The prelude to the campaign of the 49th Fighter Group covers some of the darkest days of the Pacific War: the fall of Singapore on 15 February; the bombing of Darwin on 19 February during which the Japanese shot down nine of the ten P-40s of Major Floyd Pell’s 33rd Pursuit Squadron; and the sinking of the USS Langley (CV-1) on 27 February, taking with it thirty-two P-40s and thirty-three pilots from the USAAF 13th Pursuit Squadron.
With the Netherlands East Indies and Philippines lost, American reinforcements, including three USAAF fighter groups—two with the Bell P-39 and one with the Curtis P-40E—were reconstituting in Australia. In March, the most advanced group, the 49th Fighter Group, commenced its move to the Top End, where US and Australian units were feverishly constructing airfields and associated facilities. By April, the 49th, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Paul Wurtsmith, was in situ, with its three squadrons, the 9th, 8th and 7th, located at Livingstone, Strauss and Batchelor, respectively.
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