On a fighter sweep over the airfields north of Manila on Nov. 6, 1944, US Navy F6F Hellcat pilots encountered a Japanese fighter they could not identify.
Joining combat in the Pacific in late 1943, the F6F Hellcat squadrons soon demonstrated their ascendency over their Japanese opponents, culminating in the great “Marianas Turkey Shoot” during the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944. The fighter proved to be a dream for pilots to fly, allowing both novice and veteran Naval Aviators alike to prevail in largescale aerial combats.
As told by Edward M. Young in his book F6F Hellcat Philippines 1944, on a fighter sweep over the airfields north of Manila on Nov. 6, 1944, Lt Elvin Lindsay, CO of VF-19, Lt Albert Seckel and Lt(jg) Lachlan McLaughlin encountered a Japanese fighter they could not identify.
VF-19’s Aircraft Action Report noted:
The six who went up to Clark ran into 15 enemy planes, of which they destroyed 13 without loss to themselves. They were led by Lt. Lindsay, the new squadron commanding officer, who shot down two “Tojos” and one “Oscar.” The group was attacked first by five “Oscars,” but when our planes turned into them they climbed into the overcast, where Ens. Tatman got onto the tail of a straggler and shot it down in flames. Then singles and pairs of enemy planes came down out of the overcast, and several other enemy planes joined in from the side. All fights took place under the overcast and from 5,000ft down to the ground. A “Tojo” came in on Lt. Lindsay, firing both 7.7 and the two 20mm guns in his wings from above. He was a poor shot, missing, and Lt. Seckel pulled up a bit, centering him with a 60° deflection shot and he burst into flames, crashing.
Lt. Seckel comments:
“We encountered 12 to 15 enemy planes, in groups of three to five planes. Lindsay’s division and my section kept weaving, covering each other, and by aggressively climbing and turning right into the enemy we kept the initiative, scaring off all but one or two of the planes in the group we attacked. Thus, all of us would gang up on a single plane or two as their pals fled, and we would take turns knocking them down. In a long chase McLaughlin damaged a single engine fighter of unknown type, and as he pulled out I hit him with a burst and he crashed. This plane was very fast – I was doing 290 knots indicated at 100ft and gaining only a very little. Its wing was a low mid wing, and the plane resembled a P-47, with a heavy belly below the wing. Carried bombs or tanks under the wings.”
Lt. Lindsay added the following observations:
“We all stayed together in excellent fashion and supported each other with no strain. One “Oscar” approached Ens Sassman head on, then suddenly whipped around and was on Sassman’s tail in amazingly short time. He began firing but broke away when he saw my tracers pass him. A few short bursts set his center section afire, and he crashed without bailing out. The “Tojos” pressed their head on attacks to a very dangerous collision range, where we broke away. One “Tojo,” after making such a run on another F6F, tried to pull up sharply into the overcast but burst into flame from my gunfire just before entering the cloud. The sight of a burning “Tojo” spinning out of an overcast is beautiful indeed. I found another “Tojo” (or unidentified plane) in my sights soon after, and a short burst sent him flaming to the ground.”
The pilots’ description fits the characteristics of the IJNAF’s (Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force) potent new N1K1-J Shiden fighter, code named “George,” which had been active over the Luzon airfields for some weeks, but apparently without previously being identified as a new type of Japanese fighter.
F6F Hellcat Philippines 1944 is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: Jim Laurier and Gareth Hector via Osprey