P-40s in the Pacific
When the U.S. entered WW II after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, George Preddy was completing his flying training with the USAAF at Elgin Field, Florida. He graduated as a qualified pilot five days later. He was assigned to the 9th Pursuit Squadron of the 49th Pursuit Group and on January 11, 1942, the unit sailed from San Francisco on a troopship bound for Australia, where the squadron began training on the Curtiss P-40E Kittyhawk.
Meanwhile, the Japanese onslaught in the Pacific was gaining momentum. On February 19, the Japanese bombed Darwin in northern Australia for the first time, before invading Timor the following day, actions which were precursors to the battle of the Java Sea and the subsequent invasion of Java. In these dire circumstances, the training of the USAAF pilots for operations had to be rapid and on March 9, Preddy was declared a fully-fledged combat pilot. Along with the rest of his unit, he flew to the remote and austere Bachelor Field, near Darwin, in Australia’s Northern Territory. Barely three months after graduating from flight school, Preddy and his colleagues in their P-40s soon found themselves engaged in a life and death struggle against the Japanese, almost always fighting against superior odds. On March 30, Preddy and seven of his fellow pilots in their P-40s were attacked by a large number of Japanese Zeros escorting bombers. Preddy was lucky to escape unscathed; three of the other P-40s were riddled with enemy bullets and one pilot had to bail out. With an increasing number of contacts with enemy aircraft, Preddy was gaining valuable combat experience. On April 27, he damaged a Zero and a Mitsubishi bomber, but he could not get killing shots against either in an encounter where the P-40s were once again outnumbered by Zeros.
George Preddy was raised in the Dixieland city of Greensboro, North Carolina. From a young age he developed a strong desire to fly, and nothing would deflect him from that ambition. After graduating from high school, he took flying lessons and began accumulating flying time. In April 1941, having been rejected by the U.S. Navy for pilot training, he was accepted by the U.S. Army Air Corps.
At five feet nine inches tall and slightly built, Preddy was not a physically imposing man, but he was fit, strong, and athletic. He spoke softly and his voice, words, and demeanor did nothing to counter the initial unimposing impression created by his physical appearance. Preddy’s nickname in the Air Force was “Ratsy.” He was perhaps not an obvious candidate to be a top fighter pilot and leader. However, he possessed a single-minded dedication of purpose and an intense desire to excel.
Handsome, dark-haired, and with his neat appearance and trimmed mustache, Preddy loved girls and it seemed that they could not resist him. He certainly lived life to the full. Early on in his time in the Air Force, he was sometimes something of a hellraiser. He had a weakness for whiskey, and he sometimes became drunk and then wanted to fight, and he was quite a scrapper. He also liked to gamble and especially liked craps games; he habitually yelled “Cripes a’ mighty!” as he threw the dice, which became a phrase specifically associated with him and was used as the name for his personal aircraft later in the war.
Preddy’s involvement in the war in the Pacific ended on the afternoon of July 12, 1942. A sortie with four P-40s engaged in two vs. two training began routinely enough, with Preddy and Lt. Richard Taylor playing the role of enemy bombers, against which 2nd Lt. John Sauber and 1st Lt. Jack Donalson would practice dummy attacks. As Sauber dived on Preddy’s aircraft, he misjudged his distance and overtaking speed and slammed into the tail of Preddy’s Kittyhawk at 12,000 feet, sending both aircraft tumbling earthward, out of control. Sauber was unable to escape from his cockpit and was killed. Preddy managed to bail out but came down in a tall gum tree, colliding with a branch on the way down and landing in thick bush, with a deep hole gouged in his calf and a badly cut hip and shoulder. He was bleeding heavily but was conscious and managed to bandage himself with his first aid kit. Fortunately, he was quickly found and rescued by Capt. Ben Irvin and war correspondent Lucien Hubbard before night fell, otherwise he might have bled to death.
Preddy was sent to a U.S. Army hospital in Melbourne and remained bedridden until July 28. Recuperating from his serious injuries took three long months, with the first six weeks involving operations, treatment, and therapy, and the remainder, rest and recuperation. During that time, his injuries did not prevent him from meeting and dating several girls, but then he met and fell in love with a beautiful Australian woman, Joan Jackson, and they became engaged. Inevitably, Preddy was sent back to the U.S., never to return to Australia; it was to be a romance for which there was no happy ending.
During the period of enforced inaction during his recuperation, Preddy had time to think. Cheating the grim reaper led him to reappraise his life and his priorities; he was less than satisfied with his past and wanted to improve himself in the future. While not exactly an epiphany, the accident did change Preddy. From now on his entire attitude and lifestyle was orientated toward being the best fighter pilot that he could be. Amongst the 13 rules he wrote for himself on the back of his diary were: “Fight hardest when down and never give up” and “Don’t make excuses but makeup with deeds of action.”
P-47s in England
It was well over a year before Preddy saw action again, having been reassigned to a different front. His first operational mission in the European Theater of Operations was flown on September 9, 1943. He was now flying Republic P-47D Thunderbolts with the 487th Fighter Squadron, part of the 352nd Fighter Group of the USAAF Eighth Air Force, stationed at Bodney, a former RAF airfield in Norfolk, England. He was now considered to be an experienced fighter pilot and was a flight leader. Preddy’s personal P-47D, which carried the code letters HO-P, was named “Cripes A’ Mighty,” the first of his aircraft to carry that inscription.
Bodney was a grass airfield with steel matting on the runway, pierced steel planking (PSP) hard standings, and some concrete taxiways. The 352nd began to arrive at Bodney during June 1943, but the group was not fully operational until September. Until they received drop tanks their Thunderbolts had limited range, and their missions were largely restricted to the enemy coast. On early missions, they flew cover for out-of-ammo and out-of-fuel P-47s of other groups on bomber escort duties, as they withdrew from enemy airspace. It was frustrating to have such a limited initial role, but they would soon be in the midst of massive air battles over the Third Reich.
When the Group received belly drop tanks for their P-47s, they began to participate in longer-range bomber escort and fighter sweep missions, penetrating as far into enemy airspace as possible. The very presence of the American fighters was sometimes enough to keep the Luftwaffe at bay, and initially, only a few of the group’s pilots encountered enemy aircraft, with none being destroyed. By the end of September Preddy had personally flown nine bomber escort missions and five fighter sweeps without any success. As the year drew to a close, through the fall and into winter, things began to heat up, and Preddy witnessed the effects of enemy attacks on the bombers and was painfully aware of losses suffered among his fighter pilot colleagues. The pilots also had to cope with some very difficult European weather conditions, sometimes so bad that missions could not be flown at all.
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