69 years ago: the 357th’s Peterson makes ace

On April 30, 1944, while heading back to Lieston, the 363rd Fighter Squadron saw a box of bombers under attack by a swarm of German fighters. “Six Fw 190s came through my section head-on,” reported “Bud” Anderson. “Two broke down and the others turned right. By using 20 degrees of flaps and full throttle, I pulled around on their tails in one turn and started firing. It must’ve scared the hell out of them as they all hit the deck. I then picked out two together and followed, attacking the last man and getting three good bursts. I had to pull up as I was overrunning him. He straightened out and ran; I then rolled back and followed. As I closed in again, a blue-nosed P-51 came in very steep and fast in front of me. He pulled up and out, the Fw 190 pulled up and the pilot bailed out and the ship crashed. I don’t even know if the blue nose even fired.” Anderson’s victory was one of nine the group scored that day; the other victories fell to Capt. Joe Broadhead and Lts. Robert Becker, Gilbert O’Brien, Joseph Pierce and Lt. Richard Peterson, who downed two to make “ace.”

Bud Anderson recounts an air battle for ground crew

Bud Anderson recounts an air battle for ground crew


68 years ago: the 4th FG scores its last victory of WWII

On 25 April, Col. Everett Stewart led the 4th Fighter Group on a fighter sweep to the Linz-Prague area, where Lt. William Hoelscher spotted an Me 262 and dove to attack. He scored strikes all over the jet, but while chasing it he was hit by a 40mm round over the Prague/Ruzyne Aerodrome that tore off the left elevator of his P-51D and had to bail out. Hoelscher landed amidst a group of Czech partisans, who hid him from the Germans. Hoelscher hitched rides on motorcycles, jeeps and airplanes to return to Debden on May 12. Hoelscher scored the group’s last victory and was its last loss of the war.

I mention this because this is the anniversary of the event – for a longer version, see this post featuring more detail. I have a couple of Mustangs on the workbench right now; one will become “Bunny”/”Miss Kentucky State” flown by Roscoe Brown of the 332nd FG, and the other will become Hoelscher’s machine. Stay tuned as the assembly line creaks into action…

Next Fighter Pilot Symposium: June 2 at the Hiller Museum

The Northern California Friends of the Aces (NCF) has announced its next – and possibly final –  symposium of American Fighter Pilot Aces, entitled simply “WWII USAAF Aces.”

On the docket to speak at this event are:

* MAJ Bill Allen  –  5 aerial victories, flying the P-51 (also flew combat in the P-38) withe the 343rd FS, 55th FG;

* COL Abner Aust – 5 aerial victories, flying the P-51 (the last pilot to achieve “ace” in WWII) with the 457th FS, 506th FG

* LT COL Frank Hurlbut – 9 aerial victories, flying the P-38 in the MTO with the 82nd FG

* MAJ Ralph Wandrey – 6 victories, flying the P-38 (flew many missions with Dick Bong) with the 9th FS, 49th FG

The event is June 2 at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, California (601 Skyway Road, right out by the airport off Highway 101). The price is $30; I strongly suggest you reserve your space early by sending a check and the names of the folks in your party to:

Northern California Friends

PO Box 5943

Concord, CA 94524

These events are always interesting, and they represent your last chance to meet these aviators in person. Phil Schasker, the president of the NCF, says that it’s harder to get a quartet of aces to speak at these events, just because health and age work against such events. Once the pilots are there, though, the talk is vivid and animated; when you get four pilots speaking of events 70 years ago, they often jog each other’s memories and new stories untold for years come out.

Is anybody interested in staging a model display for this event? Let me know and I can coordinate it with the NCF!

69 years ago: the 362nd FG destroys the rail yards at Malines

On April 22, the 362nd Fighter Group attacked rail targets in Malines, France in advance of the invasion. The 378th Fighter Squadron used a variety of approaches and altitudes to throw off the flak gunners, scoring seven direct hits on the western-most engine shed. The 379th dived from 10,000 feet and pressed their releases to 2,500 feet, scoring six hits on an engine shed. “After the bomb run, I broke left for reform and saw a P-47 to my left and at about 6500 feet, throwing flame from the supercharger bucket,” reported Capt. Bill Flavin, the leader of Blue Flight. It was Lt. Vernon P. Ligon, who was flying as a spare the flight, but had followed the squadron in; light flak damaged his P-47D-10-RE 42-75041 as he was pulling off of the target. “The ship was evidently under control and the pilot tried to extinguish the fire by violent dives and zooms. Finally, the ship turned over and the pilot bailed out approximately three to five miles from the target.”  Ligon was seen running on the ground northeast of Brussels, but he soon became a prisoner of war. Ligon, who was flying his 26th mission, was sent to a camp but later escaped for a short period before being recaptured and interned in Moosburg. Ligon had the dubious distinction of also being held as a POW for five years during the Vietnam War.

