68 years ago: The 4th FG sweeps up eight Bf 109s

On 30 May, Maj. James Goodson led the 4th Fighter Group on a free-lance sweep that found a gaggle of 30 to 40 Bf 109s and Fw 190s near Genthin. When the 4th attacked, they discovered these fighters were covered by 20 to 25 more fighters flying top cover; these came down and bounced the Mustangs.

“We were at 34,000 feet where I saw two Bf 109s in a circle,” said Oscar LeJeunesse. “I made a pass at the second one but a green-nosed P-51 came in from my left and almost hit me and when I pulled up out of the way, I lost the Hun. I kept turning and got a little lead on the first one. I waited until I was about 50 yards away so I wouldn’t miss him. I hit him in the cockpit and on both wings. A big cloud of smoke came up and the plane started down in a wide turn. I followed it and when the pilot did not bail out I gave him another squirt. He let his canopy go then. Still he didn’t bail out so I urged him with another burst. That time he popped out and the plane went straight down.”

Lt. Thomas Sharp dove to the deck and forced an Fw 190 to crash-land southwest of Brandenburg. Sharp was then joined by Lt. Osce Jones, and they saw four enemy aircraft landing in trail on an aerodrome. “There were 15-plus Fw 190s on the Oschersleben Aerodrome as we attacked,” said Sharp. “We made about five passes when we were joined by Lt. Ralph Hofer. On my first pass, one of the Fw 190s, located at the runway intersection, caught fire and burned. I then set another Fw 190 on fire on the south side of the field and damaged others that would not burn.”

Lt. Jones also made runs at the aerodrome. “On my second pass, I hit one enemy aircraft that caught on fire and burned, giving off a large column of smoke,” he said. “Several passes later, I hit another one that burst into flames. This one was later finished off by Lt. Hofer, who left it burning fiercely.” Hofer destroyed an Fw 190 on his first pass. “On my second pass, I set one of those at the runway intersection on fire,” he reported.

In the fray, eight Bf 109s were destroyed, falling to Lt. James Scott, Hofer, Jones, LeJeunesse and Sharp. Unfortunately, Lt. Mark Kolter was killed under mysterious circumstances. He was heard calling for a homing, but he never responded. Kolter died when his P-51B crashed. Also lost during the mission were Capt. Willard Millikan and Lt. Sam Young; while dodging flak, the two collided, with both men bailing out and becoming POWs

 

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A reminder of the 4th FG’s William Hoelscher, delivered by his son

Writing books about World War II history sometimes results in spme pleasant surprises. Sadly, most of them come after the book’s out, after you can put it to use in your own book. However, it’s always interesting to learn more about a subject – and if I run across information that I know another author can use, I try to pass it on.

Last Thursday brought another example of this. I received this email:

Mr. Bucholtz,

RE: 4thFG ‘Debden Eagles’, by Chris Bucholtz

I’ve enjoyed your book and refer to it often.

My father, LT William Bradford Hoelscher, flew with the 334th FS, and is credited as the last man in the 4th FG shot down. I’ve attached his “official” photo of the time.

He flew several P-51s in the squadron, but his last mission was in QP J, olive drab P-51D-5 44-15347. If you have additional information and/or photos of my father and/or his aircraft, I’d be most appreciative.

I have some photos of him in Korea (F-86 w/335th/4th FG) and Vietnam (A1-H w/1st SOS) if of interest to you, as well as his WWII ID, and squadron pilots mass photo.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Wm. Bradford Hoelscher Jr.

Durham NC USA

Here’s the story Brad was talking about : On 25 April, 1945, Col. Everett Stewart led a fighter sweep to the Linz-Prague area, where Blue Flight of the 334th Fighter Squadron spotted an Me 262 and dove to attack. “Lt. Hoelscher, Blue Three, bounced the Jerry and began getting strikes from the time he opened fire,” reported Capt. Thomas Bell, Blue Leader. “The Jerry took Lt. Hoelscher over the Prague/Ruzyne airport. At this point, Lt. Hoelscher was hit by light flak and began streaming coolant. “ The flak also tore off the left elevator, making the Mustang difficult to control. “The jet was last seen in a split-S at 1500 feet,” Bell reported. Four other Me 262s were spotted, but the intense flak prevented the 334th from going after them.

Bell and the rest of Blue Flight “followed Lt. Hoelscher for 10 minutes and then he bailed out. This was in the vicinity of Jachnitz at 1000 hours. He was seen to leave his parachute and was last seen talking to several farmers who acted friendly. It is believed he is on the edge of friendly territory and will be all right.”

Map drawn by Capt. Bell reporting on Lt. Hoelscher’s bail-out

Hoelscher landed amidst a group of Czech partisans, who hid him from the Germans. Hoelscher hitched rides on motorcycles, jeeps and airplanes to return to Debden on May 12. Hoelscher scored the group’s last victory and was its last loss of the war.

The plane Lt. Hoelscher was flying, 44-15347, was one of the more interesting birds in the group from a scale modeler’s point of view. It was a P-51D-15-NA, but unlike most such planes, it was not overall natural metal – it had olive drab upper surfaces, with the red nose on the 4th Fighter group and a red rudder. It had been flown by Howard “Deacon” Hively first, then was taken by the pilot who succeeded him as commander of the 334th, Louis “Red Dog” Norley, before being passed on Hoelscher. The undersides of the aircraft were natural metal.

44-15347 when it was the personal mount of Howard Hively

I’ve always wanted to build this airplane – now, I have some extra motivation, thanks to Brad! On Thursday, I picked up a new, fresh Tamiya P-51D kit and it’s destined to wear these markings, which are on an XtraCal sheet that came out just after my book did.

Aces Symposium in Oakland: Vraciu, Crosby, Caswell and Maltbie

It’s neat when two things I’m a member of – in this case, the Northern California Friends of the Aces and the Oakland Air Museum – get together on something. This time, it’s a Fighter Aces’ Symposium at the Museum featuring four extremely notable aviators: Alex Vraciu (19 victories, and America’s highest-scoring living ace), Ted Crosby (5.25 kills in Hellcats), Archie Maltbie (two kills in P-47s) and Dean Caswell (seven victories in the Corsair).

I’ve met three of the four. I met Ted Crosby at numerous Friends of the Aces events; he’s a regular. Archie lives the Villages in San Jose, where I was invited to be a speaker; he then helped out Don Barnes, John Crump and Roy Sutherland with their book on the 365th Fighter Group, Thunderbolts of the Hellhawks (which is absolutely stellar and sets the bar for group histories, as far as I’m concerned). I gave a talk to the aviation club, with Archie among the remarkable members of the audience and thought, “I should be sitting out there listening to them!” Now I’ll get a chance!

Alex Vraciu and I spent an entire day together about 10 years ago. I built a model of one of his many Hellcats for an article in Internet Modeler, and I interviewed him for a companion piece to the article. The plane I built was the aircraft he flew during his famous six-victory mission during the Battle of the Philippine Sea; he covered that in the interview, and his time at sea, how he had a piece of Plexiglas pulled from his eye by a destroyer’s corpsman after a ditching and then convinced him not to report it, for fear of losing his flight status. He told me about he time at Pax River and an impromptu friendly dogfight between he and Marion Carl with an F8F Bearcat and an F7F Tigercat; he told me about staying in the service and helping to organize the naval air reserve, and finally getting command of a jet squadron, and about his retirement. He was remarkably kind to me and generous with his time, and left me impressed by this most gracious of aces.

This event is on July 7 at the Oakland Air Museum; for details, check out http://www.oaklandaviationmuseum.org/fundraising.

68 years ago: the 357th FG Bests the Luftwaffe, 10-0

On May 19, the 357th Fighter Group was back over Berlin. Blue Flight of the 363rd Fighter Squadron had just made rendezvous with the bombers when they saw 100 German fighters headed for their charges. “Part of the squadron went for the main bunch, but I saw three slightly higher than I was, so I climbed after them in a Lufbery,” said Lt. Charles Peters. “I was out-turning and out-climbing them up to 31,000 feet. I fired at the last man and saw a strike on his canopy. The ship rolled over and went straight down. I continued turning with the other two until the last man broke away to the left and I followed him down to 12,000 feet. He finally leveled out and I got in a good burst with strikes at the wing roots. He broke hard to the left and then blew up. The pilot was thrown out and his chute opened.”

