When the Pacific War broke out in December 1941, thirty-three year old Harold Slingsby was employed as a pilot with Philippine Air Lines, working for the legendary Paul “Pappy” Gunn from the company’s hub at Nielson Field outside of Manila. Far Eastern Air Forces had no transport force in 1941, and in those dark December days, the huge hole that left in MacArthur’s air capabilities was keenly felt. With no way to move personnel or supplies around by air, General Louis Brereton drafted Philippine Air Lines’ pilots and aircraft into the USAAF. Slingsby became an instant captain.*
At the end of December, it was decided to move General Brereton’s headquarters to Australia. Key staff officers were ordered out of the Philippines to help establish the new HQ. Slingsby was one of the pilots who flew those officers to Northern Australia. Upon arrival, he was pulled into the nascent Air Transport Command as part of the 21st Troop Carrier Squadron (the only cargo squadron in theater at that point) and spent much of the rest of 1942 flying the PAL Beech 18’s, Lockheed Lodestars and C-47’s around from base to base before returning to the States in early 1943.
The 5th Air Force was just being set up, and things were pretty chaotic in Australia in early 1942, so these transport missions were often anything but routine. On February 23, 1942, he was tasked with flying to Brisbane to haul back to Batchelor FIeld the intact wing of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Pappy Gunn, who commanded the 21st, was probably on this flight with “Buzz” Slingsby and took photos of this remarkable salvage job. They arrived at Brisbane and somehow shoehorned the wing under the fuselage of their transport. Exactly what aircraft Slingsby was flying is unknown, but it was probably an ancient B-17D the ATC pilots had been using since it had been flown out of the Philippines. The B-17 wing was lashed to the underside of the fuselage, and they took off the following night to get it back up to Northern Australia where ground crews were waiting to pair the salvaged wing with another damaged Fort so it could be returned to service.
In times of great peril, the men of the 5th Air Force rose to the occasion and figured out a way to stay in the fight without adequate supplies, spare parts or aircraft. If Buzz and Pappy had been flying the old 19th Bomb Group B-17D’s that day, and nothing else in theater could have handled such a load, they were piloting an aircraft whose engines were so worn out and unreliable that the 19th had cast it off as uncombat worthy at a time when they were desperate for flyable bombers. Every minute in the air must have been a gut-check for them, but Slingsby made three landings and take-offs with the heavy, awkward load and got the vital wing up to the Darwin area.
For this incredible feet of ingenuity, Pappy put Slingsby in for a DFC. Here is his award citation:
*Kenney’s book, The Saga of Pappy Gunn states that Slingsby was a Consolidated employee ferrying PBY Catalina flying boats to the Dutch East Indies when the war broke out, but other sources state he was an employee of PAL in December 1941.
Reblogged this on pacificparatrooper and commented:
AN OUTSTANDING STORY THAT I UNFORTUNATELY MISSED.