66 years ago: Fred Ford’s narrow escape

On July 29, 1944, the 377th Fighter Squadron conducted an armed reconnaissance in the Granville-Vire area, and destroyed 20 trucks by strafing. Hoping to find similar fortunes, the 378th Fighter Squadron traveled to the same area but was prevented from replicating the morning’s haul by clouds that blanketed the area and reduced the ceiling to just 300 feet. Capt. Ed Fisher was leading a flight below the undercast; “the flight went into trail for strafing a convoy and that was my last contact with Lt. Holtham. Ground fire and weather was perhaps responsible for his missing status,” Fisher speculated. Holtham in P-47D-11 42-75509 simply disappeared; as his flight climbed through the undercast, three planes broke out but Holtham was nowhere to be seen. His remains were later found, but the circumstances of his death remain a mystery.

The weather cleared shortly, and the 377th kept up the aerial umbrella of the area in the afternoon, destroying 12 trucks and two tanks for the loss of one pilot, Lt. Fred Ford, who was shot down by flak. Ford bailed out and landed in a small wood near St. Sever, and hid there overnight. In the morning, he went to a nearby farmhouse and the woman who lived there agreed to hide him because many German troops were in the area. The woman gave Ford clothing that belonged to her deceased husband and provided him with some food, but soon a German patrol arrived. Ford jumped into the woman’s bed and pulled up the coverlet as the Germans came in, asked for some food, and sat six feet from Ford for the duration of their lunch. Ford was never discovered and he remained in the farmhouse until August 5 when the 30th Infantry Division liberated the area.

The 379th’s armed recce took it to the Avranches-Vire area, and it destroyed four tanks and five trucks with bombs, then took out 15 trucks by strafing. The 378th flew two more missions in the area, destroying seven trucks and cutting three rail junctions during the first and destroying seven trucks and a staff car during the second.


This date in 1944: The 362nd acts as the French Highway Patrol

Armed reconnaissance missions dominated the 362nd Fighter Group’s missions on July 28, 1944. The 378th Fighter Squadron was sent to the Domfront-Alencon-Laval area and attacked two railroad bridges, scoring 14 near-misses. The 379th Fighter Squadron bombed and strafed in the same area, claiming seven boxcars destroyed and 70 more damaged, along with a damaged locomotive. Another 378th mission saw Red Flight knock out two trucks and damage 10 more. Yellow Flight scored hits on two self-propelled guns and five trucks, and Blue Flight destroyed a pair of trucks and strafed a tank, an armored car and five trucks. The 377th Fighter Squadron flew an armed recce, strafing and destroying eight trucks and a staff car.

The 378th returned again, flying a similar mission, destroying 10 trucks, an armored car and six tanks, but luck was not with was. Robert Piper of the 378th, on his first mission. Flying wing for Red Leader, Piper was about 200 yards behind him in P-47D 43-25592 when the lead’s bombs dropped on the road near Cherence-le-Heron. “Red Leader’s bombs exploded directly in front of Lt. Piper’s plane,” reported Lt. Stan Stepnitz, the No. 4 man in the flight. “The ship flew through the bomb blast and about a quarter of a mile beyond before it rolled over on its back and crashed to the ground.” Piper did not survive the impact.

As the Red Flight of the 378th was climbing after bombing a road junction, the flight’s leader, Capt. Richard Cline, saw two Bf 109s break through the overcast at about 3000 feet. “(They) saw our squadron and pulled back into the clouds,” Cline reported. “At that time, four Fw 190s broke through directly in front of us, three of which turned sharply to the right and pulled back into the clouds. The fourth, apparently the leader, remained slightly below the clouds at approximately 200 yards. I opened fire at 5 degrees deflection and observed strikes along the wing and canopy. The right gear was seen to come down as he pulled into the overcast. My No. 3 and I hosed the clouds where he was just disappearing. From the strikes observed, I believe the enemy aircraft to be seriously damaged.”

The 379th was next in the area, destroying five trucks and cutting rail lines. The 378th then launched a dive-bombing mission to the Brehal-Hombye-Villedieu area, cutting four rail junctions and destroying a tank and a command car. The 379th returned to this area later, destroying 15 trucks and 25 boxcars. Finally, the 377th flew another recce, destroying eight motorcycles, four trucks, five tanks and some horse-drawn artillery.

66 years ago: The 357th Fighter Group’s Parisian Spree

On July 25, 1944, the 357th Fighter Group was assigned a fighter sweep, and near the western edge of Paris they spotted some P-38s attacking a marshalling yard. “We all looked down, and at that moment a gaggle of Fw 190s and Bf 109s appeared dead ahead of us,” said Lt. Raymond Conlin. “I do not think they could have seen us, because they rolled over and started and attack on the P-38s below. I was flying No. 2 on Capt. ‘Kit’ Carson’s wing; he rolled over and I followed him down as he tacked on to the rear of an Fw 190.”

