Most. Unusual Distinguished Flying Cross. Ever.

The Philippine Air Lines hangar at Nielson Field in 1941. PAL flew Beech 18's and a Staggerwing (at right).

The Philippine Air Lines hangar at Nielson Field in 1941. PAL flew Beech 18’s and a Staggerwing (at right).

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.

Categories: World War II in the Pacific | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Post navigation

21 thoughts on “Most. Unusual Distinguished Flying Cross. Ever.

  1. Reblogged this on pacificparatrooper and commented:

  2. Pierre Lagacé

    Reblogged this on Lest We Forget and commented:
    Incredible story.

  3. Well earned, I’d say

  4. Incredible feat.

  5. Reminds me of the line that there are millions of stories out there and life is complicated.

  6. Really interesting, thanks a lot for the story of this brave and ingenious man!

  7. A story of history that would have lost if not for this post. Thank you.

  8. sue marquis bishop

    GP, What a contribution you are making by pulling together all the information on your blog..and honoring brave men and women. I just sent a stash of letters to children and grandchildren that their dad (my uncle) wrote from boot camp in the 40’s to his parents… (found in settling an estate)…He was a young man full of hope and excitement and eager to join army transportation when he was in boot camp. The reality was unmatched horror as he was detailed to help bury dozens of fallen comrades in mass graves. How quickly so many forget even today, that war is horrific. Sue

  9. Truly inspiring. There are many stories hidden in the folds of history…

    • Thank you! There are so many stories tucked away in memories, attics and dusty corners of the world. What I find tragic is so many have been lost forever as the Greatest Generation passes.

      Thank you for reading!

      John R. Bruning

      • I agree wholeheartedly. My mother is writing my father’s life’s story, which included his time during the war. It is a labour of love dedicated to the grandchildren. We must keep the memory of those that came before us – we can learn so much from their courage and creativity

      • Agreed–much to learn from those who came before. Thanks again for reading!

        John B

  10. Mrs. P

    That was definitely unusual!

  11. amazing!

  12. . I have never heard of these daring young men. Thanks for keeping the history alive.

Leave a Reply to John R Bruning Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: