70 years ago: 19 destroyed by the 357th Fighter Group

About 20 miles southwest of the target, Liepzig, Red Flight of the 364th Fighter Squadron, 357th Fighter Group engaged a batch of Bf 109s, with the lead element attacking the German fighters while the second element provided top cover against an ambush. The ambush came, and Capt. Rick Smith was shot down and killed in the ensuing dogfight.

“Bud” Anderson was leading the 363rd, riding herd on the second box of bombers between Brunswick and Magdeburg. After combat began ahead of the squadron, “we dropped our tanks and started forward when eight Fw 190s went under me,” said Anderson. “They crossed in front of the low squadron of bombers and turned left flying our formation, mocking escort. It looked like a trap as eight more came down and bounced our second section. They turned into them and seemed to be doing OK, so our section went down on the ones below. I picked the leader, gave him a short burst from about 350 yards dead astern, got quite a few hits. He did a roll to the right and straightened out, skidding violently. The canopy flew off and he snapped over on his back, bailing out.

“I then saw another one heading for the clouds. He ducked in, but it was thin and I could see him once in a while, so I followed. He came out in a clear spot and I attacked from the rear, closing to 150 yards and getting quite a few hits. The canopy flew off, the pilot started to climb out, but settled back into the cockpit. I flew alongside and saw fire break out in the cockpit. He slowly rolled over and went straight in from about 8000 feet, making a huge explosion.

“My wingman came alongside and we started to climb back when another Fw 190 came out of the thin overcast 90 degrees to our course and behind us and above. We circled around on his tail, climbing after him. I cut him off, closed in and started firing. I didn’t get hits at first, so I slid around dead astern and got a few good hits. He then took his first evasive action, pulling up through the clouds. I followed, firing. He went down through it again, I got some hits in the cockpit area. The Fw 190 then did a violent snap roll to the right followed by a tight spin. Streamers were coming off his wingtips and tail surfaces and he spun right in, exploding. No chute came out.”

Clarence "Bud" Anderson

Clarence “Bud” Anderson

Blue Flight, with Don Bochkay leading, was flying just above Green Flight, and just after the four Mustangs dropped their tanks and started to turn, Bochkay looked into the sun and spotted “four Fw 190s coming down on us followed by four Bf 109s,” he said. “They went past us and broke into Green Flight, dead astern.”

“They fired and passed over the top of my flight, making a turn to cut us off,” said Capt. Robert Foy, who was Green Leader. “I called for (Blue Flight) to break right and I put 20 degrees of flaps down and cut my throttle, maneuvering to the rear of the enemy aircraft. I pulled up on the tail of the rear Fw 190. I fired at him (and) observed strikes all over the fuselage and wing, at which time he straightened out and bailed out in level flight.”

At the same time, Bochkay lined up the lead Fw 190 and fired; the German pilot split-S’ed and fled. Foy saw a P-51 being chased by a Bf 109 “just off at about 3 o’clock to me and low,” he said. “I pulled up and dived, pulling up below his tail. I followed him for about 15 seconds in close trail with him. I pulled up and fired two short bursts, observing strikes on his right wing and beneath the fuselage. The Bf 109 immediately broke to the left, did one rather fast roll, and (the pilot) bailed out.”

L4 Bochkay_posed

Don Bochkay

Foy called to his wingman and received no answer, then radioed his element leader, who replied that he’d lost Foy when he went after the Bf 109. “I pulled into a sharp left turn and saw a ship on my tail. I pulled into a tighter turn and started to spin into the overcast, recovering after about two turns. I pulled my flaps down, cut my throttle and continued turning to the left. I had completed about three-fourths of a 360-degree turn when a Bf 109 cut across in front of me at a fast rate of speed. I gave it full throttle, pulling up on his tail. I fired one burst, observing strikes on the right wing. The enemy aircraft did a split-S and I followed him. He pulled out of range in a vertical dive; I glanced at my air speed, which indicated well over 550 mph. The Bf 109 was still pulling away from me. I pulled out at 3000 feet and the Bf 109 was still in a vertical (dive). I climbed up to 6000 feet and circled the immediate area. I did not see the enemy aircraft hit the ground, but there was a spot on the ground that looked as if either a bomb or an airplane had gone in.”

