The following excerpts are from Erik Shilling’s Book
“Destiny – A Flying Tiger’s Rendezvous With Fate”
December 10, 1941, Toungoo, Burma
Ed Rector, Bert Christman and myself were assigned the first AVG mission against the Japanese, a photo expedition. We departed early in the morning for Rangoon. From there we went to Tavoy, refueled and proceeded to Bangkok. We had to grab altitude as rapidly as possible after taking off since the pictures were to be taken at 26,000 feet. Bangkok was 160 miles away so we had to reach our altitude fifty miles before getting to our target. It took the P-40 almost thirty minutes to get to 26,000 feet.
Bert and I flew on Ed’s wing until we were fifty miles from Bangkok. At this point I took over the lead, Ed dropped back and covered me from above and to my left, Bert was already above and off to my right.
Passing through 20,000 feet, my invention, an airscoop over the fuel vent which pressurized the gas tanks, proved its value. Bert and Ed had to constantly use the wobble pump, and I didn’t. Due to the heat of the tropics, the P-40s were prone to vapor lock at high altitudes and this required slow constant use of the hand wobble pump.
I led the flight over the dock area first, taking a series of pictures as I went. Then turning north, I followed the road from the city to the airport at Dong Moung. With the camera on automatic, it was taking a continuous strip of photos. There was one drawback to our makeshift camera system, we had no sight. The pilot sat over the center of the wing in the P-40 and was unable to see directly below the airplane. Without a camera sight, the pilot had to roll the airplane from knife-edge to knife-edge to see the target below (banking the airplane ninety degrees from side to side).
When the last picture was taken, I turned and headed straight for Rangoon, even though this course would take us over the upper part of the Gulf of Martaban, crossing a fifty mile stretch over open water. I started a gradual descent of five hundred feet per minute; the needle on the airspeed climbed to 300 miles per hour. Due to the cleanliness of my ship, my wing men couldn’t keep up. Ed called, “Erik, throttle back some, you’re loosing us.” I slowed down. I wanted to get the hell out of Thailand, but I sure didn’t want to loose my escort. In twenty minutes we would be 125 miles west of Bangkok, out over the Gulf of Martaban and still at 15,000 feet. Our ground speed in the decent would be a little under 400 miles per hour. I knew it was impossible for the Japs to catch us. Just as I was beginning to feel safe and thought I could relax, my eyes swept the instrument panel. I was horrified to see the oil pressure needle pegged on zero.
“Oh, *#^#! I’m about to become a prisoner of war,” was my first thought. The war was less than a week old and I saw myself already in a POW camp. Then, much to my relief, the oil pressure started fluctuating, finally returning to normal. As the oil pressure went up, my blood pressure went down. Later, I decided the loss of the oil pressure was caused by air entering the oil system when I rocked the airplane from knife-edge to knife-edge. This caused gulps of air to be drawn into the pump and as a result, it temporarily vapor locked.
When we landed at Rangoon, the film was immediately taken to the photo lab to be developed. In the picture there were an astounding ninety-two aircraft parked wing tip to wing tip at Thailand’s Dong Moung airport. Undoubtedly, there were some aircraft inside the hangars that couldn’t be detected. From this I was sure there were Japanese airplanes located at other air fields as well. These could only be estimated, but sooner or later we would be facing the full force of the Japanese Air Force.
After landing at Rangoon we heard that, shortly after our take off, the RAF at Tavoy had been bombed and strafed. The airmen thought the incoming Japanese aircraft were AVG P-40s returning, possibly because of mechanical problems. Unaware that the inbound planes were enemy fighters the men didn’t run for the slit trenches until too late. The lead Japanese plane had already begun its strafing run. Because of the mistaken identity some RAF men lost their lives.