69 years ago: the 4th FG’s Frank Speer begins his odyssey

On 29 May, Don Blakeslee led the 4th Fighter Group on a withdrawal support mission to Poznan, Poland. The Luftwaffe was up in force. “We dove on five Jerries attacking the lead box of the 2nd Combat Wing,” reported Lt. Robert Church. “I saw a Bf 109 open fire at the bombers and then climb up on the other side. I went after him. He saw me coming and started to wrack it in. About halfway through his turn, he suddenly reversed his turn and dove straight down. I followed him but did not fire. He jettisoned his canopy, but I did not see him bail out or see a chute. At about 4000 feet, we were both still going straight down at about 450 mph, so I started to pull out gradually. I saw his aircraft go straight into the sea about a half-mile southwest of Nysted.”

Other fighters fell to Blakeslee, Capt. Bernard McGrattan, Lt. Conrad Netting and Lt. Don Emerson. Lt. Orrin “Ossie” Snell was chasing a Bf 109 at high speed when its tail section came off in flight. After leaving the target area, 336 Squadron found a seaplane base on a lake and strafed it. In total, the squadron damaged 12 seaplanes and destroyed two.

Frank Speer

Frank Speer

Unfortunately, in the process Lt. Frank Speer’s plane was hit by flak. He set his plane down in a small field next to a village in Poland, then ran into the woods ahead of a mob of angry villagers. After eluding the villagers, he hid in some bushes and waited for nightfall, then used his knowledge of European geography to start an epic journey by foot. Speer traveled 400 miles, planning to walk to Denmark and stow away on a boat to Sweden. He  nearly made it, but his plans were foiled when he was awakened from a nap by a German soldier. He ended up in Stalag Luft III, then survived the winter “death march” to Nurnberg. When the prisoners were moved again, Speer and a fellow POW escaped and received shelter from some French laborers. As the war ground to an end, the pair received the surrender of 24 German soldiers.


69 years ago: the 4th Fighter Group’s aces score

James Goodson was in command of the 4th Fighter Group on 28 May, 1944 for an escort to Ruhland. About 20 German fighters attacked the bombers before the target, and in the ensuing fight 334 Squadron bounced the enemy planes and destroyed eight of them. “Our squadron used its superior height and followed them in the turn in a shallow dive,” said Mike Sobanski. “We managed to split up the enemy formation, and I found a single bluish-gray 109 flying perfect line abreast formation with a P-51 at some 150 yards distance. They both didn’t seem to realize their mistake, and only caught on when I attacked the 109. He dove straight down and momentarily I lost him in the haze, finding him again when he started pulling back up. I fired a few short half-second bursts closing in, and was just going to position myself better on him as I saw no strikes. Much to my surprise, he jettisoned his canopy and bailed out.”

Winslow "Mike" Sobanski

Winslow “Mike” Sobanski

Ralph “Kidd” Hofer scored his 15th victory, knocking down the Bf 109G-6 of Uffz. Heinz Kunz of 6/JG.11 near Magdeberg. The day’s other victors were Maj. Michael McPharlin and Lts. Grover Siems, Mark Kolter, Dean Lang and Robert Kenyon. In return, Lt. Aubrey Hewatt was hit by a Bf 109 and bailed out just before his plane exploded. Lt. Richard Bopp became separated from the group and, like Hewatt, ended up as a POW.

69 years ago: the 357th’s skirmish over Strasbourg

During an escort to Ludwigshaven on 27 May, 1944, the 364th Fighter Squadron, 357th Fighter Group jumped a large formation of Bf 109s about 20 miles southwest of Strasbourg. “I was leading Blue Flight with Lt. (Thomas) Harris flying my No. 3 when we went down on a Bf 109 that was diving away,” said Major John Storch. “Lt. Harris’ element was in position when we went down followed by our Green Flight.”

A quartet of 357th FG Mustangs, led by Maj. John Storch (in C5*R)

A quartet of 357th FG Mustangs, led by Maj. John Storch (in C5*R)


Lt. Leroy A. Ruder was the number three man in Green Flight. “As my flight leader was getting into position to fire on one of the enemy aircraft, I observed a Bf 109 trying to get into position to attack him,” Ruder reported. “I immediately broke into the enemy aircraft and at the same time expected my wingman (Lt. Cyril Conklin) to break with me. I do not know where he went. I had my hands full with the 109 I was fighting and since my radio was out could not ask my wingman for his position.” Conklin scored two kills in the fight but fell victim to a Bf 109 and wound up as a POW.

“When the dogfight was finished I had my No. 2 and Green Flights 1 and 2 and a 352nd group plane with me,” said Storch. “I started spiraling for altitude and the bombers, which were out of sight. I called Lt. Harris and finally got him, and he said he was OK and hunting for me. I told him my position as nearly as possible, my altitude and course, and a stayed in the area for approximately 15 minutes.” Storch never found his second element leader; Harris probably collided with Dean Post; the five-kill ace became a POW, while Post was killed when his Mustang crashed.

