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.

 

Advertisements

Dammit, Gannet! Building Sword’s AEW.3, part 2

The Gannet AEW.3 build continues at a deliberate pace, with the holidays and various other things taking a bite out of my modeling time. I also paused to build this for my father-in-law’s N-gauge railroad layout as a Christmas gift:

dairy-queen

Who wants a teeny, tiny, itty-bitty, teeny-weenie, little Blizzard?

 

Then I was able to get back to work on the Gannet!

 

The floor and bulkheads were joined by the overhead duct in the Sword set to create a single radar observers’ compartment. To keep the compartment in place, I added lengths of styrene strip in one side of the fuselage. This gives a positive location for these parts and a way to ensure that they stay glued in place; nothing is more painful than having to crack open a model after a cockpit breaks loose inside a sealed fuselage!

The completed radar observers' compartment, held in place by styrene strip guides

The completed radar observers’ compartment, held in place by styrene strip guides.

 

The extra overhead detail panels from the Sword kit fit poorly, and I thought I could add the detail easier on my own, anyway. The extra detailing in the radar observers’ compartment was accomplished fairly quickly, because I did something I rarely do: I stopped to figure out what would actually be visible. Although I had some good photos to work from, they were taken of an aircraft with the seats and much of the radar equipment removed. Put the seats back in, and you can’t see a lot of the detail. I added some structure from styrene strip and rod, made a couple of small black boxes from styrene card and Reheat photoetched instrument faces, and gave it all a wash to pop out the detail. The final touches were the emergency egress handles above the hatch openings; these were made from bits of styrene painted yellow and glued in place. The black stripes were drawn on with a .005mm Rapidograph pen.

Let side of fuselage, with extra detail...

Let side of fuselage, with extra detail…

...And the right side. Note the small emergency egress handle above the door.

…And the right side. Note the small emergency egress handle above the door.

 

The next item of interest was the nose gear bay roof. The kit provides a good approximation of the basics, but omits the jungle of hydraulic and electrical wires so typical of 1950s wheel wells. Using photos, a copious amount of fine solder of three sizes, styrene bits and even a piece of stiff steel wire here and there, I added additional detail.

The strut was set in place to make sure my added detail didn't make fitting the strut impossible later.

The strut was set in place to make sure my added detail didn’t make fitting the strut impossible later.

Detail in the form of hydraulic lines added to the nose gear bay.

Detail in the form of hydraulic lines added to the nose gear bay.

 

Then, the whole thing was painted, given a wash and dry-brushed. And it looked great, except for the fact that I painted it the wrong color (interior gray-green). I painted over my work in the correct medium gray color and repeated the wash/dry-brushing routine. A bit of detail painting followed, and the nose wheel compartment was complete and ready to add to the model.

Why do they call it a wash? It only makes the parts look dirtier! I mean, come on!

Why do they call it a wash? It only makes the parts look dirtier! I mean, come on!

At this point, a person not suffering from AMS would glue the interior parts in, join the fuselage halves, and get on with it. Not me! Next steps (pun intended) are the boarding ladder compartment and opening up the intakes in the nose (and creating a new compressor section for the Double Mamba engine to go behind it). Stay tuned for more gruesome details!

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’s Billy Reed and his Close Call

Ten armed recces were flown on March 23 by the 362nd Fighter Group, most of them north of Frankfurt. The Germans continued their desperate evacuation of rail equipment, and two trains loaded with armored vehicles were strafed and heavily damaged by the 379th Fighter Squadron, which hit them with 260-pound fragmentation bombs. Yellow Flight of the 377th went after a small factory, attacking it with rockets. “As the second element of Yellow Flight started to go in on its run, the enemy started to put up a concentrated flak barrage of 20, 40 and 88mm,” said Lt. Crosby Noyes. In the process, “Lady Linda,” the P-47D-30 44-33234 of Lt. Billy Reed, was hit. “Following, I noticed his plane was smoking,” said Noyes.

“Something told me ‘I had it’ as soon as I was hit,” Reed wrote friend Henry Pochily in 1945. “I figured I could ride it across the Rhine at least, smoke or no smoke, but when she started spitting flames I changed my mind. I nearly clobbered myself good and proper getting out. The fact is I came darn near not getting out at all. I was plenty high when I started to get out, but I made two mistakes. First of all, I didn’t slow her up at all. Then I loosened the belt and stood up on the seat. It’s pretty breezy when you’re moving over 200 mph. I got my head and arms out and I was stuck. My goggles and mask blew off and I couldn’t get back in and I couldn’t get back out. It was a very demoralizing position, to say the least. I still don’t know whether I got back in or just rolled over and fell off the side. For a split second I sweated the tail. Then I pulled the joy cord and opened my eyes and saw the plane burning on the ground. The plane had been diving while I was trying to get out and I know I was under 1000 feet when I finally did get out. I floated only 30 seconds or so before I landed. The Jerries were waiting for me as if they were expecting me.” Reed was in captivity for a week before being liberated by the 4th Armored Division. Lt. William McKain was also hit and bellied in, but returned to the group safely.

