P-38 Combat

P-38 Lightning combat with Me 109s and subsequent bail out. Source: “P-38 Combat”, Informational Intelligence Summary, No. 44-2, Office of the Assistant Chief of Air Staff, Intelligence, Washington, D.C., Jan. 10, 1944.

P-38 COMBAT

In the following interview Major Kelly Mitchim describes a fight with Me 109s, evasive tactics used and bailing out procedure.

We were on a mission against Capua airdrome, just north of Naples, with 24 P-38s escorting a group of B-25s. There were two sections of three flights each, counter-weaving across the top of the bombers, and I was flying top cover for the last section. Two Messerschmitt 109s came in at six o’clock and when I saw them they had already opened fire on my Number Four man. I immediately broke into them without stopping to drop my belly tanks. My Number Two man, who was slightly inexperienced, lost me and left me there by myself. I came around and tried to drop my belly tanks, but evidently I had blown a fuse because they would not release. The two Me 109s dived on me from about nine o’clock and I turned into them and fired a burst at the second one. The first one slid under my tail and hit my left engine, the left belly tank, and the cockpit which set my plane on fire immediately.

I had been told by a P-38 pilot who had been in combat that the best way to get an enemy plane off your tail in a P-38 was to snatch back the left throttle, throw full throttle to the right engine, and do a right stick and right rudder. I don’t know what it does, but it is something like an upward sliding roll. The main thing that I desired was to get him off my tail, and it did that.

Next I began thinking about bailing out. My plane was burning very badly; smoke and flames were in the cockpit. I smashed the escape hatch and tried to roll it to the left but it would not roll over. I stood up to bail out and nearly got my head blown off. I sat back again but the smoke and flames were now so bad that I could not see my airspeed or altimeter, so I pulled back on the stick and pulled her straight up almost into a stall, stood up in the seat, and rolled out backwards. I think as I went out that the nose came down, the tail went up, and I went under it. I am not sure how it was. I pulled my rip cord at about 5,000 feet–I was wearing an English chute and it worked very well.

There is one point that I think should be stressed to all P-38 pilots which had not been stressed to me. That is, do not smash your escape hatch too quickly. It draws all the flames and all the smoke immediately into the cockpit. The escape hatch should not be pulled off until the moment you are ready to drop out of the plane.

See Also: Bailing Out of a P-38 Lightning
 

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