21 September, 2019

PROFILE 135: "The Dot T" - as flown by Lt. Cyril Huss, 74th FS, 23rd FG

Be careful how you live your life.  People are depending up on it.

Break break.

Have a look at the airplane above.  It’s a P-51C Mustang fighter plane.  For the record, it’s the best Mustang I’ve ever done, too.  If you keep reading, you'll learn why it couldn't be anything but.

But first let's get the nerdy stuff out of the way.

Firstly, Mustang fans will notice that the tail is mated to the fuselage with a fairing that is more common on the D/K models than the B/C models.  Recognizing that the vast (repeat) majority of humans don’t care about this detail, I won’t wax poetic about it other than this—the fairing was applied as a field-conversion to help with certain, perceived stability issues.   Did it help?  Well, a buddy of mine who flies a beautifully restored C-model Mustang took the fairing off.  He says that removing the dorsal fairing removes some of the airplane's yaw stability, making the rudder forces lighter.  He told me, that removing the fairing makes the P-51 a nicer aerobatic airplane.  

If you're thinking, "Hmmm.  Don't you want a 'nicer aerobatic airplane' for air combat?"  Not necessarily and that's a topic for another time.

Shout out to the people at Air Corps Aviation for their jaw-droopingly awesome
restoration of "Lope's Hope."  Photo courtesy of Warren Pietsch.

But philosophically, life is like that, right?  The ‘solution’ we’re given sometimes fixes a problem we preferred in the first place.


Secondly, notice the lack of serial number.  Why not?  Dunno.  Things were different in the CBI (China-Burma-India Theatre of Operations).  Of all the WWII veterans I’ve been able to interview, most served in the CBI.  Having the privilege of sifting through bajillions of personal photos from the time & place, I can testify to CBI’s comparative ‘roughness.’  The theatre of operations was transacted over huge, diverse tracts of land that ranged from scrub flatlands to thick jungle bound with the common thread of, at the time, third world living.  "Dirt and diarrhea," I was told.

Therefore, I’m not surprised that somewhere, somehow, the P-51’s serial number marking was omitted or never painted on in typical USAAF convention.  Nevertheless, a little bit of sleuthing revealed that the factory serial number of this P-51C was  43-25228.*

Buddy Don Erickson was flying #4 (far left) when this photo was taken in Spring of 1945.
Click his name to see his airplane and read a bit about him.  Amazing man...  

Thirdly, check out the nose!  IMO, the 23rd Fighter Group—of which this P-51 was a member—had really wonderful paint schemes using the color black.   The 75th Fighter Squadron painted their P-51s with black tails.  Have a look at the two photos above; the black-tails of the 75th are my favorite P-51 markings as it compliments the bare-metal-silver and overall aesthetic.  The black noses of the 74th Fighter Squadron are my second favorite.  

However, now focus your eyes on…

I know what you're thinking.
"Man!  Where on earth is beach sand that white?!?"

Hang on a sec I need to digress.

The other day, I was in a medical examination room, listening to a cardiologist describe to a patient his chances of surviving a heart surgery.  In contrast to the sobriety of the moment, working through the ratios of percentage-risk of doing the surgery, not doing the surgery, expected lifespan-with, expected lifespan-without was fascinating, if not fun.

As the doctor added and subtracted percentage points like a bookie, I noticed he was actually listing off the cause-effects of a matrix of influences: genetics, choices, goals, obstacles, hopes and fears.  In that particular moment, the spiderweb of life was apparent—connections and links of one thing leading to another. 

And, I thought of Dorothy.  She’s the woman in the photo above and, as you’ll see in a few more paragraphs, one of those binding moments that transcend time.

So, back to the story.

Please focus your eyes on the airplane on top of this post and focus on the words painted in white script on the nose:  "The Dot T."  That was 2nd Lt. Cyril "CJ" Huss's idea.  For the record,  CJ was a late-war fighter pilot with the 74th FS, 23rd FG.  For posterity, however, he was something far more significant.

This. Was. It.  The only known photo of The Dot T.
Getting the nose art script 'right' on my art took at least HALF the total time doing the whole plane.

A little background is in order.

I have no idea what Cyril Huss thought when he found out he was posted to China.  From what I’ve learned about the state of war in the China-Burma-India theatre, I wouldn't be surprised if CJ was less-than thrilled.  By Fall of 1944, the grit and grime of the CBI was well known, especially in contrast to historic, picturesque Europe.  Were I a fighter pilot of the day, discovering I would not be spending the prime of my life dueling Hitler and meeting buddies in English pubs, I’d have simply dropped my face and muttered, “Crap.”

