "The China mission on 14 April is unparalleled in the maintenance record for the group.
We received the same kind of support from our armament people. During May 1945, the 460th dropped more than 2000 tons of bombs, a record for bomb tonnage dropped by a fighter squadron.
In May came the move to Floridablanca with strikes against northern Luzon and Formosa and the continuation of ground support, patrol and escort missions during the mopping up operations in the Philippines.
Relentless pressure against the Japanese continued. In July, the squadron moved forward again. This time to Ie Shima only 350 miles from Japan's southernmost island of Kyushu. From Ie Shima, we flew missions to China where we dive bombed shipping in Shanghai's Hwang Poo river. And from Ie Shima we launched our first strikes against the enemy's homeland: fighter sweeps, bomber and rescue escorts, dive bombing and strafing missions against a great variety of targets in southern Kyushu. On 29 July, 15 P-51s covered A-26s on a strike at Nagasaki. No air opposition was encountered on any of these missions. Obviously, the Japanese were conserving what airpower they had in anticipation of an Allied invasion of the home islands.
Of course, as we now know, such invasion never took place.
August 6: Hiroshima.
Then, less than a month from the end of the war, on the night of 7/8 August, the squadron suffered its worst ever loss to enemy action. A single bomb, dropped from a lone enemy aircraft over Ie Shima, exploded in the midst of the 460th parking area. Fire spread rapidly. Five planes were immediately destroyed. 'In the morning two more were found to be non-reparable and ten others were damaged.
August 9: Nagasaki. A flight of P-51s from the 460th was airborne at the time and saw the huge atomic cloud created by the second and last atomic bomb dropped during World War II.
On 12 August, Lt. Kermit Allen shot down a George II fighter over Kyushu to account for the last squadron air-to-air victory of the war.
August 30: U.S. naval units steam into Tokyo Bay.
September 2: V-J Day. Peace signed aboard the battle ship Missouri. The war was officially ended.
The 460th remained active for another five months. The excitement of combat gave way to routine reconnaissance missions and training. Squadron strength dropped from a total of 260 to 1.66 personnel as many pilots and support personnel were sent home. In October our pilots began to fly excess P-51s to Clark for shipment back to the States.
A monster typhoon with torrential rains and 132 mile-per-hour winds struck Ie Shima on 8 October. Virtually all our tents were blown away. While still recovering from the damage, the squadron was ordered to move to Itazuke airfield near the city of Fukuoka on Kyushu. This final move began on 17 October.
The flow of personnel to the States continued and by 24 November we were down to 131 total personnel. All officers were assigned secondary and tertiary duties. Strength dropped to less than 100. Flying almost ceased. Nearly all the veteran pilots had returned to the States. Second Lieutenants were serving as flight leaders.
Then on 3 February 1946, G.O. #25, Headquarters 5th Air Force deactivated the 460th Fighter Squadron effective 20 February. The ! remaining personnel, aircraft and equipment went Stateside or were absorbed by other un1ts.
Despite deactivation, the 460th continues to live.
It lives because there was an undefinable mystique surrounding this organization that cannot be captured by a chronology or by operational statistics. It had to do with the happy accident that brought together a very skilled and dedicated group of people, in a remote part of the world, and under conditions made memorable by the shared experience of combat. Nothing like this has happened to any of us before or since. That is why we have continued to meet with each other at annual reunions for the past ten years. That is why we are here today, some 45 years later, to dedicate this memorial.
[Here, unveil the memorial.]
Ladies and Gentlemen.
This memorial is dedicated to the following members of the 460th Fighter Squadron who now survive only in our memories: Lt. Adrian A. McLendon; Lt. Kenneth F. Saunders; Lt. Floyd H. Stone; Lt. Perry A. Tubre; Lt. Randall U. Tuttle; Lt. Paul F. McMath; Lt. Walter A. Abraham; Lt. Gerald Economoff; Lt. David T. McMahon; Lt. Bernard P. Kane; Sgt. Richard N. Van Nostrand. Also included in this dedication are those members of the squadron who died after the War.
For the living, this memorial commemorates our continued devotion to freedom and to our great nation. We entrust it now to the United States Air Force Museum for the benefit and knowledge of those who will visit here from around the world.
On behalf of the 460th Fighter Squadron we are pleased to present officially this memorial to the Air Force Museum.
DeWfTT A. SEARLES