69 years ago: the Yoxford Boys down 19 near Magdeburg

About 20 miles southwest of the target, Liepzig, the 364th  Fighter Squadron’s Red Flight engaged a batch of Bf 109s, with the lead element attacking the German fighters while the second element provided top cover against an ambush. The ambush came, and Capt. Rick Smith was hot down and killed in the ensuing dogfight.

“Bud” Anderson was leading the 363rd, riding herd on the second box of bombers between Brunswick and Magdeburg. After combat began ahead of the squadron, “we dropped our tanks and started forward when eight Fw 190s went under me,” said Anderson. “They crossed in front of the low squadron of bombers and turned left flying our formation, mocking escort. It looked like a trap as eight more came down and bounced our second section. They turned into them and seemed to be doing OK, so our section went down on the ones below. I picked the leader, gave him a short burst from about 350 yards dead astern, got quite a few hits. He did a roll to the right and straightened out, skidding violently. The canopy flew off and he snapped over on his back, bailing out.

“I then saw another one heading for the clouds. He ducked in, but it was thin and I could see him once in a while, so I followed. He came out in a clear spot and I attacked from the rear, closing to 150 yards and getting quite a few hits. The canopy flew off, the pilot started to climb out, but settled back into the cockpit. I flew alongside and saw fire break out in the cockpit. He slowly rolled over and went straight in from about 8000 feet, making a huge explosion.

“My wingman came alongside and we started to climb back when another Fw 190 came out of the thin overcast 90 degrees to our course and behind us and above. We circled around on his tail, climbing after him. I cut him off, closed in and started firing. I didn’t get hits at first, so I slid around dead astern and got a few good hits. He then took his first evasive action, pulling up through the clouds. I followed, firing. He went down through it again, I got some hits in the cockpit area. The Fw 190 then did a violent snap roll to the right followed by a tight spin. Streamers were coming off his wingtips and tail surfaces and he spun right in, exploding. No chute came out.”

Blue Flight, with Don Bochkay leading, was flying just above Green Flight, and just after the four Mustangs dropped their tanks and started to turn, Bochkay looked into the sun and spotted “four Fw 190s coming down on us followed by four Bf 109s,” he said. “They went past us and broke into Green Flight, dead astern.”

“They fired and passed over the top of my flight, making a turn to cut us off,” said Capt. Robert Foy, who was Green Leader. “I called for (Blue Flight) to break right and I put 20 degrees of flaps down and cut my throttle, maneuvering to the rear of the enemy aircraft. I pulled up on the tail of the rear Fw 190. I fired at him (and) observed strikes all over the fuselage and wing, at which time he straightened out and bailed out in level flight.”

At the same time, Bochkay lined up the lead Fw 190 and fired; the German pilot split-S’ed and fled. Foy saw a P-51 being chased by a Bf 109 “just off at about 3 o’clock to me and low,” he said. “I pulled up and dived, pulling up below his tail. I followed him for about 15 seconds in close trail with him. I pulled up and fired two short bursts, observing strikes on his right wing and beneath the fuselage. The Bf 109 immediately broke to the left, did one rather fast roll, and (the pilot) bailed out.”

Foy called to his wingman and received no answer, then radioed his element leader, who replied that he’d lost Foy when he went after the Bf 109. “I pulled into a sharp left turn and saw a ship on my tail. I pulled into a tighter turn and started to spin into the overcast, recovering after about two turns. I pulled my flaps down, cut my throttle and continued turning to the left. I had completed about three-fourths of a 360-degree turn when a Bf 109 cut across in front of me at a fast rate of speed. I gave it full throttle, pulling up on his tail. I fired one burst, observing strikes on the right wing. The enemy aircraft did a split-S and I followed him. He pulled out of range in a vertical dive; I glanced at my air speed, which indicated well over 550 mph. The Bf 109 was still pulling away from me. I pulled out at 3000 feet and the Bf 109 was still in a vertical (dive). I climbed up to 6000 feet and circled the immediate area. I did not see the enemy aircraft hit the ground, but there was a spot on the ground that looked as if either a bomb or an airplane had gone in.”

Bochkay had spotted another Bf 109 trying to dive to safety, and this time he stuck to his quarry. When he fired, “(the Bf 109’s) ammunition started to explode, tearing bits and pieces from both wings. The pilot then bailed out doing close to 600 mph; he delayed his opening. At 4000 feet the ship caught fire and crashed.”

