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Harold E. Comstock

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Harold E. Comstock

Harold Elwood Comstock
200px
Harold E. Comstock in front of his P-47
Nickname “Bunny”
Born (1920-12-20)December 20, 1920
Fresno, California
Died April 3, 2009(2009-04-03) (aged 88)
Clovis, California
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Air Force
Years of service 1941 – 1971
Rank Colonel
Commands held 63rd Fighter Squadron
389th Fighter Squadron
481st Tactical Fighter Squadron
Battles/wars World War II
Vietnam War
Awards Legion of Merit (2)
Distinguished Flying Cross (7)
Purple Heart
Air Medal (17)

Harold Elwood “Bunny” Comstock (20 December 1920 – 3 April 2009) was a World War II fighter ace in the 56th Fighter Group and a career fighter pilot in the United States Air Force. After a test flight of the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt on 13 November 1942, Republic Aviation issued a press release on 1 December 1942, claiming that he and fellow pilot, Lt. Roger Dyar had exceeded the speed of sound.[1][2]

Early life

Harold Comstock was the eldest son of Clinton E. Comstock and Millie L. Daw. He was an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America and started flying at fifteen. After graduation from Theodore Roosevelt High School (Fresno), he attended Fresno State College for two years to complete the requirements to apply to the United States Army Air Corps. On 1 October 1941, Comstock was ordered to report to Kelly Field, Texas for aviation cadet training.

Aviation career

Comstock then attended primary flying school at Sikeston, Missouri, basic flying school at Randolph AFB and he graduated from advanced flying school at Foster Field, Texas on 3 July 1942. He received his commission and pilot wings and then returned to Fresno, California to marry Barbara L. Joint. Comstock reported for duty with the 56th Fighter Group at Bridgeport, Connecticut on 20 July 1942. His wife gave him the nickname “Bunny Nose” and when the other pilots found out, the nickname of “Bunny” stayed with him.

The Dive

Because of the need to manufacture combat aircraft quickly and the close proximity to the Republic Aviation factory, active duty pilots were used for some of the test flights of the new P-47. On 13 November 1942, Lts. Comstock and Dyar were ordered to test a new type of radio antenna on the P-47C. Lt. Comstock climbed to an indicated altitude of 49,600 feet (15,118 meters) while trying to reach 50,000 feet. Due to poor response from the controls, he decided to let the aircraft fall off rather than risk a spin. He started to dive straight down and after passing below 40,000 feet he found that his controls had frozen. Comstock then felt a bump and was unable to move the controls as the aircraft continued to dive. Even with maximum exertion, he was unable to move the control stick so he started to roll the trim tab back and after passing below 30,000 feet, the aircraft started to pull out of the dive and he recovered between 20,000 and 25,000 feet. Lt. Dyar started his dive and encountered the same conditions.[3]

After landing, Comstock reported what happened and the chief designer of the P-47 Thunderbolt, Alexander Kartveli, questioned Lt. Comstock at length and made numerous calculations. Republic Aviation soon issued a press release claiming that Lts. Comstock and Dyar had exceeded the speed of sound. This was picked up in the national media and also drawn in Ripley's Believe It or Not! Soon after the press release, the 56th Fighter Group received a telegram from Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold that “there would be no more discussion about the dive”. The actual speed attained was probably less than the speed of sound but this speed which caused the flight controls to lock up was referred to as “compressibility”. This effect was encountered by many pilots flying in combat but training and proper procedures allowed them to recover from it.[2]

In 1959, the Air Force published "A Chronology of American Aerospace Events" and included an entry for 15 November 1942 which stated "Lts. Harold Comstock and Roger Dyar set a new speed record for airplanes when they power-dived their P-47 fighters at 725 mph from 35,000 feet over an east coast air base."[4] While the Air Force acknowledged the speed of 725 miles per hour, it could not confirm whether the P-47 could actually exceed the speed of sound in a dive. Capt. Roger Dyar was killed in action on 26 June 1943.[5]

In response to the claim of a P-47 achieving supersonic speeds, Curtiss-Wright test pilot Herbert O. Fisher later observed, “We knew about Mach 1 going clear back to the P-36 and the P-40 ... Nothing could go 600 mph in level flight, but pilots were beginning to dive fighters. We ran into compressibility back in ’38.”[6][N 1] Using a highly modified P-47D, from 1947–1949, Fisher carried out 100 high mach number precision dives from 38,000 feet at speeds from 500 to 590 miles per hour. Several of these dives resulted in speeds of Mach .83, one occurring on October 27, 1949, the fastest speeds a P-47 could attain.[8]

World War II

On 6 January 1943, the 56th Fighter Group sailed for England on the RMS Queen Elizabeth, and flew their first operational mission on 13 April 1943. Lieutenant Comstock was promoted to 1st Lt on 29 May 1943 and achieved his first aerial victory on 17 August 1943, when he shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109. He had additional confirmed victories on 4 October 1943, and 26 November 1943. After a long engagement with enemy aircraft on 3 February 1944, he did not have enough fuel to make it to a runway and was injured in a crash landing near Halesworth, England. He was promoted to Captain on 12 March 1944 and following recovery from his crash landing, Comstock returned to flying combat missions.

