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.

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