Good Morning, and Happy Easter,
Why did U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and American aviator Charles Lindbergh, who were the two greatest American icons of the first half of the 20th century, become adversaries? Roosevelt led America throughout the Great Depression and WWII and Lindbergh risked his life to be the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. History, however, paints a very different story of how Lindbergh became a target and it is a story that I find amazing and so typical in the political arena.
This is history at it’s best……enjoy.
The Lone Eagle, Charles Augustus Lindbergh, whose 1927 solo trans-Atlantic flight stunned the world and turned him into an overnight hero. Two years before the Depression struck, Lindbergh seemed to epitomize the very essence of an ebullient America that never looked back. His lanky good looks, nicely muted by a shy, almost diffident smile, proved the perfect foil to a deed of enormous courage. The U.S. bowed happily before its new hero, ” Lucky Lindy. “
With fame and hard work, Lindbergh prospered. His marriage to Anne Morrow, daughter of distinguished statesman and diplomat Dwight W. Morrow, proved long and abiding. His fortunes multiplied, as did his family, when Anne bore their first son on 22 June 1930, her birthday. Novelist E Scott Fitzgerald wrote: “Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy. ” On the night of I March 1932, the Lindbergh’s’ child, lovingly called “Fat Lamb” by Anne and “Buster” by Charles, was kidnapped and murdered. The weeks of anguish which followed embittered Lindbergh, heightened by the intrusions of the press and hideous crank calls that mocked his grieving. Nothing quenched Charles’ disappointment – in America and its people. On 7 December 1935 he made a decision, telling Anne to pack and be ready to leave on a day’s notice. They would abandon the U.S. Fifteen days later the two set sail for England.
Lindbergh’s dalliance with Europe forever changed his life. An earlier acquaintance and distinguished British civil servant, Harold Nicholson, offered Charles and Anne the use of Long Barn Cottage, near Nicholson’s castle at Sissinghurst in southeastern England. At that place the Lindbergh’s rebuilt their lives in the solitude of the Kentish countryside; from that place Lindbergh ventured out into a changing world.
Over the next few years he became acquainted with a number of people but it was through the Army Air Corps’ singular attach� in Berlin, Major Truman Smith, that Lindbergh went to Nazi Germany. He accepted an invitation from the Nazi Government, initiated and forwarded by Smith, to visit Berlin. Once there, German officialdom threw down the red carpet and dazzled Lindbergh. The Lone Eagle came away from that trip with a changed perspective.
At heart Lindbergh had one serious flaw. An honest man, he believed people returned that honesty. That others lied, the man found hard to accept; that a government lied was beyond his comprehension. His tour had been carefully staged; unseen were the political camps and obvious anti-Semitic demonstrations. Instead Lindbergh saw a dynamic Germany churning out “defensive weapons,” awesome in numbers and quality.
The epicenter of his crises, however, devolved on a simple fact – Lindbergh feared for the U. S. How could the Depression-crippled nation he left behind compete with the material
and moral superiority of a resurgent Germany? Lindbergh returned home in the spring of 1939. But he had seen and understood too much to remain silent any longer. So the Lone Eagle set in motion events that would eventually see him fly with Satan’s Angels’.
In the years following his return, Lindbergh slowly alienated himself from the Administration and the American people. He joined one of the strongest Noninterventionist groups, the American First Committee, in April 1941, and became a major figure in its campaign to keep the U.S. neutral. The crunch came with a series of radio talks in which Lindbergh warned against supporting the Allies because of a perceived German conquest of Europe. His stature among Americans was seen as a powerful counterweight to FDR.’s attempt to support the Allies ” short of war. ”
On 29 April 1941, two days after Roosevelt impugned his loyalty in a speech, Lindbergh resigned his colonelcy in the Air Corps Reserve. Public reaction that once idolized him, was no longer sympathetic.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor sank both ships and isolationist aspirations. It placed Lindbergh in a quandary but in a patriotic spirit he offered to aid the U.S. by returning to the Air Corps. It was too late. The Administration refused his services and then, in a mean spirited mood, forced Lindbergh’s many aviation employers to cancel his advisory positions, including Juan Trippes’ Pan American Airways. Only one man resisted that move, Henry Ford, and Lindbergh went to work for him on 3 April 1942 as a technical consultant helping Ford convert from auto to bomber production.
