There are many ways that one could down an enemy plane: you can shoot it with a mounted machine gun all while chasing it, or hit it with missiles is also another option. For marine pilot Robert Klingman, his choice was a bit different when they came across a Kawasaki Ki-45. Given the circumstances, he decided to use his plane’s propeller to take down the Japanese airplane.

Bored With Civilian Life

Robert Klingman was born in Binger, Oklahoma, on January 12, 1917. When the Great Depression hit, his family needed relief, as it was difficult for them to survive with all their nine children. With that, they decided to send Robert to the Civilian Military Training program in Forst Sill, Oklahoma, to ease the burden. The program took young men to Army camps for a month and let them experience military life. This helped the parents as they would not have to worry about feeding their sons, at least through the summer. The young men sent to the training program had a chance to experience different army drills and common military weapons and have a taste of barracks life.

After getting a taste of the military life, Klingman decided to try to become a Marine. In 1934, he entered the Marine Corps right after finishing high school. He spent four years in the Marines and became qualified with the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), the best light machine gun in the US.

After returning back home, he decided to open a diner called “Bob’s Cafe.” Through time, he grew bored of civilian life. His brother, seeing a growing irritation, suggested that he return to service and try to enter the Navy, so he did.

He was assigned to the USS Tennesse and deployed to San Diego to take further training. He finished his training in carrier operations by September 1942 and was then sent for preflight school. He was discharged from the Navy as enlisted personnel and became an aviation cadet. He was the oldest cadet in his program, with mostly fresh out of college students. Nonetheless, he graduated in the top 10% of his class. After his pilot training that followed, he was asked to choose between the Navy and the Marine Corps. The choice was too obvious for Klingman. So he was again part of the Marine Corps.

Sent to the Pacific Theatre

Robert was soon sent to Okinawa. There, the Japanese kamikaze squadrons were destroying American ships using photoreconnaissance: The Japanese reconnaissance planes would pass an island or fleet twice to take photos of the American ships before heading home and using the photos to identify and assign each kamikaze pilot the ship they would individually destroy.

The Kawasaki Ki-45 or “Nick” aircraft was what the Japanese used to carry out their photoreconnaissance. It could fly higher than any US aircraft, which meant intercepting them would be almost impossible for the American forces. That, of course, did not mean that the Marines would not do something about it and let the Japanese take a photo of them and send suicide pilots to destroy their ships.

Kawasaki Ki-45s of the 53rd Hiko Sentai’s Shinten Seikutai at Matsudo Airfield. (Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Slicing with Propeller

On May 10, 1945, First Lt. Robert Klingman, Captain Jim Cox, and Second Lt. Frank Watson all went with Marine Captain Ken Reusser 13,000 feet above to wait for the next Nick reconnaissance planes and intercept them. Typically, the F4U Corsairs they were plotting were operated at about 10,000 feet only.

Vought F4U-4 Corsair. (kitmasterblokeCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Once they spotted a single Nick plane, Captain Reusser signaled the men to drop their belly tanks with their reserve fuel and climb at about 36,000 feet where the reconnaissance plane was. Once they reached 20,000 feet, they began firing at the Japanese plane, but to no avail.

Captain Coxx and Second Lt. Watson’s planes began experiencing engine trouble, so Reusser ordered them back to CAP over the fleet. The Nick was on its second pass, so Captain Reusser decided to take a shot at it, desperate to take it down. Now aware of his enemies’ presence, the Japanese pilot went full speed on his way back to their base.

Klingman and Reusser pursued the Nick. Reusser fired all of his ammo at the plane and managed to cause damage to its right side wing, causing the right engine to burst into flames. As he was out of ammunition, he gave way for Klingman to finish the job. However, Klingman found out that his guns had frozen due to the high altitude. Determined to take the Japanese plane down, he came up behind the Nick closer and closer until his Corsairs propeller sliced into the aircraft’s rudder like a cake.

LT Robert R. Klingman, USMC. (United States Marine Corps)

The Kawasaki Ki-45 was still in the air, so he hit it with his propeller two more times, completely severing the rudder and the right stabilizer. The Japanese fighter crashed into the South Pacific Ocean while Klingman managed to make a dead stick landing at Kadena Airfield.

Both Reusser and Klingman received the Navy Cross for their bravery. Robert Klingman would continue to serve and retire as a Lieutenant Colonel, forever known for using his propeller to down an enemy plane.