68 years ago: the 357th FG slugs it out with JG 11 over Arnhem

The 357th Fighter Group fought an epic battle covering the Market Garden landings on Sept. 17, 1944; the next day, things got even hotter. The group fought three distinct squadron-sized actions to cover transports dropping supplies and men into the Arnhem area. The 364th Fighter Squadron was southeast of Arnhem when White Flight, an understrength group led by Capt. Bryce McIntyre and including Lts. Jerome Jacobs and Howard Moebius, became separated from the rest of the squadron, according to McIntyre, who claimed a Bf 109 for the mission but was himself shot down and made a prisoner. The three were engaged by three Bf 109s, and went into a Lufbery with them, the Bf 109s going one way and the Mustangs going the other. After about three turns, the Bf 109s broke off, and the P-51s gave chase; one wheeled around and came head-on at Jacobs, who fired and watched his target explode violently. Jacobs turned to watch the debris and saw 15 more enemy aircraft going the opposite direction. He tried to reach the safety of some clouds, but suddenly his Mustang exploded. He clambered from the flaming cockpit, burned on the face; dazed, he thought he would wait to emerge from the clouds to pull the rip cord, then came to his senses and yanked it. His chute opened and he immediately hit the ground. He was captured by some German soldiers and taken to a hospital.

Moebius found himself in a turning circle with 12 to 14 fighters, and scored hits on the fighter in front of him, but couldn’t take time to watch when it fell away toward the ground. He tightened his turn and caught a second plane, scoring hits until it burst into flame. Meanwhile, an element of German fighters circled the fight and made diving attacks on Moebius; one burst struck his wing, blasting open the ammunition doors and setting the wing on fire. Fearing a fuel tank explosion, Moebius jettisoned the canopy and jumped; he found himself spinning wildly, but by putting out his arms he slowed down. At 1500 feet, he opened his chute, only to be lined up by two Bf 109s that began firing at him. He dumped some air from the chute; the bullets hit the shroud, but missed the pilot.

Moebius landed in plowed field and hid in a rhubarb patch for a few minutes, but his tight G-suit caused cramps in his legs and he started to get up. Suddenly, he saw a little boy motioning him to stay down. The boy pointed in the direction of a German soldier, and Moebius slowly crawled into a ditch behind the rhubarb patch. That night, a member of the resistance found the pilot, who ended up with the Dutch for the next five months.

Although White Flight had been wiped out, it took out five planes in the process. Lts. Dwaine Sanborn, Chester Maxwell and Byron Braley also added fighters to the 364th’s haul.

The 362nd heard frantic transmissions that indicated a fight was under way and headed for it. They ran across a melee between German and U.S. fighters several miles away in an arena-like opening in the clouds. Capt. Arval Roberson took his four planes to the edge of the fight. He spotted a Bf 109 below him and banked over, then fired; flames began pouring from the cockpit and it fell away toward the ground.

Roberson and his wingman, Lt. Charles Goss, spotted another Bf 109 that had just made a pass at a P-51. Roberson fired a short burst and saw the bullets tear into the Bf 109’s tail, then pulled more lead and let fly a burst that punched holes in the German’s nose, letting loose a stream of coolant and smoke. Roberson kept firing, but felt a stall coming on; he pushed the plane to the left and leveled out, but when he turned back toward his target it was gone. At Roberson’s 10 o’clock was another Bf 109 in a steep climb; Roberson called for Goss to take him, but the pilot didn’t respond or move toward the German fighter, so Roberson banked after it and tried to turn hard enough to get a shot. Suddenly, strikes exploded all over the Bf 109; another P-51 had cut across the turn and taken the fighter. Roberson broke hard right to avoid the other Mustang. Later, Goss confirmed the second Bf 109, giving Roberson six kills and making him an ace.

The 363rd encountered 12 Bf 109s coming toward them from their 3 o’clock position. Unknown to the Mustang pilots, these aircraft, from 7./JG 11 and 8./JG 11, had spotted a single F-5 Lightning reconnaissance aircraft and had dived to intercept it. In turn, the 363rd turned and dove to intercept them. Lt. William R. Dunlop became separated from his flight; “A few seconds later I spotted a lone Bf 109 pull up over the rest of the flight. I closed in from 30 degrees low and fired a quite long burst into the area of his cockpit, getting many strikes. He immediately caught fire and white and black smoke started pouring out. The Bf 109 then rolled over and went straight in, many pieces coming off en route.”

Dunlop’s flight leader, Lt. Donald Pasaka, found himself on the tail of another German fighter. Three bursts sent the German fighter crashing to earth. Pasaka surveyed the air battle and spotted another Bf 109 diving for the deck. “I made a sharp turn, half-rolled and got on his tail. He pulled up and I did likewise. As he did, I gave him a couple of short bursts. I could see strikes hitting his engine and a little smoke came out. He half-rolled and headed for the deck again. I closed up on him once more, giving him a couple of short bursts. He pulled up once more and rolled his plane from side to side, climbing all the while. As he was going into a sharp left turn again I shot and this time I scored a lot of hits all over the plane. The plane burst into flame. As it did, the pilot bailed out. The plane hit the ground and exploded.”

Maj. Ed Hiro, on the last scheduled mission of his tour, dove into a swirling Lufbery of 25 planes. A Bf 109 broke from the circle, with Hiro on its tail; F/O Johnnie Carter followed and saw the 109 crash and burn. The Mustangs turned back toward the Lufbery, but Carter became separated from Hiro, who called on the radio asking where the rest of his flight was. Leutnant Richard Franz of 7./JG 11 saw Hiro destroy another Bf 109, but closed on Hiro and almost immediately hit the P-51D in the engine and cockpit. Lt. “Ted” Conlin had seen the attack on Hiro, and had gained position on Franz just too late; as the German pilot watched his victim go in, Conlin stitched Franz’s Bf 109G-14/AS across the engine and left wing, forcing Franz to crash-land in a wooded area. Hiro’s Mustang descended gradually until it slammed into the ground; Hiro was killed as a result.

Lt. Richard Roper’s flight engaged the German fighters head-on. “A Bf 109 came in from one o’clock high and I managed to get on his tail,” said Roper. “I opened fire at 500 yards and closed to 100 yards, going straight down. His engine caught fire and parts flew off. The pilot bailed out at 2000 feet. I saw the plane crash and burn. I pulled up in a steep chandelle to the left into the flight when a Bf 109 came in again from 10 o’clock high. He turned away from me and I got him at 600 yards at about 60 degrees deflection. His engine caught fire and I saw the pilot bail out.” A Bf 109 tried to get on Roper’s tail, but it was engaged by his wingman, Lt. Edward Carr.

The 362nd soon ran across this swirling dogfight. “As we neared the fight, we circled slowly to the right, awaiting an opportunity to bounce any Bf 109s,” said Lt. James Sehl. “Suddenly, I saw a P-51 followed by another P-51, followed by a Bf 109. I called the flight leader and did a wing-over on the trio. I fired two short bursts from out of range and apparently hit the 109. He broke down and to the right. I closed to approximately 60 yards, firing many bursts and hitting him with each burst as we rolled straight down. He began streaming white smoke, then black smoke came from the ship and I saw some flames. When I was certain he couldn’t pull out, I reefed back on the stick at about 550 mph and below 1000 feet.”

Lt. Otto Jenkins and Lt. Walter Perry were approaching the fight when two Bf 109s flew past their noses in neat formation. “Lt. Perry took the one on the right and I went after the one on the left,” Jenkins said. “I closed and began to fire, I saw many hits on the wing roots, canopy and wings. The plane exploded and went into the ground. I saw no parachute.”

Jenkins and Perry, now at low altitude, then spotted a single Fw 190 flying parallel to a railroad track and they dove to intercept. Before Jenkins could fire, the Fw 190 pulled up, did a roll, clipped a stand of trees and crashed into the ground in a ball of fire. In all, the squadron claimed eight kills, with additional victories going to Lt. John Kirla and Weaver, but Lt. James Blanchard was shot down by Leutnant Georg Wroblewski of 7. /JG 11 and was killed.

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