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.

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