68 years ago: the 4th FG’s Kenneth Foster starts his escape story

On 31 March, during an escort to Hassel, Lt. Kenneth Foster o the 4th Fighter Group suffered an engine failure at 17,000 feet and began gliding toward friendly territory. Foster finally crash-landed near Ommen, Holland. Foster was greeted by Dutch civilians. One told him to hide in the woods; later, this man and two boys returned and brought food and clothing for Foster. In the late afternoon, one of the boys returned with another man, who pointed a gun at Foster and turned him over to the Germans. They put him in the local jail. Through a cell window, a boy brought him a worn hacksaw blade, and Foster and two RAF personnel took turns sawing the bars in the window. After their evening meal, the trio escaped and found a friendly farmer who hid them and managed to make contact with the local underground. They hid for a week while the allies advanced toward them, then traveled to the recently-liberated town of Meppel. He returned to the group on April 21.

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68 years ago: bad weather can’t stop the 362nd Fighter Group

Weather closed in on March 28, but the 378th knocked out a couple of locomotives near Gussen on the one mission they managed to fly, and the 377th and 379th put up huge numbers of vehicles knocked out, with the 377th under Kent Geyer destroying more than 100. The 379th sent 16 planes on an armed reconnaissance of the Gemundun area, where they bombed and destroyed five trucks hiding in woods, then bombed and strafed 20 staff car-type vehicles hidden nearby. Capt. Harold Sullivan, who had just returned from a 30-day leave, was hit by flak and bailed out to become a POW, but returned to the squadron a week later, and Lt. William Cunningham was shot up and bellied in.

Kent Geyer adds to his scoreboard in April, 1945.

Kent Geyer adds to his scoreboard in April, 1945.

69 years ago: the 362nd flies an escort – and hits the Luftwaffe in the air and on the ground

On March 27, 1944, orders were issued calling for the 362nd Fighter Group to use belly tanks to escort heavy bombers to an airfield near Tours. Col. Morton Magoffin, the group CO, received permission to use wing tanks on half the planes; these flew under command of Maj. Charles Teschner, while Magoffin led the belly tank-equipped section. Magoffin’s section had to break off escort about halfway back to the coast on the return trip, but Teschner’s section took the bombers all the way to Tours. “We had been with the bombers for some time, giving close escort at 210,000 feet,” reported Maj. Teschner’s wingman, Lt. Robert W. Kennedy. “As the bombers were on the bombing run, just south of the target, I called in a single bogie at 11 o’clock. The bogie made his pass through the bombers and chandelled up toward our flight. As he did so, we started a gentle dive and his wing became silhouetted and I called him in as an Fw 190. Maj. Teschner released his wing tanks and peeled off after him. The Fw 190 went straight down with Maj. Teschner behind him closing fast.”

“The Fw 190 went down for about 15,000 feet before leveling out,” Teschner said. “I gave it a short burst from dead astern at a distance of 300 yards and a height of 4000 feet. I saw many strikes on the fuselage. Parts of the plane fell off and the pilot bailed out at 2000 feet” while traveling at almost 550 mph, which may have been his undoing. The German pilot “opened his chute almost immediately,” Kennedy reported, and the “chute streamed behind, but (I) cannot be sure it billowed out.” The Fw 190 crashed and exploded below them. “We were either in compressability or on the edge of it when the major fired, and speed was over 500 mph. We recovered at below 1000 feet and came out after climbing to 12,000 feet.”

Col. Magoffin and his wingman Lt. Joe Lane spotted an airfield, this one at Marderwijk, and dropped down to strafe. Each destroyed a Do 217 during their single pass. Lane’s was the 377th  Fighter Squadron’s first aircraft destroyed on the ground.

Joe Lane

Joe Lane

 

 

68 years ago: The 357th Fighter Group cleans up over Gutersloh

On March 24, 1945, the 364th Fighter Squadron was prowling the area west of Gutersloh when it spotted bandits airborne over the aerodrome. “We made a 180-degree turn and dove on their tails,” reported Capt. Paul Hatala. “The enemy aircraft saw us and broke up to fight. I picked out a Bf 109 and started turning with him. I got strikes in the wing. Pieces came off and it went into a dive from 3000 feet. The pilot bailed out and his chute opened.”

Hatala dove on another Bf 109 and sent it careening into the ground. “I looked at my tail and saw another 109 firing away at very close range. I immediately went into a steep turn to the right and dropped flaps. The 109 couldn’t stay with me, so he dropped out. When I leveled out he came in on me so he was set up for a 90-degree deflection shot. I got good hits on his wings and in the cockpit. Hits in his right wing knocked part of the wing off and he dished out and dove into the ground at about an 80-degree angle.”

Hatala spotted a Bf 109 on the tail of a P-51. “I got on the tail of this enemy aircraft and started shooting. I got some strikes on the wing and fuselage. He then leveled out and I gave him another burst. Pieces came off the enemy aircraft and the pilot bailed out.”

Lt. Robert Schimanski was leading White Flight; as the gaggle flew below him, he positioned his flight for a bounce. “I picked out one for myself, put the pipper on him and waited for him to blow up, but I couldn’t wait long enough to put the finishing touches on him,” Schimanski said. “I started turning with another Bf 109, finally catching him on the top of a climbing turn. I hit him in the cockpit and he snapped on his back and tumbled into the ground from about 2000 feet.”

Additional victims fell to Lt. Col. Andy Evans, F/O Charles Schneider, Maj. John Storch, and Lts. Stephen Waslyk, Lawrence Westphal, Roland Wright and Gilman Weber.

The 362nd Fighter Squadron heard the radio chatter and headed for the action. “The fight was at 12 o’clock low and we immediately started towards the engagement,” said Capt. Charles Weaver. He entered into a Lufbery, but lost the advantage and dove away. “Finally, I singled out a lone Jerry making haste from the scene of action; I turned and gave chase. My first burst, of three seconds, was at 650 to 700 yards. I observed strikes on the nose and engine cowling. The Bf 109 pulled up in a chandelle to the left and I closed very rapidly, firing a long second burst at 200 yards, noting strikes on the nose, engine, cockpit and all other parts of the enemy aircraft. Pieces were flying thick and fast. The pilot jettisoned his canopy and tried with some difficulty to get out. I gave several short bursts at 50 to 70 yards, at which time the pilot popped out of his cockpit. The Jerry’s chute did not open until he was about 80 feet from the ground. It did not have time to blossom.”

Charles Weaver's Mustang seen after the war's end.

Charles Weaver’s Mustang seen after the war’s end.

White Flight jumped into the same Lufbery. “I singled one out and got on his tail,” said Lt. William Gruber. “After a few deflection bursts at close range, I closed to about 100 yards dead astern. I put the pipper on the cockpit and fired a long burst of at least six seconds. Flames and black smoke enveloped the whole plane. The Bf 109 turned on its back and plummeted straight into the earth. A large, brilliant red flash followed.”

“I spotted a Bf 109 directly below at 9 o’clock to us and called it in to my flight leader,” said Lt. John Duncan. “He S’ed to the right and came in behind the enemy aircraft, which was turning to the left. Just then I sighted a P-51 with a Bf 109 on his tail shooting like mad. I called my flight leader and broke down on the Jerry’s tail. He pulled in to the left and made a 270 (degree turn). I opened fire at about 400 yards and he started streaming smoke. Then the pilot bailed out, making a delayed jump. I fired on him before his chute opened and believe I hit him.”

The 363rd Fighter Squadron was flying its own segment of the sweep not far away when they heard about the hunting around Gutersloh. Maj. Robert Foy soon spotted two Bf 109s hugging the deck. “I alerted the squadron and started to dive onto the tail of the enemy aircraft. They apparently saw us diving to attack and one enemy aircraft on the right side of the two-ship formation broke right and I lost sight of him. The lead ship broke left and I continued on to his tail, pulling into range, giving him a short burst. He obligingly straightened out at about 600 feet. I closed in rapidly, giving him short bursts. The last burst clobbered him squarely and he began streaming smoke. He headed toward the deck and made a feeble attempt to crash land. He hit upon his right wing and cartwheeled, tearing the plane to bits.”

Foy circled and saw the German pilot running from the crash. He strafed the pilot and killed him, but when he tried to pull up he hit a tree with is left wing, then bounced off a second with his right wing. Foy managed to fly his battered Mustang home.

The day was marred by the death of Otto Jenkins who was killed when his Mustang crashed while returning to base.

