Was World War II Ace ‘Butch’ O’Hare Killed by Friendly Fire?

Navy Lieutenant junior grade Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare first skilled the usually lethal phenomenon generally known as “pleasant hearth” proper after he shot down 5 Japanese bombers in lower than 5 minutes February 20, 1942, to grow to be the Navy’s first fighter ace of World Conflict II. Coming in for a touchdown on the provider Lexington, which he had simply saved from attainable destruction, O’Hare got here underneath hearth from a nervous machine-gunner on the ship’s catwalk. He survived unscathed as a result of the younger sailor’s goal was no higher than his judgement.

However his luck would run out 21 months later throughout the bloody Tarawa marketing campaign within the Central Pacific. O’Hare disappeared and not using a hint throughout an experimental night-fighter operation on November 27, 1943 (November 26 in america). Many naval historians—together with Clark Reynolds, writer of The Quick Carriers and Edward P. Stafford, writer of The Massive E—consider he was the sufferer of pleasant hearth from one other Navy plane.

The thriller of O’Hare’s loss of life is comparable in some ways to that surrounding the homicide of his father in November 1939. The senior O’Hare died in a hail of gunfire on a Chicago avenue. Some consider his loss of life was retribution for informing on Al Capone and serving to the federal authorities ship him to jail for tax fraud. However the case was by no means solved, nor have been the killers ever indentified.

The Navy’s official announcement of O’Hare’s February 20, 1942, overcome the 5 bombers was made on March 3, and he was erroneously credited with six victories. Numbers apart, it was nearly the very best struggle information the demoralized American public had heard because the catastrophe at Pearl Harbor three months earlier. In a scant 5 minutes of motion, the St. Louis native had destroyed the rising fantasy of Japanese invincibility and restored the nation’s confidence in its combating males.

Lt. Cmdr. Edward “Butch” O’Hare, is congratulated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as O’Hare’s spouse Rita locations the Medal of Honor round his neck on April 21, 1942. (Nationwide Archives)

No slouch when it got here to shaping public opinion, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made essentially the most of this chance to spice up ethical. When Lexington returned to Hawaii, he had the nation’s latest hero flown to Washington so he personally may current him with the Medal of Honor at White Home ceremonies. Flashing the well-known FDR grin, the commander in chief additionally knowledgeable O’Hare that he had been jumped two ranks to lieutenant commander. The quotation for the medal credited O’Hare with saving Lexington from severe injury by single-handedly taking up none twin-engined Japanese bombers, capturing down 5 of them and severely damaging a sixth by means of “extraordinarily skillful marksmanship.” Sparing no superlatives, it known as the aerial battle “one of the daring, if not essentially the most daring single motion within the historical past of fight aviation.”

O’Hare’s personal description of the battle was considerably extra prosaic. He informed reporters: “We had 10 planes within the air. The primary crowd of our fellows was working the primary bunch of Japs to return over, and we had the second bunch all to ourselves. I used to be main a second part of two planes and my wingman had gun bother for about 5 minutes, and by the point he acquired his weapons fastened it was throughout.”

After the Washington ceremony, O’Hare made a sequence of public appearances across the nation to spice up home-front spirits and encourage war-plant staff to even higher efforts. His first cease was the Grumman plant in Bethpage, New York, N.Y., which made the F4F-3 Wildcat he had used to attain his 5 victories. The it was on to St. Louis, the place he was given a triumphant parade by means of town and hailed by the mayor as “Eddie O’Hare, the St. Louis boy who has come dwelling to the rolling thunder of worldwide applause.”

The good-looking 28-year-old Naval Academy graduate wore the victor’s laurels properly, if considerably uneasily. Syndicated columnist Inez Robb famous that O’Hare was the “mannequin hero—modest, inarticulate, humorous, terribly good and greater than a little bit embarrassed by the entire thing.”

Out of respect, maybe, nobody talked about O’Hare’s father, who had been the president of Chicago’s Sportsman’s Park racetrack and a detailed affiliate of Al Capone. The elder O’Hare’s actual function within the Capone syndicate lengthy has been a matter of dispute. Some known as him a fringe participant who restricted himself to legit racing actions; others depicted whims a “one-man mind belief within the mob.”

