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Michael T. Russo was born in Cleveland, Ohio on September 4, 1920. He was attending Ohio State University when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Like many patriotic Americans, he immediately enlisted in the US Army, and requested pilot training. Russo received his primary training at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, advanced training at Randolph Field, Texas, and finally earned his wings at Moore Field, near Mission, Texas. He was then sent to Meridian, Mississippi for training in the new A-36 Invader, the dive bomber version of the P~51A Mustang. Following sixteen hours of flight time in the A-36, Russo was assigned to the 16 th Bomb Squadron (later redesignated as the 522'd Fighter-Bomber Squadron) of the 27 h Bomb Group (Light.) Flying out of North Africa, then Lt. Russo would score his first confirmed aerial victory on September 13, 1943, when his flight executed a diving attack on twelve Fw-190s which were attacking Allied shipping off the coast of Italy. In October Russo's flight attacked Ju-88s on the ground at an airfield near Rome. They were attacked by seven Bf-109s, and although his comrades downed three of the German fighters, Russo did not get one. Later that day, on a second sweep over that area, Russo downed a small biplane which unluckily came into the range of his guns. That aircraft was believed to be a Fiesler Storche 167. In December a flight of twelve A-36s were directed to the airfield at Aversano to strafe Ju-52s. Russo bagged one of the German transports after it had taken off, thereby attaining a third aerial victory. On one mission Russo strafed a column of German troops with devastating results. His crew chief surprised the young pilot by painting "Killer Russo" on the tail of his A-36. Not wanting to make himself a target for the enemy, or risk hostile treatment, if were downed in combat, Russo had the nickname removed from his aircraft. On December 30, 1943 Russo's flight of twelve A-36s was bounced by sixteen Bf-109s near Rome. In the ensuing battle, Russo downed two of the German fighters. With those two victories Russo became the only A-36 ace of the War, and the first Mustang ace. Russo participated in a number of War Bond drives in the States, and he was promoted to Captain in 1944. Mike left military service with the end of the War with 169 points.

Russo's decorations include the Silver Star with one Oak Leaf Cluster, The Distinguished Flying Cross with one Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Air Medal with fourteen Oak Leaf Clusters. After his death in 2006, at the age of 85, all of these medals, his flight jacket, pilot logs, and other important memorabilia were donated to the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington where they are part of the World War II collection. Russo attributed his success with the A-36 to his engineering oriented way of thinking. He knew that the Allison engine in the A-36 would only perform at optimal levels close to sea level. At any altitude the German fighters would have far superior performance advantages. He also knew that he had to face and pursue the enemy and never turn his back, since all the guns were only in the front of the plane. Knowing the limitations of his aircraft helped save his life on a number of occasions. There were very close to 100% casualties in Russo's squadron, and the Allison powered version of the Mustang would prove a relatively unimpressive aircraft until the Merlin engine was fitted to the airframe and the P-5 1 B was born.

Russo participated in a number of War Bond drives in the States, and he was promoted to Captain in 1944. Mike left military service with the end of the War with 169 points. He established M R Products, Inc. in 1960, a family business operating under the Tradename, Mr. Chain

[caption id="attachment_419" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption=""The First Mustang Ace" by Stan Stokes"][/caption]


Written by mrchainreaction — January 12, 2011


Introducing Mr. Chain « Mr. Chain Reaction:

[…] portrait below is a picture from his days as a World War II Ace Fighter Pilot (see our previous blog about his […]

September 02 2011 at 03:09 PM

Dave Orloff:

Hi, this is belated but I am saddened to read that Mike has passed, I was privileged to meet him in San Antonio during a fighter aces gathering when I presented the group with a model of his A-36 as part of a larger modeling project. He was a funny, entertaining guy, and I built two more models of his plane, one for him and one for my own collection.

January 08 2015 at 12:01 PM

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