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.

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