Excerpted from US Army Aviation Digest, December 1962, The Army Aviation Story by Richard Tierney, Part VII, The War Years, Europe—Pacific—Korea

After Italy fell, World War II raged on in Europe and the Pacific. As Allied might grew, so did the Army’s confidence in its liaison pilots.


During the invasion of France in June 1944, most of the Army’s liaison planes were dismantled and loaded on trucks which were carried across the English Channel to Normandy on LSTs. However, quite a few aircraft were flown across the English Channel. The story of how the 4th Infantry Division flew its aircraft across the channel reflects problems typical to those encountered by other divisions.

Prior to the invasion Capt James Gregorie (now Lt Col), the 4th Infantry Division artillery aviation officer, preselected an area in France near St. Martin de Varreville to set up the division airstrip. It was planned that he would proceed with the ground forces to the preselected area on D-day (6 June) and if it was usable as an airstrip he would notify his assistant, 1st Lt Dave Condon (now deceased), by radio to bring the aircraft from England.

Captain Gregorie arrived at Utah Beach in Normandy on D-day. At about 1500 hours he located the area, but found that artillery fire had left it in an unusable condition. He searched until the next morning before finding an area suitable for an airstrip. At about 0700 on the 7th (D+1) he wired Lieutenant Condon to come ahead.

Lt Dave Condon after landing in France on D+1.

The L-5s had enough range to fly across the channel and back to England if necessary. This was not normally true for the L-4s, which had to carry additional fuel. The 4th Infantry Division L-4s had 8-gallon oxygen tanks filled with fuel and temporarily attached to the back seats. A fuel line ran from the extra tank to the main tank, which gave the L-4s 20 gallons of gas and enabled them to easily make the flight across the channel.

After receiving Captain Gregorie’s message, Lieutenant Condon flew the division L-5 in lead of the L-4s. Since Lieutenant Condon was not fully briefed about the location of the new strip, Captain Gregorie monitored the radio at the divarty command post. About 1300 Lieutenant Condon checked into the divarty net. Smoke grenades were placed on the strip and Captain Gregorie talked him in on the radio.

By the time Lieutenant Condon arrived with the planes, all of the division’s artillery had been brought ashore. However, the batteries had not been registered because hedgerows limited visibility. Since the principal concern was to get the guns registered, Captain Gregorie and Lieutenant Condon immediately took off in the L-5 without refueling and registered the first artillery fire on Utah Beach.

Meanwhile Maj J. Elmore Swenson (now Col) and his “29th Air Force,” as he called his 29th Infantry Division artillery aviation section, had arrived at Omaha Beach under similar circumstances. Major Swenson called in one of the first fire missions on Omaha Beach. Also, the 1st Infantry Division air section set up on Omaha Beach on D-day and flew its first mission on the morning of D+1. Lieutenant R.S. Harper (killed in action about a month later) and Sgt F.E. Donley received heavy ground fire on the first mission and had to force land their L-4.

The Cub demonstrated what has been called its greatest efficiency on the Normandy battlefront. The Air OPs maintained excellent observation over the entire front except during the worst weather. Brigadier General George Shea stated: “Without the Cub plane practically all our fires would have been unobserved. With the Cub, weather permitting, we could observe most of our fire. Any artilleryman knows what that means.”

A veteran fighter pilot from the 9th Tactical Air Force in Europe had nothing but admiration for the Grasshopper pilots. In an article appearing in Wing Talk in 1944 [February 17, 1945], Capt Harold H. Strickland wrote: “I watched one of the Grasshoppers—’Li’l Sour-puss’—hovering over a tiny pasture near Isigny (in Normandy). Within the pasture there were slit trenches, foxholes and cows. Completely surrounding it were trees and concrete telephone poles. A 20-mile-an-hour wind was blowing across it, a gusty wind, too. It was raining. It was dark. And the field was small even for a Grasshopper.

“The pilot dragged it methodically, then straightened out for a cross-wind landing, gliding and crabbing into the wind with such a high drift angle that the ship appeared to be flying sidewise. He did a neat turn around a beech tree at an airspeed close to the stall. He maintained the large angle of yaw and a side. slip until just before it touched down, then straightened out in the direction of flight with downwind rudder and aileron into the wind. He dropped it in about 12 inches.

“It was a good landing, under full control, squarely in the middle of the pasture at a place where apple trees served as a windbreak. Yet, from our position in the hedgerow, we were wondering. He was rolling fast, and straight ahead of him were the cows. As usual, they wouldn’t budge. Having survived barrages, naval shelling and blockbusters, these Normandy cows cared little about the intricacy of a cross-wind landing. Grasshopper crews, though, have learned to evaluate one risk against another, and sometimes considerable juggling of values is required.

“Li’l Sourpuss headed into the cows, then decelerated at a remarkable rate. It was deceleration seldom witnessed in peacetime and was achieved because the pilot dropped it in, utilized the braking effect of tall grass and applied brakes heavily—far back toward the tail his plane carried a spare propeller.

“With these extraordinary assurances of deceleration, he rolled close up to the nearest cow, executed a neat, controlled groundloop into the wind, then asked if there were any unexploded shells around.

“It wasn’t all luck. It was good airmanship and good headwork of the kind that is required every day from the wartime Grasshoppers.”

A “baffle plate” on an L-4 cowling helps keep the engine warm in cold weather.

After Allied armored columns began penetrating the Brittany Peninsula, it was necessary for the liaison pilots to fly as much as 40 miles from their base fields to expeditiously relay information to Corps. The Air OPs often were the only source of contact with the rapidly advancing armored columns. During the rapid advance the liaison pilots also were on the job in front of Allied troops. From the Air OPs they kept track of enemy positions and flew road and bridge reconnaissance missions. Some units were reluctant to move unless a Cub was above them to give information.

A little more than a year after Rome fell, the Allies were on the verge of liberating Paris. As had been the case at Rome, the liaison pilots were “invading” the capital before the Germans had pulled out.

Lieutenant Ross Hazeltine and an unidentified liaison pilot were among the first to fly into Paris. However, their first trip turned out to be a little premature. On 23 August 1944 they decided to land at the Longchamp Race Track, on the west side of the city, between the Seine and the Bois de Boulogne. They skimmed the rooftops over peaceful Versailles, passed near the Eiffel Tower, and slipped under a bridge. They came sailing out over the race track and “straight toward the biggest antiaircraft gun either of us had ever seen,” writes Lieutenant Hazeltine.

“We saw a few Germans run into the gunpit and the rest headed for machineguns,” he continues. “We ducked for the river. They missed us, but I’ll never know how because we were flying at the fantastic speed of 60 mph!”

Autobahn serves as an airstrip for Army L-4s in March 1945.

During the Battle of the Bulge the infantry was continually calling for the Cubs, but they were having trouble taking off in the deep snow. Lieutenant Tony Epsaro (now Lt Col) solved this problem for the 87th Infantry Division. He told the division aviation officer, Capt Ted Shirmacher (now Lt Col), that he would get skis for their Cubs. No one believed Lieutenant Epsaro could swing it, but in about 4 days an Army Air Force truck arrived at the airstrip with ten sets of skis. It seems Lieutenant Epsaro had once met and impressed an Army Air Force colonel who made good a promise to help out Lieutenant Epsaro and his fellow Grasshopper pilots if he ever could. The skis were put to good use, and the 87th contends that its Cubs were the first to use skis in combat.

Ski-fitted L-4 lands in France in January 1945.

Lieutenant Samuel Fein, a liaison pilot with the 2d Armored Division, also was involved in a “first” during the Battle of the Bulge. While flying his Cub on a routine mission, he was startled by several German “buzz bombs” which whizzed past his plane. Circling, he located a portable ramp and saw another buzz bomb launched.