The 378th sent out an 11-plane mission to the area, putting 22 bombs into rail targets and destroying four locomotives, four box cars and a flat car, a flak car and 15 passenger cars. A strafing pass added two light flak positions, two locomotives and a truck to the carnage. Near Wettlar, Lt. Milton Mannick gave chase to an Fw 190, damaging it but not bringing back conclusive evidence of a kill.

The next mission was another big one, let by Capt. Darwyn Shaver, striking a marshalling yard south of Schulctern. The toll was 20 box cars, a flak car and five locomotives destroyed by bombing and strafing. This was followed by the dispatch of 16 P-47s to rail targets near Breberan, where they dropped 27 general-purpose bombs and five napalm bombs. A total of 30 cars was destroyed, and half of them were loaded with armored vehicles. Strafing added a locomotive and 15 more boxcars to the tally. The next mission, to the same area, racked up eight flat cars, two trucks and a light flak position. Adding to the day’s tally was Capt. Kent Geyer, who shot down his second enemy plane.

 

70 years ago: Col. Joe sinks a Battleship

Four squadron-sized missions were flown against Brest on August 25 by the 362nd Fighter Group, two by the 377th Fighter Squadron. The principle target was the harbor, which could be used to evacuate troops to Crozon. Col 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, as Laughlin led the 377th’s evening mission, he peeled off to bomb the cruiser again when it suddenly exploded with such force that Laughlin felt it at 8000 feet.

“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.”

“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 French battleship Clemenceau, which the Germans were planning to use to block the harbor.

Laughlin and Chodor

Laughlin added the “cruiser” to his scoreboard – it’s right next to John Chodor’s knee in the above photograph – and it was officially recorded as a cruiser for many years. The reasons seem obvious – as the allies were liberating France, it would have seemed a bit unseemly to celebrate the destruction of one of their battleships. But that was indeed what it was; no German cruisers were in Brest at the time, and there were few of them anyway. The Clemenceau had been damaged recently by a Lancaster raid (the RAF still claims its destruction), and would certainly never be useful to the Germans as anything but a hulk to prevent the allies from using Brest.

 

 

70 years ago: Joe Matte gets four for the 362nd FG

On August 20, 1944, the 362nd Fighter Group launched six eight-plane missions to support ground forces around Dreux. During the 378th Fighter Squadron’s first mission of the day, Lt. Stanley Stepnitz’s P-47 was hit by flak and he bailed out. “I was flying Blue Three on a dive-bombing mission near Laval when I developed oil pressure trouble at 10,000 feet,” Stepnitz recalled. “When I looked it was at zero. I wanted to head for the channel to bail out; she started bucking a few minutes later and subsequently froze entirely. I glided down to 3000 feet, stalled it and jumped out. It was a delayed jump and I was only in the air a few seconds. Captain (Wilfred) Crutchfield came by and I threw my ripcord at him. I missed as I didn’t lead him enough. I saw my plane blazing in the woods toward which I was heading. I landed in the trees and fell on my back to the ground.” Stepnitz hid from German soldiers and French gendarmes, sometimes by climbing trees, before some French civilians helped him with clothes and a rendezvous with the French Underground, which delivered him back to American forces.

The 377th attacked a small town as ordered by the ground controller, then were vectored toward a group of tanks, which they strafed and bombed, killing six tanks. On the 378th’s second mission of the day, Lt. Joe Matte was flying as Firebrick Yellow Leader, which was acting as top cover for Red Flight. “We were vectored to Etampes, and then north to Paris. Red Flight shot up two trucks on the way to Paris at 1545. I was at 5000 feet covering Red Flight at 2000 feet and going down slowly, so I started to climb. Red three called eight (bogies) in to Red Leader and Red Leader acknowledged the call. Evidently, the planes, which were Bf 109s, did not see me as I climbed above them because every one of them was going after Red Flight. I tried to warn Red Leader but some controller cut me out on the R/T. Red Leader saw them in time to start turning to the left. The leader and his wingman wasted no time on Red One and Two, so I went down to break this attack up. The two Huns saw me and started to climb in a left turn with me in perfect position to shoot. As I fired at 200 yards, the No. 2 Hun went inside the turn of his leader. Every round seemed to hit him as he flipped to the right directly into his leader. Two explosions resulted and sent two Huns to earth. No one bailed out. I started another climbing turn to the left when I observed four Huns firing on another P-47, so I went down. The number two and three men broke to the right, the leader pulling up to the left in a steep climb. As he did a roll and ended up in my gunsight about 200 yards away, just a short burst blew him to pieces. I flew through the debris and picked up a little blood on my canopy.”

