Photo from Larry Hickey

Who is the lady in the aircraft with with "Pappy" Gunn?

Photo from Larry Hickey

"Pappy" Gunn

At the age of ten, Paul Gunn knew that he wanted to fly when he saw his first airplane. He left school after 6th grade. He later joined the US Navy when he was 17 years old hoping to become a Naval pilot. His poor education prevented him from becoming an officer and a pilot. Instead, he became an aviation machinist's mate. He spent most of his Navy time at Pensacola where he met Clara "Polly" Louise Crosby, his future wife.

He saved his military pay, and bought himself a surplus seaplane and taught himself to fly. After he left the Navy he heard that the Navy had just started to allow enlisted men to be trained as pilots. He re-enlisted in the Navy and was sent to flight school. He graduated as a Navy pilot in the spring of 1925.

Over the next 12 years Gunn served as a flight instructor at Pensacola, then as a fighter and seaplane pilot with the Fleet and finally as a VIP pilot at Anacostia Naval Air Station in Washington, D.C.

He retired from the Navy for the second time in 1937 and worked for Bob Tyce businessman in Hawaii. Bob Tyce was later to be the first American to be killed in the Japanese air raid on Hawaii.

In about 1939 Gunn moved to the Philippines to work for a wealthy Filipino flying a twin-engined Beechcraft. With encouragement from Gunn, his Filipino boss started a new airline called Philippines Air Lines (PAL).

Major-General Lewis H. Brereton, commander of the Far East Air Force (FEAF), commandeered the aircraft and personnel of Philippines Air Lines once the reports came through of the Japanese bombing of Hawaii on 7 December 1941. Gunn and his friend Dan Stickle were immediately sworn into the Army Air Force. Stickle was a former sailor, whom Gunn had encouraged to move to Manila from Hawaii. Gunn was given the rank of Captain and Stickle became a 1st Lieutenant. Stickle was put in charge of aircraft maintenance.

Brereton ordered Gunn to use PAL's aircraft and any others he could find to establish an air transport squadron. He initially had 4 aircraft, a Sikorsky seaplane and 3 Twin-engined Beechcrafts. Unfortunately by the end of that first day, the Japanese attacked the airfield and destroyed the Sikorsky and damaged the other 3 aircraft.

Gunn relocated the 3 Beechcrafts to a local cemetery. He knocked down some headstones and used them to construct a makeshift runway. Helping him was his friend Dan Stickle, Harold G. Slingsby and Louis Connelly.

Slingsby was a Consolidated employee who had been ferrying Consolidated PBY-5 Catalinas to the Dutch East Indies. Connelly was another PAL pilot.

For the next few weeks in December 1941, they flew supplies and personnel around the Philippines. They were often attacked by Japanese aircraft and attracted both Japanese and friendly ground fire.

Gunn was badly damaged by an attacking Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero on 13 December 1941 over Cebu. As he struggled back to base, he was hit again by friendly anti-aircraft fire from the Philippines Air Force at Zablan airfield. He struggled back to Nichols airfield near Manila where he crash landed the aircraft.

Gunn was ordered to fly Manuel Quezon, the President of the Philippines and his family to Mindanao. Then on Christmas Eve 1941 he was ordered to fly a load of passengers to Australia. He drew all his military pay and borrowed as much money as he could and left with his wife "Polly" and his 4 children. He told his wife to tell the Japs he had been killed in a plane crash a few weeks ago if she was captured by the Japanese.

When Gunn left for Australia, his friend Dan Stickle moved to Clark Field to provide maintenance assistance for the fighter aircraft based there. Stickle was captured by the Japs in January 1942 but was able to convince them that he was a civilian mechanic. He was placed in an internment camp at Santo Tomas University. Gunn's wife and 4 children were also sent to the same camp.

Gunn made it through to Brisbane. On 20 January 1942, twenty crated P-40 Kittyhawks arrived in Brisbane. Gunn round up a crew of American and Australian personnel and started to de-crate and assemble the Kittyhawks. More crated Kittyhawks were due shortly on another ship. Gunn also rounded up 25 pilots from the 17th Fighter Group who had recently arrived in Brisbane from the Philippines to help with the Kittyhawk assembly.

The Kittyhawks were fully assembled, and test flown by the end of January 1942. The young airmen amongst his work crew started to call the 40 year old Gunn by his new nickname of "Pappy". On 16 February 1942, 17 Kittyhawks, formed into two flights, left Brisbane.

From Brisbane they would fly 400 miles due west to Charleville. Then a further 550 miles to Cloncurry, still in Queensland. The next leg was a 500 mile hop to Daly Waters in the Northern Territory and then finally the leg to Darwin. This route was part of what was known as the "Brereton Route" from Brisbane to Java. It was a total distance of 3,600 miles. "Pappy" Gunn led one of the two flights in his Beechcraft (also known as a C-45). They arrived in Darwin 3 days later minus 3 Kittyhawks which had crashed along the way.

3 days after their arrival in Darwin, General Brereton flew in and ordered the Kittyhawks to fly to Java. They had originally thought that their destination would be the Philippines. "Pappy" Gunn led the 2 flights of Kittyhawks to Java in his Beechcraft. He returned to Timor Island with a spare tyre for one of the Kittyhawks and after refuelling headed for Del Monte airfield on Mindanao. Along the way he almost collided with a Japanese seaplane that unexpectedly came out of a cloud towards him.

"Pappy" Gunn then decided he would fly back to the Philippines and rescue some more fighter pilots from Del Monte and take them back to Australia, before they were captured. These pilots had escaped from Clark Field and the fierce fighting on Bataan. As he approached Zamboanga he was spotted by a Japanese floatplane. Gunn's Beechcraft was hit badly and he had to crash land it. He was luckily uninjured, and decided to set his aircraft on fire to convince the Japs that he had not survived the crash. He hid in the thick jungle while the Japanese floatplane circled overhead.

