Douglas A/B-26 Invader

The Michael J.Dobrzelecki collection

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Michael J.Dobrzelecki recently contacted me, looking for some information on Jean Zumbach and while we were chatting we got onto the topic ( of course ) of Invaders.
Michael J.Dobrzelecki of Allentown PA wrote: 
On one of my research trips regarding Polish pilot, Witold Urbanowicz (2nd top scoring Polish ace of WWII and the only Polish pilot to serve in Asia and be credited with two Japanese fighters shot down), I was invited to attend the reunion of the 75th F.S., 23rd F.G., 14th AF in Tuscon several years ago. One of their members was none other than Bob Denny, who realted to me that he was one of On Mark's executives. During the reunion, they had a guided tour of the Pima Air Museum, which has an On Mark B-26 on display. 
I have a great photo of Bob Denny standing in front of the On Mark B-26 alongside none other than Tex Hill, famous A.V.G. ace and former 75th F.S. commander. They told me a story of how they used former 75th F.S. pilots to ferry some of the On Mark B-26's.  
Does Bob Denny's name feature in any of the info you have on On Mark? He hosted a great dinner at his house during the 75th FS reunion. He lived in an exclusive gated community in Tuscon and had a One-Hole golf course putting green in his back yard - very professional - cup, flag and all. They had a combo performing at his house, with some of musically gifted 75th FS vets forming part of the band.  I was dancing with my wife, when I had a bit of an epiphany. I looked around the yard at a veritable Who's Who of famous WWII aces all dancing with their wives to 1940's music and it was like a scene out of countless war movies of similar gatherings just before the war started.    
One of Bob Denny's other friends at that party was none other than Ken Taylor, one of the USAAF pilots who got off the ground (with George Welch) from the auxiliary field at Haleiwa and shot down Japanese aircraft during the Pearl Harbor Air Raid.
This is the first in a series of emails transmitting the photos you requested. I'm leaving the photos at full resolution.
The photos from the 75th Fighter Squadron reunion in Tuscon AZ October 1997 are digital photos I shot of the original 35mm prints - some came out better than others.  Each photo is identified by the jpeg's name to help you in identifying the people and circumstances.  Feel free to add them to your website - crediting me is all I ask.
If you want, you can condense the story I related on how I met Bob Denny. 
Bob Denny told me he used WWII 75th FS pilots, who were friends of his, to ferry On Mark B-26's, Tex Hill being one of the possibilities




Today’s Quiz: What does the Polish Air Force, King Kong, the A.V.G., the USAAF 75th Fighter Squadron and the Air Raid on Pearl Harbor have to do with the On Mark A26K Invader


                                                By Mike Dobrzelecki


From time to time I have written various stories from my aviation research projects.  Once in awhile a really bizarre set of coincidences linking seemingly unrelated aspects of aviation history come together that can not be duplicated.  My research regarding the 2nd top-scoring Polish Air Force ace of World War II, Witold Urbanowicz, presented such a case of true synchronicity.


Urbanowicz began his service in the Polish Air Force in the 1930’s. He started out as an Observer in a bomber squadron, but his skills as a pilot soon paved the way for his re-assignment to No. 111 Kosciuszko Eskadra (Squadron) in the 1st Air Regiment.  In 1936 while flying a PZL P.11a gull-wing fighter, Urbanowicz encountered a Soviet R5 recon biplane photographing Polish positions.  The standing orders were that Polish fighters were not to fire on intruders, but rather escort them back over the border into Soviet territory. Apparently the Soviet crew did not get that particular memo, as they opened fire on Urbanowicz with the oberserver’s gun. Urbanowicz easily avoided the attack and once again used hand signals to instruct the crew to turn back. To Urbanowicz’s amazement, the Soviet crew fired on him a second time. Having had quite enough of this, Urbanowicz swung around and promptly shot down the R-5 with his twin 7.9mm machine guns.  Upon landing back at base Urbanowicz was content in the satisfaction that he had done a fighter pilot’s duty. The Polish government and Polish Air Force unfortunately did not see it that way. His downing of the intruder had become a heated diplomatic incident and instead of a medal, Urbanowicz was transferred to a training unit as an instructor, where he bided his time until September 1, 1939.   


On the first day of the war, he was aloft with a cadet teaching him aerial gunnery. They had barely made it to their assigned training area, when Urbanowicz saw tracers zipping over his PZL P.7a fighter-trainer. As with the Soviet recon plane’s attack, he easily avoided the fire. Urbanowicz was truly perturbed thinking that his trainee had accidentally fired on him. On the way back to base he contemplated the details of punishment he was going to mete out to the errant Airedale.  Upon landing and relating the story to his fellow instructors, they told Urbanowicz to go to the chapel instead and light a meter-high candle and say a prayer of thanks for not being shot down by the Luftwaffe Bf-109E-1 that almost got him.


Urbanowicz escaped Poland along with several thousand other Polish Air Force pilots, cadets and ground crew, which made their way to France and England though surretepous means.   He stayed for a short time in France, but did not care much for the attitude of the French, who had the temerity to blame the Poles for getting France into another war with Germany. He made his way to England along with a large contingent of Polish Air Force personnel and hoped for a better reception. Instead he was met by more interminable waiting and suspicion of the Brits who believed that the Polish pilots were of little value, having been defeated twice (the Polish and French Campaigns) and whose piloting skills were rudimentary at best, based mostly on obsolete aircraft.  Surely they could not handle a Hurricane, let alone a Spitfire. He heard one haughty British officer remark that he was surprised the Poles even shaved. If they had bothered to check they would found that most of the Polish pilots had thousands of hours in their log books and could fly rings around most of their RAF counterparts. The first time Urbanowicz finally went up on a training flight in a Tiger Moth, he showed his RAF instructor what he could do. He quickly transitioned to Hurricanes and Spitfires and was posted to two different RAF squadrons – 601 and 145 in August 1940. His stay was short, but productive, having scored kills while on attached service with these units, before being posted to one of the newly activated Polish Squadrons, ironically, one of which, the Polish 303 Kosciuszko Squadron, was the successor to his old 1936 fighter unit. 


Upon arrival at his posting at Northolt, he discovered to his surprise that 303 was commanded by his old 111 Eskadra leader, Krasnodebski, the very same gent who bounced him down to flight instructor. Time and war heals all wounds, though, and Urbanowicz began the next phase of his service. Within a week of posting to 303, Krasnodebski was shot down and wounded, and Urbanowicz took over as the Polish  Squadron Commander of 303, a duty he shared with a British pilot (yes, the Brits still did not fully trust the Poles).   Urbanowicz and his squadron mates flew and fought well during September and October 1940. Urbanowicz was credited with 15 confirmed kills, making him the top scoring Polish ace of the Battle of Britain; and the 303 Kosciusko Squadron was the top-scoring RAF unit during the Battle of Britain with 126 kills, despite the fact that they only joined the air battle more than half way through.   


Urbanowicz was posted to headquarters duty after he departed 303 Squadron in October 1940. His personality did not blend well with the stuffy atmosphere in HQ and he was reassigned to go on public relations missions to Canada and the USA to recruit more Poles. By 1943 he found himself serving as Polish Air Attaché at the Polish Embassy in Washington DC.  Not wanting to waste time, he proceeded to get checked out on American aircraft, especially the fighters available at the time. It was during this stint that he cooked up a scheme to wrangle an assignment on attached service with a USAAF unit fighting the Japanese – the further from the ETO and the Polish Air Force hierarchy, the better. Luckily, he had a godfather in Washington to help him – none other than Colonel Merian C.Cooper.


Cooper was one of two founders of the original Polish Koscuiszko Squadron in 1919, a unit that was comprised of American volunteer pilots and Poles.  The unit was named in honor of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, Polish patriot and military engineer that served on the colonial side during the American Revolutionary War, and was most famous for designing the defenses at the Battle of Saratoga and West Point. Kosciuszko also fought in various revolutionary attempts to free Poland from Imperial Russian rule.  One of Cooper’s ancestors served with yet another Polish volunteer, General Casimir Pulaski, credited with being the creator of the American Colonial cavalry forces. When Pulaski was mortally wounded at the Battle of Savannah, he lay in Cooper’s arms.   


