66 years ago: the 378th’s Bill Plummer downs a Dora

On March 27, 1945, each squadron in the 362nd Fighter Group launched 16-plane missions northeast of Frankfurt, a distance that required them to carry belly tanks. The missions destroyed much rail and road transport, and the 379th Fighter Squadron dropped its belly tanks on a concentration of vehicles, which trailing aircraft then set on fire with strafing. During its mission, the 377th lost two aircraft; a mid-air collision on take-off between Lt. Thomas Pantoliano in P-47D 42-28626 and Lt. Cecil Gurganus in P-47D 42-26345, resulted in moderate damage to Pantoliano’s plane but sent Gurganus’ plane out of control. The pilot was killed when the Thunderbolt crashed not far from base. Lt. William McKain’s P-47 was hit by flak and bellied in at A-82. Lt. Justin Pape of the 379th walked away from a take-off crash in P-47D 44-32274, which was substantially damaged.

The 378th went to the Lohr area and bombed five locomotives and damaged 10 flat cars loaded with trucks, then strafed traffic, knocking out 10 trucks. The 378th loaded up and returned to the area, where it destroyed five box cars and a locomotive near Flenaugen. Near Gurnburg, the flight spotted over 100 trucks, and strafing destroyed 52 of them, plus two horse-drawn vehicles. During the carnage, an Fw 190D-9 was shot down by Lt. Bill Plummer, who spotted the Dora pass under his right wing. Plummer peeled off and followed, his approach masked by a rain shower. “Upon leaving the shower I observed the enemy aircraft ahead about 500 yards,” he reported. Plummer closed in to 300 yards, then “fired a short burst, observing strikes on the side of the fuselage just to the left and rear of the cockpit Beginning to overshoot, I skidded to the left and saw the aircraft start a shallow turn to the right and crash into a field. No flames or smoke were seen, but the plane disintegrated upon hitting the ground.”

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66 Years ago: the 362nd Fighter Group Hastens the German Retreat

The 378th Fighter Squadron had a busy day on March 21, flying seven four-ship missions, starting with the bombing of a locomotive and four cars near Besheim and the strafing of a locomotive, eight horse-drawn vehicles, 13 trucks and a half-track. Captain Darwyn Shaver’s flight strafed an airfield, destroying two Ju 88s and damaging three more before shooting up an a horse-drawn wagon between Worms and Darmstadt. Capt. Paul Nunnelley led a raid on the marshalling yards at Geisheim, then the flight silenced four light gun positions west of Darmstadt. The fourth mission received a call from controller “Organ” to silence guns firing on U.S. troops entering Mainz. The four planes struck five buildings in Kastel, also destroying two trucks in the process. On the way home, the planes strafed 12 light flak positions, destroying nine of them. Major Richard Cline led the next mission to bomb an airfield near Weisbaden where 10 twin-engine aircraft were seen; these may have been decoys. The mission did yield 15 trucks and 17 horse-drawn wagons in the same area. Next up was Capt. Joe Hunter, whose flight destroyed a locomotive and five cars northwest of Weisbaden, then strafed and destroyed a truck, four command cars and a horse-drawn vehicle.

The day’s last mission was the most lucrative. Lt. Ralph Ellis, leading his second mission of the day, spotted a light flak position on the way to the target and strafed and destroyed it. The flight carried their bombs to a tunnel south of Grunstadt and blocked the entrance, destroying a locomotive and some cars in the process. The flight then strafed traffic nearby, accounting for 14 armored vehicles, five half-tracks, four trucks, and two horse-drawn vehicles.

The 379th Fighter Sqaudron dropped eight 500-pounders on the marshalling yards at Gustavsburg, where they destroyed 10 boxcars. “After making our dive bombing run we went in for one strafing pass to get two locomotives,” said Lt. Frederick Bly. “I was behind and off to the right of Red Two (Lt. Philip Whelan) when I saw a trail of white smoke come out of his ship. He called in and said he was hit and was heading out. He turned to the right in a shallow climb which was the wrong way and I told him to get across the (Rhine). About 15 seconds later he said he was bailing out. He didn’t get out and the ship was heading toward the ground so I told him to hurry up. About a half a minute later the ship hit the ground at a very fast speed and exploded.” Whelan was killed in the ensuing crash of P-47D-30 42-76453.

A later 12-plane 379th mission hit Bimburg, where 300 cars were spotted, and 21 bombs destroyed about 100 of them. The strafing that followed destroyed two locomotives and four trucks. A third missin by the squadron struck the yards at Mainz. The 377th attacked railroad equipment that was being evacuated by the retreating Germans.

