Brigadier General Robert Olds
Robert Olds Robin Olds © USAF
© USAF

Air Force CrossAir Force Distinguished Service Medal
Silver StarLegion Of MeritDistinguished Flying Cross
Air MedalAir MedalAir Medal
Air Force Commendation MedalAir Force Presidential Unit CitationOutstanding Unit Reward
American Defense Service MedalAmerican Campaign MedalEuropean African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal WWII Victory MedalNational Defense Service MedalVietnam Service Medal Air Force Longevity Service AwardSmall Arms Expert Marksmanship RibbonDistinguished Service Cross UK French Croix De GuerreVietnam Distinguished Service Order Second ClassVietnam Air Gallantry Medal Vietnam Air Service MedalVietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation MedalRepublic of Vietnam Campaign Medal
Units: 434th FS, 479th FG
WWII score: 13 aerial kills
1 damaged in the air
11 strafing kills
Born: Honolulu, Hawaii, July 14th, 1922
Rank: Brigadier General
Medals: * Air Force Cross
* Air Force Distinguished Service Medal 1 OLC
* Silver Star 3 OLC
* Legion of Merit
* Distinguished Flying Cross 5 OLC
* Air Medal 40 OLC
* Air Force Commendation Medal
* Presidential Unit Citation 4 OLC
* Outstanding Unit Reward 4 OLC
* American Defense Service Medal
* American Campaign Medal
* European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal 6 OLC
* WWII Victory Medal
* National Defense Service Medal 1 OLC
* Vietnam Service Medal 2 OLC
* Air Force Longevity Service Award 6 OLC
* Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon
* Distinguished Service Cross UK
* French Croix De Guerre 5 OLC
* Vietnam Distinguished Service Order Second Class
* Vietnam Air Gallantry Medal
* Vietnam Air Service Medal
* Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation Medal
* Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal
Aircraft: P-38J, L2-W
"Scat"

P-38J-15, L2-W
SN: 43-28707
"Scat II"

P-38J-15, L2-W
SN: 43-28341
"Scat III"

P-51D-10, L2-W
SN: 44-14426

"Scat 5"

P-51K-5, L2-W
SN: 44-11746
"Scat VI"

P-51D-25NA, L2-W
SN: 44-72922

"Scat VII "

   
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Army brat

Robin Olds was born an “Army brat” on July 14th , 1922, in Honolulu and would go on to become one of the most successful fighter pilots. He was a triple-ace, with a total of 17 air-to-air (including the Vietnam War) and 11.5 strafing victories.

He was the epitome of a fighter pilot and remained in service after the war. He was often at odds with those above him and also became one of the pioneer jet pilots in the USAF. Later, he became known as the best Wing Commander of the Vietnam War.

Robin was the oldest son of Colonel (and later Major General) Robert C. Olds, a former WWI fighter pilot and disciple of Billy Mitchell and of Eloise Wichman Nott. His mother died when he was four years old.

He had one brother Stevan (°1924) and two stepbrothers (Dusty, °1935, and Frederik, °1933).

Robins' father was a prominent advocate of strategic bombing and did more than anyone to make the B-17 an operational reality before the outbreak of WWII. He was eventually promoted to Colonel and made commander of the pioneer B-17 Flying Fortress 2nd Bombardment Group at Langley Field, Virginia.

As a result, Robin Olds primarily grew up on Air Corps bases and it is no surprise that he got his love for flying there. He spent the majority of his childhood at Hampton, Virginia, where he also attended elementary and high school. He made his first flight at the age of eight, at the controls of his father's open cockpit biplane.

At the Hampton High School he also was part of the football team that won the state championship of Virginia in 1937.

Instead of entering college after graduating in 1939, he enrolled at Millard Preparatory School in Washington DC. With the outbreak of the war in Europe that same year, Olds tried to join the Royal Canadian Air Force in an attempt to go and fight the enemy, but his father refused to sign his enlistment papers and insisted that he attend West Point instead.

Robin completed Millard Prep and applied for admission at West Point. After receiving a conditional commitment for nomination from a Pennsylvania congressman, Old moved to Uniontown, Pennsylvania, where he lived in the YMCA and supported himself by working odd jobs. He also took and passed the entrance exam and was accepted into the Class of 1944 on June 1st , 1940. He entered the academy a month later.

During his days at West Point, he also kept playing football and even made All-American as a tackle and was named lineman of the year in 1942. He was so successful that he was even inducted into the college football hall of fame in 1985.


But more than anything, Olds wanted to fly fighters. In the middle of his third class year, the academy began an accelerated program for those entering in 1940 that ultimately shortened the course of study to three years. Also, for those applying to the Air Corps, primary flight training was provided at nearby Stewart Field, of which 206 cadets completed the training.

Robin graduated on June 1st , 1943 and received his pilot's wings from General Henry H. Arnold that very same day and became a 20-year old Second Lieutenant.

Joining Riddle's Raiders

After earning his wings, he completed fighter pilot training with the 329th FG, at Grand Central Air Terminal in Glendale, California. In February of 1944 he became part of a group assigned to form the newly activated 434th FS, which would become part of the 47th FG, based at Lomita, California at that time. He would log 650 hours of flight time during training, including 250 hours in the P-38 Lightning.