It isn’t clear how a lot Butch O’Hare knew about his father’s shady enterprise connections. In all probability it was not an important deal, since his mother and father had separated when he was nonetheless a boy, and later divorced. Furthermore, when his father moved to Chicago, the younger O’Hare remained along with his mom and two sisters in St. Louis till he left dwelling to attend army prep college in Alton, In poor health. However he remained the apple of his father’s eye, and the 2 have been extraordinarily shut. The truth is, younger Eddie could have been the explanation the senior O’Hare determined to activate Capone and assist the federal government construct its case in opposition to the Chicago crime czar.

In line with one standard model of this basic double-cross, the senior O’Hare needed to “sq.” himself with the federal government as a way to enhance his son’s probabilities of acceptance on the Naval Academy. It makes a pleasant story. And, if true, it implies that the Bureau of Inside Income acquired Capone whereas the Navy acquired Butch O’Hare as a part of a bundle deal.

A stand out soccer participant at Western Navy Academy, younger O’Hare (circled) counted future pilot Paul Tibbets (quantity 79) as a staff mate. (Courtesy of St. Louis Publish-Dispatch)

Luckily, not one of the father’s sins rubbed off on his son. Younger Eddie O’Hare grew as much as be the proverbial straight arrow. He prepped at Western Navy Academy, the place he persistently earned good grades. He performed guard on the soccer staff and was captain of the rifle staff. One among O’Hare’s associates was one other younger man who additionally would make a reputation for himself in World Conflict II—Paul Tibbets, who piloted Enola Homosexual, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress that dropped the primary atomic bomb on Japan.

In 1933, O’Hare realized a long-cherished dream of successful an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. Some writers have steered that Frank Wilson, who directed the federal investigation of Capone, pulled strings to have him accepted. However Wilson, who grew to become chief of the Secret Service in 1936, by no means made any such declare in his writings. Certainly, O’Hare failed on his first strive for the Academy and needed to return to high school in St. Louis as a way to enhance his math expertise.

O’Hare graduated from the academy with the Class of 1937 after a roughly routine 4 years, throughout which he picked up two nicknames—”Butch” which caught, and “Nero,” which didn’t. His yearbook famous that he had the traits of an excellent officer and future chief: “a successful character … no bother in making lasting friendships … at all times prepared with a pat on the again if you want it most.”

O’Hare’s first aviation project was with VF-3 and its commander, John “Jimmy” Thach (proper) right here, shaking palms along with his protege after the February 1942 Medal of Honor motion. (Nationwide Archives)

O’Hare set his sights on a profession in naval aviation following commencement, however he first was required to serve two years within the fleet. In June 1939, after a tour on the united statesNew Mexico, he was reassigned to the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida for flight coaching; he earned his gold Navy wings a 12 months later. He then was despatched to Combating Squadron Three (VF-3) underneath the legendary John S. “Jimmy” Thach, who developed the staff combating tactic (the “Thach Weave”) that allowed the gradual however sturdy F4F Wildcats to carry their very own in opposition to the extra nimble Mitsubishi A6M Zeros.

Admiral Thach later recalled in an interview that O’Hare had all of the attributes of a real fighter pilot. Along with being a high-quality athlete, he had “a way of timing and relative movement that he could have been born with.” Much more vital maybe, he possessed “that aggressive spirit” that shortly separates winners from losers within the air. O’Hare flew like a veteran proper from the beginning. “He simply picked it up a lot quicker than anybody else I’ve ever seen.” Thach stated. “He acquired essentially the most out of his airplane. He didn’t attempt to horse it round.”

He did significantly properly in apply dogfights with the squadron’s “humiliation staff.” These have been workout routines designed to deflate the egos of newly arrived pilots, however the tactic didn’t work with O’Hare. He normally got here out on prime, and even defeated Thach. “It wasn’t lengthy after that,” Thach continued, “that we made him a member of the humiliation staff, as a result of he had handed the commencement take a look at so shortly.”

The squadron acquired its first style of motion in February 1942 in a deliberate provider strike in opposition to the Japanese-held port of Rabaul on the South Pacific island of New Britain. It was meant as a shock assault, however the provider activity power was sighted by Japanese patrol planes earlier than reaching the launch level and shortly grew to become the goal of land-based bombers.