Lieutenant Fein called in artillery fire from American and British batteries, and in a few moments the launching platform was destroyed. Later it was learned that this was the first time the Germans had launched the buzz bombs from right behind their own lines. Thanks to the sharp eyes of an artillery pilot, a German “first” backfired.

L-4s are dug in for protection from artillery fire.

During the rapid advance on the Rhine, the Air OPs proved invaluable in controlling unit movements when ground communications could not be used. On one mission Lt Horace E. Watson, of the 8th Armored Division, spotted a recon outfit held up by a blown bridge. He circled the area and found another bridge the troops could use. Lieutenant Watson made a low pass over the troops and with engine idling yelled, “Follow me.” They did, and in a short while another town was liberated.

The Air OPs were a part of a novel plan devised to help support General George Patton’s assault on the Rhine River. It was devised by Brig Gen Edward T. (Molly) Williams, General Patton’s artillery chief. The Air OPs were to transport reinforcements to the beachhead, after it was established across the Rhine. Tests indicated that 90 L-4s could airlift an infantry battalion across the Rhine in about 3 hours. The Cubs were assembled but the entire assault across the Rhine was such a spectacular success that they were not needed.

General Patton had at least one narrow escape while flying in a Cub. While on a flight near Munich, his Cub was suddenly attacked by a fighter. Patton’s pilot dived for the ground. The attacker followed, making two more passes. On the third, the fighter pilot pulled out too low and crashed. General Patton was unharmed. Later it was learned that the attack was made by a Polish RAF pilot who had mistaken General Patton’s plane for a Storch (German Cub).

Recalling the incident, Patton laughingly admitted he had been frightened. “After the first pass I decided I might as well take some pictures of my impending demise,” he related. “There wasn’t anything I could do, so I thought I might as well use the camera. But after it was all over, I found I had been so nervous I had forgotten to take the cover off the lens and all I got were blanks.”

German Air OP planes were used on a limited scale and few reports of them were turned in by Allied commanders. One German Air OP plane did appear on 3 January 1945 over Allied lines in Belgium.

After spotting the German observation plane, an American liaison pilot grabbed a tommy gun and took off in his Cub to do battle. It looked for a moment like the troops on the ground were going to be treated to a dogfight—1917 style. But when the German saw the Cub he fled, leaving a disappointed, heckling audience.

During the rapid advance across Europe, the Air OP sections frequently had to move their airstrips. Usually a liaison pilot would fly ahead and pick out a suitable area. He’d radio the information back to operations, and the operations officer would drive out and give the site a ground check. Lieutenant William R. Kenney, operations officer of Major Swenson’s “29th Air Force,” frequently had to check ground sites during the advance and soon became perturbed about the language barrier. He decided to do something about it and memorized this sentence in French, “Avez vous grande champ por petite avion?” (Have you a large field for a small airplane?).

Lieutenant Kenney, anxious to try out his question, was a little deflated when he got his chance. “Avez vous grande champ por petite avion?” he asked a Frenchman one day.

The Frenchman thought for a moment and then, with a twinkle in his eye, replied in perfect English, “Yes, Lieutenant, I think I can help you.”

Cubs were instrumental in winning the supply battle in the drive across Europe. They helped direct supply trains by reconnoitering the most effective routes to the front. Frequently the liaison pilot would land near a convoy and inform the convoy commander where the forward units were located.

The Air OPs also would fly food, ammunition, and medical supplies to patrols and isolated or trapped units. Near Luxemburg City, Germany, the 76th Infantry Division aviation section, headed by Maj Carl I. Sodergren (now Lt Col. Ret) was called upon to supply an isolated infantry battalion for about 3 days. Later the battalion commander credited the aviation section with supplying the necessities needed to resist capture or destruction. Pilots who flew these missions included Major Sodergren, Lt Clifford S. Athey (now Maj) and Lts Joseph Roseberry (who was later killed), Ford and Phores.

