Friday, July 13, 2018

RCAF Kittyhawk in the Smithsonian

With all of the exciting 'stuff' going on, it occurred to me when creating a Facebook post on what the significance of today was for my family (WWII life saving crash day), that I failed to write a blog post about this SUPER exciting find at the Smithsonian!  So here it is, better late than never... 
A few years ago, thanks to Ron Walker of Canada's West Coast,  and his diligent work of data basing Canadian Military Aircraft, I was made aware that a plane my grandfather flew while in the Aleutians was now hanging proudly at the entrance to the Smithsonian's Udvar Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA.   With very little RCAF history noted on their website, naturally, I contacted their curators to fill them in on the role of the plane during WWII.  

With the generosity of a dear client of mine, my daughter and I flew up there, with log books in tow, to meet with Russ Lee, Chair of the Aeronautics department.  Upon greeting me,  he mentioned that in his thirty years there, he can count on two hands the number of times someone had come forward with a personal connection to one of their aircraft.   Needless to say, they were as thrilled as I was to be in contact.  This was a special moment. 
During our meeting, we laid out five future objectives on how to update the exhibit to reflect the new information.  Currently though,  the Air and Space Museum is neck deep in a total remodel of their facility therefore some of the goals we laid out are sitting idle until the renovation is complete. 

P-40E Hope's Lope or as we know it, AK875 in the Udvar- Hazy Center.

It is particularly interesting to me that this Kittyhawk (P-40E) AK875, is one of the aircraft to actually survive and be on display in one of the most prestigious aviation museums in the world.  For my family, this has always been a special angel plane because it was in this very P-40 that my grandfather had his life saving ground loop at a refueling stop while en route to Umnak Island.  This crash put the plane out of service and him on a transport.  The rest of the formation would fly on with a majority of them fatally crashing into a mountain side when they got disoriented in the ever so dense and unforgiving Aleutian fog. 

AK875 presumably crashed in Naknek due to my grandfather's ground loop. DND Photo
His log book entry of that day and the events that followed.  P/O Lynch collection.

For me, this plane lives on so that the stories of those it flew with could also.  It reminds me of my purpose and that is to tell the stories of those who flew and served in the forgotten Aleutian Campaign.  
Read more about it in an article that the Air and Space Museum posted this spring.  And the next time you are at the Udvar-Hazy Center, say a silent "Hi" to those airmen that flew it.  To date, here is list of those known to have flown Hope's Lope in 111(F) Squadron, RCAF:

P/O Robert Lynch, AM- survived the war
P/O Johnny Ingalls- survived the war
P/O John Eskil, was killed in Europe, 1944
P/O Frank Crowley, was killed in Europe, 1944
P/O Nick Stusiak, killed in Europe, 1944
P/O Ed Merkley, killed in Europe, 1943
P/O Al Watkins, DFC- survived the war
F/L Bo Middleton, DFC- survived the war
S/L Kenneth Boomer, DFC, AM- killed in Europe, 1944

Sunday, July 8, 2018

WWII at Elmendorf Air Field

Last Sunday, on Canada Day nonetheless, I was blessed with the opportunity to fly out of the very same airfield as my grandfather did 76 years prior, Elmendorf Field, (Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson). It was 1942 and the RCAF had just arrived in Anchorage to commence joint operations with the U.S. Army Air Corps. Here is what their day looked like.


“A six plane scramble today to intercept Bolingbroke aircraft. The scramble was not successful as the wrong vector was given. The second scramble at lunch time- Bolingbroke aircraft intercepted and identified as Bolingbroke. Section formation carried out for an hour.”

Elmendorf Air Field in 1941 roughly six months prior to the arrival of the RCAF. 
Elmendorf Air Field 2018,  looking westward.

Our westward take off out of what is now Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson using the same WWII runways that my grandfather and his squadron would have used.  Look closely and you will see the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds lined up.  They were there as part of the weekend's Arctic Thunder Air Show.  Incidentally, "Thunderbird" was also the name of my grandfather's squadron; 111(F) Thunderbird Squadron, RCAF.  Neat! 

RCAF P-40's flying over an Alaskan range.  Photo courtesy of Maj. Fred Paradie.
A surreal moment.  Allies then and allies now.  

A humongous thank you to the Commemorative Air Force- Alaska Wing.  Such a great group of people. If you have an interest in WWII aviation or WWII in Alaska then I strongly encourage you to join the squadron and support their efforts in keeping the legacies of these warbirds and those who flew them alive.  It was the best thing I have ever done! 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Lt. Col. (RET) Bob Brocklehurst

Lt. Col (RET) Robert (Bob) Brocklehurst, is one of the last remaining WWll Aleutian Island pilots at nearly 98 years young.  I met Bob a few years ago when his barber (my client) connected us.  He has not been able to get rid of me since!  What a blessing Bob has been to me and to my daughter.   Most of my life I grew up with people blessed in years and I learned the most valuable lessons from them.  My daughter gets to experience that in Bob.  He is an inspiration and we are so proud to call him our friend.

Robert “Bob” Brocklehurst began his 28 years of military service months before the United States entered World War II. Interested in becoming a pilot, he became a cadet in the Army Air Corps in February 1941 and completed his training in the fall of that year. In the weeks following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Brocklehurst and 23 other pilots and their P-40s were deployed north to Alaska.

Brocklehurst, was attached to the 11th Fighter Squadron and lead by Col. John “Jack” Chennault , son of infamous Claire Chennault, in their P-40’s when they landed in Fairbanks, March of 1942.  He was soon transferred to the 18th Fighter Squadron, which also flew P-36s. The squadron eventually moved west to Kodiak in defense of US Naval Base.

In addition to worrying about a Japanese attack, the pilots also had to contend with Williwaws; blizzards with hurricane force winds,  zero visibility, sketchy navigational aids and poor communication. 

Brocklehurst flew out to Umnak to reinforce the island in June of 1942, just before the Japanese struck Dutch Harbor, Alaska from the air  on two consecutive days.  Within a week the Japanese then landed and occupied the American island of Attu, killing one and taking over 40 civilian prisoners, and Kiska, where they captured the 12 man crew of a small US weather reporting station. 

After the attack Brocklehurst was ordered back to Anchorage to form a new unit, the 344th Fighter Squadron, flying P-40’s and was appointed squadron commander after successfully leading a formation of 12 Warhawks through horrendous weather to land safely on Adak. He took his new squadron all  600 miles west along the Aleutian chain where he earned the distinction of being the first fighter pilot to land on the island of Attu just days after it was liberated in June of 1943.

This May, Bob returned to Anchorage with several of his fellow veterans of the Aleutian Campaign to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Attu and the end of the war in Alaska.  And this July, Bob will join us in a 2018 EAA Oshkosh Warbird in Review segment featuring the fliers of WWll's Aleutian Campaign.

Bob’s Air Force career had him flying eighteen different aircraft including: P-36, P-38, P-39, P-40, P-47, P-51, F-86 and a T-33 with stints in Alaska- twice, Okinawa, Camp Springs Army Airfield (Andrews) twice, Steward Air Force Base and lastly the Pentagon 

In 2016 Bob got the chance to fly one of his old Warbirds again, thanks to the Collings Foundation and Brian Norris.  The flight ended up making national news but more importantly ignited a ripple of memories he is still riding.   As the newscaster says, this may be the best thing you watch all day.   Thank you Bob for your service then and for your friendship now. 

For Bob's full flight- visit Once A Pilot, Always A Pilot.