In the afternoon, the group flew a sweep of the area around Lingen as part of a diversion for a larger raid on Germany, shooting up rail traffic. Col. Morton Magoffin destroyed a locomotive, and Lt. Robert McKee claimed another one in Gutersloh. Lt. George Rarey’s plane, “Archie and Mehatibel,” was damaged by flak during the attack. Red Flight of the 377th had a guest, Major Gene Arth of the 406th Fighter Group, flying a familiarization mission. “I saw a train running south on the track from Meppen to Lingen and took Red Flight down to strafe,” said Capt. Tom Beeson, who had Arth on his wing. “We made one attack from west to east and encountered no ground fire whatsoever. The train stopped and we turned back and strafed again, this time from east to west, and destroyed the locomotive. I encountered no ground fire on this second attack, but as I pulled up to the left I saw bursts of 20mm flak over the target area. At the same time, I saw a ship dive, crash into the yard of a farmhouse and explode. Then my Number Three man (Lt. Edwin Fisher) called that my number two man, Maj. Arth, had crashed. Nobody in the flight saw a parachute, and Number Three noted Maj. Arth’s closed canopy as he went down. I do not believe there is any possibility of his having lived through the crash.” Arth was indeed killed in the crash of P-47D-11-RE 42-75596.


68 years ago: The Fourth Fighter Group’s biggest haul

On 16 April, 1945, the Fourth Fighter Group scored the biggest one-day bag in its history. Group “A,” commanded by Lt. Col. Sidney Woods, and group “B,” under Maj. Louis “Red Dog” Norley, flew an escort to Rosenheim and Prague, which was followed by a strafing mission around Karlsbad, Salzburg and Prague. 334 Squadron attacked Gablingen Aerodrome and devastated it. “All sections pulled up in line abreast,” said Norley. “We made the first pass from southwest to northeast. Maj. (Pierce) McKennon called and said that he could see no flak. We pulled up to starboard and came in for the second pass. On my third pass I observed several columns of smoke and several more beginning to burn.”

The carnage was impressive, with Lt. Kenneth Helfrect and Lt. William Antonides each destroying five planes, Norley and Lt. Gordon Denson each getting four, and Lt. Raymond Dyer, Lt. William Spencer, Lt. James Ayers, Lt. William O’Bryan and Lt. Arthur Bowers each destroying three. Three pilots each bagged a pair, and four more pilots, including Lt. Paul Burnett, destroyed one. However, Burnett did not return from the mission; Burnett’s target explode violently, and Burnett was flipped on his back. His plane was riddled with shrapnel, shredding the leading edge of one wing and bending the prop out of position so it vibrated furiously. Burnett could see a rivulet of oil running out of the engine across the left wing root. He righted the plane and struggled for altitude, and flew for a half an hour before the oil pressure reached zero and white smoke poured from the exhaust. Burnett had been ready to bail out, so he rolled the plane over and tried to drop out, but he was pinned half in, half out by the slipstream. He fought his way back in and righted the plane. He rolled the plane over again, and again was pinned against the headrest armor half-in and half-out. This time, he couldn’t wiggle back in, but something jerked him out of the plane just as it hit the ground. He came to six feet from his burning plane and crawled to a ditch, barely injured from this ordeal. Burnett was soon surrounded by German civilians, but they were not hostile. Soon, he was taken by Jeep to the American command post in Otterberg.

Meanwhile, at Prague/Kbely Aerodrome, 336 and 335 Squadrons worked over the field. “There were about 100 ships parked on the Prague/Kbely aerodrome,” reported Lt. Harold Fredericks. “There were also 15 parked at adjacent fields. It seemed to be a receiving point for all types of aircraft.”

“I was flying No. 3 to Col. Woods,” said Lt. Douglas Pederson. “After the first pass, I never saw the men in my section again.” Woods was hit during his third pass across the field; he radioed that he was bailing out and became a POW. The other two in the section, Lts. Ben Griffin and Ayers, were also hit by 40mm flak. “I had been flying Lt. (Don) Pierini’s former plane, ‘Jersey Bounce II,’ which I had renamed ‘Miss Marian,’” said Griffin. “The fifth enemy aircraft I destroyed exploded violently as I flew over it. Flying debris cut the coolant line to the after cooler, which sprayed coolant over my face. In spite of this, I made one more pass and destroyed another plane. I then made a terrible error. I pulled up to 300 feet. This gave the flak gunners on the top of the buildings an opportunity to zero in on me.” Griffin became a POW.

Fredericks also heard Capt. Leroy Carpenter report he was bailing out, but Carpenter was killed. “I saw a ship going south of the aerodrome losing coolant,” said Fredericks. “I followed it and identified it as Lt. (Carl) Alfred’s ship. In a turn, I lost sight of him for a few seconds. I then saw his plane in a shallow dive, streaming coolant, going into the deck and exploding on impact. Flying back to the aerodrome, I heard Lt. Ayers say he was bailing out.” Alfred did not escape his from P-51D and was killed; Ayers became a POW.

