Today in 1944: the 362nd works over the west bank of the Rhine, and Gustave Plochere loses a month

The three squadrons of the 362nd Fighter Group each conducted armed reconnaissance missions in the areas around Trier, Saarbrucken, Sarrebourg and east toward the Rhine on October 2, 1944. Though weather was poor, 11 locomotives and 50 boxcars were located and destroyed, along with 40 trucks; four railroad yards and adjacent factories, bridges and roundhouses were shot up and bombed. The 377th knocked out four locomotives, 23 trucks and a tank, plus 18 light guns shot up, but they lost a pilot in the process. Lt. William Ort, flying “The Sooner,” P-47D-27 42-27363, spotted a German truck on a road near Puttlingen and dove to strafe it. “The instant he passed over the truck a streak of fire came from the plane,” reported Lt. Robert Berggren, who was orbiting with Blue Flight as Ort’s Yellow Flight was strafing. “He struck the trees of a forest bordering the road and crashed in flames. I saw no sign of enemy ground fire near his plane when he was on the pass,” leading Berggren to speculate he hit the truck or a nearby power line during his pullout. Ort was killed in the wreck of his plane.

 

 

Although there was no serious ground fire directed at Blue or Yellow Flights, both Red and Blue Flights were peppered by flak. One of the P-47s returned with three cylinders shot off its R-2800! The 378th tried to bomb an oil pipeline junction but missed; later, the squadron hit the Saarbrucken marshalling yard and destroyed numerous buildings, then strafed and destroyed two locomotives. On the way home, the 378th spotted a jet aircraft above Metz.

 

 

Some losses were not combat related. The 379th’s Gustave Plochere suffered an engine failure in P-47D 42-8399 and crashed into a field where a French farmer was working, hitting so hard his Thunderbolt broke in half. When the farmer, Marcel Jonoux, reached the plane, it was on fire. Plochere was slumped in the cockpit, a severe gash on his head. Jonoux cut the straps holding Plochere in the cockpit and summoned a friend to help pull the pilot to a wagon, which they took to Lavannes, arriving just as American troops marched into the town. Plochere came to in a British hospital, covered in a full-body cast; the crash had also broken his back. To this day, he has no memory from two weeks before the crash to two weeks afterward.

 

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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.

 

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.

73 Years ago: Col. Joe bags a “German cruiser”

The 362nd Fighter Group flew four squadron-sized missions against Brest on August 25, 1944, two by the 377th. The principle target was the harbor, which could be used to evacuate troops to Crozon. Col. Joe Laughlin scored two hits on what was identified at the time as a German light cruiser during the 378th’s mission. The 378th’s 12 planes also hit another large ship in spite of intense flak. The 379th’s 16 planes in the morning mission bombed a collection of small boats in the harbor and managed to miss all of them, although they scored several near-misses. Later, Laughlin led the 377th’s evening mission, when the group bombed the cruiser again.

Joe Laughlin applies victory markings in a staged photo. Note the large “German cruiser” marking below the flags.

“As the flight dove down, I could see a blanket of white puffballs below and a blanket of black puffballs above,” said John Baloga. “They were exploding shells and sparks were flying from each burst. Those darn shells are programmed to explode at a specific height. The Germans were making us fly through them. Hot sharp steel was flying all over the sky. It was hellish.

“The sky was black and white from ack-ack fired from the ships as we dived from 8000 feet and released our bombs,” Laughlin told reporters. “I dropped a bomb on the stern of a light cruiser and a tremendous explosion followed, with black smoke billowing into the sky.”

“As I came in line to dive, I saw the cruiser starting to smoke badly. Someone was calling over the radio that the cruiser was sinking. Thank You Lord! I immediately veered off from my dive. I saw that the other planes were forming up. This particular attack was written up in the papers and was noted on the BBC. Sinking a cruiser with a fighter-bomber was a big deal. Colonel Laughlin had given that cruiser its deathblow. I will always be grateful for that. I truly believe he saved my life. If he hadn’t sunk it, I would have been sunk because as Green 4, the last plane in the flight, I truly believe the enemy would have shot me down.”

