67 years ago: the Fourth’s Franklin Young destroys a jet

The Fourth Fighter Group celebrated the new year of 1945 by flying a two-part escort to Stendal, with Maj. Frank Glover and Maj. Pierce McKennon leading. Glover’s group was vectored toward the Wittenburg area, where 15 enemy fighters were spotted at low altitude. Four more were above them as top cover. Lt. Ben Griffin was on his first mission and he followed his leader, Lt. Donald Pierini, down on the bounce, watching as two of the Bf 109s were sent crashing into the snow-covered fields below him by Lt. Franklin Young , Lt. Gilbert Kesler and Lt. Alvin Wallace. Meanwhile, the high cover remained above them, “and finally one began to dive behind our section,” said Van Chandler, who was on Pierini’s wing. “I called him into Lt. Pierini and he told me to go after him and he would cover me.” Chandler lost sight of the Bf 109, but a few minute later spotted two more Bf 109s on the deck at about 50 feet. Chandler fired a short burst and got strikes, and his target rolled over and crashed to earth. The second Bf 109 led Pierini across a town before he began getting strikes. The plane suddenly “pulled up sharply and did a wingover into the ground and exploded,” confirmed Lt. Young. At that point, the section spotted three Me 262s from III/JG.7, which were charged with supporting the piston-engined fighters of JG.300 and JG.301. The Americans dove on them and Young scored hits on the aircraft of Lt. Heinrich Lonnecker, whose jet crashed west of Fassberg.

67 Years Ago: the 362nd FG loses Lts. Robert Daw and “Mouse” Maucini

The 362nd Fighter Group flew seven missions, five in support of III Corps, on December 30, 1944. A sixth went to the Neunkirchen marshalling yard and a seventh one attacked gun emplacements east of Bastogne. At Neunkirchen, six large fires were started among about 1000 rail cars stretched over a 10-mile span of rail lines, and 200 rail cars north of Baumholder were hit with napalm. A supply dump northeast of Bastogne was set on fire. The 378th hit a supply dump near Bourcy, leaving it burning, and destroyed two tanks and 14 gun positions near Derenach. Lt. Robert Racine and Lt. Robert E. Daw of the 377th spotted some armed vehicles on the edge of some woods and began strafing them. “On our last pass I looked back and saw Lt. Daw going over the edge of the forest very low,” said Racine. “In a few moments, I looked back and saw Lt. Daw going straight off his pass about 100 feet off the ground. About the same time, Lt. Daw, sounding very excited, called over the radio that he just flew through some trees and he was going in. Red Leader, not understanding his call, told him to bail out if he was in trouble. Lt. Daw then called again that his engine was dead and he was going in.” Daw, flying “Spunky,” P-47D-11 42-75392, bellied in safely near Benonchamps, Luxembourg, about a mile from American lines. It wasn’t until a month later he was declared killed in action; Daw may have been captured and executed by SS troops in the area. Lt. Joseph J. Maucini Jr. of the 378th was hit by flak and bailed out south of A-82, but his parachute failed to open.

67 Years Ago: The 362nd’s Battle of the Bulge Begins

On December 17, the 362nd Fighter Group flew 10 missions in support of XII Corps and VIII Corps. Although weather prevented the results of bombing from being seen in many cases, the group claimed nine gun positions, four locomotives and 55 rail cars destroyed or damaged. The 378th Fighter Squadron caught a 100-vehicle road convoy moving north from Brenschelbach and repeated strafing left all of the vehicles burning. The group earned kudos from the ground controller by silencing mortar positions north of Sarreguimines and for strafing an artillery position in the woods nearby. Near Dahlen, 40 Fw 190s, probably of JG.4, attacked eight 377th FS planes “very aggressively” and, in the ensuing scrap, one Fw 190 was destroyed by Maj. Loren Herway who terrified the pilot by firing four five-inch rockets past him, resulting in the panicked German flying into the ground. One other Fw 190 was damaged at no loss to the Thunderbolts. However, flak claimed Lt. Col. Richard Harbeson, the deputy group commander, while he was strafing a train near Landstuhl. After fighting to keep the plane in the air, “He finally hit a steeple on a building and ended up upside down,” said Lt. Ralph Ellis. Harbeson brought P-47D-28-RA 42-28801 down atop the belfry of the Eichelscheider Hof farm, splintering the wooden roof and ripping off the wings of his P-47 in the process, and was able to get out of his plane and wave from the rooftop that he was okay before being captured. Maj. Berry Chandler was selected to replace him, and Carroll Peterson took over as the CO of the 379th. A second 378th train-busting mission destroyed a 15-car train and its locomotive with phosphorus, general purpose and napalm bombs.

Richard Harbeson’s P-47D “Barbara” atop the belfry of Eishelscheider Hof

On December 18, the group sent out planes loaded with the same ordnance mixture as the previous day’s last mission to the Nunschweiler area, where they put it to good use, destroying 53 trucks, 24 rail cars and a locomotive, 21 gun positions and three supply dumps. The group ran a second mission with 11 planes, dropping into the woods where tanks were reported but observing no results. On the way home, they strafed and destroyed two tanks on a nearby road.

The next day, the weather moved in again, limiting the group to one mission per squadron. Gun positions near Gersheim on the Blies River were silenced by general-purpose bombs and M-76 incendiaries dropped by the 378th. The squadron also bombed a gun position near Bliesdalheim, but the results were unknown. Meanwhile, the 377th went after a tank column near Oberstein, and flak was heavy. “We were orbiting over the target area when several bursts of heavy flak (went off) behind me,” said Lt. Robert Campbell, who was leading Yellow Flight. “Lt. (Stanley) Krzywicki was crossing under me and called he was hit.” Campbell told Kryzwicki, flying P-47D-28-RE 44-19783 “Nancy Jane,” to jettison his bombs and head for home, and Kryzwicki started back to base, but a few minutes later, with bombs still on board, he radioed his leader. “He called in and said he thought he was OK and wanted to bomb with me,” said Campbell. “I said OK. Smoke was coming out of his supercharger in large black gobs. He no sooner entered my flight when he said he couldn’t make it and headed out once more. He changed to a different radio channel and called ‘Ripsaw’ and headed out.” Kryzwicki bailed out of his plane a few minutes later, and watched it slam into the ground just east of Kirn. He evaded and was able to return to the group.

The 379th sent 12 planes out to hit the marshalling yard at Weilerbach. “We made our bomb run from east to west and found that the target was protected with intense light flak,” reported Lt. Barton Williams. “As I pulled off the target to the north, I noticed that some of the flak was coming from some gun pits just to the south of the tracks. I turned back south and made a strafing run on these pits. As I pulled away, I saw Lt. (James) Nance who was flying Red Four, coming up behind me trailing white smoke. Just then he called in that he had been hit and was heading out. I then turned around to pick him up. He was headed east and going down as I came around.” Williams watched Nance belly-land “Toochy,” P-47D-26 42-28389, in an open field. “I then circled to see if he was all right and saw him climb out of the plane and run towards a woods about a quarter of a mile from where he landed.” Nance successfully evaded to return to the group.