Japan’s conquest of China in World War II seemed inevitable as its rolling army advanced to the shore of the Salween River Gorge in May 1942.
The only thing between Japanese control of south China and the gateway to India were the pilots of the American Volunteer Group, more commonly known at the Flying Tigers. The only option available to the Flying Tigers was strafing, a tactic that failed to prevent the Japanese from starting a pontoon bridge on the Burma side of the river.
Third squadron armaments chief Joe Poshefko received orders to convert the American P-40 fighters into dive-bombers. There were two problems: The original P-40s had no bomb racks.
Poshefko and armaments mate Harvey Wirta were able to construct bomb racks and gun sights. Poshefko armed the P-40s with unstable bombs the Chinese army had buried in a cemetery near Kunming Air Field. Poshefko relishes the irony of excavating weapons from the dead to use against the living.
“We made them bomb-ready,” Poshefko said. “We found bombs with detonators and we rigged them up with wires that made them live.”
The P-40 conversions made Poshefko and Wirta popular with naval aviators such as David “Tex” Hill, who initially trained to be a dive-bomber. The Flying Tigers stoned the Japanese advance and harassed them in retreat.
“We bombed them and we strafed them and we stopped them right there,” Poshefko said.Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view.bg?articleid=1258417