Major Julian Jack Thomas
In March 1943, Major Julian 'Jack' Thomas in command of the 45th Fighter Squadron in Hawaii requested the transfer of some of his men who trained with him during their stay on Midway and Lt. Moore was one of them. In July the 45th received orders that they had all been looking for - the squadron was headed for a combat assignment. They departed Hawaii on 18 August 1943 and after a seven day voyage joined the 46th FS on Canton Island and then on 11 September, they headed for a new base on Baker Island. This new base put them within 600 miles of Japanese bases, and enemy contact was now a real possibility. The 45ths mission on Baker was twofold; they were to provide combat air patrol for the island, and to search for enemy submarines and surface shipping. Their only opportunity for aerial combat over Baker was a successful one. On 23 October an unsuspecting Emily fling boat was bounced by pilots of the 45th at a point south of Baker Island and Captain Gilmer Snipes shot it down in flames.
On 20 November 1943 Army and Marine troops stormed ashore on the Tarawa and Makin Atolls in the Gilbert Islands and began the bloody task of securing these islands. These islands plus Abemama were secured by 28 November, and the 45th FS along with the 46th and 72nd Fighter Squadrons moved to their new forward bases in the Gilberts. The 46th and 72nd moved to Makin, and the 45th ended up on Abemama. During the month of December the bulk of aerial action was carried out by the 46th and 72nd FSs flying P-39s, while the 45th outfitted with longer ranged P-40Ns sat and waited. The missions to Mili and Jaluit were beginning to take quite a toll on these two squadrons, and finally in mid-January 1944 the 45th was brought into action. The 45ths first mission was on 17 January, and they attacked flak emplacements and barracks on Mili with bombs and stafing. During the next several days the 45th continued their strafing missions against Jaluit and Mili.
The purpose of these continuing interdiction missions against Mili and Jaluit was to render them totally useless to the Japanese. With the invasion of the Marshall Islands rapidly approaching the Navy could ill-afford Japanese air units on these islands. In the meantime B-24s and B-25s were striking at targets deeper in the Marshalls. These targets were beyond the range of our fighters and as a result the bombers were suffering heavy casualties. This situation was both frustrating and disturbing to the fighter pilots who wanted to protect the bombers and have a crack at the enemy fighters. The solution to this problem came about on 25 January because of a rescue mission.
On that date a B-25 was downed in the waters off Arno Atoll, and any rescue attempt would require fighter escort. This atoll was beyond the normal operating range of the fighters, and though it was possible for the P-39s and P-40s to fly the 600-mile round trip it meant they would have to pass right over Mili. If any enemy was encountered, the fighters would have to drop their external tanks and this would prevent them from continuing on to Arno. Even if no enemy was encountered they could only orbit over the rescue area for about forty minutes. In spite of the odds against them the fighters did fly the mission successfully, and in doing so a plan for ambushing enemy fighters was born. It was known that the Japanese fighters would follow our returning bombers to at least this point because they had no fear of being intercepted by our fighters. With this thought in mind an ambush mission to take place over Arno Atoll was planned and carried out on 26 January 1944.
This mission which Todd Moore now considers his most memorable mission began with the B-25s of the 41st Bomb Group heading out to hit Japanese airfields deep in the Marshall Islands. They would be unescorted over the target area and for a part of the return trip, however the B-25 crews knew that as they passed back over the Arno Atoll our fighters would be waiting for the unsuspecting Japanese fighters.
As the B-25s passed over this point the Japanese pilots were to busy to notice P-40s boring in on them. Within minutes the Japanese force had been decimated. Ten enemy aircraft were destroyed, two more listed as probables, and none of our fighters were lost. One of those victories, his first, was scored by Lt. Moore. Moore saw a Zero trying to sneak away from the fight and went after it. As Lt. Moore approached the Japanese pilot saw him and turned for a head-on attack. Moore stayed with the Zero and fired a burst which hit its engine and wing root. As their planes passed each other, Lt. Moore turned and got on the Zeros tail. 'As I closed in on the Zero, he turned slowly over on his back as though the pilot was already dead. I closed to about 700 feet and gave him a slight lead and exploded the fighter with a very short burst.'
It had been an exceptional mission. The 45th pilots had not only won a great victory in their first large air battle, but they had also demonstrated their skills as aviators by flying round trip of over 800 statute miles over water to accomplish the mission.
The Japanese pulled their fighter units out if the area later in that same day, and the bombers never faced them again during the remainder of the Marshalls campaign. On 10 March 1944 the campaign ended and the 45th returned to Hawaii to rejoin the rest of the group.
The 45th was later equipped with P-51s and specialized in VLR (very long range) missions from Iwo Jima.
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This webpage was updated 8th January 2017