On this day in 1944: The 362nd Fighter Group and the cost of the rail campaign

On October 26, the 377th Fighter Squadron attacked rail targets in Metz, destroying a roundhouse and five locomotives, but lost Lt. Roy Christian to flak near Kedingen, France. “As we approached the target, “Yellow Flight descended through the overcast and began looking for a target to drop our bombs on,” said Lt. Ernest Johnson. “While orbiting before our bomb run, Lt. Christian called by radio and stated that his aircraft had been hit in the engine by flak. In spite of the fact that his plane was hit, Lt. Christian made a successful bomb run, dropped his bombs on a railroad track, and the flight was reforming when Lt. Christian called and stated that he was bailing out.” Johnson watched Christian’s plane climb into the overcast and lost sight of him. Shortly thereafter, Christian’s P-47D-27-RE 42-26919 shrieked over the town with its guns blazing, narrowly missing the home of the Streichert family. Either Christian had been hit again and wounded or was wounded by the initial burst of flak and had a tight grip on the stick and trigger. His plane crashed into the side of Herrenberg Hill, killing him.

The 378th cut rail lines south of Metz near Abbecourt, then bombed rail yards at Courcelles. Lt. Joseph Hunter was flying in Red section during the attack. “When the flight leader let down through the over-cast we lost Red Three,” he said. Red Three was Lt. Arthur G. Sylvester, flying in P-47D-26 42-28295. The rest of the formation remained intact and “we came out directly over Metz at about 2800 feet,” Hunter reported. “When we went for the target, the flak became fairly heavy and Red Three was about 1,000 feet below the first element when we took evasive action. He was, however, still there after Red One and I had dropped our bombs. The last I saw of Red Three was when he started his bomb run.  His bombs hit on the tracks slightly south of the yards, but I didn’t see him again.” Sylvester was reported as missing, but sadly no sign was seen of him again; his status was later changed to killed in action . The 379th was also supposed to attack Courcelles, but the target was socked in, so they bombed through overcast over Saarbrucken.

A rail tunnel east of Teterchen was the target for the 377th on October 27; the squadron skipped bombs into each end of the tunnel, then strafed and destroyed 13 locomotives, an ammunition car, four flak cars and a roundhouse. The two other squadrons set out for a railroad bridge eight miles east of Pirmasens, but it was weathered in, so they attacked rail targets, claiming four locomotives. In the afternoon, all three squadrons flew another mission, with the 379th assigned to the bridge at Hechspeyer. It was weathered in, so the squadron worked over rail lines, destroying two locomotives. The 377th bombed the Hechspeyer railroad yards and destroyed a locomotive. The 377th was sent to attack a bridge at Kaiserlautern, but they couldn’t locate the bridge and instead cut tracks, destroying a locomotive and 15 rail cars. The next day, the 379th’s Rodney Percy and Walter C. Whited caught sight of German fighters and took advantage of the rare opportunity to shoot them down, the first kills for each man.


Stuff that came to my house this week

While I wasn’t paying attention, this little nugget slipped into print:

As I’ve said, this is the “Aces” version of the longer-form version I initially wrote as an “outline,” which illustrates how backwards we authors can be. The book has lots of photos and some excellent profiles from Chris Davey – oriented horizontally, which allows them to be bigger, which is a nice change. (Plus, this is a two-Chris effort, so how can you go wrong?)

The book (which you can take a peek at on Amazon here) was just one nice thing that came in the mail this week. I’ve been thinking of building the Heinkel 176, the first all-rocket aircraft, and what should arrive but a book called “The First Jet Pilot,” the biography of Erich Warsitz, who flew the He 176 (and He 178, and a lot of other exotically-powered aircraft which could have easily resulted in his early demise). The book has some nice photos of the He 176, which was a rarity in my library and which stalled the He 176 project until now. The He 176 was a tiny aircraft – maybe twice as big as the BD-5, with the pilot sitting in an open cockpit. Think about that – a rocket-powered plane with an open cockpit. How many times was the phrase “Tighten you goggles, Erich!” used before each flight?

That was a nice surprise. Today, I received something I expected – my Roll Models order of the month. It included another Eduard P-51D Mustang set; the canopy rails I talked about in this post both managed to fling themselves off the model and into oblivion, so I need to pirate them from this set again. And, since I can’t just get one thing, I also bought three decal sheets (one of Xtracals’ Battle of Britain sheets, Lifelike’s P-47 sheet with 354th FG Thunderbolts and a sheet of seven P-61s from Kits World). Revell’s set of 1:72 RAF figures was in there, too; they look very much like Prieser figure sets, with lots of detail, although there are only about eight basic figures, and several are seated. That might be nice for a pre-flight diorama scene.

The big model in the bunch was Italeri’s RQ-4 Global Hawk drone. You don’t get any idea of how big these drones are until you see the kit; without a cockpit, photos are very deceptive. This thing is enormous – maybe as big in wingspan as a B-17 – and rather bulky in the fuselage (although skinny in the wings). Without a cockpit, it shouldn’t take too long to go from the sprues to the finishing process. If you like painting and weathering, the Global Hawk and the smaller Predator are perfect. I like cockpits, but I look forward to bringing something this huge to a model club meeting soon. Although it may not fit in my display case. Hmm…

65 years ago: the 362nd FG catches the Luftwaffe on the ground

The 362nd Fighter Group was sent to strafe three supposedly crowded airfields in the morning of October 8, but one appeared empty and the other two were socked in by weather. However, the 378th’s Lt. Howard Kelgard shot down a Do 217 he encountered flying south from Mainz. “The Do 217 camouflage was brown with green patches and streaks of black,” he recalled. As his flight crossed the Rhine, Kelgard spotted the enemy plane and dove on it, but “on the way down I lost him momentarily. I picked him up again going southeast, down the middle of the river. I closed to 100 yards and he went into some ground fog over the river. I opened up dead astern, observing strikes all over the Do 217. One engine started smoking.” All the while, the gunner in the Do 217 fired back at Kelgard, who stayed on his target. “He made a sharp turn to the right and I broke off the attack to the right also, then made a sharp left turn and got a 70-degree deflection shot into the fuselage. The Dornier, with smoke pouring from one engine, fell off to the right and exploded against the river bank.”

