Remembrance Week – What really happened…

I found different versions of what happened when Butch O’Hare shot down several Mitsubishi G4M1 ‘Betty’ bombers.


In the meantime Lexington had taken part in several other operations, with ‘Fighting Three’ as its fighter squadron. During an attempted raid against Rabaul the ship had been detected by the Japanese. Lt Edward  ‘Butch’ O’Hare and his wingman Lt(jg) Marion W Dufilho intercepted a group of seven Mitsubishi G4M1 ‘Betty’ bombers and shot all of them down before they could attack the task force. O’Hare was credited with destroying five aircraft to become the US Navy’s first ace of-the Pacific War, his outstanding success resulting in him receiving the Medal of Honor.

The streams of tracer fire crisscrossing the sky so impressed Thach that he later described it as “the red rain of battle.” Gunners in the Japanese formation fired hundreds of rounds at O’Hare, but incredibly only one bullet struck his Wildcat, disabling the airspeed indicator. Meanwhile, Dufilho gamely made several feints at the formation, drawing some of the heat away from O’Hare.

Marion W. Dufilho (May 22, 1916-August 24, 1942) was Butch O’Hare’s wingman on the day in February 1942 when O’Hare attained lasting glory defending Lexington on his Medal of Honor flight. Dufilho, who graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1938, was killed in action on August 24, 1942, when he was shot down during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. He was awarded a posthumous Navy Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross, and Purple Heart. The destroyer escort USS Dufilho, DE-423, was commissioned in his honor in 1944.



The annihilation of that first wave of bombers was gratifying, though when a second wave of eight Bettys arrived, only five recently launched Wildcats had enough fuel left to make an attack. One of them was piloted by Lieutenant Edward “Butch” O’Hare and another by his wingman, Lieutenant Junior Grade Marion Dufilho. The other three were widely separated. Dufilho’s guns jammed almost at once so that O’Hare faced the challenge of fending off eight medium bombers virtually alone. The Bettys may have lacked armor, but they bristled with armament. Each plane had a machine gun in the nose, another in a blister on the top of the fuselage, two more in blisters on the sides, plus a 20 mm cannon in the tail. It took remarkable courage for one pilot to assail a formation of such planes; O’Hare had to know that as many as two dozen gunners would be aiming at him. However, unlike the Japanese, who were flying in formation, O’Hare had freedom to maneuver, and he began to pick off the Japanese bombers one by one. With only thirty to forty seconds’ worth of ammunition, he attacked the starboard plane first and then worked his way through the formation. “When one would start burning, I’d haul out and wait for it to get out of the way,” he said later. “Then I’d go in and get another one He shot down three bombers and badly crippled two more, continuing his attack until he had

The first inkling of more danger for TF-11 occurred at 1649 during Nakagawa’s dramatic suicide attempt against the Lexington. Her radar detected bogeys thirty miles north-northeast, but things were still too chaotic aloft for Gill to wring out some F4Fs to check out this possible new threat. Seven minutes later the Patterson, busy rescuing Howard Johnson, noticed a formation of aircraft circling about ten miles north-east of the ships and flashed a warning to the flagship. Gill confirmed the observation at 1700, when his radar placed bogeys nine miles east. He loosed Butch’s section against this new enemy and tried recalling Thach and Gayler to protect the force.

Rather surprised to discover themselves the only available fighters, Butch and Dufilho raced eastward. Seeing the enemy bombers wheel around to the south, Butch cut inside their turn to get between them and the ships. Following standard procedure, he and Duff charged their guns, turned on the light bulbs in the temperamental N2AN illuminated gun sights, and triggered brief test bursts. Butch’s four .50-caliber M2 Brownings worked fine, but to Duff’s consternation, none of his would shoot. Butch gestured his wingman hack to the ship, but Dufilho would not leave even after Butch “shook his fist at him.”

By 1706 Butch and Dufilho had caught up with Ito less than a dozen miles astern of the task force. Reaching twelve thousand feet, they enjoyed an altitude advantage of a thousand feet or so over the descend

Rear Admiral Aubrey Fitch assumed command of TF 11 on 1 April, his force consisting of Lexington, the heavy cruisers USS Minneapolis (CA-36) and USS New Orleans (CA-32) and seven destroyers. The newly returned ‘Fighting Two’ was ordered back aboard CV-2 on 15 April.

Since VF-2 lacked pilots with combat experience, the squadron was ‘fleshed out’ with combat veterans from ‘Fighting Three’. They were transferred in on 12 April when unit strength was increased from 18 to 27 Wildcats. Lt. Albert O Vorse became the second division leader, with Ens Edward L Sellstrom as his wingman, and Lt(jg) Robert J Morgan as element lead and Ens John H Lacket as his wingman. Lt(jg) Marion W Dufilho, who had been O’Hare’s wingman in the epic fight against the bombers off Rabaul, where he had shot down two Bettys’ himself, took over the third division, with Ens Newton H Mason as his wingman. Lt Noel A M Gayler, who had scored three victories with ‘Fighting Three’, became the fourth division leader, with Lt(jg) Howard F Clark as element lead and Ens Richard H Rowell as wingman. Finally, Ens Willard E ‘Bill’ Eder and Leon W Haynes joined the fifth division. The task force sailed from Pearl Harbor on 15 April.

Dufilho gamely made several feints at the formation, drawing some of the heat away from O’Hare.

Navy Cross citation for Marion William Dufilho

Lieutenant Marion William Dufilho Navy

For service as set forth in the following:


The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Lieutenant Marion William Dufilho (NSN: 0-81070), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Fighter Plane and as Section Leader of the Fifth Division, Fighting Squadron FIVE (VF-5), attached to the U.S.S. SARATOGA (CV-3), in action against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands, on 7 August 1942. Upon sighting a hostile force of eleven dive bombers intent upon raiding our transports and other surface vessels, Lieutenant Dufilho, often pursuing his target through bursting shells of his own anti-aircraft fire, personally shot down two of the planes and damaged a third.

By his cool courage and superb airmanship, he contributed materially to the success of our forces in a vigorous attack which destroyed a totalof nine Japanese bombers and effectively disrupted the enemy’s plans. The conduct of Lieutenant Dufilho throughout this action reflects great credit upon himself, and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.


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