The 377th went on to score two hits on another ship and near misses on other shipping in the harbor. In reality, the vessel that exploded and sank was the incomplete (and already damaged) French battleship Clemenceau, which the Germans were planning to use to block the harbor.

 

M6 Bomb Service Truck and M5 Bomb Trailer: A 362nd FG diorama from Airfix’s 1:72 USAAF Support Set

Airfix’s USAAF Bomber Resupply Set comes packaged with box art placing its contents next to a B-17, but at least one of the vehicles in the set was a crucial tool for USAAF fighter units, too – especially Ninth Air Force P-47 Thunderbolt units. The M6 Bomb Service Truck, a Chevrolet-produced vehicle developed from the 1940 Chevrolet 1 ½-ton truck, served a critical ron moving ordnance around bases across England and later the European continent. The Ninth Air Force dropped 225,799 tons of bombs during WWII, and most of that was moved from storage to the aircraft by the M6.

In the background, note one of the 362nd FG’s M6 Bomb Service Trucks.

About 7000 M6s were manufactured between 1942 and September 1944, when production halted in favor of the M27, a six-by-six bomb service truck based on the highly successful GMC CCKW. As a truck, it was not impressive, with an 83-horsepower engine burning fuel at an environmentalist-alarming rate of 2.6 miles per gallon. But it was a workhorse – the hoist on the back deck could lift 4,000 pounds, and the truck could tow up to five M5 bomb trailers, each capable of carrying 5,000 pounds of bombs. That means each M6 could move 12 ½ tons of bombs on each trip.

The M6 could also accommodate four passengers, one in the cab next to the driver and three on a bench seat on the rear deck in a very “unsafe at any speed” arrangement. It also had room for ammunition back there.

I was considering ways to scratch-build a 1:72 M6 when Airfix dropped this kit in the autumn of 2016. The model itself is very nice, but there are always ways to improve upon the kit (and drag the build time out). I think I identified most of those opportunities during my build!

Construction starts with the frame and associated components. There were significant mold marks around the frame components, almost all of them on a flat surface, which made clean-up fairly easy. The suspension springs went on next, and Airfix provided much-appreciated positive location points for these. In many 1:72 truck kits, the springs have hard-to-spot location points; get them off, and your vehicle only rests of three wheels!

The frame assembled neatly and removal of flash was quick and easy.

 

The wheels are a little simplified, but the mounts are not pins but rather large ball socket-like things that insert into the backs of the wheels. The tires slide on over the outside of the wheels, meaning they can be painted separately and added at the end, but they can also be pressed in place to check alignment of the suspension.

The fenders went on neatly, but I took care to make sure they were level up front. The left fender wanted to ride higher than the right one, and I assumed this would have cause problems when the hood was added, so I forced it into place. The placement of the rear deck and driver’s compartment floor was a little iffy, so I built and installed the firewall and dashboard first to provide a point of reference. The gear shift handle broke while I was trying to clean it up, so I made a new one from wire and glued it into the sawed-off mount, then used white glue to form a knob on the top of it. I fashioned clutch, brake and gas pedals from styrene card, and added them to the driver’s side floor. The seats were painted a light olive-tan mixture and set aside for installation later.

The hood, firewall, driver’s compartment and rear deck all in their places.

At this point, I shot the model with its first coat of field drab. I find multiple coats are mandatory for small-scale military models – not because I want a deep finish, but because they have so many angles and recesses that if you wait to paint, it’s easy to find yourself with unpainted areas you can no longer get to!

Sprayed with field drab – coat one of many!

The hood and front end sides were assembled and added to the firewall. Next should have come the grille, but Airfix provided it as a solid item with raised bar detail. That was a letdown after my WC-51 and CCKW-335, with their photoetched grilles. Since the was no photoetched set available, I decided to make my own with lead foil, styrene strip and stiff wire. A surplus Eduard radiator front went in front of the engine, followed by my pretty-good-but-not-perfect grille. About three days later, Eduard came out with its detail set for this kit. You’re welcome.

