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: the Fourth Fighter Group bombs Gilze Rijen

On 30 January 1944, Capt. Raymond Care led the Fourth Fighter Group on a dive-bombing mission to the Gilze Rijen Aerodrome, with two sections in each squadron loaded with 500-pound bombs and the other two sections flying cover. The group hit a fuel dump and one of the runways. While the bombs were falling, the top cover was attacked by 15 to 20 Bf 109s. Lt. Raymond Clotfelter’s section had dodged four diving Bf 109s when he spotted a Bf 109 “coming in at 9 o’clock and when he started to pull deflection on me, I called a break and immediately flicked over into an aileron turn. I saw three other enemy aircraft off to my right approximately 1500 yards away. I decided I could catch them, so I pushed everything to the firewall and closed very quickly.” When the Bf 109s recovered from their dives, “I pulled deflection and opened fire,” said Clotfelter. “After a short burst, I pushed my nose through again and fired a longer burst. I closed to 100 yards, seeing strikes all over the cockpit, pieces falling off the tail and a fire. I had to break off to the right and as I did, I passed within a wing span of his plane.” The plane dove to earth and exploded.

Raymond Clotfelter

Raymond Clotfelter

Capt. “Mike” Sobanski was leading the top cover, and one Bf 109 made a pass at his section. “As he broke away, I saw another Bf 109 dive head-on past us, and I followed him down,” Sobanski reported. “I gave him a short burst in a 70-degree dive, observing no strikes, He started pulling up, turning left and I fired a 20-degree deflection shot. I observed strikes in the wings and near the cockpit. A large patch of white smoke came out after my last burst and he flicked left, smoking badly. Lt. (Howard) Moulton, my No. 2, saw him go down in flames after he flicked.”

Mike Sobanski (left) and James Goodson relax between missions.

Mike Sobanski (left) and James Goodson relax between missions.

While the top cover was engaged, another group of 109s appeared behind the planes that had just bombed. The Mustangs thought they were friendly and orbited to join up, according to Lt. Paul Ellington. “They turned out to be all Bf 109s, about six or eight in number. We engaged them immediately and three of them dived for the deck.”

Lt. Kendall “Swede” Carlson knocked down a Bf 109, the saw another P-47 with a Messerschmitt behind it. “Lt. Ellington cut inside of me and took him off the 47’s tail,” said Carlson. The 109 hit in a pall of smoke and flame on a mud flat.  Additional victories fell to Lt. Vermont Garrison and Lt. Duane Beeson.

69 Years Ago: “Goody,” Wherman and Garrison keep Blakeslee from buying the farm

On January 7, 1944, the Fourth Fighter Group covered bombers coming from Ludwigshafen, and the hard-flying Don Blakeslee was nearly undone by his aggressiveness. Near Hesdin, about a dozen Fw 190s attacked straggling B-17s from out of the sun. Blakeslee tried to bounce the enemy planes, but was cut off by some Spitfires and joined James “Goody” Goodson’s Red Section. “I had climbed up 12,000 or 14,000 feet when I saw more Fw 190s attacking straggling Forts,” said Blakeslee. “I went down on these, being covered by Capt. Goodson’s section, and chased one enemy aircraft down to between 2000 and 3000 feet.”

Goodson, with wingman Lt. Robert Wehrman in tow, followed Blakeslee line astern “to the best of my ability,” he said, although he admitted it was “a rough ride.” “Other 190s attempted to attack, but usually broke away down through the clouds when I turned into them.”

Suddenly, Blakeslee was jumped by three Fw 190s. One Fw 190 made a “determined attack, firing at Lt. Col. Blakeslee even after I started firing at him,” said Goodson. “When I started getting strikes on him, he broke hard port, but even though he pulled streamers from his wingtips I was able to pull my sights through him. He suddenly did two and a half flick rolls and then split-S’ed vertically through some light scud cloud. I followed in a steep wing-over and had to pull out hard to miss some trees as the cloud was lower than I had realized. As I did so, I caught sight of an explosion. Since the 190 had gone through vertically, I feel sure he could not have pulled out even if he had not been damaged.”

Goodson was soon able to join with Blakeslee again. “Before I could get close enough to prevent it, a 190 came in on Lt. Col. Blakeslee and commenced firing at quite short range,” said Goodson, The German scored hits – 71 by the count of Blakeslee’s ground crew. Goodson got on his tail and fired, “and was relieved to see strikes all over him, and see him peel away and crash in flames on the ground, which was quite close,” said Goodson. Lt. Vermont Garrison damaged Blakeslee’s third pursuer.

