Bob Gale of the 88th FS/80th FG
by Mark Joyce

I thought you might be interested in these photographs, which I received from Bob Gale's private collection. Bob flew 160 missions in the P-40 followed by 22 in the P-47 with the 88th Fighter Squadron, 80th Fighter Group. I posted some additional information about Bob on the P-40 Warhawk forums a couple of years ago.

Here are some additional photos of the 80th FG from Bob Gale's collection.

Bob Gale beside his P-40

Bob Gale by P-40

Bob Gale flying Hiles P-40 over Naga Hill's escorting B-25 photo ship

Bob Gale in cockpit

In the first photograph, Bob is sitting on the wing, second from left. The others are unidentified. I have hoped to meet with Bob to try and identify the others but haven't talked to him in a couple of months. He's been fighting cancer and I don't know his current status.

On the P-40, from left to right: Charlie Hiel, unknown, "Doc" Parker, Robert Rowntree, Erwin Klumb. Standing by the nose is Jack Rockwell.

Note the name "Sue" on the cowling of the P-40N-1 that Bob is standing beside. Bob told me he is flying #10 in the first photograph, which he said was assigned to a pilot named Hiles, I believe. Unfortunately I can't make out the name under the windscreen of the P-40 and don't have anything else on this pilot. I'm fairly confident based on my research that Bob's assigned P-40 was #15 but haven't confirmed this 100%. This photo was taken during a mission escorting B-25s over the Naga Hills, which border India and Burma. You can see part of the B-25s vertical stabilizer on the right edge of the photo, so the photo was probably taken from the bomber's waist window. Note the mottled green on the P-40s tail. The marking on the fuselage just behind the cockpit is an arm and hand, with the middle finger outstretched.

The second photograph shows a P-40 with unusual nose art, the "Angels from Hell" emblem. The individual is unidentified.

The last photo is Bob with Squadron's mascot, a parrot.


Robert Gale, known as Bob to family and friends, was born on June 2nd, 1921, in Winters, California, the oldest of seven children. Even though he grew up during the Great Depression, he had a happy childhood. "I tell everyone that Mom was a magician" Bob recalls. "We kids were always bringing our friends over for lunch and dinner. Even though Mom never knew how many people would be there, she always had plenty of good food to eat."

After graduating from high school, Bob attended the University of California at Davis, then known as the College of Agriculture. Always wanting to fly, he signed up for the Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) Program. "Not only was it free, but I got ten college units out of it," he says. Bob also boxed on the school's team. "I was a Welterweight, but another guy in my weight class named Tobias was national champion. I couldn't beat him, so I ended up fighting in the next higher weight class, the Middleweight."

Everyone in his generation remembers where they were on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and Bob is no exception. The night before he had attended a dance in nearby Woodland, where a big guy started pushing him around and gave him the chance to utilize his boxing skills. "I cleaned his clocks," Bob muses. Unfortunately, this guy had some friends and, as a result, "I was pretty battered and bruised when I heard about Pearl Harbor," Bob sheepishly admits.

Bob enlisted in the Army in January, 1942, at McClellan Field in Sacramento, California. He wanted to be a pilot and passed all the necessary tests, but at the time 60 college units were required for aviation cadets and he only had 57. Bob checked with the college about getting a waiver for the three credits but was turned down. Not being easily deterred, he went to Sacramento State after hearing its Dean might lend him a sympathetic ear. "After pleading my case for 15 minutes, he wrote me out a transcript for the three units," Bob chuckles. With all requirements now met, he was soon on his way to Williams Field in Arizona for Preflight, the first step in becoming a pilot.

After completing Preflight, Bob was sent to Thunderbird Field near Phoenix for Primary, the next step in flight school. While there the movie "Thunder Birds," starring Gene Thiery, was being filmed. The movie documented the training that the cadets underwent, including physical fitness, and Bob became a movie star of sorts. "For a split second you can see me in the movie, boxing with a couple other cadets!" he exclaims. Bob also has a memory from the filming of famed stunt flyer Paul Mantz flying a P-12 biplane inverted over the barracks.

After Primary, Bob was off to Bakersfield for the next stage of flight training-Basic-where he flew the BT-13, usually referred to as the "Vultee Vibrator" by its pilots. Once Basic was completed, Bob returned to Arizona and Luke Field for the last stage of flight school-Advanced-where, he admits, "I almost washed out." He came down with pleurisy and didn't fly for two weeks. Although there was talk of putting him back a class, it was ultimately decided that he would fly as much as possible to catch up to his classmates. "My first flight after returning was a night flight at an auxiliary field," Bob remembers. "The traffic pattern is usually to the left, but that night it was to the right. So, naturally what do I do once taking off? Of course, I turned to the left!" Told to land immediately, Bob was scheduled for another attempt the following night, this time with the training commander. "He was a rough-talking major who had already been in combat and was not pleased to be in Training Command, and had the reputation of washing cadets out." Not only having to fly the AT-6, a difficult plane to land in the best of circumstances due to its narrow landing gear, Bob had to deal with having a disgruntled major on board who held his future in his hands. "I was petrified," Bob freely admits. However, "My landing was so smooth I didn't even know I was on the ground," he goes on to say, with a hint of pride in his voice. After landing, Bob taxied the plane in and turned it off. The major sat silently for a moment, then asked Bob how he thought he did. "Well, sir," Bob answered, "I don't know what to think." "That was a damn good ride!" the major replied, "Get back to your unit!"

As a result, Bob earned his wings, graduating in Class 42-H, and was commissioned a second lieutenant on August 27th, 1942. Best of all, he got his wish and became a fighter pilot.

After graduation from flight school, Bob was granted three weeks leave and returned home to Winters, awaiting his next orders. When he received them, he was pleased to learn he was being sent to the 1st Fighter Command at Mitchel Field. There, assigned to the 80th Fighter Group, he learned to fly the mighty P-47 Thunderbolt, which he initially viewed with a bit of uncertainty. "The last plane I flew was the AT-6 trainer and I hadn't flown at all while on leave, and here I am sitting in the P-47's cockpit behind a 2000 horsepower radial engine!" Bob exclaims. However, he found the plane easy to fly and became so proficient that, after only 50 hours in it, he was sent to what is now known as Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to be a test pilot. He spent nearly a month there, where almost every Friday a test pilot was killed in a crash, before returning to Mitchel Field and the 80th FG.

Another memorable and far-reaching event occurred to Bob while at Mitchel Field: he met his future wife, Annette. "Phil Adair, one of my squadron mates, set up a blind date between Annette and me," Bob relates. "No sparks flew on that first date but we met again two weeks later and started seeing each other. We wrote each other the whole time I was overseas."

When Bob returned to the 80th, he was assigned to the 89th Fighter Squadron under the command of Verl Luehring, and the entire group was getting ready to ship overseas, an event that still perturbs him. "Our P-47s were on the dock and we were ready to be shipped out to the ETO (European Theater of Operations), but the planes left without us." Bob goes on to explain, disappointment still evident in his voice after over 65 years, "They were given to the 56th FG, Zemke's Wolfpack, which ended up shooting down a lot of German airplanes!" Rumors abounded as to the reason, but Bob says the most plausible one is that General Stillwell needed the 80th FG for close ground-support of his troops in the CBI (China-Burma-India Theater).

As a result, the 80th FG was sent to Richmond, Virginia, where they flew P-40s "day and night for a week," as Bob puts it. After this brief familiarization in the Warhawk, the group boarded the RMS Mauretania and took to sea, eventually ending up in Karachi, India.

"Just outside of Karachi was an airfield at Malir, where we trained in combat-weary P-40s that had been flown by the AVG (American Volunteer Group, more famously known as the Flying Tigers)," Bob continues. He relates one experience from his time there: "One of the guys had flown an old P-40B and made a bad landing, dropping down hard on the landing gear. I was the next to fly the plane and, even though I made a pretty good landing, the right gear collapsed on me."

"Guess who got the pilot error? Me!" Bob adds in exasperation.

After a couple months of training at Malir, with Bob now assigned to the 88th Fighter Squadron, the 80th Fighter Group was sent to Assam and received the P-40Ns they would fly in combat. Units were broken up by flights and sent to surrounding airfields, with Bob ending up with 'A Flight' at a dirt airstrip near Dinjan. Most of the missions were against ground targets, and the squadron gradually honed its dive-bombing and skip-bombing skills. "We were given grid maps to show us where to bomb and strafe, some of it in support of Merrill's Marauders," Bob describes. It was while here that Bob chose the name for his P-40N, as he relates, "There was a distillery in Assam that put out the worse booze imaginable. Everyone referred to it as 'Dikam Death,' and it seem like an apt name at the time. I flew that plane quite a bit."

The 88th was the first squadron to go into Burma, being based at Shingbwiyang. "General Stilwell's ground troops had pushed the Japanese east," he explains. As the Japanese continued to be pushed back, plans were made for the 88th FS to move to another airfield at Myitkyina as soon as the Engineers repaired the strip. Through correspondence with his parents, Bob learned that his brother Donny, a sergeant in the infantry, was in the area as well. Bob was leading a flight one day, bombing and strafing in front of the ground troops, and had just pulled up from his run when Ground Control came on the radio and asked if there was a Lt. Gale in the area. Bob replied, "Speaking," and the next voice he heard on the radio was Donny's. About a week after this the 88th FS moved into Myitkyina, and Donny and one his infantry buddies visited Bob. "Everyone was digging slit-trenches at the time. Donny and his friend thought that was the funniest thing in the world, seeing air corps officers and enlisted men digging those trenches," Bob says. Right then and there the Japanese started shelling the airfield, and Bob laughs as he continues the story, "So, who were the first in the trenches? Donny and his friend!"

