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.

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