“The enemy aircraft I was attacking suddenly broke off the turn, straightened out and went into haze,” said Blakeslee. “I followed and as he came out I was dead line astern. I fired a three to four second burst, observing strikes on the enemy aircraft’s tail and starboard wing. Pieces came from the cockpit. The enemy aircraft then did a half-flick to the right and went in. My radio had been shot out and my aircraft was spraying oil badly.” Blakeslee nursed his damaged Thunderbolt home as he and his escorts were repeatedly bounced by Bf 109s, but by now only Wherman, on his first show, had ammunition. The two other pilots made mock attacks to throw off the Germans’ aim. Blakeslee landed at Manston, having survived the mission with his seventh kill.

Christmas, 1944: The 4th Fighter Group downs 12 but loses Don Emerson

On Dec. 25, 1944, the 4th Fighter Group escorted bombers to the Bonn/Trier area, where the Germans had a Christmas gift waiting in the form of 30 Fw 190s and Bf 109s. “Huns were reported at 12 o’clock to the bombers,” said Maj. Pierce McKennon. “ We spotted three Fw 190s at two o’clock, which we immediately engaged. All four of us ended up with 190s on our tails. I yelled at Lt. (Charles) Poage to break, but it was too late as the Fw 190 had just finished him off. His plane went down burning, but he succeeded in bailing out.” Poage had bagged two Fw 190s before a third one shot him down near Bonn. He became a POW. “The Fw 190 on my tail finally broke and dived to the deck,” McKennon continued. “I followed and shot quite a few bursts at him, getting occasional strikes. I pulled up to clear my tail, and Lt. (Tim) Cronin closed in and fired, getting numerous strikes. The Jerry pulled up rolled over on his back and bailed out.”

At the same time, Capt. Donald Emerson went after six enemy fighters on his own, and he shot down two of them. Lt. Victor Rentschler and Lt. William Hoelscher each destroyed a Bf 109 and teamed to knock down an Fw 190. Lt. Cronin downed an Fw 190 in addition to the one he shared with Maj. McKennon, and Maj. Fred Glover knocked down an Fw 190 of his own. Lt. Van Chandler destroyed a Bf 109 and an Fw 190. The day’s total was 12 kills. Sadly, ground fire claimed Emerson on the way home; he was killed in the crash of his Mustang.

69 years ago: the 4th FG’s Vernon Boehle loses an engine – literally

On Sept. 9, 1943, with the Fourth Fighter Group in escort, more than 30 enemy fighters went after B-17s near Elbeu. 334 and 336 Squadrons broke up their attack, reformed, and broke up another group of 16 German fighters. Unfortunately, at least three B-17s went down, and two planes from the Fourth were lost. Frank Fink suffered an engine failure and bailed out over Paris, where he became a POW. Lt. Vernon Boehle also didn’t come back with the rest of the unit. “I dove after an Fw 190 that was attacking a Fort,” he said. “I followed, but pulled up unable to get into firing range. Climbing back up, another Fw 190 dove to attack me.” This was the aircraft of Oberleutnant Artur Beese of I/JG.26, who would score 22 kills before his death. “I took evasive action, ending up in a spin and dive, coming out at 10,000 feet. The Fw followed, firing at every opportunity as I maneuvered. I was able to get in a short burst at him, but saw no strikes. I then dove for the deck. He followed, still firing, until, apparently out of ammo, he broke off and climbed.”

Vernon Boehle

Boehle headed for home, nursing the P-47, when suddenly there was a terrific vibration; the engine broke loose and fell away. “With some difficulty, I bailed out at about 15,000 feet,” said Boehle. “I landed in the water about 30 miles off Dieppe.” He released his dinghy, inflated it and climbed in, getting “as comfortable as possible,” he said. After midnight on his second night adrift, Boehle heard MTB boats and flashed the torch on his Mae West. “They finally saw me and picked me up after 43 hours in the water.”

Boehle was not a big fan of the P-47 – in fact, when he heard that the 354th Fighter Group of the Ninth Air Force was the first to receive P-51s, he requested a transfer to a Ninth Air Force unit. He got his wish and went to the 362nd Fighter Group – after the decision was made to make the Ninth a primarily P-47-equipped unit! Meanwhile, the Fourth switched to Mustangs in March 1944. Just the same, Boehle had a distinguished career with the 362nd Fighter Group.

68 years ago: the 4th FG’s Bill Gillette scores two

A few years ago, I gave a talk on my then-new book on the 4th Fighter Group at the Villages, a retirement community near San Jose, California. To my surprise, in the audience was Willard “Bill” Gillette, who flew with the 4th! I joked then – as I do now – that Bill and the others in the audience at this Aviation Club meeting should be the ones doing the talking, while I sat and listened!

Bill’s big day was 68 years ago. On 7 July, 1944, Lt. Shelton Monroe led an escort to Aschersleben/Benburg, and in the process the group engaged a mass of fighters preparing to attack the heavies near Nordhausen. Charging into a gaggle of about 70 single-engine fighters, Capt. Thomas Joyce and Lt. Gillette each shot down a Bf 109, while Lt. Monroe damaged an Fw 190.

Soon, about 75 twin-engined German fighters started lining up as if to attack the bombers but did not make a move against them. Capt. Joyce made a pass on them and felled his second German plane of the day, with Lt. Jack McFadden getting some shots into the same plane as the pilot was bailing out. Meanwhile, Lt. Charles Evans made an attack on an Me 410. from high and behind. “Another P-51 (piloted by Lt. John Scally) came in behind the twin-engined aircraft as I was going down,” said Evans. “His port wing hit the starboard wing of the enemy aircraft. The P-51 immediately began spinning with one wing gone, and the enemy aircraft started a flat spin to the starboard.” Lt. Scally became a POW.

Lt. Preston Hardy, climbing up from this engagement, bounced 14 Bf 109s and shot down two while damaging a third. Lt. Gillette jumped his own group of Bf 109s near Blankenburg, destroying one of them. Lt. Gerald Chapman destroyed an Fw 190 and Lt. John Goodwyn jumped 30 Me 410s preparing to attack the B-24s and downed one of them as well.

68 years ago: The 4th FG sweeps up eight Bf 109s

On 30 May, Maj. James Goodson led the 4th Fighter Group on a free-lance sweep that found a gaggle of 30 to 40 Bf 109s and Fw 190s near Genthin. When the 4th attacked, they discovered these fighters were covered by 20 to 25 more fighters flying top cover; these came down and bounced the Mustangs.

“We were at 34,000 feet where I saw two Bf 109s in a circle,” said Oscar LeJeunesse. “I made a pass at the second one but a green-nosed P-51 came in from my left and almost hit me and when I pulled up out of the way, I lost the Hun. I kept turning and got a little lead on the first one. I waited until I was about 50 yards away so I wouldn’t miss him. I hit him in the cockpit and on both wings. A big cloud of smoke came up and the plane started down in a wide turn. I followed it and when the pilot did not bail out I gave him another squirt. He let his canopy go then. Still he didn’t bail out so I urged him with another burst. That time he popped out and the plane went straight down.”

Lt. Thomas Sharp dove to the deck and forced an Fw 190 to crash-land southwest of Brandenburg. Sharp was then joined by Lt. Osce Jones, and they saw four enemy aircraft landing in trail on an aerodrome. “There were 15-plus Fw 190s on the Oschersleben Aerodrome as we attacked,” said Sharp. “We made about five passes when we were joined by Lt. Ralph Hofer. On my first pass, one of the Fw 190s, located at the runway intersection, caught fire and burned. I then set another Fw 190 on fire on the south side of the field and damaged others that would not burn.”

Lt. Jones also made runs at the aerodrome. “On my second pass, I hit one enemy aircraft that caught on fire and burned, giving off a large column of smoke,” he said. “Several passes later, I hit another one that burst into flames. This one was later finished off by Lt. Hofer, who left it burning fiercely.” Hofer destroyed an Fw 190 on his first pass. “On my second pass, I set one of those at the runway intersection on fire,” he reported.

In the fray, eight Bf 109s were destroyed, falling to Lt. James Scott, Hofer, Jones, LeJeunesse and Sharp. Unfortunately, Lt. Mark Kolter was killed under mysterious circumstances. He was heard calling for a homing, but he never responded. Kolter died when his P-51B crashed. Also lost during the mission were Capt. Willard Millikan and Lt. Sam Young; while dodging flak, the two collided, with both men bailing out and becoming POWs


A reminder of the 4th FG’s William Hoelscher, delivered by his son

Writing books about World War II history sometimes results in spme pleasant surprises. Sadly, most of them come after the book’s out, after you can put it to use in your own book. However, it’s always interesting to learn more about a subject – and if I run across information that I know another author can use, I try to pass it on.

Last Thursday brought another example of this. I received this email:

Mr. Bucholtz,

RE: 4thFG ‘Debden Eagles’, by Chris Bucholtz

I’ve enjoyed your book and refer to it often.

My father, LT William Bradford Hoelscher, flew with the 334th FS, and is credited as the last man in the 4th FG shot down. I’ve attached his “official” photo of the time.

He flew several P-51s in the squadron, but his last mission was in QP J, olive drab P-51D-5 44-15347. If you have additional information and/or photos of my father and/or his aircraft, I’d be most appreciative.

I have some photos of him in Korea (F-86 w/335th/4th FG) and Vietnam (A1-H w/1st SOS) if of interest to you, as well as his WWII ID, and squadron pilots mass photo.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Wm. Bradford Hoelscher Jr.

Durham NC USA

Here’s the story Brad was talking about : On 25 April, 1945, Col. Everett Stewart led a fighter sweep to the Linz-Prague area, where Blue Flight of the 334th Fighter Squadron spotted an Me 262 and dove to attack. “Lt. Hoelscher, Blue Three, bounced the Jerry and began getting strikes from the time he opened fire,” reported Capt. Thomas Bell, Blue Leader. “The Jerry took Lt. Hoelscher over the Prague/Ruzyne airport. At this point, Lt. Hoelscher was hit by light flak and began streaming coolant. “ The flak also tore off the left elevator, making the Mustang difficult to control. “The jet was last seen in a split-S at 1500 feet,” Bell reported. Four other Me 262s were spotted, but the intense flak prevented the 334th from going after them.

Bell and the rest of Blue Flight “followed Lt. Hoelscher for 10 minutes and then he bailed out. This was in the vicinity of Jachnitz at 1000 hours. He was seen to leave his parachute and was last seen talking to several farmers who acted friendly. It is believed he is on the edge of friendly territory and will be all right.”

Map drawn by Capt. Bell reporting on Lt. Hoelscher’s bail-out

Hoelscher landed amidst a group of Czech partisans, who hid him from the Germans. Hoelscher hitched rides on motorcycles, jeeps and airplanes to return to Debden on May 12. Hoelscher scored the group’s last victory and was its last loss of the war.

The plane Lt. Hoelscher was flying, 44-15347, was one of the more interesting birds in the group from a scale modeler’s point of view. It was a P-51D-15-NA, but unlike most such planes, it was not overall natural metal – it had olive drab upper surfaces, with the red nose on the 4th Fighter group and a red rudder. It had been flown by Howard “Deacon” Hively first, then was taken by the pilot who succeeded him as commander of the 334th, Louis “Red Dog” Norley, before being passed on Hoelscher. The undersides of the aircraft were natural metal.

44-15347 when it was the personal mount of Howard Hively

I’ve always wanted to build this airplane – now, I have some extra motivation, thanks to Brad! On Thursday, I picked up a new, fresh Tamiya P-51D kit and it’s destined to wear these markings, which are on an XtraCal sheet that came out just after my book did.

67 years ago: the Fourth Fighter Group’s Biggest Day

On 16 April, the Fourth Fighter Group scored the biggest one-day bag in its history. Group “A,” commanded by Lt. Col. Sidney Woods, and group “B,” under Maj. Louis “Red Dog” Norley, flew an escort to Rosenheim and Prague, which was followed by a strafing mission around Karlsbad, Salzburg and Prague. 334 Squadron attacked Gablingen Aerodrome and devastated it. “All sections pulled up in line abreast,” said Norley. “We made the first pass from southwest to northeast. Maj. (Pierce) McKennon called and said that he could see no flak. We pulled up to starboard and came in for the second pass. On my third pass I observed several columns of smoke and several more beginning to burn.”

The carnage was impressive, with Lt. Kenneth Helfrect and Lt. William Antonides each destroying five planes, Norley and Lt. Gordon Denson each getting four, and Lt. Raymond Dyer, Lt. William Spencer, Lt. James Ayers, Lt. William O’Bryan and Lt. Arthur Bowers each destroying three. Three pilots each bagged a pair, and four more pilots, including Lt. Paul Burnett, destroyed one. However, Burnett did not return from the mission; Burnett’s target explode violently, and Burnett was flipped on his back. His plane was riddled with shrapnel, shredding the leading edge of one wing and bending the prop out of position so it vibrated furiously. Burnett could see a rivulet of oil running out of the engine across the left wing root. He righted the plane and struggled for altitude, and flew for a half an hour before the oil pressure reached zero and white smoke poured from the exhaust. Burnett had been ready to bail out, so he rolled the plane over and tried to drop out, but he was pinned half in, half out by the slipstream. He fought his way back in and righted the plane. He rolled the plane over again, and again was pinned against the headrest armor half-in and half-out. This time, he couldn’t wiggle back in, but something jerked him out of the plane just as it hit the ground. He came to six feet from his burning plane and crawled to a ditch, barely injured from this ordeal. Burnett was soon surrounded by German civilians, but they were not hostile. Soon, he was taken by Jeep to the American command post in Otterberg.

