Silencing “Slender Bertha:” the 377th FS vs. the gun that nearly killed Patton

As Third Army pushed its way across France, Gen. George S. Patton established his headquarters in the city of Nancy. Patton moved into a villa in the city, and his other senior officers established residences in other nearby grand houses.


German intelligence deduced this and, to disrupt the command of the army, it moved a 28cm railroad gun into place in the railway tunnel at Teterchen. The Germans made 22 of these guns, nicknamed Schlanke Bertha(“Slender Bertha”); they could throw a 255kg high-explosive projectile up to 39 miles. The weapon had to be aimed by using curves in the track to point the barrel at the target, then adjusting the size of the explosive charge and the barrel angle.


The guns started tossing rounds into Nancy on Oct. 5, but the first significant barrage took place in the early morning of Oct. 11. A dozen shells were fired at the city, one destroying a theatre just 50 meters from the command post of XII Corps.


Orders were issued to the flash and sound teams of the 7th, 14th and 286th Field Artillery Observation Battalions to detect the source of the shells through their sophisticated microphones and electronic ranging equipment.


Their efforts resulted in the silencing of other railroad guns, but the gun shelling Nancy remained undetected. On October 24, the Germans fired another 16 shells into the city, and one of them struck the house directly across the street from Patton’s residence. Patton himself helped to dig out two of the victims, and while he was doing so two more shells landed nearby, pelting Patton and his officers with flying debris. In letters home, Patton confessed that he had never been more frightened in his entire career than he had been that night.


By October 27, using sound-ranging analysis, intercepted wireless traffic, aerial reconnaissance and French civilian reports, Third Army intelligence concluded that the gun’s most likely hiding place was the tunnel at Teterchen. Orders went out to the XIX Tactical Air Command to bomb the tunnel, and the task was assigned to the 362nd Fighter Group.


The 377th Fighter Squadron drew the mission, scheduled for October 27. Bad weather pushed the mission back to the morning of Oct. 28. Four flights of four  P-47s took off for what the squadron’s journal called “another one of the bad-weather missions.” The group encountered no flak en route; upon reaching the area, the controller, Ripsaw One, directed them to the target.


“We could see the tunnel through about 8/10th clouds at 300 feet,” the squadron journal reported. “Red One and Two went down first while the rest of the squadron orbited above the cloud. We had 500-pounders with four-second delay fuses, so Red One and Two buzzbombed the west end of the first section of the tunnel, all four bombs entering the tunnel and exploding. The smoke poured out of a ventilator on top of the hill and out of the east end of the tunnel.


“As Red Three and Four came in to bomb the east end, One and Two strafed three flak cars and an ammunition car that was firing on the second element, silencing the guns and setting two on fire. All other flak positions in the vicinity, about four of which were firing at the time, ceased fire when the flak cars were strafed. Meanwhile Yellow flight came under the overcast by elements and bombed the tunnel, getting good hits on the entrance and inside.


“Red first element and Yellow first element then went to work on the locomotives in a marshalling yard just east of the tunnel, strafing 13 locomotives, about 15 cars, and a roundhouse. At this time Red leader was hit by flak and headed home. Yellow leader took over but had to head out immediately due to lack of gas. Red and Yellow flights had done the work on the tunnel, so Blue flight brought their bombs home. Red Leader and Red two came out on the deck with only one gun position firing at them, and that firing into one of their own towns. Uneventful return to base.”


The 377th caught the 28cm gun inside the tunnel and dumped two tons of bombs at each end. Of the eight bombs, seven actually entered the tunnel, damaging the gun and killing a dozen of its crew. On November 27, when the 95th Infantry Division occupied Teterchen, a corps artillery unit visiting the scene interviewed the Hargarten station master. He told them the killing bomb was skipped into the tunnel, where it burst just back of the gun, buckling the carriages and killing 12 of the men.


The group journal recorded this mission nonchalantly as “another tunnel-busting trip,” but Nancy was never shelled by the Germans again.


