Profile no 61. Republic P-47D-3-RA Thunderbolt

"Fiery Ginger IV", flown by Colonel Neal E. Kearby, 5th Fighter Command, Finchhafen/New Guinea, March 1944
Neal E. Kearby served with a number of units until in December of 1940, when he was posted to the 14th Pursuit Squadron as its new commander. In October 1943, he was promoted to Major and transferred to command the 348th FG. In June 1943, the unit arrived in Australia and as directed by their commander, the pilots learned to use the P-47's flight characteristics to their full advantage. On 4 September Kearby opened his score by shooting down a G4M bomber and a Ki-43 fighter. His best day came on 11 October, when leading his group on a fighter sweep over Wewak, they ran into 40 IJAAF fighters. In the ensuing air-combat that lasted nearly a full hour, Kearby managed to shoot down six enemy planes, four Ki-43s and two Ki-61s. In all, the 348th pilots claimed nine enemy aircraft without a scratch to any of their Razorbacks. This was also the highest single mission score of a USAAF unit. This action made Kearby the first P-47 ace of the Pacific, and resulted in a recommendation for the Medal of Honor, which he eventually received from the hand of General Douglas MacArthur in January 1944. In November 1943, with 12 victories to his credit, Col. Neal Kearby was transferred to the headquarters of the 5th Air Force Fighter Command. Despite his assignment to administrative duties he continued to fly missions whenever he could, and his victory tally continued to rise. For a time, Kearby was in competition with Capt. Richard Bong to be the leading Army ace of the Pacific Theater. By early March 1944, Richard Bong and Thomas Lynch were both close to breaking the American World War I record, with Kearby close behind. This quest would be his downfall, as on 5 March 1944, he took off on a combat patrol with Capt. Dunham and Major Blair to search for any Japanese aircraft to shoot down. When reaching the Tadji area, they spotted three enemy fighters over Wewak approaching their airfield at Dagua. Kearby bounced one of the Ki-43s but did not observe if it went down, so he made a tight turn for another attack. While performing this maneuver, he was attacked and shot down by a Ki-43 from the 77th Sentai. As he descended in his parachute, Kearby´s aircraft crashed into the jungle below, but the pilot himself became entangled in a tree and died of bullet wounds from the attack. His remains were not found until 1947 by a RAAF search team. With 22 confirmed victories during the Pacific War, Kearby was the highest scoring P-47 pilot fighting in this theatre. Note that Col. Kearby named all of his aircraft "Fiery Ginger", after his red-headed wife Virginia. The vertical tail fin of "Fiery Ginger IV" was later recovered from the crash site and is now on public display at the USAAF Museum in Dayton, Ohio.

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

© Claes Sundin 2019