Foy_I

Robert Foy

Bochkay had spotted another Bf 109 trying to dive to safety, and this time he stuck to his quarry. When he fired, “(the Bf 109’s) ammunition started to explode, tearing bits and pieces from both wings. The pilot then bailed out doing close to 600 mph; he delayed his opening. At 4000 feet the ship caught fire and crashed.”

Lt. William Overstreet found himself behind an Fw 190 and opened fire; “when I started getting hits he flipped over and bailed out,” he later wrote.

In all, the group scored 19 victories. In addition to the kills by Anderson, Bochkay, Overstreet and Foy, additional single scores went to Capts. John Pugh, Fred Smith, John Howell, and Mark Stepleton and Lts. Raymond Staude, and Gerald Tyler. Lts. Merle Allen and William Fennell shared a kill, and Capts. James Browning and Charles Summer each scored two

69 years ago: the Yoxford Boys down 19 near Magdeburg

About 20 miles southwest of the target, Liepzig, the 364th  Fighter Squadron’s Red Flight engaged a batch of Bf 109s, with the lead element attacking the German fighters while the second element provided top cover against an ambush. The ambush came, and Capt. Rick Smith was hot down and killed in the ensuing dogfight.

“Bud” Anderson was leading the 363rd, riding herd on the second box of bombers between Brunswick and Magdeburg. After combat began ahead of the squadron, “we dropped our tanks and started forward when eight Fw 190s went under me,” said Anderson. “They crossed in front of the low squadron of bombers and turned left flying our formation, mocking escort. It looked like a trap as eight more came down and bounced our second section. They turned into them and seemed to be doing OK, so our section went down on the ones below. I picked the leader, gave him a short burst from about 350 yards dead astern, got quite a few hits. He did a roll to the right and straightened out, skidding violently. The canopy flew off and he snapped over on his back, bailing out.

“I then saw another one heading for the clouds. He ducked in, but it was thin and I could see him once in a while, so I followed. He came out in a clear spot and I attacked from the rear, closing to 150 yards and getting quite a few hits. The canopy flew off, the pilot started to climb out, but settled back into the cockpit. I flew alongside and saw fire break out in the cockpit. He slowly rolled over and went straight in from about 8000 feet, making a huge explosion.

“My wingman came alongside and we started to climb back when another Fw 190 came out of the thin overcast 90 degrees to our course and behind us and above. We circled around on his tail, climbing after him. I cut him off, closed in and started firing. I didn’t get hits at first, so I slid around dead astern and got a few good hits. He then took his first evasive action, pulling up through the clouds. I followed, firing. He went down through it again, I got some hits in the cockpit area. The Fw 190 then did a violent snap roll to the right followed by a tight spin. Streamers were coming off his wingtips and tail surfaces and he spun right in, exploding. No chute came out.”

Blue Flight, with Don Bochkay leading, was flying just above Green Flight, and just after the four Mustangs dropped their tanks and started to turn, Bochkay looked into the sun and spotted “four Fw 190s coming down on us followed by four Bf 109s,” he said. “They went past us and broke into Green Flight, dead astern.”

“They fired and passed over the top of my flight, making a turn to cut us off,” said Capt. Robert Foy, who was Green Leader. “I called for (Blue Flight) to break right and I put 20 degrees of flaps down and cut my throttle, maneuvering to the rear of the enemy aircraft. I pulled up on the tail of the rear Fw 190. I fired at him (and) observed strikes all over the fuselage and wing, at which time he straightened out and bailed out in level flight.”

At the same time, Bochkay lined up the lead Fw 190 and fired; the German pilot split-S’ed and fled. Foy saw a P-51 being chased by a Bf 109 “just off at about 3 o’clock to me and low,” he said. “I pulled up and dived, pulling up below his tail. I followed him for about 15 seconds in close trail with him. I pulled up and fired two short bursts, observing strikes on his right wing and beneath the fuselage. The Bf 109 immediately broke to the left, did one rather fast roll, and (the pilot) bailed out.”

