Today in 1944: 11 Downed by the Tuskegee Airmen

On July 18, 1944, Lee Rayford led 66 Mustangs from all four squadrons of the 332nd Fighter Group to the briefed rendezvous point over southern Germany, but the bombers of the 5th Bomb Wing, scheduled to strike the Luftwaffe base at Memmingen in Austria, were nowhere to be found. Rayford decided to orbit the Undine-Treviso area, which was already known to be a hotbed of Luftwaffe fighter activity, and as the bombers finally approached, the Mustang pilots spotted a swarm of 30 to 35 Bf 109s to the right of the formation. The enemy fighters attacked in groups from three o’clock high and five o’clock low, then split-S’ed away. Twenty-one of the Mustangs rushed to break up the attack, destroying 11 of the German fighters.

Once this threat had been dealt with, the formation continued to Austria, but over the target 30 to 40 enemy aircraft – mainly Bf 109s, Fw 190s and Me 410s – were sighted. Eventually, four Fw 190s swooped in to attack, and two were shot down.

The tally for the day was impressive, with Clarence “Lucky” Lester bagging three, Jack Holsclaw two and Lee Archer, Charles Bailey, Walter Palmer, Roger Romine, Ed Toppins and Hugh Warner one apiece.

Palmer’s victim was a Bf 109, which he hit with several short bursts after it made a pass at the bombers. “On the second of third burst I noticed his engine smoking badly, so I broke it off because there were others to shoot down,” Palmer later wrote. He closed in on a second Bf 109 but is guns jammed. Her considered chopping off the enemy fighter’s tail with his propeller, but the Bf 109 headed into a cloud bank shrouding the tops of the Alps, convincing Palmer to break off the pursuit.

Toppins destroyed his opponent by diving at him at a speed so high that when he pulled out, he warped the fuselage of his fighter – the Mustang had to be scrapped after the mission. Two more P-51s were lost in the fray, with Lt. Gene Browne surviving to be taken prisoner and Lt. Wellington Irving being killed. Oscar Hutton was also lost when his Mustang was hit by a drop tank jettisoned by another P-51.

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This day in 1944: the 332nd Fighter Group’s low-level losses

On June 23, 1944, the three squadrons of the 332nd Fighter Group – the 100th, 301st and 302nd – were ordered to strafe the landing field at Airasca-Pinerolo in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. The flight would require the 41 P-47s to fly over the Tyrrhenian Sea at low altitude to avoid radar. Sadly, those conditions would make this a costly one for the group.

From the start, the mission was beset with problems. Gwynne Pearson’s P-47D 42-75772 crashed on takeoff, but Pearson survived. Four other Thunderbolts were forced to abort, whittling the force down to 36 planes.

The weather over the sea was hazy, with a very bright glare from the sun and a cloud base of 1000 feet. The result was that it was very hard for the pilots to discern the horizon. Near Cape Corse, 2nd Lt. Sam Jefferson’s plane dropped too low, touched the water and exploded on impact. At almost the same time, Earl Sherrard’s P-47 pancaked into the water; he scrambled out of his fighter and was later rescued. 2nd Lt. Charles B. Johnson saw Sherrard’s crash and circled to see if the pilot had survived, but he caught a wingtip and his Thunderbolt splashed into the water. Johnson, like Jefferson, was unable to escape.

A few minutes later, the lead element experienced the effects of the strange weather. Mission leader Robert Tresville, flying with Dempsey Morgan and Spurgeon Ellington as the second section in his flight, was seen frantically gesturing at his wingman, Willard Woods – Woods was so close to the water that his drop tanks were starting to kick up rooster tails.

Robert Tresville as an aviation cadet

Robert Tresville as an aviation cadet

Just after sighting the coast, according to Woods, Tresville’s own P-47 struck the water, which stripped off the drop tanks, ripped off the ailerons and bent the propeller back over the cowling. The Thunderbolt staggered back into the air momentarily, then slammed back into the sea., leaving only the tail visible. Woods later reported that Tresville had been looking at a map when he crashed.

The group never found the target – radio silence prevented the deputy formation leader from learning of Tresville’s crash and he never assumed navigational responsibility for the attack.

