Walter Edmonds claims that he contributed more to the winning of the war in the Pacific than any other single individual below star rank; the official history of the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II said his conversion of the Douglas A-20 from a light bomber into a gunship was the most significant event of the Army Air Forces in the Southwest Pacific in 1942, and Gen. George Kenney called him "my secret weapon." Yet little has been written about Lt. Col. Paul Irvin "Pappy" Gunn. Anyone who reads this book will understand that he was one of the greatest heroes of World War II, a man whose contributions significantly altered the course of events in the Southwest Pacific.
Gunn was a U.S. Navy enlisted aviator who entered military service in 1917, and retired as a chief machinist's mate in 1937. He eventually took his family to Manila, where he helped set up an airline to provide service throughout the islands. Shortly after the war came to Luzon, Maj. Gen. Lewis Brereton called Gunn to his office at Nichols Field and told him that the airline and its personnel were now part of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Gunn immediately went to work, commencing one of the most amazing careers of the war.
Throughout the conflict, Gunn had to fight his own personal war, knowing that his family was in a Japanese internment camp at Manila's Santo Tomas University. Despite this, his military exploits were the stuff of legend. During the first weeks of the war, Gunn flew transport missions throughout the Philippines and removed a group of staff officers when the headquarters of the Far East Air Forces was ordered to Australia. There he found a force in disarray. One of his first accomplishments was organizing a crew of mechanics to assemble Curtiss P-40s and Douglas A-24 dive-bombers that he found sitting on the Brisbane docks. His naval experience made him the ideal man to get these into working order. When the P-40s were ready to fly, Gunn rounded up pilots to fly them, then led them north toward Darwin with plans to continue on to Mindanao and back into the war in the Philippines. But when they got to Darwin, they were sent to Java instead.
Gunn was soon put in command of the new Air Transport Command. Starting with an assortment of Douglas and Lockheed transports, his command operated all over the area. Gunn himself flew missions to Mindanao in his personal C-45, then went on to Bataan to deliver badly needed supplies. During the Java Campaign, he took a B-17 that had been assigned to his transport squadron, loaded it with bombs, and attacked Japanese ships in the Java Sea.
In March 1942, he spotted a contingent of Netherlands East Indies Air Force B-25s sitting on an airfield near Melbourne. He concocted a scheme to literally steal the B-25s and put them into the new 3d Bomb Group. Gunn was reassigned to that group and a few days later was flying these B-25s on missions to the Philippines. On one of these, he took his B-25 down to wavetop altitudes and skipped bombs into the side of a Japanese transport. He also flew a special mission to Panay to pick up a Japanese-American intelligence agent and two other men who had been flown out of Bataan.
Upon returning to Australia, Gunn began experimenting with modifications to the B-25, especially the addition of fixed machineguns in the bombardier's compartment. He worked out an installation of three .50-cal guns, but the lack of available B-25s kept him from modifying other ships. The arrival of Douglas A-20s led to a new development. Gunn knew these needed modifications before they would be suitable for combat, and he was given a free hand. He worked out an installation of four .50-cal machine guns in the nose of the A-20, with two others mounted on the sides of the fuselage.
He was working on the A-20s when General Kenney arrived in the Philippines. Upon learning that Gunn was using machine guns retrieved from wrecked fighters, Kenney realized that he had found a man who would be an asset and immediately ordered him transferred to his staff. The A-20s made a spectacular debut as they commenced low-level attacks on Japanese airfields and on the Japanese troops threatening Port Moresby on the Kokoda Trail. The first attack by the A-20s on ground troops broke up an attack on the outskirts of Port Moresby and sent the Japanese fleeing northward toward Buna. Few made it; most, including the Japanese commander, died before the guns and bombs of the A-20s. Their success led Kenney to give Gunn the go-ahead to modify a squadron of B-25s--and the rest is history as Gunn, Kenney, and the Fifth Air Force continued on to ultimate victory.
Nat Gunn has done an excellent job of telling his dad's story. After his family's rescue from the prison camp, he remained with his father in the Philippines for the next ten years, until Pappy's untimely death in an aircraft accident south of Manila.
Pappy Gunn truly was an amazing man (who produced an amazing family); those who read this book will agree.
Sam McGowan, USAF veteran, author; and writer, Missouri City, Texas
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||Air Power History|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2004|
|Previous Article:||Armed Servants: Agency, Oversight, and Civil-Military Relations.|
|Next Article:||American Soldiers: Ground Combat in the World Wars, Korea & Vietnam.|