Meanwhile, the No. 3 man in the flight, Capt. John Pugh, broke off and latched onto the tail of a Bf 109. “He broke to the right and we made a complete turn,” said Pugh. “I shot a long burst from 300 yards with about 40 degrees deflection, seeing no strikes. We continued to Lufberry down to 5000 feet and I fired several short bursts in a tight turn with no observed strikes. I continually out-turned him. At about 300 feet above Paris, I closed from 200 feet to about 50 feet, firing all the time. My speed was about 250 mph. I saw strikes on the canopy, then the pilot bailed out in a gray or brown parachute. This enemy aircraft was shot from very close range; it was impossible to miss.”

Meanwhile, Carson and Colin continued after the Fw 190. “At the time, it seemed that we were almost vertical chasing the 190,” said Colin. “The pilot was doing big barrel rolls downward trying to get us off his tail, but we were right with him. As Capt. Carson closed into range he started to get strikes on the other ship. This and the ground coming up rather rapidly caused the German plot to flare out and level off. We were now at approximately 300 feet and ‘Kit’ was getting hits all over the Fw 190 when the German’s engine failed. We were heading east just above the Grand Armee-Champs Elysses Boulevard. It looked like the Fw was going to crash into the Arc de Triuph, and the pilot must have been dead since he did not try to bail out.

“Capt. Carson broke away and I was fascinated watching the prop windmilling as the Fw 190 headed toward its fatal end. All of a sudden I realized that Capt. Carson was gone and there I was at 300 feet and every soldier with a weapon was firing at me. The Germans also had anti-aircraft guns on the roofs of the buildings and in the parks and they were all concentrating on me. I sqaw the River Seine off to my right so I swung over and down into it as low as I could without becoming a boat, hugging the north bank, which is about 50 feet high. The guns could not lower down enough to get at me there, so I flew about two miles along the river until it looked safe for me to break out and head for home.”

20 enemy fighters made the mistake of flying directly in front of the 363rd, flying from left to right. “I broke to the right and pulled up to the rear box of enemy aircraft,” said Capt. Robert Foy. “I tried to pick out the tail-end Charlie, but I couldn’t distinguish which was which. I picked out what I thought was a 109 and started firing out of range, closing rapidly. He suddenly pulled into a sharp right turn and I put down 20 degrees of flaps and followed, giving several bursts with about a two radii lead. Smoke started pouring out of the right side of the enemy aircraft and he continued turning to the left. I pulled up to avoid colliding with a silver P-51 and then continued on the enemy aircraft’s tail. He was still turning at about 100 feet from the ground. He hit the ground in the middle of a small racetrack and I flew directly over top of him at about 100 feet. I started to circle to the left to come back and strafe the ship, but found an airfield directly in my path. The flak was very intense and fairly accurate. I turned right and hugged the deck to avoid the flak.” Lt. Donald Pasaka watched the Fw 190 go in; “by the way he hit the ground, I doubt very much if the pilot is telling about his experiences.”

How contests make model building more fun

I made a post today on Hyperscale about building vs. building for contests. My point was not that you build differently for contests; my point was that, once you understand contests and how they’re judged, and the criteria and the reasons for criteria, you start integrating that into your methods of building.

To some people, that’s a chicken-and-egg thing: which came first, the contest or the way you build that could win you a contest? Let’s say that the first chicken is your very first model; if you’re like most people, you try to improve with each passing model. When you get to the age and stage where you’re entering contests, each contest is a chance to learn new things that can enhance your future models.

I don’t enter contests to win, although I get the odd plaque. I build the models, then enter contests. But you can’t help but be influenced by what you learn. If you judge, you’ll learn more and be influenced more, and, on the whole, win more.

But winning’s not a big deal to me. What I really like is building a realistic, solid model. Judging allows me to spot where most people screw up, which then gives me a set of mental road signs for hazards to watch out for: misaligned landing gear, wings, horizontal surfaces, external stores and sliding canopies; small glue marks around joints; inconsistencies in panel lines; overstressed seams; blemishes in clear parts; decal silvering. My judging experience causes me to pay particular attention to these trouble spots as they occur in the build, which may not lead to contest winners but definitely leads to better models.

The other thing I always tell people is to build the whole model. Don’t get hung up on the part that you enjoy especially (mine’s the cockpit), but devote the same attention to the rest of the build, especially the parts you dislike. You’ll get a better finished model; it also builds some character. And if you belong to a model club, you know how many characters there are in this hobby.

The worst thing you can do is to base your hobby around the number of trophies you win. While contest wins are fun, they aren’t the measure of what you get out of scale modeling – they’re the measure of what a few of your peers thought of how your model stacked up against the other models in the table on a particular Saturday or Sunday. The real measure is in the pleasure you received from building them and from the finished result – and that’s something a model can give you regardless of your skill level.

