Col. Robert J. “Shorty” Rankin, a World War II fighter ace of the 56th Fighter Group, passed away on March 14, 2013 in his winter home in Florida, aged 94. He was credited with 10 confirmed, 1 probable victories and 2 damaged e/a, and was the first P-47 Thunderbolt to achieve “ace-in-a-day” status by destroying 5 e/a in one day.
The following bio is from the Luke AFB website:
Robert James Rankin was born on 23 October 1918 in Washington, D. C. Joining the Army Air Corps on 6 March 1941, he served in the enlisted ranks until he became an aviation cadet on 15 July 1942. Graduation from pilot training at Luke Field, Arizona on 11 April 1943, he checked out in the P-47 Thunderbolt at Tallahassee, Fla. In August he was sent to England and assigned to the 61st Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group, based at Halesworth.
Lt. Rankin scored his first victory on 6 Feb 1944, when he shot down a Me-109 over Paris, France. On 15 March he destroyed two Me-109s, was credited with a ‘probable” and damaged a FW-190 on a mission deep into Germany, and on 29 March downed an Me-109 northeast of Neinburg.
Rankin’s record day came on 12 May 1944, flying in bomber formation to deceive the enemy into mistaking them for the bomber force, at a predetermined point the 56th fanned out into flights of four to encounter enemy fighters forming up to intercept the “bombers.” Rankin led his flight to an attack on 25 plus Me-109s, claiming two kills. A short time later, he and his wingman joined with the Group Commander who was circling with 50 plus enemy fighters. Providing cover for the Group Commander, Rankin destroyed three Me-109s. He became the European Theater of Operations first P-47 pilot to score five victories on one mission.
Rankin returned to combat during the Korean War, serving as director of operations for the 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing. During the next 11 years, he commanded six fighter-Interceptor squadrons. Promoted to Colonel on 9 November 1963, he retired as Vice-Commander of the 20th Air Division on 1 April 1973.