68 years ago: Jim Ashford and Ron Hamby bag 109s

On the morning of August 22, 1944, the 378th Fighter Squadron provided column support for the 5th and 7thInfantry Divisions, sending 12 planes to attack targets. They dive bombed a tank but failed to hit it. The squadron’s second mission, which sent 12 planes to the Chartres area, found 18 tanks hidden in the woods. The P-47s dropped their fragmentation bombs on them with no observable results. Finally, the squadron sent 12 planes after gun emplacements along the Seine, and despite intense flak 10 guns were damaged.

The 379th’s day was equally busy, with three 12-plane missions going to Chartres. During the first mission, after bombing and destroying a single tank and 15 other vehicles, the squadron stumbled across a gaggle of 20 Bf 109s around Nantes. “That’s exactly what it was – a gaggle,” said Capt. Jim Ashford. “It was like a hive of bees. We went at them. When you have that kind of formation, it’s not a formation, it’s an undisciplined thing. There’s no question in my mind that there might have been one very well trained man in that whole lot who was probably leading the gaggle, but the others were not very well trained.” in the resulting furball Capt. Ashford and Lt. Ronald Hamby each destroyed one fighter, with Lt. L.O. “Doc” Savage claiming a probable. Ashford downplayed his achievement; because of the obvious inexperience of the German fliers, “It didn’t take any skill to get one of them.”

During the second mission, with a mix of general purpose bombs and fragmentation bombs, the squadron knocked out 11 trucks, three staff cars a tank and a bus. The third mission was a bust, with no targets assigned by the controller.

68 years ago: the Yoxford Boys go to Russia

On 5 August, 1944, 64 357th FG Mustangs escorted the fifth shuttle mission to the Soviet Union. 35 members of the ground echelon flew with the 390th Bomb Group as gunners as it bombed the Focke Wulf plant at Rahmel. The 357th spotted nine Fw 190s just after making landfall, but luckily the Fw 190s made no move to intercept them; had they, the Mustangs would have lacked the fuel to reach Russia.

After rendezvousing with the bombers over Poland, nine Bf 109s from JG.51 went after the bombers; Lt. Robert Shaw and his flight cut them off and Shaw peppered one of them, sending it down in flames. Lt. “Bud” Nowlin went after another fighter, this one flown by Hauptman Gunther Schack, Staffelkapitan of III/JG.51. Nowlin fired a burst, and Schack split S’ed away, with Nowlin giving chase. Another burst brought a spray of coolant from Schack’s stricken machine. Nowlin overran the Bf 109 and pulled alongside it; then, realizing the need to preserve fuel, he waved at Schack and climbed away. Schack bailed out; Nowlin didn’t learn of his kill for another 40 years.

At the same time, Lt. Nick Frederick and Lt. Kirby Brown spotted a Ju 88 that flew past their flight on a perpendicular course to theirs. They turned to give chase and the Ju 88 dove precipitously from 22,000 feet to about 5000 feet at a 70-degree angle, and the two pilots lost sight of their quarry at 1000 feet. Although they never saw it hit, they were given credit for a kill.

After landing in Piryatin in the Soviet Union, the group awaited its mechanics, but none of them ever made it from Poltava. As a result of this, many of the Mustangs were filled with low-grade fuel, which made it hard for the machines to reach full power, and Lt. Howard Egeland crashed on takeoff the next day. Egeland was only slightly injured, but the group was strung out as it escorted bombers to Krakow. Just the same, Capt. John Pugh, Maj. John Storch and Lt. “Bud” Nowlin recorded kills during the mission.

68 years ago: Roy Bartley of the 362nd FG becomes a POW

The 362nd Fighter Group flew four separate missions on August 4 supporting armored forces west of Vire, and faced intense flak under a low ceiling. The 379th Fighter Squadron’s 12 planes found good hunting, strafing a half track and three tanks, then bombing a gun position; this was followed up by the dive-bombing of a tank and the strafing of five trucks. Lt. Harold Welleck’s bombs hung on his first pass, so his leader, Lt. Kent Geyer, mad a pass on the tank to show him where to drop them on his next pass. “He went down on the same target after his bombs hung the second time,” said Geyer. “I remained at 5000 feet with the rest of my flight. I was involved in talking with the controller about other targets when Lt. Welleck called and said he was hit. I told him to head west and then north. He answered, ‘Roger. I am heading west.” Welleck never made it; P-47D-4 42-22778 fell to earth near Vire, and Welleck was killed in the crash. The total for the day was four tanks, several machine gun positions and numerous trucks destroyed.