Comstock returned to the U.S. for 30 days leave in late May following completion of his first combat tour. After he returned to the 56th Fighter Group for a second combat tour, he took command of the 63d Fighter Squadron on 19 July 1944. Comstock was promoted to Major on 17 September 1944. In support of Operation Market Garden, Major Comstock led the 56th Fighter Group on a disastrous mission that had been ordered to go “at all costs” to provide flak suppression.[9] Numerous anti-aircraft batteries were destroyed and the 56th Fighter Group received a Presidential Unit Citation for this mission but 16 of 39 aircraft were lost and 15 of the returning aircraft were damaged.[10][1]

His last two victories were on 23 December 1944. After two combat tours and 136 missions, Comstock returned to the U.S. in January, 1945.[11]

Summary of Enemy Aircraft Damaged/Destroyed

Date Location Air/Ground Number Type Status
17 August 1943 Near Ans, Belgium Air 1 Bf 109 Destroyed
4 October 1943 Bruhl, Germany Air 1 Bf 110 Destroyed[11]
4 October 1943 Bruhl, Germany Air 1 Bf 109 Damaged/Probably Destroyed[11]
4 October 1943 Bruhl, Germany Ground 1 Ju 88 Destroyed[11]
26 November 1943 Friesoythe, Germany Air 1 Bf 110 Destroyed
26 November 1943 Friesoythe, Germany Air 1 Bf 109 Damaged[12]
26 November 1943 Friesoythe, Germany Air 1 Fw 190 Damaged[12]
29 November 1943 Papenburg, Germany Air 1 Bf 109 Damaged/Probably Destroyed[13]
29 January 1944 South of Bonn, Germany Air 1 Fw 190 Damaged[14]
24 February 1944 Peterhagen, Germany Air 1 Fw 190 Damaged[12]
16 September 1944 Ahlhorn Aerodrome, Germany Ground 1 He 177 Destroyed
18 November 1944 Gross Ostheim Aerodrome, Germany Ground 1 He 111 Destroyed
23 December 1944 Southwest of Bonn, Germany Air 2 Fw 190 Damaged[15]
23 December 1944 Southwest of Bonn, Germany Air 2 Fw 190 Destroyed

Following World War II, Major Comstock had the following assignments:[16]

Vietnam


While assigned to Cannon AFB, Lt. Col Comstock commanded the 481st Tactical Fighter Squadron which was deployed to Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Vietnam, in June 1965. On this tour, Comstock completed 132 combat missions and the squadron flew numerous combat sorties in support of the besieged troops at Plei Me and the Battle of Ia Drang Valley. On 15 November 1965, Comstock was flying the second of two North American F-100 Super Sabres that approached Landing Zone X-Ray with instructions to drop napalm. The napalm from the first aircraft landed too close to American lines and resulted in American casualties. Comstock was about to release his load of napalm on the assigned area when a quick call instructed him to break off. If he had dropped the napalm on the target as instructed, it would have killed Hal Moore, Joe Galloway, Basil Plumley, and numerous other soldiers of the 7th Cavalry. This battle, in the Ia Drang Valley, is detailed in the book and movie We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young.[17]

During the spring of 1968, Comstock had another tour in Vietnam as the 7th ABCCC “Cricket” commander and directed numerous missions in support of the Battle of Khe Sanh.[18]

Retirement

After retirement, Comstock and his wife, Barbara, returned to Fresno, California and subsequently, built a home in Auberry, California. Comstock took an active interest in genealogy and became a member of the Mayflower Society; he was also a Freemason and a Shriner. At the age of 88, Comstock died on 3 April 2009.

Awards and decorations

  Command pilot
Legion of Merit With 1 oak leaf cluster
Distinguished Flying Cross, With 6 oak leaf clusters.
Purple Heart
Air Medal With 16 oak leaf clusters
Joint Service Commendation Medal
Air Force Commendation Medal
Presidential Unit Citation Emblem with 1 oak leaf cluster
Army Meritorious Unit Commendation Emblem with 1 oak leaf cluster
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award With 2 oak leaf clusters
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal With 5 battle stars
World War II Victory Medal
Army of Occupation
National Defense Service Medal With 1 service star
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal With 1 oak leaf cluster
Vietnam Service Medal With 2 oak leaf clusters
Air Force Longevity Service Award, With 5 oak leaf clusters
Vietnam Campaign Medal

References

Notes

Citations

Bibliography

  • Brown, Eric. Testing for Combat: Testing Experimental and Prototype Aircraft, 1930-45. London: Airlife Publishing Ltd., 1994. ISBN 978-1-85310-319-3.
  • Davis, Albert H, Russell J. Coffin and Robert B. Woodward, eds. "Introduction". The 56th Fighter Group in World War II. Washington, D.C.: Infantry Journal, Inc., 1948.
  • Freeman, Roger A. Wolfpack Warriors. London: Grub Street, 2004. ISBN 1-904010-93-8.
  • Hess, William N. Zemke’s Wolfpack. St. Paul, Minnesota: Motorbooks International, 1992. ISBN 0-87938-622-3.
  • Hammel, Eric. "10 More Than Enough To Go Around". Aces Against Germany: The American Aces Speak. Novato, California: Presidio Press, 1993. ISBN 978-0-93555-361-1.
  • Moore, Harold G. and Joseph L. Galloway. "13". We Were Soldiers Once … And Young: Ia Drang - The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-34547-264-9.
  • Morris, Danny. Aces & Wingmen, Volume 1. London: Neville Spearman Ltd., 1972. ISBN 978-0-96230-801-7.
  • Olynyk, Frank. "8 The Aces - Biographical and Claim Notes". Stars & Bars: A Tribute to the American Fighter Ace 1920–1972. London: Grub Street, The Basement, 1995. ISBN 978-1-89869-717-6.

External links

  • Unsung Heroes of Zemke's Wolfpack by Robert Louis DalColletto

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