68 Years Ago: The Fourth Fighter Group’s First Trips to Berlin

On 3 March, Don Blakeslee commanded an escort to Berlin, the group’s first trip to the German capitol. Flights from 335 and 336 Squadrons broke off from the main body to fend off enemy aircraft. With nine planes, 336 Squadron got into a battle with 60 enemy fighters and claimed eight victories, but in turn lost Lts. Vermont Garrison, Glenn Herter and Philip “Pappy” Dunn. Herter was lured down by the low element of German fighters and was bounced; he died when his Mustang crashed. Dunn got lost on the way home, and with his radio out and no way to get a vector to cross the Channel he headed for Spain. Dunn had already destroyed an Me 210 during the mission, and eight miles from the border he spotted an He 111. Unable to resist, Dunn shot down the bomber, then ran out of gas as he circled to watch it crash, ending up a POW. The same fate befell Garrison, who managed to destroy two enemy planes with three of his four guns jammed. Unfortunately, his P-51B was hit by flak. Lt. George Barnes was last seen off the Dutch coast on his way home with his engine cutting out badly. He was never seen again.

The next day, the group returned to Berlin. Just before the bombers reached the initial point, 20 Bf 109s and Fw 190s swarmed in to attack, eight from head on in two sections with the others as top cover. After the first eight made their attacks, the top cover dove on the Fourth. Lt. Hugh Ward of 335 Squadron gave chase to a Bf 109 in a dive. “I opened fire as he started a slow turn to the left. I observed strikes on his wing root. He realized the situation and flicked over, and he dove straight down with me on his tail. I gave him a three-second burst with good strikes. He continued straight down, heading for heavy clouds as I began to overrun him. I pulled back on the throttle and gave him another blast. I got a heavy concentration of strikes all over his cockpit and engine covering. I kept firing as the Bf 109 started to come apart. I attempted to back off but was too late. A large section of the enemy aircraft smashed my canopy and windscreen, and it must have sheared off most of my tail section. My plane began to snap viciously, end-over-end, and my right wing snapped off. I was stunned momentarily, but I managed to jettison my canopy. I pulled my harness release, which threw me out of the cockpit. I delayed opening my chute because of the speed, and I fell through the cloud layer. I opened my chute just in time. I landed in the suburbs of Berlin and I was captured by civilians.”

Nicholas “Cowboy” Megura was behind Ward. “At 18,000 feet, the P-51’s wing came off at the root and disintegrated. The canopy and tail came off as I dodged past. Pieces carried away my antenna and hit my stabilizer.”

Megura’s controls were frozen by compressability, and he had to use trim to pick up the nose. “The only evasive action taken by the enemy aircraft was a weave to right or left. I barrel-rolled and positioned myself 1000 feet above and to the side of him. I dropped flaps and dove astern. This engagement brought us down to 2000 feet. Just as I was about to fire, the enemy aircraft pulled up sharply 3000 feet and jettisoned its canopy. The pilot bailed out. The enemy aircraft crashed and burned.” Clearing his tail, Megura discovered he was over a grass aerodrome, and he strafed and set fire to a Ju 52, then strafed a locomotive pulling 10 or 12 cars. “Seeing that it was time to ‘leave out,’ I set course for home.”

Don Gentile had what he described as a “hairy” day. “I took off with my wingman Johnny Godfrey, and the rest of the flight was to join me, but due to weather we never met,” he wrote in an account found on the back of his log book.

They broke overcast at 33,000 feet after flying instruments for an hour. “After being on course for a couple hours still no one joined us, so we decided to continue on alone. When we were approximately 100 miles from the target the weather seemed to clear up as if you would take a knife and cut it. In the distance I spotted approximately 50 Do 217s in formation climbing for altitude and above them were about 100 Fw 190s. They were getting ready to attack the ‘Big Boys’ head on. I called Johnny and asked him if he wanted to go ahead and attack knowing there were no other friendly fighters in this area. So, as usual, Johnny said ‘You’re the boss.’”

Gentile went for the Do 217s, hoping to disrupt their formation so the bombers could unload before the German fighters could get reorganized. “I began firing at tail end ‘Charlie’ and the Do’s started diving for the deck. About this time Johnny started screaming that the 100-plus Fw’s were coming down on us The Do’s were cross-firing on us at the same time. I had one Do smoking badly when I had to break away due to the 100+ coming in on us. Johnny and I met them head on going through the complete German formation; from then on all hell broke loose,” said Gentile.

“Planes were going up and down and every which way. I thought this was it. In the midst of twisting and turning I managed to get on an Fw, who overshot me, and was lucky enough to get him. Johnny started to scream (that) 50 more were coming in at 6 o’clock, so I started to aileron roll for the deck. I had to pull up in a vertical climb into the Fw’s. At this time I noticed a brightly-painted Fw on my tail blazing away and Johnny screaming for me to break. I broke so hard that my plane started doing snap-rolls; when I got the aircraft under control the Fw was slightly ahead and above with me on his tail diving and twisting, which lasted a good 10 minutes. I managed to get his aircraft on fire and noticed he had it, so I broke away.” With their ammunition gone, the two headed for home. “We had to dive for the clouds with them on our tail, skidding at the same time. By the grace of God we reached the cloud bank, and after flying instruments for a while we let down through (the bottom of the cloud deck). During the combat I lost my maps so I didn’t know my position, and Johnny didn’t know either so we took the general direction home.”

Gentile and Godfrey landed at Hurn Airdrome, all but out of gas. “Thank God for a good wingman, or I wouldn’t be able to write this today.”

During the mission, Paul Ellington suffered an engine failure and bailed out; he became a POW. On the return home, Lt. Robert Richards was killed in a crash-landing at the advanced base at Framlingham.  

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