The Battle of Swiss Villa

Two days ago, I had a call from James “Andy” Anderson, who served in the intelligence section of the 379th Fighter Squadron through the autumn of 1944. Andy has been instrumental in preserving the history of the 362nd Fighter Group, and he and I chat on the phone every few weeks.

This week, he told me a story that has direct application to the group’s markings. While based in Groton, Connecticutt for training, the 379th’s field pointed directly out to sea. There was a runway, a road, the beach and then the ocean – a convenient set of elements for a party. The officers decided to throw the enlisted men a beer bash on the beach, and secured several kegs of beer for that purpose.

The party was a big success – so big that, soon, the beer was gone and the men went looking for more. They found it at a nearby roadhouse called the Swiss Villa, and the party resumed afresh. After a while, a fight broke out – more like a riot, according to Andy, and probably ignited by some sailors from the nearby submarine base. The fight spilled out of the roadhouse and into the road; soon, the parking area was filled with tables, chairs, broken glass, and even the jukebox, reportedly thrown through the front window by “Big John” Chodor. Soon, a platoon of MPs arrived to quell the disturbance. The MPs collared 40 of the men and hauled off the worst 10 offenders – including Andy and pilot Lt. Walter Booth – and took them to the guardhouse. Maj. Joe Laughlin was able to talk the MPs into releasing the men to his custody, and asked Andy to write a report about what happened. Andy handed it in and braced for the consequences – but they never came.

Instead, Laughlin gathered the squadron in a hangar and said that he knew he didn’t have any “fair-haired boys” in his outfit. Just before they left Groton permanently, Laughlin said, he would personally lead the squadron back to the Swiss Villa and they would “clean the joint out!” This never happened, naturally, but it boosted Laughlin’s esteem within the squadron immeasurably.

Now, how this affected the markings of the group: this event, which came to be known as “the Battle of Swiss Villa,” was commemorated by Kent Geyer, who added this legend to his aircraft “Stud,” just behind the cockpit, as seen here:

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Finished: Bart Tenore’s Mustang “Prodigal Son”

Here’s the finished Mustang – at long last!

It’s the plane flown by Lt. Bartolomeo Tenore, 356th Fighter Squadron, 357th Fighter Group, in August, 1944. On August 25, during a sweep around Amiens, the squadron stumbled upon two groups of German fighters at low level, totaling about 24 planes. Tenore was leading Green Flight, and after the German fighters passed below him, “I split-S’ed onto about 15 BF 109s,” he reported. “The enemy aircraft hit for the deck, and only one of them attempted to turn into us. He made a half-hearted head-on pass but did not open fire and rejoined the formation, which flew line abreast down a valley. I opened fire on the first 109 on the right side of the formation and got hits on the fuselage and radiator coolers. He crashed in a wood. I then took on the next ship in the formation and fired dead astern on him. He was flying in the treetops, and as I followed him over a small knoll I saw him hit the ground and explode. I then moved into position behind a third 109 and got some hits. He crashed in front of me, and I had to pull up to avoid hitting the debris. As I was attacking the third ship, I was flying line abreast with another 109 that Lt. McIntire flew into the ground right next to me. We tailed the last 109 for a long time on the deck, and I got a few hits with one gun firing. When my guns ceased firing, Lt. McIntire got some hits with his last still-operating guns.”

After the mission, it was determined that one of Tenore’s victims had been the 354th’s 500 aircraft destroyed (counting air and ground victories). Tenore served until October, when he rotated home. His plane survived until Nov. 21, 1944; it had been passed to the 353rd Fighter Squadron, and it was lost when Lt. “Curley” Holton spun in and crashed while turning after German fighters near Merseberg. Holton became a POW.

Finishing the model became an ordeal. Three vacuformed canopies were dipped in Future, masked and painted before I got one that didn’t have a major defect caused by molding or Future mishaps. The canopy brace wasn’t quite wide enough for the new canopy, so I ended up attaching it to the fuselage with small bits of styrene strip; with the canopy on, the brace looks like it’s attached to the canopy. The canopy rails were cut from Eduard photoetched parts and I promptly dropped one of them, which eluded me until I got out the vacuum and rubber-banded a piece of panty hose over the vacuum hose. After two passes I found the rail – then dropped it again. I dropped it two more times, then managed to drop the model while adding the canopy rails. That broke off one flap and the inner gear doors and their struts (it landed on my leg). I tried adding the struts back to the doors after they were re-attached, but again, dropped one of the struts repeatedly. In disgust, I ripped the gear doors off, added the struts, then installed them on the model – which is the way I should have done it in the first place. The flap and canopy rails went on without difficulty, and the canopy was secured with tiny bits of CA glue. Done!

