This week, in 1945: SAR, 357th FG style

It wasn’t often that USAAF forces were asked with flying SAR cover for an extended period, but this week in 1945 saw the 357th Fighter Group attempt to do just that. Lt. Daniel N. Myers of the 363rd Fighter Squadron suffered an engine failure over the Channel on April 1, when the coolant system on P-51D 44-72328 failed. Myers was forced to bail out four miles northwest of Schiermonnikogg Island in the West Frisian Islands. The USAAF Air Sea Rescue Service and the Germans both raced to recover the pilot, who had made it into his dinghy. An OA-10 Catalina piloted by Lt. John Lapenus landed near Myers, but then suffered an engine failure. A covering flight led by Capt. John Stern headed out from Lieston but was forced home by darkness and weather before they realized the flying boat was stuck.

The next morning, Maj. Leonard “Kit” Carson was alerted to scramble to cover the downed Catalina, with the intended purpose of keeping the Germans from getting to the plane. Wind and waves were pushing the Catalina toward shore, but the one good engine was allowing the plane to taxi north for brief periods and keep from coming ashore. After a low pass was met by waves from the side blisters of the Catalina, Carson sent one plane to higher altitude to report the situation and began to orbit with his three remaining planes. A few minutes later, a pair of Me 262s came racing toward the Catalina at just 1000 feet.

“Both the 262s were firing at the Catalina by the time I could get my sights on the lead ship,” said Carson, who fired a long-range shot anyway with hopes he could distract them. The Me 262s’ cannon shot a chunk of the Catalina’s tail off and punctured the hull; the flying boat began to list to port and the men aboard scrambled into three large dinghies. Luckily, the Me 262s, turned back and raced toward the shore and out of sight. An RAF Warwick arrived a little later and dropped a lifeboat, but the drop damaged it; five hours later, a B-17 dropped a second boat and the men in the water were able to climb aboard.

Eventually, after five days of effort, the Catalina crew was picked up by boats from the Royal Navy. Unfortunately, Myers was not with them; his dinghy had been blown ashore and he was captured. He was not the only pilot lost during this rescue attempt; on April 1, the 362nd Fighter Squadron lost David T. Perron, who went missing in bad weather while flying “Little Bitch,” P-51B 43-6792. At the same time, Lt. Elmer Rydberg disappeared in 43-6629; the two pilots may have collided. Two days later, while over the English Channel, Lt. Jacob Giel was hit by a drop tank from another Mustang, and he and P-51D “Winnie Gal,” 44-14682, went into the water. Giel was not rescued.