P-38 Lightning Refuels By Hand at Henderson Field

United States Army Air Force Lockheed P-38 Lightning of the 347th Fighter Group being refueled by hand from gasoline drums. Note ground crewman cleaning the P-38's guns. When the 1st Marine Division landed on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942, the airfield was not yet completed by the previous Japanese garrison. No ground crews, refueling trucks, or bomb handling gear was available. But five days later the first Navy Consolidated PBY Catalina landed to remove wounded. Named Henderson Field (after Marine Major Lofton C. Henderson, killed in the Battle of Midway) on August 10, Henderson only had 400 drums of aviation gasoline, oil, and some machine gun ammunition landed with the Marines. The strip lacked anti-aircraft defenses and the only fighters were Navy and Marine Grumman F4F Wildcats and later USAAF Bell P-400 Airacobras; only the Wildcats had sufficient altitude to climb to meet the Japanese aircraft. Intending to make Henderson a base for offensive bombing operations, General George C. Marshall ordered General Douglas A. MacArthur to provide the P-38 to Guadalcanal, which had superior range and altitude compared to the other available Army types. Eight P-38s of the 339th Fighter Squadron, 347th Fighter Group, 13th Air Force landed on November 12. Lightnings were extremely successful in the Pacific, where their long range made excellent escorts, and their performance was on par or better than their Japanese counterparts. With the P-38, heavy bombers had escorts for their entire missions throughout the Solomons. When heavy bombers from Henderson Field raided Buin on November 18, P-38s escorted Boeing B-17 flying Fortresses all the way to the target and back for the first time.
United States Air Force
Date Photographed: 
Friday, January 1, 1943
Henderson Field