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426th Night Fighter Squadron | P-61s | 10th and 14th AAF CBI

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426th Night Fighter Squadron | 10th and 14th AAF CBI

LINEAGE. Constituted 426th Night Fighter Squadron on 8 Dec 1943. Activated on 1 Jan 1944. Inactivated on 5 NOV 1945.

ASSIGNMENTS. IV Fighter Command, 1 Jan 1944; 481st Night Fighter Operational Training Group, 7 Feb 1944; Tenth Air Force, 11 Jun 1944; AAF, India-Burma Sector, 22 Aug 1944; Fourteenth Air Force, Nov 1944-5 Nov 1945 (attached to 312th Fighter Wing, Feb-5 Nov 1945).

STATIONS. Hammer Field, Calif, 1 Jan 1944; Delano AAFld, Calif, 31 Mar-15 Jun 1944; Madhaiganj, India, c. g Aug 1944; Chengtu, China, 5 Nov 1944 (detachments operated from Kunming, China, Nov-25 Dec 1944; Hsian, China, 27 Nov 1944-17 Aug 1945); Shwangliu, China, Mar 1945 (detachments operated from Liangshan, China, Apr-13 Aug 1945; Ankang, China, Apr-21 Aug 1945); India, Sep-Oct 1945; Camp Kilmer, NJ, 3-5 Nov 1945.

AIRCRAFT. P-70, 1944; P-61, 1944-45.

OPERATIONS. Combat in CBI, 21 Nov 1944-13 Aug 1945.

CAMPAIGNS. China Defensive; China Offensive.

The 426th Night Fighter Squadron was formed at Hammer Field, California in January 1944. It was the first night fighter squadron formed in California and was the first programmed for deployment to the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations. The 426th and sister 427th remained close to each other through their training cycles, flying training missions in the Bakersfield area. With its training as a unit completed, the members of 426th NFS packed their bags and left California's sunny San Joaquin Valley in mid-June 1944.

The squadron took a long route getting to India, traveling across the United States to Newport News, Virginia, where they boarded the USS General A. E. Anderson for India. Arriving on 8 August, they boarded a train that took them to their next stop, Calcutta. Their destination, for a while at least, was Camp Kanchapara, about forty miles from Calcutta. They would have quite a bit of time on their hands, because it wasn't until late September that their P-61 Black Widows arrived by ship in Calcutta.

During this period, some of the ground echelon was sent to Sylhet (now part of Bangladesh), on temporary duty with a combat cargo unit. When P-61s were unloaded on the Calcutta docks on 25 September, these partially disassembled craft were transported to Barrackpore where they were reassembled by the Air Service Command. Once checked out, the 426th NFS took possession of the planes and flew them to Madhaiganj Air Base. During the next couple of weeks, the planes would be rotated to Ondal, where Air Service Command modified them (one of the modifications being additional radio equipment.

5 October marked the start of the 426th's combat deployment; four aircraft were sent to Chengtu Airfield, China, Upon their arrival the mission of the 426th NFS was night defense for the Twentieth Air Force B-29 Superfortresses based there. The 426th replaced the P-51B Mustangs of the 311th Fighter Group that had escorted the B-29s. However, as the 426th was several aircraft short of its full complement, the 311th transferred eight of its Mustangs to the squadron. By the end of October, the 426th was up-to-strength with P-61s at Chengtu. On 27 October, a detachment of the 426th initiated operations out of Kunming, China, where Fourteenth Air Force was headquartered.

With the war finally ending in August, in September 1945, the 426th returned to India, where some of the squadron left from Karachi (now part of Pakistan) and others from Calcutta, India for their return voyage home. The squadron was inactivated on 8 November 1945.


EMBLEM. On an ultramarine blue disc, within a border light red, a dexter skeleton hand gold, holding in the finger tips a cat’s eyeball white, flecked with veins of red, having a pupil green and iris yellow orange, surmounted by a silhouette, single-engine aircraft of the field. (Approved 8 Jun 1944.)


Theater-made | Multi-piece leather, hand-painted.




Theater-made | Fully embroidered.



Theater-made | Embroidered on wool.



After the United States entered the war, plans were made to produce an aircraft specifically as a night-fighter. The Northrop P-61 would eventually fulfill this role, but until then, something else was needed to fill the gap. The Americans followed the British lead and designated the night-fighter version of the A-20 Havoc as the P-70, making it perhaps the only bomber to converted to a fighter.



P-70 in flight.



