Monday, June 8, 2015


Encouraged by the Mellow Jihadi, I delved a little deep last night into the story of America's first ace in World War II. He was a man named William R. Dunn and I wondered if there was anything about him that caused W.E.B. Griffin to name his Marine fighter pilot in his books, William Dunn. Maybe, but who but Griffin can say. 

I grew up reading the Yankee Flier in the RAF books I found on the shelves at my grandparent's house. Their sons had grown up during the war, and after, reading the stories as they were published starting in 1941. I knew something about the Americans that fought in the sky over Europe before America herself entered the war. As I read more about William R. Dunn I found this and so pass it along because it reiterates many of the stories I've read over the years about the P-39 Aircobra.

I thought this item was as heartfelt as it was funny:
From page 116 of Fighter Pilot, the first american ace of WWII, by William R Dunn. 
"The 53rd Fighter Group was equipped at that time(June 1943) with Bell P-39 Airacobras, which had been nicknamed "the Allison time-bomb with a Curtiss Electric fuse". I certainly felt sorry for the poor SOBs that had to fly those damned things in combat against real fighter aircraft. With their tricycle landing gear,the p-39s' were just great for taxiing. The known bad habits of all aircraft were collected together and developed into the P-39s' flying characteristics: flat spins, tail plane(stabilizer)stalls, tumbling, to mention a few of the most dangerous. The allison engine was behind the pilot, which threw the CG(center of gravity) way off, and the propeller shaft ran between the pilot's legs to the three-bladed prop in front. 
The Airacobra's engine ran rough most of the time, overheating all the time. There was always the worry that the prop shaft would seize, split apart, and castrate the unlucky pilot. If you got into a flat spin or tumble with the damned thing-and it was easily done if you weren't very careful-there was nothing to do but bail out of it.(My kid brother, who trained on P-39s in the class of 43G, bailed out of three of them-two flat spins and one tumble.) As an example, if you were practicing firing at a ground target and pulled up sharply after your pass, the tail plane would stall without warning and the rear end of the P-39 would fall out from under you with a frightening snap. If you were too low, there wasn't a chance of recovering-you went in with the kite. Trying to trim the Airacobra, even in level flight, was like sitting on the head of a pin, where you could fall off in any direction at any time. 
In the beginning of the war the RAF, short of fighter aircraft, ordered 675 P-39s from the Bell Aircraft Corporation at Buffalo, New York. Their order was soon reduced to 80 aircraft because of mechanical problems and the Airacobra's failure in action against German fighters. It was a miserable kite to fly, and a lot of good guys busted their butts in the P-39. We should have set fire to them all; however, we gave them to the Russians. No wonder they're still mad at us."  
Just read this book. I thought it was pretty good. And I got a hoot out of his page on the Airacobra. In the back of the book he goes over all the well known WWII planes, allied and axis. He flew in Korea and was in Vietnam, retiring in the early seventies. Anyone else read this book or hear about this guy?
It was interesting to read a bit more about William R. Dunn.
Bill Dunn was born on November 16, 1916, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 19, 1934, and served as an infantryman until receiving an honorable discharge on November 22, 1935. Dunn enlisted in the Canadian Army on September 7, 1939, attaining the rank of Sergeant Major before joining theRoyal Air Force on December 13, 1940. After completing RAF Flying School at Tern Hill, England, on April 16, 1941, Pilot Officer Dunn was assigned to the RAF's No. 71 Squadron, also known as the initial Eagle Squadron (so named because it was composed of expatriate American pilots in the RAF prior to the official entry of the United States into World War II) from May to August 1941, during which time he became the first American fighter ace of World War II by destroying 5 German fighters in aerial combat plus a shared probable; all while flying RAF Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire fighters. After being wounded in action on August 27, 1941, Dunn was hospitalized for 3 months and then spent another 3 months in the U.S. on leave before serving as an instructor pilot in Canada until he transferred to the U.S. Army Air Forces on June 15, 1943. 
