Wednesday, October 8, 2014

How Major Jack Cram, USMC, earned the nickname "Mad Jack" and won the Navy Cross

October 15, 1942.  It was literally the darkest day the Marines faced while on Guadalcanal.  The night before, two Japanese battleships swanned into Iron Bottom Sound and blissfully fired more than 800 massive 14-inch naval shells into the Marines' perimeter, killing 42 hunkered-down Marines and nearly wiping out the Cactus Air Force.  Barely a handful of planes were left, and ground crewmen were forced to siphon gas from the tanks of shattered aircraft to fuel the remainder.  And they were needed.

Just 10 miles away - within sight of the Marine front lines - a Japanese transport fleet was unloading men, weapons, bullets and shells, food - even tanks.  Only Naval and Marine airpower could stop them, but there were precious few planes left - and both bomb dumps and fuel dumps were burning following the shelling.

Safely in a rear area, the "chauffeur" - Major Jack Cram, the command pilot of a VIP version of a PYB-5A (the Blue Goose - personal aircraft of Cactus Air Force CO, Marine General Roy Geiger) decided to do something.  His plane was hardly combat-capable, but he realized it could carry two torpedoes in place of under-wing fuel tanks or depth charges.  Assuming some Navy TBF Avengers were still flyable, Major Cram loaded up two torpedoes as "cargo" (along with other vital cargo inside the plane) and flew from the safety of the rear echelon to battered Henderson Field.  He probably planned to drop off these supplies, load up with critically-wounded men and return them to New Caledonia's Noumea, where a hospital awaited them.

But when he arrived at "Cactus" with the torpedoes, Cram discovered that the Navy's surviving TBFs were still not flyable.  Remembering that a PBY had once dropped a torpedo at night during the battle of Midway a few months earlier, Cram ordered the ground-crewmen to adapt the under-wing pylons into torpedo bomb racks, able to do more than just carry torpedoes - he wanted to be able to drop them on enemy targets.

By "the book," that rushed conversion was impossible, but "the book" at Guadalcanal had already been used for cigarette papers or toilet paper, so the Navy and Marine ground crewmen began adapting the pylons to drop live torpedoes.  They had to run wires from the mocked-up bomb racks, through the cockpit's side windows and into the reach of the pilot.

While they did that, Major Cram found a Marine whose brother was a torpedo bomber pilot - and based on that brother's five-minute recollection of what he'd been told about a live torpedo drop, Cram figured out how to execute a torpedo attack against a critical target.  Then, with no torpedo drop-site in his cockpit, and with an all-volunteer crew that did not include a co-pilot, Major Cram took off and began circling, climbing to 5,000 feet - ignored (so far) by the 30 Mitsubishi Zero fighters orbiting the transports at 15,000 feet.  There, he pushed the nose down and began using his PBY amphibian flying boat like a dive-bomber.

Quickly exceeding the plane's red-line not-to-exceed speed of 240 knots, Cram pushed the Blue Goose beyond its limits as it's all-volunteer crew watched in horror as the plane's massive wings flapped, popping rivets and screaming like a banshee while the slipstream howled around them and Japanese AA fire exploded entirely too close to them.  Leveling off, Cram flew barely above the water, shedding speed to reach the torpedoes' not-to-exceed 200 knots. Then, one after another, he dropped the two torpedoes - and amazingly, at least one (and perhaps both) struck their intended targets, sinking one of the six supply-laden transports in the shallow harbor.

Having done the impossible, Cram turned the lumbering flying boat around and headed back home to "Cactus," just ten miles away - but to get there, he had to run the gauntlet of 5 very pissed-off Japanese Zero fighters which chased him all the way back to Henderson Field. The last Zero followed Cram into the landing pattern at Henderson - so intent on exacting revenge that he didn't see a landing F4F Wildcat (with gear down, too) swing in from behind and blast that Japanese fighter out of the sky, right over the airfield. The volunteer gunners fought back, and while the plane survived, it came home with 160 bullet holes, cannon shell holes and shrapnel-torn aluminum holes.