When the 88th FS first moved into Myitkyina the Japanese were just beyond the airfield, and there was what Bob refers to as a "1000 yard perimeter of defense." One of his missions was to knock out a bridge in the town. As Bob tells the story, "It was a solo mission, and I believe I was carrying a 500 pound bomb. I got that bridge, which was so close to the airfield it was in the traffic pattern. The whole mission lasted six minutes. I was written up in 'Stars & Stripes' for flying the shortest mission!"

Bob tells another story about Myitkyina: "One day, four Japanese Zeroes came in under our radar to strafe the field. Owen Allred and I happened to be out walking on the strip at the time. Owen turned and yelled to the guys working on our planes at the other end: 'Get down, they're Japs!' I looked up and saw the Zeroes peeling off to make their strafing run. Owen and I were caught in the open and started running off the field. Fortunately, the Japs were aiming for our planes and not at us. Still, I vividly remember the bullets hitting the ground near us, knocking up the dirt. After the Zeroes made their first pass, Owen and I jumped in some big ruts that had been made by a truck during the monsoon season. The Japs had also been dropping these canisters that contained anti-personnel bomblets. When Owen and I got out of those ruts when the Zeroes had left, one of those canisters was sticking out of the mud just yards from us. It was still smoking but fortunately was a dud. The Japs shot up some of our P-40s that day but no one was hurt."

It was while at Myitkyina that Bob had his only real opportunity to engage Japanese aircraft in the air, making the most of the encounter. He goes on to describe this mission: "It was about a week after the Zeroes had strafed us. Owen was leading our flight of four, but his wingman didn't get off. Tom O'Connor was on my wing. There was a pretty low overcast, so Owen went on instruments and took us up through it. When we broke through the overcast, the Japanese were milling around above us. Someone counted 40 of them. Well, everyone wants to get into it with the Japs, but not at those odds! Anyway, we were carrying 250 pound bombs for our mission and were slowly clawing upward, so Owen gets on the radio and says, "arm your bombs and drop them. Those are bandits up there." In the initial pass we all took hits, and Tom was shot down. We know he bailed out because we saw his parachute, but later heard the Japs executed him when he hit the ground. Owen and I played hide-and-seek with the Japs in the clouds, and when I came out of the clouds at one point a Jap plane was right in front of me. I snuck up on him from behind and got him, and a little later shot down a second the same way. I was just lucky. Owen also shot one down, as well as damaging one or two more. When we landed, I couldn't count the bullet holes in my plane but my tail section was pretty shot up. That P-40 was a pretty tough plane!"

Bob enjoys sharing another story about Owen Allred: "Owen had to fly up to Nepal, north of Assam, one day to drop medicine to the natives. When he rolled back his canopy to drop the medicine, the wind blew his sunglasses off. The natives found his sunglasses, and sent a runner all the way from Nepal to Assam to return them!"

As things wound down at Myitkyina, the squadron returned to Shingbwiyang. Shortly thereafter the squadron transitioned to the P-47, the same plane taken away from it at the docks so long ago. However, Bob resisted this transition as long as possible, explaining, "I preferred the P-40 over the P-47 for our type of work because it was more maneuverable, which was an important factor due to the mountainous terrain we had to bomb and strafe. At the time we transitioned I was flight commander and kept the P-40 as long as I could. I was the last in the squadron to give it up. I flew 160 missions in the P-40." However, Bob admits the P-47 had its virtues: "It was great for strafing with those eight .50 caliber wing guns, and as the guys in Europe showed that big radial engine would keep running even when pieces were shot off of it."

After finally transitioning to the P-47, Bob led a flight of four to bomb a Japanese stronghold and ammunition dump. "I think each of us was carrying two 500-pound bombs. Our primary target was the ammo dump. I was the first one to drop my bombs and got a direct hit on the dump, causing a huge explosion. The others in my flight had to resort to bombing secondary targets!"

One of the most memorable things while Bob was in the CBI was the food; or, to be more precise, the poor quality of it. "The food just wasn't too good. We rarely received fresh meat, so some of the guys supplemented our diet by hunting pigs and some type of big deer." Bob laughs as he recalls how the flight surgeon conveniently looked the other way when performing one of his tasks, that of inspecting this meat. "The guys wanted fresh meat so badly that Doc Parker hardly glanced at it and deemed it okay!"