The 378th Fighter Squadron sent out 12 aircraft and scored two hits on a machine gun emplacement, two on carts on a road and two tanks, but flak took its toll. Three pilots were shot down including 378thCO Maj. Sherwin Desens, whose plane, P-47D-27 42-26864, was hit so badly its right wing almost separated. The P-47 rolled to the right and nosed down before Desens hit the silk at 1500 feet. The plane slammed into the ground alongside a road a mile east of St. Sauver; Desens became a POW.

Nearby, the 377thhad just started to hunt for some tanks reported in the area by the controller. The squadron was headed east southeast from St. Pois; “We were carrying a couple of 500-pounders each,” recalled Lt. Roy Bartley. “I didn’t know anyone was even shooting at me.” Unfortunately, a flak gunner with exceedingly good aim scored a hit on Bartley’s plane, P-47D-26 42-74721.  “I noticed Yellow 3 (Bartley) was streaming oil and called him about it,” reported Lt. Francis Korosy. “He said his oil pressure was falling and we turned back to a heading of northwest.” Soon, Bartley’s engine began spewing smoke, and then it seized. “We were being shot at by light flak and .50 caliber,” said Korosy. “I tried to strafe the gun positions as Lt. Bartley went down, but got shot up myself and had to bail out in the Reffuveille area.” Korosy was able to get back to allied forces.

As he lost altitude, Bartley started a running commentary over the radio: “Engine out… Bad hit – gonna belly in! Nice field just over those trees… if I can stretch it. Nope! I can’t! Gonna hit! Tough shit!” Bartley had no flaps; traveling at 155 mph, he spotted a little lane through the trees, and “I tried to hit so I wouldn’t cartwheel. When I hit, I was knocked out, so I don’t know if I cartwheeled or not.” The Thunderbolt’s big propeller chopped through the trees as the wings and tail were ripped from the craft. When he came to, he was trapped under his Thunderbolt, and soon German soldiers arrived to pull him out. “I was bruised all over, but I nothing was broken,” Bartley said. “They wouldn’t even allow me to look back at my plane! I was taken to a German camp that was in an apple orchard, all covered in camouflage netting; there was a soldier there who had grown up in America but had gone back to Austria with his parents. Since he spoke English, they put him to work looking after me.”

“You damned Americans! This is not your war,” said the German. “He said they had a secret weapon that would push the allies back into the ocean,” said Bartley. “I said, ‘you damn fool! Don’t you know that you’ve already lost?’”

That night Bartley was housed in a shed with some troops from the 101stAirborne Division. “They had been captured on June 6, and the Germans put them to work in a German field hospital,” Bartley said. The paratroops told Bartley that they had been captured with several other men, but as they were being marched down a road a P-47 had appeared. The Germans leaped into cover at the side of the road, but at gunpoint forced the paratroops to remain in the roadway, where several were killed by the strafing Thunderbolt.

The next day, Bartley was ordered into the sidecar of a BMW motorcycle and driven to a collection center . Along the way, he passed an armored battalion; “the troops were all dressed in black, and they looked like they would have liked to have gotten ahold of me,” he said. That evening, Bartley and some other prisoners were loaded on a truck. “It was bumper to bumper traffic,” he said. “The roads were just jammed.” He was taken to a camp where 700 POWs were temporarily housed; from there, he was trucked through Chartres to Paris and the railroad station. From there, it was five-day trip to the interrogation center at Frankfurt, but midway on the trip the train was strafed by a P-38, which, luckily, missed the engine and train.

In Frankfurt, Bartley was interrogated by a German who spoke excellent English. “It was nothing but name, rank and serial number,” said Bartley. “He said he would have to turn me over to people who were not so nice, but that never happened.” After a few days in solitary confinement, he was sent to Stalag Luft III in Sagan.