When he landed, Cram was met by General Geiger, who chewed him out in mock outrage for "getting his private VIP transport shot up" - before congratulating Cram and writing him up for a Navy Cross.  The grateful Marines quickly labeled this new hero "Mad Jack," and the name stuck.

Cram later went on to command an experimental Marine night-bomber squadron, and ultimately retired in 1959 as a General officer - still known as Mad Jack.

For my money, he should have gotten a Medal of Honor for that hair-raising mission, but he didn't do it for "credit." He did it because he was a Marine, and even chauffeurs in the Marines are hairy-chested warriors.  The attached painting shows the Blue Goose dropping the first of two torpeckers - and there is a lot of information on the web about the markings of the Blue Goose ... another example of "history you can model."

Friday, August 15, 2014

First Battle for American Tanks Crewed By American Tankers

With tensions rising in the Pacific, two Federalized National Guard units were equipped with M3 tanks (called Stuart by the Brits, but M3 by Americans. These units, the 192nd and 194th Tank Battalions were shipped to Manila, and assigned to field forces under General Jonathan Wainwright.  When the Japanese landed at Lingayan Gulf, the 192nd was sent -  on 21 December - North to intercept them.

The M3s were notorious gas hogs and had little or no organic mobile fuel support.  They headed to Gerona, which was supposed to have the high-octane petroleum those tanks converted radial aircraft engines burned, but those reports were wrong.  Company B, under Captain Don Hanes, was forced to consolidate remaining fuel and field just a single five-tank platoon of fully-fueled tanks to meet the Japanese advance.  With reports of enemy motorized forces fast-approaching Damortis, General Wainwright ordered Hanes to send his five operational tanks, under Lieutenant Ben Morin, to stop them.

At Damortis, these five M3 tanks encountered advanced elements of the Imperial Japanese Army's 4th Tank regiment, equipped with Type 95 Light Tanks.  These, though diesel-powered and slower than the M3s, were otherwise largely comparable. Both were equipped with dual-purpose (AP and explosive-firing) 37mm cannon - the American's gun had a higher muzzle velocity, but at combat ranges, the Japanese 37mm could breach American armor plate, especially to the side and rear.

This became the first time American-built tanks, manned by American Army crews, entered combat against the enemy - it was also the first tank vs. tank clash between Americans and the Japanese (or American tanks and any enemy tanks) - certainly the first time it happened in WW-II (some American armor might have engaged German armor in the waning days of WW-I, but I've yet to be able to confirm or deny this).  Later, as noted in another blog in this blog-site, the M3 and the M2A4 were the first US-built armor crewed by Americans to be taken on the offense (the PI's use of armor was clearly defensive).  And of course, the Royal Tank Regiment in North Africa used the Stuart (aka "Honey") earlier in 1941 against Rommel's Afrika Korps, being the first combat use of American-built tanks in WW-II.

Back to this combat ... the Type 95 had been state of the art for light tanks in the mid-30s (though the French arguably had the best all-round light tanks in the mid-30s - but with no armored doctrine, these still-formidable tanks were all but useless in May, 1940).  However, by 1941, it was not as advanced in some areas as the M3.  The M3 had more horsepower, better automotive qualities, a higher speed and a more potent 37mm gun (and a bit better armor).  However, as noted, at combat ranges, the Type 95's short-barrel/low-velocity 37mm was sufficiently potent to hurt the M3s.

The American tanks were not well-handled - this was a National Guard unit that had been recently federalized and which had little time to familiarize themselves with their M3s. At the same time, the Army doctrine was for "tank destroyers" to fight tanks, while tanks were to be reserved for breakthroughs and exploitation behind the lines (or for infantry support, which explained the early M3's plethora of .30-caliber Browning machine guns - five on these tanks).  To this end, the Army had shipped 75 very early models of M3 GMC  half-track tank destroyers (known as T-12 GMCs) to the PI to provide anti-tank protection. These halftracks mounted American-built French 75s from the Great War (versions of these guns were later used in the M3 and M4 medium tanks, and the M8 Howitzer motor carriage based on the M3).  These gave great service in the PI, but were not in this battle.

