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Experimental Planes

That Crazy Searchlight on a B-26
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Love with the Light
"Aircraft Love with the Light"

Reprinted from "U.S. Air Forces in Korea"

In the autumn of 1951, the Fifth Air Force Intruder wings also tested another one of their "wild ideas" -- this time U.S. Navy searchlights mounted on the wings of B-26 Intruders. In February 1951, while on a visit to the United States, Col. Zoller of the 3d Wing had first inspected an 80-million candlepower searchlight at Langley Air Force Base. Mounted on airships, the Navy had used the lights to seek out enemy submarines during World War II. It was a package unit that could be attached under a B-26's wing. In July, when the lights began to arrive in Korea, Colonel Nils 0. Ohman, who now commanded the 3rd Wing, ruled that only two aircraft in each bomber squadron would be equipped with searchlights. Each of the lights was as big as a napalm tank, and its drag promised to reduce the range of the plane that carried it. Colonel Ohman also thought that the lights would increase the vulnerability of the plane to ground fire. At the start both the 3d and 452d Wings had trouble getting the lights into action so that they could test them. Some snapped off the bracket which held them and others caught fire and had to be jettisoned. The first few searchlight missions flown by the 3d Group revealed the tactics that would be useful. The B-26 crew would first locate a convoy and mark its position with firebombs. Then the crew would switch on the searchlight -- which was limited to approximately fifty seconds burning at a time -- and prosecute low level attacks.


The searchlight had a brilliance of 70,000,000 candlepower (that is 70 million) and had a range of 2 * miles. It weighed 154 pounds and operated on 72 * volts DC. The searchlight beam was directed by the navigator sitting beside the pilot, operating a joystick. It could be left on for not more than one minute and then needed 5 minutes of off time for cooling.

Love with the Light

"Close-up on Love with the Light"

Stan Murphy

I'm not sure, but I think I was the first one to fly a searchlight-equipped aircraft in the 3rd Bomb Wing. I know I was the first to fly it in the 13th Sq.

As an Assistant Group operations officer, I was in a position to know just about everything that was going on, but I had never heard of the light until one day in the fall of '51 I was told the Squadron Commander wanted to see me. Our Commander at the time was Joe "Big Foot" Belser. Col. Belser told me the Squadron had recently acquired a highly powerful searchlight that could be mounted under the wing of our aircraft. He said the light had originally been designed for the Navy to use in anti-submarine detection at night.

Col. Belser said he wanted me to fly the light on a mission and then give him a report on what I thought of its practicality. He suggested that I first fly the light that night in the local area so I could get an idea of what it could do and give the navigator a chance to learn how to operate it. He asked me which Navigator I wanted to take with me and I put the finger on Dick Miller. I thought to myself "Hee Hee Hee. Dick is going to love me for this!"

That night Dick and I made numerous passes back and forth across the base, shining the light here, there, and everywhere. We could see everything that was doing on down on the base and I got real excited. "Hot damm!" I thought. "You gook truck drivers have had the course for sure now." Not so, as it turned out.

On the night of the mission I tried in vain to find a target to use the light on but I couldn't spot a bloody thing. Finally I found a long straight stretch of road. I decided to fly the light down that stretch of road and maybe we could pick up a truck or two. When I got lined up with the road I told Dick to turn the light on.

"Now?" Dick asked.

"Yes", I said, "Now."

Dick said, "Do you mean right now?" I said, "Yes, damnit, right now!"

All during the mission Dick was reluctant to turn on the light until I gave him a direct order or threatened him with bodily harm. Dick was by no means a coward but he wasn't a practicing hero either. He was convinced that turning on that light in a hostile sky was not conducive to a long and fruitful life.

When Dick finally turned on the light, we were in immediate IFR conditions. There was a slight haze in the air and the light was so terribly bright it turned the haze into a solid fog hank. That proved to be the case during the entire mission. Every time Dick (reluctantly) turned on the light, visibility became zilch. That was the essence of my report to Col. Belser the next day. The light was so flippin bright it defeated its own purpose, unless it was an absolutely clear night.

I never flew the light again and I have good reason to thank God for that. The day after the mission, one of our maintenance men showed me a bullet hole through the fairing of the light; the only battle damage sustained. Thanks again, God!!

