Thomas, Wilbur, Capt

Deceased
 
 Service Photo 
 Service Details
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Last Rank
Captain
Last Primary MOS
7598-Basic Fixed-Wing Pilot
Last MOSGroup
Pilots/Naval Flight Officers
Primary Unit
1944-1944, 7598, IMA Detachment (MCAS Miramar)
Service Years
- 1947
Official/Unofficial USMC Certificates
Golden Dragon Certificate
Shellback Certificate
Tailhook Certificate

Captain

 
 

 Last Photo 
 Personal Details 

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Home State
Kansas
Kansas
Year of Birth
1920
 
This Military Service Page was created/owned by SSgt Michael Frederick (Fred) to remember Marine Capt Wilbur Thomas.

If you knew or served with this Marine and have additional information or photos to support this Page, please leave a message for the Page Administrator(s) HERE.
 
Contact Info
Home Town
El Dorado
Last Address
El Dorado

Date of Passing
Jan 28, 1947
 
Location of Interment
Forest Lawn Cemetery - Glendale, California
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Not Specified

 Official Badges 


 Unofficial Badges 

Shellback




 Additional Information
Last Known Activity
Died in post-war flying mishap in 1947.
   
Other Comments:
Credited with downing 18.5 Japanese aircraft while flying F4U Corsairs with VMF-213.

One of the most successful but least known Marine Corsair aces was First Lieutenant Wilbur J. Thomas, whom Barrett Tillman called "one of the deadliest fighter pilots the Corps ever produced." He scored 18.5 kills while flying with VMF-213. Thomas' combat career is remarkable because he scored most of his kills in a one-month period during the hotly contested landings on Rendova and Vangunu islands in mid-1944.

After staying in the rear area of the New Hebrides, Thomas was finally transferred to the combat zone. He flew his first missions in June and July 1943. His mission on 30 June was a CAP mission over amphibious landings at Wickham Anchorage on the southern tip of New Georgia.

Fifteen Zeros pounced Thomas's fighters. After he had become separated from his group, seven Zeros had attacked the lone F4U, but, undeterred by the odds, Thomas turned into the Japanese, eventually shooting down four of them. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this mission. Three weeks later, on 17 July, Thomas and his wingman attacked a group of Japanese bombers and their Zero escort, and shot down one of the bombers.

Thomas was on the receiving end of enemy fire on 23 September. After shooting down three Zeros, and splitting a fourth with his wingman, the young ace found he had taken hits in the oil lines. His engine seized and he glided toward the water, eventually bailing out at 3,000 feet. He scrambled into his rubber raft and waited for rescue. He paddled for five hours to keep from drifting to enemy positions. After 10 hours, a Consolidated Catalina flying boat (PBY) set down beside him and brought him home.

By the time VMF-213 left for the States in December, Wilbur Thomas had scored 16.5 kills in five dogfights. He returned for another combat tour, this time on board the carrier Essex (CV 9) headed for the South China Sea and Japanese bases in Southeast Asia. He added two more kills to his previous score when he took out two Zeros near Tokyo during Essex's first strike against the Japanese Home Islands on the afternoon of 16 February 1945.

Again, as did several of the young aces who managed to survive the war, then-Captain Thomas died in a postwar flying mishap in 1947.
   
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Northern Solomon Islands Campaign (1943-44)/New Georgia Group Operation
Start Year
1943
End Year
1943

Description
This operation was fought during the Pacific war on this group of islands situated in the central Solomons. US forces invaded them as part of an American offensive (CARTWHEEL) to isolate and neutralize Rabaul, the main Japanese base in their South-East Area.

On 20 June 1943 a Raider battalion (, 5(f)) landed at Segi Point on the main island, New Georgia, and during the next two weeks there were other landings by US Marines and 43rd US Division on Rendova and Vangunu islands, and on western New Georgia, to seize a Japanese airstrip at Munda point. Despite the US Navy's intervention, which resulted in the battles of Kula Gulf and Kolombangara, 4,000 reinforcements were successfully dispatched to the commander of the 10,500-strong Japanese garrison, Maj-General Sasaki Noboru. Most reinforced Munda, which became the focus of Japanese resistance, and their night infiltration tactics unnerved the inexperienced US troops. Non-battle casualties, caused by exhaustion and ‘war neuroses’, increased alarmingly, and when the commander of 14th Corps, Maj-General Oscar Griswold, arrived on 11 July he reported the division was ‘about to fold up’. The 37th US Division was brought in, Griswold replaced the worst affected units, and he then launched a corps attack on 25 July. Fierce fighting followed but by 1August the Japanese, outnumbered and outgunned, had withdrawn inland. This time US Navy destroyers prevented more reinforcements reaching them when, on the night of 6/7August, they sank three Japanese transports (battle of Vella Gulf).

Munda now became the base of Marine Corps squadrons which supported landings on Vella Lavella on 15 August. These bypassed and isolated Sasaki's garrison now gathering on Kolombangara after further US reinforcements, elements of 25th US Division, had failed to destroy them on New Georgia. On 15 September Sasaki was ordered to withdraw. In a brilliantly organized evacuation 9,400 men out of the 12,500 on Kolombangara were rescued by landing craft, and the following month those on Vella Lavella were also evacuated.

The campaign proved costly for the Americans who had 1,094 killed and 3,873 wounded with thousands more becoming non-battle casualties. Excluding the fighting on Vella Lavella, 2,483 Japanese bodies were counted. Planned as a one-division operation, the Japanese garrison's ‘skill, tenacity, and valor’—to quote the campaign's official US historian—eventually made it one where elements of four had to be used. ‘The obstinate General Sasaki,’ the same historian concludes, ‘deserved his country's gratitude for his gallant and able conduct.’
   
My Participation in This Battle or Operation
From Year
1943
To Year
1943
 
Last Updated:
May 18, 2008
   
Personal Memories
   
Units Participated in Operation

4th Marine Regiment

VMGR-234

VMA-121

4th Raider Bn

1st Raider Bn

4th Raider Bn/O Company

4th Raider Bn/Q Company

4th Raider Bn/P Co

MAG-14

USS PRESIDENT JACKSON (T-AP-18)

 
My Photos From This Battle or Operation
No Available Photos

  233 Also There at This Battle:
  • Bagwell, Earl Charles, PFC, (1942-1944)
  • Baldiga, Walter Edward, PFC, (1942-1943)
  • Barker, Caruth Alexander, Capt, (1942-1943)
  • Barnes, Donald Anthony, Pvt, (1942-1943)
  • Bates, Wallace Byron, PFC, (1941-1943)
  • Brennan, David Matthew, Capt, (1942-1943)
  • Burkholder, Melville Marsden, Pvt, (1942-1943)
  • Carpenter, Ralph Gilbert, PFC, (1941-1943)
  • Case, William, 1stLt, (1942-1945)
  • Cote, William R, Sgt, (1942-1946)
  • Crosland, Maurell Buck, Pvt, (1941-1943)
  • Davis, Albert Anthony, PFC, (1942-1943)
  • Dodson, Virgil Ryon, PFC, (1942-1943)
  • Elder, Ernest Alfred, PFC, (1942-1944)
  • Felts, John Thomas, 2ndLt, (1942-1943)
  • Gentry, Tolbert, BGen, (1942-1973)
  • Groft, Marlin F, Sgt, (1942-1952)
  • Hill, James, LtCol
  • Holladay, John Charlton, Sgt, (1942-1943)
  • Huff, Robert John, SSgt, (1942-1943)
  • Hughes, Opal C., MTSgt, (1942-1943)
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