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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Charles Lindbergh Vs Japan

Do you know how I find topics to write about? Yes, often my friends send me topics (greatly appreciated, by the way), but sometimes I see something and then wonder - is there a Japan relationship. Sometimes it's no-go, as when I was reading Dracula and wondered if Japan had any sort of myth similar to that... no, there isn't.

But... last week I saw a magazine article on forests in the U.S. and wondered how many forests there were in Japan - a question I still have not answered, as the first forest I researched was one that was the world's second-most popular place to commit suicide.

You can read about that exciting forest HERE.

I didn't see that story angle coming. I just wanted a nice quick boring piece on Japan's forests. I was sick as a dog and just wanted to get a story up - but... as usual, my curiosity gets the better of me and I have to keep on reading and writing.

Anyhow... a day or two ago, I was looking at weekly comic book newsletter - yup... comic books (I have about 35,000 of the paper buggers)... and there was an article on some Charles Lindbergh memorabilia... so... I asked myself... was there a link between Charles Lindbergh and Japan? Of course, since I am writing this, there is. By the way... that's Lindbergh on the left in the photo above.

For those of you who simply don't know, Charles Lindbergh was a very famous American pilot - famous, really, for two reasons:
  1. One, in 1927 he became the first person to fly an airplane solo across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Paris in his airplane, The Spirit Of St. Louis (photo above). He did it in a Ryan NYP monoplane (one wing) airplane and performed the feat in 33.5 hours. He became very famous, and rich and even had a dance named after him - the Lindy Hop. Here's one of the most amazing and frenetic dance scenes of the Lindy Hop I have ever seen, taken from the 1941 movie Hellazapoppin.
     2. Thanks to his fame, on March 21, 1932, his 20-month-old son was kidnapped from his home in
         New Jersey, only to be found dead two months later in a nearby wooded area.

Because of this, Lindbergh sought out anonymity and he and his wife fled the U.S. and sailed to England in December of 1935, but eventually returned back to America in 1939 as war clouds gathered over Europe.

Prior to his return, Lindbergh had visited Germany - we can call it Nazi Germany - and thought that Germany's military strength was so great that he realized the U.S. would be no match for it.

He was so convinced of this, that he became a spokesperson for the America First Committee that felt that the U.S. should remain neutral if there was a war in Europe.

Despite his immense popularity and respect, if there's one thing the U.S. government hates, it's being told it's not as strong or as prepared as another country. It's the old and new adage: If you aren't with us, you're against thing. You all recall the U.S. being pissed off at France a few years ago, and how it renamed French Fries to Freedom Fries. I had some in front of the Statue of Liberty many years ago... seemingly lost in the anti-French bullcrap was the fact that the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France... I didn't see anyone boycotting that or trying to rename that symbol of friendship. Whatever. I did enjoy my Freedom Fries, though. I ate them with mayonnaise, which was provided by the seller... how very... French. I did have ketchup, too, (but not catsup) because I'm Canadian. I'm just saying, is all.

Anyhow... because no one likes a coward, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt attacked Lindbergh's perceived cowardly stance. In retaliation (of a sort), America's aviation darling resigned his position as a Colonel in the United Sates Air Corps Reserve.

The thing is... Lindbergh was probably more correct than not regarding the might of Nazi Germany's military at that point in time.

As far as criticizing Lindbergh for suggesting neutrality, the U.S. did support its friends, but did not physically become involved in World War II until Japan attacked its Pearl Harbor base in Hawaii in December of 1941 - over 26 months after the war officially began.

Now... when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, like every other patriotic red-blooded American (male and female), Lindbergh wanted to go to war and asked if he could reactivate his resigned position and rank of Colonel.

Say what you want about President Roosevelt, but he was a strong-willed man. He refused Lindbergh's request.

Still wanting to do his part, Lindbergh went to the private sector to see if he could somehow lend a hand in a way other than mere grunt labor, you know, because he was, after all, famous.

Fame still has its perks, and so the famous Henry Ford of the Ford Automobile Company hired Lindbergh as an advisor to help the company transition itself from manufacturing cars to manufacturing bombers.

