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|Pilot 2nd Lt. Thomas J. Simms (survived) Des Moines, IA
Crashed September 20, 1943 at 12:00pm
Simms was born in Des Moines, Iowa and as a one year old his family relocated to Sacramento, California. His cousin Paul G. Brown an Airacobra pilot with the 36th Fighter Squadron, 8th Fighter Group inspired him to join the Air Corps. Simms enlisted in the U. S. Army on March 13, 1942.
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-38H-5-LO Lightning serial number 42-66833. Disassembled and shipped overseas and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 475th Fighter Group (475th FG) "Satan's Angles", 432nd Fighter Squadron (432nd FS) "Clover". Nicknamed "Blood & Guts".
On September 20, 1943 took off from North Borio Airfield (Dobodura No. 15) piloted by 2nd Lt. Thomas J. Simms on a mission to escort B-24 Liberators over Wewak. His wing man was Lt. 2nd Lt. Donald H. Garrison. This mission was Simms 25th combat mission. Returning, Simms observed enemy aircraft in the distance over the Madang area and heard a radio call from P-38s below under attack.
Thomas Simms adds:
"We were flying back pretty much alone, not close formation, with my wingman Lt. Garrison. We got to about Madang on the coast of New Guinea. Some of the P-38s below us were getting hit by the Japanese, asking for some help, so we made a 180 and saw some enemy airplanes way off, up at our altitude, doing "yo-yos". I peeled off from 16,000' to give the guys below some help."
Diving down, he was hit from the rear by an enemy fighter damaging his P-38.
Thomas Simms adds:
"I felt the impact of his bullets… it felt like people with hammers hitting the armor plate behind my head! That plate really saved me! I did not get a look at the fighter that got me. I saw the airspeed drop to zero… but i was still flying at 250mph, so the pitot tube must have been broken or instrument damaged. I don't know about the other instruments. I was pretty low when i came out of this dive. My first impulse was to land, because my aircraft was not out of control, it was just damaged. I went down low, looking for a place to land in a kunai grass field. I got the feeling landing wasn't going to work, so i pulled up using the air speed from my dive. Got myself unstrapped and 1/3 of the way out of the cockpit, I was sucked out and bailed out at low altitude. The P-38 manual said get out on the wing but was sucked out and cleared the plane ok. I floated down very quickly, I must not have been that high. My left left was wounded, i do not know if that was a shell that hit me or how I got hurt. When the chute opened, I wiggled my feet and both worked, and came down very quickly. I saw my P-38 crash at about a 20 degree angle, trailing smoke, disappears into the jungle. I think i heard a "whom" noise when it crashed."
Fate of the Pilot
Falling through the jungle canopy, he impacted the ground around noon, breaking his back. He remained on the ground until the next morning, then began heading eastward to find help or to reach the coastline. Locating a jungle trail, he was found by a friendly native and taken to his village near Tsili-Tsili. In the village, Simms wrote a letter that was taken to Australian forces nearby.
Two Australian soldiers arrived at the village and drove him to Tsili-Tsili Airfield. Loaded aboard a B-17, he was transported to Port Moresby and admitted to the 116th Station Hospital and placed into a full body cast for his back injuries. Afterwards, transported to Townsville then by train to Melbourne to recover in hospital before being transported aboard a ship back to the United States for additional treatment and therapy.
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Thomas J. Simms
USAF Serial Number Search Results - P-38H-5-LO Lightning 42-66833
Telephone interview with Thomas Simms December 15, 2011 by Justin Taylan
Thanks to Thomas Simms for additional information
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