Black Sheep Aces
Aces of Marine Fighting Squadron (VMF) 214
By Stephen Sherman, Jan. 2001. Updated June 24, 2011.
The famous World War Two Marine fighting squadron, VMF-214 ...
... forever linked with its Commanding Officer, Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, fought in the Solomon Islands, from August, 1943 through January, 1944. The Black Sheep shot down 94 Japanese planes, and counted eight aces, in addition to Boyington.
Here are the stories of those eight aces, men who were notably
overlooked in Boyington's self-serving autobiography Baa Baa Black
Sheep. You couldn't tell that any other pilots in the squadron did
anything of significance from that book.
Of course, the organization, VMF-214 had an existence before and after the period when Boyington was its CO. You can read a fuller Black Sheep squadron history here.
Black Sheep Aces
- John Bolt (separate page)
- Gregory 'Pappy' Boyington (separate page)
- Bill Case
- Don 'Mo' Fisher
- Bob McClurg
- Chris Magee (separate page)
- Paul 'Moon' Mullen
- Ed Olander
- Henry Allan McCartney
- Once They Were Eagles: The Men of the Black Sheep Squadron, by Frank Walton, bios of all Black Sheep pilots and officers
Bill CaseWith 8 kills, Case was the third-highest scoring Black Sheep, and he may have been the luckiest. Like most of the experienced pilots who started in August, 1943 he only served with VMF-214 for one tour.
Twenty-two year-old First Lieutenant William N. Case had flown with Greg Boyington earlier in VMF-122. He then served a combat tour with VMF-112 and downed a Zero over Kahili when he was flying with 112. He was one of those pilots who had a sense of invincibility, which he first noticed in a head-on encounter with a Ki-61 Tony. He bore right in, seeing but heedless of the orange and black gunfire he could see coming right at him. Case never wavered, unwittingly playing 'chicken' with the Jap pilot, who pulled up at the last second. Case's first victory as a Black Sheep (his second to-date) came on Sept. 18. He latched onto a Zero that took no evasive action at all, just a long sweeping turn into a cloud. Case was so close, only 50 feet behind, that he could still see his quarry while in the cloud. He fired, but his shots bracketed the Zero, due to the wide 15-foot spread of the Corsair's guns. Finally Case realized the problem and moved the pipper off to one side, allowing three guns on one side to destroy the plane.
Flying Boyington's wing on an escort mission of Sept. 27, he scored his third victory. But he was shot up himself; enemy bullets punctured his F4U's oil reservoir, a 25-gallon tank under the engine. As the last of his oil drained out, he made an emergency landing at Vella Lavella. The Seabees there took care of him in just three hours, replacing the oil reservoir with one from another recently crashed Corsair. When he finally arrived back at Munda, several hours late, he found that his squadron mates had already split up his belongings. He didn't ask any questions, but went to the mess hall; when he got back to his tent, all his stuff had been returned.
Fortune smiled on him with a couple of credits for aerial victories. On Oct. 11, 1943, he saw a Zero about a mile away, and decided to test-fire his Corsair's guns. As did so the distance had narrowed to about 800 yards; as Case fired, the Zero flew into the stream of bullets, and went down. Three days later, he got into a dogfight and saw "something, possibly a drop tank" splash in the water. During his de-briefing, he noted that he had seen the splash from 16,000 feet. He got credit for a victory, on the reasoning that any splash seen from three miles up must have been an aircraft.
But surely, She smiled most at him on Oct. 18, his last day in combat. A short fellow, Case always raised his Corsair's seat all the way up. On this day, he lowered it a notch (the only time he ever did so). In battle, a Zero's bullet smashed into the cockpit, and just bloodied his scalp. If he had been sitting an inch higher, the bullet would have killed him. William Case survived that day, and lived for another 52 years, passing away in 1995.
Bob McClurgA lowly Second Lieutenant when he joined VMF-214, he downed seven Japanese aircraft.
He was "scared to death" when he shot down his first enemy plane on Sept. 18, passing so close after a head-to-head gunfight, that he could see the doomed pilot in his flaming cockpit.
On the Ballale strike of Oct. 18, his engine experienced 'mag flash', a problem with the magneto and the ignition, over enemy territory. His F4U cut out, and he went down to 15,000 feet before he could re-start. His engine still sputtering, he spotted two Zeros below him. He was directly behind and above. Perfect shooting position. They never saw him, until his bullets ripped into the planes. As McClurg was by himself for this, Walton was reluctant to credit him with the two victories until a P-39 pilot confirmed the whole event.
During the first Rabaul fighter sweep, McClurg was one of only three pilots to down an enemy aircraft, and he had to break the rules to do so. Staying in formation was a cardinal rule, so when McClurg spotted a lonely Rufe floatplane down below and swooped down to destroy it, Boyington wagged his finger at McClurg. "Don't do that again" was the message.commitment-biography
December 23Over Rabaul's Simpson Harbor, he became separated from Boyington. On his own in the huge melee, he got behind a Zero that had just shaken off another Corsair. Twisting, turning, throttling back (to avoid overrunning his target), McClurg forced the Zero down onto the deck. He opened up at 100 yards; the shots struck home; and the Zero bounced off the waves a coupld times before plunging in. As he regained altitude, two Zeros got behind him. He sought the safety of a cloud, and practically popped his eyeballs in a high-G right turn. Coming out, the Zekes were in front him. After more tortuous aerobatics, he got 150 yards behind one, and blew it up, "leaving only a big cloud of black smoke and little pieces falling."
