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.

 

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