Midway Mission

While working on the upper wing seams of Special Hobby’s Firefly V – a task more akin to woodworking than scale modeling – I started daydreaming of other projects that I could use as a form of distraction. I couldn’t justify any of them until I got an e-mail from the U.S.S. Hornet Museum, located not 1000 yards from my front door. They asked for help on two projects: a tribute to Steven Jurika, which would entail a B-25 and a TBD in 1:48 scale, and a Midway collection.

Midway, eh?

The ship asked for a representative collection of Hornet-based planes, but I already have two Midway models – Tom Cheek’s F4F-4 from VF-3/42 and, nearly finished, Iyozoh Fujita’s A6M2b from Soryu. I sounded the alarm and I now have volunteers in Laramie Wright, John Carr, Jim Priete, Randy Ray, Bill Ferrante, John Ferdico, and Mark Schynert, who are building Midway models, and Mike Burton and Domenic Ortiz, who have the needed models for the Jurika display.

I’ll be building Clayton Fisher’s SBD from VB-8. Fisher was the wingman of Stanhope Ring, who led the Hornet bombers out on a course that resulted in none of them finding the Japanese fleet. There’s no telling what the Horned SBDs could have done – might they have caught Hiryu and knocked out all four carriers, thus possibly sparing the Yorktown? Who knows. Instead, most of them ended up landing on Midway, then heading back to the Hornet.

Clayton Fisher is still around – I’ll be in contact with him this week to double check the side number of his SBD-3. In the meantime, I discovered I have a True Details interior, Moskit exhausts and some Tom’s Modelworks brass that will help jazz up the Hasegawa kit. Of course, I discovered this only after I ordered Eduard cockpit and dive brakes parts, Quickboost exhausts and wheels and a host of other goodies. All I know is that this will be a fully-outfitted Dauntless.

The aim is to have all these models in hand on June 1 for installation in the display – a temporary one, so the modelers all get their models back!

At this stage, we’ll have examples of the F4F, SBD, TBD, F2A-3, A6M2b “Zero,” B5N2, D3A1 and possible an E13A. Hopefully, we can use these models to illustrate the battle and to refute some of the myths.

There are some really great references for a display like this that do a lot to help the modeler. First off is John Lundstrom’s epic book The First Team, which documents U.S. Navy fighter operations up through Midway. It gives complete information for important sorties (including side numbers) and some markings drawings, but it’s really a great read and an exceptionally detailed history of the fighter side of things. Next is A Glorious Page in Our History, a gang effort by four great historians that provides an in-depth blow-by-blow of the battle. Again, it includes aircraft numbers and crews, making it very useful for picking out important aircraft and replicating their markings on models. Finally, there’s Jon Parshall’s Shattered Sword, which provides the first modern account of the battle that includes realistic assessments of the motives and objectives of the leaders in the battle and is comprehensive in its explanation of the battle from the Japanese side.

66 years ago: Me 262s meet the 357th FG in force

On March 19, 1945, the 357th Fighter Group provided an escort for bombers to Ruhland, and they met the largest force of Me 262s yet encountered – 36 jets. “They came in from six o’clock high in waves of 12, each wave consisting of four flights in V formation,” reported Lt. Col. Andy Evans. “Our 363rd Squadron, led by Lt. Col. (Tommy) Hayes, was able to prevent the last two waves from hitting the bombers. These jets went into a slight dive, breaking into two ship elements which easily outdistanced our pursuit.”

Capt. Robert Fifeld dropped his tanks and raced to guard the bombers, he said. “I got there just as they hit. I shot at about four different ones and finally singled one out. They were all diving and were getting away from me so I tried lobbing some long-range shots in and finally got some black smoke trailing from him. After that he slowed down and I started closing on him. After I got some more hits, his wingman got up close to him and then took off again when I got more hits. He trailed some white smoke and then went straight in.”

Despite the group’s efforts, the third wave of Me 262s downed two 452nd Bomb Group B-17s and one each from the 96th and 385 th. About 20 minutes after the attack, as the group was headed home, Maj. Robert Foy spotted three P-51s below him being stalked by four Me 262s. “I turned left to cut them off and at about 6000 feet the jets leveled off on a straight course. The jets apparently did not see our flight as we started to close on them. Suddenly, they appeared to pull away from us. Although I was still a bit out of range, I pulled the K-14 sight pip just a bit high of the jet aircraft and gave him two good short bursts just for good luck. I was frankly surprised to see the left engine nacelle of the jet start smoking a black trail. The jet immediately did a half roll to the left into a split-S. The jet continued its dive from 6000 feet into the ground, when it struck in a cloud of flame and smoke just west of an airdrome.” The unlucky German pilot was most likely Obfw. Mattuschka of JG.7.

66 years ago: Beeson’s bail-out and two Fw 190s for the 362nd FG

On March 16, the 362nd Fighter Group group flew 44 four-plane missions on what may have been its busiest day of the war. One 379th Fighter Squadron flight destroyed 24 enemy vehicles and a pair of flak guns in the Bad Kreuznach area. “Lt. (Jack) Taylor and his wingman went down to strafe some vehicles coming out of a small town just south of Bingen,” reported Lt. Thomas Peyton. “I saw no flak, but Lt. Taylor called in that he had been hit in the engine. He immediately headed northwest, trailing smoke and oil. After about three minutes he called that his oil pressure was zero and that he was going to belly in. He headed for an open field, but failed to clear the edge of a forest and crashed into the trees. The plane burned immediately upon hitting.” Taylor was killed in the crash of “Putt III,” P-47D-30 44-20619.

The 378th knocked out two tanks and four trucks in the Ober Bieber and destroyed 11 more trucks and horse-drawn vehicles trying to escape north during the same flight, but Lt. James Ward was hit again and had to crash-land near Koblenz. The 11:35 flight of the 379th bombed a marshalling yard, damaged about 20 empty oil cars and destroyed 29 trucks.  The 377th’s 1230 flight bombed and destroyed a tank, then took out 32 trucks with bombing and strafing. The 379th’s 1335 flight claimed 45 assorted motor vehicles, and the same squadron’s 1415 flight destroyed 36 trucks and two tanks. During the 1510 flight of the 377th, the squadron was striking targets in the Coblenz area in support of U.S. troops. “We were at approximately 4500 feet when Maj. (Thomas) Beeson started down on a strafing run,” said Lt. Glenn A. Jacobs. “He was hit by ainti-aircraft fire, causing his right wing root to catch fire.” Beeson bailed out of “Cherokee Maid,” P-47D-27 42-27335, about 14 miles east of the Remagen bridgehead; the Thunderbolt “did a half-roll and went right in,” Jacobs said. Beeson’s chute blossomed, but he was not seen to be moving after he landed on the ground. On March 31, the group received a telephone report that Maj. Beeson was at the 194th General Hospital suffering from burns to his legs. After Beeson had jumped from his flaming Thunderbolt, a German civilian wielding a large axe cornered him and turned him over to military police. His P-47 had crashed into the house of the burgomeister of the town of Herschbach, killing four people, and the locals sounded as if they would have preferred to kill the flyer. When darkness fell, he was taken to a nearby military hospital and treated by captive U.S. medics. Within a few days, American artillery shells began landing near the hospital and the Germans decided to leave the prisoners –among them Poles and Frenchmen who had been captives for more than five years – to their own devices. Beeson had been a POW for just two weeks before being American troops burst into the cellar where the POWs had been moved.

The 377th’s 1550 mission knocked down two Fw 190s, which fell to the guns of Lt. Cole E. Gardner and Lt. Arthur Davis, but lost Lt. Stan Krzywicki, who bailed out over enemy territory. Krzywicki was aided by some Russian laborers and was able to greet the advancing American forces on March 20. The 378th flew 15 four-ship missions, wiping out a total of 57 trucks, 29 rail cars, 22 horse-drawn vehicles, three half-tracks and four trailers.

67 Years ago: the 357th Finds a Fracas over Ulm

During a mission to Munich, in a nearly complete undercast near Ulm, Capt. Glendon Davis was flying with the second element in Blue Flight of the 364th Fighter Squadron, having lost his wingman in an earlier run-in with German fighters. The three Mustangs were climbing back through the clouds when five Bf 109s came down through a break in the clouds. They failed to spot the P-51s; “We let them get below us, then bounced them from above,” said Davis. “On the turn into them, my second element cut inside me and went for the first three 109s. I singled out the last one and he went for the deck. While he was looking back at me he touched the snow, but pulled it back and kept on going. I gave him a burst from 300 yards, observing strikes and he cut his engine and began a glide for an open snow-covered field. I closed on him, firing steadily all the way and observing my bullets completely riddle his airplane. Just as I pulled up to avoid collision he exploded. Pieces of his airplane hit the top and leading edge of my right wing, smashing it flat. I climbed back up to 29,000 feet and came home alone. I can truthfully say that I owe my life to the excellence of American materials and workmanship.”

