66 Years Ago: The 362nd Fighter Group, Busy Around Bastogne

On an especially busy day, the 362nd Fighter Group launched 10 missions totaling 107 sorties on December 23, 1944. Lt. Albert C. Bruce of the 377th Fighter Squadron suffered an engine failure and bailed out in enemy territory, coming to earth a wood near the castle of Ansembourg while his plane slammed to earth not far from the village of Nospelt. Bruce landed safely, evaded capture and returned to the group. The haul of vehicles was particularly high, with 84 trucks, 12 armored vehicles, and 12 gun positions destroyed or damaged. The 377th hit the bridge at Echternach with rockets and napalm. The 379th by itself destroyed 45 trucks filled with troops headed north on the road between St. Hubert and Recogne; the pilots reported that the German troops anxiously abandoned the trucks when the Thunderbolts arrived on scene. “The Germans were good at camouflage, and when it snowed they were even harder to spot,” said Lt. Gene Martin. That advantage betrayed them when they attempted to move and the wheels and tracks of their vehicles turned the pure white snow into a brown slush, which made it much easier to pick out vehicles on the move against the winter landscape.

Later, the 379th hit a second column between Houffalize and Bourcy, knocking out 10 tanks and 28 trucks. The 378th escorted C-47s bringing supplies to Bastogne, but brought bombs with them, knocking out two tanks and eight trucks in a German bivouac area north of the city. Blue Flight made three passes at a column of tanks, dropping M-76 clusters on them. “On pulling out of the last pass, Lt. (William) Foster called that his prop was out,” said Lt. Richard Law. “A very short time later he called and said that everything was OK.” About two minutes later, however, he was forced to belly land “Street Cleaner,” P-47D-20 42-76437, in the snow. Law and his flight leader, Cliff Saari, saw Foster jump from his plane and wave. Although he ran for some woods, Foster was soon taken prisoner. But the effect of the attacks had been shattering; the planned attack on Houffalize by the 26th Volksgrenadiers Division was postponed until after dark for fear on the havoc that the P-47s could wreak.

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