The Kosciuszko Squadron served with distinction during the Polish – Soviet War of 1919-1920. Never heard of this war? Not surprising, not many have.  Poland had just been reconstituted as a nation after WWI having been previously wiped off the map of Europe in a series of partitions in the late 18th and 19th Centuries between Imperial Russia, Prussia and Austria. Poles who had served on all sides of the Great War found vast quantities of armaments in various states of serviceability abandoned by the collapsing Central Powers in 1918; and, in concert with other Polish units that trained in Canada and France during WWI, formed the nucleus of the Polish armed forces. The Soviets at that time had already made great strides in consolidating their power and territory during the Russian Civil War battling the so-called White counter-revolutionary forces and other resistance armies in their former territory in the Ukraine. They cast their covetous eyes eastward toward their former lands in Poland and set about the task of strangling the upstart infant Polish nation in its crib and exporting their revolution to the rest of Europe beyond.


The Polish-Soviet War was unique, with none of the static trench warfare that characterized the First World War. Rather, the conflict saw vast cavalry armies sweeping back and forth across the steppes, with the fledgling Polish Air Force in the middle of it.

The Kosciuszko squadron flew Austrian Oeffag Albatros 253 fighters and Italian Ansaldo A.1 Balilas. Cooper was shot down and eventually captured. The Bolsheviks normally executed officers, especially foreigners, but Cooper was spared because he was wearing the uniform of a corporal with a different name.  Cooper later escaped and made an epic journey back to the Polish lines. By the summer of 1920, the Soviets had driven the Poles back to the gates of Warsaw. The Poles, under the command of General Sikorski, defeated the Soviets in a battle that became known as the “Miracle on the Wistula” and routed the Soviet army, which retreated back to the Ukraine.  One historian who examined all the battles down through history, rated the Polish-Soviet War as the 17th most important. His reasoning was sound. Had the Soviets defeated the Poles, there was virtually nothing standing in its way to take over Europe.  Eastern Europe was devastated. The defeated former imperial nations of Germany and Austria lay in chaos.  France and England had bled themselves white during the Great War and had virtually demobilized their vast armies. Had the Poles not held, a lot of people would have been slaughtered and the survivors all singing the “Internationale”, whether they liked it, or not.


Merian C.Cooper, enshrined as a hero to the Polish nation, returned to America and cast about for his next adventure, which he quickly found in the infant movie-making industry.  He became a famous Hollywood producer and was responsible for the original classic 1933 King Kong and most of the John Wayne/John Ford epic westerns, such as “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”, “Fort Apache”, “The Searchers” and the St Paddy’s favorite, the “Quiet Man”. During World War II he made the acquaintance of General Claire Chennault, whose creation of the Flying Tigers resembled Cooper’s formation of the Koscuiszko Squadron in many ways. Prior to America’s entry into the war Cooper had made a trip to England and visited the Polish 303 Kosciuszko Squadron in 1941. Cooper was a boyhood hero of all of the Polish pilots, including Urbanowicz, who participated in arranging the visit. Fast forward to 1943, with Cooper serving as Chennault’s representative in Washington DC, it was any easy task to cut the red tape to facilitate Urbanowicz’s journey to China to realize his plan to serve with a USAAF unit in the CBI.  Now here’s where the tale gets interesting once again.  Rumor has it that Urbanowicz never told his superiors at the Polish Embassy, or the Polish Air Force, that he was intending to go to China. Urbanowicz was always flitting about anyway, visiting air bases and traveling on his recruitment campaigns. In any event, by the summer of 1943, he was on his way to China, courtesy of the gent who gunned down King Kong off the Empire State Building ten years before.


Urbanowicz arrived in China by the fall of 1943 and was assigned to the 75th Fighter Squadron, 23rd Fighter Group, 14th Air Force, at Hengyang. He participated in several combat missions with the Tiger Sharks, flying various models of Curtiss P-40’s. These missions were mostly ground attack and resupply missions supporting the Chinese Army’s defense of Lake Tung ting.  On December 11, 1943, he downed two Japanese fighters (originally described as Ki-43 Oscars, but later identified as probably Ki-44 Tojos), saving Elmer Richardson, the 75th squadron commander in the process. He was awarded the Air Medal by the USAAF for his service.   Somewhere around this time, the Poles back in Washington happened to ask, “By the way, where is Witold?” When they discovered that he was off galavanting on his own in China, they were not amused.  By the turn of the New Year to 1944, Urbanowicz was departing China. Just as he was getting n the plane a message was delivered to him that he just became a new father. He so excited that he forgot to ask whether it was a boy or a girl!    Urbanowicz was sole Polish fighter pilot to serve in the CBI and shoot down Japanese aircraft.


