Today in History – December 7, 1941 – George Welch and Ken Taylor to the rescue at Pearl Harbor

On the morning of December 7, 1941, very few American fighter pilots were able to get airborne to fight the Japanese attackers. Ken Taylor and George Schwartz Welch were two of them. (1)

At dawn on December 7, 1941, 2nd Lieutenant Welch and another pilot, 2nd Lieutenant Kenneth M. Taylor, were coming back from a Christmas dinner and dance party at a rooftop hotel in Waikiki, that ended in an all-night poker game. They were still wearing mess dress when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Welch telephoned the auxiliary Haleiwa Fighter Strip on Oahu’s North Shore to have two Curtiss P-40B Tomahawk fighters prepared for takeoff. Taylor immediately drove his Buick at high speed to Haleiwa to join the air battle.[2] While climbing into their P-40s, the crew chiefs informed them that they should disperse their planes. “To hell with that”, Welch said.

Taking off with only .30-cal ammunition in the wing guns, Welch claimed two kills of Aichi D3A Val dive bombers over Ewa Mooring Mast Field.[3] The first Japanese aircraft was only damaged and made it back to its carrier, while the second was finished off by Ken Taylor, shortly before he landed at Wheeler Field to get .50-cal ammo for his two cowl guns. On his second sortie, Welch shot down a Val (which was behind Ken Taylor, and crashed in the community of Wahiawa) then one Mitsubishi Zero fighter about 5 miles west of Barbers Point.[4]

Both Welch and Taylor were nominated for the Medal of Honor by General Henry “Hap” Arnold but were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest US Army medal for valor, for their actions.[5][6]

In the spring of 1944, Welch was approached by North American Aviation to become a company test pilot. With the recommendation of General Arnold, Welch resigned his commission in the United States Army Air Forces and accepted the job.

Welch went on to work as chief test pilot, engineer, and instructor with North American Aviation during the Korean War, where he reportedly downed several enemy MiG-15 Fagots while “supervising” his students. However, Welch’s kills were in disobedience of direct orders for him to not engage, and credits for the kills were thus distributed among his students.

After the war, Welch returned to flight testing; this time in the F-100 Super Sabre, with Yeager flying the chase plane. Welch became the first man to break the sound barrier in level flight with this type of aircraft on May 25, 1953. However, stability problems were encountered in the flight test program, and on Columbus Day, October 12, 1954, Welch’s F-100A-1-NA Super Sabre, AF Ser. No. 52-5764, disintegrated during a 7-G pullout at Mach 1.55 from 45,000 ft (13,500 m) and crashed in Rosamond Lake in the Mojave Desert about 45 miles (72 km) north of Los Angeles.[17] When he was found, Welch was still in the ejection seat, critically injured. He was evacuated by helicopter but was pronounced dead on arrival at the United States Air Force Plant 42 hospital. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. (2)

Sources: (1) ThisDayinAviation by Bryan R Swopes, (2) Wikipedia

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