Over the next year Washington loosened a bit. Lindbergh’s undeniable expertise with aircraft and pilots thawed the bans against him. Indeed, his diary shows an enormously busy schedule of test flights that solved pressing problems of new aircraft. In that process the Lone Eagle flew, and came to know well, almost every combat craft in the U.S. inventory. But Lindbergh hungered for combat and as early as January 1944 had made inquiries as to that possibility. The Marines responded first. Cautiously, a tour of Corsair bases in the Pacific was arranged.
In April a friendly U-S- Navy sanctioned and covered Lindbergh’s trip. He would go to their theater, the Pacific, as a civilian technical assistant. Neither the White House nor even Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox knew of this trip. After kitting up with Navy uniforms from Brook; Brothers (sans any insignia) and taking the usual rounds of shots, Lindbergh left San Diego for the War Zone.
By March he had already regularly contacted the United Aircraft Corporation, producer of the F4U Corsair, and had agreed to act as its liaison in the field. Once situated at Guadalcanal, South Pacific Area, he corrected problems of the “bent-winged bird” established better communications between United Aircraft and the Marines. There, local Marine officers consented to take Lindbergh on a patrol to Rabaul, the first of fourteen combat missions he would fly with the Corps. With the exception of air-to-air combat, Lindbergh flew patrol, escort, strafing, and dive-bombing assignments- As would later occur with the Army Air Forces, officers winked at his extraordinary activities by according him “observer status.” Lindbergh concluded his business on the Canal. By 15 June he landed at Finschafen bound for the 475th Fighter Group.
The next day Colonel Robert L. Morrissey briefed Lindbergh on the Lightning. For all his flying experience he had never flown the P-38. A major motivation for the civilian’s trip to New Guinea centered around United Aircraft’s interest in the feasibility of a new twin-engined fighter. The P-38 was the sole American representative of that genre. He had heard that the 475th was a hot Lightning outfit so Lindbergh sought to learn from the best.
He announced his presence to V Fighter Command at Nadzab. -Colonel Merian C. Cooper lunched with Lindbergh and on Sunday. evening, 18 June, the civilian dined with Whitehead, talking of New Guinea developments and, doubtless, Lindbergh’s plans. This proved later insufficient for proper authorization in the theater. On Tuesday he got in an hour and twenty minutes Lightning time with 35th Squadron, 8th Group. A week later Lindbergh flew to Hollandia and walked in on MacDonald and Smith’s checker game.
After obtaining permission to accompany the group on the next day’s mission, Lindbergh retreated to V Fighter Command Headquarters only to be retrieved later by MacDonald. The mission, explained the colonel, would launch at dawn. It would be better to rest at the 475th camp and cut down transportation problems. Lindbergh agreed.
Meanwhile the “word” spread quickly. Lindbergh was among Satan’s Angels. In the 433rd camp, First Lieutenant Carroll R. “Andy” Anderson tried to summon up enough strength to write a long overdue letter to his wife, Virginia Marie. Suddenly friend C.J. Rieman popped in and announced, “Charles A. Lindbergh is going to fly with us!” Letters were quickly forgotten.
The next day’s mission was to Jefman Island, now a familiar target for the 475th. With the possibility of interception much higher than on Guadalcanal flights, MacDonald took no chances. The four-craft patrol included some of the best pilots in the group: MacDonald, with Smith in the number two slot, followed by Lindbergh and his wingman Mac McGuire. By that flight the veterans already had a total of thirty-six victories between them.
Except for flak, Jefman produced no action and so, as had been the recent practice, the quartet of Lightnings shot up barges and luggers on the way home. The Japanese used the terrain to mask their boats from air strikes. Spotting a barge in an indentation formed by two hills leading to the sea, Lindbergh flew up and over the nearest ridge clearing the top by a dozen feet, shooting as he partially straightened, and then banked hard left to clear the opposing hill, all this at 250 miles per hour indicated air speed. The four Lightnings left several craft sinking or burning before turning for home.
