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|Pilot Lt. John R. Mulvey, Jr. (rescued) Houston, Texas
Ditched February 14, 1943
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) P-38G Lightning serial number unknown. Disassembled and shipped overseas to the South Pacific and reassembled.
Assigned to the 13th Air Force (13th AF), 347th Fighter Group (347th FG), 339th Fighter Squadron (339th FS). No known nickname or nose art. When lost, engine and weapon serial numbers unknown.
On February 14, 1943 at 10:00am took off from Fighter 2 (Kukum) on Guadalcanal piloted by Lt. John R. Mulvey, Jr. as one of ten P-38G Lightnings flying high cover escorting nine PB4Y-1 Liberators bombing Japanese shipping off southern Bougainville in the Buin-Shortland area. Also escorting were twelve F4U Corsairs from VMF-124 flying close cover. The weather was clear with scattered clouds.
After the bomb run, the formation was intercepted by Japanese Zeros and floatplane fighters and engaged in air combat with the U. S. formation.
Justin Taylan adds:
"I researched this mission at the Tokyo Defense archives. A total of 42 Japanese aircraft intercepted including 18 Zeros from 252 Kōkūtai, 13 Zeros from 204 Kōkūtai and 11 A6M2-N Rufes from 802 Kōkūtai."
Returning, Mulvey joined the formation of PB4Y-1 Liberators and observed one bomber make a crash landing to the northeast of Vangunu and did not observe any survivors.
Low on fuel from excessive maneuvering, Mulvey flew as far back to base as possible before he ran out of fuel and ditched into Sunlight Channel in the Russell Islands. Due to the severe American losses, this mission became known as the "Saint Valentines Day Massacre".
Fate of the Pilot
During the ditching, Mulvey's head impacted the windscreen causing a slight injury. His P-38 sank within 30 seconds and while he was preparing his life raft, a native canoe reached him transported him to Hai village on Hai Island (Moko) where he was introduced to the head man and received a friendly reception. Next, taken to the coastwatcher in the area where a radio message was transmitted and signal panels laid out to signal U. S. planes.
On February 15, 1943 in the morning, rescued by PBY Catalina and flown to Guadalcanal and rejoined his squadron.
Edward Rogers adds:
"Lt. Mulvey was the only person to return from amongst the crews of the eight U. S. Army Air Force, Marine and Navy aircraft which were lost on the 14 February 1943 mission against Japanese shipping in the Buin Shortlands, aka the St. Valentine's Day Massacre."
347th Fighter Group Advanced Echelon APO 709 "Preliminary Intelligence Summary of Operations of Army Fighter Planes at Cactus - December 1, 1942 to February 17, 1943" February 21, 1943
(Page 3) "Date: 2/14 Type: P-38 How Lost: Force landing near Russell Islands. Pilot: Lt. Mulvey - rescued."
347th Fighter Group Advanced Echelon - Combat Report - Fighter Escort February 14, 1943
Guadalcanal and the Origins of the 13th Air Force page 182, 240 [PDF] via Wayback Machine May 20, 2006
(Page 182) "Next day [February 14, 1943] the Liberators tried again. Nine more went up to Buin, accompanied this time by 10 P-38's and 12 of the Marine's new F4U's. Again the Jap sent up 45 fighters to intercept, and again the cost was heavy. One B-24 [PB4Y-1] was shot down in a head-on attack, another crash landed off New Georgia; two of the Corsairs went down, while the 339th Fighter Squadron, on one of its blackest days, lost 4 of its P-38's. Bombers and escorts had shot down [claimed] 12 Zeros and the B-24s sank a large cargo vessel 2 miles off Kahili, but the price was too high. [Footnote 17] It was immediately apparent that operations of this type could not long be sustained. Consequently on 14 February daylight attacks on the Buin area were discontinued until more adequate fighter cover could be provided. [Footnote 18]"
(Page 240) "Footnote 17. Ibid. War Diary, MAW-2, 14 Feb. 1943; History of the 339th Fighter Squadron (TE). One of the P-38 pilots, Lt. John R. Mulvey, was rescued the following day.
Footnote 18. War Diary, MAW-2, 14 Feb. 1943; incl. (War Diary MAG-12), "Record of Events, Fighter Command, Guadalcanal, February 1, 1943 to July 25, 1943," in USMC Hist. Div. files."
History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II (1952) by Robert Sherrod page 135
"On 14 February , their third day in the combat area, the F4U pilots learned that Japanese flyers had not lost their skill or aggressiveness. About 50 well-alerted Zeros were waiting from the raid on Kahili Field in southern Bougainville. The Japanese shot down two F4U's, two Navy PB4Y's, two P-40's and the entire top cover of four P-38's, with a loss to themselves of only three Zeros, [sic only one was lost], one of which collided with a F4U. This 'Saint Valentine's Day massacre' was a painful blow to the Guadalcanal-based flyers of all services."
13th Fighter Command In World War II (2004) by William Wolf pages 118 (Feb 14, 1943), 333 (index)
"Despite the losses of the previous day, on the 14th [February 1943] nine PB4Ys escorted by ten P-38s of the 339FS flying high cover, and 12 F4Us of VMF-124 flying close cover, again attacked the shipping off Shortlands-Buin. The bombers got several hits on a cargo ship and several near misses on two others. s they turned home 30 Zero s from Kahili supported by 15 float planes came up and attacked the Americans. A PB4Y was hit in the cockpit and crashed into the sea off Shortland. Another bomber was hit by AA fire and struggled as far as 12 miles off New Georgia before it had to ditch. The top cover P-38s were divided in two three-plane sections and four-plane flight when the Zeros attacked. Capt. James Geyer, leading the four-plane flight, shot down [claimed] two Zeros and a probable, and 1Lt. William Griffith of his flight splashed another and claimed a probable. Geyer's flight lost two P-38s, and two more P-38s were lost from the three plane sections. Geyer's flight lost two P-38s, and two more P-38s were lost from the three plane sections. Four 339FS pilots were lost: Joseph Frinkenstein [Finkenstein]; Wellman Huey; John Mulvey; and Donald White. Mulvey ditched and was rescued near Russell Island the next day. A post-war Japanese book described that Huey had bailed out of his P-38 and landed on a Japanese airfield and was severely beaten, probably to death. The Marine Corsairs claimed three Zeros and a Pete [sic] and lost two of their own, one to a mid-air collision with a Zero. The PB4Y gunners claimed nine Zeros - a very questionable number, as the Japanese records for the day show only three Zeros lost. The totals for the day were a cargo ship sunk, five (or three) Zeros (plus the nine claimed by the PB4Y gunners!), and a Pet on the Japanese side. The Americans lost two two PB4Ys, four P-38s, and two F4Us, and the mission was referred to as the 'St. Valentine's Day Massacre.' Losses of this magnitude could not be sustained for small-scale daylight attacks, and all daylight missions on the Buin area were discontinued until improved fighter escort could be provided. Daylight raids on major Japanese bases were discontinued and night attacks resumed. That day six 12FS pilots were given a respite from combat when they rotated to Fiji for R&R."
USAF Historical Study No. 85 USAF Credits For The Destruction of Enemy Aircraft, World War II Alphabetical: Mulvey John R Jr page 139 (PDF page 146)
Fold3 - John R Mulvey
UTA Libraries - Captain John Ralph Mulvey Junior, P-38 Pilot (photo)
Thanks to Edward Rogers for research and analysis
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