|Pilot 1st Lt Paul J. Larson, O-442520 (survived)
Ditched July 21, 1943 at 1:45pm
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank, California. Constructor Number 1028. Delivered to the U. S. Army. Disassembled and shipped overseas and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 35 Fighter Group, 39th Fighter Squadron. No known nose art or nickname.
On July 21, 1943 took off from Port Moresby at 9:30am on a fighter sweep over the Bogadjim area. Over the target area, the P-38s encountered a formation of thirty-seven Japanese fighters including nineteen Ki-43 Oscars from the 1st Sentai and 24th Sentai plus eighteen Ki-61 Tonys from the 68th Sentai and 78th Sentai.
During the air combat, this P-38 claimed an enemy fighter shot down but was damaged by gun fire that broke off a section of the left engine cowling. Damaged, Larson feathered the left engine and turned for home. The aircraft was then jumped by three Zeros [sic KI-43 Oscars or Ki-61 Tonys], one in particular being an excellent pilot, and it took considerable effort for Lt Larson to shake off his adversary.
After reaching the Papuan coast on the southern coast of New Guinea, the other good engine started to overheat. Due to the rocky shoreline, the Larson ditched the aircraft in the surf, close to shore. He stalled the aircraft, and on touching the water. the right propeller broke off, and the plane swung around to face the shore, five miles northwest of Yule Island, close to the shore or on the beach. Also lost was P-38 Lightning piloted by McCarthy (MIA).
Fate of the Pilot
Larson survived unhurt and later returned to duty.
He ended the war with the rank of Captain.
Larson passed away on December 9, 2000. He is buried at San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Santa Nella, CA at plot C-6, Site 419.
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Paul J. Larson
39th Fighter Squadron microfilm frames 553, 554 NARA microfilm M1065 16
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - P-38H Lightning 42-66517
Ki-61 Aces pages 21-22
4th Kokugun Takes Charge by Richard Dunn
"On July 21st the Type 3 fighters were involved in a real melee. Eighteen of the in-line engine fighters were part of the escort of 37 fighters that squired eight light bombers of the 208th FR for an attack on Australian positions on the Salamaua front. On the return flight they encountered an American strike mission in the vicinity of Bogadjim. Two squadrons of P-38s were escorting B-25s attacking Japanese road and bridge building sites when the action began. Both the 39th and 80th Fighter Squadrons claimed eleven victories. All the claims by the 80th were for “Zekes” while the 39th claimed Type 1 fighters and others identified as “Me 109s” or “resembling an Me 109.” Each American squadron lost one P-38 but four Type 3 fighters were shot down. 1Lt. Tomoshima who had claimed a victory on the 18th was wounded. One damaged Type 3 fighter landed at Tuvulu (Cape Gloucester) on western New Britain. It was quickly repaired and returned to Wewak the next day. One P-38 pilot attempted to elude the new fighter by going into a shallow dive. Speed built up to an indicated airspeed of 400 m.p.h. at low altitude but the Japanese fighter stayed with the P-38. The P-38 was saved when another P-38 dove steeply from above, fired at long range and chased the Japanese fighter away. The Japanese claimed eight victories so they thought they had bested the P-38s."
FindAGrave - Paul John Larson (grave photo)
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May 14, 2018