Later the group approved of Lindbergh is handling of that first mission. Intelligence Officer Dennis G. “Coop” Cooper was impressed by his accurate and thorough observations during debriefing. He flew well and low against the targets. They did not realize that Lindbergh’s time on Guadalcanal had already honed his combat skills.
.A number of his missions in F4Us involved strafing difficult targets. In that process, he learned to fire accurately no matter what his fighter’s attitude. ” I do not think about the plane’s position; that is taken care of subconsciously. All my conscious attention is concentrated on the sight. The tracers are going home, that’s all that matters. ” Further, Lindbergh was a natural marksman. He shot trap and skeet and while on a PT boat speeding at 26 knots, shot a flying fish with his .45 automatic Before going overseas he practiced air-to-air gunnery at El Toro, California, and Hickam Field, Hawaii, and his time at Guadalcanal allowed him to fire guns in action. Lindbergh’s modesty kept him silent about his skills.
Lieutenant John E. “Jack” Purdy of the 433rd looked forward to meeting Lindbergh. Eventually a seven-victory ace, Purdy brooked no formality; already it was “Charlie.” Almost as if sensing the stir caused by Lindbergh’s appearance, MacDonald called a meeting two days after Lindbergh’s arrival. The 475th’s C.O. sought to clarify the civilian’s status among Satan’s Angels. The Lone Eagle would be accorded all officer’s privileges and would be addressed as “Mister Lindbergh” as befitting his non-military status.
The Lone Eagle sortied regularly with the 475th and the missions reveal two things only partially seen by the group itself. The first concerned changing roles. Japanese resources dwindled at this, the closing of the New Guinea campaigns. Now they faced the terrible mobility of Nimitz’s Central Pacific carrier task forces while MacArthur primed for the drive north against the Philippines) Gone were the relentless daylight air attacks. Husbanding resources in the Southwest Pacific, the enemy took to nocturnal raids against targets like newly-invaded Biak. Until MacArthur moved against the Philippines, the 475th provided aerial protection but did little damage to Japanese resources. This was unacceptable to Charles MacDonald.
Satan’s Angels’ C.O. began ordering strafing missions on the homeward leg of all patrols. Andy Anderson of Possum Squadron explained that the skipper was “a real bear for getting his money’s worth on every mission. ” Thus the recent spate of strafing attacks like the one that concluded Lindbergh’s first outing with the 475th.
On the mission slated for 30 June, his second, the Lone Eagle took part in another of the many tactical transformations the group witnessed in recent months. With nil aerial opposition the group carried 1,000-pound bombs to Noemfoor Island. They would continue to carry “freight” for the rest of the war and Lindbergh accompanied them on this second such attack.
The seventeen ships lifted off the mat strip, flying through broken clouds and out to sea by 1125. Over the target they circled, waiting for the A-20s to complete their runs, watching them crater the revetment area down the entire side of the enemy runway. The resultant smoke cleared and the 475th began its attack. Lindbergh, the only one who had recent dive-bombing experience, rolled off at the edge of a squall, steadied his Lightning, and “pickled off” his weapon at 2,500 feet. He pulled out of the dive before the ten-second delayed bomb touched off.
Later the group’s Official History recorded all bombs were delivered with “fair accuracy.” Lindbergh saw part of the subsequent attacks and noted “three bombs in the target area, two in the jungle, and three in the ocean.” Experience, however, would make the 475th as proficient with bombs as they were with bullets.
The second and critical passage made by the group concerned fuel consumption. With additional fuel cells in the J model P-38, Satan’s Angels had been making six and one-half and seven-hour flights. On I July Lindbergh flew a third mission with the group, an armed reconnaissance to enemy strips at Nabire, Sagan One and Two, Otawiri, and Ransiki, all on the western shore of Geelvink Bay. Already Lindbergh’s technical eye noticed something. After six and one-half hours flying time, he landed with 210 gallons of fuel remaining in his Lightning’s tanks.