A moment in time, 'snap!' and here we are, 80-some years later.
Yet, the fight against Axis tyranny remained.  History geeks know that by mid '44, Hitler's demise was wholly assured.  Continuing the war in Europe was, effectively, a formality to absolutely wreck the Nazi machine.  As for the island-hopping war in the Pacific, that too was a done-deal.  Of course, the Japanese military's senseless strategy of suicidal defense had to get played out, but Japan's war culture was shattered into smithereens. 

But in the CBI, the Japanese army remained powerful force; so powerful, they were still launching successful offensives well into 1945.  Yeah-yeah, Japan's plan for Pacific domination was 'doomed' after 1942's miraculous moment at Midway.  But three years later, that-fact wasn't apparent to the millions of Chinese who still suffered under Japan's strong-arm rule.

Do yourself a favor and read up about the CBI.  You’ll learn about how China got to be the power it is today, how French Indo-China was practically encouraged to erupt into the Vietnam War and mostly, how “the history books” are as incomplete as a one-handed wristwatch.


The 23rd Fighter Group was the most experienced fighting organization in the CBI on account of its heritage.  Before the United States entered the war, it sponsored the legendary group of volunteer warriors, The Flying Tigers, to aid China in her dramatic struggle against Japan.  Tactically, the Flying Tigers were a mere nuisance to the “Japs.”   Strategically, however, the Flying Tigers became the theatre's foundation for American aviation.

Yet, when WWII between Japan and the U.S. was officially declared on December 8, 1941, the Flying Tigers** were doomed.  Not by the Japanese but by bureaucracy.  The Flying Tigers’ hired-gun ways were forced to join the rank and file of the United States Army Air Force.  It wasn’t a smooth transition.  Some of the “real” Tigers quit and went back to the United States for fates unknown.  But, some stayed and formed the 23rd Fighter Group.  Of course, the Flying Tigers heraldry and brand were happily appropriated by the newbies.  And why not?  We ALL stand on the shoulders of giants, right?

Let's move on.

©John Shaw.  The painting is called "Shark Sighting" and is one of the greatest pieces of art, ever. And ever.  And ever.
It shows a pre-23rd FG P-40C in Flying Tiger livery.  To you, John Shaw, I raise my lowly pencil and bow.

The wild-winging days of shark-mouthed P-40 flown by hired-guns, dogfighting against Japanese Army fighters quickly waned.  Air superiority was never part of the Japanese Army’s critical plan in China.  As 1942 passed to ’43, to ’44 and into ’45, the Japanese Army air force was blasted into pieces.  Sure, a fighter pilot could—and did—get lucky and rack up a few victories but nothing like the happier hunting grounds of the Pacific and Europe.  So, the pilots of the 23rd FG did a lot of, as they say, “ground pounding.”  In other words, dropping bombs and shooting up targets on the ground.

It was ugly work.

Some day, if we ever meet, ask me about the pilot who, in his words, may have killed the most people in one mission by one man, ever.  He was a CBI pilot who acted out of rage—not (necessarily) at the enemy but at his lot in life.   But I digress…

Have a look at the animation below.  It’s a time-lapse drawing of Cyril Huss flying The Dot T on a low-level strafing run on a Japanese airfield near Shanghai.  

These kinds of missions were crazy-dangerous.  Against an aerial opponent, a pilot had decent odds against quantifiable variables:  talent vs talent, skill vs skill, tool vs tool.  But against the ground-bound fury of an angry opponent, the game changed.  Torrents of lead, shrapnel and the natural hazards of flying aircraft at high speed 200’, 100’, 50’, 20’ 10’ off the deck make mastering the moment a crap-shoot.

Did I mention it took just one piece of metal to slice an oil or coolant line to bring down a P-51?  Don’t think for a minute that such an occurrence was rare; Bill Creech had it happen to him twice (and parachuted both times).

So anyway…

On 20 January, 1945, Cyril took The Dot T down low, “four fifties” blazing and in return, had his bird’s tail turned into a sieve.  Fortunately, the 30+ holes did not sever a control cable.  Unfortunately, the damage spoiled the aerodynamics to the point where The Dot T was marginally flyable.  Over friendly territory, bailing out was an option.  But over Japanese-held territory, that was not an option.
Why not?  Easy.  Did you know the Japanese POW system had the highest death rate in WWII?  About 30%, give or take up to a dozen points. Huss made the right call to take his chances getting home.

So, he pointed The Dot T towards Kanchow and hoped like heck the "Forward (Air)field" remained in American hands.

“Forward field” is a particular term denoting the compromise between “established air base” and “there-are-still-enemy-bullets-wizzing-past-were-we-just-bulldozed-five-minutes-ago.”  These hastily hacked landing strips where made for exactly Cyril's moment.  Coaxing the broken Mustang onto the dirt, he hoped that it could eventually be repaired.  He also (probably) even looked forward to the extra days-off as he waited for the USAAF ground crew to arrive and make The Dot T whole again.

