WWII Snapshot – Four Pilots of Blackburn’s Jolly Rogers, VF-17 Identified F4U Corsair Pilots

Windy Hill, Merl William Davenport, John Orrin Ellsworth and William Lee Landreth in Bougainville

Windy Hill, Merle William Davenport, John Orrin Ellsworth and William Lee Landreth in Bougainville







Merle William Davenport

 “Butch” Merl is the only true fighter ace pictured in the snapshot.  He was credited with 6 confirmed aerial victories during his time in the PTO. Merl passed away in 1989.

John Orrin Ellsworth

John's Stateside Grave Marker

John’s Stateside Grave Marker

William Lee Landreth- The last Living Original Pilot from VF-17

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From Country’s 2012 obituary:

“He grew up to pilot the powerful F4U Corsair with fighter squadron VF-17, the Jolly Rogers, and was eventually its last surviving original pilot. “Country”, as his squadron mates dubbed him, was credited with 3 kills and 1 assist while his squadron destroyed 154 planes in 76 days of combat in the South Pacific. No bomber escorted by VF-17 was lost to enemy aircraft, no ship ever hit by a bomb or aerial torpedo. – See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/venturacountystar/obituary.aspx?pid=158047970#sthash.OJ6tGm6u.dpuf
Mr. Landreth eventually passed away due to complication from a WWII injury sustained during his stint with the VF-17.  My heart goes out to his family. I hope they find this page and this snapshot of him with his comrades.

The First US Fighter Ace of the European Theater of Operation: Charles P. London of Long Beach, California

Military historians constantly refer to “Aces” as being military aviators credited with shooting down five or more enemy planes during aerial combat.  Most of these historians don’t actually know the name of the first ETO fighter ace.  I was only made aware of his story while researching a recent photograph acquisition through an internet source who acquired the wartime collection of the Baltimore Sun newspaper.   All priced at US $15.00, the shots made available for resale were mostly unnamed or impossible to research.  When I saw that this shot was well identified, dated, cross referenced and well taken, I was “quick to click” and make the purchase.


Captain Charles P. London

Captain Charles P. London

Captain London is identified standing in front of his plane with his Crew Chief Sgt. Percy M. Scott cut off from the photo, yet identified in the caption.  The photo was acquired by the Baltimore Sun from the USAAF(sic in caption).  The photo is a typical standard size shot typical of the USAAF during the war. The shot is crisp, clear and was printed directly from the original negative in 1943.   This isn’t a shot produced in later years for a book, publication, or film.

Photo Caption

Photo Caption


The reverse side of the photo contains an interesting chain of custody record for the image.  The first thing likely applied to the photo is the light penciling correctly identifying the pilot as LONDON in cursive in the left top center of the reverse.  This shot was then stamped by the Baltimore Sun apparently while a correspondent in the London office compiled shots for publication.  Here it was identified, described and prepared for shipment back home.   The next application is the ETO Censor stamp from December of 1943.  All photos sent home during the war (with some exception) were censor examined before being sent back to the US.   The bar code stamp on the top right was placed on the shot by the photography dealer I purchased the shot from.  It’s incredible how much information can be extrapolated from a few stamps on the back of a piece of paper……

Reverse of Image

Reverse of Image

Compared to other high-profile US fighter aces of WWII, relatively little can be found about Captain Charles London.  He was a Captain with the 78th Fighter Group, 83rd Fighter Squadron in 1943.   We also know he is considered the first US fighter ace in the ETO.  A description of him in the Stars and Stripes (March 9th, 1944) describes him as follows:

First fighter pilot in the ETO to become an ace.  Capt. Charlie London, of Long Beach, Cal., has returned to the States to teach some of the tricks he learned in more than 100 mission, sweeps, and sorties in the ETO.  One of the first A4F fighters to score a double victory’s over here last June, he started flying P-36’s in 1941, then P-40’s, next the obsolete P-66 and finally P3Ss before he took over a Thunderbolt.  He has destroyed five enemy aircraft. 

He awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his work in June and July of 1943,


(Citation Needed) – SYNOPSIS: Captain (Air Corps) Charles P. London (ASN: 0-421260), United States Army Air Forces, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Pilot of a P-47 Fighter Airplane in the 83d Fighter Squadron, 78th Fighter Group, EIGHTH Air Force, in aerial combat against enemy forces from 22 June 1943 through 30 July 1943. On 22 June while engaged in aerial combat, Captain London shot down an enemy airplane. On 29 June Captain London shot down two enemy aircraft in a single engagement. When, on 30 July 1943, Captain London again shot down two enemy aircraft in a single engagement, bringing his total to five victories for the period, he became the first American ACE in the European Theater of Operations. Captain London’s unquestionable valor in aerial combat is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, the 8th Air Force, and the United States Army Air Forces.

General Orders: Headquarters, European Theater of Operations, U.S. Army, General Orders No. 82 (1943)

Action Date: June 22 & 29 & July 14 & 30, 1943

Service: Army Air Forces

Rank: Captain

Company: 83d Fighter Squadron

Regiment: 78th Fighter Group

Division: 8th Air Force

Plus, an article with his photo: http://www.cybermodeler.com/history/354fg/images/63aces.pdf



Spectacular WWII Aircraft Nose Art DVD Documentary – Interviews with Veterans of the 8th USAAF

I just came across a wonderful DVD from a British documentary film company that fits right in here at PortraitsofWar.  Filmed and edited by Whirl Wind Productions in the UK, this documentary follows the lives of WWII nose artists as well as the men who flew those famous warbirds.  Check it out and make sure to order a copy!