Five days later, McClurg claimed his seventh and last plane.
Moon MullenPaul 'Moon' Mullen flew with Greg Boyington in VMF-122 in early 1943, and had one-and-a-half aerial victories to his credit before joining VMF-214. Mullen was one of the Black Sheep's singers and a poet, author of In a Rowboat at Rabaul. As John Bolt recalled, it was Mullen who came up with the "Black Sheep" squadron name and the insignia.
He was leading a division on Sept. 26, escorting dive bombers over Kahili, when he scored his first kill as a Black Sheep, flaming a Zero that had gotten onto Bob Bragdon's tail. He also helped to save Rollie Rinabarger's life that day, scattering the Zeros away from Rollie's shot-up Corsair. (Badly injured that day, Rinabarger's Corsair was scrapped. He was hospitalized, and never flew combat again.)
Mullen scored another on Oct. 18.
Dec. 27 - He shot down his fourth Zero as a Black Sheep, and became an ace.
The day after Boyington went down, on 1/4/44, Mullen shot down his last plane.
Don FisherA First Lieutenant when he joined VMF-214 in August, 1943, Fisher was the squadron scrounger, one of those guys in any military unit who have the ability to acquire needed stuff. His nickname 'Mo' reflected that, as in "get a little mo' of" something. He had met Boyington a few months earlier, and had lost a case of beer to him on an aerial gunnery bet.
He flew Boyington's wing on the big fight of Sept. 16, Fisher's baptism of fire. He scored two kills, described in Gamble's The Black Sheep:
It was a beautiful setup for Fisher; as he triggered his guns the Zeke began a slow roll to the left. It was on its back when Fisher sent another burst directly into the cockpit. "I was right behind him, and he blew. The wings went each way. They couldn't take the beating of those six fifties - once you were on them, they were done." Fisher remembered years later.He flamed a Japanese fighter on Dec. 25, and two more on the 27th, making him an ace.
Looking around for Boyington, he spotted another Zeke. Fisher snapped off a burst and missed, but the Zeke pulled up and initiated the same maneuver Fisher had just witnessed - a slow roll to the left. This Zeke was also on its back when Fisher fired a long burst. The Zeke began smoking, then spun off into a tight spiral for a thousand feet until flames streaked back.
Along with many other Black Sheep pilots, he moved over to VMF-211 in March, 1944, but got sick before its deployment. Don Fisher passed away in 1995.
First Lieutenant Edwin L. Olander was a self-described "civilian soldier," who happily returned to civilian life in 1946. After training at Pensacola, he became a 'plowback' instructor before hooking up with the Black Sheep. He flew two combat tours with them and was credited with downing 5 enemy planes.
Olander is featured in Mark Styling's excellent Corsair Aces of World War 2, #8 in the "Osprey Aircraft of the Aces" series
After getting credit for a couple probables in September, he got his first confirmed victory on Oct. 10, a flamer over Kahili.
Olander was a big fan of Boyington and respected his inspirational leadership. On Oct. 17th, Olander was chasing a Zero that had another Corsair right behind it. Unable to get a clear shot without risking hitting the friendly, Olander held his fire. When he reported this at base, Boyington chewed him out; he had been in the other Corsair, and wanted Olander to fire at the enemy regardless of the risk to himself. This reinforced Olander's dedication to Boyington's leadership. Perhaps he redeemed himself a little bit by shooting down a Zero the next day.
Olander also experienced the hazards of poor leadership on Dec. 28, when his division leader, J.C. Dustin, led his four planes into a gaggle of Zeros. The Japanese had the advantages of numbers, a sunward position, and altitude. But Dustin led his planes in speed-killing climb, right into the enemy's gunfire. Dustin and Red Bartl were killed, while Olander and Bruce Matheson escaped with heavily damaged airplanes. As Olander twisted away, one of the pursuing Zeros overran him, and he brought it down into the water.
He scored his fifth kill a few days later, on another fouled-up mission. Leading a division in support of some B-24 Liberators over Rabaul, weather prevented the Marine fighters from linking up with the bombers. The unescorted bombers took a beating, but Olander found a Zeke and flamed it, his fifth kill. He was an ace.
When Boyington and George Ashmun were shot down on Jan. 3, 1944, Olander was especially hard-hit by the loss of his close friend Ashmun.
Hank McCartneyHenry Allan McCartney was a combat veteran before he joined the Black Sheep, and had already shot down 4 planes with VMO-251 and VMF-121. He was credited with one kill as a Black Sheep, making him an ace.
He began the war as a dive bomber pilot, with VMSB-142 in early 1943, but eagerly transferred to VMO-251, which was reorganized into a fighter squadron. He shot down a Betty over Guadalacanal, and then got three Zekes with VMF-121.
He made ace by shooting down a Zero on Sept. 23. He concluded his stint with the Black Sheep after their first R&R in Australia.
Frank Walton was the ACIO (Air Combat Information Officer) for the Black Sheep, the most important non-flying officer in any squadron. He planned missions with the CO, kept the official squadron war diary, debriefed pilots after missions, and awarded credits for confirmed, probables, and damaged. In Walton's case, he provided most of the ground-based management of the squadron.
In later years, he fell out with Boyington, partly over the disrespect that Pappy displayed for other members of the squadron in his autobiography and in the TV show. In the mid-Eighties, he wrote this book, in which the survivors tell their own stories. The book offers mixed reviews on Pappy Boyington, but more for his post-war actions than his outstanding combat leadership