Two missions later, on 3 July, the group covered sixteen heavies on a strike against Jefman Island. Lindbergh led Hades Squadron’s White Flight as they wove back and forth above the lumbering B-25s. After the attack the Lightnings went barge hunting.
First one, then two pilots reported dwindling fuel and broke off for home. MacDonald ordered the squadron back but because Lindbergh had nursed his fuel, he asked for and received permission to continue the hunt with his wingman. After a few more strafing runs, Lindbergh noticed the other Lightning circling overhead. Nervously the pilot told Lindbergh that he had only 175 gallons of fuel left. The civilian told him to reduce engine rpms, lean out his fuel mixture, and throttle back. When they landed, the 431st driver had seventy gallons left, Lindbergh had 260. They had started the mission with equal amounts of gas.
Lindbergh talked with MacDonald. The colonel then asked the group’s pilots to assemble at the recreation hall that evening. The hall was that in name only, packed dirt floors staring up at a palm thatched roof, one ping pong table and some decks of cards completing the decor. Under the glare of unshaded bulbs, MacDonald got down to business. “Mr. Lindbergh” wanted to explain how to gain more range from the P-38s. In a pleasant manner Lindbergh explained cruise control techniques he had worked out for the Lightnings: reduce the standard 2,200 rpm to 1,600, set fuel mixtures to “auto-lean,” and slightly increase manifold pressures. This, Lindbergh predicted, would stretch the Lightning’s radius by 400 hundred miles, a nine-hour flight. When he concluded his talk half an hour later, the room was silent.
The men mulled over several thoughts in the wake of their guest’s presentation. The notion of a nine-hour flight literally did not sit well with them, “bum-busters” thought some. Seven hours in a cramped Lightning cockpit, sitting on a parachute, an emergency raft, and an oar was bad, nine hours was inconceivable. They were right. Later, on 14 October 1944, a 432nd pilot celebrated his twenty-fourth birthday with an eight-hour escort to Balikpapan, Borneo. On touching down, he was so cramped his crew chief had to climb up and help him get out of the cockpit.
The group’s chief concern surfaced quickly, that such procedures would foul sparkplugs and scorch cylinders. Lindbergh methodically gave the answer. The Lightning’s technical manual provided all the figures necessary to prove his point; they had been there all along. Nonetheless the 475th remained skeptical. A single factor scotched their reticence.
During their brief encounter, MacDonald had come to respect Lindbergh. Both men pushed hard and had achieved. Both were perfectionists never leaving things half done. And both had inquisitive minds. John Loisel, commanding officer the 432nd, remembered the two men talking for long periods over a multitude of topics beyond aviation. If, as MacDonald had informed his pilots, better aircraft performance meant a shorter war, then increasing the Lightning’s range was worth investigating. Lindbergh provided the idea, but it was MacDonald’s endorsement, backed by the enormous respect accorded him by the group, that saw the experiment to fruition. The next day, the Fourth of July, Lindbergh accompanied the 433rd on a six-hour, forty-minute flight led by Captain “Parky” Parkansky. Upon landing, the lowest fuel level recorded was 160 gallons. In his journal entry Lindbergh felt “. . . that the talk last night was worthwhile. ” The 475th had lengthened its stride.
On 7 July Lindbergh flew back to Nadzab. The 475th continued its tasks but began to incorporate the lessons taught by the departed aviator. But it was not the end of their association. They would meet again on the road to the Philippines, a road that MacArthur had long been anxious to travel.
MacArthur’s clean-up of Eastern New Guinea took fifteen months. With supplies, experience, and proper tactics, he had leaped the top of the Guineas west to Vogelkop and then north to the Moluccas in three months. On 15 September MacArthur looked north from Morotai. He was only three hundred miles from the Philippines; it could have been the moon.
