67 years ago: Vernon Boehle’s Aggressive Escort

February 22, 1944 brought another escort mission for the 362nd Fighter Group, this time providing withdrawal support for some B-17s. While escorting a straggler at 10,000 feet, Yellow Flight of the 378th spotted two Fw 190s of 7/JG.26 trying to get between them and the straggler. “I made one orbit with my section of four directly over him and on completion of this I was amazed to see two Fw 190s had  materialized out of thin air and began to fire at the B-17,” said Lt. Vernon Boehle. “I immediately shoved everything forward and dove down vertically as I was directly over the B-17 at the time. I at first thought the B-17 was on fire as I saw what appeared to be fire coming from the fuselage on the side, but I later realized this was from the nozzle of the blister guns.”


“Lt. Boehle peeled off to attack them so I stayed about 1000 above to provide top cover,” said Lt. Wilfred Crutchfield. “Lt. Boehle got on the tail of one of them. And as the other Fw 190 was getting into position to attack Lt. Boehle, I attacked him.”

Boehle, a veteran of combat in the P-47 from his days as a member of the 4th Fighter Group, had requested a transfer to the 9th Air Force when he learned the 354th FG was getting Mustangs; to his chagrin, he ended up back in P-47s while in time his old unit switched to P-51s. Just the same, he was one of the few men in the group familiar with escorting bombers. “My attack wasn’t well planned,” he admitted. “I was more interested in stopping them shooting the B-17 as soon as possible than sneaking up and surprising them. My speed and angle were so terrific that I had to pull out on the far side and then close to avoid overshooting them. I started firing at approximately 300 yards at the leader. Looking up and back into the sun, I saw what appeared to be two and then suddenly six more Huns who were approximately 2000 feet above and endeavoring to position themselves on the rest of my section, which had followed me down.”

“We immediately went into a tight Lufbery and Lt. Boehle called the squadron leader for help,” reported Lt. Carl Haering. “None arrived, as they could not find us, so we broke down at full power. One Fw 190 caught me shortly after going into the dive and let go a burst that damaged considerably my tail section, severing the trim tab control wires and all but tearing off the right-hand portion of the elevator. I lost him through violent evasive action and fought to get the plane under control. I had lost the flight by this time, so I set course for home at 3000 feet.” Haering was able to crash-land at Hornchurch.

Meanwhile the remaining P-47s kept up a running battle with the Fw 190s. “In the course of the battle I fired at at least five planes, two of them head-on attacks and the rest slight deflection shots,” said Boehle. “The Hun sort of stalked us throughout and we would momentarily lose them and then find ourselves in a whole mess of them. Several times, at an opening in the clouds, I obtained a view of a Thunderbolt each time chased by two, three or more Huns and each time managed to dive in and shoot at the Hun firing on the P-47, forcing him to break off the attack. Every time I would do this there would always be one behind and below me as I cut in and several times three or four more behind a mile or two. It was impossible to concentrate on firing under these conditions with any accuracy. As soon as the Hun doing the firing would break off I would immediately break off myself and do a climbing turn to port to elude the one following me. In these maneuvers I used water injection to advantage although I didn’t have a paddle-bladed prop. In each zooming climb I always managed to put enough distance between myself and the pursuing Hun or Huns to get in a nearly head-on attack and then break for home again.”

Boehle saw three Fw 190s chasing a P-47 on the deck. “The nearest was 100 yards from him and firing,” Boehle said. “I was approximately one and a half miles away and I couldn’t immediately reach him. I fired at one of the Fw 190s at a distance of 100 yards and saw strikes on his fuselage about half-way to the tail. This Fw 190 then did a very gentle diving turn and I had to break off as another had positioned himself on me. After things had cleared a bit I could see nothing of the P-47 but in the immediate rear I observed a fire on the ground which may have been from the crash of a plane.” This was likely P-47D 42-77580 of Lt. Roscoe C. Adams, whose Thunderbolt crashed near Brussels, killing the pilot. 27-victory ace Fw. Wilhelm Mayer of 7/JG.26 was given credit for the kill.

Crutchfield found himself surrounded by 10 fighters, but much to his relief discovered they were Spitfires. He landed at Hornchurch with 20mm hits in both ailerons and a 7.9mm round in the back of the engine. Boehle’s P-47 also suffered superficial damage in the encounter.


67 years ago: Henry Spicer and the 357th FG draw blood

During an escort to Bernberg, the 357th Fighter Group made a late rendezvous with the bombers, catching them only after they had reached their initial point. Lt. Col. Henry Spicer took his 11 planes to the front of the formation, and after his other two flights had broken off to engage other threats, he led his flight to intercept six Bf 109s forming to attack the bombers head-on. “This attack was broken up, one of the 109s breaking over me at 180 degrees,” Spicer reported. “I hauled it around in a tight turn (later learning that the other members of my flight had all spun out in the turn) and gave chase. The Hun was climbing into the sun, about two miles ahead and above me. I did not seem to be closing, so I dropped my tanks and put everything to the firewall. The high blower cut back in at 21,200 feet, giving me ample power to overtake him. He lent me further assistance by leveling off, so I closed from dead astern and below, waited until he filled the sight, put the dot on him and gave him the Gen. Kepner one-two. All guns responded heartily. He immediately blew up and became obscured in a browninsh-orange cloud of smoke. I pulled up and passed over him at about 10 feet, distinctly seeing the black crosses on the wings (thank God), then rolled over to watch him go down, always keeping my tail clear. The ship completed a 180-degree diving turn, leveled off, and as it did not seem to be on fire I took out after him again, but before I could close the second time he began flopping, turned over and dove straight down. I could see his shadow rapidly coming in from the south, and as the two merged, a beautiful explosion took place, sullying the otherwise tranquil and pastoral snowscape with vivid red flame and billowing black smoke.”

Col. Henry Spicer and his ground crew

The enemy planes made a pass at the bombers; Capt. Jack Warren peeled off after one Bf 109, closed to about 500 yards and fired a short burst, “which seemed to hit the cockpit and the plane started a steeper dive to the left,” the pilot said. “I fired several short and long bursts at about 300 to 400 yards and observed smoke trailing. I was indicating about 525 mph so I pulled out at about 5000 feet and circled. I saw the Bf 109 go into the ground and explode.”

Lt. John Carder identified a Bf 109G at 24,000 feet and in a dive. He dove after it and fired at 600 yards; “I believe I got a few strikes, causing the left landing gear to partially extend,” he said. Several minutes were spent in a dogfight going down to approximately 12,000 feet. I lost sight of him, and found him again going through some clouds in a long straight dive. I split-S’ed onto his tail and fired three bursts from 400 yards to 100 yards or less. The first two bursts had no effect. The third burst got him and he blew up as I passed over him. Debris damaged my spinner and the blast blistered paint and burnt the fabric on my elevator, causing replacement.”

Lt. Alvin Pyeatt spotted a formation of Bf 109s below him climbing to strike the bombers. Pyeatt peeled off, along with two other Mustangs, and dove 6000 feet on the enemy planes. “The other P-51s overshot, but I hung on to a Bf 109,” said Pyeatt. “He made a tight turn and I fired a short burst, but I did not observe strikes during the turn. Then he leveled out and I followed up his tail to within 50 yards. I could plainly see his tail wheel. I commenced firing again and saw my tracers moving over the enemy aircraft from right to left. I saw strikes on his fuselage. The plane rolled over on its back and its nose went up. It made one and a half turns in an inverted spin, then dished out and jerked several times. Then it oscillated violently and went into another spin and plunged down through the haze at about 14,000 feet. It was still spinning at 4000 feet so I am certain he must have crashed.”

In all, the group scored seven victories, but lost two pilots, including Lt. Darwin Carroll, who was lost in P-51B-7-NA 43-6576 after suffering an engine failure.


Beep reaches its conclusion…

After a knock-down, dragged-out battle, the WC-52 Beep was completed yesterday, ready for today’s contest in Petaluma.

It did well in the contest, taking second. Sadly, it was not considered for the silk purse from a sow’s ear award; the basic kit was so terrible and badly shaped (and fit so poorly) it should have been in the running.

The decals came from the kit, the Academy Dragon Wagon and the Academy 2 1/2-ton truck. They were coerced into conforming to the surface with Solvaset.

The final touches were the windshield (scratch-built), the winch (with a home-made tow cable of braided steel wire) and the dash and steering wheel (made from various bits and bobs, including a spare data plate from a color photoetched set).

It’s finished as a vehicle used by the 379th Fighter Squadron, 362nd Fighter Group (using decals left over from my Jeep build, made by Norm Filer). Its final destination will be a diorama, I expect – but what that diorama will look like is not yet know to me. All I do know is that it will contain only one WC-52!

66 Years ago: air-to-air victories for the 362nd Fighter Group

The 378th Fighter Squadron flew an armed recce on February 19, searching from Trier to Coblenz to Bonn, but found only a rail yard at Lebech as a target. Just the same, they destroyed a locomotive and eight cars. The 377th worked over the rail yards at Frickhofen and had moved over to the yards at Westerburg when they were bounced by 13 Bf 109s and 8 Fw 190s. “We very rarely saw German airplanes,” said Paul O’Dell. “We were over some marshalling yards; we had bombs and rockets at that time. All of sudden, here comes a whole bunch of these guys out of the woodwork.” O’Dell was flying with Lt. William “the Boston Wolf” Davis, “He was Yellow Leader and I was Yellow Two,” O’Dell said. “I saw these planes and I broke right and he broke right under my wing! All of a sudden there were two German planes coming down at us. I was surprised that I could hear their machine guns in my plane. When I turned toward them, they didn’t turn much toward me – they went past me. I just turned around and got on one from behind. It was almost like it was easy.” O’Dell’s victim bailed out and survived; the American flyer’s inquiries after the end of the war revealed that his opponent was “a guy who was 19 years old. Apparently, he was killed in another air fight three weeks later,” O’Dell said.

O’Dell’s kill was not the only victory. His wingman, Davis, downed two Bf 109s, and Maj. Tom Beeson and Lts. Frederick Turner and Francis Korosy each bagged an Fw 190. Another 10 Bf 109s were reported damaged.

The 379th also squeezed in a 12-plane attack on Orschaltz, which they bombed with 500-pounders and M-76s, then strafed two trucks and a horse-drawn wagon. The mission began badly, however; Lt. Donald Kueffner’s plane, 42-26633, crashed a mile from the field immediately after takeoff and he was killed.



66 years ago: A tough Valentines’ Day for the 362nd Fighter Group

On what could be accurately described as a St. Valentines Day massacre, 11 squadron missions were run in one day by the 362nd Fighter Group on February 14, 1945. The 379th Fighter Squadron fared especially well, discovering more than 100 vehicles in the town of Bodem and bombing and strafing them, destroying 40. Each aircraft carried two 500-pound bombs, which they used to shattering effect. However, Lt. Francis Postai’s Thunderbolt was hit by small arms fire while strafing a troop concentration just in front of American infantry and tanks. “I circled at about 3000 feet and waited for the squadron commander to tell me to go down and strafe,” Postai wrote in a letter home. “When he gave me the word my wingman and I peeled off to go down. I let go at a bunch of Jerries in some woods. I had to pull out of my dive and as soon as I pulled up some Jerry machine gunner wrote ‘to my Valentine’ on the side of my airplane. Three of (the slugs) got me; two went through my upper arm and the other went through the fleshy part of my back but didn’t do any damage; it stopped in the muscle. I opened the throttle and headed for our lines and crash landed in a pasture just inside our lines. There was an infantry aid man right there and he fixed me up.” Postai was eventually sent home for treatment of his wounds.

The 378th Fighter Squadron flew two missions, one to Bueren and the other to Kirf. On the latter mission, the squadron also strafed Weiten and Freudenberg. Red Flight of the 377th conducted an armed reconnaissance around Wittlick, working over a convoy of trucks. “We had expended our ammunition and the remainder of the squadron had returned to base while Lt. (Willard) Naglestadt and I remained in the area to lead ‘Klondike’ (the 379th) to the target,” said Lt. Ernest Johnson. “This accomplished, we headed out on a course which took us south of Trier. Just as we were crossing the highway leading north out of Trier we encountered a few bursts of what appeared to be 40mm flak.” The fire came from the 4th Companie of the 11th Fallschrimjager Flak Regiment; its 12 guns scored hits on the wing and fuselage of P-47D-28 44-19931 “and a fire started in his left wing just inside the bomb shackle,” Johnson said. “I immediately told him he was on fire and to bail out, whereupon he jettisoned the canopy. He continued in straight and level flight for a period of 45 seconds to one minute, during which time I repeated instructions to bail out. Then his aircraft did a gentle wing-over and went into the ground at an angle of about 60 degrees and exploded.” Naglestadt’s aircraft smashed into the ground on the road running between Scharfbillig and Wostachen; Naglestadt attempted to jump, but his parachute did not open in time, killing the veteran pilot.

Beep Built by Saturday (and the Hobby Expo)

Next Saturday is the Hobby Expo, the first big contest of the year, held by IPMS/Santa Rosa and IPMS/Mt. Diablo up in Petaluma. It’s always a good show, and by having half of the building devoted to models and half devoted to other hobbies, you get some great cross-pollination. A lot of guys whose wives do some type of craft wander over and are blown away by the models, which can lead directly to new members and new modelers. It’s a really great idea, and the facility, with its naturally bifurcated layout, lends itself to this perfectly.

I plan on having the WC-51 “Beep” done by then. It’ll take a bit of a push, but I will finish it. See, I don’t build for competition, but I DO build for contests. Those events provide deadlines in a hobby where there really are none; that can mean the difference between a model being completed or going in a box waiting for precious inspiration to strike again. It also means clearing the deck for the next project – in my case, perhaps an F-106 for a bit of a change of pace.

The competition part is fun – I always like seeing how things shake out – but I really like the contest. They’re two different things. One is how the models are evaluated by the judges and the other is the event itself. One is a subset of the other. The competition can be variable; there was one year where Vladimir Yakubov and I alternated firsts in a category all year, showing how different judges can reach different conclusions. The contests are constant – I always have a good time, even when the contest isn’t really well run.

Looking at models, doing some shopping, hanging out with friends – that’s fun. Getting an award? That would be a bonus.

Back to work, now…

This day in 1945: the Luftwaffe loses some Me 262s, and the 357th FG loses Jim Browning

The 357th Fighter Group flew a two-part escort of bombers to Leipzig, with Col. Irwin Dregne leading “A” group and “B” Group led by Maj. Richard Peterson. “A” group was treated to a milk run, but “B” group was able to add to the group’s tally of jets.

The 363rd Fighter Squadron was able to muster more Mustangs than were called for on their orders. That allowed the squadron to muster a flight in “B” group designated “Cement Spares,” led by Capt. Jim Browning and including Capt. Don Bochkay. “We were doing nicely on our escort at 26,000 feet, crossing our bombers and holding a very good formation,” Bochkay said. “At 1145, around the Fulda area, four Me 262s were called in by one of our flights under us at about 4000 feet below, headed for the bomber formation. We dropped tanks and Capt. Browning dove to the left for attack. The four Me 262s broke up; two dived to the right and two dove to the left. Capt. Browning never did get within range of the two going left and down. I climbed high, balls out, keeping the Me 262s in sight as well as covering Capt. Browning. I climbed to 28,000 feet and leveled off. Just as I leveled off the two Me 262s broke right in a steep climbing turn. I called Capt. Browning and told him I was cutting them off. I dove my ship to gain more speed. The sun was in my favor and I believe the Me 262s did not see me. I came in on the lead Me 262 but couldn’t get my sights on him. I passed under the lead Me 262 and broke hard to the right, coming out on the second Me 262’s tail at a very good range of 300 yards. I fired a long burst as he was pulling away from me but I observed some very good hits about the canopy and right engine. That really slowed him down. The lead Me 262 headed straight down. The one I hit broke to the left in a gentle turn, so I opened up on him again at about 400 yards and kept firing all the way in on him. I saw many strikes all over him and his canopy shattered, along with large pieces flying off the enemy aircraft. I broke off to the right to keep from running into him. As I passed very close to him the pilot was halfway out of his cockpit. The ship then rolled over on its back and the pilot fell out. The pilot never opened his parachute and the plane went straight on in. I then pulled up in a climbing left turn to rejoin Capt. Browning, but we got separated because of so many P-51s in the area with the same colored tails. I found myself alone so I set out to join up with someone in our own bunch.”

Jim Browning (center) and his ground crew

Unseen by Bochkay, Browning had headed for the Me 262 of Oberstleutnant Freiherr Von Riedsel, the commander of KG(J).54, flying werk nummer 500042. Although no one in the air saw it, people in the town of Woersdorf saw Browning’s Mustang, P-51D 44-15630 BG-L “Junior Miss II” (usually the mount of Glen Zarnke), converge on the jet, then collide with it. Both burst into flames and spun in, the Mustang landing near a train station and the Me 262 falling some 600 meters away. Browning was killed; Riedsdel was severely wounded and died in hospital the next day.

Meanwhile, Lt Robert Foy had spotted five more Me 262s behind and below the first four. He went after the two that had broken right. “Just as I pulled up well in range of the element of two jets which broke to the right, the No. 2 jet split-S’ed and went straight toward the undercast. I continued on the tail of the lead 262 and he continued turning to the right back into the bomber formation. Several strikes were observed on his wings but he continued on to attack the bombers from about seven o’clock and low. He went directly beneath the bomber formation and I was in close trail with him, giving him short bursts and obtaining many strikes on his wing, both left and right. The 262 turned left, made a feint at the bomber formation, and it was during this turn to the left that I gave him a long burst, hitting his left engine which began to smoke quite badly. The jet swerved to the right as his left engine started to smoke, and then he straightened out on a straight course and pulled rapidly away from me.” Foy claimed a probable.

Lt. Johnnie Carter in Green Flight had given chase to the being pursued by Foy but had been outpaced by the jets and the diving Mustang. As the fight drew away from him, he looked down and saw another Me 262 below him, apparently without power. Carter split-S’ed onto the jet’s tail, opened fire, and hit the Me 262. The pilot’s canopy came off and the German flier bailed out.

Bochkay saw another Me 262 “going like hell followed by about seven P-51s, but out of range. I was about 7000 feet above them. The Me 262 then started to climb to the left, so I firewalled it again and cut him off in a left turn, pulling my sight down on him a about a 20 degree angle at 400 yards. I pulled the trigger but only one gun fired, and about six or seven rounds came out. I did not see hits on him so I broke off, leaving him to someone else. I then returned home alone, out of ammunition and with my windshield covered with oil from the first jet that I shot down.”


Next Northern California Aces Symposium: Two-War Aces

The next event on the Northern California Friends of the Aces schedule is an interesting topic: aces who flew in two wars (not guys who scored five in one conflict and then five more in another, but pilots who made ace and continued to fly long enough to see combat again in another conflict). The four fellows on the panel are quite interesting.

Perhaps most unique is Lt. Col. William Wescott, who spent World War II in the A-24 Banshee and A-20 Havoc. He stuck around long enough to find himself piloting the F-86 Sabre when Korea became hot, scoring five victories with the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing. His best-known mount for these kills was the Sabre “Michigan Center/Lady Frances,” which he shared with Francis Gabreski.

Col. Perry Dahl knocked down nine Japanese planes with the 475th Fighter Group, flying the P-38 (inlcuding one Lightning called ” 23 Skidoo”). He stayed in the Air Force, holding a number of training and staff positions, but went to Vietnam with the 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron, flying as a Forward Air Controller.

Lt. Col James Empey also flew FAC missions – in the O-1 Birddog, no less – when the Vietnam War needed him. When his career started, he flew Spitfires with the 52nd Fighter Group and, after the transition to Mustangs, shot down five German planes in a month to become an ace.

Finally, there’s a name that I found very familiar – Gen. Frank Gailer, who scored 5.5 victories with the 357th Fighter Group, then went on to fly the F-100 Super Sabre in Vietnam as commander of the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing. I couldn’t quite place Gailer until I realized that there’s a profile of his P-51B “Jeesil Peesil Mommy” in my book on the 357th – which really makes me eager to meet the man! Here’s the real plane in its photographic form:

The event is on Feb. 27 at the Vacaville Performing Arts Theatre. You can find out more through the Northern California Friends’ new website.