Near Engelsdorf, Germany, Cub pilots supplied medical supplies and blood plasma as two surrounded Ninth Army infantry companies held off superior German forces. Supplies flown in by the Cubs, plus devastating Allied artillery barrages, enabled the besieged troops to hold out until they were rescued. Cub pilots who flew the missions were Lts William R. Kenney, David P. McNamara, Leonard R. Mitchell, and Raymond W. Stockbridge.

On the Metz front liaison planes supplied trapped units of the 95th Infantry Division with medical aid, food, ammunition and dry clothing. In one instance Maj Elmer Blaha flew Maj Eugene Cleaber (an Army surgeon) into an area under heavy attack; then he shuttled supplies in and wounded out from a pasture pockmarked with shell holes and battle debris.

On numerous occasions liaison pilots landed in fields and rescued downed fighter or bomber pilots. The classic story in this respect goes something like this:

The Cub pilot saw the Allied fighter pilot run for nearby woods after crash landing his plane in the clearing. It looked as if it would be a routine rescue mission as the liaison pilot set his Cub down in the field and began bumping along to the spot where the fighter pilot had disappeared into the woods.

Nearing the trees, the liaison pilot saw a man running out of the woods and waving at him. The pilot maneuvered the Cub into position for a quick pickup. Then he noticed that the man rapidly approaching the Cub was a German soldier waving a pistol. The liaison pilot began taxiing for a takeoff, but the German caught up and shoved the pistol into the pilot’s face.

Click! It didn’t go off. What followed was a wild scene. The aircraft bounced along over the field with the German running alongside. Part of the time the German was hitting the American with the pistol, and part of the time the American had the pistol and was hitting the German. The German finally pulled the liaison pilot from the airplane and they both wound up rolling and fighting on the ground before the decision went to the American.

As the liaison pilot stood wiping his brow and looking down at the unconscious German, the Allied fighter pilot walked up.

“Say, that was quite a fight,” he said. The bruised liaison pilot, still trying to catch his breath, looked at the fighter pilot in disbelief. “You mean… puff, puff… you saw all this… puff, puff… and didn’t come to help me?”

“Oh, you were doing a fine job,” was the answer.

German artillery usually ceased fire when the Air OPs appeared. Only when the Germans had something they particularly wished to keep hidden, would they risk return artillery fire and shoot at the Cubs. On such occasions the Nazis would direct all available firepower at the Cubs.

As in Italy, allied ground commanders took advantage of the German reluctance to shoot when Cubs were in the air (even on days of low ceiling and visibility). Brigadier General Henry C. Evans, 75th Infantry Division artillery commander, used the Cubs in this manner one morning in mid-March 1945. At about 0630 General Evans routed Lt Clifford S. Athey out of the sack. With a 300-foot ceiling and visibility about 1 mile, the general gestured toward the sky and asked if any planes were up.

After receiving a negative reply, General Evans said, “Let’s get one up if we can fly. The infantry is catching it.”

Within minutes, Lieutenant Athey was airborne and flew up and down the Moselle River (near Wittlich). After about ten minutes he was informed by radio that incoming artillery had stopped shortly after he took off. Although Athey couldn’t see across the river, the Germans could hear the Cub’s engine and quit firing.

Other reports from commanders in Europe read as follows:

…There has been considerable flying in bright moonlight nights… it is felt that air pilots still in training should practice moonlight observation.

…The Cub planes have been the answer to the artilleryman’s prayer… they have performed about 40 percent of our observed missions and more than 60 percent of our precision registrations.

…In the hedgerow country (Normandy) where ground OPs were nonexistent, the Cub was the only thing that was effective against Jerry SP guns.

…When the king of Norway fled the Germans, a Norwegian Air Force officer used a Cub on skis to maintain contact between the king, hiding in the mountains, and officials near Oslo…. Often German pilots flew over without noticing the Cub, and at other times the pilot would land and hide when he saw enemy planes.

…Later, Lt Jackson K. Pennington, pilot, and Lt Leonard J. Mann, observer, dropped a round of bazooka ammo on a suspicious looking building. Out rushed a platoon of Jerries, and Lieutenant Mann called in a few rounds of artillery fire smack in the center of the bunch.

…It was like luring a fly into a spider’s parlor. Major John H. Focke, Jr., and T/5 Edward F. Hubback suddenly found their Cub under attack by an FW-109. They let him come and by the time Jerry made his third pass he had been lured into the ack-ack of Lt Col B.M. Warfield’s 552d AAA AW Battalion. They got the Jerry.

…A liaison pilot of the 87th Infantry Division has been credited with sinking three ships and two barges on the Rhine…. Another pilot reported seeing a periscope moving down the Rhine. At any day we expect a Grasshopper pilot to report, “Sighted sub, sank same.”

…You wanted to know about your planes in action—well, they are honeys! When we see those little crates fly over, we give a silent cheer. We call them our “air support”—and they’re just that. Once they are up in the air Jerry keeps his head down and his artillery stays pretty quiet. Ack-ack and ground fire doesn’t seem to bother them. I’ve seen them hightailing away from MEs and FEs and shake them too! They are doing an excellent job and the boys who pilot those planes deserve plenty of credit.

…Junction with the Russians was most happily effected, first by personnel of the [10th Infantry] Division artillery in its Cub liaison planes, next by ground patrols, and then in an exchange of visits by staff officers and commanders.

…Lieutenant Ford, of the 76th Infantry Division, spotted a squad of friendly troops headed toward a hidden machinegun nest. He flew low, throttled back, and shouted a warning. Adding throttle, he looked back to see if he had accomplished the warning and flew right into the side of a hill. The L-4J was a total loss, but Lieutenant Ford survived and fought with the infantry a few days before returning to his section.

…Approximately 10 March 1945, we accomplished a “human ASR approach” in the 76th Infantry Division. One of our boys was held up “registering” [until] late in the afternoon and started back just at dark. He couldn’t find the pasture and radioed his plight. We moved our radio vehicle to the edge of the strip and, with three or four people spread out around the strip for “ears,” made an “aural DF steer” until he was over the strip. Then we used one jeep with lights to mark it for a successful landing.

…By late March, the Germans had almost ceased using tracers when firing at liaison airplanes. Nevertheless through practice we had become fairly accurate in locating these installations.

…At the close of hostilities, Brig Gen Henry C. Evans, 76th Infantry Division artillery commander (now Maj Gen, Ret), stated that over 70 percent of the artillery missions fired, and tactical information received, came from his airplanes.

…In a few instances the liaison planes have been used as an expedient to guide bombers over the target.

…It was SOP [standard operating procedure] in the 3d Armored Division for at least one artillery observer to be in the air during all daylight hours observing enemy movements. They flew over enemy lines and were seldom fired upon as the enemy did not wish to give away his position.

In Europe, ground commanders had full confidence in the ability of the liaison pilots. Frequently they asked them to accomplish seemingly impossible missions.

For example, during the fighting in Austria a bridge over the Inn River was proving particularly bothersome to General Patton. The XII Corps was making good headway along one bank of the Danube River, but the XX Corps was having trouble on the other side, primarily because the Germans were rushing in troops and supplies over the Inn River bridge and into the XX Corps sector. (The Inn River flowed into the Danube near the bridge and behind German lines on the XX Corps’ side of the Danube.)

General Patton ordered the bridge destroyed. He gave the job to the 11th Armored Division and indicated that with the help of the Cubs one battery of 155mm guns could move up along the XII Corps’ side of the Danube and destroy the bridge with 27 rounds per gun. This was all the ammunition General Patton allotted for the mission.

Bets were made within the 11th Armored on whether or not the mission could be accomplished. In many other instances it had taken hundreds of rounds per gun to knock out a bridge, and it was still a difficult task.

Captain Gregorie, XII Corps aviation officer, and Lieutenant James (first name unknown) flew to the area of the bridge and were immediately driven off by three German FW 109s. A few hours later the pair returned and got down to business.