The primary wave of 9 twin-engined Mitsubishi G4M1 “Betty” bombers was picked up by Lexington’s radar within the mid afternoon on February 20. The six wildcats of VF-3 flying fight air patrol ripped by means of the formation, bringing down three Japanese planes on the primary go. Different VF-3 Wildcats then joined the fray, and the Japanese ended up dropping eight of their 9 plane with out scoring a single bomb hit on the duty power. The lone bomber to flee was shot down on the way in which dwelling throughout a operating battle with a Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber.

In the meantime, a really annoyed Butch O’Hare was flying prime cowl over the fleet along with his wingman, Lieutenant Marion W. Dufilho. Then Lexington’s radar picked up a second wave of “Bettys” flying in a big V formation composed of three smaller V’s and shutting quick on the duty power from the east. With the opposite Wildcat pilots nonetheless pursuing the remnants of the Japanese first wave, O’Hare and Dufilho have been all that stood between the incoming bombers and the American provider.

O’Hare and Dufilho met the enemy formation some 12-15 miles out from the duty power, flying at an altitude of 11,000 ft. They flew straight on the lead part, climbing above the formation after which rolling their Wildcats for a rear assault on the trailing plane on the best aspect of the V.


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Ignoring heavy hearth from the well-armed Bettys, O’Hare closed to 100 yards and sighted his weapons on the starboard engines of the final two plane. Two fast bursts, and each engines appeared actually to leap out of their mountings, O’Hare pulled up, dodging particles from the stricken plane, and crossed to the opposite aspect of the formation. He then realized for the primary time that his wingman was not with him. Dufilho had dropped out of the battle when his weapons jammed. Unperturbed, O’Hare moved up the road, capturing down two extra airplanes. Then, on his third go, he went after the lead bomber with the grasp bombardier on board and despatched it down in flames. He additionally broken a sixth plane, however ran out of ammunition earlier than he may declare one other victory.

Trying an assault on the provider USS Lexington on February 20, 1942, this Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bomber is lacking its port engine after operating afoul of Butch O’Hare and his F4F-3 Wildcat. The Japanese bomber could be one among 5 credited to O’Hare that day. (Nationwide Archives)

This conventional account of the engagement is considerably disputed, nonetheless, by John B. Lundstrum’s e book The First Workforce, a well-documented historical past of the Pacific marketing campaign from Pearl Harbor to Halfway. Drawing on materials from Japanese sources, Lundstrom asserts that the second wave of bombers included solely eight plane and that one of many planes shot out of the formation by O’Hare really managed to limp again to Rabaul. O’Hare was nonetheless formally credited with 5 victories that day, which made him the Navy’s first ace of World Conflict II. afterward, with attribute modesty, he made all of it sound like a easy coaching train. “It appears as if all you must do is put a few of these .50-caliber slugs into the Japanese engines and so they come all aside and tear themselves proper out of the ships,” he stated.

The Lexington’s crew cheered because the Japanese bombers fell from the sky. These under decks heard a play-by-play account over the ship’s loudspeaker system, being broadcast by a United Press reporter. Fellow pilots later marveled at O’Hare’s gunnery, noting that he used solely about 60 rounds to shoot down every bomber.

The strike in opposition to Rabaul needed to be canceled as a result of the factor of shock had been misplaced, but it surely was an important day for naval aviation. The Navy claimed that 16 of the 18 attacking plane had been “splashed,” together with two four-engined patrol planes. U.S. forces misplaced two F4Fs however just one pilot, and the duty power was undamaged. For his half, O’Hare didn’t appear to thoughts that he had been the goal of a jumpy Navy machine-gunners he returned to the provider. In line with Thach, he walked over to the trigger-happy sailor and stated gently”Son, should you don’t cease capturing at me once I’ve acquired my wheels down, I’m going to should report you to the gunnery officer.” Later O’Hare expressed a sure diploma of annoyance concerning the incident. “I don’t thoughts him capturing at me once I don’t have my wheels down,” he stated, “but it surely may make me should take a wave-off, and I don’t prefer to take wave-offs.”

It might be greater than a 12 months earlier than anybody—good friend or foe—would shoot at O’Hare once more. By returning to Washington for the ornament ceremonies, he missed each the Battle of the Coral Sea in early Might, throughout which the Lexington was sunk, and the pivotal battle of Halfway one month later.

