Unsung Heroes of the South Pacific Campaign
The 3rd Air Commando Group (ACG) was activated on May 1, 1944. Its training focused on a unique mission: to establish and maintain airfields behind enemy lines, provide for its own supply and defense, and attack the enemy’s rear areas and fly air support for allied infantry. The 3rd and 4th Fighter Squadrons were assigned to the group, along with liaison and troop carrier squadrons. Moving to the South Pacific in late 1944, the group was stationed at Leyte in December 1944, Mangaldan, Luzon in January 1945, Laoag, Luzon in April 1945, and Ie Shima in August 1945.
Originally conceived as a more powerful version of the 1st ACG that fought in Burma, the 3rd ACG soon discovered that Japanese tactics and the Philippine terrain were not conducive to commando operations. Instead of assault-from-the-sky operations dropping commandos behind enemy lines, the group quickly adapted to a more conventional type of war. This involved the Mustangs attacking the Japanese wherever they could be found, the Grasshopper liaison planes flying observation missions and personnel evacuations, and the C-47s hauling cargo.
Although the fighter pilots didn’t see much enemy air activity, seven of them did score one aerial victory each while with the group. Included in this list is Major Walker M. “Bud” Mahurin, of 56th FG fame, who also commanded the 3rd ACG. (After being shot down over France in March 1944, he was forbidden from flying further combat in Europe to protect the identity of the Resistance fighters.)
Lt. Jacques Edward Young was a Mustang pilot assigned to the 3rd Fighter Squadron, 3rd ACG, 5th Air Force, U.S. Army Air Forces. Lt. Young’s son, Mr. Kurt Young, spoke to the author about his dad’s experiences in the war. Young flew 101 combat missions in the Pacific between January 15 and September 1, 1945 (98 in Mustangs plus another 3 in P-40Ns). By the time he got there in 1944, if a Zero saw a Mustang, it would rapidly leave the area. A unique entry in Young’s logbook is on June 4, 1945, when he was “Co-pilot with Maj Mahurin” in a B-25. When asked about this flight, Young said, “We had a B-25 in the group. He thought I had B-25 time. I thought he had time. We didn’t have any time, it turned out, but brought it back.”
Primarily serving in the air-to-ground role, then, the Air Commando Mustang pilots were known for their innovation. In one instance, Mahurin led a 16-ship formation over the airfield, breaking into the landing pattern with minimal spacing. This allowed the entire group to get on the ground in less than three minutes. Due to the Pacific’s narrow airfields and increasingly heavy traffic, this technique soon became standard practice. After moving to Mangaldan, a dirt airfield in Luzon, the fighter pilots conducted fourship takeoff in order to quickly get their formation airborne and rendezvous. This was important for two reasons: Mangaldan was one of the busiest airfields in the Pacific, and, as Jacques Young put it, “We had lots of short missions” from there because the front lines were so close, often within 30 minutes’ flying time.
The fighter pilots of the Air Commandos would also go to the front lines to coordinate with the infantry. In one instance, with dugin Japanese positions on the reverse side of some over-grown hills and friendly troops only 250 yards from the Japanese, the pilots convinced the ground commanders they could safely attack the enemy without having to pull back the friendly troops. Briefing the pilots back at the squadron, they plastered the Japanese forces so effectively that the commander said they took the position “practically standing up.” Major General W. H. Gill, commander of the 32nd Infantry, wrote that “we were forced to ask that air strikes be made within fifty to one hundred yards ahead of the infantry … these strikes were, to my mind, perfection itself.”
After taking Laoag airfield (150 miles behind enemy lines) in April 1945, the Air Commandos were supplied by air for over a month. The group’s advance echelon moved to Ie Shima on August 9th—the same day that a B-29 named “Bockscar” dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki. With the end of the war, the group moved to Atsugi, Japan, until the fighter squadrons were deactivated in February 1946.
Lt. Jacques E. Young & “Jumpin’ Jacques”
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