It wasn't to be.

A fresh Japanese offensive was under way and the forward field was smack-dab in the middle of the inertia.  There was no time to fix The Dot T.  It was time to retreat, but not before destroying the broken bird with friendly fire.  After all, no sense giving the Japs any inspiration to build a better weapon, right?

Note the date - 18 January.  When The Dot T was ruined on the 20th of January, it was actually the second strafing trip to Shanghai in 3 days. Note how long it took General Chenault to send out personal "thank you" letters to the pilots...

Curious. How long does it take YOU to send out a thank-you letter?

Carl Molesworth—the defacto historian of all-things-CBI-aviation—did me a solid by providing a little context on the moment: 

"Since September 1944, the 74th Fighter Squadron had been flying out of Kanchow, a forward airfield located in a pocket of Chinese-held territory roughly midway between the Japanese strongholds of Hankow and Hong Kong.

Initial missions had been fighter-bomber strikes against those two areas, as the squadron transitioned from P-40s to P-51 Mustangs. Then the 74th began utilizing the long-range capability of its Mustangs to reach deeper into eastern China. On Dec. 8, 1944, the Mustangs went north to hit airfields and rail facilities at Nanking for the first time. Building on this success, the 74th struck east against Shanghai on Jan. 17 and 20, 1945. 

The first Shanghai raid netted credits of 73 enemy aircraft destroyed in the air and on the ground, making it the most destructive single mission ever flown by the 23rd Fighter Group.  With Japanese ground forces approaching, bad weather closing in and fuel supplies running low, the squadron abandoned Kanchow for the safety of Luliang in late January 1945. In recognition of its successes at Kanchow, the 74th Fighter Squadron adopted the nickname “Guerrilla Squadron.”

Break break.

Have a look at the picture of Dorothy again.  The one in the bathing suit,.

And have a look at the picture below.  That's Cyril and Dorothy many years later, still together.  How cool is that?!

Just keep reading.

Ok.  Here’s where things get real.

Fueling my fragile (but gigantic) ego, I’m starting to get recognized in places.   A short-while back, a guy in an airport indulged me with, “Hey! You’re the guy I saw on…” For a second, I felt like a bigshot.

But trust me, though my ego is gigantic (and fragile), I know the truth: “When an old man dies, a library burns.”   My job is only to point towards the pyre's of history’s tragic, powerful and beautiful moments and check them out for all to see.

Since I evoked the word, "pyre," know that on October 18, 1995, Cyril "CJ" Huss, died leaving behind generations of families and...

...The Dot T.

Or as you and I would address her, Dorothy.  Or you can call her by her nickname, "Dotty."   But you figured that out long ago, right?  

Please.  If you’ve read so far, watch the video below because it's the crux of this post.

A patron commissioned me to draw Dorothy's husband’s airplane for the sole reason that the history of the moment must persist and prevail.  This past August, Dorothy, and her assembled family, was presented the finished piece at a special event held in Dorothy's hometown of Faulkton, SD.

It was such a freaking cool moment, I can't even speak about without getting incoherent.  And of Dorothy's remembrance of her husband, it's... wonderful.  Wouldn't it be great if we all could be remembered like that??

We talk of “The Greatest Generation” - a term minted by a fellow South Dakotan, Tom Brokaw. But recognize this.  Our generations, now and future, remain.  How we live our lives matters in ways and fashions that we can’t ever perceive until they happen.  There's no way on earth that CJ could have envisioned any of this.  Yet, it happened to him, to Dorothy to family...and now you.

Of all the great heroes I’ve had the pleasure to meet, none capture the spirit of why any of us serve and sacrifice like Dorothy Huss and the P-51C that bore her name.   This picture is a treasure to me.
Take one last look at the artwork at the top of this page.  Did you notice the title?

Of Hearth and Home.

Indeed.  Be we separated by time, tide, geography, race or status, we all live for the blessing that comes from knowing we've done good.  We won't be forgotten.    And what we've left behind is worth remembering.

Best wishes to you as you build your own Hearth and Home.  And in the meantime, God Bless America and everyone who's made it so.

Especially, CJ, Dorothy and The Dot T.

MORE HERE. __________________________________________________________

*So how did I get the serial number of an airplane that didn't have it applied?  Well, first, the military keeps records of EVERYthing.   Even when they lose stuff, someone, somewhere has it.  I've learned to just-keep-digging.  However, it also helps to know highly educated people (again, thank you Carl Molesworth).

**The mercenary-era Flying Tigers kicked Nippon Butt.  Under the amazing leadership of General Claire Chenault, they were a bulwark against the Japanese Army.   Interested in learning how to "get sh*t done"?  Read up on Chenault and his band of warriors.