68 years ago: Gardelegen gets hit by the 362nd Fighter Group

On April 29, 1944, the 362nd Fighter Group provided withdrawal escort for bombers returning from Berlin, but on take-off, Capt. Thurman Morrison’s P-47 failed to get airborne. “I recognized at the ‘go-no go’ point along the runway that he was not going to make it off the ground,” said Bob McKee, his wingman, who was also taking off at the time. “I clicked on my throttle’s water injection switch to give me extra power and eased off the PSP runway, to the right and over the sod area as I began to overrun Morrison’s aircraft.” McKee got off the ground in time to see Morrison’s plane skid into a gasoline dump containing 400,000 gallons of fuel, stored and camouflaged by the RAF right at the end of the runway. The dump erupted in a titanic fireball.

McKee’s plane was flipped onto its right side at 50 feet of altitude and very little speed, and only some frantic flying saved McKee from going in, too. Even more shocking than this accident was Morrison’s appearance back at the operations tent later. “He walked in carrying his parachute, utterly unscathed,” said “Andy” Anderson, the 379th’s S-2. “Memphis Rebel,” P-47D 42-75142, had skidded through a sheet of flame, then pivoted on its belly around 180 degrees, keeping its pilot safe until it emerged on the other side. The stunned but uninjured Morrison was cut out of his plane by two British anti-aircraft gunners.

The 379th’s Blue Flight escorted a crippled B-17 from the Ruhr to the English Channel. The 378thfailed to find any American planes to rendezvous with, but spotted German planes on the airfield at Gardelegen. Red and Yellow flights were initially ordered to strafe while the other two flights provided top cover, but Yellow Flight had several hung tanks and Green Flight took its place. “The field came into sight as we lifted up over the crest of a hill,” Capt. Tom Chloupek reported. “I opened fire on one Fw 190 and three Ju 87s. I observed many hits on these planes and claim them probably destroyed. As I passed over the planes I strafed a large hangar with many, many hits. As I pulled up over the hangar I realized there was a second field on the other side with eight to 10 Gothas (Go 242s) on it. I had not observed these previously due to cloud cover. I could not bring my guns to bear on the gliders and, unfortunately, my second flight had already moved to the other field, so I could not direct them.” Chloupek had only encountered light flak during his first pass, but as he turned for a second pass large-caliber flak began firing at him and he decided to reform the squadron and avoid the potential for heavy losses.

Lt. Floyd Mills did spot the gliders. “I fired on a Gotha 242 glider dispersed on the east side of the field,” he said. “I began firing from 350 yards, 20 feet above the ground. I noticed strikes on the tail and back of the canopy and fuselage. I did not notice any indication of destruction.”

Lt. Joseph J. Maucini spotted an Me 410 in the center of the field, then sighted a Ju 88 directly ahead of it. “I opened fire on the first at 700 yards and closed to about 50 yards,” he said. “I didn’t see tracer strikes as I had no API ammunition, but the hits were going right into the plane. I passed over this plane and opened fire on the second from about 500 yards. This was smoking as I passed over it.”

Lt. Ken Skeen spotted an Me 410 in a dispersal and “opened fire at 600 feet,” he reported, “observing hits on the left wing, engine and fuselage. As I closed I observed smoke and then flames coming from the left engine.” The total for the day was two Me 410s destroyed, four probables and two damaged.

68 years ago: the 362nd FG demolishes the airfield at Muhldorf

Perhaps it was because the 362nd Fighter Group’s field had been strafed the previous night. Whatever the case, the group took out its displeasure on the airfield at Muhldorf on April 26, 1945. 16 planes of the 379th, led by Lt. Lon Jackson (who had led the attack at the airfield at Enger) first silenced the flak around the field with M27 fragmentation bombs and then strafed with relative impunity. “Captain Jackson did a great job of planning this mission,” remembered Gene Martin, one of the pilots in on this show. “When we left, the place was a real mess.” The squadron destroyed 42, probably destroyed 3 and damaged 17, almost all of them Fw 190s or Bf 109s.  Joe Mullen claimed three Fw 190s and two Ju 88s,  but for his trouble was hit five times by flak. After getting back to base, “I had to paint a new insignia for my ship” on the cowling, he wrote.

