67 Years Ago: The 362nd Fighter Group Loses its B-26 and Hits a Snag

On October 19, the 379th launched another escort attempt, but when the medium bombers were recalled because of weather, the fighters went on a strafing mission, destroying five locomotives and damaging a barracks area. The 378th bombed the village of Vehe; the pilots spotted seven or eight tanks in the town, and the spotter said their bombing was very accurate. One of the 378th’s planes was hit by flak but it returned safely.

The same could not be said for “the Plastered Bastard,” the group’s B-26 Marauder. The Marauder had replaced a Cessna UC-78 as the group hack; it had been left behind by a bomber unit when it moved, and Col. Joe Laughlin was told by Gen. Otto Weyland that it was his if the group’s mechanics could get it working. That they did, and for several months the B-26 (less guns and armor) was a reliable transport, hauling parts from Britain and taking personnel to and from leaves in London, Paris and elsewhere. This speedy air taxi made the group the envy of other Ninth Air Force fighter groups, especially the 406thFighter Group, whose commander, Col. Anthony V. Grosetta, made a point of how he needed a B-26 “like Joe has” at every Tactical Air Command staff meeting.

Grosetta, known by his nickname “Snag,” contended that the 406th should get its turn with the B-26, or that the 362ndshould at least share.

In late October, with Maj. Tom Beeson at the controls, the B-26 made another run to England and back, but on his return, Beeson found the continent socked in. Controllers gave him a steer to Reims, but it was completely covered in cloud; they then helpfully suggested that he head for Mourmelon le Grand, where a C-47 had felt its way out of the murk and made a landing 20 minutes earlier. Mourmelon just happened to be the base of the 406th.

Beeson headed for Mourmelon, still in the thick of zero-visibility conditions. When he finally spotted the runway, he was over the very end, and he’d have to go around again, but fuel would permit only one more pass. He radioed that he’d try one more time and, if that failed, all aboard would be bailing out. He lined up and descended through the clouds, and touched down on the PSP field – but again, well down the runway. With only a few hundred feet of runway left, the B-26’s crew pulled the emergency brake handle, and the three wheels locked and dug into the PSP, resulting in several hundred feet of steel planks dragging behind the skidding bomber. The fuselage was bent, PSP planks had fouled the propellers thanks to the violence of the landing, and the engines’ planetary gears were now shot thanks to the props’ sudden stops. Beeson sheepishly walked to the 406th’s control building which was nearly empty thanks to the weather’s adverse effects on operations; he found a phone and called Col. Laughlin, asking if he should travel into town to find someone from the 406th.

“Tom, find a jeep and get the hell back here as fast as you can,” said Laughlin. When Beeson was safely back at Reims, Laughlin called Grosetta. “Snag, this is Joe,” he said. “You know, we’re grounded today too, and I’ve been thinking about how well our groups have done by cooperating and backing each other up. You know that B-26 you’ve been asking me about for so long? Well… Maybe I’ve been unfair to you, so I’ve decided to let you have it.”

“Joe, that’s a fine gesture on your part,” said Grosetta. “I might even let you use it sometime if you need it. When can we get it?”

“Well, Snag, as a matter of fact we’ve already delivered it. That B-26 is sitting on your field right now.” Grosetta was effusive in his thanks and went to see his gift; Laughlin told his staff to wait 15 minutes and be prepared to see “smoke curl out of the receiver.” Sure enough, the phone rang. “Joe, you lousy sonofabitch! Don’t you realize my airstrip is destroyed? How the hell am I going to explain to General Weyland why we can’t fly any combat missions?”

Luckily, the runway damage was less severe than originally thought and the engineers had the field repaired before the weather cleared enough for flying. The B-26 was hauled to the scrapyard; the next 362ndutility plane was a more sedate C-47A.


67 Years Ago: the 362nd Fighter Group Catches the Luftwaffe on the Ground

The 362nd Fighter Group was sent to strafe three supposedly crowded airfields in the morning of October 8, 1944, but one appeared empty and the other two were socked in by weather. However, the 378th’s Lt. Howard Kelgard shot down a Do 217 he encountered flying south from Mainz. “The Do 217 camouflage was brown with green patches and streaks of black,” he recalled. As his flight crossed the Rhine, Kelgard spotted the enemy plane and dove on it, but “on the way down I lost him momentarily. I picked him up again going southeast, down the middle of the river. I closed to 100 yards and he went into some ground fog over the river. I opened up dead astern, observing strikes all over the Do 217. One engine started smoking.” All the while, the gunner in the Do 217 fired back at Kelgard, who stayed on his target. “He made a sharp turn to the right and I broke off the attack to the right also, then made a sharp left turn and got a 70-degree deflection shot into the fuselage. The Dornier, with smoke pouring from one engine, fell off to the right and exploded against the river bank.”

In the afternoon, the three fields were visited again after the weather had lifted. At Gelchsheim, the 379th strafed and destroyed three Do 217s, one Me 410 and two Me 210s, claimed as probables three He 177s, a Ju 88, a Bf 110, two Me 410s and a Bf 109, and damaged a Ju 88. Crailsheim, the 378th’s target, was crowded with 40 Bf 109s and six Ju 88s. “Upon reaching the target, the visibility was very poor and the target was hard to spot,” reported Lt. Alfred Flater. “After finding the target we circled to the east and started our dive. We went to the south of the field on the first pass and Red Leader (Lt. Col. Joe Laughlin) blew up a locomotive. Using the fire as a marker, we started our second dive. I was the last man to go down. When I reached the field there were numerous fires of enemy aircraft burning. I was to the right of the main group of planes, but spotted three Bf 109s sitting wingtip to wingtip and opened fire on them. As I passed over there was a flash from under me that appeared to be No. 3 catching on fire. Lt. Col. Laughlin observed my pass and said that I got all three.”

Red Flight had initially missed the target, but Laughlin’s pass cleared the way for them. Lt. Kenneth Placek, flying as Red Three, put a long burst into a Bf 109 and it exploded. Laughlin ordered Yellow Flight down 30 seconds after Red Flight, and Lt. Herbert Kramer led his four Thunderbolts into the haze. “I was on the deck a mile away from the field before I saw it,” said Kramer. “I observed 12 to 15 aircraft parked on the south side of the field. Both Ju 88s and Bf 109s were dispersed there. I opened fire on a Ju 88 at 300 yards and closed to about 100 yards and saw strikes on the fuselage and right wing root. I encountered light arms and 20mm fire all the time I was over the field and received hits in my flaps and horizontal stabilizer.”

Tucked in close on Kramer was Lt. Victor Moore. “We came across the field and I fired on a Bf 109 which was in front of me,” he said. “I saw many strikes and just as I pulled up I saw a red flash like an explosion. I was hit several times by flak and didn’t make a second pass.”

While Yellow Leader and Yellow Two drew flak, Yellow Three and Four, Lts. Harry Baer and Paul Carlisle, made an east to west pass on two planes in the middle of the field, a Ju 88 and a Bf 109. Baer started firing; “I saw strikes on both planes and a small fire started in one of them,” he said. “My wingman saw them burst into flames.”

The two Thunderbolts pulled up to 6000 feet, then came back for a second pass, firing on a Bf 109 on the south side of the field. “I saw strikes on it and a small fire starting,” reported Baer. “My wingman started firing as soon as I pulled up. As soon as he stopped, the Bf 109 blew up.”

Carlisle also sprayed a Ju 88 with machine gun fire, but “after my pass I was hit several times by flak and was unable to see the results of my fire.”

Blue Flight was down to three planes because of an abort, but it found the target through the haze on its second attempt. “There were six Bf 109s lined up wingtip to wingtip,” reported Lt. Keith Nichols. “I concentrated my fire on this group of planes. I saw good hits on the first three and scattered hits on the others.” The official records indicate that the 378th destroyed eight Bf 109s and a Ju 88 and damaged four Bf 109s and a Ju 88 in the attack.

The 377th responded to reports of heavy barge traffic between Strasbourg and Saarebourg by bombing six locks along the stretch just east of Saarebourg.