O’Hare, was the hero the nation wanted however his stateside ceremony for his Medal of Honor and appearances across the nation, would imply he would miss motion on the Battle of the Coral Sea and Halfway. (Naval Historical past and Heritage Command)

In June, along with his public relations project accomplished, O’Hare was given command of his previous squadron (redesignated VF-6). However by then most of his previous squadron mates have been gone, and his job was one among coaching new pilots slightly than combating the enemy.

As a coaching officer, “O’Hare preached the Bible in line with Thach,” Barrett Tillman wrote in Hellcat. “Teamwork and marksmanship have been the virtues he pressured.” And, like Thach, he was all enterprise the place flying was involved. As soon as, when a number of squadron pilots needed to check out some Military Curtiss P-40s at a close-by airfield in Hawaii, he hauled them over the coals, saying it was extra vital to realize expertise within the new Grumman F6F-3 Hellcats that have been changing their Wildcats.

Lastly, in late August 1943, O’Hare’s squadron took half in an assault by the brand new era of quick carriers in opposition to Marcus Island within the Central Pacific. The American raiders achieved such full shock that no Japanese planes even acquired off the bottom. Nevertheless, O’Hare was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for disregarding “Super anti-aircraft hearth” in main his squadron “in persistent and vigorous strafing raids in opposition to hostile institutions on the island.

After coming back from his public relations tour, O’Hare transitioned to Hellcats with VF-6. Right here, “Butch” O’Hare and Willie Williams, the lead crew chief that took care of his F6F Hellcat, aboard the united statesIndependence, September 6, 1943. (Nationwide Archives)

The squadron took half in a provider raid on Wake Island 5 weeks later. The Hellcat pilots lastly acquired to check their machines in opposition to the legendary “Zero.” O’Hare shot down one, his first kill since he bagged 5 in sooner or later in February 1942. On the way in which dwelling, he noticed a Betty and in addition despatched that crashing into the ocean for his seventh victory. His day’s work earned him a gold star in lieu of a second DFC.

Subsequent got here the marketing campaign in opposition to the Gilbert Islands and the bloody Marine invasion of Tarawa. By now, O’Hare was an air group commander assigned to Enterprise. Edward P. Stafford, who wrote the ship’s historical past, The Massive E, famous: “O’Hare was unchallengeably the very best shot and the very best pilot in his command. His males stood in Awe of him for the hero he was. They revered him for his heat, his enthusiasm and his braveness.

Enterprise was a part of Process Group 50.2, which additionally included two gentle carriers, Belleau Wooden and Monterey, three quick battleships and 6 destroyers. The group’s mission was to safe the airspace over Makin Atoll on the northern finish of the Gilberts, destroy the island’s protection installations, help invasion forces on November 20, after which stand by to repel any Japanese counterstrike.

Resistance on each Makin and Tarawa had been crushed by November 23 (with the Marines taking greater than 3,000 casualties on Tarawa). However the American Fifth Fleet of Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance was coming underneath growing assault from Japanese land-based torpedo planes and submarines. On the morning of November 25, the escort provider Liscome Bay was sunk by a Japanese submarine I-175, 20 miles southeast of Makin, with the lack of some 650 crew members. That evening, a Japanese twin-engined bomber, searching for a goal, crossed the deck of Enterprise at an altitude of roughly 400 ft however by no means noticed the ship.

Now O’Hare’s prime precedence was to cease the Japanese torpedo planes that appeared on the ship’s radar simply after sundown, dropping parachute flairs and trying to find targets. “The Maps can’t assault us by day and make it worthwhile anymore,” he informed a author for the Saturday Night Publish. “Our Hellcats and AA [anti-aircraft] weapons are an excessive amount of for them …. The Maps have gotten the phrase …the one time to sock their fish house is at evening once they can keep away from our fighters.”

O’Hare and different senior pilots had developed a novel night-fighting tactic. They teamed up two F6F Hellcats with a radar outfitted Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo-bomber and despatched them out on search-and-destroy missions. First, the ship’s radar would vector the staff towards the enemy. Then the TBF radar would lock onto a goal and lead the Hellcats in shut sufficient for the pilots to see the exhaust from the enemy planes’ engines and to start capturing. As much as that time within the struggle, few, if any, precise fight operations had been tried within the nighttimes due to the issue find the enemy. If authorised, O’Hare’s plan could be a naval aviation first.