The loss of Tresville, who, like Col. Benjamin O. Davis, was another rare black West Pointer, was keenly felt by the group. “Tresville was a fantastic guy,” said Samuel Curtis. “He was smart, he was bright, he was strong, he was well-coordinated. HE would have gone far.” Andrew “Jug” Turner assumed command of the 100th FS upon Tresville’s death.This

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.

69 years ago: The 99th Fighter Squadron wins and loses over Anzio

The resurgence of the Luftwaffe in the skies of Italy in February, 1944 coincided with the difficulties the allies were having on the ground at Anzio. The 99th Fighter Squadron’s critical ground support responsibilities were supplemented with an increasing number of patrols designed to keep German aircraft from strafing and bombing the troops mired on the beachhead.

On February 5, a patrol over the beach was headed west at about 6000 feet when it spotted at least 10 Fw 190sdiving toward the beach from a height of about 16,000 feet before flattening out on the deck. The P-40s quickly turned into the German aircraft, and Elwood Driver made a diving left turn and pulled up about 300 yards behind an Fw 190. He began firing “and continued to fire in long bursts, even though my target was pulling away,” he reported. “My tracers straddled the cockpit and a sheet of flames burst from the right side. I last saw the airplane burning and headed toward Rome at a height of just 50 feet above the ground.”

At the same time, Clarence Jamison and George McCrumby were tangling with six Fw 190s when the latter pilot’s P-40L was struck by anti-aircraft fire. “Something hit underneath my ship,” McCrumby told war correspondent Art Carter. “Then another burst cracked the side of my cockpit, plunging the aeroplane into a dive at 4000 feet. I tried to pull out but had no control. The elevators had been knocked out. I had no alternative but to jump.”

After sliding the canopy back, McCrumby tried to clamber out the left side of the P-40L, but was thrown back in his seat by the slipstream. “The I tried the right side and got halfway out when again the slipstream threw me against the fuselage,” he said. “I struggled until all but my right foot was free and dangled from the diving aeroplane until the wind turned the ship around at 1000 feet ad shook me loose. I reached for the rip cord six times before finding it, but my parachute opened immediately, landing me safely in a cow pasture.”

Meanwhile, Jamison’s aeroplane had been riddled by fire from one of the six Fw 190s he and McCrumby had gone after, and while trying to escape his Merlin engine overheated and seized up. He crashlanded the Warhawk in a field near the front l ine and was rescued by U.S. Army Rangers.

67 years ago: The Tuskegee Airmen raise hell in Yugoslavia

On September 8, 1944, Capt. William Mattison led 42 Mustangs of the 332nd Fighter Group to attack the Luftwaffe airfield at Ilandza in Yugoslavia. About 20 planes were spotted on the ground, and 23 of the Mustangs dropped down to the deck to strafe them, covered by 14 others. The attack destroyed 18 aircraft, including five Ju 52/3ms four Ju 88s, three Do 217s, three Fw 200s and a single Fw 190, Bf 109 and He 111. The Mustang flown by Lt. James A. Calhoun was hit by flak, and while his fellow pilots thought he had deliberately crash-landed his fighter in the target area, Calhoun was killed. The group then continued to the airfield at Alibunar, where 15 P-51s attacked parked aircraft while 26 fighters flew top cover in expectation that the now-alerted Luftwaffe would respond. Instead, the group eliminated 15 Fw 190s, two Bf 109s, and an SM.84 transport in the face of moderate flak. For good measure, the group also destroyed a locomotive on the way home.

This day, 67 years ago: The 332nd nails 11 over Bavaria

On 18 July, 1944, Lee Rayford led 66 Mustangs of the 332nd Fighter Group to their briefed rendezvous point over southern Germany, but the bombers of the 5th Bomb Wing, scheduled to strike the Luftwaffe base at Memmingen in Bavaria, were nowhere to be found. Rayford decided to orbit in the Undine-Treviso area, which was already known to be a hotbed of Luftwaffe activity. As the bombers approached, the Mustang pilots spotted a swarm of 30 to 35 Bf 109s to the right of the formation. The fighters attacked in groups from three o’clock high and five o’clock low, then split-S’ed away. 21 of the Mustangs rushed to break up the attack, destroying 11 of the German fighters.