In all, this model is the Tamiya kit, with the Obscureco P-51D-5-NA conversion and wings, Cooper Details interior, Falcon canopy and Eduard photoetchec bits. Quite a parts collection, but it’s a nice Mustang.

I’ll build another Mustang soon – now, it’s on to the Firefly and Zero…

65 Years ago: Joe Matte’s big day

On November 8, the 362nd Fighter Group flew six missions, and that afternoon was briefed that rain moving in would force them to land at a remote base on their return. The 16 P-47s from the 378th Fighter Squadron, led by Joe Matte, were sent to bomb a supply dump at Baumholder, Germany, but were bounced by Fw 190s from six o’clock at 7000 feet. Lt. Laurie Greenleaf called the bogies; Don Stoddard, his flight leader, “counted 36, and told him they looked very much like German to me,” Stoddard wrote.

“I turned my squadron into the bogies and started climbing,” said Matte. “The bogies were immediately reported as Fw 190s with belly tanks, and about 40-plus in number.” “I climbed my flight and reached the top of the high layer of clouds just as my other three flights hit the Fw 190s, Green, Blue and Yellow flights respectively. Light and heavy-intense flak was being thrown into the middle of the fight. In the first few seconds of the fight I observed several large explosions on the ground.”

Green Flight’s leader, Lt. Alvin Johnson, was the first to fire. “I started firing on a two-ship element,” he said. “I got hits on him before he could break hard to the right. I was hitting him pretty well when he came out on the right side. There was fire coming out of the cockpit when he left it. I then followed the pilot down to about 3000 feet to get a picture, but his chute never did open.” Johnson climbed back to 10,000 feet and made a pass from the rear on two Fw 190s. “He got scattered hits on the leader, who broke right,” reported Lt. Paul Carlisle. When Johnson closed on the wingman, who was in a gentle turn, he fired and “the aircraft broke out in flames.”

“I saw flares in the cockpit and around the wings,” Johnson said. “I ceased firing and followed him in a gentle glide to the left and down to the deck where he crashed. The pilot was not seen to get out.” Lt. William Matthews, flying Green Two, broke with Johnson. “I saw two and fired,” Matthews said. “I got several hits while coming in at them and observed many strikes on one. We then pulled up and came right down into the middle of them, going the same direction. I opened fire on one and he caught fire and shuddered violently.” Johnson saw this plane, “nearly engulfed in flames,” fall to the ground. Meanwhile, said Matthews, “at this time one was on my tail and firing; he stayed with me clear to the deck and after several orbits of a Lufbery circle he broke off and I lost track of him in the hills.”

Joe Matte led Red Flight down to cover Green Flight. “I dove into the middle of the fight and immediately saw one Fw 190 chasing a P-47 in a 50-degree dive towards the clouds. I closed rapidly and as the Fw 190 began firing, I opened fire. The P-47 went through the cloud and just as the Fw 190 reached the cloud I observed strikes all over him. I ceased firing as I hit the cloud and it was just after this that I observed a large explosion on the ground. From reports, this Fw 190 had been firing on Lt. Carlisle, who was flying Green Four.”

“I climbed back for altitude through the middle of one of the largest fights anyone could imagine. Fw 190s were shooting wildly, others were spinning, tumbling, diving and climbing. Others were shooting at P-47s and P-47s were shooting at them. I have no words to describe it. At this time I told any Firebrick ships low on gas to go home.”

“I can’t remember how I got on the tail of my second Fw 190, but I do remember making passes at Fw 190s that were shooting at P-47s,” said Matte. “I finally found one in my sights and gave him a short burst at 300 yards. I didn’t think he was badly hurt, but as I went by him I saw him jump. At this time I saw no other parachute.”

“I chased Fw 190s all over the sky, from the deck to 8000 feet, out-manuevering several that were on my tail momentarily,” Matte said. “I came across one Fw 190 doing a roll just under the top layer of clouds, so I dropped down on him. He broke to the right and just as I was prepared to fire he reversed his turn and started to climb. I fired a good burst at 300 yards, 40 degrees, observing several good hits. His plane fell off to the left in a spin so I started climbing to the left and watched his plane as it spun into the ground.”

“I got up to 12,000 feet and observed only 190s below me, so I decided this was time to break up the fight due to a shortage of gasoline. I told all Firebrick ships to get out of the fight and go home.”