Foy called to his wingman and received no answer, then radioed his element leader, who replied that he’d lost Foy when he went after the Bf 109. “I pulled into a sharp left turn and saw a ship on my tail. I pulled into a tighter turn and started to spin into the overcast, recovering after about two turns. I pulled my flaps down, cut my throttle and continued turning to the left. I had completed about three-fourths of a 360-degree turn when a Bf 109 cut across in front of me at a fast rate of speed. I gave it full throttle, pulling up on his tail. I fired one burst, observing strikes on the right wing. The enemy aircraft did a split-S and I followed him. He pulled out of range in a vertical dive; I glanced at my air speed, which indicated well over 550 mph. The Bf 109 was still pulling away from me. I pulled out at 3000 feet and the Bf 109 was still in a vertical (dive). I climbed up to 6000 feet and circled the immediate area. I did not see the enemy aircraft hit the ground, but there was a spot on the ground that looked as if either a bomb or an airplane had gone in.”

Bochkay had spotted another Bf 109 trying to dive to safety, and this time he stuck to his quarry. When he fired, “(the Bf 109’s) ammunition started to explode, tearing bits and pieces from both wings. The pilot then bailed out doing close to 600 mph; he delayed his opening. At 4000 feet the ship caught fire and crashed.”

Lt. William Overstreet found himself behind an Fw 190 and opened fire; “when I started getting hits he flipped over and bailed out,” he later wrote.

In all, the group scored 19 victories. In addition to the kills by Anderson, Bochkay, Overstreet and Foy, additional single scores went to Capts. John Pugh, Fred Smith, John Howell, and Mark Stepleton and Lts. Raymond Staude, and Gerald Tyler. Lts. Merle Allen and William Fennell shared a kill, and Capts. James Browning and Charles Summer each scored two

69 years ago: the 357th FG goes Stork hunting

On 20 June, Blue Flight of the 364th Fighter Squadron, 357th Fighter Group was escorting the heavies to Ostermoore when they heard a report of a straggling B-24 under attack. “Upon reaching the scene of combat, I took an enemy aircraft off a P-51’s tail,” said Capt. Richard Smith. “A long stern chase began, (during which) I could close and fire at will. I fired short bursts, observing good strikes every time. Pieces of the enemy aircraft came off and he started smoking, his engine stopped and he crash-landed in a field.”

Lt. Nicholas Frederick downed a Bf 109, then saw several P-51s chasing a Feisler Fi 156 at low altitude. “I got behind Lt. Merle Allen and saw him fire, observing strikes on the fuselage,” Frederick said. “The Storch kept flying and, since my guns were jammed, I forced the Storch into the ground by flying several feet above him. The prop wash apparently spun him in. The plane broke into many pieces.” Lt. John Salsman also scored one kill, and shared victories were credited to Maj. John Storch and Lt. Louis Fecher.

Later in the day, Lt. Heywood Spinks was knocked down by flak during a strafing mission. Spinks evaded capture and returned to Britain.

69 years ago: 25 victories for the 357th Fighter Group

The Luftwaffe was back up to challenge the 357th Fighter Group on April 11. Just after rendezvousing with bombers headed for Sorau, the 364th Fighter Squadron’s Green Flight ran across a single Bf 109, which dove for cover “After approximately five minutes of chasing, firing numerous bursts and observing numerous strikes, I shot the engine out of the Bf 109,” said Lt. John Carder. “The enemy pilot tried to crash land at in excess of 200 mph. The enemy aircraft hit the ground, bounced over high wires and a road, and crashed into the ground and exploded.”

Lt. Fletcher Adams had been with the bombers for about 20 minutes when he spotted a trio of Bf 109s below him. His flight leader, Lt. John England, took the tail-end plane; Adams took the second one and both chased their quarry to the deck. “The enemy plane took evasive action, turning and skidding,” said Adams. “I fired several bursts when he was going in an out of the clouds. A light stream of black smoke came out of the plane and he went into a cloud. I went over the cloud and next saw the pilot in a parachute. I saw a plane behind me, which I assumed to be my wingman. When I turned, however, he began to shoot at me from about 500 yards. I went down in evasive action to about 20 feet and pulled up sharply to the right. The enemy plane tried to follow this maneuver. After I had nearly completed a 360-degree turn, I saw the enemy plane spin into the ground explode and burn. I saw no parachute this time.”

