In June of 1940 Tom entered the US Army Air Corps and was selected for flight training. By 1941 he was a part of the 39th Pursuit Squadron at Selfridge Field, engaging in maneuvers flying the P-39 Airacobra during the summer and fall. He was among the double handful of 39th Squadron pilots that left the United States aboard the SS Ancon bound for Australia in January 1942. After arriving at Brisbane the squadron manpower requirements were met with new pilots and ground personnel being assigned while an intense training program was developed for all hands. Airplanes coming off of the ships had to be assembled and tested. Pilots had to be checked out in them and ground crews had to be trained. It wasn’t until the first of June ’42 that the squadron was ready to take on combat duty.
A select group 39th Squadron pilots were sent TDY to New Guinea in mid-May, something of a “forward echelon” to gain experience before the main body of the squadron arrived. Lt. Tom Lynch and Lt. Ralph Carey were in good company as they flew up to Port Moresby, New Guinea on 16 May. The official 39th Squadron Combat Dairy records that Lynch and Carey were accompanied by Lt. Donald “Joe” Green, who had been flying Spitfires in defense of England with the remnants of the Polish Air Force prior to Pearl Harbor and the US involvement in the war. Lt. Frank Adkins and Lt. Gene Wahl had been flying P-40 Warhawks against the Japs over Java just prior to the Jap invasion and their forced evacuation. These five men arrived at Port Moresby on the evening of 16 May and immediately reported for duty. Contact with the enemy was not slow in coming.
The Combat Diary records:
17 May 1030 hrs Interception. Lt. Green Leading. Flight of 4 in 2 ship elements took off on intercept mission. When at altitude of 11,000 ft 5 Zeros were sighted at the same level 90deg. left, flying in Luffberry. Our flight maneuvered for position and attacked head-on. Enemy executed an Immelmann giving them a position to the rear of our A/C and attempted pursuit. The result of the engagement was nil. Enemy aircraft had cowlings painted red.
18 May 0940 hrs Interception. Lts. Wahl and Lynch went on mission of interception climbing to 22,000 ft. The enemy was sighted 80deg. left, at same level – 30 bombers in two V formations and 15 Zeros flying in Luffberry. Our pilots dived out of the sun at 4 Zeros. This action was observed late by the enemy and they attempted to turn into the attacking formation. The main enemy force continued on their course. Each pilot made contact and scored hits on the enemy.
Enemy casualties = 2 Zeros probable
Our casualties = nil.
Comments: 4 escorting fighters remained in Luffberry below the main body of bombers.
20 May 0755 hrs Interception. Lts. Wahl, Lynch, Adkins, flying in 5 ship flight in cooperation with 35th Sqdn., 8th Grp., intercepted 6 Zeros at 15,000 ft. When first sighted enemy was 45deg. left, at same level. The attack executed was head-on and observed by enemy who were flying in loose echelon. Lynch reported hits on an enemy aircraft, but no result determined. After attack enemy aircraft pulled around on our planes’ tails and our pilots dived away. Lt. Wahl and Adkins reported no results.
Enemy casualties = 2 Zeros damaged.
Our casualties = Lynch’s plane was shot up but he landed safely. Lt. Carey bailed out of plane and was injured when he hit the ground.
Comments: Lt. Atkins = “Could have done better with a truck. It’s more maneuverable and will go higher”. Lt. Wahl = “Could have done damn good with an altitude ship”.
It was immediately clear that they faced an enemy with more experience and who was flying a much more maneuverable airplane. Tom Lynch proved to be an excellent pilot and was quick to learn the tactics needed to defeat these experienced Japanese pilots that were so easily defeating the Allies in those early days of World War II.
After another two months of combat duty, the 39th Squadron was selected to be the first squadron in the SWPA to be equipped with P-38 Lightnings. After a period of familiarization and “shake down” flights in Australia, the 39th Squadron once more moved up to Port Moresby and the war. Now they had the “altitude ship” that Lt. Wahl had said they “could have done damn good with”. Now aces were being made while the Jap pilots were taking a beating. Tom Lynch came into his own with this airplane and soon became an experienced leader and brilliant tactician. When Major George W. Prentice was taken from the 39th Squadron to form the new 475th Fighter Group, Capt. Tom Lynch was tapped to command the 39th. Under his hand the squadron continued to excel and build an enviable record. By March 1943 the 39th Squadron was the top ranked squadron in the SWPA with well over 100 kills on its scoreboard.
It was in December 1942 that Lt. Richard I. Bong was assigned temporary duty with the 39th Squadron while his 9th Squadron waited to be equipped with their P-38s. On 27 December for the first time the enemy was encountered and the P-38 was tested against the Japs. Lt. Bong was flying Capt. Lynch’s wing that day. The 39th Combat Diary is quoted verbatim below: