66 years ago: a costly day for the 362nd FG – and the Wehrmacht

On January 22, 1945, as the Battle of the Bulge was winding down, Captain Wilfred Crutchfield of the 378th Fighter Squadron discovered 1500 German vehicles of all types concentrated in a small area around Prum, Germany, part of the Sixth SS Panzer Armee embarking for the Eastern Front to try to stanch the Russian advance. The 362nd Fighter Group went on a rampage, destroying 315 trucks, seven tanks, 15 horse-drawn vehicles, numerous heavy gun positions and seven half-tracks. A further 108 trucks were damaged.

A StuG III, one of the 362nd Fighter Group's victims

During the morning mission, when this concentration was discovered, the 378th’s first attack destroyed 90 trucks, seven tanks, five horse-drawn vehicles and seven half-tracks. Lt. Richard Law was hit and was able to belly-land his Thunderbolt within friendly lines, and Lt. Edward Eshbaugh brought his damaged plane back to Etain, landing on one wheel. Reloading, Lt. Donald Stoddard led the next mission in which 24 gun positions were destroyed and 40 trucks moving east from Dasburg were caught on the roads and demolished. Capt. Crutchfield led the days’ last mission for the 378th; they bombed the town of Wettledorf and eliminated 52 trucks and 10 gun positions in the process.

Wilfred Crutchfield "paints" victory markings on his plane in a staged photo.

The day’s score came at a heavy cost. Capt. Carroll A. Peterson’s blue section found a large group of tanks, cars and trucks clogging the roads near Hosingen. Luxembourg. “There were tanks, armored cars and trucks lined up on the roads for miles, bumper to bumper,” said Joe Mullen.

Also part of the convoy was a large amount of mobile flak. “We crossed in and Blue Leader (Peterson) identified several convoys of enemy vehicles below,” Lt. Brandon Nuttall reported. After two strafing passes on the vehicles, the Thunderbolts wheeled and came back for a third attack on several tanks. Peterson’s P-47D-30-RE, 44-20728, made one evasive turn to the right, then pulled up to the left to go in again. “At the top of his pull up, around 1500 feet, I saw his plane jerk violently,” said Nuttall. “It continued its arc and caught fire almost immediately, burning fiercely from the cockpit back. Flame covered the rear fuselage and tail surfaces. I continued high speed evasive action and watched the plane go down. At around 1000 feet, I saw the canopy jettison and maps blow out of the cockpit. At this point the ship went into a slow spin and crashed into the lower side of a small valley. The plane did not explode when it hit. Fire belched from under the wings and engine as it hit but did not seem to burn too fiercely. My attention was distracted by close flak for a moment but I looked back and could see no open parachute or anyone running from the crash. I then called the crash into Green Leader and joined Blue 3 for the rest of the mission.” Peterson, one of the group’s original pilots, was killed in the crash.

Seeing Peterson go down, Lt. Ron Hamby assumed command of the squadron. About five minutes later, while hunting for more targets, Lt. Louis A. Bauer in P-47D 42-28941 was hit in the engine. “He headed for the lines and I advised him to bail out because the area was very mountainous and there was a 500-foot ceiling over the front lines, but he chose to ride it down,” said Hamby. Bauer was killed when his Thunderbolt crashed. At about the same time, Lt. Howard Sloan led Red Section down to strafe and, “as we pulled off the target, I heard Red Three (Lt. Chester B. Kusi) say that he was on fire and was going to bail out,” Sloan said. Kusi escaped the cockpit but he was killed during his attempt to jump from P-47D-28 42-29240. Shortly, flak smashed into Lt. John K. McMahon’s P-47D 44-27177 and it too crashed, killing the pilot.

Meanwhile Lt. Rodney Percy, Lt. Frederick Bly and Lt. Mullen attacked the enemy vehicles, dive bombing from 8000 feet. “The flak was the worst concentration I ever flew through,” said Mullen. “They had everything there – light caliber machine guns, 20mm and 40mm multiples, and the bastards were even lobbing 88’s at us with ground artillery! My bombs got about four trucks and when we pulled up, Bly and I were alone.”  Percy had been hit at low altitude and his plane went down as well.  “We went back down to strafe and on this pass Bly got hit with everything, about 15 direct hits all over his aircraft. However, the engine kept churning for about five minutes, just long enough to get back over our lines. He bellied in and I stayed around there until some doughboys came up in a jeep.”

The wreck of Rodney Percy's B8*U.

At that point, said Ron Hamby, “My wingman and I, being the only ones in the area that hadn’t been hit, left immediately for base.”