In the afternoon, the three fields were visited again after the weather had lifted. At Gelchsheim, the 379th strafed and destroyed three Do 217s, one Me 410 and two Me 210s, claimed as probables three He 177s, a Ju 88, a Bf 110, two Me 410s and a Bf 109, and damaged a Ju 88. Crailsheim, the 378th’s target, was crowded with 40 Bf 109s and six Ju 88s. “Upon reaching the target, the visibility was very poor and the target was hard to spot,” reported Lt. Alfred Flater. “After finding the target we circled to the east and started our dive. We went to the south of the field on the first pass and Red Leader (Lt. Col. Laughlin) blew up a locomotive. Using the fire as a marker, we started our second dive. I was the last man to go down. When I reached the field there were numerous fires of enemy aircraft burning. I was to the right of the main group of planes, but spotted three Bf 109s sitting wingtip to wingtip and opened fire on them. As I passed over there was a flash from under me that appeared to be No. 3 catching on fire. Lt. Col. Laughlin observed my pass and said that I got all three.”

Red Flight had initially missed the target, but Laughlin’s pass cleared the way for them. Lt. Kenneth Placek, flying as Red Three, put a long burst into a Bf 109 and it exploded. Laughlin ordered Yellow Flight down 30 seconds after Red Flight, and Lt. Herbert Kramer led his four Thunderbolts into the haze. “I was on the deck a mile away from the field before I saw it,” said Kramer. “I observed 12 to 15 aircraft parked on the south side of the field. Both Ju 88s and Bf 109s were dispersed there. I opened fire on a Ju 88 at 300 yards and closed to about 100 yards and saw strikes on the fuselage and right wing root. I encountered light arms and 20mm fire all the time I was over the field and received hits in my flaps and horizontal stabilizer.”

Tucked in close on Kramer was Lt. Victor Moore. “We came across the field and I fired on a Bf 109 which was in front of me,” he said. “I saw many strikes and just as I pulled up I saw a red flash like an explosion. I was hit several times by flak and didn’t make a second pass.” While Yellow Leader and Yellow Two drew flak, Yellow Three and Four, Lts. Harry Baer and Paul Carlisle, made an east to west pass on two planes in the middle of the field, a Ju 88 and a Bf 109. Baer started firing; “I saw strikes on both planes and a small fire started in one of them,” he said. “My wingman saw them burst into flames.” The two Thunderbolts pulled up to 6000 feet, then came back for a second pass, firing on a Bf 109 on the south side of the field. “I saw strikes on it and a small fire starting,” reported Baer. “My wingman started firing as soon as I pulled up. As soon as he stopped, the Bf 109 blew up.” Carlisle also sprayed a Ju 88 with machine gun fire, but “after my pass I was hit several times by flak and was unable to see the results of my fire.”

Blue Flight was down to three planes because of an abort, but it found the target through the haze on its second attempt. “There were six Bf 109s lined up wingtip to wingtip,” reported Lt. Keith Nichols. “I concentrated my fire on this group of planes. I saw good hits on the first three and scattered hits on the others.” The official records indicate that the 378th destroyed eight Bf 109s and a Ju 88 and damaged four Bf 109s and a Ju 88 in the attack.

66 years ago: Peterson, England and Gailer score

On October 6, the 357th Fighter Group was back over Berlin. Capt. Richard Peterson’s flight saw a large group of German fighters attack the box of bombers behind them. “We immediately dropped our tanks and turned to engage them,” said Lt. Gilman Weber. “I spotted an Fw 190 and gave chase. He was quite a bit below me and I got too damned eager. I closed in on him as he leveled off at about 5000 feet. I realized I was overrunning him and lowered flaps as I pulled alongside of him. The 190 started a sharp turn to the left and evidently saw Pete coming in, because he immediately jettisoned his canopy and bailed out,” said Weber.

The 362nd scored the bulk of the day’s kills, with Capt. John England scoring two kills and single victories falling to F/O Otto Jenkins and Lt. William Gilbert. Lt. Thomas Martinek aborted with a rough engine, but then turned back to follow the group and soon encountered 100 enemy fighters closing on some bombers. Martinek went after the Germans, shooting down two Fw 190s before wisely turning for home.

The next day over Liepzig, the 363rd Fighter Squadron spotted enemy fighters 17,000 feet below them and the squadron spiraled down to gain position. Lt. Frank Gailer was trailing his leader, Capt. Thomas Hughes, when an Fw 190 made a pass at Hughes. “I told Capt. Hughes to hit the deck and as the enemy aircraft passed in front of me I gave him one very short squirt,” Gailer reported. “As I turned to follow him he jettisoned his canopy and bailed out before I could fire again. I couldn’t have fired more than 20 rounds on this one pass.” Lt. Martinek of the 362nd downed another enemy plane.