Meanwhile, at Prague/Kbely Aerodrome, 336 and 335 Squadrons worked over the field. “There were about 100 ships parked on the Prague/Kbely aerodrome,” reported Lt. Harold Fredericks. “There were also 15 parked at adjacent fields. It seemed to be a receiving point for all types of aircraft.”

“I was flying No. 3 to Col. Woods,” said Lt. Douglas Pederson. “After the first pass, I never saw the men in my section again.” Woods was hit during his third pass across the field; he radioed that he was bailing out and became a POW. The other two in the section, Lts. Ben Griffin and Henry Ayres, were also hit by 40mm flak. “I had been flying Lt. (Don) Pierini’s former plane, ‘Jersey Bounce II,’ which I had renamed ‘Miss Marian,’” said Griffin. “The fifth enemy aircraft I destroyed exploded violently as I flew over it. Flying debris cut the coolant line to the after cooler, which sprayed coolant over my face. In spite of this, I made one more pass and destroyed another plane. I then made a terrible error. I pulled up to 300 feet. This gave the flak gunners on the top of the buildings an opportunity to zero in on me.” Griffin became a POW.

Fredericks also heard Capt. Leroy Carpenter report he was bailing out, but Carpenter was killed. “I saw a ship going south of the aerodrome losing coolant,” said Fredericks. “I followed it and identified it as Lt. (Carl) Alfred’s ship. In a turn, I lost sight of him for a few seconds. I then saw his plane in a shallow dive, streaming coolant, going into the deck and exploding on impact. Flying back to the aerodrome, I heard Lt. Ayers say he was bailing out.” Alfred did not escape his from P-51D and was killed; Ayers became a POW.

Edward McLouchlin opened fire on a Ju 188 on his first pass and set it on fire. “I found myself alone and made another pass. I got good strikes on another Ju 188 at the southeast corner of the field. I saw it burst into flame before I fired on the fourth Ju 188 in the middle of the field. I then fired into a hangar with no apparent results. I pulled up to 5,500 feet and headed out when I got hit by flak and my plane began to burn. I bailed and saw my kite explode on impact with the ground.”

Also downed and captured were Lts. Maurice Miller and Edward Gimbel, making a total of eight pilots lost during the mission. Maj. McKennon’s plane was hit by a 20mm round that exploded in the cockpit and wounded him in the eye, but he nursed his Mustang home, as did eight other pilots whose planes suffered flak damage. However, the cost to the Germans was staggering. Lt. Pederson destroyed eight Ju 52s himself, while F/O Donald Baugh wrecked five Ju 88s. Lt. George Green, Lt. James Halligan and Lt. Loton Jennings each destroyed four planes. The total was 51 at the Prague airfields and 110 for the entire day.

This day, 68 years ago: first blood for the 4th Fighter Group’s P-47s

On 13 April 1943, Lt. Col. Chesley Peterson led the 4th Fighter Group’s Rodeo to Cassel. As 335 Squadron flew toward the continent at 27,000 feet, it spotted five Fw 190s and peeled off to attack. Peterson shot down one Fw 190, but as he turned to re-enter the fray a cylinder blew out in his P-47C’s engine Peterson nursed it across the channel only to have it catch fire 30 miles from the coast. He jumped from his plane, but his balky parachute opened only just before he hit the water. An RAF Walrus quickly scooped Peterson up, shaken but sporting only a cut lip and two black eyes as souvenirs of his escape.

Meanwhile, Don Blakeslee spotted three Fw 190s ahead of him, which made the mistake of trying to dive away. He closed in and sent two bursts into one fighter, which caught fire and crashed – the first kill for the 4th’s P-47.

Lt. Robert Boock saw a P-47 under attack and latched onto the attacker’s tail. The Fw 190 hit its quarry, then split-S’ed away. Boock stayed on the German fighter and fired; the Fw 190 burst into flames and crashed into the sea. Lt. Leroy Gover also bagged an Fw 190, and Capt. Richard McMinn was also reported to have downed one, but McMinn and Capt. Stanley Anderson were both shot down and killed.


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