When the confrontation broke out, the lead American tank left the road to maneuver, but as it did it was hit - probably on the more vulnerable flank - and caught fire, a total loss, and the crew, including the wounded Lt. Morin, was captured.  The other four M3s were also hit, but none of those were disabled and they were able to pull back from field of combat, though they were later destroyed by a tactical Japanese airstrike. 

While in combat with the Type 95s, they did manage to hold up the Japanese drive for a while, though, and this set the pattern for later US tank use in the PI.  Americans would lie in ambush at strategic choke-points, such as bridges, surprise the enemy and cause casualties while holding up and delaying the Japanese, allowing more Americans and Filipinos to evacuate into Bataan.

This fight took place in the plains that stretched from Lingayan Gulf toward Manila, with tropical grass and clumps of tropical trees and shrubs. Fighting was at close quarters, and a scene in which Lt. Morin's crew was captured by a Type 95 crew is certainly eminently modelable.  The clash did little to stem the Japanese flood-tide, but it was an historical clash from several perspectives.  Because both vehicles are available in several popular scales, this is indeed history you can model.

Monday, July 21, 2014

That Phantom II Passed us Like We Were Standing Still ...

This is a bit of personal history I'd like to model some day, assuming I could find a suitable shadow box and the right kits in 1/144 scale (I think anything larger would be TOO large, and when you read on you'll see why).

I want to tell you my one experience (up close and personal) with an RF-4C, based at Shaw AFB in the late fall of 1969. I had just volunteered for the AF (ROTC) and, as a reward, all of us who opted for AFROTC (the first year ROTC was voluntary at my university) were promised a ride in the back seat of a jet fighter. Alas, it wasn't in the RF, but in a T-33 (which is still no slouch, based on the F-80 and loaded with thrust).

Anyway, I was in the back seat of the T-bird, with a USAF Major driving up front (and building flight time - he was a desk jockey but still wanted flight pay), and I was having a blast. Then, as we flew over Shaw at 10,000 and 360 knots indicated (paralleling the runway 2 miles below), an RF jock got the tower and asked for permission for a "war emergency climb" to 30,000. My pilot told me to watch for the afterburner flare ...


As soon as I saw it, I popped the pilot on his helmet (which is what he'd asked me to do), and he immediately firewalled the T-bird and also began a zoom climb.


Remember, at that instant in time, we were going 360 knots - we could have easily coasted to 15 grand in no time at all - but he poured on the coals ... and at that instant, the RF was just starting to roll. Got the picture?

Here's what happened next.

The RF passed us (like we were standing still) at 11,500 feet. Remember, it would have taken us just seconds to coast that high, but we were at full power.


That, my friends, is just how damned fast and powerful an RF-4C was in 1969, and if it was still around today, it would be just as fast and exciting.

Now, just as a personal aside, I had planned to make the USAF my career (having already failed the eye test and not being allowed to accept my appointment to Annapolis).  I'd grown up dreaming about being 3rd Generation USN, but when I blew the Annapolis eye test, I set my sights on the USAF, and chose a civilian college with AFROTC.  Shortly after volunteering, I scored the highest AF officer qualifying score ever seen at my university - and at that, I was immediately offered a full scholarship, but I had to take a physical. As with the Navy, even though there was an unpopular war on and a relative dearth of volunteers for the military, that ended badly.

So from 1972 on, I've been about military aircraft in history magazines (and now online), I go on History Channel talking about them (9x and counting), and I model them. Not what I'd hoped for, but it's as close as Uncle Sam and my damned (correctable, but not good enough) eyes would allow.

And so, I have my sights on a boxed diorama of my T-bird being passed by a scalded-dog RF-4C in '69 at Shaw AFB.  Though personal, it's still "history you can model" ...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Operation Credible Sport - A Remarkable Rocket-Powered Top-Secret C-130

A dash of "hidden history" you can model. Operation Credible Sport (yeah, a pretty stupid name, but it defined a fascinating plane).

