50 caliber Bullet holes are visible
on the left side of the fuselage, behind the cockpit, and appear to be the
only damage to the exterior of the aircraft.
The pilot of F6F 25839 is deceased since 1978. His wingman, Lt. (jg) Beaumont was alive in 1986 and might still be alive today. At present, we have been unable to locate him.
Facts in the Case
Summary of September 16, 1943
A6M3 Zero, A6M2 Zero (204th Kōkūtai)
Ki-61 Tony (reported, none flying)
F6F Hellcat (first combat mission flown in theater)
F4U Pilots Know To Have Flown the mission:
VMF-214 'The Black Sheep'
A total of 24 F4Us participate in the mission, one aborts.
A total of 11 victories
and 8 probables are awarded.
Stan Bailey (1 probable victory)
Bob Alexander (1 Zero victory)
Major Gregory 'Pappy' Boyington (5 Zeros claimed)
Lt. Don 'Mo' Fisher (2 Zero victories / Boyington's wingman)
Lt. Virgil Ray (1 probable victory)
Lt. John Begert (2 Zero victories)
Lt. Bill Case (1 probable victory)
Lt. McCartney (2 probable victories)
Lt. Chris Magee (1 probable victory)
Lt. Bob McClurg (1 Zero victory, also observed a Zero shoot down an F6F)
Lt. Ed Olander (1 probable victory)
Lt. Bruce Matheson (1 probable victory)
F4U Corsair 17127 Captain Ewing, last seen attacking
Zeros, first combat
loss and MIA of VMF-214
Lt. Paul 'Moon' Mullen
Lt. Tom Emrich
Lt. Denmark Groover, Jr.
Victory Claims & Actual Losses
VMF-214: 11 victories, 8 probables
VF-38, VF-40: claimed 5 Zeros, 1 Tony, 1 probable
A total of 17 victories and 9 probables
One F4U is MIA, three F6Fs are lost including F6F 25839, two pilots rescued
Japanese records indicate five Zero from the 204 Kōkūtai,
one Zero from the 201 Kōkūtai
Japanese claimed 4 fighters shot down, and 2 damaged, which was exaggerated.
Boyingtons's Claims & Kills
The night before, he had a troubled sleep fearing failure because of insufficient
pilots' preparation compared to the several months training of other units. During the mission, Boyington claimed:
A6M3 Zero fired from behind at 150' cockpit aflame, rolled left
plunged straight down hit the water 10 miles east of Ballale [Credit Awarded
for this kill]
2) A6M3 Zero, fired from yards astern, blew up in front of him,
he flew thru debris (minor damage / dents to his F4U)
Spotted a pair of F6Fs flying close formation and escorting the [TBF] bombers home,
a Hamp began firing on the F6F, too close to the bombers to maneuver. The Zero
overshot the F6Fs, and pulled into a loop, Boyington attacked...
3) A6M3 Zero lost airspeed and Boyington fired at it, shooting
it down in a flaming arch as it stalled.
4) A6M3 Zero fired on head-on and knocks off pieces of the cowling at 300
yards, left it streaming smoke, and watched the fighter in a slow glide for
about 10 miles until it finally hit the water.
Fired on a Zero at 600 yards (1/3 mile), saw it smoking, but did not follow
it because he was low on fuel and ammo. [Aside from mention in combat report,
not claimed as victory or probable].
Comments by Researchers
by Justin Taylan
I dove F6F Hellcat "Betsy-II" 25839 in September 2003. There is no doubt this plane was damaged by machine gun
fire, according to mission reports,
and damage visible the wreck. If
it was from the F4U Corsair piloted by Boyington is another question. He did fly that mission,
and in his reports mentions coming close to a pair of F6Fs, then making his
3rd kill that day. There
are examples of American friendly fire incidents, luckily this one was not
fatal to the F6F pilot. Boyingtons' account of the day does
talk about misidentifying an F4U momentarily in the action, and following
it. But, for whatever reason,
we may never know who damaged this Hellcat.
Comments by Bruce Gamble
VMF-214 Records for September 16, 1943 - Nothing Mentioned
"I did not leave out information [in my books
The Black Sheep and Black
Sheep One] regarding the events of September 16. I've
heard rumors about Boyington being blamed for downing an F6F, but there's
nothing mentioned in the VMF-214 paperwork. In
my book "The Black Sheep" I covered the September 16 event beginning
on page 200 and it goes on for 10 pages. I discussed claims vs. losses, and
here is a notable excerpt:
The Black Sheep pages 209-210:
"With so much confusion in the air, contention over specific claims was
inevitable. In the case of the Black Sheep's first combat, an argument arose
when a Navy pilot landed his F6F at Banika and complained that Greg Boyington
had taken credit for some of his victories. George Britt became involved as the
I do have a photocopy of the handwritten war diary kept by the VMF-214 intel
officer (1/LT Frank Walton). In it, all that is mentioned of the Navy fighters
is that "a flight of F6Fs provided medium cover at 17,000."
think VMF-214 may have been the only F4U squadron involved. The
only way to know is to check the MAG-11 and MAG-21 (VMF-121, VMF-221, VMF-223,
VMF-234) war diaries at NARA. The
former was at Turtle Bay, the latter at Banika in the Russells. There
was some overlap between them as to who had operational/administrative control
over various squadrons. So those are two more documents to dig up in
addition to the VF-38 combat reports that you indicated. I can't think
of any other pilots who might be considered "famous" on that mission. It's
just an odd definition for that time period. As you suggest, maybe
those comments were made later. The case is certainly interesting. It
is true that a VMF-214 F4U attacked PT
126 only two weeks later,
as it turns out), and the details are covered in The Black Sheep.
I'll try to help get to the bottom of this mystery (which is what I consider
it at this stage), and it may take a few emails and searches to reach a conclusion.
I have not seen the mission report from the VF squadron involved, nor have
I read the debriefing. It would help me to have copies of those relevant
"[The Navy F6F pilot] was mad as hell that Boyington
claimed the same planes, but Boyington was very adamant that he was the one
to get credit, and he got it. His story sounded more plausible. "Sour grapes," said Boyington,
after the lieutenant commander stormed out of the operations hut."
That quote is from then-Maj. George F. Britt, who was MAG-21 Operations
Officer at the time. It refers directly to the post-mission debriefings on Sept. 16, and he did not mention a brouhaha over someone claiming that Boyington
accidentally shot down a Hellcat. When I interviewed Britt, he remembered that the Navy pilot was a LDCR, but couldn't recall his name.
Britt was still sharp as a tack, however, and if there had been some question about Boyington shooting down a Hellcat by mistake, I'm sure Britt
would have remembered being directly involved in the investigation or debriefing.
So that's one pretty solid piece of circumstantial evidence to refute the
myth. If you can provide some information from the F6F pilot's side, I'd
like to keep digging. Keep in mind that all of the findings will be circumstantial.
Did the F6F pilot really get a good look at the plane
that shot him? How would he know that it was Boyington in a particular Corsair?
More than twenty were in the air, and none had personal markings. National
insignias and two- or three-digit models were the only markings. What if the Navy pilot was embarrassed over being shot down, and merely
claimed he was the victim of friendly fire to save face?
Also, Boyington wasn't famous at the beginning of his tour with the Black
Sheep. I would venture that there were plenty of other fighter pilots in
the Solomons who had better recognition than Boyington at that time. Conversely,
after Boyington did become famous/notorious, he was associated by default
with all sorts of deeds that he wasn't remotely involved in. He had plenty
of detractors who didn't like him or were jealous of his record. This is
why there are so many myths surrounding his life.
Comments by Henry Sakaida
Boyington had two combats in September 1943 in which he made claims. One
was September 16 and the other was the 27th. I have a microfilm of all USN losses in WWII. I checked both dates for F6F
losses. None was lost on the 27th, but 4 were lost on September 16th when
VF-38 joined with VMF-214 in combat around Ballale.
Of the four Hellcat losses, 3 pilots were saved. The survivors
F6F piloted by
Lt(jg) Moore (ditched, rescued by coastwatcher Kennedy)
F6F 27769 (Lt(jg) Leland Baucom Cornell, also
F6F 25839: LtCdr John Howard Anderson (not killed,
he claimed a Zeke damaged on Jan 24);
F6F 25940, Lt(jg) Wayne W Presley (seen to crash
into sea, MIA);
F4U 17127 VMF-214 lost an F4U (Ewing)
TBF-1 06452 VMTB-233
pilot Lt. Edward A. Croker) over Ballale.
TBF-1 23909 VC-40
pilot Lt(jg) Rowland D. Hahn over Ballale.
(other losses that same day in other parts of the Pacific)
VMF(N)-531 lost a PV-1N at Savo (Lt Miller).
VB-9 lost an SBD-4 in the East Central Pacific (no name given)
VF-9 lost one Hellcat in the West Central Pacific, no name given)
So you will have to track down the survivors' families to see if the friendly
fire incident by Boyington is true. I checked the Tailhook Association Directory
and none were listed; they could be deceased. Write to the National Archives
and pull the mission report for VF-38. Contact Bruce Gamble and see if he
had heard this rumor.
I have the report of VMF-214 as written verbatim by Bob McClurg. I'll make
some photocopies to send to you. Boyington was credited with 5 victories
that day, but he was over claiming! VF-38 claimed 6 Zeros and 4 damaged;
the Blacksheeps claimed 11 Zeroes with 8 probables!!! The claims by RNZAF
P-40s is unknown. The Japanese lost 6 or 7 in this fight.