Dick flew with the light several more times. What the effectiveness of the light was on those missions, I don't know. You will have to ask Dick about that. Of course you may have to give him a direct order or bend his arm in order to make him talk about it.

Stan Murphy -- Stan Murphy, 13th Bomb Squadron Pilot

From Air Force Magazine, May 1986

To help in locating and attacking trains and trucks, a few B-26s of each wing were equipped experimentally with old 80,000,000 candlepower searchlights that the Navy had used on its submarine-hunting blimps during World War II. Capt. John S. Walmsley of the 3d Wing's 8th Bomb Squadron was one of the pilots selected to develop tactics for searchlight attacks. On the night of September 12, 1951, he scored the first success with a searchlight, stopping a truck convoy with 500 pound fire bombs and then making several bombing runs on it using the light, which could be used for no more than fifty seconds at a time. Two nights later, Captain Walmsley, call sign "Skillful 13," halted a train near Yangdok, about ninety miles north of the 38th Parallel, and made searchlight passes on it until he ran out of ordnance. Circling over the train, which was in a valley surrounded by craggy peaks, he called for another B-26 to come and continue the attack. Blowing up a locomotive had top priority, since one freight car could carry as large a load of supplies as eight trucks.

Finally, a 3d Wing B-26, "Skillful 16," responded. Walmsley gave its pilot his location as accurately as the uncertain maps of North Korea would allow and used his searchlight as a beacon, making himself a clear target for enemy AA guns. When the other bomber arrived, Walmsley twice flew his B-26 through heavy flak along the correct axis of attack, illuminating the area with his searchlight. As "Skillful 16" prepared for its bomb run, Walmsley peeled off in a low-level pass, his searchlight blazing.

Communist gunners on the hills surrounding the train threw up a concentrated barrage across the path of Captain Walmsley's brightly lit B-26. Ignoring the web of tracers ahead of him, Walmsley refused to take evasive action and continued his run in order to pinpoint the train for "Skillful 16" as long as possible. He was well aware of the risk. This was John Walmsley's 25th intruder mission. As he approached the target, his plane was hit. It continued to fly straight and level for about two miles, but then crashed into a mountain and exploded.

For his determination to complete a top-priority mission in the face of almost certain injury or death, Captain Walmsley was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. He was one of only four Air Force pilots to be so honored during the Korean War. All four awards were posthumous.

A month after Walmsley's heroic act, the searchlights were abandoned. They proved too fragile and unreliable for bomber operations and increased the risk of crew losses to a degree that was out of proportion to their limited usefulness The light may have failed, but not John Walmsley or the other B-26 crews who participated in that bizarre experiment.


Many B-26 aircraft were lost making attacks on trains and vehicles in the face of enemy fire. The record shows that the week prior to Walmsley's mission another plane was observed to crash from anti-aircraft fire while attacking a target under flares. What made Walmsley's loss so noteworthy that it warranted a Medal of Honor?

Walmsley's citation states: "In his determination to inflict maximum damage on the enemy, he refused to employ evasive action and valiantly pressed forward straight through an intense barrage, thus ensuring complete destruction of the enemy's vitally needed war cargo."

First, you cannot take evasive action while pressing an attack. You may vary your tactics and come from another direction, but to attack you must press straight into the target. Second, Walmsley was out of ordinance. The second B-26 had been called in to take out the train.

It was said that Walmsley was illuminating the train for the other aircraft, but this is not a feasible tactic. Two airplanes flying in the dark could not find one another, let alone maneuver so closely together than one could illuminate the train for the other.

An unreported fact is that the Base Photographer was aboard Walmsley's plane. Why? What's to photograph from a B-26 at night? You can scarcely take pictures from a B-26 in the daylight. The photographer must have been aboard to take pictures of a train illuminated by the searchlight. The crews were instructed to break off the attack when anti-aircraft fire threatened the plane, so why did Walmsley fly into heavy anti-aircraft fire with an unarmed plane?

Walmsley must have been sent out to prove the effectiveness of this new device by taking a photo of the train illuminated by the searchlight. It was a bad idea and he and his crew were killed in the effort. He was rewarded with the Medal of Honor when the plan failed. It wasn't a fair trade.

Charles Hinton -- Charles Hinton, 13th Navigator