Lieutenant Dunn served as a gunnery officer with the 53rd Fighter Group and then joined the 513th Fighter Squadron of the 406th Fighter-Bomber Group, flying the P-47 Thunderbolt, in October 1943, and deployed with the group to England in April 1944. He was credited with the destruction of his 6th and final enemy aircraft in aerial combat in June 1944. Promoted to Captain and then Major, he later completed Command & General Staff College before transferring to China, where he served as commander of Luchien and Luchow Air Bases as a Lieutenant Colonel from May 1945 to 1947, participating in the Chinese Civil War on the side of the Nationalists. His next assignment was as an advisor to the Imperial Iranian Air Force from 1947 to 1949. 
Lt Col Dunn resigned his commission on November 3, 1949, and rejoined the Air Force in an enlisted capacity on November 14, 1949, attaining the rank of Master Sergeant before receiving an appointment as an Air Force Warrant Officer on April 17, 1952. During this time, he served as an advisor to the Brazilian Air Force from 1950 to 1952. Promoted to Chief Warrant Officer, CWO Dunn served as a staff officer from 1952 to 1954, and then served as an Aircraft Controller, Interceptor Controller, Air Traffic Controller, and Wing Support Officer for the 33rd Air Division at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, from May 1954 to February 1958. His next assignment was as a Weapons Controller with the 623rd Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Squadron at Naha AB, Okinawa, from April 1958 to April 1960, and then with the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing at Naha AB from April 1960 to July 1961. CWO Dunn next served as a staff officer with Headquarters, 29th Air Division at Richards-Gebaur AFB, Missouri, from July 1961 to May 1963, followed by service as a Weapons Controller with the 848th AC&W Squadron at Wallace AS in the Philippines from May 1963 to May 1964. He served as a Weapons Officer on the staff of Headquarters, Pacific Air Forces(PACAF) at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, from May 1964 to May 1967, and then deployed to Southeast Asia, where he served as a Weapons Force Plans Officer with the 6250th Support Squadron at Tan Son Nhut AB, South Vietnam, from May 1967 to June 1968. 
CWO Dunn's final assignment was as a Weapons Controller with Headquarters, Aerospace Defense Command at Ent AFB, Colorado, from June 1968 until his retirement from the Air Force on February 1, 1973. He was promoted to Chief Warrant Officer 4 (W-4) in 1963, but retired at his highest rank held of Lieutenant Colonel (O-5). Bill Dunn died on February 14, 1995, and was buried at the Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, Colorado. Although only officially credited with 6 air victories in World War II, Dunn claimed 8.5 in the air, plus 4 more unconfirmed, 3 probables, 4 damaged, and 12 more destroyed on the ground while strafing enemy airfields. 
In addition to his autobiography, Fighter Pilot: The First American Ace of World War II, he wrote War Drum Echoes and other works on the Indian wars of North America.
The Air Force had a terrible problem after World War II. It had far too many officers like LtCol Dunn who had gone from lieutenant to lieutenant colonel in just two or three years. What do you do? I used to hear about Air Force Colonels who commanded an Air Base one day reappearing the next day as a sergeant stocking the commissary shelves on the same base. What a bizarre world it was.


Anonymous said...

P-39s tumbling was a myth. While pilots thought they were tumbling, they were not actually doing so. My Dad flew the P-39 and attempted to make that plane tumble using various center of gravity positions, fuel and ammunition loads. It gyrated but did not tumble.

The driveshaft problem was a myth and rough running engines a maintenance problem. The other issues were knowing your plane and flying it properly.


HMS Defiant said...

The P39 was the frontline fighter of the Army Air Force from the beginning of the war. Only one American in all of World War II was able to shoot down 5 or more enemy aircraft while flying the P39. I agree that a lot of what people now accept as fact are often times little more than myth voodoo and legend but there are some people who delved into the facts:

I played the tradeoff game in design and procurement of weapon systems. It quickly becomes ugly if there are no SMEs in the room who can make valid argument about/against/for tradeoffs in capabilities. A fighter unique in not having a supercharger, a low combat ceiling, very short range and an automatic reduction in aerodynamic stability as it fires its weapons is perhaps 3 or 4 tradeoffs that shouldn't have been made in the first place.