The first round landed well over the bridge, and the second was short and about 200 yards to the right. The third splashed under the bridge.

Captain Gregorie called back that the third round landed “50 short.” He was informed that No. 4 was on the way. It seemed that the round was taking for ever to get there, but suddenly there was an orange flash in the center of the mined bridge. A huge, billowing cloud of black smoke began engulfing the bridge, and then the ends slid down into the smoke and river.

Staring in silence at the spectacle, Captain Gregorie and Lieutenant James finally became aware that the battery was trying to contact them on the radio. “My only regret,” Colonel Gregorie recalls, “is that I couldn’t think of an appropriate statement to fit the occasion. I just said ‘mission accomplished’ and we went back.”

“Mission accomplished!” Captain Gregorie’s seemingly common statement was becoming uncommonly significant. Liaison pilots were echoing it hundreds of times daily in all theaters of war as they performed missions considered impossible a few years previously.


“I can remember,” the liaison pilot wrote, “back in the States how Air Corps pilots would laugh when we said we flew Cubs.

“Down here [in the South Pacific] I believe that we are deeply appreciated by all, especially when the enemy starts shelling our areas. It’s getting so that whenever the Cubs are spotted in the air by the Japs, they cease firing.”

As in Europe, the role of the Cubs in support of the ground battle became increasingly important to the ground commander. Artillery observation was the primary mission of the Air OPs in the Pacific, but here also the Cubs were soon accomplishing numerous other duties. Ingenuity and initiative on the part of the liaison pilots also were evident in this theater of war and resulted in rapid growth of the Army Aviation concept.

Getting the aircraft ashore during the invasions of the islands was one of the main problems encountered by liaison pilots in the Pacific. Many units devised systems similar to that used by the 37th Infantry Division during the landing at Lingayen Gulf, 9 January 1945. The wings were removed from the division’s five L-4s and each was loaded with its wings aboard a DUKW. The DUKWs were transported from Bougainville aboard LSMs [Landing Ship Medium] and launched at sea off Lingayen Gulf. The L-4s’ SCR 610 radios were used to maintain contact as the group proceeded to a predesignated dirt road on the beach. There the Cubs were reassembled and took to the air to become the first Army aircraft active in the Luzon Campaign.

During the invasion of Okinawa a rig known as the “Brodie Device” was effectively used. The Brodie Device, named for its developer, Lt James Brodie, consisted of four masts which supported a strong horizontal steel cable that provided a straight, smooth, clear runway for landing and taking off. A trolley with an attached sling underneath caught a hook mounted above the center of gravity of the aircraft. The trolley ran along the cable and allowed landing and takeoff runs. The airplane could be raised or lowered to the ground by tightening or slackening the runway cable.

Brodie Device used on LSTs to land and launch aircraft.

Originally the Brodie Device was envisioned as something to help combat the submarine menace in the early months of World War II, but later modifications allowed its use on either ships or land. It was first tested at New Orleans Moissant Airport and on the ship “City of Dalhart” in the Gulf of Mexico.

Later General Leslie McNair, chief of staff at GHQ, witnessed a demonstration of the Brodie Device at Fort Belvoir, Va., and immediately recognized its potential for use with artillery planes. On 31 October 1944, General McNair directed that training in the use of the Brodie Device be instigated at the Department of Air Training at Fort Sill, Okla.

In the Pacific, the Brodie Device was mounted on LST No. 776, which also became known as the USS Brodie, and was the only LST in service to have an official name.

During the invasion of Okinawa an urgent requirement developed to set up artillery units in the Kerama Retto Islands to shell the defenses on nearby Okinawa. Photography and aerial observation were needed by the batteries on the Keramas, but the group of islands offered no place to set up a landing strip. The USS Brodie came to the rescue, and during the invasion of Okinawa, Cubs used the Brodie Device on the LST to fly numerous sorties. Not a pilot or plane was lost.

An L-4 Cub is dwarfed by an LST in New Guinea.