Lt. William Overstreet found himself behind an Fw 190 and opened fire; “when I started getting hits he flipped over and bailed out,” he later wrote.

In all, the group scored 19 victories. In addition to the kills by Anderson, Bochkay, Overstreet and Foy, additional single scores went to Capts. John Pugh, Fred Smith, John Howell, and Mark Stepleton and Lts. Raymond Staude, and Gerald Tyler. Lts. Merle Allen and William Fennell shared a kill, and Capts. James Browning and Charles Summer each scored two


69 years ago: The 362nd’s Robert Clees evades escape

On the morning of June 24, the 362nd Fighter Group bombed railroad tracks along the Epernon line. Green Flight of the 377th was flying top cover, and Green Leader, Lt. Frank Peppers, spotted 10 aircraft climbing over Evreux, above the 362nd’s formation. Peppers moved his flight to counter the still-out-of-range aircraft, but soon had to turn back to keep the bomb-laden planes in sight and lost contact with the 10 unidentified planes. “Green Flight made several orbits over the target (Mantes-Gassicourt),” said Peppers. Lt. (Robert) Clees, who was flying Green Four, had apparently fallen in trail. I glanced down to check the position of the dive bombers. I looked up again (and) I took a quick look in the rear view mirror and saw Fw 190s coming in on our tail. I looked back and called a break to the right. It was too late then; Lt. Clees had already been hit. I saw strikes over both wings. The rest of Green Flight broke into the enemy aircraft and they hit the deck. I watched Lt. Clees’ aircraft spin into the edge of the overcast near Bueil, and (and) about 30 seconds later I saw a white chute drift out from under the overcast. We did not go to the deck to check if Lt. Clees landed safely because there were still more enemy aircraft in the area. About 10 minutes later, we were bounced by 16-plus Bf 109s, but got away safely.”

Clees’ Thunderbolt, P-47D-25 42-26657, crashed and exploded, but the pilot came down safely near Coigneres, and was helped by a local woman, Agnes Knocker, and her daughter, who hid the pilot and helped him on his way to the French Underground’s evasion system. He would later return to England and safety. The 378th bombed a bridge embankment at Epernon, but all seven planes missed the target. In the afternoon, the 378th, led by Capt. Richard Cline, returned and scored three hits. The 379th bombed Cherisy, destroying six rail cars. Later, a 15-plane mission from the 379th led by Capt. Carroll Peterson attacked a bridge, but missed it with eight bombs. The day’s third mission for the 379th, led by Capt. George Rarey, attacked a bridge at Cherisy, striking it with four bombs.



69 years ago: the Fourth “Frantically” flies to Italy

On June 23, 1944, on the second leg of the “Frantic” shuttle mission, the Mustangs of the Fourth Fighter Group escorted bombers from airfields in Russia to the oil refinery at Drohobycz, Poland. Toward the end of the outbound leg of the mission, the group caught sight of 15th Air Force Mustangs, and landed at Lucrera in Italy.

Meanwhile, in Russia, Ralph Hofer, Bill Gillette, Joseph Lang and James Callahan, who had stayed behind with mechanical issues, took off for Italy to rejoin the group. Hofer took a different route than his three compatriots, and over the Mediterranean began to run low on fuel. Luckily, a flight of RAF Spitfires escorted him to Malta, where he refueled and then left for Foggia the next day. Callahan also ran out of fuel and crash-landed in Sicily.

69 years ago: the 357th FG goes Stork hunting

On 20 June, Blue Flight of the 364th Fighter Squadron, 357th Fighter Group was escorting the heavies to Ostermoore when they heard a report of a straggling B-24 under attack. “Upon reaching the scene of combat, I took an enemy aircraft off a P-51’s tail,” said Capt. Richard Smith. “A long stern chase began, (during which) I could close and fire at will. I fired short bursts, observing good strikes every time. Pieces of the enemy aircraft came off and he started smoking, his engine stopped and he crash-landed in a field.”

