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
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.
TALES OF A
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
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.