Despite the losses, the toll the squadron exacted on the enemy was impressive – 12.5 kills. Aces predominated on the scoreboard for the day; Storch scored two and a half victories, Harris and Lt. Morris Stanley two each, and LeRoy Ruder and Robert Shaw one each.

The 362nd was climbing behind the lead box of bombers. “Between five and six enemy aircraft came down through the bombers and turned left to the same heading that we had,” said Lt. Fletcher Adams. “We started to chase them. One went to the left, with Capt. (John) England following and I saw pieces fall off that aircraft as Capt. England shot at him. The second one went to the right with Capt. (Calvert) Williams shooting at him. There were pieces coming off him. The two directly in front of us started a gentle turn to the left. The one in the inside tightened his turn and I told Lt. (Gilbert) O’Brien to get him.”

Fletcher Adams' "Southern Belle" before a mission in spring 1944.

Fletcher Adams’ “Southern Belle” before a mission in spring 1944.

This plane made two 360-degree turns to the left, said O’Brien. “I shot a 90-degree deflection shot. Not seeing any hits, he rolled out square in front of me. I had a little excess speed and came right in behind him. I began to overshoot and saw his canopy come off. I slid right up beside him with my flaps down. He bailed out as I was alongside of him at about 12,000 feet. His chest was covered in blood and he hit the rudder. I did not see his chute open.”

Meanwhile, the second Fw 190 continued in a gentle turn with Adams in pursuit. Adams fired, scoring hits. “At about 10,000 feet, he seemed to be trying an outside loop, so I rolled out, and when I lifted my wing I saw an explosion on the ground and a parachute in the neighborhood of the crash.” In addition to these victories, three more pilots scored singles, including Lt. John Pugh.

The 363rd was in on the fun, too. Capt. William O’Brien was leading and he ordered White Flight to attack, with Blue and Green Flights giving cover. Capt. “Bud” Anderson was leading White Flight, and as they raced for the front of the front of the formation, “my No. 3 called in four bandits coming in on us at 4 o’clock,” he said. “We broke into them and they pulled up and circled, trying to get at us. With full throttle and RPM, I was able to close around and climb on them. They all straightened out and tried to run while their No. 4 climbed up – my No. 3, Lt. Edward Simpson, climbed up after him while I chased the other three.”

William O'Brien

William O’Brien

Simpson caught his quarry at 30,000 feet and, after hitting him with two bursts, saw the pilot bail out. Meanwhile, Anderson pursued the other three fighters. “I closed slowly on No. 3 and waited until I was in close and dead astern, then fired a good burst, getting hits all over; smoke streamed and his canopy may have come off. He rolled over and went down out of control.” Next, Anderson “singled out No. 2; he dove and pulled up in a left climbing turn. I pulled inside and overshot – he straightened out and I pulled up, watching him as he tried to get on my No. 2’s tail. He stalled and I went after him; he repeated with another left climbing turn. I overshot again and the same thing followed, and the third time I made up my mind I wouldn’t lose him, so as he pulled up I fired. The first tracers went over his right wing. I skidded my nose over and strikes appeared all over. I slid alongside and saw fire break out. It rolled over slowly and went straight in from 28,000 feet.”

O’Brien spotted Bf 109 chasing a P-51; he fired a 90-degree deflection shot to get the German to break off his attack, and then maneuvered in behind him. After several rounds struck near the cockpit and smoke began to issue from the plane, the pilot bailed out.

Capt. Jim Browning was leading Green Flight. “I saw two Bf 109s going the opposite direction. I turned and gave one a shot with deflection. I don’t think I hit him. He then pulled almost straight up. I climbed with him and waited until I was about 250 yards (away) and I leveled out. I then gave him a long burst. I got hits and coolant came out. He then turned and I overshot him. I made a circle and came back at him. He was in a slight dive with coolant still coming out. I gave him another long burst from about 20 degrees deflection. I could see him bowed over in the cockpit as if trying to fasten his chute. The last burst I gave him was directly into the cockpit and right side of his plane. He bailed out and I pulled up over him.” According to Browning’s wingman, the German’s chute opened but the pilot fell out of the harness and plummeted to earth.

