October 23, 1942 was a typical day for American troops at Esprito Santo, but for the crew of a B-17 Flying Fortress it would become a most memorable day. Early that morning the Japanese began shelling the field. Lt. Ed Loberg, a former farm boy from Wisconsin, was ordered to take his B-17 up for a reconnaissance mission to determine where the Japanese guns may be located. Not finding anything they returned to the field. The brakes failed on the B-17 upon landing and they hit several parked Navy aircraft. Fortunately for Loberg’s crew a 100 pound bomb dislodged in the crash did not explode. Later that day the crew boarded another B-17 and went hunting out to sea.
Around midday the crew noticed a PBY being attacked by a Kawanishi H6K “Mavis” flying boat. Diving the B-17 straight down, the Mavis and the Flying Fortress soon entered a rain squall. The windows were black with clouds and rain and the plane was buffeted by strong winds. Emerging from the squall at low altitude into blinding sunlight the B-17 emerged only fifty feet from their adversary. Immediately every gun on both aircraft began firing in a broadside exchange reminiscent of age old sailing ship battles. Thousands of bullets crisscrossed the narrow spread of air and the Fortress shuddered from the impact. Tracer bullets from the B-17 pelted the Mavis like darts with many ricocheting off its armor. The Mavis made a tight turn and Loberg turned inside him to avoid the mortal sting from the Mavis tail guns.
In and out of rain squalls this interesting dogfight continued for 45 minutes. The Mavis kept very close to the wave tops to protect its vulnerable under belly. Several times during the fight the Mavis disappeared for three or four minutes into clouds, but each time as it reemerged Loberg’s B-1 7 resumed the attack. Twice the B-17 passed over the H6K so close that the jagged bullet holes in the Mavis and the round glasses on its two pilots could be seen clearly.
Finally, the Mavis began smoking and the Japanese plane dropped into the sea and exploded in a large ball of flame. In the words of Ira Wolfert, a war correspondent, who was on the flight, “During the duel, the Fort that I was on, with a bullet in one of its motors and two holes as big as Derby hats in its wings, made tight turns with half-rolls and banks past vertical. That is, it frequently stood against the sea on one wing like a ballet dancer balancing on one point and occasionally it went over even farther than that and started lifting its belly toward the sky in a desperate effort to keep the Japanese from turning inside it.
Throughout the entire forty-four minutes, the plane, one of the oldest being used in the war, ran at top speed, shaking and rippling all over like a skirt in a gale, so many inches of mercury being blown into its motors by the superchargers that the pilot and copilot, in addition to their other worries, had to keep an eye on the cowlings to watch for cylinder heads popping up through them.” Others on Loberg’s crew that day were B. Thurston the copilot, R. Spitzer the navigator, R. Mitchell the bombardier and E. Gustafson, E. Jung, G. Holbert, E. Smith and R Bufterbaugh who manned the guns during this unusual dogfight. Both Mitchell and Spitzer were wounded during the battle.
About Colonel Edwin A Loberg
Col. Edwin A Loberg was born in Tigertown, Wisconsin on February 20, 1915 and grew up on a dairy farm. Ed joined the Army Air Corps and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Spring of 1941. Based at Hickham Field in December 1941 he is a member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. Ed flew approximately 90 combat missions in the Pacific with B-1 7’s from bases ranging from Hawaii to Guadalcanal and New Guinea. In 1943 he was assigned as Squadron Commander of the 7691h Bomb Squadron of the 462nd BG. He flew another 40 missions in B-29’s and piloted the lead pathfinder on the first B-29 attack on Japan. Ed’s last posting was at Bolling Air Force Base as Executive Officer of Headquarter’s Command and retired with a rank of Colonel. As a civilian with Martin Marietta he was involved in both the Apollo and Skylab programs.