Edward McLouchlin opened fire on a Ju 188 on his first pass and set it on fire. “I found myself alone and made another pass. I got good strikes on another Ju 188 at the southeast corner of the field. I saw it burst into flame before I fired on the fourth Ju 188 in the middle of the field. I then fired into a hangar with no apparent results. I pulled up to 5,500 feet and headed out when I got hit by flak and my plane began to burn. I bailed and saw my kite explode on impact with the ground.”

Also downed and captured were Lts. Robert Miller and Edward Gimbel, making a total of eight pilots lost during the mission. Maj. McKennon’s plane was hit by a 20mm round that exploded in the cockpit and wounded him in the eye, but he nursed his Mustang home, as did eight other pilots whose planes suffered flak damage. However, the cost to the Germans was staggering. Lt. Pederson destroyed eight Ju 52s himself, while F/O Donald Baugh wrecked five Ju 88s. Lt. Kenneth Green, Lt. James Halligan and Lt. Loton Jennings each destroyed four planes. The total was 51 at the Prague airfields and 110 for the entire day.

68 years ago: the 362nd’s Ken Bullock gets lost, then knocks down two 109s

The group launched 14 eight-plane missions in support of XII Corps on April 12. Controllers guided the planes to attack German strongholds in Kohla, Rudolstadt, Kronach, Reinda and Kulmbach, where they bombed the castle and the town. At Reinda, the 378th Fighter Squadron destroyed three tanks, and two other tanks were dispatched during other missions in addition to a large volume of road transportation. The 378th’s last mission of the day saw it bomb some woods on a controller’s direction, then drop their tanks on it and strafe. Lt. Ken Bullock of the 378th became separated from the other planes in his flight in a thunderstorm and was attacked by eight Bf 109s over a German airfield, near Plauen. The Bf 109s broke into pairs and dove on the P-47 from out of the sun; as one pair dove past him, Bullock squeezed off short bursts, starting one of the Bf 109s smoking. Bullock lost sight of the first six Bf 109s, but he spotted the two he had fired on lining up to land at the airfield, apparently low on fuel. “I did a sharp turn to the left, then to the right and dove down on the field and met them head-on just as they were making their final approach,” he said. “I hit the one that was smoking first and then the one that flew his wing coming into the field. I had excess speed and my burst was short, but I hit both planes with one pass and I came around again and observed that both planes had landed and were burning.” Bullock orbited to take pictures of the wrecks on the ground. Small-arms fire, including one round that hit his windscreen, drove him off, and Bullock returned to base, landing at Etain in a rainstorm.

Meanwhile, the 379th made a strafing attack at the airfield at Orlamunden, destroying a Ju 52, a Fi 156 and an unidentified biplane. Afterward the Thunderbolts shot up four trucks and two cars on the nearby roads.

69 years ago: 25 victories for the 357th Fighter Group

The Luftwaffe was back up to challenge the 357th Fighter Group on April 11. Just after rendezvousing with bombers headed for Sorau, the 364th Fighter Squadron’s Green Flight ran across a single Bf 109, which dove for cover “After approximately five minutes of chasing, firing numerous bursts and observing numerous strikes, I shot the engine out of the Bf 109,” said Lt. John Carder. “The enemy pilot tried to crash land at in excess of 200 mph. The enemy aircraft hit the ground, bounced over high wires and a road, and crashed into the ground and exploded.”

Lt. Fletcher Adams had been with the bombers for about 20 minutes when he spotted a trio of Bf 109s below him. His flight leader, Lt. John England, took the tail-end plane; Adams took the second one and both chased their quarry to the deck. “The enemy plane took evasive action, turning and skidding,” said Adams. “I fired several bursts when he was going in an out of the clouds. A light stream of black smoke came out of the plane and he went into a cloud. I went over the cloud and next saw the pilot in a parachute. I saw a plane behind me, which I assumed to be my wingman. When I turned, however, he began to shoot at me from about 500 yards. I went down in evasive action to about 20 feet and pulled up sharply to the right. The enemy plane tried to follow this maneuver. After I had nearly completed a 360-degree turn, I saw the enemy plane spin into the ground explode and burn. I saw no parachute this time.”

White Flight of the 363rd spotted an He 111 “sneaking along right on the ground,” said “Bud” Anderson. “The first pass wasn’t so good,” he said. “I pulled up and the rest of the flight came in.” After Lt. Henry Kayser put a burst into the cockpit and Lt. William Overstreet shot up the plane from dead astern, Anderson stitched the He 111 from tail to cockpit, then Lt. Edward Simpson came in and set the left engine ablaze. “He tried to crash land, and did,” said Simpson. “The ship burst into flames after hitting a pole and sliding along the ground. The crew jumped out.” Simpson, Kayser and Anderson each added individual victories during the mission

In all, the group destroyed 25 planes. The victors included Lts. Gilbert O’Brien, John Pugh, Arval Roberson, Charles Peters, Richard Peterson, William Reese, LeRoy Ruder, and Robert Shaw, who each downed one. Half-credits went to John England and Don Bochkay