Lt. Robert Foy destroyed one Bf 109, then closed in in two more. When these aircraft spotted him, they “immediately pulled into a sharp turn to the left,” Foy reported. “The lead ship of this two-ship formation collided with the outside 109 attempting a head-on pass. The wing of this ship struck squarely in the propeller of the (other) and was shorn off at the fuselage. The ship burst into flames and I saw no chute. The (other) enemy aircraft lost its prop and the engine nacelle seemed to be crushed and the 109 started into what might be described as an irregular spin.” Foy was credited with three Bf 109s destroyed.

Maj. Irwin Dregne was leading the 364th when he spotted the same huge formation, but it was scattered before he could reach them. “I started after a Bf 109 and he split-S’ed for the deck,” Dregne said. “I dove after him. At about 14,000 feet the Bf 109 was in a vertical dive and started rolling. He went into a tight spiral and then started spinning. I followed him down waiting for him to recover. At 5000 feet his canopy came off and I saw the pilot jump. I saw the plane crash but I never saw the parachute open. I never was closer than 1000 yards to the Bf 109 and did not fire my guns.”

Capt. John Storch picked out a straggler who dived for safety. “I followed him and he began to take evasive action, skidding and slipping and half-rolling. When he reached about 13,000 feet he suddenly began to spin. I followed him on down and pulled out of my dive when I could see from the way he was spinning that he would be unable to recover. I watched the Bf 109 spin into the ground and explode. I did not observe any chute. From the way in which the enemy aircraft was spinning I believe the pilot must have in some way damaged his plane by taking such violent evasive action at excessive speeds, as we were both probably indicating about 500 mph.”

 

Meanwhile, Lt. Leroy Ruder spotted German fighters at higher altitude than the first group diving for the bombers. “After a few minutes, I was in position to fire on an Fw 190,” he reported. “I closed to about 300 yards and opened fire, observing numerous strikes on the fuselage and wings. The enemy aircraft completed a couple of rolls and tight turns. Finally, he straightened out long enough for me to fire a few more bursts from about 250 yards. At the time, we were going at a great speed, with my aircraft nearly out of control. As I fired my last burst, the enemy aircraft started into another roll, with pieces flying from it. Suddenly, the enemy aircraft fell apart. Large sections of the fuselage and tail assembly ripped off and the enemy aircraft tumbled toward the ground, end over end. I broke off my attack at 10,000 feet and climbed back up to locate my flight.”

Additional victories were claimed by Capts. Fletcher Adams and Ed Hiro, and Lt. Arval Roberson. In all, the group scored 10 kills, and lost no Mustangs.

68 years ago: the 362nd loses Bernard Elson

After a five-day break, the 362nd Fighter Group attacked the marshalling yards at Busigny on May 16, 1944. 27 planes bombed, with 16 providing top cover; the load of 54 500-pound bombs was split between two areas in the yards. Lt. Bill Moore of the 379thnoted in his log that the bombs “caused “railroad cars to be blown into the air.” Four planes strafed the second area but were dissuaded from this activity by a flak tower in the woods northeast of the target, which threw up an intense barrage. One P-47, 42-76199 flown by Lt. Bernard J. Elson, was damaged by its fire; his fellow pilots heard him radio that he had been hit and didn’t know if he could make it. After five minutes, Elson radioed, “Sorry, I can’t make it. I’m losing altitude. I’ll have to go down.” A response from one of his flight members came back: “OK boy, hurry back!” Elson was last seen near Quant, west of Cambrai. No one saw a crash or a parachute and his status was listed as missing in action. Lt. Ed MacLean had to force-land P-47D 42-26113 at High Halden when his engine failed; the Thunderbolt was a complete write-off.