A-3 set update: Getting close

Just a very brief update: I have all the A-3 rear bulkheads finished and two of the three different radio shelves. After those are done, it’s three instrument panels – which is do-able in the next day or so. The set will be a reality soon!

I’d have photos, but our neighbor borrowed out camera to take shots of his restoration – he has a Victorian that has had some very-long deferred maintenance underway. When I can wrest it from his sawdust-encrusted hands, I’ll get some photos of the masters up for you.

66 years ago: the 362nd Fighter Group’s Big Moving Day

On the morning of July 19, the 362nd Fighter Group’s planes launched from Headcorn and headed to field A-12 near Balleroy in France on the way home. Meanwhile, led by Col. Morton Magoffin and Major Richard Thomas, the group’s ground echelon crossed the channel and traveled ahead to find the field, which seemed awfully far from the beachhead. Gradually, they heard the American artillery firing from behind them, then started to hear small arms fire ahead of them. When they arrived at the spot marked on the map, they found 300 tanks of the 3rd Armored Division massed on it. A major from the tank unit ran over, shouting “Are you our tank reinforcements?” “Hell no!” shot back Thomas. “We’re an Air Corps outfit and we’re supposed to move to an airstrip somewhere around here.” “Oh,” said the major. “In that case, we’ll have to move our tanks. This is your strip. But what the devil the Air Corps is doing up here 1000 yards from the front I’ll never be able to figure out.”

Magoffin ordered the men out of their trucks; just then, three Bf 109s screamed over at low altitude and strafed the column. Four military policemen were killed. The group began digging in, and no one ate until after 8 p.m. that evening, and few got much sleep that night. “Plane after plane in a long procession of ghostly dives loosed their blasting cargo” on the field, wrote Pvt. Earl Johnson. “The whole earth seemed as if it were being shaken to dust. My ears began to hurt, my nose bled and I fell into a weird, shaken and exhausted state of fear. I glanced out and it was as bright as day. Flares had been dropped by Jerry and the ack-ack was covering the sky with tracers. Just then another plane let its bag of dynamite loose and I sank back down and prayed. I’m sure a whole squadron of men prayed that night.” The field’s proximity to the enemy was a constant hazard; A-12 was under observation from a German-held hill, and that evening eight men from the 820th Combat Engineers working to finish the airstrip were killed when a salvo of German shells slammed into the area.

The men in the S-2 and S-3 sections put up a beautiful new operations tent, only to have the Germans start blazing away for two hours until Lt. Col. Joe Laughlin and Majors Audley Seivert and Philip Goldfarb bolted from their foxhole to collapse the tent. As soon as the canvas hit the ground, the shelling stopped.

Although the fighting gradually moved away from the field, shelling remained a problem. The Germans dropped a few token shells in when the P-47s were taking off and again when they returned from missions. On July 27, T/Sgt. Arthur Hartmann was killed when the P-47 he was working on was hit by a shell; PFC John Goodall, a medic with the 377th, was also killed by shellfire. Every evening at chow time for a week, a few shells came in, and at dusk pairs or flights of Bf 109s or Ju 87s made hurried strafing runs on the field, disrupting activities but causing little significant damage in most cases. Earl Johnson described one such incident: he and three other members of the 377th’s sheet metal section were getting ready for dinner when they were shocked to see “four Fw 190s in a dive one after the other; they dived and strafed the field. I had fallen to earth under an old apple tree. Al Carota and Moses Alfaro were right beside me, and I am not exaggerating a damn bit when I say those apples rained down. They weren’t bad; we afterwards ate them.”

On another occasion, S/Sgt. Wade Frazee “was on the wing of a P-47 loading ammunition when three Bf 109s came down low and made a strafing pass,” he told a reporter. “Ack-ack boys crippled one flying about 300 feet over me. It crashed down the runway. I just stood there on the wing until what was happening dawned on me. I hit the foxhole until it was all over, then went back to get the Thunderbolt ready for its next mission.” For two weeks, the men were limited to K-rations for meals; the slightest wisp of smoke brought German artillery. It became impossible to get supplies to A-12; eventually, even the K-rations were rationed.

Meanwhile, the group launched 35 P-47s on July 19 for the Meaux-Romily area, with 20 of them loaded with 500-pounders with delayed fuses. The haul of targets was impressive: eight marshalling yards bombed, with two locomotives, seven box cars, 13 flat cars, a concrete railroad bridge and a staff car destroyed.

Black boxes and bulkheads: how hard could they be?

I’m busy trying to finish the A-3 cockpit masters by TOMORROW – an insane endeavor, but one that’s progressing inexorably toward completion. Basically, the set will have interchangable parts for the A-3A/B, KA-3B and EKA-3B; that means different control panels, different rear bulkheads and different boxes on the right rear corner of the cockpit. This will raise the price, but it will ensure maximum accuracy. And, if you’re like me, you can chop up the leftover parts for other projects!

That’s the big task. I’ll try to post photos before I pass the parts off for casting tomorrow evening. Oh, the fun!