Pacific plans still remained unjelled. Ironically this time the culprit was success. The success that saw MacArthur’s seizure of New Guinea also sent Nimitz rampaging through the Pacific islands. On 26 July 1944 MacArthur and Nimitz met with President Roosevelt at Pearl Harbor. FDR explained that Washington planners felt encouraged to scrap the year-old “Strategic Plan for the Defeat of Japan.” This guideline posited the securing of China’s southern coast, Formosa, and Luzon as a prerequisite to striking the Home Islands. Now Washington boldly sought direct attacks against Formosa, or Japan itself, thus bypassing Luzon. The ensuing conversation was lively.
Nimitz generally conceded the need for long-range aircover in any attempt at taking Formosa. In a long exegesis, MacArthur pointed out the moral imperative: freeing the gallant Filipino people and expunging a defeat of American arms; his defeat, the general might have added. In an earlier message JCS head George C. Marshall reminded MacArthur that “personal feelings and Philippine politics” should not cloud over the war’s prime objective, to defeat Japan. To MacArthur they were one and inseparable. FDR reacted to those lofty sentiments by taking an aspirin . . . and ordering another for the morning. Nonetheless the meeting’s end saw FDR agree to support the two commanders and push for an invasion of the Philippines.
For the 475th, those were great – but distant – events. Life for them still revolved around coral, seas, and sky. Lindbergh’s departure made no dent in the 475th’s regiment. On 2 July 1944 the Allies strengthened their grip on routes to the Philippines by attacking Noemfoor, most westerly of the Schouten Island group. Lightnings from the group covered that landing as well as those at Sansapor, the northwestern-most part of New Guinea on the thirtieth of the month. By then Satan’s Angels had moved again.
Biak Island highlighted a continual problem for Southwestern Pacific campaigns. The heart of that dilemma involved Allied dependence on captured Japanese airstrips. Japanese-engineered runways lacked the polish of their American counterparts. The lighter enemy craft could employ runway surfaces that were thinner, their lengths shorter. U. S. fighters had difficulty enough, but steel matting helped convert them to American specifications. The real problem revolved around the heavies, B-24s and -17s. The enemy had no such massive craft and so heavy bomber runway facilities were hardest to develop. The many moves completed by Satan’s Angels stemmed as much from airfields proved inadequate as from the rapid progress of the war. Cape Gloucester, Finschafen, and Hollandia evicted the 475th. Biak now beckoned.
Located 275 miles west of Hollandia, Biak had been attacked by the 41st Division on 27 May 1944. Local defense commander Colonel Naoyuki Kuzume had learned that Japanese troops on the waterline inevitably died or could not retreat under pre-invasion bombardments. He pulled his men back into coral catacombs dotting the landscape. The ensuing struggle for the island was one of the worst of the war. Even as the Seabees and engineers reconditioned strips at Owi Island, just off Biak, and then on Biak itself, Japanese snipers and suicide teams kept the area a combat zone. Some of the enemy held out for months. The 475th again lodged hard on the edge of battle.
On 10 July the air echelon landed on Mokmer Strip, Biak. Two men were missing. Crew chief Sergeant Teddy Hanks, swinging aboard the last C-47 transporting the air echelon to Biak, noticed a 38 limping back to land, snafued. With no mechanics left, Hanks and fellow Sergeant George A. Brown dismounted. Brown had repaired airplanes before the war and was one of the few men that came to the 475th with prior experience. Together they repaired the Lightning, telling the pilot to buzz them on the way out. Happy to oblige, the pilot roared in so low that a terrified earth-mover operator bailed out onto the ground. The entire group completed the move four days later.
Mokmer strip had been chiseled out of a hillside overlooking the beach and sea. The runway was white, compacted coral with good drainage in rain and dusty in the heat. The temporary camp lay at the eastern end of the strip. The later “permanent” encampment at Sorido would be a mile and a half from Mokmer, connected by a bumpy road. Both sites spread out over the same crushed coral as the strip, road, and island. Early on, Tokyo Rose acknowledged the 475th’s presence as the “Butchers of Rabaul” and promised a nasty welcome. A 432nd pilot later explained, “It’s hell trying to dig a foxhole in coral.”
Enjoy the rest of the article, have a good weekend/Easter and join me again next week when we will look back at other events in aviation history.
April 2, 2021