In 1980, with elections closing in fast and the hostages in Iran into their second year of captivity, the USAF under President Carter came up with a rescue plan (this is after the tragic accident at Desert One, the secret air base we built in Iran to stage rescue helicopter flights into Tehran).

The idea was simple. Take a more-or-less standard C-130, and put rocket motors in its nose and tail, making it possible for the plane to land and take off inside of a soccer stadium.

 Houston, we have lift-off ...

 A surviving Operation Credible Sport conversion was on display at Warner Robbins AFB, south of Macon, Georgia. I've heard that the museum had to cut back it's aircraft inventory, so I can't swear it's still there

Big-assed rocket  engines were mounted, and it was secretly tested at what was then Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium (then home of the Braves, the Falcons and a short-lived pro soccer team).

 Janes Defense Weekly illustrated the aircraft with lift engines operating, and with the nose rocket housings visible - "Credible Sport" at play and at rest

The plane would (with gear and flaps down) dive toward the field inside the built-up stadium, flare out, hit the nose rockets, then land literally inside the length of a football field. When the hostages were returned, the plane would fire the tail-end rockets and zoom out of there.
 The nose rocket housings are visible here

The take-off and landing profiles were modeled after the pitch of the stadium (which is pretty steep).

In 1982, I was touring Lockheed-Marietta during an IPMS event in Atlanta, and noticed a forlorn-looking all-black C-130 with some odd bumps. I privately and quietly asked our tour guide, a very senior Air Force non-com about this plane and he told me the whole story, including (he was quite disgusted) President Carter's unwillingness to pull the trigger once the plane proved what it could do. It was all very hush-hush, but since it was more than 18 months after the hostages had been released, it was a secret without a reason to be secret.

Much later, it became public, and you can find photos and info by searching Google: ... channel=sb -

I used the key words: c-130 iran hostage rescue version operation credible sport. Lots of photos, videos of the plane in test operations, and background. This would make a fascinating model kit of a rare and ALMOST historically-significant aircraft.

The "Google images" from that search are here: ... 56&bih=518

Smack-Down - Unarmed C-47 "Shooots Down" Japanese Army Air Force Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa - "Oscar"

Here's another unusual piece of history you can model.

In 1943, in the CBI theater of operations, a C-47 was on a mission of resupply to some forward-based troops - I can't recall if it was an air-drop or not, but it involved flying low among some very rough terrain.

 C47 BURMA.jpg
 A small flight of C-47s over Burma - this is what the Smack-Down C-47 would have looked like

While not a CBI photo, it gives useful modeling details re: a C-47 in flight

 Burma was rugged country, then and now. This shot is "true" to the colors of the area, and the aircraft marking colors used at the time

The aircraft was intercepted by a Ki-43 (the Oscar), a Zero look-alike that was even more maneuverable, but noticeably less well-armed than the Zero, with just two 12.7 mm machine guns (the Japanese version of the .50 caliber). Still, that firepower should have been more than enough to give a Gooney heartburn.

Anyway, the heavily loaded C-47 went down in the weeds in very rough and "vertical" country, with the Ki-43 doing its best to nail the American. After one pass from above and behind, the Ki-43 pulled below the C-47 ... and the American pilot, with perhaps more balls than brains (but hey, this was a VERY desperate man), dove toward the ground, forcing the Ki-43 to go lower ... it was a smack-down worthy of the WWF - Smack-Down, right into the ground. It counted as a kill, even though it wasn't a "shoot-down," since the C-47 was, of course, unarmed.

This incident is shown on the cover of Osprey's book about the C-47 in the CBI and Pacific, and on the inside cover, the full story is told in greater detail.


Nothing about the Ki-43 markings, but assume they were standard for mid-1943/CBI and you can't be too far wrong. ... 1846030468

In my ongoing and seemingly never-ending novel (the draft is now right at 2,900 pages - think a Web Griffith "series" of novels) about the air war in the Pacific in the first year after Pearl Harbor, I'm trying to make all my aerial combat scenes as realistic as possible - and as historically accurate as possible, too.

