Lt. Sam Marett & the Seversky P-35

An unsung hero and a forgotten plane.

On December 10, 1941, the US Far East Air Force in the Philippines was still reeling from the disastrous Japanese attacks on Dec. 8 and 9. Two thirds of its heavy bombers had been destroyed on the ground and its remaining fighter force had been nearly halved.


A Seversky P-35A landing in bad weather at Iba Airfield, Luzon

What remained of the battered fighter and bomber squadrons had been dispersed to emergency fields, some of them lacking even the most basic items such as food, water and toilet facilities. As was the case with the pilots of the 34th Pursuit Squadron; they spent a foodless and nearly sleepless night at the primitive San Marcelino field.  They took off before dawn and flew their 16 remaining Seversky P-35’s back to Del Carmen airfield, only to find orders to attack a Japanese invasion fleet off Vigan in north Luzon with all possible speed. And speed was not their P-35’s best thing.

The hump-backed looking plane had won the fighter fly-off completion in 1936. But production and deliveries had been so slow that the USAAC decided to order 210 Curtiss P-36’s, the runner up in the 1935 /36 competition. On receiving this news, Alexander P. de Seversky became afraid of his production pipeline ‘drying up’ and started to look for lucrative foreign contracts. He was so ill-advised as to secretly close a contract in 1937 with the Imperial Japanese Navy for a two-seat version of the P-35 (designated 2PA-L and A8V1 by the Japanese).  Because of the strained relations with Japan, this sale was extremely unpopular. The State department put him in their ‘black book’ and pressured the Army not to place any further orders with his firm.


Confiscated Swedish P-35’s in 1940

De Seversky must have been rather slow on the uptake because he also sold 2 of the 2LP-A’s plus a production license to Soviet Russia. Just before he was ousted as chairman of his company, he negotiated an order with the Swedish Flygvapnet for 120 single seat EP-1’s (the export version of the P-35) with two wing-mounted .50 cal. guns. Half of this order had been delivered in 1940 when an irate US Government placed an embargo on all combat aircraft sales, except to the United Kingdom. They confiscated the remainder of the 60 EP-1’s coming off the production line, redesignated them P-35A and sent them off to the Philippines. There, they were intensively used for training and by the time war broke out, most of them were in bad shape, with worn out engines and wobbly guns.

P35s 20 PS
But it was all the 34th Pursuit Squadron had that fateful day. After refueling at Del Carmen the two fights of P-35A’s took off and pressed north. It was more than most engines could stand and fighter after fighter had to return. When the squadron arrived over Vigan, Squadron Commander Lt/1 ‘Sam’ Marett’s flight was down to five planes and his wingman Lt. ‘Bill’ Brown’s flight consisted of two. There was no sign of enemy fighter planes so they all swooped down to attack the Japanese fleet. They riddled many of the small landing barges with their .303 and .50 cal. guns and so badly damaged the transport Oigawa Maru that it had to be beached to save it.
Marett had singled out a warship and pressed home attack after attack. His final attack, carried out at masthead level and through a storm of anti-aircraft fire, proved to be fatal. His target, the “7-GO” class minesweeper “W-10” blew up under him with an enormous explosion that tore off one wing of his P-35, sending it crashing into the sea.

Sadly enough, his exploit has been eclipsed by the publicity around Captain Colin P. Kelly’s supposed bombing and sinking on that same day of  the battleship Haruna. Post-war records revealed however that his attack only slightly damaged the cruiser Natori

I therefore decided to bring one more unsung hero to a wider attention. May he rest in peace.

Lt/1 Samuel Marett was posthumously awarded the DSC.  The citation reads:
Marett, Samuel H. 1st Lt - Vigan 10dec41First Lieutenant (Air Corps) Samuel H. Marett (ASN: 0-22854), United States Army Air Forces, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Pilot of a P-35 Fighter Airplane in the 34th Pursuit Squadron, 24th Pursuit Group, FAR EAST Air Force, in aerial combat against enemy forces on 10 December 1941, during an air mission against Japanese surface vessels at Vigan, Philippine Islands.
On that date, First Lieutenant Marett was Pilot of a P-35 fighter in an attack on Japanese shipping and landing parties at Vigan, Philippine Islands. Following bombing by heavy bombers, Lieutenant Marett lead his squadron through a hail of anti-aircraft fire to strafe the enemy vessels and landing parties. In the performance of this mission, one of the enemy vessels exploded, destroying Lieutenant Marett’s aircraft and killing him instantly. First Lieutenant Marett’s unquestionable valor in aerial combat, at the cost of his life, is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, the Far East Air Force, and the United States Army Air Forces.
General Orders: Headquarters, U.S. Army Forces in the Far East, General Orders No. 48 (1941)