69 years ago: the 362nd’s Emory Riggs gets a 190

On May 26, 1944, the 362nd Fighter Group escorted A-20s to the airfield at Beamont-sur-Oise. The 379th Fighter Squadron spotted enemy planes, but they were too distant to be bothered with and made no move toward the bombers. One flight of the 378th Fighter Squadron went down to strafe, and discovered the planes on the aerodrome were decoys, but while pulling away they spotted Ju 88s hidden in the woods, and they worked over the hidden bombers. The 377th Fighter Squadron found themselves among some airborne fighters, and Lt. Emory Riggs of the 377th shot down an Fw 190.In the midst of the melee, Lt. Don Dickson, who’d been fished from the channel just a few days earlier, was hit by flak while flying P-47D-23-RA 42-27598 (E4*H) and radioed, “Jigsaw Blue 3 here, my engine oil is out, will have to crash land.” He bellied in near St. Claire-sur-Epte, and was taken prisoner by members of the German Second Company, Fifth Armored Signal Regiment. The 379th spotted four Fw 190s and Capt. Thurman Morrison’s flight gave chase near Paris, but they were lost in the haze.

Back at Hornchurch, Capt. Harry Stroh lost control of P-47D 43-7788 during a takeoff and significantly damaged the machine, although Stroh suffered only minor injuries.


69 years ago: the 362 FG’s escort can’t protect against flak

On May 22, 1944, the 362nd Fighter Group carried out an escort of B-26s and A-20s to the airfield at Cormeilles-en-Vexin. 32 P-47s from the 377th and 378th Fighter Squadrons escorted the 36 Marauders to the target; 20 minutes later, 16 more P-47s from the 379th shepherded 24 A-20s through the same target. Flak was ferocious, downing three B-26s and one A-20 in the target area, and the P-47s escorted another straggling A-20 over the channel as far as 20 miles from Beachy Head before it exploded. Lt. Donald W. Dickson of the 377th suffered engine trouble and went down in the channel himself, but was rescued by an Air Sea Rescue Service OA-10 Catalina.

69 years ago: “Deacon” Hively bags three for the 4th FG

On May 19, 1944, the 4th Fighter Group escorted bombers over the German capital and back to the Baltic. “About four minutes after we had left the bombers, the leader of Red Section reported one aircraft circling on the cloud at 10 o’clock,” reported Capt. Howard Hively. “I told him to go down and I would follow. As he started down, I noticed there were three of them in a wide vic, with one way in front. The two wingmen half-rolled immediately, with Mustangs right behind them, but the leader continued in a straight line. I picked him, flew up almost beside him, identified him as a 109 with green markings on the side, let down my flaps, dropped to line astern and clobbered him from about 150 yards. He went down streaming black smoke. The pilot did not get out.”

Hively ordered his squadron to form up. Soon, Hively saw six Bf 109s at about 21,000 feet, “a mile or so to our 10 o’clock, flying north. We swung starboard on their tails. I started to gain, but slowly. I saw Lt. (David) Howe clobber the straggler in the starboard three, then the rest broke to the left and down. I was covered with so much oil from the first 109 that I could not see very well and lost the port three (109s) for a time, but dove to where I thought they were going. At about 9000 feet, I found what I thought were only two flying very good formation. I half-rolled, attacking the right one. I immediately got hits on the tail and starboard wingtip of one who evidently flicked to the left and smashed into another on the bottom of the turn whom I hadn’t seen before. The one who was shot bailed out immediately and then his fuselage broke in half about three feet back of the cockpit. I followed the one who had hit him, still shooting deflection. He flicked again and what appeared to be part of his starboard wing flew off, and he bailed out.”

Howard Hively in the cockpit of his P-51D

Howard Hively in the cockpit of his P-51D

Maj. Michael McPharlin and Lts. James Scott and Joseph Lang also claimed kills. Lt. Donald Patchen was hit by flak over Berlin and nursed his Mustang as far as Hanover, where he bailed out. His wingman saw him on the ground, where he had to make a choice between a field of wheat set afire by his plane, a mob of farm-implement-wielding civilians and some Wehrmacht soldiers. He opted for the soldiers and was soon in a POW camp.


69 years ago: the 362nd Visits Busigny

After a five-day break, the 362nd Fighter Group  attacked the marshalling yards at Busigny on May 17, 1945. 27 planes bombed, with 16 providing top cover; the load of 54 500-pound bombs was split between two areas in the yards. Lt. Bill Moore of the 379th Fighter Squadron noted in his log that the bombs “caused “railroad cars to be blown into the air.”

Bill Moore with his P-47D razorback

Bill Moore with his P-47D razorback

Four planes strafed the second area but were dissuaded from this activity by a flak tower in the woods northeast of the target, which threw up an intense barrage. One P-47, 42-76199 flown by Lt. Bernard J. Elson, was damaged by its fire; his fellow pilots heard him radio that he had been hit and didn’t know if he could make it. After five minutes, Elson radioed, “Sorry, I can’t make it. I’m losing altitude. I’ll have to go down.” A response from one of his flight members came back: “OK boy, hurry back!” Elson was last seen near Quant, west of Cambrai. No one saw a crash or a parachute and his status was listed as missing in action. Lt. Ed MacLean had to force-land P-47D 42-26113 at High Halden when his engine failed; the Thunderbolt was a complete write-off.