11 other missions were flown during the day, many against the town of Neustadt. During one of these missions, after bombing the town, Blue and Green Flights of the 379thwere looking for tanks on the roads out of town. “Capt. (Timothy) Ruane made a very steep dive from 2500 feet to check a small automobile,” said Lt. Raymond Morris, the Green Flight leader. “He hit a tree and pulled up, rolling to the left as he did so, and then crashed into the ground. He hit on his right wing and back. The airplane exploded and left three small fires.” Ruane was killed in the crash of P-47D-28-RE 44-89705.

One 378th mission attacked the rail yards at Stankau, which contained 25 flat cars with about 16 trucks on them and 10 additional boxcars. While working these over, they hit an adjacent warehouse, triggering a series of huge explosions. During one of the 377th’s missions, they were jumped by two Bf 109s, one of which was shot down by Lt. Kent Geyer, one of the group’s original pilots. The other was damaged but escaped into the haze.

Kent Geyer adds a victory marking to the side of his P-47


68 years ago: The 362nd Fighter Group works on the railroads

On April 22, 1944, the 362nd Fighter Group was assigned a set of rail-busting missions around the rail yards at Malines. The 378th Fighter Squadron used a variety of approaches and altitudes to throw off the flak gunners, scoring seven direct hits on the western-most engine shed. The 379th dived from 10,000 feet and pressed their releases to 2,500 feet, scoring six hits on an engine shed. “After the bomb run, I broke left for reform and saw a P-47 to my left and at about 6500 feet, throwing flame from the supercharger bucket,” reported Capt. Bill Flavin, the leader of Blue Flight. It was Lt. Vernon P. Ligon, who was flying as a spare the flight, but had followed the squadron in; light flak damaged his P-47D-10-RE 42-75041 as he was pulling off of the target. “The ship was evidently under control and the pilot tried to extinguish the fire by violent dives and zooms. Finally, the ship turned over and the pilot bailed out approximately three to five miles from the target.”  Ligon was seen running on the ground northeast of Brussels, but he soon became a prisoner of war. Ligon, who was flying his 26thmission, was sent to a camp but later escaped for a short period before being recaptured and interned in Moosburg. Ligon had the dubious distinction of also being held as a POW for five years during the Vietnam War.

In the afternoon, the group flew a sweep of the area around Lingen as part of a diversion for a larger raid on Germany, shooting up rail traffic. Col. Morton Magoffin destroyed a locomotive, and Lt. Robert McKee claimed another one in Gutersloh. Lt. George Rarey’s plane, “Archy and Mehatibel,” was damaged by flak during the attack. Red Flight of the 377th has a guest, Major Gene Arth of the 406thFighter Group, flying a familiarization mission. “I saw a train running south on the track from Meppen to Lingen and took Red Flight down to strafe,” said Capt. Tom Beeson, who had Arth on his wing. “We made one attack from west to east and encountered no ground fire whatsoever. The train stopped and we turned back and strafed again, this time from east to west, and destroyed the locomotive. I encountered no ground fire on this second attack, but as I pulled up to the left I saw bursts of 20mm flak over the target area. At the same time, I saw a ship dive, crash into the yard of a farmhouse and explode. Then my Number Three man (Lt. Edwin Fisher) called that my number two man, Maj. Arth, had crashed. Nobody in the flight saw a parachute, and Number Three noted Maj. Arth’s closed canopy as he went down. I do not believe there is any possibility of his having lived through the crash.” Arth was indeed killed in the crash of P-47D-11-RE 42-75596.

