68 years ago: the 357th FG downs 19 on a mission to Liepzig

The 357th Fighter Group had gone through a long dry spell before a mission to Liepzig on 29 June 1944, but they would make up for lost time this day. About 20 miles southwest of the target, the 364th’s Red Flight engaged a batch of Bf 109s, with the lead element attacking the German fighters while the second element provided top cover against an ambush. The ambush came, and Capt. Rick Smith was shot down and killed in the ensuing dogfight.

“Bud” Anderson was leading the 363rd, riding herd on the second box of bombers between Brunswick and Magdeburg. After combat began ahead of the squadron, “we dropped our tanks and started forward when eight Fw 190s went under me,” said Anderson. “They crossed in front of the low squadron of bombers and turned left flying our formation, mocking escort. It looked like a trap as eight more came down and bounced our second section. They turned into them and seemed to be doing OK, so our section went down on the ones below. I picked the leader, gave him a short burst from about 350 yards dead astern, got quite a few hits. He did a roll to the right and straightened out, skidding violently. The canopy flew off and he snapped over on his back, bailing out.

“I then saw another one heading for the clouds. He ducked in, but it was thin and I could see him once in a while, so I followed. He came out in a clear spot and I attacked from the rear, closing to 150 yards and getting quite a few hits. The canopy flew off, the pilot started to climb out, but settled back into the cockpit. I flew alongside and saw fire break out in the cockpit. He slowly rolled over and went straight in from about 8000 feet, making a huge explosion.

“My wingman came alongside and we started to climb back when another Fw 190 came out of the thin overcast 90 degrees to our course and behind us and above. We circled around on his tail, climbing after him. I cut him off, closed in and started firing. I didn’t get hits at first, so I slid around dead astern and got a few good hits. He then took his first evasive action, pulling up through the clouds. I followed, firing. He went down through it again, I got some hits in the cockpit area. The Fw 190 then did a violent snap roll to the right followed by a tight spin. Streamers were coming off his wingtips and tail surfaces and he spun right in, exploding. No chute came out.”

Blue Flight, with Don Bochkay leading, was flying just above Green Flight, and just after the four Mustangs dropped their tanks and started to turn, Bochkay looked into the sun and spotted “four Fw 190s coming down on us followed by four Bf 109s,” he said. “They went past us and broke into Green Flight, dead astern.”

“They fired and passed over the top of my flight, making a turn to cut us off,” said Capt. Robert Foy, who was Green Leader. “I called for (Blue Flight) to break right and I put 20 degrees of flaps down and cut my throttle, maneuvering to the rear of the enemy aircraft. I pulled up on the tail of the rear Fw 190. I fired at him (and) observed strikes all over the fuselage and wing, at which time he straightened out and bailed out in level flight.”

At the same time, Bochkay lined up the lead Fw 190 and fired; the German pilot split-S’ed and fled. Foy saw a P-51 being chased by a Bf 109 “just off at about 3 o’clock to me and low,” he said. “I pulled up and dived, pulling up below his tail. I followed him for about 15 seconds in close trail with him. I pulled up and fired two short bursts, observing strikes on his right wing and beneath the fuselage. The Bf 109 immediately broke to the left, did one rather fast roll, and (the pilot) bailed out.”

Foy called to his wingman and received no answer, then radioed his element leader, who replied that he’d lost Foy when he went after the Bf 109. “I pulled into a sharp left turn and saw a ship on my tail. I pulled into a tighter turn and started to spin into the overcast, recovering after about two turns. I pulled my flaps down, cut my throttle and continued turning to the left. I had completed about three-fourths of a 360-degree turn when a Bf 109 cut across in front of me at a fast rate of speed. I gave it full throttle, pulling up on his tail. I fired one burst, observing strikes on the right wing. The enemy aircraft did a split-S and I followed him. He pulled out of range in a vertical dive; I glanced at my air speed, which indicated well over 550 mph. The Bf 109 was still pulling away from me. I pulled out at 3000 feet and the Bf 109 was still in a vertical (dive). I climbed up to 6000 feet and circled the immediate area. I did not see the enemy aircraft hit the ground, but there was a spot on the ground that looked as if either a bomb or an airplane had gone in.”

Bochkay had spotted another Bf 109 trying to dive to safety, and this time he stuck to his quarry. When he fired, “(the Bf 109’s) ammunition started to explode, tearing bits and pieces from both wings. The pilot then bailed out doing close to 600 mph; he delayed his opening. At 4000 feet the ship caught fire and crashed.”

Lt. William Overstreet found himself behind an Fw 190 and opened fire; “when I started getting hits he flipped over and bailed out,” he later wrote.

In all, the group scored 19 victories. In addition to the kills by Anderson, Bochkay, Overstreet and Foy, additional single scores went to Capts. John Pugh, Fred Smith, John Howell, and Mark Stepleton and Lts. Raymond Staude, and Gerald Tyler. Lts. Merle Allen and William Fennell shared a kill, and Capts. James Browning and Charles Summer each scored two

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