The Group departed LA for Camp Kilmer on April 15th , 1944, and shipped aboard the USS Argentina for Europe on May 3rd . They arrived in Scotland on May 14th and travelled by train to RAF Wattisham, where they arrived the very next day. The 479th FG was the only Group in the 8th AF still equipped with the P-38 at that time.

The 479th became operational on May 26th and began flying bomber escort missions and attacking transportation targets in occupied France in advance of the Normandy invasion. Robin Olds flew an older P-38J model at first, which he named “Scat”.

“Scat” was a reference to his West Point roommate, who was nicknamed Scat. When Olds' roommate was grounded out of pilot training because of eye issues, he took it really hard. Olds told him he'd still fly with him and promised to carry Scat's name into battle on his assigned aircraft. His old roommate was killed in 1945 as an Infantry Officer.

Robin Old obviously was a man of his word, as all of his aircraft (all the way up to Scat XXVII, his personal F-4C at Da Nang, during the Vietnam War) were in fact named after his old roommate.

His crew chief at that time, T/Sgt. Glen A. Wold, said that Olds showed an immediate interest in aircraft maintenance. Old learned how to do emergency servicing and insisted that his aircraft be waxed to reduce air resistance. He often helped his maintenance crew out in carrying out their tasks.

On July 24th , Olds was promoted to Captain and became a flight leader.

The operations for which the 479th FG received its Distinguished Unit Citation were strafing attacks made between August 18th and September 5th , 1944, as well as involvement in a major air battle on September 26th . The group not only made history during this period, but it also came into its own as an effective fighting organization. The major driving force behind this success arrived at Wattisham on

August 12th in the form of new group commander Col Hubert 'Hub' Zemke. A triple ace with 15 confirmed aerial victories to his credit, Zemke was already famous throughout the SAAF following his successful leadership of the 56th FG. Equipped with the P-47 Thunderbolt, the unit had become known as 'Zemke's Wolfpack', and it would emerge from the war as the top-scoring VIII Fighter Command group.

Col. Zemke quickly made a positive impression on his new pilots, including Capt. Robin Olds. Indeed, the future ace would later say that the three most agreeable elements of his combat tour were London, the P-51 Mustang and 'Hub' Zemke. The latter pilot's firm leadership, according to Olds, was tempered by a comradely understanding of aggressiveness in combat. The 479th's most successful period can indeed be fairly attributed to the new commander's flexibility towards some aspects of his pilots' eagerness.

Olds would take advantage of his new commander's encouragement to seek out and destroy the enemy whenever possible, starting on August 14th during a fighter-bomber sweep southeast of Paris. The mission was successful, netting two locomotives and 70 goods wagons either destroyed or damaged, four bridges destroyed and another damaged, and four marshalling yards attacked and other railway stations and junctions damaged. A canal lock was also destroyed and six trucks and a barrage balloon were either destroyed or damaged.


A drawing of the very first "Scat"

 

First kill

On August 14th , 1944, Olds finally got his first kills of the war, flying P-38J Scat III, in the form of two FW-190s, following a low-level bombing mission to Montmirial, France.

He spotted the two bogeys far in front of him, heading to his right, about 200 ft off the deck. He reported: “I pulled behind them and ID'd them as FW-190s. At 400 yards behind the trailing plane, I fired a six-second burst, hitting the left wing and then pulled my gunfire onto the fuselage. Big pieces flew off, flame and smoke poured out, and the airplane rolled off to the right. Turning my attention to the second plane, I did not see the first one hit the ground. As the second plane pulled a full 360° turn, I stayed with him. From dead astern, I fired a five-second burst and observed many hits. The Focke Wulf zoomed up and the pilot bailed out.”

Lt George Gleason was flying as ”Newcross Red Four” when he released his bombs on a marshalling yard near Montmirail and noticed Olds flying away from the flight. Gleason made this report the day after the action: “As I came out of my dive, I saw Capt. Robin Olds, "Red Two", heading away from us at about "three o'clock" (directly to Gleason's left) on the deck. I climbed to 6000 ft on a heading of 320 degrees, and a few moments later I heard Capt. Olds call over the radio ''I've got two' 190s", or words to that effect. I called, asking his altitude and position, but got no answer. The radiation fog was so bad I couldn't find him immediately. Then I heard Capt. Olds again, stating "I got one". Just then, about two or three miles off to my right, I observed an explosion on the ground and flames that continued too long for a bomb burst. I went into a shallow dive, heading in that direction, when Capt Olds called, "I have an announcement to make. I just got the other one, making two for today". At 12 o'clock, approximately a mile ahead of me, I then observed an aircraft dive into a field at the edge of a wood and explode.

I confirm Capt. Robin Olds' claim of two Fw 190s destroyed.”

Shortly after returning from this mission, Olds was called into Col. Zemke's office, along with several other pilots, to be disciplined for breaking formation over the target area. The one thing that Olds feared was that he would be expelled from the group and sent back home with his combat tour curtailed. However, Zemke issued a stern warning to his pilots about the penalties for stepping out of line, fined each man a certain amount of money and commended them for their initiative. Olds became a firm follower of Col. Hubert Zemke after that.


Captain Olds next to Scat II

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