Once this threat had been dealt with, he formation continued over Austria, but over the target, 30 to 40 enemy planes – mainly Bf 109s, Fw 190s and Me 410s – were sighted.”We must have spread them from here to Christmas in every direction,” said Stanley Harris, who was forced to dive for safety to elude four Fw 190s glued to his tail.”We must have spread them from here to Christmas in every direction,” said Stanley Harris, who was forced to dive for safety to elude four Fw 190s glued to his tail. Eventually, four Fw 190s swooped in to attack and two were shot down.

The tally for the day was impressive, with Clarence “Lucky” Lester bagging three, Jack Holsclaw two and Lee Archer, Charles Bailey, Walter Palmer, Roger Romine, Ed Toppins and Hugh Warner one apiece.

Palmer’s victim was a Bf 109, which he hit with several short bursts after it had made a pass on the bombers. “On the second or third burst I noticed the engine smoking heavily, so I broke it off because there were others to shoot down,” he later wrote. Palmer closed in on a second Bf 109, but his guns jammed. He considered chopping off the enemy fighter’s tail with his propeller, but the Bf 109 headed into a cloud bank shrouding the tops of the Alps, convincing Palmer to break off the pursuit.

Toppins destroyed his opponent by diving at him at a speed so high that when he pulled out, he warped the fuselage of his fighter – the Mustang had to be scrapped after the mission. Two more P-51s were lost during the fray, with Lt. Gene Browne surviving to be taken prisoner and Lt. Wellington G. Irving being killed in action. Oscar Hutton was also lost when his Mustang was hit by a drop tank jettisoned by another P-51.

The Fourth Fighter Group in the Mediterranean Theatre

The Fourth Fighter Group was “volunteered” to fly a fighter sweep in advance of a 15th Air Force strike on Budapest on 2 July, 1944, primarily because the 332nd Fighter Group was occupied in transitioning into P-51s. The Fourth was in Italy, conveniently, on the second leg of the shuttle mission, having flown from Britain to Russia earlier in the week, then escorting bombers to Italy.

When the Fourth’s 45 Mustangs reached the target, a swarm of 80 German planes and 18 Hungarian Bf 109s met the group and a swirling dogfight erupted. The group destroyed eight fighters, including three that fell to Capt. Howard Hively. After destroying his first victim, a 20mm shell exploded just outside his canopy, sending fragments of glass into the right side of Hively’s face and injuring his eye. He pressed the attack and destroyed two more, in part because Lt. Grover Siems spotted a Bf 109 on his tail and dove in to attack it, sending it down in flames, only to be attacked himself. Siems was injured in the shoulder, neck and chin and was forced to return to Foggia. He landed there, unable open his canopy, and was ignored by the airfield personnel until he fired his guns. Several mechanics removed Siems from his plane, but he was so weak from blood loss he couldn’t move. The medics covered him with a sheet and sent him to the morgue, and only when Siems was able to wiggle a finger did an orderly notice him and give him a blood transfusion.

Capt. William Hedrick destroyed a Bf 109 and damaged another, while Frank Jones and Don Blakeslee destroyed single planes. Capt. Joe Higgins and Lt. Don Emerson shared another Bf 109.

George Stanford’s wing tanks refused to drop when the 90-plane gaggle was spotted. Instead of aborting, he and wingman Ralph Hofer pressed the attack, and the extra throttle Stanford used to compensate for the tanks caused his engine to throw a rod. Stanford radioed Frank Jones to take the lead, then bellied into a wheat field in Yugoslavia. Hofer buzzed him to make sure he was all right, but when Stanford looked up he saw Bf 109 trailing Hofer. Hofer apparently shook his pursuer, but records unearthed in 2003 revealed that he then strafed Mostar-Sud airfield, where 4.Batterie/Flak Regiment 9 “Legion Condor” shot down and killed Hofer. Stanford became a POW, as did Lt. J.C. Norris; Thomas Sharp, who also had trouble releasing his wing tanks, was shot down and killed.

The group provided escort for heavy bombers hitting a marshalling yard at Arad, Yugoslavia on 3 July. The next day, Blakeslee led the rest of the group back from Italy by way of an escort to the marshalling yard at Beziers, France and then back to Debden. All the planes that embarked from Italy returned to England safely, many laden with souvenirs for the men who remained at Debden during the group’s foray afield.

It wasn’t until 6 July when the last nine late arrivals from Russia returned to England. Of the 65 planes that started the trip, 52 made it back.