71 years ago: the 36d Fighter Group blunts the German attack on Bastogne

After a day off because of weather, each squadron in the 362nd Fighter Group flew four missions in support of III Corps on Dec. 29, 1944. After the 377th’s first mission of the day, Lt. William Davis spotted a large number of German armored vehicles. “When we went down lower for further identification, there were swarms of Tiger tanks and other vehicles,” recalled Maj. Loren Herway. “We called this into the controller, who was totally surprised and asked for a double verification. By the time we landed and taxied in, there was all kinds of buzzing activity in response to this sighting.” As a direct result, the 378th bombed a concentration of 35 to 40 vehicles hidden in the woods east of Hanaville, claiming seven tanks, six half tracks and three trucks destroyed, then strafed and knocked out 17 trucks near Wiltz. This was probably the 1st SS Panzer Division, which was moving into position to launch a final assault on Bastogne. Pilots reported the tanks were lined up two-abreast on the road, and that the crews were seen hurrying out of their vehicles before they could be destroyed by the P-47s. “It sticks in my memory that Willie’s eagle eye resulted in blunting the German surprise on Bastogne,” Herway said.

In its second mission of the day, the 378th bombed Chenogne and left it burning, then wiped out two gun positions. Its biggest haul came on the day’s third mission, when the squadron bombed tanks in the woods near Longvilly, destroying or damaging 25 along with six trucks, then returned to the area and strafed repeatedly,

71 years ago: the 362nd goes train busting

On May 17, 1944, the 362nd Fighter Group attacked the marshalling yards at Busigny. 27 planes bombed, with 16 providing top cover; the load of 54 500-pound bombs was split between two areas in the yards. Lt. Bill Moore of the 379th noted in his log that the bombs “caused “railroad cars to be blown into the air.” Four planes strafed the second area but were dissuaded from this activity by a flak tower in the woods northeast of the target, which threw up an intense barrage. One P-47, 42-76199 flown by Lt. Bernard J. Elson, was damaged by its fire; his fellow pilots heard him radio that he had been hit and didn’t know if he could make it. After five minutes, Elson radioed, “Sorry, I can’t make it. I’m losing altitude. I’ll have to go down.” A response from one of his flight members came back: “OK boy, hurry back!” Elson was last seen near Quant, west of Cambrai. No one saw a crash or a parachute and his status was listed as missing in action. Lt. Ed MacLean had to force-land P-47D 42-26113 at High Halden when his engine failed; the Thunderbolt was a complete write-off.

70 years ago: the 362nd takes it to an all-but-grounded Luftwaffe

On April 9, 1945, the 362nd Fighter Group chased down the Luftwaffe on the ground. One mission from each squadron shot up airfields in the Erfurt-Weimar area, claiming 20 destroyed and 12 damaged. The targets included a large number of Bf 108s. Later, two tanks were also destroyed, and again reconnaissance Mustangs did a good job leading P-47s to concentrations of enemy vehicles hiding in the woods. The 378th flew five missions in support of XX Corps, and during the third mission they spotted 16 enemy planes, apparently flying simply as decoys designed to get the P-47s to drop their loads and give chase. The fifth mission hit an airfield near Weimar, destroying three Bf 108s, two Bf 109s, and a biplane on the ground. The 379th also flew a mission to breach the dam at Salburg, a mission that Lt. Joe Muller said was flown in the face of “beaucoup flak.”

70 years ago: The 362nd’s Joe Hunter keeps a vow to himself

The 362nd Fighter Group flew six missions on New Year’s Eve 1944, striking towns and marshalling yards to the east of the battle area because of poor weather. Trier was bombed through a hole in the overcast, and 16 rail cars and three trucks were claimed as destroyed. The 378th Fighter Squadron hit the rail yard at Hellenhausen, destroying 10 cars, and bombed the entrance of a nearby tunnel, then strafed and destroyed three trucks. On the day’s second mission, the marshalling yards at Longenlonsheim were hit, with six cars and three buildings destroyed.

No planes were lost this day, but, as was often the case, many came home with flak damage. “On one mission, I got hit and the sergeant in charge of maintenance told me that I had received a 20mm in my supercharger and that I was very lucky to be alive,” said Capt. Joe Hunter. “I vowed that I would return home the next time I was hit. As luck would have it, it happened the next time I went up – the very next day.”

