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.

 

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