Seventy-six years ago today, on February 12, 1945, the 26th Fighter Squadron reported P-51D 44-11297 missing when it failed to return from a counter-shipping sweep of the Yangzi River. 1Lt Gerald W. Ravenscroft led a flight of four P-51s aloft from Laohekou that day. They let down through a break in the undercast north of Wuhu and flew northeast along the Yangzi toward Nanjing.

“Approaching the dock area we saw a large lumbering vessel anchored in mid-stream,” reported 1Lt Grant Forsythe. Fourteenth Air Force intelligence later identified it as a train ferry. Ravenscroft dove to attack, releasing his two 250-pound bombs as he roared over the vessel at mast height. His bombs fell short and skipped off the water over the ferry. “As I passed over the boat, I heard two hits scored somewhere on my plane,” he recalled. “I stayed low, continued evasive action, and went around a hill to the northeast of the boat.” The other members of his flight saw a few black puffs of 40mm anti-aircraft shells bursting around and white smoke streaming from Ravenscroft’s Mustang and radioed him that they thought he had taken a hit to the coolant. “Nice,” he thought to himself, “the only real spot you never want to be hit.”

He turned west to make it as far from the river as possible before bailing out 1,500 feet above the ground. “When I pulled the ripcord the guide chute caught on my foot,” he reported. “When it was freed, the chute filled out and I hit the ground on the first oscillation. The wind dragged me for a few yards skinning my forehead and causing my nose to bounce along the way, making it ache and bleed. The plane crashed about 75 yards away but did not burn. It had dug into the ground very deeply and seemed to be widely scattered.”

2Lt Ray V. Stone, another pilot in the formation, saw Ravenscroft gather up his parachute and walk away. “He waved to me as I circled and was apparently unhurt,” he reported. “No enemy troops or anyone else appeared in the vicinity.” The three remaining Mustangs turned east to dive-bomb the docks near Nanjing before heading back to Laohekou and reporting on the loss of their flight leader.

Meanwhile, Ravenscroft headed toward a small cluster of houses nearby that made up the village of Shantou Li. “Meiguo Feiji!” (American airplane) he shouted to the approaching crowd. “Erben!” (Japanese) a teenager yelled back, motioning for the pilot to follow him. They ran to the west, soon joined by three other teenagers wearing white armbands emblazoned with Chinese characters. “They stopped me and told me to take my shoes off,” Ravenscroft remembered. “I refused until they showed me the distinct prints that they made in the dirt and then I took them off. They had no shoes to fit me and so I was without shoes. They then gave me a thin pair of white cotton pants to fit over my own. And an outer kimono and an old hat. We then took up with our running.”

By the next day, Ravenscroft’s feet were raw and bleeding. The teenage guerrillas turned him over to Major General Yao Chin-han, who arranged for Nationalist Chinese troops to escort him 200 miles farther west to Valley Field, a secret landing strip established behind enemy lines northeast of Hankou. There, he met Major Vernon Hill, an officer with the Air-Ground Aid Section (AGAS). Hill had been an employee of the Standard Oil Company in China before the war and spoke Chinese fluently. He debriefed Ravenscroft on his walkout experience and then used a portable radio set to arrange for passage back to Laohekou. “Eventually,” said Ravenscroft, “a C-47 showed up with two P-51s as cover. It made a safe landing, we were hurried on board, doors shut, taxied to the end of the landing strip, full throttle, and back to friendly territory.”

Jerry Ravenscroft returned to duty on March 10, 1945.

Spread the word. Share this post!