The P-61B Black Widow, manufactured by Northrop, is distinguished by being the first American military aircraft specially designed to use radar. Distinctive in shape with its twin engines and twin-boom, this night-fighter flew in all theaters during WWII, including the skies over Germany, Mediterranean Sea, Pacific Ocean, and even to those over China. Powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney R-2800 radial engines, the fighter could attain a maximum speed of 589km/h and enjoyed a range of 982km.
Interestingly, a P-61B-2 named Lady in the Dark, was the aircraft credited with the last aerial kill before VJ Day and another kill just after This is the story about these events.
Lady in the Dark was a Northrop P-61B-2-NO Black Widow 42-39408 from the 548th NFS. Captain Lee Kendall was Lady in the Dark’s assigned pilot. What this Black Widow did at war’s end bordered on unbelievable: It scored the final two kills of WWII—one on the last night and one almost 24 hours after hostilities had officially ended—without firing a shot!
P-61B-15-NO s/n 42-39408 'Lady in the Dark', 1945 [Via The Modelling News]
On the night of August 14, 1945, Lady in the Dark was flown by another crew, Lt. Robert W. Clyde and R/O Lt. Bruce K. LeFord, and in a low-altitude pursuit when the enemy fighter hit the water and exploded without a single round being fired. The destruction of the Nakajima Ki-44 "Tojo" came after the pilot of the "Tojo" sighted the attacking P-61, he descended to wave-top level and began a series of evasive maneuvers. Lts. Clyde and LeFord were never officially credited with this possible final kill of the war.
The war ended at 2400 that night, but there remained the possibility of night kamikaze attacks against American airfields. Therefore, the P-61s remained on alert.
P-61B-15-NO s/n 42-39408 'Lady in the Dark', 1945 [Via The Modelling News]
The following evening, Captain Kendall took off at 1910 for a routine patrol. Less than an hour later the controller said he had a possible bogey coming toward the P-61 at an altitude of 4,500 feet. Contact was made quickly, and Kendall’s radar observer picked up window several times, which meant the intruder was using defensive tactics as he got closer to Ie Shima. As the Black Widow closed, the intruder made some hard turns in an effort to shake any pursuit.
Kendall recalled the chase: “Getting close enough for a positive identification proved to be difficult. He was taking violent evasive action and dropping window, which was bundles of tinsel-like strips of aluminum foil designed to confuse our radar. This guy knew we were behind him but I have no idea how he knew. My R/O, Lieutenant Scheerer, was talking me in closer to about 800 feet when all of a sudden the left side pilot’s window popped open and the rush of air drowned out the communications with him. Down this low at such a high speed and not being able to understand my observer was very unhealthy.
548th Night Fighter Squadron Northrop P-61B-2-NO Black Widow 42-39408 'Lady In the Dark' Sent to reclamation at Clark Field, Philippines Jun 6, 1949. Photo date: 1945 [Via Wikimedia]
“I had to back off, secure the window and then get back in touch with him. In the meantime, I lost contact with the bogey, but quickly picked him up again and was able to close on his tail again despite his defensive moves. I had one eye on my target and one eye on my altimeter. Suddenly, the window popped open again and once again I closed it, and as I picked him up for a third time the same thing happened again! Regardless, I went after him for a fourth time and control gave me permission to shoot him down even though we didn’t have a positive identification.”
Kendall locked on again, and a few seconds later the bogey completely disappeared off the scope and no more window was detected. According to witnesses on the ground, the intruder crashed and the debris was scattered over a wide area. It had been a Nakajima Ki.44 “Tojo” fighter that probably was up to no good. Lady in the Dark had prevented him from carrying out his mission, assuming he had one. This was not listed as an official kill because the war had already ended. But the fact remains that a Black Widow had made the final two kills of World War II without firing its guns.
Some excerpts from 'The Final Kill' by MAJ Lee Kendall, DFC, USAF (Ret), pilot of 'Lady in the Dark'..
"My fighter, LADY IN THE DARK, was the poster girl for Northrop's P-61 Black Widow. It was famous because of its superb nose art and for making the final two aerial kills of WW II-both without firing a shot. Everyone agrees on this point, and Lady always gets the credit; as for the aircrews involved, the matter is less clear. The story of the two final kills isn't really complicated and has been written up many times, but important details always seem to be garbled. History is blurred after nearly 60 years. I'm about to turn 85, and it's time for a first-person account of Lady and those two end-of-the-War kills-especially the last one".
