Dick Bong

P-38 Lightning

P-38 Lightning

John Loisel

P-38 Lightning Ace of the 475th FG

By , Dec. 1999. Updated June 28, 2011.

On page 36 of John Stanaway's P-38 Lightning Aces of the Pacific and CBI, there's a black and white photo of Major Loisel and three of his ground crew standing in front of his P-38H, Screamin' Kid, (serial no. 42-66682/White 161). Loisel is smoking a cigarette. Six little Japanese flags decorate the nose, along with a cartoon character wearing a suit of armor. The four airmen look casually competent. At the time, early 1944, Major Loisel was CO the the 432nd Fighter Squadron.

John Simon Loisel, born on in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, entered Army Air Corps flight training on 10 March 1941, and received his wings on 31 October. In September 1942 he was assigned to 36th Fighter Squadron, 8th Fighter Group in New Guinea, where he flew 83 combat missions in P-39s.

In July 1943 Lieutenant Loisel was selected to join the cadre of the newly established 475th Fighter Group then forming at Amberley Field, Australia. This group was General George Kenney's "baby," the first P-38 Lightning group in the Fifth Air Force. Loisel was initially assigned to the 432nd Fighter Squadron.

The Group moved to Dobodura, New Guinea in August, and began to support McArthur's drive up the northern coast of New Guinea. Loisel shot down two Tonys on a bomber escort mission to Wewak on 21 August 1943, a Zero near Finschafen on 22 September. The Japanese struck back, attacking the U.S. air bases on October 15. Loisel downed two of the raiding Zeros over Oro Bay that day to gain ace status. Three days later he was promoted to Captain. He downed two more Zeros in December, one on the 13th and the other on the 21st. Taking command of the 432nd Fighter Squadron on 22 January, Loisel destroyed another Zero the next day. Over the next few weeks the 475th flew numerous strike missions against targets in New Guinea and the Halmaharas. On 3 April Loisel shot down an Oscar and a Hamp on a low level bomber escort mission against enemy airfields at Hollandia, New Guinea. He returned to the U.S. in August as a Major.

Loisel returned to the Pacific in January 1945 to become group operations officer. Flying from the Philippines on 28 March 1945, he destroyed a Frank near Tree Island, Indochina. At this stage, the P-38s of the 475th Fighter Group, based at Clark Field near Manila, flew mostly ground support, mop-up missions and a few long range bomber escort mission. As the latter offered the only real opportunities to engage Japanese fighters, the pilots eagerly sought these missions. In his role as group operations officer, Major Loisel was able to assign himself to one of these missions on March 28 - a B-25 strike on Jap naval convoy off Indochina (Vietnam). All three squadrons of the 475th were committed that day, two flights - eight aircraft, from each. Loisel now led the 433rd Squadron's Red Flight.

Under the guidance of Charles Lindbergh, the 475th had worked out the best way to extract the best fuel economy from their P-38s, allowing them to achieve a combat radius of 800 miles. On the way out, with drop tanks and full ammo loads, they stayed down on the deck, leaned out the fuel/air mixture, reduced propeller revolutions, throttled back, and avoided changes in speed & direction. Using these techniques they cruised at about 170 MPH, a good speed to stay with the relatively slow bombers, and used the absolute minimum of fuel. On the trip home, using the same procedures, but without the drop tanks and with less ammo, they flew about 35 MPH faster.

Twenty Lightnings (four planes had aborted) approached the Indochinese coast with the B-25s, when they spotted the convoy and its covering fighters, about a dozen Ki-84 Franks. The Franks didn't seem to be in any formations larger than pairs, and apparently intent on the bombers, they didn't react immediately when the P-38s closed on their rear quarter. He approached on pair, and opened up at extreme range, missing his target, but forcing it take evasive action. With a slight nudge, he re-directed his four .50 calibers and his 20mm cannon to the second Frank in the pair. This time his gunfire struck home, and as he closed the range, he saw hits along the fuselage and right wing. The Frank burst into flames, made sharp right turn, and dived into the sea. This action had carried Loisel far beyond the Jap convoy and the B-25s, so he turned back to cover the bombers. Another pilot, Lt. Wesley Hulett, had been hit, and went down. Loisel circled and searched and called in the PBY rescue planes, but to no avail; Lt. Hulett was never heard from. As their fuel situation became critical, they headed back toward Luzon, using their fuel economy techniques. A second American pilot was lost when he ran out of fuel while still out at sea.

Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on 15 May, Loisel assumed command of the 475th on 15 July and led the group to Ie Shima and on to Kimpo, Korea. He relinquished command on 18 April 1946 and returned home. During the Korean War, Loisel commanded the 47th Fighter-Bomber Group flying ground attack missions in the F-84. He retired from the U.S. Air Force as a colonel in 1970.

TALLY RECORD: 11 Confirmed and one Damaged

DECORATIONS: Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with 3 OLCs and the Air Medal with 9 OLCs.


In Association with P-38 Lightning Aces of the Pacific and CBI, by John Stanaway

Number 14 in Osprey's Aircraft of the Aces series. In their standard 96 page format, with color plates of the imaginatively decorated P-38s, B&W photos from the World War Two era, lots on info on Bong and McGuire, and tables of the 5th AF, 13th AF, and CBI Lightning aces.

Also an article covering the Yamamoto mission, describing the controversy over credit for the kill. Many photos that I haven't seen elsewhere.

Buy "P-38 Lightning Aces of the Pacific and CBI" at

Read a review of 'P-38 Aces of the Pacific' at