67 years ago: the Fourth Fighter Group’s Biggest Day

On 16 April, the Fourth Fighter Group scored the biggest one-day bag in its history. Group “A,” commanded by Lt. Col. Sidney Woods, and group “B,” under Maj. Louis “Red Dog” Norley, flew an escort to Rosenheim and Prague, which was followed by a strafing mission around Karlsbad, Salzburg and Prague. 334 Squadron attacked Gablingen Aerodrome and devastated it. “All sections pulled up in line abreast,” said Norley. “We made the first pass from southwest to northeast. Maj. (Pierce) McKennon called and said that he could see no flak. We pulled up to starboard and came in for the second pass. On my third pass I observed several columns of smoke and several more beginning to burn.”

The carnage was impressive, with Lt. Kenneth Helfrect and Lt. William Antonides each destroying five planes, Norley and Lt. Gordon Denson each getting four, and Lt. Raymond Dyer, Lt. William Spencer, Lt. James Ayers, Lt. William O’Bryan and Lt. Arthur Bowers each destroying three. Three pilots each bagged a pair, and four more pilots, including Lt. Paul Burnett, destroyed one. However, Burnett did not return from the mission; Burnett’s target explode violently, and Burnett was flipped on his back. His plane was riddled with shrapnel, shredding the leading edge of one wing and bending the prop out of position so it vibrated furiously. Burnett could see a rivulet of oil running out of the engine across the left wing root. He righted the plane and struggled for altitude, and flew for a half an hour before the oil pressure reached zero and white smoke poured from the exhaust. Burnett had been ready to bail out, so he rolled the plane over and tried to drop out, but he was pinned half in, half out by the slipstream. He fought his way back in and righted the plane. He rolled the plane over again, and again was pinned against the headrest armor half-in and half-out. This time, he couldn’t wiggle back in, but something jerked him out of the plane just as it hit the ground. He came to six feet from his burning plane and crawled to a ditch, barely injured from this ordeal. Burnett was soon surrounded by German civilians, but they were not hostile. Soon, he was taken by Jeep to the American command post in Otterberg.

Meanwhile, at Prague/Kbely Aerodrome, 336 and 335 Squadrons worked over the field. “There were about 100 ships parked on the Prague/Kbely aerodrome,” reported Lt. Harold Fredericks. “There were also 15 parked at adjacent fields. It seemed to be a receiving point for all types of aircraft.”

“I was flying No. 3 to Col. Woods,” said Lt. Douglas Pederson. “After the first pass, I never saw the men in my section again.” Woods was hit during his third pass across the field; he radioed that he was bailing out and became a POW. The other two in the section, Lts. Ben Griffin and Henry Ayres, were also hit by 40mm flak. “I had been flying Lt. (Don) Pierini’s former plane, ‘Jersey Bounce II,’ which I had renamed ‘Miss Marian,’” said Griffin. “The fifth enemy aircraft I destroyed exploded violently as I flew over it. Flying debris cut the coolant line to the after cooler, which sprayed coolant over my face. In spite of this, I made one more pass and destroyed another plane. I then made a terrible error. I pulled up to 300 feet. This gave the flak gunners on the top of the buildings an opportunity to zero in on me.” Griffin became a POW.

Fredericks also heard Capt. Leroy Carpenter report he was bailing out, but Carpenter was killed. “I saw a ship going south of the aerodrome losing coolant,” said Fredericks. “I followed it and identified it as Lt. (Carl) Alfred’s ship. In a turn, I lost sight of him for a few seconds. I then saw his plane in a shallow dive, streaming coolant, going into the deck and exploding on impact. Flying back to the aerodrome, I heard Lt. Ayers say he was bailing out.” Alfred did not escape his from P-51D and was killed; Ayers became a POW.

Edward McLouchlin opened fire on a Ju 188 on his first pass and set it on fire. “I found myself alone and made another pass. I got good strikes on another Ju 188 at the southeast corner of the field. I saw it burst into flame before I fired on the fourth Ju 188 in the middle of the field. I then fired into a hangar with no apparent results. I pulled up to 5,500 feet and headed out when I got hit by flak and my plane began to burn. I bailed and saw my kite explode on impact with the ground.”

Also downed and captured were Lts. Maurice Miller and Edward Gimbel, making a total of eight pilots lost during the mission. Maj. McKennon’s plane was hit by a 20mm round that exploded in the cockpit and wounded him in the eye, but he nursed his Mustang home, as did eight other pilots whose planes suffered flak damage. However, the cost to the Germans was staggering. Lt. Pederson destroyed eight Ju 52s himself, while F/O Donald Baugh wrecked five Ju 88s. Lt. George Green, Lt. James Halligan and Lt. Loton Jennings each destroyed four planes. The total was 51 at the Prague airfields and 110 for the entire day.

67 years ago: victories for the 362nd’s Mannick, Pilcher and Morris

The 362nd Fighter Group hammered rail traffic on April 15, 1945, claiming a whopping 52 locomotives destroyed and 16 damaged, plus 91 rail cars destroyed and 56 damaged. The highways weren’t any safer for the Wehrmacht; the group claimed 261 motor transports destroyed and 79 damaged. The 378th Fighter Squadron’s missions, on two occasions, caught single Fw 190s and shot them down. First, Lt. Milton Mannick, flying Green Three, heard Blue Four radio that an Fw 190 was on his tail. Mannick saw the P-47 and its pursuer fly into a cloud layer and gave chase; and “the 190 came out of the haze in a steep climb,” Mannick said. “I gave him a burst as he leveled out at 6000 feet at a 90 degree deflection, hitting him on the belly. We went into a turn to the right and I turned with him and gave him another burst which hit him in the right wing. He made a half orbit and I gave him another burst which hit him in the tail and the cockpit. After this last burst he rolled over and crashed into the ground from about 1500 feet.

Lt. Joseph Pilcher and Lt. William Matthews were strafing as part of Red Flight when they spotted a long-nosed Fw 190 climbing away from the scene. Matthews was closest, but his guns malfunctioned after a single short burst, so Pilcher gave pursuit and the Fw 190 turned into him. Pilcher fired one burst but missed. “For approximately three minutes I chased him, getting in a short burst as he turned one way and then the other, skidding, diving and zooming,” Pilcher reported. “I observed a few strikes on the engine nacelle and left wing. From about 30 degrees astern I gave him a good burst and observed many hits in the left wing roots and left side of the canopy. He then went into a 90 degree left bank, fell off on a wing and went into a vertical dive, trailing smoke at 3000 feet. He jettisoned his canopy and bailed out. I saw the plane disintegrate as it hit the ground. The chute did not appear to fully open and (the pilot) hit the ground, but did not move.”

The 379th Fighter Squadron attacked Marienbad airfield and Lt. Raymond Morris shot down another lone Fw 190, and the squadron destroyed 14 more planes on the ground, including a Bf 110 that Lt. Gene Martin hit with his 500-pounders. A second airfield sweep by the squadron to Eger netted no trade other than some buildings shot up. The 379thalso sent 12 planes to a bridge at Firrell, which they dive-bombed but missed. However, the collapsing front enabled U.S. artillery to respond to German flak positions, silencing several guns that had fired on the Thunderbolts.

Future 362nd FG decal sheet: a preview of what will be on it

Last night, I wrote up the aircraft descriptions for a future Barracudacals sheet that will feature five 379th FS, 362nd FG Thunderbolts. doing this research was very useful – I discovered that the plane I was building, Gene Martin’s “Bonnie Lynn,” is a P-47D-30, and so it had the riveted floor, not the kit-supplied corrugated floor – meaning a switch was in order (It’ll now become Ralph Sallee’s P-47) and a new Thunderbolt will have to be built as Gene’s plane. That’ll be no problem since a new Obscureco flat cockpit floor is being cast as we speak and will, happily, fit three of these planes.

This is the raw text – Roy Sutherland may edit or append it in the final instruction sheet. Anyhow, here’s the five that will be on this particular decal sheet when it finally comes out:

P-47D-21-RE 42-25518 B8*B “Damon’s Demon”

379th FS, 362nd FG, USAAF. Flown by Capt. George Rarey

Based at Headcorn, England, June 1944

Rarey was one of the best-loved pilots of the 362nd FG. Having worked as a commercial artist before the war, he designed and applied the nose art for no fewer than 28 aircraft, including his own. The plane started out as “Archy and Mehatibel,” a reference to characters in Don Marquis’ poetry, but when Rarey’s son Damon was born the plane’s name changed. Sadly, Rarey never met his son; he was shot down by flak on June 27, 1944 while strafing road traffic and was killed. Standard camouflage of olive drab over neutral gray, with white bands on the nose and tail surfaces. Note the red rudder trim tab. Curtiss Electric propeller.

George Rarey

P-47D-27-RE 42-27215 B8*T “1950”/”Super Rabbit”

379th FS, 362nd FG, USAAF, Flown by Lt. Ralph Sallee

Based at Etain, France, December 1944

Sallee flew this aircraft through the Battle of the Bulge, during which he scored two victories over Fw 190s on Dec. 26, 1944. The nose art on the right side of the cowling reflected where the crew wished to be in five years. Sallee, originally from Hollywood, California, eventually moved to Montana, where he lives to this day. Curtiss Electric symmetric paddleblade propeller.

Ralph Sallee

P-47D-30-RE 44-20425 B8*W “Kentucky Colonel”

379th FS, 362nd FG, USAAF, Flown by Capt. Wilfred Crutchfield

Based at Etain, France, January, 1945

Crutchfield, a veteran leader with the 378th Fighter Squadron, brought his plane with him upon his transfer to the 379th. On January 22, 1945, he spotted 1500 German vehicles concentrated in a small area around Prum, Germany, as the Sixth SS Panzer Armee was embarking for the Eastern Front. In the next six hours, the group destroyed 315 trucks, seven tanks, seven half-tracks and 15 horse-drawn vehicles in a bloody battle that cost the group five P-47s and four pilots. Crutchfield stayed in the Air Force after the war, but disappeared in 1968 while flying a training flight with a student in a T-33; the crash site, on a glacier on Mt. Rainer in Washington, was not discovered until October 2004. Curtiss Electric asymmetric paddleblade propeller; note the red rudder trim tab.

Wilfred Crutchfield

P-47D-30-RA 44-33287 B8*A “5 By 5”

379th FS, 362nd FG, USAAF, flown by Col. Joseph Laughlin

Based at Etain, France, March 1945

Laughlin assumed the position of group commander when Col. Morton Magoffin was shot down and captured on Aug. 10, 1944. Laughlin achieved two remarkable successes individually: the sinking of a large vessel (possibly hulk of the incomplete battleship Clemenceau) at Brest, and the key hit that destroyed the sluice gates of the Dieuze Dam. He also scored the group’s first air-to-air victory. Laughlin had eight “5 By 5’s”, all of which carried nose art painted by George Rarey; crew chief Joe Carpenter dutifully transferred the painted panels of the cowling from plane to plane, concluding with this aircraft. The P-47D in the USAAF Museum is painted to represent this “5 By 5.” Curtiss Electric asymmetric paddleblade propeller; note the yellow propeller spinner and rudder trim tab, and the dorsal fin fillet.

Joe Laughlin

P-47D-30-RE 44-20413 B8*Y “Bonnie Lynn”

379th FS, 362nd FG, USAAF, flown by Lt. Gene Martin

Based at Illesham, Germany, April 1945

Martin’s aircraft was initially named “Bonnie” after his wife, but added “Lynn” when his crew chief Robert Shaw’s daughter Lynn was born. On April 5, 1945, Martin was flying this plane when he shot down two Fw 190s (although the second was unconfirmed). Two days later, he shot up a Bf 109 but again the victory went unconfirmed. Martin destroyed two more aircraft while attacking airfields. Curtiss Electric asymmetric paddleblade propeller; note the yellow propeller spinner.

Gene Martin

This day, 68 years ago: first blood for the 4th Fighter Group’s P-47s

On 13 April 1943, Lt. Col. Chesley Peterson led the 4th Fighter Group’s Rodeo to Cassel. As 335 Squadron flew toward the continent at 27,000 feet, it spotted five Fw 190s and peeled off to attack. Peterson shot down one Fw 190, but as he turned to re-enter the fray a cylinder blew out in his P-47C’s engine Peterson nursed it across the channel only to have it catch fire 30 miles from the coast. He jumped from his plane, but his balky parachute opened only just before he hit the water. An RAF Walrus quickly scooped Peterson up, shaken but sporting only a cut lip and two black eyes as souvenirs of his escape.

Meanwhile, Don Blakeslee spotted three Fw 190s ahead of him, which made the mistake of trying to dive away. He closed in and sent two bursts into one fighter, which caught fire and crashed – the first kill for the 4th’s P-47.

Lt. Robert Boock saw a P-47 under attack and latched onto the attacker’s tail. The Fw 190 hit its quarry, then split-S’ed away. Boock stayed on the German fighter and fired; the Fw 190 burst into flames and crashed into the sea. Lt. Leroy Gover also bagged an Fw 190, and Capt. Richard McMinn was also reported to have downed one, but McMinn and Capt. Stanley Anderson were both shot down and killed.

67 years ago: the 362nd FG’s Ken Bullock scores a double

The 362nd Fighter Group launched 14 eight-plane missions in support of XII Corps on April 12, 1945. Controllers guided the planes to attack German strongholds in Kohla, Rudolstadt, Kronach, Reinda and Kulmbach, where they bombed the castle and the town. At Reinda, the 378th Fighter Squadron destroyed three tanks, and two other tanks were dispatched during other missions in addition to a large volume of road transportation. The 378th Fighter Squadron’s last mission of the day saw it bomb some woods on a controller’s direction, then drop their tanks on it and strafe.

Lt. Ken Bullock of the 378th became separated from the other planes in his flight in a thunderstorm and was attacked by eight Bf 109s over a German airfield, near Plauen. The Bf 109s broke into pairs and dove on the P-47 from out of the sun; as one pair dove past him, Bullock squeezed off short bursts, starting one of the Bf 109s smoking. Bullock lost sight of the first six Bf 109s, but he spotted the two he had fired on lining up to land at the airfield, apparently low on fuel. “I did a sharp turn to the left, then to the right and dove down on the field and met them head-on just as they were making their final approach,” he said. “I hit the one that was smoking first and then the one that flew his wing coming into the field. I had excess speed and my burst was short, but I hit both planes with one pass and I came around again and observed that both planes had landed and were burning.” Bullock orbited to take pictures of the wrecks on the ground. Small-arms fire, including one round that hit his windscreen, drove him off, and Bullock returned to base, landing at Etain in a rainstorm.

Meanwhile, the 379th Fighter Squadron made a strafing attack at the airfield at Orlamunden, destroying a Ju 52, a Fi 156 and an unidentified biplane. Afterward the Thunderbolts shot up four trucks and two cars on the nearby roads,

68 years ago: The 357th Fighter Group knocks down 25

The Luftwaffe was back up to challenge the 357th Fighter Group on April 11, 1944. Just after rendezvousing with bombers headed for Sorau, the 364th Fighter Squadron’s Green Flight ran across a single Bf 109, which dove for cover “After approximately five minutes of chasing, firing numerous bursts and observing numerous strikes, I shot the engine out of the Bf 109,” said Lt. John Carder.  “The enemy pilot tried to crash land at in excess of 200 mph. The enemy aircraft hit the ground, bounced over high wires and a road, and crashed into the ground and exploded.”

While the flight was reforming, they spotted two Fw 190s ahead of them. Lt. Mark Stepleton entered into a turning fight with one of them, making six turns and firing bursts the entire time, “observing hits on the engine, cockpit and wings,” he said. “My guns jammed after every burst but due to an experimental hydraulic gun charger, I was able to clear the jam and fire again. I overran the enemy aircraft, at which time Lt. Charles Sumner closed and observed hits on the enemy aircraft, which crashed and exploded.”

Lt. Robert C. Smith was flying wing to Capt. G.D. Currie in when they too spotted two Bf 109s and dived on them. The chased continued from 23,000 to 4,000 feet, when Smith was forced to break into an approaching Bf 109. About 10 minutes later, Lt. Robert Shaw, also in this flight, heard Currie call for his flight to reform, but Currie himself failed to return to base. He was downed by flak and became a POW.

Lt. Fletcher E. Adams had been with the bombers for about 20 minutes when he spotted a trio of Bf 109s below him. His flight leader, Lt. John England, took the tail-end plane; Adams took the second one and both chased their quarry to the deck. “The enemy plane took evasive action, turning and skidding,” said Adams. “I fired several bursts when he was going in an out of the clouds. A light stream of black smoke came out of the plane and he went into a cloud. I went over the cloud and next saw the pilot in a parachute. I saw a plane behind me, which I assumed to be my wingman. When I turned, however, he began to shoot at me from about 500 yards. I went down in evasive action to about 20 feet and pulled up sharply to the right. The enemy plane tried to follow this maneuver. After I had nearly completed a 360-degree turn, I saw the enemy plane spin into the ground explode and burn. I saw no parachute this time.”

White Flight of the 363rd Fighter Squadron spotted an He 111 “sneaking along right on the ground,” said “Bud” Anderson. “The first pass wasn’t so good,” he said. “I pulled up and the rest of the flight came in.” After Lt. Henry Kayser put a burst into the cockpit and Lt. William Overstreet shot up the plane from dead astern, Anderson stitched the He 111 from tail to cockpit, then Lt. Edward Simpson came in and set the left engine ablaze. “He tried to crash land, and did,” said Simpson. “The ship burst into flames after hitting a pole and sliding along the ground. The crew jumped out.” Simpson, Kayser and Anderson each added individual victories during the mission

Also failing to return from the mission was Lt. William Gray, who became a POW after his engine failed, and Capt. Arthur Lingo, who was probably shot down by fighters and killed. But, in all, the group destroyed 25 planes. Capt. Paul DeVries and Montgomery Throop, Lts. Gilbert O’Brien, John Pugh, Arval Roberson, Harold Kenney, Charles Peters, Hollis Nowlin, Richard Peterson, William Reese, LeRoy Ruder, Robert Shaw and Robert Smith each downed one, Harry Ankeny and John England shared one, and half-credits went to Don Bochkay and Maurice Postle.

68 years ago: The 357th and Fourth Fighter Groups go Condor hunting

Major George Carpenter led the Fourth Fighter Group’s 5 March’s bomber escort mission to Bordeaux. The primary was completely socked in, so the bombers turned for the secondary target. As the bombers tmade their turn, six Bf 109s attacked. “Our section immediately dove toward them,” said Duane Beeson. “They saw us coming and whipped into a tight turn.” Twice the German fighters turned into Beeson, and twice he fired head-on shots at them. “There were now several Mustangs around who were trying to get these Bf 109s. As the enemy aircraft went over into a dive, the Mustangs went after them. I had managed to keep my speed pretty high and was able to get on the tail of one. Lt. (Steve) Pisanos also got on the tail of one. Before I opened fire, I saw Lt. Pisanos getting very good strikes on his enemy aircraft. After opening fire at about 150 yards and getting more strikes, he began to smoke quite badly. As I overshot the enemy aircraft, the pilot bailed out.”

Capt. Howard Hively noticed four aircraft approaching from the south. He turned toward them and identified them as Bf 109s, “a dirty-green color with bright orange spinners.” Hively attacked from their 9 o’clock. “They broke into me, and we went around and around in a port climbing orbit,” he said “Two of the enemy aircraft broke starboard out of the turn and started for the deck. I picked up my flaps, turned and chased. For a second it looked as if I wasn’t closing, so I took two short burst at about 800 yards just for meanness.” Hively was now closing too fast; he lowered his flaps and throttled back, and wound up 50 yards behind one of the fighters. “He turned starboard as I fired, and I observed many strikes on the bottom and the top side of the fuselage and the wing root. As I slid by, I saw his starboard wing crumple about two feet from the wing root. I then slid right into the No. 1 enemy aircraft and fired. I observed five or six good hits on his fuselage, underside and just back of the cockpit. He never pulled out. The enemy aircraft went in with a large column of dust and black smoke. Neither pilot bailed out.”

Beeson’s section sighted an aerodrome about 60 miles north of Bordeaux. “We dove down to the deck about a mile from the aerodrome,” said Lt. Charles Carr. “We approached it at about 400 mph. Capt. Beeson and Capt. (Kenneth) Peterson turned to port to attack an Fw 200 on the ground. I was on the inside, and I could not turn with them, so I continued to fly straight. I pulled up over a hill and saw what I thought was a Ju 88 in front of a hangar. I fired and saw strikes in front of the enemy aircraft. I raised the nose and kept on shooting. I pulled up over a hangar and continued on for a few hundred yards before pulling up.”

Suddenly, Beeson “felt a heavy blow on the aircraft and was thrown over on my side,” he said. “I had great difficulty regaining control. I checked my engine instruments, which were okay, and I reduced speed for better control. The rudders were very stiff, and I was forced to hold hard left rudder all the way back to base.” Flak had blown a large hole in Beeson’s rudder.

“About five minutes after our attack, Capt. (Kenneth) Peterson shot down an Fw 200,” said Beeson. “I also confirmed one Bf 109 shot down by Lt. Pisanos.” Pisanos, couldn’t claim his victim in person; he had been shot down and bailed out of his P-51B 10 miles south of LeHavre. Pisanos evaded and rejoined the group in Debden.

Jim Steele had engine problems and headed for England, but on the way he discovered eight Fw 200s in a circuit and shot one of them down, then bolted for home. Two Fw 190s tried to bounce Steele, but he was already at full speed and left them far behind. Fonzo Smith and Edward Freeburger bagged another Fw 200 in the same circuit, then came around and machine-gunned the crew as they ran from the wreck.

The 357th Fighter Group was involved in action nearby. Two Fw 200C-4s (0194/GC+SW and 0248/TO+SD) and a single Fw 200C-5 (0244/TK+CZ) took off from Chateau Bernard under a low cloud cover  “Through a hole in the clouds, Capt. (Glendon) Davis spotted three large aircraft taking off from a field near Parthenay,” reported Lt. Morris Stanley. As they approached they identified the aircraft as Fw 200 Condors. At just 200 feet off the deck, Davis reached firing range and peppered the first Fw 200. “As he pulled up to avoid a collision, I noticed the left landing gear of the enemy aircraft fall down,” said Stanley. Soon, the Fw 200 crashed, “first ground looping, then cartwheeling until it was completely wrecked.”

The Mustangs closed in on two more Fw 200s. “Capt. Davis fired a long burst,” said Stanley. “I observed strikes on the wing and engine nacelles followed by flame and smoke from the No. 3 engine. As Davis pulled up, I closed to 250 yards behind the remaining ship and started firing from dead astern and continued to fire to approximately 25 yards, observing strikes on the wings and fuselage.” Stanley saw Davis’ second Fw 200 crash and burn, “and a few seconds later I noticed the Fw 200 I had shot at start a slow turn to the left and hit the ground and explode.”

The loss of these three planes from KG 40 signalled the end of the Condor’s ability to operate unmolested from Northern France; in an indirect way, the 4th and 357th Fighter Groups had helped drive one of the final nails into the coffin of the U-boat force, for the Fw 200s were soon transferred to transport duties.