Nonetheless, O’Hare was uneasy about touchdown his staff of fighters on Enterprise after darkish. He needed another. Quickly November 26, he flew his Hellcat to the newly captured airfield on Tarawa. The sphere was nonetheless pitted with bomb craters, however he determined that it could be safer touchdown on a pitching provider at the hours of darkness. He returned to the ship extra decided than ever to strive his experiment.

However first O’Hare had made his level and was given permission to run the night-fighter operation later within the day. Because it was primarily his thought, he characteristically determined to fly the primary mission himself with a volunteer, Ensign Warren “Andy” Skon, as his wingman. They took off from the provider simply earlier than sundown, after which have been vectored “on various programs in quest of bogies,” however evening overtook them earlier than they might make any contact. They turned their consideration to becoming a member of up with the TBF-1C Avenger, flown by Lt. Cmdr. John L. Phillips, commander of VT-6, that had adopted them off the provider.

The join-up proved tough within the darkness regardless of steerage from Enterprise’s radar controllers. There have been additionally quite a few Japanese plane buzzing round unseen within the evening sky, however the Avenger pilot shot down two of them with the assistance of his onboard radar. Lastly, after greater than half-hour of looking, the rendezvous was made. The three plane turned on low-intensity operating lights to keep away from dropping contact once more. O’Hare flew to the starboard and barely astern of the Avenger, whereas Skon took up an analogous place on the port aspect.

In an official assertion made after the engagement, Skon estimated that O’Hare was about 200 ft to the best of him when the TBF’s turret gunner all of a sudden opened hearth along with his .50-caliber machine gun. Skon thought the tracers handed between the 2 Hellcats, however just a few seconds after the primary pictures, “O’Hare slid out of formation,” and Skon began to observe him down, however O’Hare was shifting too quick and “disappeared from sight.” Radio calls to the lacking pilot went unanswered. The TBF gunner later said that he noticed a “fourth aircraft closing in on us,” and was given permission to open hearth as quickly because it was in vary. Though it was very darkish and he was blinded by his personal tracer hearth, he thought he hit his goal however couldn’t say if he “shot down the Jap.” The radar officer supported the gunner’s story a couple of forth plane however stated nothing about having one other goal on his scope.

The report filed by the TBF commander raised additional doubts concerning the accuracy of the gunner’s observations. It famous that the “turret gunner was blinded by his personal and the enemy tracers and had nice problem in seeing the goal.” As well as, he stated, “the visual view by means of {the electrical} turret sight was very restricted,” and advisable using “auxiliary sights in future evening work.”

Ensign Skon, maybe the one neutral observer, had his personal model of O’Hare’s destiny. “I at no time sighted a second aircraft to the starboard and astern of the TBF,” he stated. Nor did he “observe a aircraft go over the TBF after Lt. Cmdr. O’Hare slid out of formation.” He additionally said that he “noticed no gunfire aside from the TBF turret gunner’s.”

Rescued from Lake Michigan the place the uncommon fighter had ditched throughout a coaching mission, this Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat was restored and given a spot of honor on the airport that bears Butch O’Hare’s title. The stubby fighter has the identical markings O’Hare’s wildcat wore on his February 20, 1942 Medal of Honor mission. (Man Aceto)

O’Hare was awarded the Navy Cross for his remaining motion. One 12 months later, he was declared formally useless, though his accomplishments continued to function an inspiration for Navy fliers all through the struggle. In September 1949, town of Chicago made certain his heroism would by no means be forgotten. The title of town’s airport was modified from Orchard Discipline to O’Hare Airport.

On February 20, 1992, Butch O’Hare’s Medal of Honor was introduced to town of Chicago by his daughter and two sisters throughout a commemorative ceremony. The occasion marked the fiftieth anniversary of what the quotation known as “one of the daring, if not essentially the most daring single actions within the historical past of fight aviation.” It’s now a part of the O’Hare memorial exhibit on the airport that bears his title.

John G. Leyden is a Navy veteran and retired worker of the Federal Aviation Administration, serving because the information director within the FAA’s Public Affairs Workplace. For additional studying: Queen of the Flat-Tops, by Stanley Johnson; The First Workforce, by John B. Lundstrom; and The Massive E, by Edward P. Stafford.