When a pilot has downed five or more enemy planes, the pilot gets the designation “Ace”.  On February 20, 1942, Lt. Edward O’Hare takes off from the aircraft carrier Lexington in a raid against the Japanese position at Rabaul and minutes later becomes America’s first flying ace.

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In mid-February 1942, the Lexington sailed into the Coral Sea. Rabaul, a town at the very tip of New Britain, one of the islands that comprised the Bismarck Archipelago, had been invaded in January by the Japanese and transformed into a stronghold–in fact, one huge airbase.

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The Japanese were now in prime striking position for the Solomon Islands, next on the agenda for expanding their ever-growing Pacific empire. The Lexington‘s mission was to destabilize the Japanese position on Rabaul with a bombing raid.

Aboard the Lexington was U.S. Navy fighter pilot Lt. Edward O’Hare, attached to Fighting Squadron 3 when the United States entered the war. As the Lexington left Bougainville, the largest of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific (and still free from Japanese control), for Rabaul, ship radar picked up Japanese bombers headed straight for the carrier. O’Hare and his team went into action, piloting Grunman F4F Wildcats.

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In a mere four minutes, O’Hare shot down five Japanese G4M1 Betty bombers–bringing a swift end to the Japanese attack and earning O’Hare the designation “ace”.

An Imperial Japanese Navy Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" bomber plunges towards the water after being shot down during an engagement with U.S. Navy Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighters from Fighting Squadron VF-3 defending the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) off Rabaul, New Britain, in February 1942.

An Imperial Japanese Navy Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bomber plunges towards the water after being shot down during an engagement with U.S. Navy Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighters from Fighting Squadron VF-3 defending the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) off Rabaul, New Britain, in February 1942.

Although the Lexington blew back the Japanese bombers, the element of surprise was gone, and the attempt to raid Rabaul was aborted for the time being. O’Hare was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery–and excellent aim.  Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is named after him too.

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3 responses

  1. gpcox says:

    Excellent info, I’ve taken down the address for this article and hopefully I’ll remember to add a link to it when I get to Feb. 1942. Great Job.

    Like