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Carlos E. Dannacher
Pilot, 40th Fighter Squadron

by Carlos E. "Dan" Dannacher

Frank Dubisher, Marshall Younkman, and I and a bunch more traveled together across the USA and the Pacific to get to the 35th Fighter Group in August 1942. At that time Frank had more flying experience than the rest of us. To me he was a superior aviator and I think he proved it later on.

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Emergency Landing at Wau
I may be the only guy who put a P-39 Airacobra Nose Number 4 down on the Wau strip and lived to tell about it. It occurred on July 14, 1943 when we scrambled from 12-Mile to an intercept over Wau. We were not escorting C-47s that day, some one else was already up there. We arrived at Wau and 20,000' about the same time, leveled off and about ready to drop tanks, when my bird rocked with a huge backfire in the engine compartment. Manifold Pressure fell way off and the rpm was around 1200-1500.

The weather was fairly clear over Wau and I could see C-47s in the pattern. I fell out of formation alone wondering what to do. I got rid of the belly tank and bent around toward the Wau drome. When I tried to add throttle all I got was more backfires, so I left it in idle. I could tell that a circuit or two above the Wau area was about all I could get and if I didn't like the looks of it I could bail out and try for a friendly area.

Then the C-47s worried me, they were busy on the strip and I didn't want to get in their pattern. Finally, I spotted a large grassy spot to the east of the strip which meant that I would be headed toward the C-47s at 90 degrees to their strip.

I decided to put the bird down wheels up and devoted my time to arrange a complete circuit of the area so that I could have a final approach headed uphill toward the offloading C-47s. I called in the clear to warn them of my problem.

With a little maneuvering, slipping around and adding some backfires now and then, I managed to hit it just right and hit the ideal spot in some shallow kunai grass. When I contacted the ground my body moved up against the straps and my hand squeezed the grip and each gun fired one round. I had forgotten to de-arm the gun switch and I guess the gunsight wasn't one of my worries.

Anyway, it was a beautiful landing. I jumped out onto the ground and looked around, there was no fire, no fuel leaking, and no sparks flying around. In a few minutes a jeep from the offloading area came to pick me up. I was back to the squadron and flew again that afternoon. The P-39 was resting in the grass about a 1500 feet from the C-47 strip and I realized that my gunfire only hit into the uphill slope not anywhere near the C-47s.

That evening in the mess hall my C.O., Mike Moore,chewed on me for not bailing out. I explained to him my reasons for not doing it was because I didn't know the state of things around that strip, and the trees and bush looked most unfriendly. Besides, the engine was at least idling and I wasn't gliding like a rock.

The circumstance favored me if I made good flying judgments on the base leg and final approach. Also, I was Lee Taylor's wingman in March 1943 when he wrapped up a P-39 trying to land wheels down at Bulolo. I watched him do it. He looked real good all the way but suddenly became a mass of metal and fire. He didn't know, none of us knew, the Aussie's had trenched the strip to ward off Jap air invaders.

I never heard any more about the escapade. I doubt that many 40th pilots knew about it. It was not in any of the operational reporting in the squadron history. To me it evened out - no fame, no blame.

What ever happened to MY Pacific Wreck?
Really, it wasn't a wreck, the airplane was in fairly good shape, no real structural damage. At any place besides Wau, New Guinea it could have been lifted and put back into operation soon.

This airplane was a P-39D Airacobra with the squadron number "4" painted in white on the armament access door in front of the pilot. I couldn't find the tail numbers anyplace. I know that a crew chief went to Wau to look at the airplane and verify the cause of the backfiring. Shortly after the incident, we moved northward from Port Moresby to Tsilli Tsilli Airfield and Nadzab AIrfield and I forgot all about it until Park raised the question in his book Angels 20.

Second Tour of Duty: The Philippines
I had a second tour in the Pacific, coming back to 35th Fighter Group and 40th Fighter Squadron again at Clark Field in May 1945. Johnny Young, my tent-mate at Gusap Airfield, had become Group Ops. I believe he convinced Ed Doss that I should be the next 40th C.O. So I had another batch of 40th comrades to relate to and P-51s to fly.

We made it through Okinawa and on to Japan and I was home by December 1945. I stayed in the Reserve while I finished college at St. Louis University.

After the War
I graduated in June 1948 just in time to be recalled in the Berlin airlift crisis. After that I remained on active duty, retiring in 1975. Now I am really retired for the third time, mostly doing family ancestral projects and going to WWII and Korean War reunions. It is enough to keep busy, and then some.

Carlos 'Dan' Dannacher 40 Fighter Squadron via Wayback Machine July 30, 2009

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