The next morning after a restless night in the jungle, Gunn set out for the small airfield near Zamboanga. His friend Dan Connelly landed in a Beechcraft as he arrived at the small airfield. Connelly had landed to obtain spare parts from a B-17 Flying Fortress that had crashed there a few days earlier. Connelly required the parts for another B-17 at Del Monte, which they were planning to fly to Australia. It was Connelly that broke the news to Gunn that his wife and 4 children were in a Japanese internment camp.

Connelly flew Gunn and the B-17 parts back to Del Monte. Within 3 days, Gunn and the local mechanics had repaired the B-17. With "Pappy" Gunn as pilot, the B-17 took off with 22 pilots and mechanics on board and headed for Australia. Connelly and 6 others accompanied them in the Beechcraft.

During the Java campaign "Pappy" Gunn met up with and became great friends with Lt. Col. John "Big Jim" Davies, the commanding officer of the 3rd Attack Group, later known as the 3rd Bomb Group. By then Gunn was the commanding officer of a newly organised troop carrier squadron. Gunn spent a lot of time with the men of the 3rd Attack Group, especially the mechanics. The 3rd Attack Group had arrived at Charters Towers on 1 March 1942.

In March 1942, "Pappy" Gunn and "Big Jim" Davies appropriated some B-25 Mitchell bombers which had been delivered to Australia for the Dutch air force. The Dutch were short of pilots and the B-25's had remained unused for some time. Gunn later also appropriated some bomb sights from the Dutch for the B-25s.

On 5 April 1942, the B-25's that "Pappy" Gunn and "Big Jim" Davies had appropriated from the Dutch, were used in their first combat in an attack on Gasmata.


pg08.jpg (51972 bytes)

Brigadier General F.H. Smith and "Pappy" Gunn


On 11 April 1942, eleven of these B-25 Mitchells and three B-17 Flying Fortresses left Charters Towers via Darwin to Del Monte, to attack Japanese shipping and fortifications in the Philippines. "Pappy" Gunn piloted one of the B-25's (see below). They were fitted with long distance tanks for the long trip to Del Monte, where the tanks were removed and replaced by bombs.


#112441 Lowerey Walker
#112443 Smith Talley "Mortimer"
#112442 Heiss Townsend
#112511 Maull West
#112472 Peterson Mangan "Lounge Lizard"
#112496 Schmidt Birnn
#112498 "Pappy" Gunn Bender
#112480 Strickland Hipps
#112466 Feltham Linn
#112455  ** Wilson Keeter

** This aircraft later crashed in Mount Bartle Frere on 21 April 1942.

They returned to Charters Towers loaded with evacuees after their raid. Gunn flew the last B-25 out of Mindanao and arrived back in Australia several hours after the rest of the group. His long range fuel tank had been hit by gunfire. He used long range cruise techniques to nurse the aircraft home.



The following photographs and comments are from the Diary of Jack Heyn, a photographer in the 3rd Bomb Group.


"This is the remains of a Jap Corvette after and during the Third Groups vicious attack on it. Fifteen B-25-C-1's lit into it up near Gloucester Cape one bright sunny afternoon. The attack was led by Col. Hall and Col. "Pappy" Gunn, who got to it just about neck and neck. "Pappy" was flying his well know "Flying Tank" with the French "75" in the nose.  The 8th, 13th and 90th participated and got credit for it. They did a thorough job by going back the next day and making sure of the one that was still afloat."


"This is 'Lil Fox' with its namesake, or something.  The ship is "Pappy" Gunn's "Flying Tank"
with the French '75' in the nose; and the guy is Jack Fox, N.A.A. representative in this area."



Through the ingenuity of "Pappy" Gunn, the two squadrons of B-25 Mitchells were improved via various modifications.  "Pappy" was assisted by Mr. Jack Fox, a factory representative of the Mitchell's North American Aviation (N.A.A.) manufacturer who was based in Charters Towers.

jfox.jpg (40019 bytes)

B-25C Mitchell, #41-12946, "Margaret" of the 90th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group in a hangar at Garbutt airfield, Base Depot Number 4. (or is it more likely that this photo was taken in Brisbane?)


B-25C Mitchell, "Margaret" (see above) was converted to a low level "Strafer" in the B-25 Conversion centre in Townsville. Eight forward-firing Browning machine guns were fitted to the aircraft. Four in the nose were positioned through the original bomb aiming panel making air-sealing easier.


"Pappy" Gunn, 2nd from right, explaining some of his new ideas for low level attack tactics


Headquarters for "Pappy" Gunn and his crew. The sign indicates that "Pappy"
was president, Jack Fox of N.A.A. was the Admiral, and Jack Evans was
the Interference Officer and Secretary. "Pappy" has his arm in a sling.


The Aerospace Education Center (AEC) and the Arkansas Aviation Historical Society inducted  Paul Irving “Pappy” Gunn into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame Induction on Thursday, 13 November 2008. His son Nathaniel Gunn attended the ceremony.


Pappy Gunn
By Nathaniel Gunn
The story as "Pappy" told it to his son Nathaniel



"Pappy" Gunn's courage and aviation innovations made him a living legend
by Sam McGowan

"Trails in Philippine Skies"
by Enrique B. Santos
(Does anyone have a copy of this book?)


Can anyone help me with more information?


"Australia @ War" WWII Research Products

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©  Peter Dunn OAM 2020


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This page first produced 23 July 2000

This page last updated 23 February 2020