68 years ago: the 362nd FG puts an umbrella over Cherbourg

On June 22, 1944, the 362nd Fighter Group bombed targets around Cherbourg in the face of ferocious anti-aircraft fire. The 379th Fighter Squadron strafed flak guns; Art Wilcke’s plane picked up flak damage and he force-landed on the beach. The 378th’s Major Sherwin Desens was hit by flak and bailed out of P-47D-16 42-76125 near St. Mere Eglise, returning to the group 24 hours later. Yellow Flight of the 378th dropped its bombs and headed out of the area at low level to try to dodge some of the flak. “Lt. (Carl) Haering called in and said, ‘Yellow Three headed south,’” reported Lt. Wilfred Crutchfield. “He pulled up over us about 50 feet and was heading south toward our lines on the deck when I last saw him. When he pulled up, they started firing at him, but as far as I could tell he got back down on the deck before he was hit again.” Haering’s plane was in fact crippled; he bailed out of P-47D-16 42-76523 near Brix and evaded capture with the help of the underground.  2ndLt. William Hamlin bailed out over friendly territory from P-47D-15-RE 42-76266.

In the afternoon, the 377th returned to the rail bridge at Mantes, the 378th to the airfield at St. Andre del ‘Eure, and the 379th to the railroad line at Epernon. William King of the 377th didn’t get to make the trip; he suffered an accident during takeoff and damaged P-47D 42-75582. During the missions, the group disposed of three enemy fighters. Lt. Gordon Larsen of the 379thdowned a Bf 109, swooping in and dispatching it without dropping his bombs, and Jim Ashford almost got a second – but it would have come at a cost. “We were always told that, if you were all ready to start shooting at a guy you’d better check your six o’clock before you started shooting because there’s likely to be a guy back there getting a bead on you and getting ready to shoot you,” he said. “I had this guy nailed. It was only about a five-degree deflection shot, I was in range. Everything was just perfect. I would have hammered this guy. Just before I pulled the trigger I looked behind, and there was a guy I could see who had me in his sights. I know that because I could see his belly and that means he had a little lead on me! I did an immediate break, but I heard his guns go off. I picked up two holes, but that was all. So the guy out in front of me got off scot-free, but by the same token so did I!”

Later, Lt. Crutchfield’s flight from the 378thwas flying top cover for the dive-bombers while they attacked road traffic. A 20mm battery opened up on the bombers, so Crutchfield dove on the position and put a short burst into the gun pit. “This quieted the 20mm down, so we pulled up again and started climbing out covering the squadron while they formed again,” Crutchfield said. At about 6000 feet, “I saw three ships climbing up in the opposite direction at about the same altitude. At first I thought they were P-47s, but they started to turn to be in a bouncing position and I recognized them as Fw 190s. I started to break to get onto their tails, but they broke up hard and my No. 3 man (Lt. Richard Law) called them as Fw 190s at the same time. One of them broke down as the other two broke up so I was leery of a trap.”

While watching the low Fw 190, Crutchfield lost some ground on the high pair. When he lost the low Fw 190 in the undercast, he looked ahead and saw that Law “was slightly inside of me shooting at the No. 2 Hun. I observed good hits on the fuselage and saw the Hun break out of the Lufberry and start down with Lt. Law right after him.”

“The Jerry then reversed his turn and back to the left toward the cloud layer, and I got another deflection shot,” reported Law. “He was streaming black, thick smoke when I last saw him, and he was going straight down through the clouds, which were at about 3000 feet on top. I was indicating over 400 mph when he flipped over and went down. As I had no wingman, I pulled up and back into the area of the flight, but no one was in sight, so I hit the road for home.”

Meanwhile, Crutchfield reefed his P-47 in, pulled the nose up and in about three quarters of a turn almost had his guns on the other Fw 190 when the German fighter rolled inside the turn and broke down, toward St. Andre Airfield. “As my nose was high at the time the Hun got about 600 yards away before I could get on him again, but I closed to 500 yards,: said Crutchfield. “He was taking evasive action by kicking rudder, but was doing the same thing all the time so I picked out a spot on the left of his pattern and fired a long burst and, sure enough, he fell right into it. I observed seven or eight hits around the cockpit and immediately he started taking a different kind of evasive action, but still in a pattern. I picked out another spot and let him have another burst, observing more hits, but this time he quit jumping around and his nose fell down into a steep dive. My wingman had stayed with me until I straightened out to chase the Hun but, as he didn’t have a paddle prop, I ran off and left him. I gave him a call but I couldn’t get an answer so I broke off hard to the left and spotted him at around 1500 feet. I was practically on the deck at the time. When I last saw the Hun he was at 500 feet and was going down to the ground in a 50-degree dive. I lost sight of him for a second, but when I turned around I saw that the plane had hit the ground and was on fire. I then pulled up to join my wingman and headed for home.”

Crutchfield was providing cover for P-47s carrying an unusual mix of three 250-pound bombs. Blue flight dropped its bombs, then began strafing ground targets. “I was giving cross cover to Lt. (Alva) Bessey, who was flying Blue Three,” said Lt. Howard Kelgard. “(He) called in that he had been hit. Suddenly, I observed an explosion in the ground relative to his position.” Bessey was killed in the crash of P-47D 42-68179.

On his return home, Lt. William Boughton ground-looped P-47D 42-75188, creating additional work for the harried ground crews. The 379th’s Lt. Robert Kelso had his Thunderbolt peppered by flak during the evening mission and crash-landed in an orchard at High Halden, England when his engine failed, bringing an end to the combat career of P-47D 42-76235 (B8*R).



1 Comment

  1. Chris,
    I googled my uncle Alva Bessey today and came across your site. Thank you for writing about that fateful day, June 22, 1944, and giving me more details about what happened that day.

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