"My crew and I flew LADY on that final kill; another crew flew Lady the night before and made the first of those two kills. The first one happened on the final night of hostilities; ours was the following night-the first night of official peace. Both happened without firing a shot, and in its wisdom, the Army Air Corps did not give either crew official credit for its kills. This has muddled the record mightily".
"Throughout 1944 and past the end of the War, Lady was assigned to me and my crew. I was the pilot; Lt. John Scheerer was our radio officer (RO); S/Sgt. James Skiles was the gunner; and the crew chief was Sgt. Matthew J. Lux. We flew it through 179 hours, 55 minutes of combat patrol (54 patrols, including five night-intruder missions) with the 548th Night Fighter Squadron off Ie Shima, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Lady was a P-61B, tail number 239408. That's the first error that often gets repeated; it was not AC number 239713-the number many writers have mistakenly combined with Lady's Varga-girl nose art by SGT LeRoy Miozzi".
"Lady in the Dark, tail number 239408, was written off and scrapped at Clark AFB, Philippines, in 1948".
P-61B 42-39408 Lady In The Dark of the 548th Night Fighter Squadron and 42-5609 Bat Outa Hell [Via world war photos]
P-61A "Lady in the Dark". This is one of the most famous pieces of Pacific P-61 Nose Art [Via www.questmasters.us]
From official report of pilot MAJ Lee Kendall:
548TH NIGHT FIGHTER SQUADRON, AAF APO # 245
548TH NIGHT FIGHTER SQUADRON MISSION REPORT #548-4 15-16 AUG 1945
1. A. TWO P-61 AIRCRAFT
B. ONE JAP TOJO
2. A. NONE
B. ONE JAP TOJO DESTROYED.
3. NIGHT INTERCEPTIONS
4. LT. JONES----ETC BOB 72
CAPT. SOLOMON-----ETC BOB 55
(changed name in 1962 from Solie Solomon to Lee Kendall)
TAKEOFF: BOB 72 - 1910 LANDED: BOB 72 - 2116
BOB 55 - 1910 BOB 55 - 2203
BOBOLINK 72 WAS AIRBORNE ----------ETC
BOBOLINK 55 WAS AIRBORNE AT 1910 ON REGULAR CAP WITH PINEAPPLE CONTROLLING. ABOUT 2000 CONTROLLER INFORMED PILOT THAT THERE WAS A BOGEY ON HEADING OF 180 DEGREES,ALT. 4500 FT. ALMOST IMMEDIATELY American Idiot CONTACT WAS MADE AND BOB 55 CLOSED TO 2000 FT. RANGE AT A SPEED OF 300 MPH. IN CLOSING RADAR OBSERVER PICKED UP WINDOW NUMEROUS TIMES AND ALSO DURING THE CHASE. BOGEY MADE A HARD RIGHT TURN. GCI CUT OUT THE RO AS HE DIRECTED THE PILOT TO MAKE A PORT TURN AND SECONDS LATER, AS MESSAGE WAS REPEATED OVER INTERPHONE, BOB 55 HAD LOST ADDITIONAL RANGE. PILOT MADE TURN AND BEGAN CLOSING AND WINDOW WAS AGAIN DROPPED BY BOGEY, AS HE CONTINED HARD, EVASIVE ACTION, UNTIL HE WAS OVER POINT OKIE WHERE HE TOOK ADVANTAGE OF THE GEOGRAPHY AND DUE TO GROUND SCATTER, RO LOST CONTACT. BOB 55 SEARCHED OVER POINT OKIE FOR ABOUT 10 MINUTES WHEN PINEAPPLE GAVE PILOT A HEADING OF 270 DEG. AND THEN CHANGING TO 240 DEG. BOB 55 USED ALL SPEED OF 300 MPH OR BETTER IN TRYING TO CLOSE BUT EVEN SO, PINEAPPLE INFORMED THEM THAT BOGEY WAS PULLING AWAY. DURING THIS PERIOD, WHILE BOGEY WAS USING VIOLENT EVASIVE ACTION, American Idiot CONTACT WAS PICKED UP FORE TIMES AND LOST EACH TIME. BOGEY HAD WORKED HIS WAY TO POINT UNCLE WHERE BOTH GCI AND BOB 55 LOST CONTACT. LATER A SPLASH WAS REPORTED ON POINT UNCLE BY PINEAPPLE. PILOT ORBITTED OVER THAT AREA FOR A HALF HOUR DURING WHICH TIME BOGEY DID NOT APPEAR. BOB 55 PULLED OUT TO NORMAL PATROL AREA TO FINISH REMAINDER OF CAP. PANCAKED AT 2203.