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.


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