Workbench update: Two done, two close to paint, four a long way off

Here’s an update on a few projects mentioned here in the blog over the last year or so: DSC_0375North American P-51D Mustang

This one was completed at the end of January in time for the Petaluma contest – and it came out pretty well. I won’t belabor the construction, since I wrote an article for the IPMS/Journal about it, but it’s the Tamiya Mustang with an Obscureco wing with dropped flaps, an Aires interior and wheels, and a vacuformed canopy. The plane is finished as Roscoe Brown’s “Bunny”/”Miss Kentucky State,” and the figure of Roscoe was made with a CMK body and a Prieser head. This model had plenty of frustrations, but it came out pretty well. Sparrowhawk glamor 4 Sparrowhawk glamour 1 Curtis F9C-2 Sparrowhawk

I never wrote about this here – I tried to get it done on deadline back in September and didn’t quite make it (it was finished in December). Another Journal article subject, I’ll give you the basics: Pegasus kit, with an Engines n’ Things R-975, scratch-built interior, skyhook, landing gear, and struts. The decals came from Starfighter and the CMR resin kit (which is pretty awful too). The rigging is made from acupuncture needles, cut to length and added to pre-cut holes. It won the Ralph Patino Award at the Silicon Valley Classic for the best model built from the worst kit! DSC_0273 Fairey Firefly Mk. V

Not exactly stalled – I did cut open the observer’s cockpit a couple of weeks ago – but not much closer to completion than it’s been for months. I suspect this will be one of the next two models I finish. DSC_0400 Republic P-47D-30 Thunderbolt

Here’s Gene Martin’s Thunderbolt, inching closer to completion. The red, black and olive drab parts of the model are done and masked, but my first pass of metallizer revealed some sloppy joints at the wing, so I had to sand it out and rescribe the panel lines. I am really looking forward to getting this one done using the Barracuda Studios decals. DSC_0404 Douglas KA-3B Skywarrior

Well, the fuselage is done and it rests on the workbench like a beached whale, appropriately enough.     DSC_0386 Martin B-26-1-MA Marauder

The wheels are done, the torpedo is finished, and the next step is the daunting reconstruction of the tail gun position. It can be done – but it’s a lot of work. I’ll have to scavenge the propeller spinners from an Airfix P-61, because the Lone Star Models spinners are totally unusable (different diameters? Really?). Lots of work ahead, but nothing revolutionary. DSC_0401DSC_0402 Mikoyan MiG-15

This one snuck into the build sequence because I needed something to do “brute force” modeling on while I was traveling. I never got that far, because cutting open the speed brakes and, in the process, converting a MiG-15 bis into a MiG-15, took a lot of cutting, drilling, filing, and cursing. I’m not sure I’d recommend the Brassin brakes – the instructions leave a lot to the imagination, and for surgery like this, instructions are important. The Brassin cockpit is nice, though, and that’s installed and painted. I was hoping to have this little machine glued together and ready for paint quickly, but taking my time on it will not hurt. The basic kit is rather nice and I suspect it’ll get finished pretty quickly. Convair F-106 Delta Dart I’ve stopped, hoping that Meng will make a new one.

67 Years ago: the 357th Finds a Fracas over Ulm

During a mission to Munich, in a nearly complete undercast near Ulm, Capt. Glendon Davis was flying with the second element in Blue Flight of the 364th Fighter Squadron, having lost his wingman in an earlier run-in with German fighters. The three Mustangs were climbing back through the clouds when five Bf 109s came down through a break in the clouds. They failed to spot the P-51s; “We let them get below us, then bounced them from above,” said Davis. “On the turn into them, my second element cut inside me and went for the first three 109s. I singled out the last one and he went for the deck. While he was looking back at me he touched the snow, but pulled it back and kept on going. I gave him a burst from 300 yards, observing strikes and he cut his engine and began a glide for an open snow-covered field. I closed on him, firing steadily all the way and observing my bullets completely riddle his airplane. Just as I pulled up to avoid collision he exploded. Pieces of his airplane hit the top and leading edge of my right wing, smashing it flat. I climbed back up to 29,000 feet and came home alone. I can truthfully say that I owe my life to the excellence of American materials and workmanship.”