Flak damaged Hunter’s Thunderbolt before he could find a target for his 500-pound bombs. “When I got back to the base, I still had my bombs and was directed to a bomb disposal area,” he said. “Only one bomb would drop despite all my efforts, so I proceeded to land with it on. The runway was covered with a lot of snow. When I started to put down flaps to land, only one flap was down. I went around and decided to try to land without any flaps. When I touched down at about 130 mph, I saw that I had only one brake. When the end of the runway neared, I spun around but stayed right side up!”

 

70 Years Ago: the 362nd Pursues the Fleeing Werhmacht

On July 28, 1944, the 362nd Fighter Group worked overtime to continue the momentum started by Operation Cobra three days earlier. The 378th Fighter Squadron was sent to the Domfront-Alencon-Laval area and attacked two railroad bridges, scoring 14 near-misses. The 379th Fighter Squadron bombed and strafed in the same area, claiming seven boxcars destroyed and 70 more damaged, along with a damaged locomotive. Another 378th mission saw Red Flight knock out two trucks and damage 10 more. Yellow Flight scored hits on two self-propelled guns and five trucks, and Blue Flight destroyed a pair of trucks and strafed a tank, an armored car and five trucks. The 377th Fighter Squadron flew an armed recce, strafing and destroying eight trucks and a staff car. The 378th returned again, flying a similar mission, destroying 10 trucks, an armored car and six tanks, but luck was not with was. Robert Piper of the 378th, on his first mission. Flying wing for Red Leader, Piper was about 200 yards behind him in P-47D 43-25592 when the lead’s bombs dropped on the road near Cherence-le-Heron. “Red Leader’s bombs exploded directly in front of Lt. Piper’s plane,” reported Lt. Stan Stepnitz, the No. 4 man in the flight. “The ship flew through the bomb blast and about a quarter of a mile beyond before it rolled over on its back and crashed to the ground.” Piper did not survive the impact.

As the Red Flight of the 378th was climbing after bombing a road junction, the flight’s leader, Capt. Richard Cline, saw two Bf 109s break through the overcast at about 3000 feet. “(They) saw our squadron and pulled back into the clouds,” Cline reported. “At that time, four Fw 190s broke through directly in front of us, three of which turned sharply to the right and pulled back into the clouds. The fourth, apparently the leader, remained slightly below the clouds at approximately 200 yards. I opened fire at 5 degrees deflection and observed strikes along the wing and canopy. The right gear was seen to come down as he pulled into the overcast. My No. 3 and I hosed the clouds where he was just disappearing. From the strikes observed, I believe the enemy aircraft to be seriously damaged.”

The 379th was next in the area, bombing an underpass and scoring six near misses. The 378th then launched a dive-bombing mission to the Brehal-Hombye-Villedieu area, cutting four rail junctions and destroying a tank and a command car. The 379th returned to this area later. Red flight scored six hits on a railroad junction, then destroyed two trucks and damaged 10 more by strafing; Yellow Flight scored four bomb hits on a weapons carrier and five trucks. Blue Flight knocked out two trucks and strafed a tank. A third mission by the 379th scored several hits on road junctions, knocked out a command car and strafed two Tiger tanks. Finally, the 377th flew another recce, destroying eight motorcycles, four trucks, five tanks and some horse-drawn artillery.

 

70 years ago: Operation Cobra

July 25 was slated as the date of Operation Cobra, the breakout from the Normandy area. Although it was now 49 days after the landings, allied troops were only to where planners had envisioned they would be five days after D-Day. As a result, allied air power would be tasked with blasting a hole in German defenses to allow the allies to use their mobile forces to throw the Germans off balance. For the 362nd  Fighter Group, that meant 34 planes were loaded with 250-pound fragmentation clusters and 100-pound white phosphorus bombs; these followed other group’s planes and dropped on a narrow strip of enemy defenses. More missions followed; the 377th Fighter Squadron bombed a German officers’ quarters with fair results, then the 378th Fighter Squadron bombed a road junction in an effort to disrupt communications wires there (they missed a small house being used as a communications center). The 379th Fighter Squadron bombed the reported location of an ammunition dump, with no observable results. The 378th returned to the communications center and pelted it with 500-pounders, one of which was seen to go through the house before exploding. The 379th went after a group of German holdouts west of St. Lo; the target was well marked and the bombing was accurate. The 378th finally was dispatched to attack a small town that contained the command post and ammunition dump of the German 14th Fallschrimjager Regiment. They were rewarded with at least two good secondary explosions. All bombing was done at a very low level.

 

This day in 1944: the 362nd bombs and gets bounced

On the morning of June 24, the 362nd Fighter Group bombed railroad tracks along the Epernon line. Green Flight of the 377th Fighter Squadron 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.