US Army Air Force Pilot Shoots Down Wife
Boy meets girl is a classic story - except when it's not.
Louis Curdes, an engineering graduate of Purdue University, joined the Army Reserves on March 12, 1942. On December 3, 1942, he graduated from flight school at Luke Field, Arizona and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. He went on to .... well, you'll just have to read it to believe it.
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General George Kenney
Beginning in July 1942, the United States Army Air Force’s General George Kenney commanded “Allied Air Forces and that included Fifth Air Force (5th AF)” assigned to General Douglas MacArthur's Southwest Pacific Area.
To support the Marine Corps’ Guadalcanal Campaign, Bell P-400 Aircobra* and Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter aircraft from General Kenney’s command were assigned to Guadalcanal’s Cactus Air Force, commanded by Marine Corps Major General Roy Geiger.
* The P-400 Aircobra was an expert version of the P-39.
1st Lieutenant Louis Edward Curdes is pictured with his P-38 Lightning, after making Ace;
Souk-el-Arba, Algeria, 1943
In June 1944, General Kenney’s role expanded when he became commander of all “Far East Air Forces.” He held this command until the end of World War II.*
In addition to the 5th AF, Kenney’s new command responsibilities included the Seventh and Thirteenth Air Forces. Southwest Pacific ground based Marine Corps aviation units, e.g., those still in the Solomon Islands remained under his command.
* General George Kenny later became the first commander of the Air Forces’ Strategic Air Command (SAC).
A passage in General George Kenney’s post war book states, “On February 15th one of our own P-51 fighter pilots from the 3rd Air Commandos shot down one of our own DC-3 transports and earned a decoration for the job.”*
“Among the passengers were two army nurses and two Red Cross girls.”
* General Kenney Reports, p 518, Duell, Sloan and Pierce, New York, 1949.
USAAF Captain Louis Curdes is shown in his P-51D Mustang, ‘Bad Angel’ at Mangaldan, Philippines in 1945.
Louis Curdes, an engineering graduate of Purdue University, joined the Army Reserves on March 12, 1942.
On December 3, 1942, he graduated from flight school at Luke Field, Arizona and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. Curdes was immediately assigned to the 95th Fighter Squadron, 82nd Fighter Group, 12th Air Force, flying the P-38 Lightning in North Africa. He saw action over North Africa, Sardinia and Italy.
Curdes’ performance in combat was superb. In only 31 days, from April 29 to June 30, 1943 he shot down one Italian Macchi C.202 fighter and seven Messerschmitt Bf-109 aircraft.
In August of 1943, Curdes had to crash-land his Lightning on the Italian coast approximately ten miles south of Salerno, and about 60 miles south of what would become the Gustav Line (Monte Cassino).
He was taken prisoner by the Italians. However, Italy capitulated to Allied forces on September 8, 1943. Immediately after General Dwight D. Eisenhower announced the Italian surrender, Curdes escaped from the POW camp.* Curdes survived behind German lines for eight months until crossing into Allied territory during the last week of May. He then requested combat duty in the Pacific.
* “Escaped” might not be an entirely accurate description of Curdes’ activities on or after September 8, 1943. It may be that he (and other Allied POWs) simply left after Italian guards abandoned the camp and prior to the arrival of German forces.
Curdes joined the 5th Air Force’s 3rd Air Commando Group’s 4th Fighter Squadron (Commando), in August 1944 and arrived in the Philippines that December.
On February 7, 1945, he shot down a Japanese Ki-46 Dinah thirty miles off the southwest coast of Formosa while flying a P-51D Mustang. This feat made Curdes one of only three American aces to have shot down enemy aircraft of all three Axis powers.
He is one of only three WWII Aces to score victories over airplanes of all three Axis powers.
His victory markings include German, Italian, Japanese and United States aircraft.
Out Of Place
On February 10, 1945, Lieutenant Curdes was orbiting at low altitude over the Philippine Sea north of Luzon covering another P-51 pilot, Lieutenant La Croix, who was floating in a dingy after bailing out of his battle damaged Mustang near Batan Island.*
While attempting to arrange a PBY Catalina rescue of Lieutenant La Croix, Curdes made a strafing run over the Japanese airfield. As he pulled up, he noticed a twin-engine aircraft headed for the island.
* Batan Island is where the Japanese invasion of the Philippines began in December 1941
He closed on the aircraft and identified it as a C-47 Skytrain transport with USAAF markings and a familiar number on the tail.
It was one of the “Jungle Skippers” of the 317th Troop Carrier Group, and not likely a Japanese acquired C-47 masking itself as an American. Unable to contact the Skytrain to warn it off as the aircraft began its final approach to land, Lieutenant Curdes dove in front of the aircraft three times attempting to spoil the Skytrain’s landing.
Nevertheless, the pilot continued to attempt a landing. He was not even dissuaded by a burst of machine gun fire across the aircraft’s nose.
A US Army Air Corps OA-10 Catalina
Image Courtesy US Air Force
Finally, Lieutenant Curdes decided to shoot the Skytrain down. Using his machine guns, he disabled the starboard engine first.
Then, as the transport turned out to sea with one engine gone, Curdes made a 180-degree turn and disabled the other engine. The C-47 settled into the water within yards of Lieutenant La Croix’s dinghy. All occupants of the transport climbed aboard life rafts.
Doing a low pass over the crash site, he observed that everyone was an American. Accordingly, Curdes went back to orbiting the now expanded rescue scene.
Before daylight the next morning, Curdes returned to the rescue scene (with his wingman), and remained until a rescue Catalina arrived.
Returning to his base, Curdes learned that the C-47 was carrying 12 American occupants including two Army nurses.* He learned that the Skytrain pilot had become lost and was forced to head for the nearest visible landing strip because of a fuel shortage.
* Some reports indicate that 13 people were on board the C-47 when it was shot down.
Lieutenant Curdes was startled when he glanced at the names of the survivors. One of the nurses was Valorie, a nurse he had met the night before the shoot down of the Skytrain.
They would be married. Lieutenant Curdes had shot down his future wife!
Lieutenant Curdes received the Distinguished Flying Cross for shooting down the C-47 Skytrain. He is the only American aviator ever honored for shooting down another American airplane.
He is also the only American aviator who shot down his future wife.
The Man Himself
Capt Louis Curdes of 3rd Air Commando Group Philippines in his P-51 aircraft
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