Glendon Davis' "Pregnant Polecat"

While the Blue, White and Green Flights were tangling with the Germans below the bombers, Red Flight, led by Maj. Thomas Hayes, had stuck with the bombers. Soon, several “heavy fighters” tried to take advantage of the situation. “Three or maybe four twin-engine enemy aircraft made a sorry attack on a tight formation of three boxes of B-17s,” said Hayes, “and, I might add, with no apparent results. I called the flight to attack, and while going down they all broke up. One headed south, which I closed up with my wingman, Capt. Currie, as cover. My element, led by Capt. (Jack) Warren, chased two on a heading north. We turned only gradually without diving, which made the kill easy. At 300 yards my first had not enough lead but the enemy aircraft did nothing. Still closing, my second burst caught him square and started the left engine to burn. He reacted now by straightening out where he caught the full effect of all my guns. This was at about 50 to 100 yards and I observed his canopy in addition to other debris leave the plane. I went under him by 50 feet and noticed both engines burning. (I) also (noticed) the black crosses on the underside of the left wing, which was trimmed heavily with bright yellow. His belly was robin’s egg blue and the top a rusty brown. I broke away to come back again when I saw one parachute open and the aircraft go straight down, where it exploded in a snow field.” Because there was no return fire from the tail gunner when he was attacking at close range, Hayes assumed that no observer had been on board.

Tommy Hayes' "Frenesi"

Jack Warren spotted a single Fw 190 flying straight and level at 1000 feet. “I closed in to about 100 yards from astern and fired a short burst,” said Warren. “I observed numerous strikes on and around the cockpit. The enemy aircraft started a spiral to the left and crashed in an orchard. The pilot undoubtedly was killed. The enemy aircraft was entirely demolished and, when last seen, had started to burn.” Warren later spotted some Me 210s and shot down two of them, raising his score to five and making him the group’s first ace.

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Hubert Egenes of the 362nd spotted an enemy plane 5000 feet below him. “I went into a 45-degree dive and closed on the plane, a Bf 109, at approximately 10,000 feet,” said Egenes. “I commenced firing from about 250 yards range and observed strikes on his fuselage, wings and underside of the plane. The enemy ship caught fire from the oil coolers near the center of the fuselage underneath. The last I saw of him he was in a steep dive, burning, heading into the clouds. I saw no parachute. “Upon pulling up from this encounter at about 14,000 feet I noticed a Bf 109 forming on another 109’s wing. The first pilot was rocking his wings, apparently signaling for both of us to join up. They must have thought I was friendly, for they allowed me to fly up by the No. 2 man. We were all in a gentle climb straight ahead. Then I pulled up directly behind the wingman and started firing. Pieces flew off his plane and it began burning. He went out of control, rolled over on his back and went down.”

It wasn’t all victories this day, however. Lt. John England and his wingman, Lt. Alvin Pyeatt, were attacked by a trio of Bf 109s. “I peeled off to the right, making a very tight turn into the enemy aircraft,” said England. “Due to the tightness of the turn and a full fuselage tank I went into a high-speed stall (from) which took me about 10 seconds to recover. I did not see Lt. Pyeatt during or after this maneuver. Later I attempted to contact him over R/T, but there was no replay.” Pyeatt’s Mustang “Scrappy,” P-51B 43-6960, was shot down and crashed, killing the pilot.

P-47D-30/40 Master: success, then failure, then a bail-out

I’m pleased to say that the P-47D-30/40 floor is finished, and it came out the way I wanted it to. However, it almost came to grief thanks to my stupidity. But I am ahead of myself.

