This day in 1944: The 362nd loses two without a German shot fired

The 377th and 378th Fighter Squadrons of the 362nd Fighter Group returned to the Saar on September 28, 1944, with the 377th scoring 22 locomotives and the 378th destroying six locomotives and 15 motor vehicles. The 378th’s first 16-plane mission bombed canal locks and strafed and destroyed a locomotive, and later bombed marshalling yards at Homburg, destroying two locomotives and damaging 25 cars, but Red Flight leader Capt. Leon Bilstin was killed. “His bombs hit the target and he pulled out low on the tracks going toward town,” reported Lt. Arthur Staples, Red Three on this mission. “There was a big explosion and flame on the tracks,” and Bilstin’s P-47D-28 42-28359 crashed on the yard, possibly a victim of his own bomb blast. During the squadron’s second mission, the 16 Thunderbolts strafed the marshalling yards at Saarlautern, destroying three cars and damaging 10 more. The 377th lost Lt. McElroy Nangle, who had been with the squadron just two days, in an accident when P-47D-28 42-28446 crashed during a local training flight.

 

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This Day in 1944: the 362nd FG’s Housing Situation Takes a Turn for the Better

On September 23, 1944, the entire 362nd Fighter Group moved to A-79 near Prosnes, 11 miles east-southeast of Reims, traveling by convoy and, for some personnel, by C-47, one of which circled the Eiffel Tower as a treat for its passengers. The pilots also received a treat; thanks to Joe Laughlin’s personal intervention, all of the group pilots were allowed to live in the comfortable chateau near the field, “with a wine cellar, pheasants, rose garden and the works,” said Capt. Joe Hunter. Many of the pilots remembered those accommodations as the best they had during the war. Lt. John Hill referred to it as “the Park Avenue of all quarters.”

“It wasn’t as good as it sounds because we had our cots in halls and everywhere, but there was a good roof overhead,” said Tom Peyton. “What’s more, we had a single steel-matt runway.”

The 362nd’s Chateau at Reims

Col. Joe Laughlin (center) and other personnel at the chateau at Reims in late 1944.