Matte looked to the left and saw a Bf 109 trying to make a deflection shot on him. “I pulled around straight into him, but I didn’t have enough time to shoot so I started to turning to the left with him. In three turns I was almost in position to shoot, so I fired a short burst behind him. This seemed to make him loosen up his turn so I easily pulled a deflection shot at him and let him have a short burst at 300 yards which cut off a part of his left wing. He flipped over on his back and bailed out immediately. The ship continued spinning upside down and one Bf 109 started after another P-47, so I started after him and he broke away to the right. I let him go so I could climb back for cover. My wingman was still with me at this time. As I reached 5000 feet, a 109 overshot me without firing, so I started after him in a slight dive. It was at this time that I spied 20 plus Fw 190s (from JG.26) coming down from approximately 10,000 feet. I then told my number two man (Lt. James W. Pettit) to wait until I gave the signal to break. I was chasing the 109 and was almost ready to fire when I looked around for my number two man and he wasn’t in sight. I looked too long for him, allowing the Fw 190s to catch me. When I hit 1000 feet, two Fw 190s were firing, one each from the left and the right. The third ship that fired on me shot above (me) but hit the prop and came above me, breaking to the left and up. I turned to the right and down, and as I made a 180-degree turn I saw two large explosions on the ground, but I can’t claim this to be the two 190s because I didn’t have time to look. I hit deck for home and managed to get away from the Fw 190s, but without my wingman.” Pettit, in P-47D-20 42-76469, had in fact been shot down; his Thunderbolt crashed near Poissy sur Seine, and the Germans buried the pilot nearby.

Lt. Howard Kelgard saw three Bf 109s make a pass at him and his wingman, then turn away with the P-47s in hot pursuit. “Two 109s broke away and up,” he said. “The other headed for the deck when he realized I had got on his tail. I fired a 30 degree deflection shot. He started violent evasive actions heading for Paris proper. I closed to 100 yards, giving a long burst and observing many strikes about the wings and fuselage. He continued on, but looked as though he was crippled. I expended my ammunition, then called to Red Four, who was right with me to take over, but his radio was faulty. Then I had to break away.”

Lt. Laurie Greenleaf was flying in the number four position in the cover flight. When the enemy planes were spotted, “We reversed our turn and started down to the left,” he reported. “I was about 200 yards behind my lead man (Lt. Gordon L. Struchen) and looking for enemy aircraft as we went down. The first Bf 109 I saw came by me about 25 yards off my right wing, bottom up, and at the same time I saw one high to the right. There were P-47s and Bf 109s going around in a Lufbery to the left. In the confusion I was uncertain which ship was my lead so I started to pull up and saw a ship which looked like his and was in the logical place for him to be. I started towards him and a Bf 109 came in on him firing and seemed to be getting strikes. I opened fire on the Bf 109 from about 1500 feet and 30 degrees. My bullets went behind at first, but I pulled my lead and got strikes around the cockpit and the Bf 109 broke left and seemed to glide. I broke with him and fired a short blast and he started to turn right. He at once broke left again in a near roll and I followed and fired a long burst at him at about 80 or 90 degrees. At first my bullets went behind him, but I pulled my lead up and saw strikes on both wings and either side of the cockpit. As he was in a vertical bank he then flipped to the right and started a long gliding left turn towards the ground with smoke pouring from the plane. I started to go in for another burst, but we were outnumbered and I thought I might be needed in the fight. I started back up looking for the others but could not see a single aircraft, friend or foe. I looked back at the ship I had hit and saw it had crashed to the ground and gone up in smoke.” The final Bf 109 fell to Maj. Richard Harbeson, the group executive officer. The leader of Matte’s flight went missing from this fight; Greenleaf heard Gordon Struchen, who was flying P-47D-22 42-26045, yell “They got me!” over the radio; Struchen bailed out but later returned, albeit injured. The victors was 44-kill ace Oblt. Wilhelm Hofmann of 8./JG 26 and 23-kill ace Leutnant Hans Prager of 7./JG 26. The victims came from 4./JG 77 and 5./JG 77.The 377th bombed two tanks later in the day.