Let's leap ahead to early 1944, when Lindbergh had become a consultant with the United Aircraft Company, with his role focusing on testing the F4U Corsair fighter plane.
The Vought F4U Corsair.
In this new role - with field testing a priority, Lindbergh was actually out in the South Pacific teaching and training Corsair pilots how to decrease fuel consumption while also increasing the range of their flights.

To do this, what better way to train than by doing? Lindbergh would fly in a Corsair to show them the most effective flying techniques.

Situated at Guadalcanal, he flew 14 missions doing patrol, escort, strafing, and dive-bombing assignments—but no air-to-air combat.

Officers turned a blind eye to the fact that Lindbergh wasn't an official pilot in the US forces, but were glad to have his expertise, nonetheless.

The fork-tailed devil... the Lockheed P-38 Lightning twin-engine fighter - a beautiful airplane.
By June 15, 1944, Lindbergh arrived at Finschafen in New Guinea, as part of the United Aircraft Company's wish to learn more about twin-engine fighter planes... and, as far as the U.S. was concerned, the only twin-engine fighter plane it had was the Lockheed P-38 Lightning... and the best outfit flying them was the 475th Fighter Group in Finschafen.

I should note that no one in the upper reaches of the U.S. government was actually aware of Lindbergh's participation at this point in time.
July 1944, Lindbergh sits in the cockpit of a P-38 Lightning.
While Lindbergh had never flown a P-38 before, fame has its privileges, and he finagled his way into an additional 35+ missions as he taught the pilots how to get more out of their planes. He was that good a pilot. Great, even.

He was the one who actually figured out how to extend the range of the P-38 through improved throttle settings, or engine-leaning techniques, by reducing engine speed to 1,600 rpm, setting the carburetors for auto-lean and flying at 185 mph (298 kph), which reduced fuel consumption to 70 gal/h, which provided about 2.6 miles per gallon. Hey - every little bit helps.

Lindbergh gained this knowledge by flying the P-38's on many a mission.

In fact, all told, Lindbergh actually got to fly in over 50 missions in World War II... and all as a private citizen.

So... what's the real link to Japan?

Lindbergh actually shot down a Japanese fighter on one of those 50 missions. Just one, but one's a lot for a guy not officially in the war. He was officially still only a civilian.

He did actually participate in numerous bombing and strafing runs, but as far as we know, there is only one confirmed kill for Charles Lindbergh, and that was while he was flying the P-38 Lightning.

Lindbergh kept a diary of that day, but I'm not going to bore you here with that actual diary... but he notes that he shot down a Japanese plane, but doesn't even mention what plane it was... but I know that it was a Mitsubishi Ki-51 Sonia.

That particular Japanese plane was flown by the Japanese commander of the 73rd Independent Flying Chutai, Imperial Japanese Army Captain Shimada Saburo (surname first).

Let's just say that after a long dog-fight, Shimada turned his plane at Lindbergh who was just approaching the combat area.

He was probably out of ammunition, so a head-on collision would not have been unexpected for a veteran Japanese pilot who wanted to take out someone if he was going to die.

Afraid he was going to rammed head-on, Lindbergh fired his guns. Hit by cannon and machine gun fire, the Ki-51's propeller visibly slowed, but Shimada held his course - perhaps already dead, but the plane didn't know it yet.

Then to avoid a collision, Lindbergh pulled up, and Shimada's plane went into a steep dive into the ocean and sank.

Because Lindbergh was not officially a part of the war, and was not an official war pilot, his kill was not officially recognized and was not entered in the 475th Squadron's records... but his wingman, ace Joseph E. "Fishkiller" Miller, Jr., confirms the kill to Lindbergh... just as Lindbergh claimed the victory in his diary for that day.

On August 12, 1944, Lindbergh left the Pacific theater and returned to the United States.

And there you have it... a bit of American history involving the United States most famous pilot before the jet age, Charles Lindbergh, and how, as a private citizen, he managed to get himself in a position to shoot down a Japanese fighter in WWII and why it's not a part of the official U.S war records.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

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