So, having learned about this C-47 "put-down" of the Ki-43, I adapted the actual incident to Guadalcanal, and transformed the Ki-43 into an A6M2 Zero - but otherwise, made it the same story as actually happened a year later in the CBI. I've published it as an eBook on Amazon, in case anyone's interested ... ... ar+pacific

However, either modeling the novel or modeling the actual CBI smack-down, this would make a great aerial diorama, especially with the new Airfix C-47 (I just read a review of it in Airfix Magazine, and it looks sweet, with only some Matchbox-like panel lines to detract from it) and the also new-tool Airfix Zero (or the relatively new Tamiya Zero). There are also several good Ki-43 kits in that scale, so take your pick. Those are all in 1/72 - you could also do it in 1/144, as all the aircraft are available in decent kits for that scale - can't imagine doing it in 1/48th, though the kits are available.

Peashooter P-26 Night Fighter Protecting Pearl Harbor, Post-Attack, December 1941

re historical trivia you can model. During the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese showed the great good sense of not wasting bombs or bullets on the half-squadron of P-26 Peashooters serving as "hacks" and based on the hard-stand at Wheeler Field, so they all survived the attack unscathed.

However, here's the rest of the story. What was shortly to become the 5th Air Force decided that these planes, while not good for much of anything else, would make do as night fighters to protect Pearl from long-range aerial snoopers - presumably flying boats, or cruiser-launched float planes (in fact, Japan did send several massive "Emily" flying boats from Kwajalein to overfly Pearl, refueling them at French Frigate Shoals from a sub). The Powers-That-Be felt the P-26's speed - a bit over 225 mph (going downhill with a tail wind) and the mixed armament of one .50 and one .30 would be sufficient to handle those nocturnal enemies.

So the surviving P-26s were painted black and actually became part of the island fortress's front line defense for a few months, until sufficient "real" fighters arrived to take their place. They were painted all black, but with the existing markings in place.

This is an early P-26 in an overall dark paint-job - the P-26 night fighter would have looked something like this, but with US Air Corps ID markings as shown in the other illustration
And no, they didn't shoot down any enemies - none over-flew Pearl before they finally received their well-earned retirement. Of course, a handful in the PI actually flew combat missions and one of them downed a Zero, proving that nothing in this world is impossible.
A rare photo of P-26s at Wheeler Field, Oahu, 1940-41, pre-attack
Late pre-war markings, OD and neutral gray, with chrome yellow wings and tail

I've found a number of published references, but no photos - the photos here show  pre-attack P-26s and an early prototype which "comes out black" in the photo. The actual birds had standard US Air Corps markings, but with black paint replacing OD and Neutral Gray. Don't know if the paint was gloss or flat, but since the idea of gloss black for night camouflage came later, I assume it was whatever gloss or flat black aircraft paint they had available.

D-Day Invasion Stripes - Too Pretty? Too "defined" in shape?

Here's a new historical-trivia-you-can-model for you - most "invasion stripes" which were painted the day and night of June 4/5 (when we thought we'd invade June 5 instead of June 6) were brush-painted on (many of them brush-painted on in the dark) and they were nowhere near as neat-and-clean as most modelers give them credit for.

Below, I have photos of guys doing the brush painting, with black stripes slopping over insignia (around the edges) and "straight lines" being anything but.  Certainly useful for dioramas, but also useful for being accurate in D-Day aircraft models on their own.

So, when you do your invasion stripes,you might not want to go for precision unless you have photo evidence to substantiate that precision. I also have one that another modeler "captioned" which may well capture the spirit of the times.

Here are the Erks painting on (slopping on) the invasion stripes in early June - note how they botch up the insignia, and how they couldn't paint a straight line to save their immortal souls ...

What they were REALLY saying as they painted the stripes

And yet another example of just how "hand painted" these were:

Not everyone was a slob, but it was still very much hand-painted, with no do-overs ...

This one's already painted, but look close - it's not a pretty job ...

 Sometimes it was a group effort - and, as at least a couple of ERKs demonstrate, it could be a laid-back kind of assignment ...

Now here's a "classy" job of invasion striping ...

Even for life magazine, it's clearly a hand-done job, not neat decals.