Finally, late in the day, the 379th sent 12 planes to the bend in the Seine southwest of Rouen and dumped six-hour delay fuse bombs on three ferry landings to hamper German movements during hours of darkness. “I could see five or six planes on the bomb run at one time,” remembered Lt. Robert Searle. “(The leader) pulled out of the dive on a heading toward the base at Rennes and we all formed up and came home, most of us landing in the twilight. One of the most impressive things about the mission was the almost total lack of radio chatter, with most commands given by a dip of the wing as taught in training but seldom seen during the real thing.” Air and radio discipline aside, the delayed fuses made it impossible to gauge the success of the mission. The 378th caught a convoy of seven trucks in the open and destroyed them.

 

70 years ago: Magoffin scores, Sunter shot down and escapes

The 378th Fighter Squadron flew two missions in the vicinity of Vire on July 31, bombing one Tiger tank and setting a second ablaze through strafing. Flak was vicious, however. Lt. Andrew Sunter recalled that he followed his wingman, Lt. Charles Naerhood, to strafe a truck. “On pulling off the target, I felt three distinct flak hits on my plane, my right foot was knocked off the rudder pedal and either pieces of flak or floor (started) rattling around the cockpit. I recovered control and thought I was all right until flames started spewing up around my legs and it got unbearably hot. I rolled my trim tab back, pulled the plane up to approximately 1000 feet, opened the canopy and dove out the right side. I cleared the plane and pulled the ripcord. I glanced at my watch, it was 2015. Then I heard popping noises and glanced down over my right shoulder. I could see German soldiers firing at me with rifles. All I could do was swing my chute as much as possible and swear at the Germans. I was too angry to be afraid. After what seemed like minutes to me, but no doubt was only a few seconds, my chute drifted into a tree while I hung two feet off the ground. I could hear the Germans yelling at one another behind a hedgerow and knew they were after me so I quickly unhooked myself.”

Sunter ducked the Germans by hiding in a haystack; the farmer in whose field the stack was gave him some civilian clothes and took him to his house to dress his leg wounds, walking him right past the German patrol. Hiding with the farmer’s family, Sunter endured American shelling of some nearby Panzers by taking shelter in the farmer’s cellar, where he was joined several times by German soldiers. Eventually, a German officer tried to question Sunter, but the farmer explained that Sunter was a deaf mute. Finally, the officer ordered the family out of the house in order to set up a machine gun position in the upper floors. The next morning Sunter stumbled across some American infantrymen advancing toward his former hiding place. They had orders and couldn’t stop to cater to the pilot, so they gave Sunter some grenades and he brought along a captured German Schmeisser machine-pistol and went with them. Only after several hours of combat was Sunter returned to regimental headquarters and eventually back to the 362nd.

Lt. Naerhood, in P-47D-22 42-26244, was also hit by flak. “Flame and smoke were trailing from his engine,” said Ken Placek, another member of Naerhood’s Blue Flight. After Naerhood radioed that he had been hit and was on fire, he tried to make a crash landing. His P-47 hit the ground and skidded for a long distance before coming to a stop north northwest of Percy, but, sadly, Naerhood was killed.

The second mission for the 378th was equally eventful. Col. Morton Magoffin was flying with the squadron on an armed reconnaissance, and near Beaumont-sur-Sarthe he “sent Yellow Flight into a patch of woods to scare something out,” reported Lt. Donald Stoddard. At about that time, Magoffin spotted an Fw 190A-8 “blue 20” flying north on the deck, piloted by Fw. Rudolph Rauhaus of Stab.I./JG1. “We were at about 10,000 feet,” Stoddard said. “The flight got into a string formation and went down on the Fw 190. I made one pass at the Fw 190 and overshot.” Stoddard chandelled to the left to get on the German fighter’s tail, but by this time Magoffin had the Fw 190 in his sights. “The Colonel, from about 200 to 300 yards to the rear, fired one long burst, giving it some deflection,” said Lt. Arthur Staples, Magoffin’s wingman. “He secured strikes all over the cockpit and the engine, The plane broke into flames, rolled on its back and went down.” Rauhaus was killed in his plane’s crash.

Stoddard, meanwhile, had spotted a second Fw 190. “I made two turns with him to the left, giving him a couple of bursts, but observed no strikes. I pulled in a little more and gave one good burst from about 250 yards and saw strikes all over the fuselage. He straightened out and was rocking. About this time the canopy came off and the Hun bailed out. The Fw 190 crashed and was burning when I left. The Colonel took pictures of the Hun pilot in his chute and the burning plane.” This was probably Ofhr. Karl-Heinz Schaper of 2./JG6; despite bailing out, Schaper later died of his wounds.