White Flight of the 363rd spotted an He 111 “sneaking along right on the ground,” said “Bud” Anderson. “The first pass wasn’t so good,” he said. “I pulled up and the rest of the flight came in.” After Lt. Henry Kayser put a burst into the cockpit and Lt. William Overstreet shot up the plane from dead astern, Anderson stitched the He 111 from tail to cockpit, then Lt. Edward Simpson came in and set the left engine ablaze. “He tried to crash land, and did,” said Simpson. “The ship burst into flames after hitting a pole and sliding along the ground. The crew jumped out.” Simpson, Kayser and Anderson each added individual victories during the mission

In all, the group destroyed 25 planes. The victors included Lts. Gilbert O’Brien, John Pugh, Arval Roberson, Charles Peters, Richard Peterson, William Reese, LeRoy Ruder, and Robert Shaw, who each downed one. Half-credits went to John England and Don Bochkay

68 years ago: The 357th Fighter Group cleans up over Gutersloh

On March 24, 1945, the 364th Fighter Squadron was prowling the area west of Gutersloh when it spotted bandits airborne over the aerodrome. “We made a 180-degree turn and dove on their tails,” reported Capt. Paul Hatala. “The enemy aircraft saw us and broke up to fight. I picked out a Bf 109 and started turning with him. I got strikes in the wing. Pieces came off and it went into a dive from 3000 feet. The pilot bailed out and his chute opened.”

Hatala dove on another Bf 109 and sent it careening into the ground. “I looked at my tail and saw another 109 firing away at very close range. I immediately went into a steep turn to the right and dropped flaps. The 109 couldn’t stay with me, so he dropped out. When I leveled out he came in on me so he was set up for a 90-degree deflection shot. I got good hits on his wings and in the cockpit. Hits in his right wing knocked part of the wing off and he dished out and dove into the ground at about an 80-degree angle.”

Hatala spotted a Bf 109 on the tail of a P-51. “I got on the tail of this enemy aircraft and started shooting. I got some strikes on the wing and fuselage. He then leveled out and I gave him another burst. Pieces came off the enemy aircraft and the pilot bailed out.”

Lt. Robert Schimanski was leading White Flight; as the gaggle flew below him, he positioned his flight for a bounce. “I picked out one for myself, put the pipper on him and waited for him to blow up, but I couldn’t wait long enough to put the finishing touches on him,” Schimanski said. “I started turning with another Bf 109, finally catching him on the top of a climbing turn. I hit him in the cockpit and he snapped on his back and tumbled into the ground from about 2000 feet.”

Additional victims fell to Lt. Col. Andy Evans, F/O Charles Schneider, Maj. John Storch, and Lts. Stephen Waslyk, Lawrence Westphal, Roland Wright and Gilman Weber.

The 362nd Fighter Squadron heard the radio chatter and headed for the action. “The fight was at 12 o’clock low and we immediately started towards the engagement,” said Capt. Charles Weaver. He entered into a Lufbery, but lost the advantage and dove away. “Finally, I singled out a lone Jerry making haste from the scene of action; I turned and gave chase. My first burst, of three seconds, was at 650 to 700 yards. I observed strikes on the nose and engine cowling. The Bf 109 pulled up in a chandelle to the left and I closed very rapidly, firing a long second burst at 200 yards, noting strikes on the nose, engine, cockpit and all other parts of the enemy aircraft. Pieces were flying thick and fast. The pilot jettisoned his canopy and tried with some difficulty to get out. I gave several short bursts at 50 to 70 yards, at which time the pilot popped out of his cockpit. The Jerry’s chute did not open until he was about 80 feet from the ground. It did not have time to blossom.”

Charles Weaver's Mustang seen after the war's end.

Charles Weaver’s Mustang seen after the war’s end.

White Flight jumped into the same Lufbery. “I singled one out and got on his tail,” said Lt. William Gruber. “After a few deflection bursts at close range, I closed to about 100 yards dead astern. I put the pipper on the cockpit and fired a long burst of at least six seconds. Flames and black smoke enveloped the whole plane. The Bf 109 turned on its back and plummeted straight into the earth. A large, brilliant red flash followed.”

“I spotted a Bf 109 directly below at 9 o’clock to us and called it in to my flight leader,” said Lt. John Duncan. “He S’ed to the right and came in behind the enemy aircraft, which was turning to the left. Just then I sighted a P-51 with a Bf 109 on his tail shooting like mad. I called my flight leader and broke down on the Jerry’s tail. He pulled in to the left and made a 270 (degree turn). I opened fire at about 400 yards and he started streaming smoke. Then the pilot bailed out, making a delayed jump. I fired on him before his chute opened and believe I hit him.”