I met Urbanowicz as a result of my work creating exhibits for the Intrepid Sea-Air Space Museum in New York. Two of my favorite, out of the twenty exhibits and events I worked on, were the 50th Anniversary exhibits of WWII, the first being the “Poland Invaded” Exhibit in 1989 and second, a year later, “The Battle of Britain”. Urbanowicz figured prominently in both exhibits and was an honored guest at the openings for those exhibits and others to follow during the 1990’s. The more time I spent with Urbanowicz the more I wanted to write a book, or an article, about his story. There were plenty of accounts n Polish, several of which were written by Urbanowicz himself that were quite renown. His writing style has been compared to the French aviator/writer Antoine de Saint-Expery. I had in mind a quite different tome based on Polish and British archival material, while still trying to capture the colorful life Urbanowicz had led.  I collected a lot of good information of Urbanowicz’s career with Polish squadrons in the pre-war era, his stellar service during the Battle of Britain, during which he is credited as being the top scoring Polish ace of the Battle and for the rest of the war in Washington DC, Canada and England. His service in the CBI was still a bit of a mystery, though. In the mid-1990's I got invited to reunions of the 14th Air Force in Washington DC; and, later in October 1997, I lucked out in being invited to attend the reunion of the 75th Fighter Squadron's Sharks in Tucson AZ.


These squadron reunions are somewhat similar to the format of IPMS model conventions, in that they include hospitality suites, dinners, lunches, banquets, parties and field trips to museums, events and air bases. The 75th FS reunion was one of the best I attended. You could not throw a rock without hitting two or three famous aces - the 75th boasted more of original AVG aces than any other fighter unit in the 23rd F.G., too. The conversations I had during the hospitality suite get-togethers were fascinating. Alcohol flowed freely and everyone kept well-fed on sausages made by Tex Hill from wild boar and deer he hunted. Johnnie Alison was there, Ed Bolen, Phil Lufbourrow, Rodey Rodewald and Clyde Slocumb, the latter one of the founding members of the Thunderbirds, just to name a few.


On the Thursday of that week-long reunion, a party was hosted by one of the squadron members, Bob Denny, who lived in a swanky gated community in Tucson. He had the party in his backyard (which sported a one-hole golf course putting green - with flag!) and the cuisine was Southwestern.  Bob Denny's host of friends at the party included none other than Ken Taylor, one of a dozen USAAF pilots to get off the ground from the auxiliary field at Haleiwa, along with George Welch, to shoot down a couple of Japanese aircraft during the air raid on Pearl Harbor.  I was dancing with my wife at this party, which featured a live combo (including some 75th FS members) playing tunes from the 1940's; and I looked around at a yard full of famous aces all dancing with their best gals and it just struck me that it was reminiscent of countless WWII movies I've seen, with the characters enjoying themselves one last time just before the war started. It was quite the epiphany.


The next day the reunion group took a field trip to the Pima Air Museum. I was having a ball photographing all the aircraft, when I ran into Tex Hill and Bob Denny standing over by the On Mark A-26K Invader in the museum's collection. That's when I found out that Bob Denny was the founder of On Mark Aviation, which was responsible for the A-26K and Guppy conversions.  Denny and Tex related to me that Denny even used his former 75th FS pilot buddies to ferry the On Mark Invaders - small world, huh? They asked me to take some photos of them with the On Mark Invader in the museum's collection and I present copies of these shots for the first time in public. Granted, these are digital reshoots of 35mm shots, so not the best quality. The 35mm shots, as I recall, were done using 400ASA film on a bright sunny day - not the best of choices, but that's all I had. 


The epilogue to the story was typical Mike D. I'm known for taking the maximum time during these tours to take as many photos as possible, most times being the last one to make it back to the tour bus. This time I missed the bus. Luck was with me, though. As I saw it pull away at a good clip, a station wagon was pulling into the parking lot. I rushed up to the car, explained I missed my bus and these nice people told me to hop in the vehicle and we caught up to the bus at the traffic light down the highway at the end of the Davis Monthan AMARC storage facility. I hopped out of the station wagon and knocked on the bus door laden down with camera gear. The 75th FS vets and their families on the tour bus gave me a standing ovation. Needless to say, they also ribbed me about it the rest of the week and the story was retold at the closing formal banquet. At least no one could fault me for not thinking on my feet in catching the departed tour bus.


