The 343rd Fighter Group was activated on 03SEP42 at Elmendorf Field, Alaska. It consisted of the 11th and 18th Fighter Squadrons on Curtiss P-40Es and the 54th Fighter Squadron on Lockheed P-38s. A fourth squadron with P-40Es, the 344th, was added in October. In command was Lt Col John Chennault, whose father of Flying Tigers fame inspired the nose art applied to the Group’s P-40s. Note the subtle differences in the tiger heads on these two aircraft, and the variations in the application of the Aleutian Theater recognition stripes.
At the time the Japanese occupied Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian chain, but a more fearsome foe was arguably the weather. Mud, ice, and dust made living conditions miserable and operations difficult, if even possible at all. Here is a hillside covered in tents overlooking a flooded maintenance area.
The Group was credited with 22 victories during its combat tour. External drop tanks were a standard item, especially as the weather was a factor in the majority of missions.
Maintenance was performed without the benefit of hangers. The U.S. ARMY lettering is plainly visible under the wing of this P-40. Of interest is the sentry and the sidearm of the crouching mechanic.
More open-air maintenance. “Dell” wears a two-tone camouflage and the post-AUG43 blue bordered barred insignia. The back of the propeller blades have been almost completely stripped of paint by the ever-present dust and grit.
The 343rd did not apply tiger heads to all assigned aircraft, the practice appears to have been much more common earlier on. Here is a parking apron with a mix of markings. The far aircraft is still carrying the early 1943 national insignia, while the aircraft in the foreground displays the red border authorized from June through August of 1943. The green camouflage areas on the wings of the aircraft in the foreground do not extend to the ailerons – the added paint was sufficient to affect the trim.
It is very common to see the paint completely worn off both wing roots on Aleutian Warhawks. Finishes appear very worn in general, a nice challenge for the advanced modeler.
While “SNAFU MARU” does not carry a tiger head, she does have the distinctive yellow spinner and wheel covers. Dust covers are in place to protect the carburetor and radiator intakes against blowing dust. (LIFE photograph)
Another interesting study in contrasting markings in this color photograph. There is significant wear on the prop blades and wing roots of 0610 in the foreground. In the background 25 shows the remnant of a tiger head on top of her cowling, the side panels are likely replacements. Again there are variations of the theater marking stripes between the aircraft. (LIFE photograph)
Another nice photograph showing variations in the tiger head marking. The color of the landing gear legs is interesting. In the majority of photographs of the war in the Aleutians you see some combination of snow, dust, and mud. (LIFE photograph)
Not a P-40 but possibly an aircraft from the 343rd Fighter Group. A T-6 (or maybe an SNJ?) displaying an unusual camouflage, any guesses as to the colors? Where is our LIFE photographer when we really need him? This is presumably a hack, assigned unit unknown. The number “06” is visible on the cowl.
More color P-40 photographs here: