Work Stoppage at the 1:72 North American Plant

For two weeks, my Mustang has been sitting in a state of suspension: painted, decalled, and all the remaining subassemblies ready to be added. I have to touch up the natural metal on the flaps, but that’s all the painting that is left. I have to add brake lines to the main struts (and add the little photoetched bits to them – but I do that after the struts and wheels are on the plane anyhow), and the gear will be ready to add. The only real delay is the canopy rails – one of the photoetched rails I added a few weeks ago went off into the ether and I had to order another Eduard set just to steal the rails. They’re prominent, especially if you keep writing books about various Mustang-equipped fighter groups, like this one (available in bookstores near you in November – with a different cover). When you look at photos like the one below, you start to fixate on that detail, and I’ll never be able to build a Mustang without them.

The canopy’s ready – it’s the Squadron canopy, dipped in Future. Boy, does it look good – I have no idea why I stopped using Future on the clear parts, but for bubble canopies it can’t be beat. The prop’s done – white spinner painted with good old Humbrol No. 34 Matt White, blades tricked out with manufacturer’s decal. Gear doors have had their sink marks removed or covered with .005 styrene sheet and painted. Tail wheel painted and ready, as are the metal tail gear door covers. Exhausts were all drilled out, then painted with my own mix of Model Master leather, insignia red and burnt metal (it looks good!).

Now, I just have to stick ‘em together. I also need to fashion a landing light and add the signal lights in the wings – but my first thing to do is to add weathering. It’s a lot easier to add before the exhaust stacks are on than it is to work around them, especially in 1:72 scale.

Okay, so that’s all that’s left. Now that I’ve put it in print and said it in public, I have to get off my backside and finish it – right? (Hold me to it, readers! I’m counting on you!)

66 years ago: the 357th Fighter Group Raises Halle with the Luftwaffe

The 357th Fighter Group’s score grew significantly on September 13, 1944’s mission to Halle. The 364th Fighter Squadron was east of Frankenhousen when about 40 enemy planes burst out of a haze and flew head-on through their formation. Only one German plane was able to get off an inaccurate burst. “I broke and came in on the tail of the last ship,” a Bf 109, said Lt. Merle Allen. “He broke into me and we started a tight Lufbery to 9000 feet, where I got hits on the engine and cockpit in a deflection shot. The plane began burning and the pilot bailed out at 8000 feet.”

After the initial gaggle went past, Maj. John Storch spotted four Bf 109s about a mile behind their comrades and turned Red Flight into them. “When we got within range they broke left and went into a turning circle,” said Storch. “We turned three or four times with them and they began to break up. I followed one of them, firing, but I do not believe I got any strikes as he was taking evasive action and I was shooting poorly. He finally straightened out and went for an open field, and I got some strikes just before I overshot. He bellied in and caught fire when he hit.”

The other element of the flight, made up of Lt. Horace Howell and Lt. Paul Hatala, spotted some other stragglers, which went into a Lufbery to the left. Howell picked out a Bf 109 and turned inside him. “I pulled up until I could only see the spinner of the enemy aircraft and gave him a long burst at a close range in a steep bank. The enemy aircraft straightened out, started smoking and streaming oil, then went into a dive. I saw him in a vertical dive at approximately 2000 feet, still smoking, when I had to break it off. I turned to the left and got on another enemy aircraft, giving him a short burst but observed no strikes. He straightened out and I gave him a long burst, observing numerous strikes on the empennage and wings. Parts came off and he started smoking. I closed in and gave another long burst, observing many more strikes. My canopy became covered with oil and coolant so I had to break off. He was last seen burning and spinning at approximately 2000 feet.”

As Storch and wingman Robert Schimanski re-formed, another Bf 109 came toward them. Storch broke into him, “and turned with him a couple of times, firing while on the deck. As we got into a pretty nice position on the enemy aircraft’s tail, I saw tracers all around us and then noticed we were above a camouflaged airfield. We broke off the enemy aircraft’s tail and got up to about 3100 feet and circled around. The Bf 109, meanwhile, circled on the deck within the perimeter of this airfield. Suddenly he made a break for a larger field about a mile north of this airport. We dove on him and he started to belly in. As he hit we fired and he slid into a tree and exploded, throwing debris 50 feet into the air.” Storch and Schimanski shared credit for this fighter.

Capt. John England was leading the 362nd when he spotted a single Bf 109 below him. “I immediately dove toward him,” England reported. “The enemy pilot then saw me and started a break into me and was headed for a large aerodrome. I was traveling at approximately 400 mph and made a very tight turn into him and closed to about 500 yards. I placed the enemy aircraft properly within my K-14 gunsight and squeezed the trigger. I got strikes all over the engine and cockpit. The enemy aircraft, burning and smoking, went out of control and crashed into a river 1000 feet below.

“About 20 minutes after my first encounter I was leading my squadron up to escort the last box of bombers. We were jumped by eight-plus Bf 109s at 15,000 feet. I tacked on to three that were spiraling toward the deck. I lined up on the leader’s wingman and closed to about 300 yards and started firing. He tried both left and right evasive turns but his efforts were in vain. Finally, he made a tight pull-out on the deck and cut his throttle. I cut my throttle and finished him off. I closed to 100 yards. His canopy came off, smoke and pieces flew by, and he rolled over and exploded in some woods below. Immediately after this Jerry exploded I made a 180-degree turn and caught another Jerry who was very aggressive. We spent about five minutes in a tight Lufbery at tree-top altitude. I finally got into position for my first burst. I observed strikes around his tail section and one of his wheels dropped. I overshot him and pulled up sharply. My wingman, Lt. Fuller, came in and got some good strikes on him and the enemy aircraft started smoking. My wingman overshot and I came back and was getting strikes on him when he crashed into the side of a hill and exploded.” The 362nd’s F/O Otto Jenkins and Lt. John Kirla each downed a plane and shared a third, and other planes fell to Lts. Erle Taylor and John S. Templin.

The 363rd was also in on the fun. Lt. Charles Yeager spotted a Bf 109 near Kassel. “I rolled over and I caught the enemy aircraft on the deck. I closed up fast and started firing around 300 yards. I observed strikes on his engine and fuselage. The engine started smoking and windmilling. I overshot. Lt. Gailer fired at him until the enemy aircraft attempted to belly in. The enemy aircraft exploded when it hit the ground.” Lt. Harold O. Hand added another victory.

In all, 15 German fighters fell to the group, but five P-51s failed to return, including Lt. Kirby Brown’s. Brown succeeded in bailing out, only to be captured and murdered by a Sturmabteilung officer.

The 362nd Fighter Group against Brest: Part 2

The 377th Fighter Squadron traveled to Brest on August 28 but found it socked in by weather. Four days later, each squadron in the group flew two 12-plane missions to Brest, pounding targets under the guidance of ground controllers. The attacks were so effective that, after one pass by the 379th on a troop concentration, the controller radioed, “stop! They’ve had enough!”

In the first mission of the day, the 378th pounded a gun position on the Quimpel peninsula, then strafed enemy troops behind a concrete emplacement on a hill. In its second mission, the 378th destroyed 14 trucks and three other vehicles, but these had already been abandoned by the Germans. They also bombed a gun position and a troop dugout.

On September 3, each squadron flew two 16-plane missions over the city. Traffic was heavy, with B-26s and heavy bombers also bombing. “Hoptide,” the controller working with the 377th, ran out of targets and asked the squadron to dump its bombs on the city.

By September 4, the city was in ruins, and high-explosives had become of limited use, so the group switched to napalm for its next missions. Each squadron flew two 12-plane missions, and as the group pulled away after its last mission, heavy bombers returned to the city. The 378th bombed barracks and other buildings in the woods outside Brest. The 379th also dropped surrender leaflets on captured Russian troops who had been forced into service in the Wehrmacht.

Weather limited activity the next day to a two-plane propaganda leaflet mission, but the group squeezed in five missions on September 6, once again equipped with 500-pounders. The 378th bombed three gun positions, but in the process Capt. James Harrold’s plane was hit by flak and he was forced to make an emergency landing at Morlaix.

The group flew seven missions to Brest on September 7, with the 378th flying three. In the morning mission, the 378th bombed three gun emplacements; in its second mission it bombed two buildings under orders of controller “Hoptide;” in the third mission, 12 planes bombed three more gun emplacements. Maj. Berry Chandler was transferred into the 379th from the 31st Fighter Group, where he had flown Spitfires, to take over as squadron commanding officer.