The Northrop P-61 Black Widow, named for the American spider, was the first operational U.S. warplane designed as a night fighter, and the first aircraft designed to use radar.


Northrop’s P-61 design was medium-bomberish: 66-foot wingspan, two 2,000-horsepower engines, twin tail booms, three crewmen required. Its estimated fighting weight exceeded 29,000 pounds. The pièce de résistance was the airborne microwave radar: enclosed in the nose of the aircraft, the spinning, 30-inch scanner-receiver dish antenna would sweep the sky with a knife-like beam. Using it reduced the ground echoes that plagued long-wave radar at low altitude, and the shorter wavelength enhanced accuracy, guiding interceptors to within 100 yards of intruders in total darkness. Most of the pilots selected had at least 100 hours flying B-25 bombers. Twin-engine experience was required, as well as good night vision and well-developed instrument flying skills. P-61 radar observers (R/Os) were recruited as “aerial observers,” a job description that was deliberately vague to help keep the technology secret. In July 1942 crews began training in P-70s—radar-equipped Douglas A-20 Havocs re-purposed as interim night fighters—at the Fighter Command School, Night Fighter Division, in Orlando, Florida.


Most of the P-61As went to the USAAF Night Fighter Squadrons in the Pacific. After Guadalcanal was secured in late 1942, it was realized that the American stronghold was in striking distance of many Japanese bases in the surrounding area. Very quickly it became apparent that American bases would be in need of nighttime protection. The P-61 was still a ways off and the American night-fighter program began with utilizing B-25s, P-40s, P-38s and P-70s adapted as night-fighters. It wasn’t until May 1944 when the P-61 was finally delivered to Pacific squadrons.





Aircrews of the 426th Night Fighter Squadron at their first operational base at Chengtu, China, 1944.








The pilot of the P-61 Midnight Mickey prepares for a 1944 mission over Saipan: hunting the enemy in the dark. (NARA)









A number of stories tell of the development of the gloss black finish, which made the plane less visible when caught in a searchlight. Conventional camouflage — OD over light gray — was highly visible and matte black scattered enough light to produce a ghost image when lighted; gloss black reflected light as a couple of small bright spots that could be mistaken for stars on a clear night. I have seen no sources to verify, but it would seem that the (relatively high-maintenance) gloss black finish was not widely used in the Pacific theater, since the planes in that theater seldom had to deal with searchlights. Most of the planes in PTO seem to have been painted in OD over gray. The P-61 below illustrates the high maintenance required to maintain its black finish.




Many of the surviving planes ended their careers as borate bombers fighting wildfires in the western US. The ability to operate of short, rough fields, designed in to meet the needs of operations in the Pacific theater and during the advance across Europe, high maneuverability and considerable lifting capacity all combined to make them a plane well suited to that duty.


The P-61 'Black Widow' Restoration Project
In January of 1945, P-61 B #42-39445 crashed on the hills of Mt. Cyclops in modern day New Guinea. There it lay for almost forty years until Strine and his team would free it from its mountain home to bring back to the United States. The recovery process was constantly delayed with red tape from the Indonesian government; it would take 11 years before the plane could come back to America. Of the 750 manufactured, only four P-61’s remain, all of them on static display only. Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s P 61 B #42-39445 will be the only model in the world that flies. Web site, here.


A video posted to its kickstarter campaign page, here.




Maurer. Air Force Combat Squadrons of World War II.

Maurer. Air Force Combat Units of World War II.

Mid-Atlantic Air Museum.

"Beware the Black Widow - Northrop's P-61." Air and Space Magazine.

"Bite of the Black Widow – Northrop’s P-61". Historynet.



426nfs 10aaf

Long-time collector of WWII Aviation: AAF, USN and USMC.




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Board limits me to 10 images per post, so more here:


Flying the Northrop P-61 "Black Widow" Night Fighter (1944)




Northrop P-61 Black Widow Night Fighters in Color -1945




Bailing Out of the Northrop P-61 Black Widow



Northrop promotional materials:








Long-time collector of WWII Aviation: AAF, USN and USMC.




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"Whoever stood in front of the corn field at Antietam needs no praise." . . . . . Rufus R. Dawes, 6th Wisconsin.



Seeking the unit history of Company D, 321st Machine Gun Battalion, 82nd Division.



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  • 3 months later...

That is my Dad in Midnight Mickey. It was the first P-61 on Saipan.

I have his after action reports for his 2 kills and one unconfirmed.

I have not been on this site for very long yet and when I figure out the picture posting I will try to post some of his things.

Thanks for posting the pics.

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