On this Date in 1944…

There’s a reason that “fighter-bomber” contains the word fighter. The 362nd Fighter Group destroyed 131 aircraft in the air, and several of them fell this day.

On the 378th’s second mission of the day, the squadron’s eight planes tangled with 12 Bf 109s and 20 Fw 190s, destroying six and damaging one. Lt. Joe Matte claimed four of these kills.

“I was flying as Firebrick Yellow Leader,” Matte reported, “which was acting as top cover for Red Flight.” We were vectored to Etampes, and then north to Paris. Red Flight shot up two trucks on the way to Paris at 1545. I was at 5000 feet covering Red Flight at 2000 feet and going down slowly, so I started to climb. Red three called eight (bogies) in to Red Leader and Red Leader acknowledged the call. Evidently, the planes, which were Bf 109s, did not see me as I climbed above them because every one of them was going after Red Flight. I tried to warn Red Leader but some controller cut me out on the R/T. Red Leader saw them in time to start turning to the left. The leader and his wingman wasted no time on Red One and Two, so I went down to break this attack up. The two Huns saw me and started to climb in a left turn with me in perfect position to shoot. As I fired at 200 yards, the No. 2 Hun went inside the turn of his leader. Every round seemed to hit him as he flipped to the right directly into his leader. Two explosions resulted and sent two Huns to earth. No one bailed out.

“I started another climbing turn to the left when I observed four Huns firing on another P-47, so I went down. The number two and three men broke to the right, the leader pulling up to the left in a steep climb. As he did a roll and ended up in my gunsight about 200 yards away, just a short burst blew him to pieces. I flew through the debris and picked up a little blood on my canopy.”

Matte looked to the left and saw a Bf 109 trying to make a deflection shot on him. “I pulled around straight into him, but I didn’t have enough time to shoot so I started to turning to the left with him. In three turns I was almost in position to shoot, so I fired a short burst behind him. This seemed to make him loosen up his turn so I easily pulled a deflection shot at him and let him have a short burst at 300 yards which cut off a part of his left wing. He flipped over on his back and bailed out immediately. The ship continued spinning upside down and one Bf 109 started after another P-47, so I started after him and he broke away to the right. I let him go so I could climb back for cover. My wingman was still with me at this time. As I reached 5000 feet, a 109 overshot me without firing, so I started after him in a slight dive. It was at this time that I spied 20 plus Fw 190s (from JG.26) coming down from approximately 10,000 feet. I then told my number two man to wait until I gave the signal to break. I continued chasing the 109 and was almost ready to fire when I looked around for my number two man and he was nowhere in sight. I looked too long for him, thus allowing the Fw 190s to catch me. When I hit 1000 feet, two Fw 190s were firing, one each from the left and the right. The on the right hit me in the accessory section, and the one on the left hit me in the left wing and tail. The both went under me at the same time and I can’t see how they got past me. The third ship that fired on me shot above but hit the prop and came above me, breaking to the left and up. I turned to the right and down and, as I made a 180-degree turn, I saw two large explosions on the ground, but I can’t claim this to be the two 190s because I didn’t have time to look. I headed for the deck and home and managed to get away from the Fw 190s, but I couldn’t find my wingman.”

Lt. Howard Kelgard saw three Bf 109s make a pass at him and his wingman, then turned away with the P-47s in hot pursuit. “Two 109s broke away,” he said. “The other headed for the deck when he realized I had got on his tail. I fired a 30 degree deflection shot. He started violent evasive actions headed for Paris proper. I closed to about 100 yards, giving a long burst and observing many strikes about the wings and fuselage. I expended my ammunition, then called to Red Four, who was right with me to take over, but his radio was faulty. Then I had to break away.”

Lt. Laurie Greenleaf was flying in the number four position in the cover flight. When the enemy planes were spotted, “We reversed our turn and started down to the left,” he reported. “I was about 200 yards behind my lead man and looking for enemy aircraft as we went down. The first Bf 109 I saw came by me about 25 yards off my right wing, bottom up, and at the same time I saw one high to the right. There were P-47s and Bf 109s going around in a Lufberry to the left. In the mix-up I was uncertain which was my lead man. I started to pull up and saw a Bf 109 come in and fire on a silver P-47 which looked like the one my lead man was flying. I started to fire on one of the 109s from about 1500 feet and 30 degrees. My bullets went behind at first, but I pulled my lead and got strikes around the cockpit and the Bf 109 broke left and seemed to glide. I broke with him and fired a short blast and he started to turn right. He at once broke left again in a near roll and I followed and fired a long burst at him at about 80 or 90 degrees. At first my bullets went behind him, but I pulled my lead up and saw strikes on both wings and either side of the cockpit. As he was in a vertical bank he then flipped to the right and started a long gliding left turn towards the ground with smoke pouring from the plane. I started to go in for another burst, but we were outnumbered and I thought I might be needed in the fight. I started back up looking for the others but could not see a single aircraft, friend or foe. I looked back at the ship I had hit and saw it had crashed to the ground and gone up in smoke.”

he final Bf 109 fell to Maj. Richard Harbeson, the group executive officer. The number two and three men from Matte’s flight went missing from this fight; the likely victors were 44-kill ace Oblt. Wilhelm Hoffman of 8/JG.26 and Lt. Hans Prager of 7/JG.26. The victims came from 4./JG77 and 5./JG77.



  1. Hey, Chris…. I live in Germany and was doing some research about how our little town, Reifenberg, fared during WWII. Today I found out that Laurie Greenleaf, quoted in the article that you posted, was shot down next to my town and is buried in the German’s town cemetery less than three miles away. I don’t know anything about the 362nd but if you have any great ideas, but I’m going to visit his grave and give it the attention that it deserves. Thanks for this article… it was a little eerie reading the report and realizing that he would be shot down three months later. He died on November 8, 1944.

    • Jessica–

      If you visit the gravesite. please take a flower for me. I write in a chronological way and use as many contemporary reports, so often I include the report of a brave, articulate, lively young man in the text one day and the next have to write about that man’s death. It really drives home the cost of war and why it should always be a last resort. Thanks for sharing this.

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