Isn’t that cute – he tried to make his own grille. It was almost good, too.

In the meantime, I added the toolbox behind the seating area and started work on the hoist assembly. It consists of a U-shaped support and the “trolley,” the bent I-bar that the hoist runs on. These push together at the joint – push hard, because getting them square is critical for alignment later. The assembly fits neatly into the deck – again, the fit is excellent. A hoist crank with gears fits onto a peg on the trolley, making a perfectly nice hoist.

A good view of the hoist and trolley, also showing some of the Eduard details in place.

To complicate matters, Chevrolet threw a bench on the back of the truck, hanging from the trolley. The kit provides this as three parts: a bench, the bench back and the bent metal framework that connected them. The metal framework was out of scale according to my photos, so I made replacements from bent wire. Bending four identical frames was not fun, but once done it looked much more like the real thing.

There’s also a bar at the top of the bench back provided as a separate piece. This drove me crazy – the attachment point wasn’t secure, it was hard to get it aligned in all axes, and it was really easy to knock it off. Part B05 was my least favorite part of the model.

About this time, the Eduard set arrived. My scratch-built grille went in the trash, and the Eduard grille took its place. Eduard’s bumped, with tow hooks, went on the front of the truck in place of the kit part, and non-skid plates went on all the running boards. A new floor for the driver and passenger slipped neatly over my scratch-built gear shifter; Eduard provided a hand brake and winch control handle. All the tool boxes received tiny padlocks. The rear of the truck got a new rear plate, tow points and a reflector. A new winch head meant carefully sawing the end of the hoist away and replacing it with photoetched parts. All that work was totally worth it.

That’s more like it: Eduard’s photoetched grille’s worth the cost of the whole set, but the other details are great too.

The model was given another coat of field drab, and then the tiny details started to be added. The rear frame for the roof was painted and added, and then I sanded the molded-on windshield wipers from the clear windshield, which was then polished back into clarity, masked and painted. The steering wheel was set into place, and I made armrests from wire for each seat, then glued the completed seats into their spots in the cab. The vertical supports for the roof were a bit thick, so I replaced them with thick lead solder, bent to shape and CA-glued in place.

The canvas roof itself was painted using Testors ModelMaster beige and was set aside until final assembly. I painted the clear headlight bullets silver at their backs, then field drab, leaving the fronts clear to simulate lenses. These were carefully glued to the fenders behind the new photoetched headlight guards.

Now it was time for the final coat of paint, followed by a brush-applied layer of Future as a gloss coat for the decals. I used most of the very good kit decals, supplementing them with bumper markings for the 362nd Fighter Group, 379th Fighter Squadron. I still had a few that Norm Filer had made for my Jeep project more than 10 years ago. I also jumbled the numbers on the hood, making sure they stayed in the ranges assigned to M6s – I found that information on-line on a vehicle restoration website. When the decals were all down, I applied a heavy wash to the model and the flat coated the model, then gave the decals what I call a “fade coat” of heavily-thinned field drab, which reduces the brightness of the white markings

After decals, the stars and other markings looked too bright, so they received a “fade coat” of very thin field drab paint.

Mostly assembled – missing only the side supports for the roof.

Little details came next. Very carefully, I wrapped some braided silver thread around the hoist drum, using tweezers. Only five or six turns were needed to simulate the cable on the reel. The other end was stretched over the winch’s roller and head, measured, carefully, and cut to length. A photoetched hook purloined from an ancient Verlinden F6F set (it was a catapult hook in an earlier life) was CA-glued not to the cable but to the bumper – this hook was often attached to the rear bumper. Once the hook was in place, the cable was trimmed, then carefully CA-glued to the hook.