About Kingsleyr

Thank you for visiting my blog! The posts you find here are a direct result of my research into aviation and military history. I use the information I gather as a foundation and background for my books. You may call the genre historical fiction, a story woven into a background of solid and verifiable historical facts. However, the period and region I have chosen to write about (late 1930's - 1950's in South-East Asia) are jam-packed with interesting information and anecdotes. If I'd used them all I would swamp the stories. So this blog is the next best thing. It is an "overflow area" in which I can publish whatever I think will interest you. And from the reactions I get, I deduce I am on the right track. A lot will be about aviation in the former Dutch East Indies. This, because my series of books ("The Java Gold") follows a young Dutch pilot in his struggle to survive the Pacific War and its aftermath. But there's more in the world and you'll find descriptions of cities, naval operations and what not published on this blog. Something about myself; I am a Dutch-Canadian author, living in, and working out of the magical city of Amsterdam. My lifelong interest in history and aviation, especially WW2, has led me to write articles and books on these subjects. I hope you'll enjoy them!
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8 Responses to Lt. Sam Marett & the Seversky P-35

  1. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Reblogged this on Lest We Forget II and commented:
    Forgotten no more…


  2. Laurence L Smelser says:

    My father, then a lieutenant, who became a major, Harold C. Smelser, O-23372, was a B-17 pilot with the 7th’s 9th Squadron. His plane was destroyed on the ground at Broome on March 3rd. Ordered to DC to brief Lindbergh with two other pilots (see Lindbergh’s memoirs) on bomber deficiencies, he met his end as commander of the 91st’s 324th Squadron on November 23, 1942 during a mission to bomb St. Nazaire. (The famous Robert Morgan, also int he squadron, aborted the Memphis Belle that day.) It was Egon Mayer, a German Ace, wo took down my father’s plane in the first of the head on attacks by the Germans realizing that B-17 frontal armament was woefully deficient. Chin turrets were not yet ready and there was no fighter cover. But before that, Alexander Weygers, a Dutch Colonial famous for his blacksmithing in California, had created a swagger stick commemorating the (supposed) sinking of Japanese shipping. As Robert Morgan specifically complained of being disciplined while my father thumped the stick, it is perhaps the most famous swagger stick of the war. (I have all of my father’s papers from Florida to Java via Africa to DC and am undecided about their disposition. Note: Randall Jarrell who wrote Death of the Ball Turret Gunner was a classmate of my father at Vanderbilt and he trained with Colin Kelly.) As for Egon Mayer, the German Ace, I recently had a reconciliation with his family in Germany.


    • Kingsleyr says:

      Hi Laurence,
      Thank you for reading my blog and for your comments.
      Yes, the air war in Europe was a bad one. The Germans were tough opponents, especially in 1942 when they had a large number of experienced, battle hardened fighter pilots available, as well as strings of airfields that straddled the bomber routes into the low-countries and France. I recently reviewed a book called ‘Fighting the Bombers’ in which this is explained from the German point of view – it is a frightening tale.
      Regarding your father’s papers – there are several societies in the US that try to collect as much of this type of information as possible before it ‘vanishes’ when the people – who have it in their care – die. I will try to locate some for you.
      I actually have started to collect information the 7th and 19th bomb groups as they operated out of Java in the early months of 1942. Would you mind to have a look at my text when I’m ready to publish it? Maybe you can spot errors and / or inconsistencies.
      Thanks again for contacting me!

      Robert A. Kingsley


  3. Pingback: The Survivors: Seversky P-35 – In Pursuit Of Success – Aces Flying High

  4. Lee Branch says:

    I am so impressed by Sakai’s chivalry in the matter of he, in his Zero, encountering a civilian Dutch airliner, fleeing from the DEI (I recall it was a Douglas DC-3?) in a 1942 evacuation flight to Australia. He pulled in close and observed a blonde woman holding an infant looking out at him, terrified, from a window. He decided he could not bring about the death of these refugees.
    Sakai pulled up along the airliner’s cockpit and made hand signals urging the Dutch pilot to continue on with the greatest of haste.

    Decades ago, I was thinking of trying to seek out any organization, such as a KLM airlines retirees association that might publish a inquiry as to if the tale ever survived as known to the passengers or crewmen of that Douglas. It might not, however, have been a KLM ship (were there not other airlines with service to the East Indies?).

    It remains a incident evidencing there was a remarkable nobility in the character of Saburo Sakai.


  5. Pingback: The Survivors: Seversky P-35 – In Pursuit Of Success – Aces Flying High – The Survivors

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