67 years ago: The 357th FG tangles with the Me 262

The 357th Fighter Group escorted B-17s to the marshalling yards at Heillbrunn on 20 January, 1945. Afterward, the 364th Fighter Squadron was strafing trains when the pilots spotted two Me 262s near Braunschweig. “It appeared one 262 pilot was checking out the other one in the jet,” said Richard Peterson. The Me 262s split up, one diving from to 18,000 feet while the second one climbed to 24,000 feet, and then began to circle around the Mustangs. “It looked to me that the upper jet was waiting for me to attack the lower one,” Peterson said. He told Lt. Dale Karger and White Flight to deal with the high Me 262; they climbed to attack, and the Me 262 turned into them, coming head on but never firing. Karger and wingman Lt. Lloyd Zacharie reversed course and started chasing the jet, but the Me 262 pulled away and nearly disappeared into the distance. Then, possibly because the pilot though he had lost the Mustangs, he started a long left turn. The Mustangs cut the corner and Karger fired a burst that hit near the cockpit. The pilot bailed out and his jet did a neat split-S into the ground.

“When the upper 262 was eliminated, the remaining jet headed for home in a hurry,” said Peterson. He tried to dive on the jet, but before he could line up a shot the Me 262 sped away.

Not to be dissuaded, Peterson led his remaining two flights to Lechfeld, where he thought the surviving jet would head to land. “We were not sure which way the jet would approach the runway, so Lt. (Ernest) Tiede and I cruised toward the south end. Lt. Ed Haydon and Lt. Roland Wright spotted him coming in from the north, so Lt. Haydon went for the jet, but he was too high and made an easy target for the flak gunners.”

“I heard Maj. Peterson tell Lt. Haydon to hit the deck as light flak was coming up before he reached the field in his run,” said Lt. Robert Schimanski. Then, “I heard someone say, ‘I’m on fire, I’m bailing out.’” P-51D “Lady Nelda” was lost, but Haydon floated down safely on the airfield and became a POW.

Following right behind him after the Me 262 – but at a lower altitude – was Wright. “I continued on in, getting close to the deck, and saw numerous strikes on the cockpit and wing area of the enemy aircraft,” said Wright. “I stayed on the deck taking evasive action until I was away from the field, as the flak was thick all around me. After getting away from the field I looked back and saw black smoke coming from the field and believe the Me 262 burned.”

 

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68 Years Ago: “I’m down here! By the railroad tracks! With a 190!”

On Jan. 14, 1944, during a sweep of northern France, the Fourth Fighter Group bounced 15 Fw 190s, two falling to Don Gentile, one each to F/O Robert Richards and Lt. Vermont Garrison and one shared between Garrison and “Red Dog” Norley.

Gentile, who was flying with Richards as his wingman, saw the German formation fan out into two groups. “I picked two stragglers flying north and attacked at 8 o’clock to the enemy aircraft, which were in a 50-degree dive,” said Gentile. “I closed in and fired a long burst at the number two 190 and observed strikes around the left side of the cockpit, after which I saw smoke coming out.” Gentile’s prey went into a spiraling dive and crashed.

Gentile immediately shifted his attention to the number one Fw 190 and closed in to about 250 yards and fired, chasing the Fw 190 in a shallow dive. “As I was trying to follow him down in his slipstream to get another shot, he hit the woods. I pulled out, just missing the woods myself.”]

“Just as I pulled up I was jumped by two 190s, and then the fun really started. The number one 190 was so close to me that I heard his guns. I broke and the first 190 went over me. I stayed in a port turn because the number two was still coming in. In the meantime, the number one had pulled up sharply to position himself for another attack, but I quickly swung to starboard and fired a short burst at number two, whom I never saw again. All this action took place at tree-top height. I swung port to get away from the number one man, who was firing but giving too much deflection. I used the last of my ammo on the last burst at the number two 190. I was trying to out-turn him, but he stayed inside me.” At about this point, Gentile radioed: “Help! Help! I’m being clobbered!” When Willard Millikan calmly asked him for his call sign and position, all he could stammer was “I’m down here! By the railroad tracks! With a 190!”

“I suddenly flicked and just about wiped myself out on the trees,” Gentile said. “Recovering, I reversed my turn to starboard, and there he was, still inside me and still shooting like hell. I kept on turning and skidding. He slid under and overshot, and I reversed again. We met head on, and he was still firing.”

“For the next 10 minutes we kept reversing turns from head-on attacks, trying to get on each other’s tails,” Gentile said. “The last time he came in he didn’t shoot, so he must have been out of ammunition. He then left and I felt like getting out and doing the rhumba. I climbed up slowly and came home.”

Later, near Soissons, the group tangled with a dozen more Fw 190s, with 334 Squadron claiming six of these. Duane Beeson was one of the first to attack. “We saw 10 or 12 Fw 190s about 8000 feet below us diving inland,” he said. “I picked one of the last four and opened fire at about 250 yards. I saw several strikes and large flashes in the wing roots and observed a large hole in his cockpit hood. The aircraft fell off into a dive, turned over on the way down, and exploded as it hit the ground.”

Lt. Alexander Rafalovich was Beeson’s wingman during the attack. He fired two bursts at an Fw 190 at the rear of the formation. “I observed severe strikes on both wings and I saw fire coming from his engine. I pulled away to avoid an explosion. Lt. (Edmund) Whalen came in from behind, slightly astern.” The two shared credit for the Fw 190.

Other Fw 190s were credited to Lt. Herbert Blanchfield, Lt. Hippolitus “Tom” Biel and Lt. Gerald Montgomery.