First off, I copied Tamiya’s engineering. Their keyed four-part cockpit structure is genius, and I am always happy to have a great place to start. My thinking is this: the set will include a floor, sidewalls and wing modifications (re-positioned light panels, anti-compressability flaps). The rear bulkhead from the kit, the kit stick and the kit instrument panel can still be used. Part one was the cockpit. The base of the part was made by laminating several pieces of sheet styrene together, then I cut out the slots where he other parts would fit. That allowed my to use them to locate the various features of the floor.

Next, I drilled out a hole for the control column. This allowed me to then position the structure ahead of the stick and build it from sections of .020 styrene, which I sanded back to about .015 or .013. The left side had to be cut out a bit to leave clearance for the big radio box on the left sidewall.

Next, I fashioned the control column cable run from a bit of wire and a shot length of hypodermic tubing. The other features on the floor were carefully cut from a Tamiya cockpit, sanded down, and added to the floor. I also added two small panels to either side of the control column with .005 styrene.

With all the major structural parts in place, it was time to have some fun. I bought some N-gauge rivets from Archer Fine Transfers and used them to apply the small but very visible rivets on the floor. The resin rivets are presented on decal film which needs to be trimmed, which I did with very sharp scissors. After a brief dip in water, they came right off the backing paper; the next step is to get them on straight. A total of 13 runs of rivets were used to detail the floor.

Once they were dried and secure, I was vey pleased by the result. The only step left was to graft the Tamiya cockpit front bulkhead to the floor. I was so geeked up about it that I took it to the weekly modeler’s dinner to show off to my friends. Masters look pretty atrocious, to be honest, but they gave me approving nods. Once it’s cast, it’ll look much better than this somewhat blurry photo:

And then came the dumb part. I left at my usual time for the 35-mile ride home, and about the time I turned into the Webster Tube I realized I had left the part at the restaurant. I called the restaurant the next morning and ascertained only that the morning shift there is not very sharp. I had visions of the part being swept into a bus tub, smeared with mashed potatoes and then doused in clam chowder before being tossed into a trash bag and then hurled into a dumpster. In a dumpster, no one cares if your rivets are straight!

Before I had a panic attack, I e-mailed Mike Burton and Greg Plummer, the only two guys who out-lasted me at the restaurant. Luckily, Greg grabbed the part, knowing it was something for a model of some sort. I’ll get it back later next week and I can get this project back on track. Crisis averted by good friends!

1:72 floor show

This week, I went back to work on the 1:72 P-47D-30/40 cockpit master for Obscureco. Why make this into a product, you ask? Isn’t Tamiya’s cockpit good enough? No, because the floor’s not accurate – Tamiya has the earlier corrugated floor, while the late D-models had a flat, riveted floor. There are some other cosmetic differences to the sidewalls, too, and the control panel’s a little different but it’s mostly the floor. And, also, I may want to build several P-47D-30s or D-40s, so like any good Obscureco product, its being made for my own use. ‘

For the rivets, I plan on using Archer Fine Transfers’ resin rivets – neat little resin bumps on decal film. I’m using a sheet intended for N-gauge railroads; I may also use these to add rivet detail to the heavily-riveted seats of the A-3 (a by-product of getting too close to reference materials). I’ve seen another resin producer use these rivets – badly. He had them adjacent to a panel line, but not completely parallel. They sort of wandered about in the neighborhood of the panel line. They looked just awful. I have shorter runs of rivets to add, but I will be exceptionally careful about their straightness – nothing ruins detail sets worse than a lack of precision and straight lines.

I have to fight the urge to get too anxious to finish these parts; I can’t wait to build my next Jug, but I don’t want to hurry and mess up the cockpit parts. I’ll also have to make new wing inserts to relocate the landing light, so a full-on build is a little ways off. I’m just hoping to have my P-47D-30 parts ready before Tamiya does a P-47D-30 kit – although, when that comes out, you can thank me for creating the modeling karma that led to it.