General Joseph W. (Vinegar Joe) Stilwell, Commander of the Tenth Army, used the Cubs extensively during operations in the Pacific. He enjoyed riding in the Air OPs with both windows open. On one occasion he was being flown by S/Sgt Lyle W. White on a mission off Okinawa. A gust of wind blew through the Cub’s cockpit and the general’s battered campaign hat, that he had worn for over 20 years, blew out the window.

General Stilwell sadly watched his hat float down and plop into the sea. He remarked, “I’d sure like to go down there and rescue my old friend.” Upon landing, Stilwell offered $25 to anyone who recovered the hat; much to his delight, it was returned to him 4 hours later.

Often the Cubs provided invaluable assistance to the infantry in the Pacific. They would lead patrols to designated spots in the jungle, relay positions of friendly and enemy units in the thick underbrush, and provide transportation between command posts when heavy rainfall brought ground transportation to a standstill.

Artillery pilots in North Africa and Europe were not the only liaison pilots who captured prisoners. One such incident in the Pacific involved a 38th Infantry Division liaison pilot who spotted several Japanese on rafts trying to escape from Corregidor to Bataan.

The liaison pilot landed, picked up a tommy gun and a supply of hand grenades, and headed back to the fleeing Japanese. Intelligence felt the Japanese possessed information of value, so a boat put out to chase the enemy. When the Cub arrived over the rafts the Japanese immediately began offering resistance. A little automatic fire and a few grenades killed several of the enemy and convinced the surviving two that it was time to surrender.

L-4 lands at Morotai Island after observing Japanese positions.

“Bombing” the enemy with hand grenades wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Lieutenant Edwin S. Marman wrote from New Guinea that a pilot from his outfit spotted a Japanese soldier paddling across a lake in a native canoe and threw his last hand grenade at him. “He’ll never live it down that he missed the canoe by 50 yards,” Lieutenant Marman wrote.

Liaison pilots in the Pacific made it a habit to carry small arms, hand grenades, and tools on flights. They never knew what they would spot from the air, or when they might be down in the jungle. Colonel David Larr, a member of General Douglas MacArthur’s staff, found himself in just such situations 2 days in a row.

Colonel Larr and his pilot were forced down behind Japanese lines late one afternoon in New Guinea. They had been seen by the enemy but had the necessary tools to repair the Cub that night. They took off the next morning just ahead of probing Japanese troops.

The next day Colonel Larr spotted a column of Japanese troops from the air. His pilot dived on the enemy and Colonel Larr sprayed them with machinegun fire.

“Horsefly” type missions also were used in the Pacific. In one instance this system was instrumental in saving a company of the 14th Infantry Regiment which was surrounded in North Luzon during fighting in 1945. First, the liaison pilot directed transport planes in dropping food and ammunition to the surrounded troops, and then he guided tactical air strikes which enabled the company to break out and escape.

As in Europe, reports of Army Aviation’s accomplishments were numerous:

…(From Bougainville) Division artillery retained control of the liaison planes at all times. The air observer proved to be invaluable in helping to prevent enemy mortar fire. At first a Cub was only sent when enemy mortar fire was received, but later one was kept on patrol at all times.

…(From New Guinea by Lt Edwin S. Marman) The strip was the worst possible. It was located between two hills, uphill, and all landings had to be made from the ocean, downwind.

…The day airfields were captured, Cubs landed on them. The infantrymen swarmed about the planes, and their first questions were “How is the war going?” and “Give us a ride.”

…We did little artillery observation but made up for it in our passenger and supply work. For a while we were the only means of communication and carried messages, morning reports and couriers.

…Some of the pilots flew as much as 5 to 6 hours a day. Generally, when not in combat, the division keeps it down to 2 hours per day.

…(From the Southwest Pacific) Oil seals out here just aren’t. We found that the oil seal out of a transfer case of a ¾-ton truck is just right, except that the outside diameter is ¼ inch too small. We took the shell case base of a 75mm and hunted up ordnance and they made us a brass bushing for the seal.

