Killer Kane, Col John R. Kane
"If nobody comes back.... The results will be worth the cost!" Brig Gen Ezal Ent
John Kane was born in Texas, the son of a Baptist minister. After he graduated from Baylor University in 1928 he entered the Army Air Arm, receiving his commission and wings at Randolph Field, Texas. After his initial enlistment he entered the Army Reserves, but the lure of the military and flying was compelling. In 1935 he reentered active service at Barksdale Field, LA, where he eventually became Base Commander.
Early in World War II Kane became the Commander of the 98th Bomb Group’s B-24 Liberators. He flew 43 combat missions in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, logging more than 250 combat hours. The 98th Bomb Group was called the Pyramiders, and Kane’s own daring operations earned him the title of “Killer” Kane by the German Luftwaffe intelligence reports.
On one mission Kane earned the Silver Star when his plane became separated from his formation and was attacked by an enemy pursuit plane. Kane was able to successfully maneuver his plane, even though tail and top turrets of his bomber became inoperative, through eight different attacks by the enemy fighter, who eventually ran out of ammunition. Kane’s plane and crew returned to base with minimal damage.
“Killer” Kane was best known as the leader of one of the great air strikes of WW II—the massive air attack on the oil and gas refineries at Ploesti, Romania in Aug.1943.
Among the 9th's early legends was Colonel John Riley Kane, better known as Killer Kane, commander of the 98th Bombardment Group.
The B-24s and air crews of the 98th arrived at Ramat David, Palestine on July 20, 1942, to join the Liberandos in the MEAF. Kane had been with the Group since its inception the previous January. On November 11, the day before the MEAF became the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bomb Group moved to Fayid, Egypt, and soon thereafter began calling itself the Pyramidiers to denote their Middle-East operations. On December 29 Colonel Kane became the Group's third commander.
John Kane grew up the son of Reverend John Franklin Kane, who for twenty-one years pastored the Southside Baptist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana. His big, barrel-chested son while brash and outspoken, had a soft-side and gentle nature nurtured in his youth. His history as the son of a minister may provide some insight to his distaste for his war-time nickname. Killer Kane, despite his boisterous and demanding demeanor and often profane out-spoken diatribes, was a man with a soft side and paternal dedication to his men.
Legend often relates that the title Killer Kane was given him by German fighter pilots who had witnessed his fearlessness in the cockpit. Mildred Sisk, called Axis Sally by the GIs in Europe, referred to Killer Kane from time to time in her daily "Home Sweet Home" propaganda broadcasts from radio Berlin. Despite his distaste for the nickname, it stuck with him. To his chagrin, his Pyramidiers loved the moniker and reveled in its every use though none dared speak it in Kane's presence.
The legend aside, the Killer Kane moniker was actually born long before the war when the young man was a standout football player for Baylor University. He graduated from Baylor in 1928 and soon thereafter joined the Army Air Corps. During his cadet days he became close friends with a fellow cadet named Rogers, and the duo became known as Killer Kane and Buck Rogers after the popular comic strip of the time. This second affirmation of the moniker resulted in a permanent title that would follow him throughout his exciting life.
John Kane earned his wings in 1932. He reverted to reserve status in 1934 but the following year returned to active duty. His leadership skills led to quick promotion and the admiration of his men, despite his often brash and demanding manner. Recalled Norm Whalen who flew as Kane's navigator in Europe, "He was a controversial figure, and he told the higher-ups what he thought. Colonel Kane was very direct and outspoken. He expressed himself without holding back on what he felt."
Colonel Kane wouldn't hesitate to shout his orders or opinion to anyone...including the enemy. During one Pyramidier mission the intrepid commander was leading a mission over an Afrika Corps target when his tail and top turret guns jammed at the height of diversionary attacks by German Messerschmitts. The problems caused him to miss his bomb headings but, despite the loss of his guns, he looped to make another run over the target while shouting orders over the open radio for the rest of his B-24s to follow his lead. Enemy fighter pilots got on his frequency and began to drown out Kane's command with their own taunts. Unfazed, Kane shouted, "Get the hell off the air, you bastards!" Incredibly, the even the Germans obeyed Killer Kane's orders, and with a now-clear channel he continued to direct his squadron in completing their mission.
By July 1943 Colonel John Kane had flown forty-three missions, far more than the magic thirty that sent a pilot home after duty in the Middle East. Colonel Kane also was privy to, was in fact instrumental in, planning for the 9th Air Force's most important mission to date. He was determined to personally lead his Pyramidiers in what would be their most dangerous mission. Many of his men had logged their own thirty missions, but as the plans unfolded for an August 1 raid across the Mediterranean Kane announced: "All available crews will go on the mission regardless of completion of their combat tours."
His men didn't complain; they would follow John Kane to the very gates of Hell so long as he led the way. In a 2002 interview Norm Whalen noted, "I'd go back up with him tomorrow morning if he was still around and asked me." Such loyalty was a requisite for the August 1, 1943, mission.
Killer Kane knew he would not only be leading his Pyramidiers to the gates of Hell, but through them and into the inferno beyond.