The powerplant process

This week, I built yet another Aires R-2800 in 1:72 scale. It’s the seventh or eighth one I’ve built, and I think I’ve finally figured out how to do them well:

The trick is to airbrush the crankcase neutral gray, then the cylinders steel, before you ever take the parts off the sprue. Then, I run a heavy black wash over the cylinders. Next, I cut the cylinders off and add them to the crank case. The Aires engine comes with a length of wire for the push rods, but I instead stretch some black sprue and use this instead. The 18 front pushrods come next, followed by the photoetched wiring harness, which is painted the weird brassy yellow color on the prototype. The magnetos, distributors and oil scavenge pump go on next; when all is dry, a dark wash was applied, then the whole front crankcase was drybrushed with aluminum or steel. The final touch is to apply a tiny drop of bright blue paint to the Pratt & Whitney logo plate on the lower crank case.

The engine in the photo went into my P-47D “Chief Seattle.” The one just finished looks a lot like this one (not surprisingly!) and will go into another P-47, “5 By 5.” With the R-2800 powering the F4U, F6F, F7F, F8F, AF, A-26, B-26, Martin 404, P-61, PV-1 and PV-2, and even the AJ Savage, I suspect I’ll be building a lot of these little suckers in the future.

Master plans: A-3 and P-47D-30

The last few weeks, I’ve focused my modeling attention on the A-3 Skywarrior in 1:72. I have long said I want to make a cockpit interior for this plane, and possibly folded wings. The wings will be tough – as will the dropped leading-edge slats – because the wing is so big. I don’t want to create a casting crisis with my partner in Obscureco. But the cockpit is do-able!

The tricky part is that the plane was around for so long that the cockpit changed radically. The major changes were in the right side of the control panel and the rear of the cockpit. So, for the A-3, there was a tail gunner’s remote control panel; for the KA-3B there was a shelf with a table; and the EKA-3B had a shelf with four “black boxes.” On the right side of the rear cockpit were an assortment of boxes and wiring on set of shelves, which differed from plane to plane.

It was a similar situation on the control panel. Flight controls stayed the same, but the right side varied from variant to variant.

So, here’s the strategy: the set will have three different control panels, and three different rear panels with different black boxes. And probably the most in-depth instructions I’ve had to write!

I used the kit parts for a structural base, and several parts from the Eduard set. Eduard gives you good extra details but leaves others out, and there was not much variance between versions. On top of this, I added switches, button and panels Eduard missed, improved on some messed-up details in the Eduard set, and built the panel essentially from scratch using styrene, wire and Reheat photoetched bezels.

I also made new seats, using the kit seats as a starting point and adding oxygen hoses, belts, blower equipment and other details.

It’s not finished; as it stands now, the control panel and rear bulkhead are awaiting casting (I’ll modify them for different versions) so they’re not totally complete. The rear bulkhead needs the jump seat belts, and the right side box is the EKA-3B arrangement, which will be removed or modified for the A-3 and KA-3 rear bulkhead masters. The cockpit lacks detail for the right side except for the oxygen regulator, which was common to all versions. I also have to make all the black boxes for the shelf on the right side and sidewall pieces, which will include the floodlights, hood for the navigator and canteens. Yes, canteens! At least I don’t have to scratch build those – I’ll just relieve some 1:72 figures of their spare gear.

Here are a couple of photos, with the parts just placed together:

Now, I’m switching gears and doing a cockpit master for the P-47D-30 for the 1:72 Tamiya kit. Yeah, I know, the Tamiya kit doesn’t need a new interior. Well, it does for the later Thunderbolts, which did away with the corrugated floor and had several interior equipment improvements. I’m using Tamiya’s ingenious jigsaw-puzzle-like engineering approach, which will allow modelers to use the rear bulkhead from the kit, keeping the price down and helping ensure a good fit. I’ll also include a panel for the lower wing with the landing light in the right place and some compressability flaps. I want to build Joe Laughlin’s “5 By 5” and do it well; sadly, I know more about P-47s than I did when I built a 1:48 Hasegawa Jug for Joe’s 85th birthday, so mine will be more accurate than his. This modeling is a real learning experience…