69 years ago: The 357th Fighter Group cleans up over Berlin

The 357th Fighter Group again went to Berlin on 6 March. Among the 15 aborts was the new group commander, Lt. Col. Don Graham, placing Maj. Tommy Hayes, the CO of the 364th Fighter Squadron, in charge. The continent was completely socked in by cloud, hampering navigation. At the designated time for rendezvous with the bombers, Hayes broke radio silence, asking Capt. William O’Brien, “Where’s Berlin, Obee?”

“I think Berlin is behind us,” O’Brien radioed back. The group executed a 180-degree turn within an opening in the clouds, and just as it completed the turn the bombers broke out of the clouds seven miles away and just off to the left. Before anyone could exult in the near-perfect rendezvous, another voice broke in – “Bogies, two and three o’clock level!” More than 100 German aircraft headed for the bombers, led by seven Bf 110s of III/NJG.5 commanded by Maj. Hans Kogler. Behind Kogler’s nightfighters were 41 Me 410s and 72 Bf 109s.

“The Bf 110 that I latched on to was easy pickings, which was O.K. with me,” said O’Brien. “I got him burning in his left engine area, and we were in a very steep diving right turn, when my machine guns started jamming.” As O’Brien tried to clear his guns, the Bf 110 dived vertically, smashing into what O’Brien described as a building resembling a factory. “You never saw such a fine explosion!”

William O'Brien

William O’Brien

Capt. Leroy Ruder was flying Lt. John Carder’s wing, and he also attacked a 110. “Carder overshot and I fired a burst from close range that blew the canopy to pieces and must have killed the pilot,” Ruder wrote in his diary. “The plane went into a steep dive from 20,000 feet and we followed it down to 5,000 feet where Capt. O’Brien fired at it until it burst into flames.”

Meanwhile, the 362nd Fighter Squadron’s Capt. Davis Perron and wingman Lt. Rod Starkey spotted a damaged B-17 under attack by two Fw 190s. The Germans turned and ran, but Perron caught one and opened fire. “His wing tank blew up and he caught fire and went into an inverted spin.” Perron broke off and the second Fw 190 inexplicably flew in front of him, only to meet a similar fate. Returning to the bombers, Perron spotted a twin-engined fighter he identified as a Me 210 and shot it down as well. Starkey added a Bf 109 of his own.

William O’Brien, his Mustang’s guns jammed, formed up with Leroy Ruder for the flight home. A few minutes later, Ruder called a bogey at two o’clock, another Bf 110, armed with rockets and still looking to get a shot at the bombers. “I attacked from dead astern at about 200 to 150 yards and hit the left engine,” said Ruder. “I next fired at the fuselage and right engine striking both of them. I had only one gun firing at the time but it did the job. Oil from the enemy aircraft covered my canopy and he started into a spin with both engines smoking badly.” The Bf 110, from III/NJG.5, managed to crashland and its pilot, Leutnant G. Wolf, survived the encounter.

As Hayes’ flight headed home, he spotted a single Bf 109 flying the opposite direction and a few miles to his right. Hayes reversed his course and held his fire until he had closed to 200 yards before opening fire. Strikes sparkled around the cockpit area and the Bf 109 lurched into a dive, exploding against the German soil. Uffz. K. Pelz of JG.302 was killed in the crash.

Shortly, another member of Hayes’ flight, Lt. John Howell, spotted a Bf 109, this one flown by Oberleutnant Gerhard Loos, a 92-kill ace and Staffelkapitan with JG.54. Howell opened fire and overshot Loos, but Carder closed in to finish the German ace’s plane off. Loos may have bailed out before this attack, but he fell out of his parachute and plunged to his death.

After each of them had downed a Bf 110, Capt. Glendon Davis and wingman Lt. Tom Harris were headed home when they spotted a B-17 straggler with an Fw 190 on its tail. “We dove down on the enemy aircraft but couldn’t close on him as the tail gunner of the bomber was firing at him,” said Davis. “We broke to the side of the enemy aircraft and at that time he saw us and broke into us. We turned into him and he started for the deck in a tight spiral. We followed him down, indicating from 450 to 500 mph. At 10,000 feet he dropped his belly tank. At 5000 feet his airplane appeared to be stalling as he tried to pull out. His canopy flew off but the plane went right into the ground without the pilot getting out.”

In all, the group scored 20 kills – including victories for Don Bochkay, Joe Broadhead and Morris Stanley and a half-kill for Arval Roberson – without a single loss, its first of what would be many big days.

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  1. […] 69 years ago: The 357th Fighter Group cleans up over Berlin (obscureco.wordpress.com) […]


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