69 years ago: the Fourth Fighter Group in Action over Munich

On 18 March 1944, Blakeslee led the Fourth Fighter Group’s escort mission to Munich. Eight Fw 190s were sighted 5000 feet below the group, just above the bombers, and four sections of Mustangs descended on them. “As we started down on them, they were darting in and out of the clouds,” said Duane Beeson. “I closed on one, and my second burst must have hit his belly tank, because the whole aircraft immediately blew up in my face and I was unable to avoid it. I had to fly through it, and I felt pieces of the Bf 109 strike my aircraft before I could break clear. I could feel the heat in my cockpit, and I immediately checked my instruments. I looked down and saw what was left of the 109 going down, covered in flame.”

Blakeslee and Don Gentile, his wingman, dove at the same time. “As we approached, the eight enemy aircraft split, with four diving line abreast, so we followed them to the deck,” Blakeslee said, “closing to 50 yards before opening fire. I took the No. 3 aircraft and Capt. Gentile took the No. 4. When I finally closed to within 200 yards of the No. 3 enemy aircraft I saw strikes all along the tail, fuselage cockpit and engine. The cockpit hood fell off and the engine started to smoke and burn and the left undercarriage fell down. I did not see him go in, but Capt. Gentile saw him hit the ground.”

Ralph Hofer opened fire on a Bf 109 and “saw strikes and an explosion as pieces flew off and black smoke poured out of the falling enemy aircraft,” he reported. “I fired on a Bf 109 which went into the clouds but popped out again as the canopy came off. The pilot bailed out.”

Hofer prepared to attack two 109s, but his prop ran away. He set course for Switzerland, and started to climb to bail out when his prop came back to normal. “I decided that with a little luck I could make it back home. I landed at Manston with six gallons of gas.”

Archie Chatterley, “Tom” Biel and “Cowboy” Megura also destroyed Bf 109s, but there were losses. Lt. Kenneth Smith and Lt. Edward Freeburger had taken up position on the lead box of B-17s when a gaggle of 20 Fw 190s wheeled around in front of the formation to make head-on attacks on the B-17s. “There were so many Huns around that I hardly knew which to go for,” said Smith. I called Lt. Freeburger to take one (while) I would take the other of the two just below us. I got on the Fw 190’s tail and opened fire. I closed in and gave him a long burst. I finally got strikes along the port wing root. The enemy aircraft went into a spin and white smoke started pouring out. Just then Lt. Freeburger called and said there were four of them on our tail. I broke and started climbing full bore. The four couldn’t climb and turn with me so they gave up and started for the deck; I immediately whipped over and started after them.

“These four Fw 190s were still running ahead of me at about 300 feet going east but I was catching them fast. When I cleared my tail before starting to attack, I saw six coming down at me, so I started climbing full bore in a slight turn. Those six behind me did not press their advantage. I was alone then, so I climbed back to the bomber formation. When I joined again, there were two Bf 109s making underneath attacks.” Smith drove them off. “I stayed with them for another 10 minutes and then started for home.” Smith made it back; Freeburger did not. His Mustang was shot down, crashing near Nancy. Lt. Woodrow Sooman of 336 Squadron was also shot down; he was taken prisoner by the Germans.

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