The 363rd Fighter Squadron was flying its own segment of the sweep not far away when they heard about the hunting around Gutersloh. Maj. Robert Foy soon spotted two Bf 109s hugging the deck. “I alerted the squadron and started to dive onto the tail of the enemy aircraft. They apparently saw us diving to attack and one enemy aircraft on the right side of the two-ship formation broke right and I lost sight of him. The lead ship broke left and I continued on to his tail, pulling into range, giving him a short burst. He obligingly straightened out at about 600 feet. I closed in rapidly, giving him short bursts. The last burst clobbered him squarely and he began streaming smoke. He headed toward the deck and made a feeble attempt to crash land. He hit upon his right wing and cartwheeled, tearing the plane to bits.”

Foy circled and saw the German pilot running from the crash. He strafed the pilot and killed him, but when he tried to pull up he hit a tree with is left wing, then bounced off a second with his right wing. Foy managed to fly his battered Mustang home.

The day was marred by the death of Otto Jenkins who was killed when his Mustang crashed while returning to base.

68 years ago: the 357th’s Mustangs battle JG.7′s Me 262s

On March 19, 1945, the 357th Fighter Group provided an escort for bombers to Ruhland, and they met the largest force of Me 262s yet encountered – 36 jets. “They came in from six o’clock high in waves of 12, each wave consisting of four flights in V formation,” reported Lt. Col. Andy Evans. “Our 363rd Squadron, led by Lt. Col. (Tommy) Hayes, was able to prevent the last two waves from hitting the bombers. These jets went into a slight dive, breaking into two ship elements which easily outdistanced our pursuit.”

Andy Evans' P-51D "Little Sweetie"

Andy Evans’ P-51D “Little Sweetie”

Capt. Robert Fifeld dropped his tanks and raced to guard the bombers, he said. “I got there just as they hit. I shot at about four different ones and finally singled one out. They were all diving and were getting away from me so I tried lobbing some long-range shots in and finally got some black somke trailing from him. After that he slowed down and I started closing on him. After I got some more hits, his wingman got up close to him and then took off again when I got more hits. He trailed some white smoke and then went straight in.”

Despite the group’s efforts, the third wave of Me 262s downed two 452nd Bomb Group B-17s and one each from the 96th and 385 th. About 20 minutes after the attack, as the group was headed home, Maj. Robert Foy spotted three P-51s below him being stalked by four Me 262s. “I turned left to cut them off and at about 6000 feet the jets leveled off on a straight course. The jets apparently did not see our flight as we started to close on them. Suddenly, they appeared to pull away from us. Although I was still a bit out of range, I pulled the K-14 sight pip just a bit high of the jet aircraft and gave him two good short bursts just for good luck. I was frankly surprised to see the left engine nacelle of the jet start smoking a black trail. The jet immediately did a half roll to the left into a split-S. The jet continued its dive from 6000 feet into the ground, when it struck in a cloud of flame and smoke just west of an airdrome.” The unlucky German pilot was most likely Obfw. Heinz-Berthold Mattuschka of JG.7.

69 years ago: The 357th Fighter Group cleans up over Berlin

The 357th Fighter Group again went to Berlin on 6 March. Among the 15 aborts was the new group commander, Lt. Col. Don Graham, placing Maj. Tommy Hayes, the CO of the 364th Fighter Squadron, in charge. The continent was completely socked in by cloud, hampering navigation. At the designated time for rendezvous with the bombers, Hayes broke radio silence, asking Capt. William O’Brien, “Where’s Berlin, Obee?”

“I think Berlin is behind us,” O’Brien radioed back. The group executed a 180-degree turn within an opening in the clouds, and just as it completed the turn the bombers broke out of the clouds seven miles away and just off to the left. Before anyone could exult in the near-perfect rendezvous, another voice broke in – “Bogies, two and three o’clock level!” More than 100 German aircraft headed for the bombers, led by seven Bf 110s of III/NJG.5 commanded by Maj. Hans Kogler. Behind Kogler’s nightfighters were 41 Me 410s and 72 Bf 109s.