…We fly behind the lines and all over them. We observe fire from over the target or behind it. Every ship has been hit by machinegun and rifle fire.

…(From Leyte by Maj J. C. Kriegsman) Following a report of enemy activity in the area, Lieutenant Hartwig and Lieutenant Laroussini circled the end of our strip almost a half an hour under a 100-foot ceiling. Hartwig glanced over his shoulder and saw something move near a funny looking pile of debris in a coconut grove. They found that stack to be a group of Japs huddling in an effort to keep out of sight. They called in artillery and the second round landed squarely on the target. They fired for effect. Actual count showed 82 dead.

…Our mechanics and helpers are positively the best. Engine failures seem to be almost a thing of the past.

…(From the Southwest Pacific) All commanders wanted Cubs equipped with more durable floats. On two occasions the medical supplies dropped saved lives. One large patrol was supplied and wounded were evacuated for a period of 3 weeks.

…On one occasion a native village occupied by the enemy was effectively attacked by two liaison planes with hand grenades and submachineguns. The enemy concentration had been located by a small ground patrol and would probably have moved on before an attack by high performance aircraft could be arranged.

…(From Saipan) Eighty percent of the medium and 20 percent of the light artillery targets were fired by air observation. The liaison pilots observed from over enemy territory at all times. Several casualties were suffered.

…(From Leyte) The Japs threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Cubs and as a result several were lost.

…Drop loads consisted of “K” rations, ammunition, medical supplies, blankets, and socks. Breakable loads were padded with blankets and straw. The individual in the observer’s seat carried the load in his lap and pitched it into the trees to reduce the force of the drop. The majority of the loads were recovered and losses from breakage were light. On one occasion about 150 such sorties were flown to support two companies.


“Germany can’t win,” the Nazi prisoner was telling Lt Col John W. Mayo.

Asked why, the German pointed to a Cub circling overhead. “Because of those things. That’s the most dangerous weapon you have. We can’t get out of our foxholes without being spotted by one, and when our artillery shoots they always spot him and bring down counterbattery.”

When Colonel Mayo asked why the Germans didn’t shoot our Cubs down, the prisoner replied, “Our officers have told us that the planes are very heavily armored and couldn’t be shot down.” Colonel Mayo relates that the real reason they didn’t shoot at our Cubs was that they feared the inevitable counterbattery fire that would follow.

The effectiveness of the light airplane in combat is reflected in the following extracts of a report submitted by a Panzer Grenadier battalion commander: “As a rule an attack is preceded by a strong artillery preparation in which the Americans employ all calibers, including their heaviest. Planes are used for fire direction, and excellent results have been obtained….

“Artillery directed by observation planes places fire on each of our movements…. Whenever possible, attack preparations should be avoided during the day. U.S. air observation detects every movement, and directs sudden and heavy fire concentrations on the deployment area.”

German respect for the liaison planes also was shown in a captured paper which established a point system for awarding German fighter pilots a medal similar to our air medal. Three points were given for knocking down an escorted four-engine bomber, two for a two-engine escorted bomber, one for a fighter plane, and two for a liaison plane.

One prisoner, marveling at the effectiveness of the Army’s Air OP planes, said that every time he saw an observation plane his blood would boil. “It’s an insult to have that little defenseless box bobbing around in the air and not be able to do anything about it,” he said.

Still another German prisoner stated, “When the Cub flies over, all firing ceases. All we move is our eyeballs.”

A Japanese prisoner said that more fear was generated by the sight of a Cub above them than by any of our other planes. The reason was that invariably when they saw Cubs, artillery was brought down on them, and more of their men were killed by this fire than by bombs.

World War II proved the value of Army Aviation in support of ground forces…. Army Aviation has traveled a long, embattled road, from the landings in North Africa. The journey is far from over, but one conclusion is definite: the concept of Army Aviation, aviation in support of the ground battle, is sound.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *