69 years ago: the Fourth Fighter Group bombs Gilze Rijen

On 30 January 1944, Capt. Raymond Care led the Fourth Fighter Group on a dive-bombing mission to the Gilze Rijen Aerodrome, with two sections in each squadron loaded with 500-pound bombs and the other two sections flying cover. The group hit a fuel dump and one of the runways. While the bombs were falling, the top cover was attacked by 15 to 20 Bf 109s. Lt. Raymond Clotfelter’s section had dodged four diving Bf 109s when he spotted a Bf 109 “coming in at 9 o’clock and when he started to pull deflection on me, I called a break and immediately flicked over into an aileron turn. I saw three other enemy aircraft off to my right approximately 1500 yards away. I decided I could catch them, so I pushed everything to the firewall and closed very quickly.” When the Bf 109s recovered from their dives, “I pulled deflection and opened fire,” said Clotfelter. “After a short burst, I pushed my nose through again and fired a longer burst. I closed to 100 yards, seeing strikes all over the cockpit, pieces falling off the tail and a fire. I had to break off to the right and as I did, I passed within a wing span of his plane.” The plane dove to earth and exploded.

Raymond Clotfelter

Raymond Clotfelter

Capt. “Mike” Sobanski was leading the top cover, and one Bf 109 made a pass at his section. “As he broke away, I saw another Bf 109 dive head-on past us, and I followed him down,” Sobanski reported. “I gave him a short burst in a 70-degree dive, observing no strikes, He started pulling up, turning left and I fired a 20-degree deflection shot. I observed strikes in the wings and near the cockpit. A large patch of white smoke came out after my last burst and he flicked left, smoking badly. Lt. (Howard) Moulton, my No. 2, saw him go down in flames after he flicked.”

Mike Sobanski (left) and James Goodson relax between missions.

Mike Sobanski (left) and James Goodson relax between missions.

While the top cover was engaged, another group of 109s appeared behind the planes that had just bombed. The Mustangs thought they were friendly and orbited to join up, according to Lt. Paul Ellington. “They turned out to be all Bf 109s, about six or eight in number. We engaged them immediately and three of them dived for the deck.”

Lt. Kendall “Swede” Carlson knocked down a Bf 109, the saw another P-47 with a Messerschmitt behind it. “Lt. Ellington cut inside of me and took him off the 47’s tail,” said Carlson. The 109 hit in a pall of smoke and flame on a mud flat.  Additional victories fell to Lt. Vermont Garrison and Lt. Duane Beeson.

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68 years ago: the 362nd Fighter Group busts bridges and snarls traffic

The weather took a favorable turn on January 14, 1945, and 11 missions were flown by the 362nd Fighter Group. Two were in support of VIII Corps, four went after the Willingen highway bridge; the 378th Fighter Squadron, led by Capt. Wilfred Crutchfield, dropped three spans, then strafed and destroyed seven trucks and four gun positions southeast of Trier. The squadron’s second mission struck the ammunition dump south of Asch, with 14 planes under Lt. Robert Stoddard making the raid, followed by an uneventful armed reconnaissance. In the evening, the 378th sent 12 planes under Maj. Vern Boehle to bomb Bourcy, and they also destroyed four gun positions north of the town. The group also flew five armed recces. The total claims were 93 trucks, 14 armored vehicles, 20 locomotives, one roundhouse, seven gun positions and six buildings in Courcy. The 377th Fighter Squadron made an especially good showing, wiping out 63 trucks and two half-tracks. The tank depot at Aschaffenburg was pounded with 1000-pound bombs. Two planes were lost, but both pilots returned to the group safely. The 379th returned to the bridge it attacked the day before, this time bringing 14 1000-pounders and eight 500-pounders. Although the bridge remained standing, it was holed in three places and the approaches were completely impassable.

 

69 Years Ago: “Goody,” Wherman and Garrison keep Blakeslee from buying the farm

On January 7, 1944, the Fourth Fighter Group covered bombers coming from Ludwigshafen, and the hard-flying Don Blakeslee was nearly undone by his aggressiveness. Near Hesdin, about a dozen Fw 190s attacked straggling B-17s from out of the sun. Blakeslee tried to bounce the enemy planes, but was cut off by some Spitfires and joined James “Goody” Goodson’s Red Section. “I had climbed up 12,000 or 14,000 feet when I saw more Fw 190s attacking straggling Forts,” said Blakeslee. “I went down on these, being covered by Capt. Goodson’s section, and chased one enemy aircraft down to between 2000 and 3000 feet.”

Goodson, with wingman Lt. Robert Wehrman in tow, followed Blakeslee line astern “to the best of my ability,” he said, although he admitted it was “a rough ride.” “Other 190s attempted to attack, but usually broke away down through the clouds when I turned into them.”

Suddenly, Blakeslee was jumped by three Fw 190s. One Fw 190 made a “determined attack, firing at Lt. Col. Blakeslee even after I started firing at him,” said Goodson. “When I started getting strikes on him, he broke hard port, but even though he pulled streamers from his wingtips I was able to pull my sights through him. He suddenly did two and a half flick rolls and then split-S’ed vertically through some light scud cloud. I followed in a steep wing-over and had to pull out hard to miss some trees as the cloud was lower than I had realized. As I did so, I caught sight of an explosion. Since the 190 had gone through vertically, I feel sure he could not have pulled out even if he had not been damaged.”

Goodson was soon able to join with Blakeslee again. “Before I could get close enough to prevent it, a 190 came in on Lt. Col. Blakeslee and commenced firing at quite short range,” said Goodson, The German scored hits – 71 by the count of Blakeslee’s ground crew. Goodson got on his tail and fired, “and was relieved to see strikes all over him, and see him peel away and crash in flames on the ground, which was quite close,” said Goodson. Lt. Vermont Garrison damaged Blakeslee’s third pursuer.

“The enemy aircraft I was attacking suddenly broke off the turn, straightened out and went into haze,” said Blakeslee. “I followed and as he came out I was dead line astern. I fired a three to four second burst, observing strikes on the enemy aircraft’s tail and starboard wing. Pieces came from the cockpit. The enemy aircraft then did a half-flick to the right and went in. My radio had been shot out and my aircraft was spraying oil badly.” Blakeslee nursed his damaged Thunderbolt home as he and his escorts were repeatedly bounced by Bf 109s, but by now only Wherman, on his first show, had ammunition. The two other pilots made mock attacks to throw off the Germans’ aim. Blakeslee landed at Manston, having survived the mission with his seventh kill.