Lt. Nicholas Frederick downed a Bf 109, then saw several P-51s chasing a Feisler Fi 156 at low altitude. “I got behind Lt. Merle Allen and saw him fire, observing strikes on the fuselage,” Frederick said. “The Storch kept flying and, since my guns were jammed, I forced the Storch into the ground by flying several feet above him. The prop wash apparently spun him in. The plane broke into many pieces.” Lt. John Salsman also scored one kill, and shared victories were credited to Maj. John Storch and Lt. Louis Fecher.

Later in the day, Lt. Heywood Spinks was knocked down by flak during a strafing mission. Spinks evaded capture and returned to Britain.

69 years ago: Bombs claim two 362nd FG Pilots

Armed with 500-pound bombs, the 362nd Fighter Group went after road traffic on the highway leading south from Argentan the morning of June 13, 1944. The planes bombed an assortment of railroad tracks, small bridges, box cars and a few trucks. Strafing, however, was much more profitable. The 377th claimed 21 military vehicles left in flames, and an additional 10 damaged. These vehicles were tough to see because the Germans had taken to hiding under trees when allied planes were around. The 378th’s 16 P-47s destroyed two staff cars and four trucks and damaged two trains, a command car and several more trucks, but while attacking traffic early that morning the squadron lost Lt. Ken Skeen. “At 0705, we made an attack on two trucks on a road lined with trees,” said Lt. Charles Naerhood. “We made one pass, then Lt. Skeen made another. He pressed the attack too close and crashed into the trees on the side of a road.” The plane slapped down into a nearby field, and Skeen climbed from P-47D-11-RE 42-75441 relatively unhurt; before he was taken prisoner, he destroyed his P-47 with the incendiary grenade in the cockpit carried for that purpose.

The day’s second mission wasn’t launched until 2000, but it also resulted in good hunting for the strafing P-47s once they had dropped their bombs. The planes scoured the roads leading from LeMans for traffic. The 378th destroyed eight flat cars, a box car and four trucks and strafed 15 trucks. Sadly, 2nd Lt. Leon Bentley of the 378th was killed by his own bomb while attacking a rail target at low altitude. Bentley’s bomb struck the top of a boxcar and bounced before exploding, catching his P-47D, 42-26114, in the blast. A similar fate befell Lt. Burleigh Curtis of the 377th in P-47D 42-75227; caught in his own bomb blast, his damaged P-47 tumbled out of the air, hit the ground and exploded. His squadronmates accounted for 31 military vehicles and 10 more damaged in the area around St. Andre de Briouze. The 379th sent two missions of 16 planes and 15 planes to the area around Argentens and “left trucks burning all over the area,” according to squadron records.


69 years ago: the 362nd FG gets into the Close Air Support Business

On June 12, 1944, German troops made a stand at the village of Point L’Abbe. The entire 362nd Fighter Group bombed the village, smashing Wehrmacht resistance. This mission was significant, because it was the first time the group worked in close association with ground troops. Aiding the situation was the complete absence of German flak. While the 377th and 379th Fighter Squadrons struck troop positions, the 378th under Capt. James Harrold sent 15 planes to the town’s marshalling yards, causing significant damage. In the evening, the 377th and 379th bombed radar stations on the headlands near St. Malo using 500-pound bombs; the 379th mission was led by Capt. Bill Flavin, and the target at Cap Frehelder was flattened. The 377th’s target was also put out of action. The 378th attacked some woods near Vire where German vehicles and an ammunition dump were thought to be hiding, but achieved no visible results. Lt. William S. Matusz in P-47D-11 42-76605 was forced out of formation by a misfiring engine; Lt. James A Clark escorted him home. “His engine then failed completely,” said Clark, “and he took up a heading of north trying to reach our beachhead. We hit a layer of clouds and I lost him.” Matusz was rescued by the underground and returned to England two months later. Lt. Harry Kraft also suffered an engine failure, and crash-landed at Penshurst. P-47D 42-76102 was a write-off. Also destroyed this day was P-47D 42-75073, which suffered a take-off accident with Lt. Alva Bessey at the controls.


69 Years Ago: The 362nd FG on the losing end over Normandy

Although D-Day resulted in no combat for the 362nd Fighter Group, June 7 was a completely different story. In the morning, 13 planes of the 379th Fighter Squadron under Capt. Bill Flavin escorted glider-towing C-47s to the Carentan area; Lt. William Hamlin crashed on takeoff in P-47D 42-75632, smashing his Thunderbolt into a nearby barn, but although injured escaped with his life. Three of the C-47s were seen to be hit by flak and crash, one north of St. Maire Eglise and two west of Carentan.

