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James J. Southerland
October 28, 1911 – January 12, 1949
Pug Southerland.jpg
James J. "Pug" Southerland
Nickname Pug
Place of birth Narberth, Pennyslvania
Place of death Jacksonville, Florida
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Rank Commander
Commands held VF-5, VF-83, VF-23
Battles/wars World War II
*Guadalcanal Campaign*Battle of Okinawa
Awards Distinguished Flying Cross with Gold Star, Silver Star, Purple Heart, Pacific Theater Ribbon, World War II Victory Medal.
Other work Flight Instructor

James Julien "Pug" Southerland II (October 28, 1911-October 12, 1949) was a United States Navy fighter pilot during World War II. He is credited with scoring 5 victories (some accounts say 7), flying Grumman F4F Wildcats. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross twice, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit and the Purple Heart.

Born in Narberth, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Southerland graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland in 1936. Rear Admiral David Richardson, who served with him, said Southerland gained the nickname "Pug" because he was such pugnacious boxer at the academy. Southerland became an aviator and meant to make the Navy his career.


World War II dogfight at Guadalcanal

At the beginning of the Battle of Guadalcanal, August 7, 1942, United States forces shelled Guadalcanal and neighboring Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. Soon after the attack began, 27 Japanese bombers and an escort of 17 fighters took off from Rabaul, Japan's stronghold and strategic base in the South Pacific. Their mission was to bomb the ships that were supporting the American attack.

Lieutenant Southerland commanded a group of 8 American Wildcats aboard the U.S.S. Saratoga in Wildcat Battle Unit #5192. Due to planning errors and the loss of planes to a recent training exercise, these were the only fighter cover available to patrol the landing area. Southerland's flight took off to intercept the Japanese bombers before they could reach the American ships.

Southerland shot down the first Japanese aircraft of the Guadalcanal campaign, a G4M1 "Betty" bomber of the 4th Kokutai, under the command of Shizuo Yamada. After shooting down a second bomber, Southerland was engaged in a dogfight with an A6M2 "Zero" of the Tainan Kokutai. He lined up the Zero in his sights only to find his guns would not fire, probably due to damage from fire by the tailgunner from the second bomber he had downed. Although he was now defenseless, Southerland had to stay in the fight. Two more Zeros engaged him, but he successfully outmaneuvered all three of them. The dogfight was spotted by Saburo Sakai who felt the deftly handled Wildcat was winning the engagement. Sakai described the duel in his autobiography:

In desperation, I snapped out a burst. At once the Grumman snapped away in a roll to the right, clawed around in a tight turn, and ended up in a climb straight at my own plane. Never before had I seen an enemy plane move so quickly or gracefully before, and every second his guns were moving closer to the belly of my fighter. I snap-rolled in an effort to throw him off. He would not be shaken. He was using my favorite tactics, coming up from under.

Southerland and Sakai were soon engaged in one of the most legendary dogfights in aviation history. After an extended battle in which both pilots gained and lost the upper hand, Sakai finally shot down Southerland's Wildcat, striking it below the left wing root with his 20mm cannon. As Southerland bailed out of his doomed Wildcat his .45 caliber automatic pistol caught in the cockpit. He managed to free himself but lost his pistol, leaving him weaponless, wounded, and alone behind enemy lines.

Suffering from eleven wounds, shock and exhaustion, Southerland struggled through the brush, carefully evading Japanese soldiers. He finally reached the coast, where he was found by some natives, who at the risk of their own lives fed him and treated his wounds. With their assistance, he eluded the Japanese ground forces and returned to American lines. Southerland was evacuated from Guadalcanal on the first patrol boat to land at Henderson Field, on August 20.

Both pilots survived the war to write their accounts, making it one of the best documented dogfights of WWII. On February 14, 1998 the wreckage of Southerland's Wildcat was found. Investigation of the remains has confirmed both Southerland's and Sakai's accounts of the dogfight.

Last years

Southerland later fought in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. By then a commander and leading VF-83 aboard the USS Essex, he shot down two Ki-61 "Tonys". He became a confirmed ace in April of that year when he downed a A6M "Zeke" while serving aboard the USS Langley.

Following the war, Southerland became a flight instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy. He was killed in a jet training accident in 1949 during takeoff from a carrier off the Florida coast.

Awards and Decorations

External links

See also


The Associated Press. "Flier Fights 31 Japanese Planes; Has 11 Wounds When He Bails Out; Lieut. Southerland of Navy, Back From the Solomons, Recounts Air Battle and Escape With Natives' Help." New York Times. Mar 15, 1943.

Hammel, Eric. Carrier Clash: The Invasion of Guadalcanal and the Battle of the Eastern Solomons August 1942. Zenith Press, 2004. ISBN 0-7603-2052-7

Sakai, Saburo. Samurai! I Books; New Ed edition, 2001. ISBN 0-7434-1283-4

Styling, Mark. The Blue Devils. Osprey Publishing, 2003. ISBN 1-84176-735-2



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