"Flying Yankees - Black Lightning Squadron"

By Mr. Robert Bourlier

The 118th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron began World War Two as the 118th Observation Squadron, Connecticut National Guard, whose lineage dated back to World War One and service in France.  The 118th was called to federal service in February 1941, and at the time of Pearl Harbor was stationed in Jacksonville, Florida after having been on maneuvers with Army ground forces for most of the year.  After Pearl Harbor the 118th was moved to Charleston, SC and performed anti-submarine patrol duties along the Atlantic coast.  After being relieved from anti-submarine patrol duties in August, 1942, the 118th returned to maneuvers with the Army throughout the South until June, 1943 when training for overseas deployment began in earnest.

Redesignated the 118th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron in August 1943 the squadron continued its preparations for combat.  In October 1943 it was committed to the CBI with ultimate assignment to the 23d Fighter Group of the 14th Air Force.  At this time the squadron received an influx of new pilots to replace the original pilots and other National Guard officer personnel who had been transferred from the unit, but many of the experienced NCOs and other enlisted personnel remained to form the nucleus of the ground support element that served the squadron so well in China.

The squadron, commanded by Major Edward O. McComas, departed the U.S. in January 1944, arriving in India in February.  The 118th, now equipped with P-40s rather then the P-51s they had trained in, was assigned to local airbase defense of the newly established B-29 bases at Chakulia and Kharagpur, India while the squadron Head Quarters was established at Gushkara, India.  Though most of the pilots had transitioned through fighter RTU, most of their experience had been as tactical reconnaissance pilots, flying at low level and maneuvering to take pictures of the assigned targets.  Flying P-40s and later P-51s with machine guns and bomb racks, the squadron was assigned a fighter role, with the reconnaissance role becoming a secondary mission.

In late May 1944, the 118th was relieved of its base defense mission and on June 12, crossed the Hump from Chabua to Yunnanyi, losing one P-40 and the pilot in the process.  Within a week the air element was conducting combat operations from Kweilin along with other squadrons of the 23d FG at Kweilin, Lingling and Liuchow.  The rest of the squadron crossed the Hump by C-46, arriving in Chengkung, near Kunming, where the rear echelon would remain, providing support to the air element during operation from Kweilin and other forward bases in China.

By mid July the 118th was operating alone from Ehr Tong airfield at Kweilin, as the 23d FG tried to stop the Japanese advance on its airfields in South Central China.  With the fall of Kweilin the 118th moved to Liuchow.  The 118th performed essentially in a fighter-bomber role against Japanese troops, material and their lines of communications.  While still a secondary mission, there were a few memorable low-level tactical reconnaissance missions, usually in conjunction with fighter sweeps against Japanese airfields and installations.  The 118th also began to receive their P-51B/C Mustangs and the F-6C reconnaissance version of the P-51, with their enhanced performance, range and maneuverability.

The 118th remained at Liuchow until November 7, when the entire base was evacuated and destroyed in the face of imminent capture by the Japanese.  The Japanese were about to conclude their campaign to neutralize the 14th Air Force bases and to secure their lines of communications to Indo-China.

The 118th returned to Chengkung for a few days break from combat and to reorganize for the combat to come.  Most of the initial group of pilots who had completed their 100 missions were rotated back to the United States while a new group was ready to take over.  The CO, Major Ed McComas, due to illness and recurring physical problems, had flown far fewer missions then the other pilots.  Still in command, he was eager to continue the battle and to add to his personal score of enemy airplanes destroyed, which now stood at two.  His opportunity came on November 12, when the squadron air element moved to the forward airbase at Suichuan.  From here the squadron would perform some of their most difficult but most productive missions, attacking shipping in Hong Kong harbor and airfields in the Shanghai area in January 1945.

At the end of January, 1945 the 118th was forced to return to Chengkung as the Japanese completed their takeover of the East China airfields.  They remained until April, when they moved to their new base at Laohwangping from where they were expected to help repel the Japanese advance on Chihkiang.  However, pressure from the advancing U.S. forces in the Southwest and Central Pacific was forcing a general withdrawal of the Japanese from China.  By July the air war in China was virtually over.  There was much speculation about the future of the 118th, but all speculation ceased with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the ending of the war.

With the cessation of hostilities the 118th once again moved, to Liuchow, where its primary mission was to reconnoiter and observe the withdrawal of Japanese troops from occupied areas and to prepare for their return to the United States.  By October most of the pilots and other officers had been transferred to other squadrons of the 23d FG at Hangchow.  There they remained until December when they left for home by ship from Shanghai, arriving in the U.S. in January 1946.The remainder of the men were transferred to other units to return to the U.S. by way of India and the Mediterranean to arrive at Camp Kilmer, NJ in November, 1945.  The squadron was officially deactivated in China in late October 1945.  It was soon returned to National Guard status where it survives today as the 118th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Connecticut Air National Guard located at Bradley Field, Windsor Locks, Connecticut.  The 118th today flies the A-10 "Wart Hog" providing close air support for the ground commanders and a powerful tank bustin' capability.

The 118th TRS served in China for only fifteen and one-half months and was engaged in strenuous combat for just over six of those months, June 1944 to January 1945, yet it compiled an enviable record during this time.  The 118th produced three "Aces" in those six months, Capt. Oran S. Watts being the first and 1stLt Russell D. Williams the last, with each scoring five aerial victories and one ground victory.  Lt Col Ed McComas, a very aggressive fighter pilot and a hard charging squadron commander, became the highest scoring pilot in the squadron with fourteen aerial victories, four destroyed on the ground and one Japanese destroyer in Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong.  He scored all of his victories in only ten weeks beginning October 16, 1944 and ending December 24, 1944.  His mission of December 23, 1944 on which he shot down five Japanese airplanes made him the only "Ace-in-a-day" in the 14th Air Force.  His fourteen victories ranked him fourth overall in the 14th Air Force behind "Tex" Hill and LtCol "Chuck" Older (with victories while flying with the A.V.G. "Flying Tigers") and Major "Pappy" Herbst, all with 18 and a fraction victories.

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