In the afternoon, the group was assigned to bomb three sections of railroad lines in the regions of Alencon, Argentan and Vire. Little traffic was seen and the bombs were dropped to cut the lines. The 379th also caught a locomotive in the open and shot it up. The mission was an all-out bombing mission with no top cover, and this misguided tactic cost the group dearly.

One flight from the 378th Fighter Squadron and another from the 379th were bounced by fighters from I/JG.26. The German planes spotted Green Flight of the 379th, which had just finished bombing railroad tracks and was headed home in line abreast formation, then dove below the clouds, pulling up to emerge from the undercast in the P-47’s six o’clock low position to make their attack. “I called Capt. (Clough) Gee (the assistant group S-3 flying P-47D-21-RE 42-25339) and told him to break,” said Lt. Art Wilcke. “At the same time, I broke into the two that were on Green One and Two’s tails. Looking left, I saw Green Four start to break, but he was hit by the Fw behind him. He broke right and down and continued to roll out in a 270-degree turn away from the Fw that was firing at me. I saw fire from his fuselage and under the cockpit, but he still had control of the aircraft and I believe evaded the Fw on his tail.”

Wilcke continued to pursue the Fw-190s stalking Lt. Ted Jensen (in P-47D-20 42-76573) and Lt. Madison Putnam. “By this time, they had broken off their attack and started climbing to the right through a clearing in the clouds,” Wilcke continued. “I followed them up above until they turned left and over me. I pulled back and shot a long burst out of range until my speed fell off; (I) rolled over and went down through a cloud. Looking from the rest of the flight, I dove beneath a cloud and met six Fw 190s head-on at about 150 yards. A few fired, but before they or I could get our sights on each other I passed between the number four and number five men on the right. I pulled up into the cloud and turned 180 degrees, but did not see any when I came out of the cloud. I called Green Four and Green Leader, but I did not get any reply. I broke out into another clearing and saw Green Leader (Gee) and started to join him, when we were bounced by two more Fw 190s. We broke again into the clouds, and that was the last I saw of Green Leader.” Gee was shot down and killed.

After emerging from yet another cloud, Wilcke spotted Putnam by himself in Green Two – for by now Jensen had also been shot down and killed – and tried to join up, but again they were bounced. “Green Two went into a cloud, and I climbed up after two FWs, but could not close. Above the clouds I saw four more FWs. I broke down into the clouds again. I called Green Two and he said he was heading out. The cloud layer was about five miles from the coast. Southwest of LeHavre, I broke out of the clouds and saw four Fw 190s at six o’clock from me, so I went 180 degrees back into the clouds, making a 360-dgree turn and coming out again. I saw eight FWs this time, but they were out of range. I hit the deck and headed out. They followed for a short time, but gave up the chase. I climbed back up and joined with Green Two, who was with the rest of our squadron.”

Putnam claimed an Fw 190A-8, either Uffz. Hans-Georg Becker or Uffz. Helmut Huttig of I/JG.26, who were both lost in this area.

Meanwhile, Green Flight of the 378th was approaching its target. As they “approached the bombing area, and with bombs still attached, tracers were seen coming up, apparently from the ground,” reported Lt. Harry Stroh, but when he looked back three German fighters were on their tail. “The enemy aircraft apparently dove through a break in the clouds, flew along the trees, and then pulled up, fired and returned into the clouds.” He immediately ordered a break; as he turned, he jettisoned his bombs and noticed a big explosion – this was not caused by his bombs, but by P-47D-15 42-75267 of Lt. Craig Gilbert of the 378th; Gilbert’s plane was hit by fire from a pursuing German fighter, dove into the ground and exploded seven miles west of Esouche. He died the next day in a German field hospital. The other three Thunderbolts in the flight were all damaged.

A fourth pilot, Lt. Robert Day of the 377th, ditched in the channel but was rescued. The German victors were Hptm. Hermann Staiger, who scored two kills (the 55th and 56th for the 63-kill ace), Oblt. Max Groth and Lt. Waldemar Soffing.

In the evening, the group glide-bombed the bridge over the Seine at Oissel using delayed fuses on 500-pound bombs, dropping the span.