“The Bf 110 that I latched on to was easy pickings, which was O.K. with me,” said O’Brien. “I got him burning in his left engine area, and we were in a very steep diving right turn, when my machine guns started jamming.” As O’Brien tried to clear his guns, the Bf 110 dived vertically, smashing into what O’Brien described as a building resembling a factory. “You never saw such a fine explosion!”

William O'Brien

William O’Brien

Capt. Leroy Ruder was flying Lt. John Carder’s wing, and he also attacked a 110. “Carder overshot and I fired a burst from close range that blew the canopy to pieces and must have killed the pilot,” Ruder wrote in his diary. “The plane went into a steep dive from 20,000 feet and we followed it down to 5,000 feet where Capt. O’Brien fired at it until it burst into flames.”

Meanwhile, the 362nd Fighter Squadron’s Capt. Davis Perron and wingman Lt. Rod Starkey spotted a damaged B-17 under attack by two Fw 190s. The Germans turned and ran, but Perron caught one and opened fire. “His wing tank blew up and he caught fire and went into an inverted spin.” Perron broke off and the second Fw 190 inexplicably flew in front of him, only to meet a similar fate. Returning to the bombers, Perron spotted a twin-engined fighter he identified as a Me 210 and shot it down as well. Starkey added a Bf 109 of his own.

William O’Brien, his Mustang’s guns jammed, formed up with Leroy Ruder for the flight home. A few minutes later, Ruder called a bogey at two o’clock, another Bf 110, armed with rockets and still looking to get a shot at the bombers. “I attacked from dead astern at about 200 to 150 yards and hit the left engine,” said Ruder. “I next fired at the fuselage and right engine striking both of them. I had only one gun firing at the time but it did the job. Oil from the enemy aircraft covered my canopy and he started into a spin with both engines smoking badly.” The Bf 110, from III/NJG.5, managed to crashland and its pilot, Leutnant G. Wolf, survived the encounter.

As Hayes’ flight headed home, he spotted a single Bf 109 flying the opposite direction and a few miles to his right. Hayes reversed his course and held his fire until he had closed to 200 yards before opening fire. Strikes sparkled around the cockpit area and the Bf 109 lurched into a dive, exploding against the German soil. Uffz. K. Pelz of JG.302 was killed in the crash.

Shortly, another member of Hayes’ flight, Lt. John Howell, spotted a Bf 109, this one flown by Oberleutnant Gerhard Loos, a 92-kill ace and Staffelkapitan with JG.54. Howell opened fire and overshot Loos, but Carder closed in to finish the German ace’s plane off. Loos may have bailed out before this attack, but he fell out of his parachute and plunged to his death.

After each of them had downed a Bf 110, Capt. Glendon Davis and wingman Lt. Tom Harris were headed home when they spotted a B-17 straggler with an Fw 190 on its tail. “We dove down on the enemy aircraft but couldn’t close on him as the tail gunner of the bomber was firing at him,” said Davis. “We broke to the side of the enemy aircraft and at that time he saw us and broke into us. We turned into him and he started for the deck in a tight spiral. We followed him down, indicating from 450 to 500 mph. At 10,000 feet he dropped his belly tank. At 5000 feet his airplane appeared to be stalling as he tried to pull out. His canopy flew off but the plane went right into the ground without the pilot getting out.”

In all, the group scored 20 kills – including victories for Don Bochkay, Joe Broadhead and Morris Stanley and a half-kill for Arval Roberson – without a single loss, its first of what would be many big days.

69 years ago: Back to Berlin with the 4th and 357th FGs

On March 4, 1944, the Eighth Air Force made its second attempt to reach Berlin. At takeoff time, weather was poor, but even so 500 B-17s pressed on. While racing to rendezvous with the bombers, the 357th Fighter Group saw other Mustangs returning to England. Much of the force – bombers as well as fighters – had heard a recall signal, the authenticity of which historians still debate. Just 29 B-17s pressed on for Berlin, and shielded by cloud, they hit the target without seeing German fighters. After bombing, however, the Germans appeared – and out of the clouds, so did the Mustangs

Southeast of Kassel, the 363rd’s White Flight spotted a Bf 109 to the right and behind them. F/O Charles Yeager broke into it; the enemy fighter, sporting a large red and black devil’s head logo on its side, turned right and went into a 50-degree dive. “I closed up fast and opened fire at 200 yards,” Yeager said. “I observed strikes on the fuselage and wing roots, with pieces flying off. I was overrunning so I pulled up and did an aileron roll and fell in behind again and started shooting at 150 yards. The enemy aircraft’s engine was smoking and windmilling. I overran again, observing strikes on the fuselage and canopy. I pulled up again and did a wingover on his tail. His canopy flew off and the pilot bailed out.” Robert Wallen downed another German fighter, but Capt. John Medieros was bagged by flak and bailed out to become a POW.

