Profile no 25. Bell P-39D-1-BE Airacobra

White P, flown by Lieutenant I. A. Erickson, 35th FS, 8th FG, 5th AF USAAF, Milne Bay/New Guinea, October 1942
Milne Bay is located on the south-eastern tip of New Guinea. The area came to the attention of senior Allied officers in May of 1942, when General Douglas MacArthur decided that an airbase should be established so that aircraft could patrol over the eastern seaward approaches to Port Moresby and raid Rabaul. Development of the first airstrips at Milne Bay began in July of 1942, and by the end of August, nearly 9,000 Allied personnel, mostly Australians, were based there. After a number of ground battles, the Japanese suffered their first real land defeat, a significant morale booster showing that the Japanese soldier was not invincible. The Allies continued to develop the base at Milne Bay to support the counter-offensive along the northern coast of Papua and New Guinea. On 21 September, the 35th and 36th Squadrons of the 8th FG arrived at Milne Bay to replace No. 75 and No. 76 Squadrons RAAF and their P-40s. Here the 8th FG P-39Ds, throughout 1942, were forced into the role of fighters, something definitely not suited to the type, especially when combating the A6M Reisen. Although the two machines were similar in size, the P-39 was much heavier, had a poor rate-of-climb, poor range, and inadequate performance at altitude. The P-39 did have a heavy punch however, armed with one 20 mm M1 cannon, two fuselage-mounted 0.50-inch machine guns and four 0.30 machine guns in the wings. This was however offset by the fact that the P-39 was prone to spin out if the center of gravity was not properly considered before flight, a misunderstood ammo loading issue. It also had poor protection for its pilots. Taking this all into account, one could understand the difficult circumstances under which the pilots of the two USAAF squadrons were forced to fight. Note Lt. Erickson´s personal artwork on the forward fuselage, a skeleton steering a bomb with a control column.

Note that this is one of the 130 profiles/captions included in my new Pacific Fighter Book.

© Claes Sundin 2020