I have come to realize that I love researching projects more than producing the actual final product. And the game was certainly afoot that week, so much so, that even Sherlock Holmes and Dr.Watson would have had their interest piqued. Leads often produce connections that were not necessarily the original point of the process, but that’s what makes the hunt an exciting process unto itself.  How else could have a connection been made between the Polish Air Force, King Kong, The Air Raid on Pearl Harbor, the 75th Fighter Squadron in the CBI, On Mark Aviation and the A-26/B-26 Invader? Sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction.


Bob Denny, Tex Hill, Ken Taylor and Johnnie Alison all have since passed away, as have many of the aces I met that week - a week which I'll always remember; and part of which I share today.



Bob Denny has given us permission to use this great shot of him with his Dad, Robert O. seated in a Marketeer. Photograph supplied via Richard E. Fulwiler.



75th fs Ace Tex Hill Oct 1997 On Mark B-26K Pima air museum


Mike Dobrzelecki and Bob Denny Oct 1997 On Mark B-26K Pima air museum


Bob Denny and spouse at the 75th fs reunion dinner at his house


Michael on one of his research trips on Polish pilots

Robert O. Denny

Robert O. Denny died Saturday, January 10, 2009 after a long illness. He was 89. Born in New Paris, Ohio on August 28, 1919 where his family lived. His mother and father teachers and where his brothers Chalmer and Lewis were born. The family then moved to Kokomo, Indiana. Bob attended Kokomo High School and was National Champion Highhurdler. In 1937 and was very active in sports all his life. He attended University of Indiana until WWII broke out, he left his Junior year to go to flying school and graduated from Kelly Field San Antonio Texas Class of 41G Army Air Corps. He taught flying classes until he was called to join The 75th Fighter Squadron and The Flying Tigers becoming best friends with Tex Hill and remaining close with rest of The Tigers thruout the years. Mr. Denny had many missions and was shot down and belly landed in a rice paddy in the Sion River and rescued by two Chinese Soldiers who walked him out of the area stopping in small villages where he was surrounded by people who had never seen a blonde, blue eyed "roundeye" before he finally made the base, in Henz yang a few weeks later. During his service he received The Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, The Purple Heart, Soldiers Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campagne Medal. The WWII Victory Medal and The American Defense Service Medal with clasp. After leaving the Flying Tigers he was stationed in Palm Springs, CA and then went into business in Los Angeles 1946 to 1953 at Grand Central Corp and was in the plant in Tucson where he was in charge of lengthening the Tucson Airport runway. He then founded his own company with partner William H. Doheny named On Mark Engineering Company 1957 to 1967. On Mark reconverted A26's into private Executive Aircraft and reconverted them for Airforce for service abroad. There is a A26 at The Pima Air Museum, along with The Pregnant Guppy which the company also built. Mr. Denny was in real estate in Los Angeles from 1967 to 1969 when he moved with his family to Anchorage, Alaska where they lived for 23 years where he was involved in numerous activities, was on the board of the National Bank of Alaska and Alaska Methodist University. He flew float planes, fixed wing aircraft most of his life until he stopped flying in 1987. He was an avid hunter-Dove and Duck and Geese and an expert fly fishermen. The Dennys spent part of the winters from 1976 to 1992 in San Carlos, Sonora Mexico where he played golf and the same in Tucson where he loved the Tucson Country Club course. Mr. Denny leaves behind his wife, Margot Potter Denny of 45 years; his brother, Lewis Denny, wife Marilyn of Green Valley; son, Robert Bruce Denny, wife, Stevie; daughter, Devon and husband, Scott Edwards; son, Brian Denny and wife, Rae Ann; daughter, Dana Denny; also step-daughter, Margot Kiser Jones; six grandchildren and five great grandchildren, and was preceded in death by son, Justin Denny 1988. There will be a memorial service at a later date. Donations can be made to The Pima Air Museum and TMC Hospice.