The group flew seven missions to Brest again the next day, with the 378th again getting three missions, bombing a gun emplacement on each of the first two missions and a strong point in the afternoon. The group flew seven eight-plane missions on September 9, with the 377th getting three trips to Brest. The 378th bombed and destroyed two gun emplacements and strafed a third one. Later, eight 378th planes flew a leaflet mission south of the Loire River.

The group flew four 12-plane missions to the Crozon Peninsula on September 10, carrying a mixture of 500-pounders and napalm. The 379th flew two missions; during one, it set some minesweepers afire with strafing. Later, the 379th went after some guns on the southern tip of the Crozon peninsula with napalm. Flak was heavy, and one P-47 was damaged and forced to land at Merlaix. The 378th used its napalm on a gun emplacement, then strafed and destroyed a truck and a tank.

On September 11, each squadron provided four eight-plane missions over the Crozon peninsula, covering controller “Kleenex Able” for 12 hours. Flak knocked down the P-47 of Lt. Haugan W. Figgis of the 379th, but he crash landed on the friendly side of the lines and returned to the group a few days later. The 378th bombed three buildings and strafed gun positions during its first mission, them bombed and strafed pillboxes and gun emplacements during the second mission. During their third mission, the 378th knocked out several 105mm howitzers with bombs and then strafed two more gun positions. During the squadron’s fourth mission, 16 bombs fell on a gun emplacement and an ammunition dump, causing major secondary explosions.

All three squadrons launched before 7 a.m. on September 12, two to give close air support for the 80th Infantry Division near Nancy and the third, by the 377th, to carry out an armed reconnaissance in the same area. The distance was so great the planes had to land at Dizier for fuel, but the field there didn’t have enough fuel for all the planes and some were forced to go to Coulommiers for fuel. The 378th and 379th claimed an observation post and some gun emplacements near Nancy, while the 377th’s armed recce netted three locomotives. The 378th lost two planes to mechanical difficulties; Lt. Alfred Flater bellied in at Chartres and Lt. David Wright bailed out of P-47D 42-75420 near Etamps and was injured in the process. Lt. Darwyn Shaver in P-47D 42-26112 and Lt. Kenneth Weber in P-47D 42-75221 also suffered landing accidents to rack up two 378th Thunderbolts. The last plane landed back at A-27 after 9 p.m.

On a slow day, the 377th and 378th flew eight-plane missions to Brest on September 13. The 378th bombed gun positions, then strafed and destroyed an armed vehicle and two kubelwagens. The next day, the 378th and 379th flew eight-plane missions to Brest. The 378th bombed strongpoints and buildings on the order of controller “Stanza.” The pace picked up again on September 16. The 379th flew five eight-plane missions, the 377th four and the 378th two, all to Brest. The 378th sent eight planes to bomb a gun position, but all missed, and the results of the subsequent strafing couldn’t be seen. Later, four planes from the 378th bombed a strongpoint and strafed pillboxes, although these appeared to be unoccupied.

The 378th flew four eight-plane missions, the 379th three and the 377th two on September 17, all to Brest. Among the targets attacked were the old forts in the northwestern part of the city. During the 378th’s morning mission, four planes bombed an enemy strong point and four more bombed the sub pens, then all eight strafed the woods and buildings north of the aerodrome. The four planes in the second mission strafed and destroyed a 60-passenger bus, while the next eight bombed a mined area and some gun positions. The final mission of the day saw four P-47s dump bombs onto gun positions and enemy barracks buildings.

On September 18, five missions were sent to Brest, with the 378th flying just one to bomb enemy fortifications. Because of the grind on the aircraft, the 377th and 379th’s second missions could muster just four planes each. The ground controllers had to be very careful in assigning targets because of the rapid advance of the Allies. At about two in the afternoon, Brest capitulated, so the group worked over the deeply-emplaced guns on the southern tip of the Crozon peninsula. About 7000 Germans surrendered in Brest immediately after the group’s bombing. Crozon became the center of attention on September 19 as seven missions were sent to the area, with the 378th taking three of them. Their first four-plane flight dive-bombed a fortification to good effect, then strafed gun emplacements from Pointe Capucins north on the coast, destroying three trucks, including one loaded with ammunition. At 1420, the troops in Crozon surrendered and the 378th’s last two missions of the day were called off because of the Allies’ rapid advance. With Brest’s fall, the advance cadre of the 362nd departed for the group’s new home at A-79/Reims-Prosnes.