Bob flew 22 missions in the P-47 and as his tour came close to ending, he flew up to Chittagong, where the 459th Fighter Squadron was based. Bob explains the reason for one of his trips there: "When the 80th Fighter Group was formed in the States, it was composed of three squadrons: the 88th, 89th, and 90th, each flying the P-40. The 459th was formed in India, attached to us, and flew the P-38 Lightning. Those pilots were seeing quite a lot of action and getting a number of aerial victories, so crazy guys like me were envious of them! The 459th was commanded by my former squadron commander, Lt. Col. Luehring, and I had the opportunity to join the outfit and even checked out in the P-38. I was a captain by then, and Luehring was honest with me and said if I joined the squadron I would start out flying 'tail-end Charlie,' the least desirable position. I certainly understand his reasoning, but in the end decided it was time to return home."

With his tour over, Bob flew back to the states on a B-24 bomber converted to haul fuel, "sitting under the gas tank all the way from Burma." He arrived in Miami on January 29th, 1945, after 18 months of combat overseas. The first thing he did was call Annette and propose to her. They were married the following Sunday, February 4th, in New York. Annette was a telephone operator on Wall Street at the time, and when they returned to Bob's home in California her bosses were able to use their influence to insure the two of them had seats on all the associated flights; something of no guarantee at that time even with Bob's military connection. Her bosses even went so far as pulling a passenger off a plane in Dallas to provide the needed seats. "That guy was pretty irate!" Bob remembers.

Bob ended up attending Instrument Instructor School at Perrin Field outside Deniston, Texas, with Annette in tow. He was there the same time as two famous fighter aces: Chuck Yeager and "Bud" Anderson. There were some memorable events that occurred to Bob while at Perrin Field, including an airshow he participated in. "I was assigned to fly a newer model P-47 that had been stripped of all armor and armament," Bob relates. "The guy before me flew a P-51 Mustang, and he was one helluva pilot. He took off and had just cleared the ground when he did a snap-roll with the gear still down, then immediately did another snap-roll in the opposite direction." Sitting in the cockpit of the P-47 as he witnessed this spectacular display, the only agonizing thought going through Bob's mind was, "What can I do to best that?!" After taking off and doing a few aerobatics, "I decided to do an 8-point slow roll at 200," Bob continues. "I was half-way through it and inverted, when something just didn't feel right. So, I pushed the stick forward and climbed straight up, and that stripped-down P-47 really moved. When I landed, everyone including the other pilots thought I had planned this and told me how impressive it was to see that P-47 shoot skyward. I had to admit that it was a broken maneuver!" Bob laughs.

Deniston was the birthplace of Dwight Eisenhower, which involved another unforgettable event for Bob while stationed at Perrin Field. "The town fixed General Eisenhower's house all up and had a home-coming for him," Bob explains. "Brass came from all over the day of the event. After it ended I went to the officer's club. I was having a drink with another guy when the phone rang. I picked it up, and it was the operations officer asking if any C-45 pilots were there. Well, I had checked out and flown in the C-45, but I'm not going to admit this, so all I said in return was 'I'll check.' Of course I replied that there are none, at which time the operations officer recognized my voice and said, 'Gale, that's you isn't it?' When I admitted it was, the operations officer said, 'Get your ass down here! You're going to fly General Leonard back to Camp Hood.' I turned to the guy who I had been drinking with and told him that he was going to be my copilot, and we immediately headed down to the flight line." General Leonard happened to be the commander of Camp Hood, and when he and his aide got aboard the C-45 the general sat in the jump-seat just behind the pilot and co-pilot. "As we flew to Camp Hood I would look back and check on the General, and he would give me the 'okay' sign with his thumb and forefinger while smoking his cigar," Bob remembers. "The airstrip at Hood was short and narrow, meant for L-5s. I wanted to get a good look at it before landing so, naturally, I buzzed the strip and than landed that plane like a fighter pilot would. As I taxied into the ramp, I noticed a huge sign that said, 'Absolutely no buzzing by order of the commanding general.' Well, you can imagine my concern, since I had the commanding general in my plane!" Bob admits. Nervously getting out of the plane, Bob was relieved when the general thanked him for the good flight. "He even invited my copilot and me to dinner," Bob recalls, "but we declined because we had to get back to our base."

Following his experiences at Perrin Field, Bob and Annette ended up at Barksdale Field near Shreveport, Louisiana, where he was an Instrument Instructor. However, he ultimately decided to leave the service and return to civilian life. "When I left separated from the service in 1947, I was a captain on flying status and making $711 a month. I went to work for my father, a contractor in Winters, and made $250 a month!" Bob says. However, he ultimately got his contractor's license, doing much work for at the University of California at Davis over the years. He and Annette stayed in the area where he was born, where they raised their family of two sons and two daughters.

© Mark Joyce 2013