The windshield and canvas top were added, followed by the addition of Eduard’s very fine windshield wipers. The final addition was the tires. I’d become weary of unrealistic looking tires on 1:72 vehicles, so I scoured the web to find well-rendered tires on 1:35 models to learn some of the secrets. Let me just say this: pastels. Not only do they replicate the wear and weathering seen on tires but they impart a dead-flat quality that even flat coats can’t deliver. Once the pastels were applied in a satisfactory way, I added them to the wheels and ran a little thin CA glue into the joint from the back of the wheels, taking care to get alignment correct.

The M6 was finished at this point, but one of the clubs I’m a member of has build meetings and I needed something to work on, so I started the M5 bomb trailer included in the set. This is a remarkably quick and easy build – I had the trailer together in an hour or so, and after two hours had added the details, applied a coat of paint and prepped it for decals. The tires were given the same treatment as those on the M6 and added at the very end of the process. (I’ve since found a photo of an M5 with a V-1 on it – another great diorama possibility!)

Now, I needed a base. The 362nd saw a lot of combat during the winter of 1944/45, and I’d thought about doing a snow scene for a long time. This would be a good opportunity to learn a new technique. I selected an appropriate-sized base in the form of a left-over trophy from Silicon Valley Scale Modelers’ “Pimp My Model” contest (from 2008, maybe?) and popped off the resin plates on its front. I masked off the edges and applied a layer of scenic glue, then sprinkled on a layer of Woodland Scenics fine cinders ballast. The reason for this nearly-black base? I figure the vehicles would chew up the snow and get down to the frozen mud below; the black ballast would work well for this.

Doing some research on the ways railroad modelers do snow, I found a great article that identified six ways railroaders make snow, from simply painting the terrain white to various mixes of baby powder and baking soda with PVA glue to what the author said was his favorite: mixing Woodland Scenics soft flake snow with water effects. This looked like cold, wet snow, so I decided to try it.

The water effects material isn’t cheap – a bottle costs around $20. The good news is that in 1:72, it’ll handle four or five dioramas easily! This was poured into a bowl, followed by an equal amount of the soft flake snow, and the two were mixed as best as possible. The result is a nightmare to work with – fluffy, sticky and prone to adhere better to itself than to the base. I ended up frosting the base like a cake, leaving an area in the center for a pathway. The pathway received PVA glue mixed with the soft flake snow – I wanted it to look slushier and more travelled than the edges.

I added a few details to the mix: several 55-gallon drums and a spare drop tank on one side, and a few tufts of Silflor grass on the other. A little extra snow was added to the drums, and a bit more soft flake snow was sprinkled on for good measure. When everything looked even, I lightly misted a coat of water over the base to smooth things out even more.

The M6 benefits from little details in the cab and on the hoist, like the cable attached to the bumper.

The slushy pathway was worked over with a pencil repeatedly as it dried to give it a little texture. Ultimately, that worked pretty well; I had to work hard to ensure that truck and trailer had places for their wheels to go so they all contacted the ground!

The trailer received two bombs I’d prepared for future P-47 builds – they came from the Tamiya kit. They were assembled, sanded smooth, painted and then had their bands applied by chucking the fins in a motor tool and applying yellow stripes with a fine brush. Further weathering with pastels made them look as though they’d been in a field dump awaiting their turn to be dropped on the Germans.

A good overview of the figures in place in the diorama.

The figures came from CMK’s U.S. Army truck drivers set. They went together reasonably well, and they had the right cold-weather gear as seen in my photos. The heads were separate pieces, so I could position them looking skyward, as though they were awaiting the return of their squadron’s planes. (One viewer of the diorama was startled to see figures seemingly looking up at him!)

Hey, you up there! Did you really have to stick us in the snow?!?

 

The elements were all place on the diorama and that was that! Project finished. In the future, with the snow effects, I will plan ay areas that should be fresh snow white before applying it; the snow flake/water effects mixture kept becoming more translucent and more dirty-looking over the next two weeks. Lesson learned for my next Battle of the Bulge-era diorama!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.