Glendon Davis' "Pregnant Polecat"

While the Blue, White and Green Flights were tangling with the Germans below the bombers, Red Flight, led by Maj. Thomas Hayes, had stuck with the bombers. Soon, several “heavy fighters” tried to take advantage of the situation. “Three or maybe four twin-engine enemy aircraft made a sorry attack on a tight formation of three boxes of B-17s,” said Hayes, “and, I might add, with no apparent results. I called the flight to attack, and while going down they all broke up. One headed south, which I closed up with my wingman, Capt. Currie, as cover. My element, led by Capt. (Jack) Warren, chased two on a heading north. We turned only gradually without diving, which made the kill easy. At 300 yards my first had not enough lead but the enemy aircraft did nothing. Still closing, my second burst caught him square and started the left engine to burn. He reacted now by straightening out where he caught the full effect of all my guns. This was at about 50 to 100 yards and I observed his canopy in addition to other debris leave the plane. I went under him by 50 feet and noticed both engines burning. (I) also (noticed) the black crosses on the underside of the left wing, which was trimmed heavily with bright yellow. His belly was robin’s egg blue and the top a rusty brown. I broke away to come back again when I saw one parachute open and the aircraft go straight down, where it exploded in a snow field.” Because there was no return fire from the tail gunner when he was attacking at close range, Hayes assumed that no observer had been on board.

Tommy Hayes' "Frenesi"

Jack Warren spotted a single Fw 190 flying straight and level at 1000 feet. “I closed in to about 100 yards from astern and fired a short burst,” said Warren. “I observed numerous strikes on and around the cockpit. The enemy aircraft started a spiral to the left and crashed in an orchard. The pilot undoubtedly was killed. The enemy aircraft was entirely demolished and, when last seen, had started to burn.” Warren later spotted some Me 210s and shot down two of them, raising his score to five and making him the group’s first ace.

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Hubert Egenes of the 362nd spotted an enemy plane 5000 feet below him. “I went into a 45-degree dive and closed on the plane, a Bf 109, at approximately 10,000 feet,” said Egenes. “I commenced firing from about 250 yards range and observed strikes on his fuselage, wings and underside of the plane. The enemy ship caught fire from the oil coolers near the center of the fuselage underneath. The last I saw of him he was in a steep dive, burning, heading into the clouds. I saw no parachute. “Upon pulling up from this encounter at about 14,000 feet I noticed a Bf 109 forming on another 109’s wing. The first pilot was rocking his wings, apparently signaling for both of us to join up. They must have thought I was friendly, for they allowed me to fly up by the No. 2 man. We were all in a gentle climb straight ahead. Then I pulled up directly behind the wingman and started firing. Pieces flew off his plane and it began burning. He went out of control, rolled over on his back and went down.”

It wasn’t all victories this day, however. Lt. John England and his wingman, Lt. Alvin Pyeatt, were attacked by a trio of Bf 109s. “I peeled off to the right, making a very tight turn into the enemy aircraft,” said England. “Due to the tightness of the turn and a full fuselage tank I went into a high-speed stall (from) which took me about 10 seconds to recover. I did not see Lt. Pyeatt during or after this maneuver. Later I attempted to contact him over R/T, but there was no replay.” Pyeatt’s Mustang “Scrappy,” P-51B 43-6960, was shot down and crashed, killing the pilot.

66 years ago: Victory and Losses for the 357th Fighter Group

Northeast of Leipzig, the 362nd Fighter Squadron was escorting bombers when their leader, Lt. Col. Joseph Broadhead, spotted a dogfight about 8000 feet below them. “We peeled off and headed for the fight,” said Lt. John Duncan. “I circled over four Bf 109s, killing my air speed and playing for position. The Bf 109s came in from five o’clock and my wingman called them out, breaking into them. I did not hear his call, however, and completed my pass on the four below. I picked out the one on the left and we started a Lufberry to the left. I turned two or three times and got several bursts in on him, seeing many strikes. I had to quit firing when another flight passed between the enemy aircraft and myself. I resumed my attack, closing in to fire, and he went down spinning. The pilot did not bail out as his ship crashed to the earth below.

“I gave chase to four other Bf 109s, finally getting within firing range of a 109 under the clouds. I opened fire from long range, observing a few strikes. He slipped into some clouds. Then I lost him.”

Capt John Sublett was leasing Yellow Flight when a single Me 262 made an attack on the B-24 formation from immediately behind the bombers. “I immediately gave chase, my flight following me,” he said. “We chased him for five minutes when he made a 180-degree turn and started a large circle. I dropped my tanks and cut the circle. From long range I finally managed to fire two bursts, observing pieces coming off the opposite side of the 262. The damage could not have been very severe though for he poured in the coal and took off in an astounding hurry going south between Magdeburg and Berlin. It would have been futile to follow.”

Unfortunately, flak claimed the 363rd Fighter Squadron’s Lt. Matthew Crawford, who went down in P-51D 44-15161. The 363rd’s Lt. Patrick Mallione, flying P-51D “Melody’s Answer,” 44-14888, also failed to return, but no reason was found for his loss. The 364th Fighter Squadron’s Alva C. Murphy was also killed in action; his plane, P-51D 44-63765, was hit by flak.