“I met Red Four on the way home,” Matte said. “We landed at A-82 because our home base was weathered in.”

While Matte was scoring his multiple, Lt. George McConkey Jr. and Don Stoddard were fending for themselves in this furball. “Yellow One (Stoddard) and I bombed a motor convoy in the vicinity,” McConkey said. “After dropping our bombs we made a pass on a locomotive.” When he saw the gaggle of Fw 190s, McConkey’s flight leader started to climb to gain an altitude advantage over the German planes. “My flight leader started the attack and went into a sharp right turn.”

Stoddard latched on to an Fw 190 and followed it down to 2500 feet. “I finally got a good burst into him from dead astern at about 100 yards,” he said. “He burst into flames and went in.” McConkey “had an Fw in my sights and fired a 30-degree deflection shot and observed hits on the fuselage.” Stoddard and his wingman climbed back to 6000 feet, and in the process he made a head-on pass at another Fw 190, damaging it. “I didn’t observe the results of this one, for another Fw was on my tail.” Luckily, McConkey spotted Stoddard’s predicament, “so I took after him. I fired several bursts into him at close range at deflections ranging from 20 degrees right to 30 degrees left. I observed hits on the fuselage at the engine and the canopy. His engine began to throw a great deal of oil which covered my canopy when I passed behind it. The plane then made no evasive action and acted like the pilot was either dead or seriously injured. I last saw the plane plummeting earthward out of control.” Stoddard saw the Fw 190 trailing “a great deal of black smoke” before he “flopped down into the ground.”

Stoddard spotted two more Fw 190s attacking from four o’clock and he and his new wingman broke into them. “On breaking around I came up under the belly of a 190 that was firing on another P-47,” he said. “I got a good long burst into the belly of the ship, which seemed to disintegrate, tumbling down and crashing.” Stoddard saw another Fw 190 and tried to give chase, but this fighter pulled away and Stoddard headed for the safety of some clouds.

Lt. Richard Law was leading Blue Flight when the fight began. “Green Flight hit them first and as I came in second I latched on to several on the tail of a P-47,” Law said. “They broke and I broke into them, coming in at about 180 degrees at 9 o’clock. I saw I had no flight, and turned inside the 190 and observed strikes as I closed to less than 100 yards in the turn. The Jerry spun out and I saw he was on fire.”

Looking to his left, Law spotted a P-47 flown by Lt. Duncan Morton being chased by two Fw 190s. “I dove on them and observed strikes on the first. They broke together and passed through my fire. Number two showed strikes and he rolled over and went down. I didn’t see him again. Number one pulled up and I climbed up his tail to shoot, but he had hit the jump sack.”

Law pulled up through light overcast and exchanged head-on shots with an Fw 190, with no effect. He spotted another Fw 190 tailing a P-47, and dove on it. He observed strikes on the pursuing fighter, but “saw a gaggle (of enemy planes) coming in at 90 degrees so (I) dove after the Jerry into the clouds and underneath, but saw no Jerry.”

Since Matte had given the order to leave for home several minutes earlier, Law departed the scene. On the way home, however, only one P-47 made it back to base; nine of the planes landed safely at other fields and four bellied in at various locations, including Lt. Howard Drake in 42-28898 who came down at Cormicy. Lt. Laurie Greenleaf and Lt. Thomas Lenhart were listed as missing; Lenhart was later learned to have been shot down in P-47D-27 42-26850 and taken prisoner. Greenleaf’s P-47D-26 42-28416 (G8*G), was hit by one of the random flak rounds fired into the fight at around 1600 from Light Flak Battalion 842 based at Reifenberg; he crashed near Zwiebrucken in a district called In der Farendill and was buried in the cemetery at Schmitshausen. Greenleaf had flown 47 combat missions.

Blue Flight of the 377th suffered its own losses. Four miles southeast of Merzig, it spotted a train with steam up. The flight leader told his number two man, Lt. Donald R. Kinney, to follow him down on a strafing pass. “Not being in good position, (Kinney) was several seconds late in his peel off and Blue Leader was pulling off his run as Blue Two started his,” reported Lt. Jack Marlette, who was flying as Blue Four. “I observed the train engine destroyed by Blue Leader on his run and Blue Two score hits on the first three cars. I observed Lt. Kinney in his run, but due to a turn my wing blocked out both him and the target at the bottom of his run. This was the last time Lt. Kinney was seen. There was intense light flak in the vicinity of the target.” Kinney, who was flying P-47D-28-RE 44-20137, was killed in action.