Just before the bombers reached the initial point, 20 Bf 109s and Fw 190s swarmed in to attack, eight from head on in two sections with the others as top cover. After the first eight made their attacks, the top cover dove on the covering fighters of the Fourth Fighter Group. Lt. Hugh Ward of 335 Squadron gave chase to a Bf 109 in a dive. “I opened fire as he started a slow turn to the left. I observed strikes on his wing root. He realized the situation and flicked over, and he dove straight down with me on his tail. I gave him a three-second burst with good strikes. He continued straight down, heading for heavy clouds as I began to overrun him. I pulled back on the throttle and gave him another blast. I got a heavy concentration of strikes all over his cockpit and engine covering. I kept firing as the Bf 109 started to come apart. I attempted to back off but was too late. A large section of the enemy aircraft smashed my canopy and windscreen, and it must have sheared off most of my tail section. My plane began to snap viciously, end-over-end, and my right wing snapped off. I was stunned momentarily, but I managed to jettison my canopy. I pulled my harness release, which threw me out of the cockpit. I delayed opening my chute because of the speed, and I fell through the cloud layer. I opened my chute just in time. I landed in the suburbs of Berlin and I was captured by civilians.”

Nicholas “Cowboy” Megura was behind Ward. “At 18,000 feet, the P-51’s wing came off at the root and disintegrated. The canopy and tail came off as I dodged past. Pieces carried away my antenna and hit my stabilizer.”

Megura (back row, left) with Duane Beeson, John Godfrey, James Goodson and Don Gentile.

Megura (back row, left) with Duane Beeson, John Godfrey, James Goodson and Don Gentile.

Megura’s controls were frozen by compressability, and he had to use trim to pick up the nose. “The only evasive action taken by the enemy aircraft was a weave to right or left. I barrel-rolled and positioned myself 1000 feet above and to the side of him. I dropped flaps and dove astern. This engagement brought us down to 2000 feet. Just as I was about to fire, the enemy aircraft pulled up sharply 3000 feet and jettisoned its canopy. The pilot bailed out. The enemy aircraft crashed and burned.” Clearing his tail, Megura discovered he was over a grass aerodrome, and he strafed and set fire to a Ju 52, the strafed a locomotive pulling 10 or 12 cars. “Seeing that it was time to ‘leave out,’ I set course for home.”

Don Gentile had what he described as a “hairy” day. “I took off with my wingman Johnny Godfrey, and the rest of the flight was to join me, but due to weather we never met,” he wrote in an account found on the back of his log book.

They broke overcast at 33,000 feet after flying instruments for an hour. “After being on course for a couple hours still no one joined us, so we decided to continue on alone. When we were approximately 100 miles from the target the weather seemed to clear up as if you would take a knife and cut it. In the distance I spotted approximately 50 Do 217s in formation climbing for altitude and above them were about 100 Fw 190s. They were getting ready to attack the ‘Big Boys’ head on. I called Johnny and asked him if he wanted to go ahead and attack knowing there were no other friendly fighters in this area. So, as usual, Johnny said ‘You’re the boss.’”

Gentile went for the Do 217s, hoping to disrupt their formation so the bombers could unload before the German fighters could get reorganized. “I began firing at tail end ‘Charlie’ and the Do’s started diving for the deck. About this time Johnny started screaming that the 100-plus Fw’s were coming down on us The Do’s were cross-firing on us at the same time. I had one Do smoking badly when I had to break away due to the 100+ coming in on us. Johnny and I met them head on going through the complete German formation; from then on all hell broke loose,” said Gentile.