The 379th’s ordeal wasn’t quite over. Lt. Ray Murphy’s plane “Chief Seattle” (P-47D 44-19965) had been hit by two 40mm and one 20mm round which blew out a tire, fractured the hydraulic system and knocked two cylinders out of the engine. “I managed to keep my crippled plane in the air for the 75-mile flight home,” he wrote. “The airstrip was covered with ice and as I touched down, seven tons of Thunderbolt on a blown tire veered off the runway, plowing into a snow-covered field. I cut the switch to prevent fire and climbed out without a scratch!”

The day’s events left Ralph Sallee alone with no roommates in his four-man tent left to go to dinner with. Bob Doty saw the shaken Sallee and asked him why he seemed down, and Sallee told the veteran pilot. “I am a teary kind of guy, and he smiled at the situation and said, ‘Sallee, my heart bleeds for you.’  It sure broke the atmosphere,” Sallee said. “Then Percy, my best buddy, walked in carrying his chute. Percy had been hit hard and had to bail out at 500 feet, which is just about minimum. It was in No Man’s Land and he had to see a G.I. truck to know which way to run. Kinda shows how close we worked with our troops.”

On January 23, the group squeezed in five missions before weather closed in, hitting the same area as the day before. “(There were) thousands of motor transports on the roads – the Germans seem to be withdrawing everything,” Lt. John Goodrich of the 378th noted in his diary, adding, “Beaucoup fat.” This day, 264 trucks were destroyed or damaged, along with four tanks, four bridges and several anti-aircraft positions. The 378th flew two missions, one led by Maj. Boehle that destroyed 70 trucks near Hupperdigen and Dhanen, and a second led by Lt. Stoddard to Habscheid, Oblascheid and Bergreuland that wiped out 26 trucks. The 379th sent six planes up, each armed with two 500-pounders and an M-76, and they dropped their weapons on a concentration of 50 trucks, destroying 30 outright and finishing off 10 more through strafing. An official message from Gen. Otto P. Weyland, commander of the XIX Tactical Air Command, commended the group and facetiously described the carnage of the 22nd and 23rd as “an excellent solution to the German transport fuel problem.”

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12 Comments

  1. Carroll A. Peterson was engaged to be married to my mother when he was killed in 1945. I have a tribute web page at the address http://www.wellswooster.com/carroll/. Thanks for the great post.

    • I have an excellent photo of Carroll Peterson receiving the DSC. I would like to know your mother’s maiden name so that I could add that to my file about Carroll.
      Dave Graham
      Hilliard, Ohio
      614-771-9120

      • Dave – might it be possible for me to get a copy of this photo for my book on the 332nd?

        –Chris

      • Hi Chris,
        I would like to make a trade for some photos of aircraft that probably were flying over Bastogne’s battlefields in December, 1944. Did you go to the reunion in October…is there anyone left who can talk about Bastogne…like maybe Hugh Slater? We should talk on the phone: 614-771-9120 Eastern
        Dave

  2. Chester Kusi was my grand uncle. I’d love to hear any other storeis anyone has about him!

  3. Lt Louis A Bauer was my grandmother’s brother. Great to hear this story about him.

  4. My Uncle, John K.McMahon is mentioned above, he was shot down I was told by an 88mm, hehad a moment to radio in “looks like I’ve had it”, that was the last they heard of him.
    His best friend, Tom Peyton, was like a brother to John, he said he saw a plane go down through the cornor of his eye but didn’t know it was John, Everyone called John Jack by the way.. Tom did’t find out it was Jack who went down until he got back to base and the Chaplin was there to greet Tom when he landed, Tom knew when he saw him it had to be Jack.
    Long story, I have a piece of Jack’s plane, if anyone is interested in hearing how I got it just ask and I will be happy to let you know. I have a log of history about Jack and Tom’s experiences together in a book my aunt and uncle wrote about him..

  5. Side note, John McMahon was sjot down Jan 22nd 1945 at 08:30.

  6. One more thing, Jack was in the 379th, I forgot to mention that too. He was from Fort Dodge Iowa, his 4 brothers also served in the war, one in the FBI, one in the USAAF and two in the Navy,all of them came home safely. My grandparents moved to Nebraska, my grandfather made munitioins while my grandmother packed parachutes.

  7. My father, Ron Hamby, Lt.Col, Ret., just passed away in Feb of this year and his last thoughts were of his squadron and their efforts during the war. As a USAF veteran of the war in South East Asia and a proud son, I salute you all. I just found his picture in Etain, France.

    • John – Your father helped me with my book, and I’m very sad to hear of his passing. He had some very interesting stories and was an immense help. He will be missed by more people than he could have possibly known – which is the mark of a life successfully lived.

  8. My father was Lt Richard Law. Passed away in 1981. I miss my best friend. Dad thanks for keeping us safe!!!


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