65 Years Ago Today…

Although the collapse of the bulge signified the writing on the wall for the Germans on the western front, it would require an immense price to be paid by the allies to get the Germans to read it. Jan. 14, 1945 demonstrated that, as the 362nd Fighter Group lost two planes and one pilot, a contribution to the toll of victory.

Six missions pounded targets in support of III Corps that day. The haul was 68 trucks, 10 armored vehicles, nine horse drawn vehicles, eight field guns and four flak positions. The 378th’s first mission sent 11 planes north of Bastogne, where they destroyed four gun positions and 10 trucks and bombed the villages of Hamiville and Minchamps under the direction of Capt. Wilfred Crutchfield.

The railroad yards at Krettnich were hit by the 379th, and 10 tank cars and an ammunition car were left exploding. “After we had been in the target area for approximately 45 minutes and had already dropped our bomb load, Lt. (Russell T.) Kaufman called me and said he had a tank spotted and I told him to go down on it and I would follow him,” reported Lt. Leo Szarfinski. “Lt. Kaufman started down and I followed him and saw him fire, at which time I was able to see the tank. I saw Lt. Kaufman pull off the target and start to pull up through the overcast, which was low and thin. I continued the attack on the tank and when I pulled off and up through the overcast, I looked around for (Kaufman) and saw a P-47 75 yards behind me. This was the last pass Blue Flight made as Red Leader called and said he was setting course for the field. I did not miss Lt. Kaufman until Blue Flight had joined up on course. I called Blue Two (Kaufman) on the R/T and received no answer. Just as the squadron was leaving the target area a large explosion was seen to lift the top of the overcast in the vicinity that Lt. Kaufman was last seen. It is my opinion that this was probably his plane.”  P-47D-26 42-29267 had indeed crashed, but Kaufman was able to bail out; captured quickly, he spent the next 97 days in camps in Gerolstein, Prum, Limburg, Wetzlar, Frankfurt and eventually Stalag Luft XIII at Nuremburg.

Lt. Gordon McGrath of the 378th was also hit by flak while strafing enemy vehicles hidden in the woods. His flight was guided in by two reconnaissance F-6 Mustangs, and after strafing repeatedly Lt. Donald Stoddard, his flight leader, saw McGrath’s plane burst into flame from a direct hit of apparently large-caliber flak at between 200 and 500 feet which blew the rear third of the plane completely off. McGrath’s P-47D-22-RE 42-26296 turned into a ball of fire, rolled over and went straight in, killing him.

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