68 years ago: the 362nd FG ranges east of the Rhine

On March 22, the 362nd Fighter Group managed 16 missions, with four planes in each carrying bombs. The morning mission destroyed 13 locomotives, with the 377th Fighter Squadron claiming eight of them. Flak was heavy, and Lt. Merle Richey brought P-47D 42-20413 home only to belly-land it at Rouvres. The 379th dive-bombed and strafed rail traffic south of Weisbaden, then later sent an armed recce to the area east of Frankfurt.The 378th’s first mission took out two locomotives and damaged several train cars near Hauan, then Capt. Joe Hunter’s flight caused mayhem on the rail lines around Wolfskehn. Bombing derailed 15 cars, and strafing knocked out 18 horse-drawn vehicles and 10 trucks nearby. The third mission cratered roads and destroyed two trucks with bombs, then strafed 18 trucks, two horse-drawn transports, two trailers, two half-tracks and three box cars. The trucks were hiding in a quarry. During the mission, Lt. Joseph Pritchard was hit and bailed out into some woods near Trier. Despite some minor injuries, he returned to the squadron that afternoon.

Merle Richey (left) checks his ordnance before a mission.

Merle Richey (left) checks his ordnance before a mission.

Mission four for the 378th sealed the south end of a tunnel near Darnstadt with two bombs, then the remaining two wrecked 25 box cars and cut the rail lines. Strafing yielded 19 trucks, three horse-drawn vehicles and two horses and a pair of trolley cars. The marshalling yard south of Darmstadt was the target of the next mission, led by Capt. Paul Nunnelley; results of the bombing were not observed, but the four planes strafed an airfield east of the Rhine and peppered an He 177 before destroying an anti-aircraft position. The day’s final mission for the 378th cut rail lines with bombs, then strafed road traffic, claiming 12 trucks, three horse-drawn vehicles, a staff car, an oil truck and six buildings in Helenheim.

 

69 years ago: The Fourth FG has a field day – at a cost

Major Jim Clark led the group on 21 March, 1944 on a fighter sweep to the Bordeaux area, where 334 and 335 Squadrons shot up an aerodrome filled with Fw 200s. The group followed up by strafing two more landing fields.

“I came in very low over an aerodrome near Bordeaux, flying line abreast Lt. (Vassuere) Wynn,” said “Kidd” Hofer. “I fired on an enemy aircraft which I believe was an He 177. I saw many strikes as it burst into flames.” The defenses quickly came to life. Lt. Robert Williams was hit by flak and bailed out. He was knocked cold when he hit the stabilizer and came to in his chute, floating inside a cloud. He landed in a plowed field, and when he tried to get up, he found he couldn’t. Some French children helped hem to into a nearby peasant’s home, suffering from a bad gash on his leg and bruised ribs. He was quickly arrested by the Gestapo, who interrogated him, then sent him to a French hospital and then to a POW camp.

Capt. David Van Epps and Lt. Alexander Rafalovich came across a Do 217 trying to land. “I observed strikes all over it from both of us,” said Van Epps. “Lt. (Herbert) Blanchfield reports that the aircraft was burning badly when he came across the ‘drome behind us.”

Several Fw 190s tried to break up 334’s initial attack. Lts. Archie Chatterley and Nicholas Megura were strafing some buildings when the bounce came. “As I was pulling inside of one of them, they all broke off and started to run off on the tree tops,” reported Chatterley. “I was pulling strikes on the No. 4 man when Lt. Megura went past me and also got strikes. The Hun’s wheels started to come down, he hit some tree tops and spread the plane over a field where it burst into flames. Regaining height, we saw five Fw 190s below us. I attacked the last one. I fired short bursts and saw strikes. I was still firing as he pulled up, jettisoned the hood and bailed out.” Shortly thereafter, the pair spotted another aerodrome, where Megura “fired a long burst into an He 177, which started to burn,” he said.

A taxiing Ju 88 was dispatched by Capt. Howard Hively. “I got strikes and observed a fire start under his starboard engine, which soon engulfed the entire plane,” he said. His wingman, Lt. Leonard Pierce, fired at a second Ju 88 but missed. “I then attacked an Me 110 near a hangar and observed hits and also saw the hangar catch on fire,” Pierce said.

After bouncing four Fw 190s, Lt. Bill Hawkins and his wingman, Lt. James Dye, were set upon by four more German fighters. “I was trying to shake two of the Fw 190s from my tail by tight maneuvers below the tree tops,” Hawkins said. “When I finally lost them, I ran into a Bf 110 taking off from a grass-covered field. This enemy aircraft was flying at about 50 feet. I made one pass and gave him a short burst at 45 degrees deflection. The enemy aircraft crashed and burned at the end of the runway.” Hawkins ran out of fuel on the way home but evaded and made it back to the group after spending four months with the French underground. Dye managed to remain airborne even though he suffered a wound to his leg that bled profusely, forcing him to improvise a tourniquet with his belt. This probably saved his life.

F/O Joseph Goetz was hit at low altitude while strafing. Pierce McKennon saw his P-51B hit the ground; there was no fire, but the wings and engine broke off and the fuselage was left upside down and the pilot was later confirmed to have been killed. Capt. Earle Carlow’s P-51B was also hit while strafing; he went over the side about 15 minutes after being hit. Carlow was last seen by his squadronmates gathering up his parachute. He became a POW.

Lt. James Brandenburg was also hit while strafing; fire engulfed the cockpit, and his wingman, Lt. Lloyd Waterman, shouted at him to bail out. His chute opened at tree-top level, but Brandenburg died from his injuries. Lt. Kenneth Smith failed to return as well; he was taken prisoner, as was Alexander  Rafalovich, who bailed out north of Bordeaux.

The final tally for the day was 21 in the air and on the ground against seven Mustangs.

 

68 years ago: the 362nd pounds the Wehrmacht – but at a cost

The 378th FIghter Squadron had a busy day on March 21, 1945, flying seven four-ship missions, starting with the bombing of a locomotive and four cars near Besheim and the strafing of a locomotive, eight horse-drawn vehicles, 13 trucks and a half-track. Captain Darwyn Shaver’s flight strafed an airfield, destroying two Ju 88s and damaging three more before shooting up an a horse-drawn wagon between Worms and Darmstadt. Capt. Paul Nunnelley led a raid on the marshalling yards at Geisheim, then the flight silenced four light gun positions west of Darmstadt. The fourth mission received a call from controller “Organ” to silence guns firing on U.S. troops entering Mainz. The four planes struck five buildings in Kastel, also destroying two trucks in the process. On the way home, the planes strafed 12 light flak positions, destroying nine of them. Major Richard Cline led the next mission to bomb an airfield near Weisbaden where 10 twin-engine aircraft were seen; these may have been decoys. The mission did yield 15 trucks and 17 horse-drawn wagons in the same area. Next up was Capt. Joe Hunter, whose flight destroyed a locomotive and five cars northwest of Weisbaden, then strafed and destroyed a truck, four command cars and a horse-drawn vehicle. The day’s last mission was the most lucrative. Lt. Ralph Ellis, leading his second mission of the day, spotted a light flak position on the way to the target and strafed and destroyed it. The flight carried their bombs to a tunnel south of Grunstadt and blocked the entrance, destroying a locomotive and some cars in the process. The flight then strafed traffic nearby, accounting for 14 armored vehicles, five half-tracks, four trucks, and two horse-drawn vehicles. The 379th dropped eight 500-pounders on the marshalling yards at Gustavsburg, where they destroyed 10 boxcars. “After making our dive bombing run we went in for one strafing pass to get two locomotives,” said Lt. Frederick Bly. “I was behind and off to the right of Red Two (Lt. Philip Whelan) when I saw a trail of white smoke come out of his ship. He called in and said he was hit and was heading out. He turned to the right in a shallow climb which was the wrong way and I told him to get across the (Rhine). About 15 seconds later he said he was bailing out. He didn’t get out and the ship was heading toward the ground so I told him to hurry up. About a half a minute later the ship hit the ground at a very fast speed and exploded.” Whelan was killed in the ensuing crash of P-47D-30 42-76453.

A later 12-plane 379th mission hit Bimburg, where 300 cars were spotted, and 21 bombs destroyed about 100 of them. The strafing that followed destroyed two locomotives and four trucks. A third missin by the squadron struck the yards at Mainz. The 377th attacked railroad equipment that was being evacuated by the retreating Germans.