“Planes were going up and down and every which way. I thought this was it. In the midst of twisting and turning I managed to get on an Fw, who overshot me, and was lucky enough to get him. Johnny started to scream (that) 50 more were coming in at 6 o’clock, so I started to aileron roll for the deck. I had to pull up in a vertical climb into the Fw’s. At this time I noticed a brightly-painted Fw on my tail blazing away and Johnny screaming for me to break. I broke so hard that my plane started doing snap-rolls; when I got the aircraft under control the Fw was slightly ahead and above with me on his tail diving and twisting, which lasted a good 10 minutes. I managed to get his aircraft on fire and noticed he had it, so I broke away.” With their ammunition gone, the two headed for home. “We had to dive for the clouds with them on our tail, skidding at the same time. By the grace of God we reached the cloud bank, and after flying instruments for a while we let down through (the bottom of the cloud deck). During the combat I lost my maps so I didn’t know my position, and Johnny didn’t know either so we took the general direction home.”

Gentile and Godfrey landed at Hurn Airdrome, all but out of gas. “Thank God for a good wingman, or I wouldn’t be able to write this today.”

During the mission, Paul Ellington suffered an engine failure and bailed out; he became a POW. On the return home, Lt. Robert Richards was killed in a crash-landing at the advanced base at Framlingham.  

69 years ago: weather spoils the first trip to Berlin

On 3 March, 1944, the Eighth Air Force made its first trip to Berlin escorted by P-51 Mustangs, but weather intervened to make the day less than spectacular. After  rendezvousing with the bombers, the 357th Fighter Group found its mission was aborted because of bad weather. The 4th Fighter Group was luckier; flights from 335 and 336 Squadrons broke off from the main body to fend off enemy aircraft. With nine planes, 336 Squadron got into a battle with 60 enemy fighters and claimed eight victories, but in turn lost Lts. Vermont Garrison, Glen Herter and Philip “Pappy” Dunn. Herter was lured down by the low element of German fighters and was bounced; he died when his Mustang crashed. Dunn got lost on the way home, and with his radio out and no way to get a vector to cross the Channel he headed for Spain. Dunn had already destroyed an Me 210 during the mission, and eight miles from the border he spotted an He 111. Unable to resist, Dunn shot down the bomber, then ran out of gas as he circled to watch it crash, ending up a POW. The same fate befell Garrison, who managed to destroy two enemy planes with three of his four guns jammed. Unfortunately, his P-51B was hit by flak. Lt. George Barnes was last seen off the Dutch coast on his way home with his engine cutting out badly. He was never seen again.

The 357th also lost a Mustang, but recovered the pilot thanks to the Fourth. On the way home, the engine of Lt. Robert Foy’s P-51B failed and Foy bailed out over the channel. Lt. Howard Hively of the Fourth Fighter Group, himself a survivor of a channel bail-out, heard the distress calls and made a low-level search, located Foy in his dinghy and circled until an RAF Air Rescue Service Walrus arrived. The Walrus directed a high-speed launch to the scene and Foy was rescued, unharmed except for a mild case of shock.

 

69 years ago: two victories for the 357th FG near Frankfurt

On March 2, 1944, the 357th FIghter Group was escorting the heavies north of Frankfurt when Maj. Tommy Hayes spotted two Bf 109s that “must have attacked the rear of the box,” he said. “We dropped our auxiliary tanks and started down, having several thousand feet on them. Still not in range, they split at about 9000 feet, with myself and my wingman taking the leader, who kept a straight course in a gradual dive. I started to fire at about 350 yards. Very few strikes were observed. At 1000 feet I was firing dead astern and had his engine smoking. Suddenly, he dumped almost straight down and crashed in a wooded area. The pilot crashed with the plane and I believe he was hit from the astern attack through his armor plate.”

Tommy Hayes and the crew of his P-51B

Tommy Hayes and the crew of his P-51B

John Carder and wingman LeRoy Ruder stalked the second fighter, which “went into a valley, with a steep tree-lined hill on the far side,” he reported. “At the bottom of the hill I fired a burst and saw strikes on the right wing. The 109 pulled up sharply above the horizon and I saw his wingtip was crumpled. I believe he hit a tree, unless I had damaged his wing spar. He did a slow climbing half roll and went down again inverted and crashed on top of the hill. I could see part of the wing and a wheel that slid into the main street of the town. I did a roll and believe civilian morale is lower now.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.